Harvard is home to a bunch of hidden “bests”. But who would have known that Harvard’s Schlesinger Library in the
Harvard is home to a bunch of hidden “bests”. But who would have known that Harvard’s Schlesinger Library in the old Radcliffe yard possesses one of the foremost culinary literature collections in the world?
Curator and prominent American food historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton was honored for her development of the Harvard cookbook collection last Saturday at an event, “The Cook’s Oracle,” that featured a predominantly senior crowd.
“[Cooking] is a subject that touches every life every day,” said Wheaton. “Everybody eats or hopes to eat.”
Food historians, culinary journalists, and chefs are just a few examples of people who use the collection for research.
During her time at Radcliffe College in the 50s, Wheaton was appalled by the terrible food. Like many of her contemporaries, she dropped out to get married and have babies—and turned her attention to the kitchen.
“Because of my background in art history, I got interested in why cooking differs so much over time and space,” explained Wheaton. “I began to realize that food is a cultural artifact and you could look at a recipe and get a pretty good idea of when and where it came from.”
But why collect cookbooks?
“Having multiple editions of a single cookbook that appears over a period of many years tells you how tastes evolve,” said Wheaton. “Cooking is essentially an international activity. It does not recognize political or language barriers.”
How do you say red spiced chicken en español?