November 4, 2013
Jewish cookbooks from 50 states, including the first one printed in America (1871) and the first Jewish charity cookbook in Detroit (1903), are displayed along with food advertisements, menus and more in the Hatcher Graduate Library exhibit “American Foodways: The Jewish Contribution.”
Exhibit items include an ad for “Corned Buff,” a slow-roasted bison brisket from Starkey’s Restaurant in Bozeman, Mont. — a western take on corned beef, a Jewish tradition.
Photo courtesy of U-M Library.
The exhibit, presented through Dec. 8 in the Hatcher Library Audubon Room and north lobby, includes information on Asser Levy, the first kosher butcher in America in 1660.
Janice Bluestein Longone, adjunct curator in the Special Collections Library, curated the exhibit along with Avery Robinson, LSA graduate student. Longone says it is the second in a series of exhibits that celebrate various cultures’ contributions to American cuisine. An earlier exhibit at the William L. Clements Library celebrated African American cuisine. Of the culinary contributions made by each culture, Longone says, “America has been blessed by its immigrants.” Beyond that, she says the history of charity cookbooks as a fundraising activity — typically on behalf of religious groups — is important, as it formed the women’s movement in America.
“All of them had the same underlying thesis — women helping people less fortunate, or raising money for missionaries in China, or for hospitals or orphanages. I call it the old girl network,” Longone says. Women got together and learned how to organize, raise money, network and how to sell the books, she adds.
Longone has spent much of her life building a diverse culinary library. More than a decade ago, she and Dan Longone, professor emeritus of chemistry, donated the collection to U-M to make it available to students and scholars. Formerly housed in the Clements Library, it was transferred to the U-M Library in July to fully realize its potential for teaching, learning and research.
Beyond the popularity of traditional Jewish cuisine ranging from bagels and lox (smoked salmon) to matzo, Longone says a key element of the Jewish food tradition involves community.
“No one who needed to be fed was turned away, there was always room for one more at the table. The food was precious and you respected it, respected the people who grew it and processed it and shared it with you,” she says.
Flat matzo bread and crackers made for the Passover holiday stem from the story that when Jews fled ancient Egypt, they didn’t have the opportunity to let bread rise, so they took flatbread.
The exhibit also includes the first southern Jewish charity cookbook, from Shreveport, La., in 1914, and a cookbook of recipes compiled by women in the Thereisinstadt concentration camp during the Holocaust.
While some items are in Yiddish and German, most of the exhibit is in English. Also, an exhibit section titled “Noshing Around America” presents Jewish food festivals from across the country — including a Yiddish food festival in Cheyenne, Wyo. (2013) — and demonstrates how each region presents its own take on Jewish food.
Related exhibit lectures are presented by Robinson and Deborah Dash Moore, professor of Judaic studies and director of the Judaic Studies Program, LSA, at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in Room 100, Hatcher Library Gallery. A second lecture is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 featuring author Ted Merwin, on the history of delicatessens in the U.S., also in the Library Gallery.