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Release: Dec. 18, 2002

UI American Studies cookbook collects recipes, cultural tidbits

American food is shrouded in mystery. Where did Jell-O come from? Why do some oats cook in one minute while others take 20? When did popcorn start appearing in movie theaters? And just who is Betty Crocker? The answers to these questions and many others can be found along with a host of regional, ethnic, and time-honored family recipes in the first-ever University of Iowa American Studies Cookbook.

The book grew out of a fall 2002 American Studies graduate seminar on foodways and American culture. It features recipes submitted not only by the students in the class but also by alumni, faculty, staff, and students as well as friends of the UI American studies department. Alumni from as far away as China sent in contributions.

Some recipes are childhood favorites. Others honor the memories of relatives and family traditions. And many contributors submitted stories and oral histories along with their recipes. Along with these personal favorites are recipes from the Chef Louis Szathmary Collection of Culinary Arts in the UI Libraries, one of the most important culinary collections in the world.

"In the best tradition of American studies, The American Studies Cookbook highlights the range and diversity of American life in the past and present—in this case cooking and food—and celebrates a rich mix of community, individual, and industrial histories of the roles that food has played in American culture," said Lauren Rabinovitz, American studies department chair. "It is in the mix of recipes and interesting facts that these themes are conveyed about the important roles that food and cooking have played in American life."

The cookbook includes all standard categories of cookbook fare—from appetizers and soups to main dishes and desserts (which, incidentally, is the category with the most entries)—along with a few unique features including:

  • Recipes covering the entire range of U.S. regional cooking
  • Ethnic cooking from German-American to Jewish to Afro-Caribbean
  • Recipes that demonstrate international influences on American cooking and on what is regarded as "typical" American cooking in other countries
  • Recipes from the 1950s, World Wars I and II, the Depression, and even the 19th century
  • Original recipes of Chef Louis Szathmary, the owner of the renowned Chicago restaurant The Bakery and donor of the world-class culinary arts collection to the UI Libraries
  • Answers to such food-related mysteries as: Who is Betty Crocker? How did Jell-O get its start? Why were tomatoes considered poisonous? Who is the Gerber Foods baby?
  • Histories of the roles that food has played in American history: cooking in wartime, food on the overland trail, restaurants and the Civil Rights movement

Even the cover weaves a sense of history into the book -- it is a 1912 hand-tinted photograph of the Jefferson Hotel on Washington Street in Iowa City, which is now a UI building housing the American studies department, among others. Speaking of mysteries, in 1912 the hotel was only six stories tall, but today the American studies department is located on the seventh floor.

Rabinovitz and Laura Kastens, an American studies staff member, edited the cookbook. Proceeds will be used for graduate student fellowships and special programming in American studies. Cookbooks are $14.95 each plus $2.00 for postage and handling. They are available at the American studies department, 701 Jefferson Building, University of Iowa, or by calling:
(319) 335-0320.