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The Library of Virginia cookbook collection documents hundreds of churches, clubs, special interest groups, school groups, families, chef specialties, and, of course, regional cuisine. Currently the collection numbers over two thousand individual titles. Cookbooks represent local history at a real grassroots level. Frequently, cookbooks are the sole source of information on a church, club, or organization. They record contributor names, relationships, and community involvement.  In this sense, they are primary sources for local history as well as genealogical resources.

The cookbook collection also preserves the history of food culture and cooking styles in Virginia from the 18th into the 21st century. The recipes, illustrations, photographs, and sometimes personal stories document the evolution of food production and preparation. We see first-hand how food has gone from being primarily homegrown to brand name; how cooks adapted to war time economies; and, how ethnically diverse our state and eating habits have become. Cookbooks are produced with a great deal of pride in family and community traditions, and sometimes with a great deal of humor as seen in clever titles or funny illustrations. The Library is committed to collecting and preserving the rich cultural heritage represented by Virginia cookbooks. Current cataloging practice includes geographic subject headings to facilitate research using cookbooks.

The Harmony Grove Cookbook. South Hill, Va. : Peebles Inc., 1994.

Shown here is a selection of diverse types of cookbooks from a recent donation. Most of the cookbooks in the collection have been donated or included in larger general gift collections. Recently a number of public libraries in the state have culled cookbooks from their book sales and sent them to the Library. The Library is very grateful for these generous gifts. They have enabled the collection to grow, with representative examples from across the state.

The examples shown here date from 1950 to ca. 2000. They range from a simple corporate pamphlet (Reynolds Wrap), to the typical ring binders and to a more substantive, artistically designed book (Eldridge Bagley’s  Harmony Grove Cookbook ).

Claire Radcliffe

Former State Records Archivist

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