University of Iowa library is a cook’s treasure chest

College StudentsLong time restaurant owner, teacher, chef and philanthropist, Louis Szathmary, was considered to have one of the largest culinary arts collection in history. The former chef laureate at Johnson & Wales University collected some 400,000 pieces of art, books, recipes and memorabilia.

One of his many donations include thousands of recipes dating as far back as the 17th century to the University of Iowa Library. The recipe pamphlets were distributed by food producers, appliance manufacturers and trade associations and provide a historic reminder about culinary trends and lifestyles in America and England during the first and second industrial revolutions.

The collection includes the “Book of Valuable Receipts” by Church and Co’s Arm and Hammer Soda company in 1886, “The Corn Starch Book of Cooking” from 1903, and the “One Hundred and One Uses for Salt” produced by the Diamond Crystal Salt Co. in 1922.

The UI library is now in the slow tedious process of digitizing the fragile historic documents. But, it is near impossible for just the staff to take on the huge task alone. Thanks to a crowd sourcing model, the university is just starting to ramp up the process of scanning, translating and publishing the recipes.

A lot has changed during that time. Names, spellings and even measurements need to be translated or converted. Jen Wolfe, the digital scholarship librarian said somethings would be undecipherable by the average person. Such as the word ‘spider’ which means ‘skillet’ and ‘manchet’ which is ‘white bread’.

“All of this work is vitally important to make our history accessible to our future generations and to an online world,” she said.

“These things could have existed in some kind of kitchen or food prep environment for decades,” said Greg Prickman, head of Special Collections and University Archives, a leader on the project, “which is, of course, part of their appeal. They’re unique.”

For an entire list of books, recipes and pamphlets in Szathmary’s collection housed at the University of Iowa, visit the Special Collections & University Archives website.