A few years after my college graduation, a mentor and dear friend asked me to help her with an amazing project. An extremely large cookbook collection had been donated to the University of Minnesota and I would be part of the team to catalog it. I remember packing books into boxes, transporting those boxes to the Food Science library at the St. Paul campus, then unpacking the books onto library shelves. The books, magazines, and recipe pamphlets (remember those?) came from St. Paul native Doris Kirschner.
Kirschner clipped recipes and collected cookbooks obsessively. She enjoyed cooking, but a diagnosis of lupus kept her in bed much of her adult life. This gave her opportunity to delve into her 5000+ cookbooks, research recipes, and plan menus. When her illness was in remission, she cooked these meals in one of her two kitchens. (A practicing Jew, she kept a dedicated Kosher kitchen.) Her vast collection includes her handwritten menus, which document that the Kirschner family could go four months without repeating a main dish. Wowza.
What brought this to mind again was learning about the Kirschner Collection Blog. Megan Kocher, library liaison to the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is keeper of this collection. The cookbook library is open to the public, but Kocher has a front-row seat to the 1300+ books currently on these shelves. She shares her favorite discoveries with all who read her posts. Besides filling in details on Kirschner, Kocher writes about and photographs many of the pamphlets, cookbooks, and–of course–recipes she finds. Some are contemporary (Apple-Oat Pancakes with Cheddar Cheese from Deborah Madison’s Local Favorites); others have more history (Breast of Chicken with Curry Dumplings from one of six Playboy cookbooks in the collection).
I remember meeting Kirschner back in 1995 (she died in 2001) and she struck me as an incredibly focused woman. She had one great passion in life–feeding her family; her tools were recipes. It’s a gift to future generations that these cookbooks have been saved and are available to the public. Even if you don’t live locally, you can share this collection by keeping tabs on Megan Kocher’s discoveries.