Los Angeles AT THE TABLE
It's true: we all eat. Yet, while the books in this Archive enjoy similarities, there is nothing universal about them. As an artist, I began collecting community cookbooks because they reflect and document hyper-specific places and moments in time. They serve not just as recipe reference, but as primary source records of a diverse array of local organizations and groups - from Air Force Wives to Zoo Docents - chronicled lovingly and with pride. In their intimacy, these books also function as time-capsules filled with complicated truths, including glimpses into food scarcity and technological shifts, as well as appropriation, assimilation, and racial divides.
Furthermore, the nearly 400 books in the collection are aesthetic objects in their own right. Often playing double duty as a fundraising device, many community cookbooks boast a hand-made, scrapbook quality, with illustrations and names of local contributors. The familiar spiral binding serves a dual purpose as both a cheap self-publishing tool and a functional one - allowing pages to lie flat, for hands-free reference mid-recipe. Significantly, the creators of the books in this Archive are rarely experts or professionals. Rather, they are a cross section of LA County residents, organizations, and co-operatives celebrating their own tastes, stove tops, and family secrets.
The domestic kitchen was long the domain of women, and so these books give particular insight into gendered expectations and experiences. Many of the recipes in the Archive were compiled by women-led organizations, such as church auxiliaries, college sororities, and support groups for working mothers. One of the oldest books in this collection is the 1905 Los Angeles Times Cookbook No. 2 whose title page gives credit opaquely to "California Women." Just six years later, Bertha L. Turner, a caterer and State Superintendent of Domestic Science in Pasadena, compiled The Federation Cook Book: A Collection of Recipes Contributed by the Colored Women of the State of California, likely the first American cookbook to document the culinary traditions of the black middle class. Who are "California Women"? Any one cookbook provides only a glimpse at this unanswerable question. Yet, together, the books in this Archive speak to one another, offering up connections and contradictions.
"Long after I forgot my grandfather's theology, I remembered my grandmother's cooking," confides a quotation in the Forward to The Leo Baek Temple Cookbook. For me, cooking and eating has always been a way to travel through time and space. This collection highlights the scope of LA County both historically and physically. Over 45 cities and unincorporated neighborhoods are represented, spanning 13 decades. Each book is a place-making record, and as a collective they map an ever-changing LA, a city whose early, self-promoted mythology was deeply intwined with agriculture and food. My hope is for the Community Cookbook Archive to be a resource for artists, researchers, and home cooks alike. A community cookbook is the rare kind of book that actually invites the reader to make marks in it – often including blank pages for that exact purpose. Sharing space with one another is at the core of this archival endeavor. For more information on participating in this ongoing project, please see "What Is A Community Cookbook?".
SEARCH THE ARCHIVE
There are 4 ways to search this digital cookbook collection:
Scroll the Archive "shelves" and click on each book to learn more about its history and contents.
2. SEARCH BY DECADE
The books in the Archive span the early 1900s to the near present day.
Search the cookbooks by keyword. I am working to make the cookbook scans fully searchable online as well.
COOK THE ARCHIVE
The great thing about cookbooks is they are designed to spring off the page and into our lives. While the books in this collection are primary-source documents, they are also instruction manuals for food that can be made and tasted today.
This project will be at its best when Archive users are cooking and eating along with reading. While there are some obscure ingredients and antiquated techniques in these pages, that can be part of the fun.
In particular, many recipes showcase historic Southern California ingredients. On Instagram, I post my own experiments in making dishes from these books - with focus on putting both the ingredients and local organizations in historical context.
For the most part these recipes weren't created by professional cooks. They are intended to be made at home for family and friends. As far as I'm concerned, it is always ok to adapt for modern realities, tastes, price-points, and preferences.
Allergies? Gluten Free? Vegan? I've compiled some of my preferred products and techniques for substitutions, here. Several of the books in the Archive were produced during times of food scarcity, such as war and depression, and provide historical insights on creative substitutions as well.
This Archive is built on a long legacy of writings about historical cookbooks and Los Angeles food. My reading list of wonderful and related works is here.
If you'd like a scan of a specific book, or have any other questions, corrections, or comments, please reach out via the Contacts Page.