Collections and Resources, Exhibits, North Carolina Collection, North Carolina History, Special Collections

From Brunswick Stew to Barbecue: The Cookbook as Cultural History

From Brunswick Stew to Barbecue: The Cookbook as Cultural History
North Carolina Collection Gallery
Wilson Special Collections Library
Extended: Now through October 4 October 11, 2015
(919) 962-3765 or

I’ve feasted North, I’ve feasted West,
I’ve starved on foreign menu—
North Carolina’s cooks of all are best;
Come, try the ways that they knew.
–Mrs. W.L. Hill, in The Twin-City Housewife

Lovers of Southern cooking and culture have a new exhibition to feast on at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library.

From Brunswick Stew to Barbecue: The Cookbook as Cultural History will be on view in the North Carolina Collection Gallery through October 4. The exhibition showcases 49 cookbooks drawn from more than 900 that are part of the North Carolina Collection (NCC).

Cookbooks are more than just recipes, says Alison Barnett, the NCC’s business services coordinator and curator of the exhibition. They are a record of their times and of the communities that created each one.

Barnett divided the exhibit into eight broad topical categories that demonstrate just how much cookbooks can convey. One section looks at the changing role of women in the kitchen. Volumes range from The Young Housewife’s Councilor and Friend, an 1875 advice manual for wealthy Southerners, to Rush Hour Super Chef for the woman on the go a full century later.

The “Notable North Carolina Cooks” section features books by culinary Tar Heels such as Marion Brown, Bill Neal, Mildred Council (Mama Dip), and Bob Garner. Guides to Cherokee cooking, the mountain recipes of Scottish émigrés, and Southern Latino cooking are all part of “One State, Many Flavors.”

At the core of the NCC cookbook collection and the exhibition are community cookbooks from churches, schools, and local organizations. Barnett says that these volumes with titles like Smokin’ Recipes from Station 73 and Potluck with the Women’s Center are historical records as well as recipe collections.

“Many of these books include things like membership rosters and genealogies that might not be anywhere else,” says Barnett. As such, they support the NCC’s mission to document all aspects of the state through printed records and artifacts.

An avid cook and baker, Barnett has spent hours with the collection, even trying out some of the vintage recipes herself. She began contributing recipe posts to North Carolina Miscellany, the NCC’s blog, as a way to share her findings. She regularly posts tidbits such as fruitcake recipes for the holidays, “Recipes in honor of National Hamburger Day,” and gelatin recipes for just about any occasion.

Barnett and Holly Roper, a student employee of the Library, made pass after pass through the collection in order to select the best titles for the exhibition. One of Barnett’s favorites is The Twin-City Housewife from the early 1900s. “There are splatters all over and hand-written recipes on the back,” she said. “You know this book was well used!”

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