Guest Post: Revisiting the Kirschner Collection

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This week's post comes from Liz Gunderson of Food for Fun. Liz, a University of Minnesota alum helped to move the Kirschner Collection from Doris Kirschner's home to campus. She came back to visit the collection at Magrath Library last week and wrote a post about it.

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In 1995, my friend Ann and I loaded up carful after carful (and if memory serves me correctly, there was a truck involved, too) to transport Doris Kirschner's 3000 cookbooks to the Food Science Library at the University's St. Paul Campus. I took my time going through the books, stamping each with an inky black "Doris S. Kirschner's Kitchen" stamp, reveling in the history that these books contained.

Kirschner may have lived in a different era and she certainly had a different lifestyle (lupus kept her bedridden much of her adult life), but she wore the hats many women wear: mom, wife, person of faith, student, hostess, friend, woman. Her cookbooks reflected the times in which she lived. But these books also reflect what it means to wear all of these hats. And that part doesn't change.

When I look at my collection (at 300 cookbooks, it's much smaller than Kirschner's), I see similar themes:

Children - Kirschner had two copies of the 1965 version of Betty Crocker's New Girls and Boys Cook Book. Both have been carefully wrapped in cardboard binding by library staff as the books have come completely apart. I have the same book in my collection, along with a handful of other kid-friendly cookbooks.

Feeding a husband - Admittedly, my copies of Scentuous Cookery; or How to Make it in the Kitchen (1971) and How to Keep Him (After You've Caught Him) Cookbook (1968) aren't given too much read time. The titles crack me up, though, so I keep them around.

International - Kirschner was interested in foods of other places and cultures long before it was popular to be so. Leeann and Katie Chin's Everyday Chinese Cooking may sit on my shelves, but it was Kirschner who first befriended Leeann Chin, long before this entrepreneur launched her Chinese food and restaurant empire.

Single topic - Nuts anyone? I have a copy of a Jif Choosy Mothers' Peanut Butter Cookbook from 1979. Cheese. Always a hot topic--just this past June, I picked up a recipe booklet from the first-ever Minnesota Cheese Festival. Cocktail books and branded recipe pamphlets. My copies of The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, The PDT Cocktail Book, and Hollywood Cocktails may be more recent than what Kirschner had, but they're still about booze.

Kitchen equipment - Kirschner's era meant she had books on how to cook using the blender and microwave. While I do have 1952's Magic Recipes for the Electric Blender, the books I actually cook from include those written for grills, slow cookers, and pressure cookers.

Diet - What struck me about this section of Kirschner's collection is how little things change. Low-Carb diets were being touted then, just as they are today. (Hilarious find:1966's Martinis & Whipped Cream: The New Carbo-Cal Way to Lose Weight & Stay Slim). But alongside the low-carb/high-protein diet books sits The Rice Diet Report (1987). Also on her shelves: The Doctor's Wife's Thinking Thin Cookbook (1967), The Slenderella Cook Book (1957), The Bronx Diet (1979), The Last Chance Diet, When Everything Else Has Failed (1976). My "diet" books may be more along the lines of healthy eating (Weight Watchers, vegetarian, whole-grain, dairy-free), but they represent an interest in eating well.

Here's my read on the Kirschner's Cookbook Collection: Cookbooks for children mean motherhood was important to Kirschner. The cookbooks to "please her man" meant she wanted a strong marriage. International cookbooks provided armchair travel to other cultures. (And what mom and wife doesn't want to escape reality, at least from time to time?) Single topic? I'd say Kirschner was an inquisitive woman who was hungry for knowledge. The equipment books mean she wanted to stay on trend, maybe save some time in the kitchen. And the diet books emphasized her desire to be attractive, healthy, thin.

It's easy enough to laugh at the era from when Kirschner's books were collected (How to Keep Him (After You've Caught Him)? What were they thinking?), but in these books I recognize her desires as the same as all women's. What was true in Kirschner's time was also true in the 1990s when the books were catalogued into a University-owned collection. They're still true in 2012 and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Women have many roles to fill and the fact that Kirschner captured that so well in her collection of cookbooks should be honored.

If it's at all possible for you to visit these cookbooks, please take the time to do so. You'll learn a lot about Kirschner and her era, but you'll also find timeless and universal truths for all women.

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