The University of Alabama Libraries is proud to hold the David Walker Lupton African American Cookbook Collection, one of the largest collections of African American cookbooks in the country. The collection consists of almost five hundred volumes covering the period from 1827, when the first book with recipes by an African American was published, through 2011. View a list of the books in the collection on our website.
David Lupton, who collected and published in several areas, put this collection together through intensive effort over a period of ten years. According to Mrs. Lupton, who resides in Oriental, North Carolina, “David had a deep conviction that cookbooks compiled by individuals in America of African heritage needed to be identified and preserved.”
Culinary texts yield far more than recipes when closely scrutinized. They are written from the point of view of an individual or a community and, as such, have much to say about ethnic identity, family and community life, social history, the roles of women and men, values, religion, and economics, as well as the more obvious fields of diet and nutrition, use of agricultural products, the food supply, and general food history.
The collection allows users to explore various aspects of the relationship between food and African American history and culture. Well before the popularization of “soul food” and before the advent of celebrity media chefs, countless talented African American chefs were responsible for the elegant cuisine in fine restaurants, hotels, clubs, and dining cars across the country, including Rufus Estes, whose Good Things to Eat was originally published in 1911. In this collection one finds The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro (1958) by The National Council of Negro Women, possibly the first African American cookbook to link in a deliberate manner culinary heritage with social, cultural, economic, and political history. Also present is the slim volume of recipes by Clementine Hunter (Melrose Plantation Cookbook, published in 1956), internationally collected folk artist sometimes called the Black “Grandma Moses,” who late in life turned her talents from the kitchen to the canvas.
The beginnings of the soul food movement in the late sixties are well documented, as well as the way the trend lived on in many adaptations: vegetarian soul, healthy soul, and neo soul. Around 100 of the cookbooks are community-based fund-raisers from churches, women’s clubs, and sororities. Such books can often be the most difficult to identify and locate because they usually do not receive wide publicity or distribution beyond their contributors.
Almost every title in the Lupton Collection suggests more than recipes: food is linked with music, humor (for example, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature, 1974), social satire (see the underground classic Vibration Cooking, by Vertamae Grosvenor, 1970), cultural and religious celebrations (several Kwanzaa cookbooks, for example), and almost every other aspect of life. There are plenty of celebrity recipes, including Muhammad Ali’s favorite recipes and cookbooks by Johnny Mathis, Mahalia Jackson, Patti LaBelle, and Isaac Hayes.
“The Lupton Collection was avidly sought by more than one institution, and we are honored that the Lupton family has entrusted the result of David’s creative vision to us,” said Louis A. Pitschmann, Dean of Libraries.