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The University of Alabama Libraries is proud to hold one of the largest collections of African American cookbooks in the country. The collection currently consists of four hundred and fifty volumes covering the period from 1827, when the first book with recipes by an African American was published, through the year 2000. When David W. Lupton, a distant cousin of former UA president Nathaniel Thomas Lupton, was considering a permanent home for his collection, the University of Alabama seemed to offer the ideal context both geographically and institutionally. His widow, Dorothy R. Lupton, finalized arrangements for transferring the volumes.
The David Walker Lupton African American Cookbook Collection strengthens the Libraries’ holdings in African American history and culture and is used by a broad range of library patrons. It has been used as the basis for student research projects and class projects at The University of Alabama.
David Lupton, who collected and published in several areas, put this collection together through intensive effort over a period of ten years. Simultaneously, he compiled a comprehensive bibliography of African American culinary literature, which is in the final stages of publication. Mrs. Lupton, who resides in Oriental, North Carolina, recently stated, “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.
“Cookbooks are widely accepted among scholars both as documents of history and works with literary interest,” commented Professor Elaine Martin, Professor of German and authority on food in film and literature. “Their study can illuminate the lives of people in new and innovative ways,” she explained.
The collection allows users to explore 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, there were the countless talented African American chefs who were responsible for the elegant cuisine in fine restaurants, hotels, clubs, and dining cars across the country. Rufus Estes (Good Things to Eat, originally published in 1911) presided over the luxurious private dining car of a railway executive and later was head chef of the subsidiary companies of the United States Steel Corporation in Chicago. In this collection one finds the first edition of 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 and traced through the many subsequent volumes extolling dishes that can now be found in trendy restaurants in most states. Many 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, social satire (see the underground classic, Vibration Cooking, by Vertamae Grosvenor, published in 1970), cultural and religious celebrations (several Kwanzaa cookbooks, for example), and almost every other aspect of life. There are plenty of celebrity recipes: Muhammad Ali’s favorite recipes and cookbooks by Johnny Mathis, Pearl Bailey, and Mahalia Jackson among others.
“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. “We are eager to add to the Collection,” added Pitschmann, “and are hopeful that the arrival of this important gift will encourage people throughout Alabama and the Southeast to consider contributing their African American cookbooks and recipe collections to the Hoole Library.” If you have a local or regional cookbook, or an African-American cookbook you wish to donate to the library, please contact us.
To view a list of the books in the collection,click here.
University of Alabama Libraries, 2004