By Jenna Press
Assistant City Editor
The Texas Collection has vast archives full of essays, novels and academic books. One genre that doesn’t get a lot of recognition, though, is its collection of cookbooks.
The Texas Collection has thousands of cookbooks in its archives, and to celebrate them and the culture they represent, the library hosted “Cooking in Texas.” The event held Thursday evening was a panel that discussed the individuality of Texas food and traditions.
There were four panelists, all with a background in food, including Lisa Fain, who writes the blog “Homesick Texan;” Marvin Bendele, the executive director of Foodways Texas; Mary Margaret Pack, a chef, food historian and writer; and Beth White, a cookbook collector and author. The event’s moderator, Addie Broyles, is a food blogger and food editor of the Austin American-Statesman.
The cookbooks housed at The Texas Collection are available for anyone to use or look at for research.
White was the collector who compiled the cookbooks that ended up at The Texas Collection.
“They just started growing,” she said. “You gather a few here and a few there – it was addicting.”
The panelists discussed how Texas cuisine is spreading throughout the U.S.
“Southern cooking is spreading to San Francisco – to them it’s an exotic cuisine. They think it’s wonderful. It made me appreciate what we have going here,” said Pack, who graduated from California Culinary Academy.
Bendele said people assume Texas is all about barbecue and brisket or Mexican food, but it’s so much more, and has a basis in many rich cultures, including Mexican, German and Czech.
“I think one important thing is the state has been a crossroad, culturally and geographically, since the Native Americans,” Pack said. “Foods were coming from all directions, and that’s a tradition that has continued with the state today.”
Texas has a wide and varied food history, and for centuries, Texas citizens have been writing down their recipes in cookbooks, often working together on a book as a community. These “community cookbooks” were a chance for everyone in a town to contribute a recipe, share ideas and create something together.
“Before World War II, these community cookbooks were really a portrait of the community,” White said.
Some books had stories accompanying each recipe that tell historians how the people in each town lived. However, some had advertisements that would be considered racist today, and tended to exclude the non-Anglo and non-English-speaking communities.
“You really have to look at what you mean by community cookbook,” Bendele said. “There are people whose voices are not in those books. There’s so much you can get from them, but there’s a lot that’s not there, too.”
Although community cookbooks are very prevalent in Texas history, there were cookbooks produced by prolific individuals as well.
“People aspired to make food like Helen Corbitt,” White said. “She was the first person to put Texas cooking on the map in the larger world.”
Pack also cited Mary Faulk Koock as an inspiration in Texas cooking.
“Her cookbooks have great recipes, but also great stories,” she said.
Despite the modern culture of fast food, eating out and microwave meals, the panelists agreed that people today are still making home-cooked meals, but the culture surrounding it has changed.
“I think we’re cooking more,” Fain said. “I think a lot of it stems from the recession, when people couldn’t afford to go out, but I think they realized the home-cooked food tastes better, and they like it, and it’s fun.”