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The State Journal Register

Culinary Historians visit Pleasant Plains to collect old recipes

Posted Oct 5, 2018 at 1:42 PMUpdated Oct 5, 2018 at 1:42 PM

PLEASANT PLAINS — A history road show came to Pleasant Plains Library this week, but its experts didn’t want to see vintage jewelry. They wanted to see vintage recipes.

Gerry Rounds and Bruce Kraig were there representing a group of food experts, historians, professors and cooks who formed the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois two years ago to “understand social and cultural history through the study and celebration of food and drink,” according to the group’s website. One of its goals is to record and research the culinary history of Illinois by gathering family recipes that are at least 50 years old from around the state.

They’ve been holding “Historic Recipe Road Shows” to collect these recipes, and Thursday’s visit to Pleasant Plains was their first in central Illinois. Eddie Overby, an 82-year-old Pleasant Plains resident and member of its library’s cookbook club, brought recipes for applesauce cake and ice box cookies.

“I make a lot of desserts,” he said, chuckling. Originally his mother made the cookies. Now, “they’re my daughter’s favorite.”

The recipes came from a cookbook Overby brought with him, “The Modern Family Cookbook” of 1964. It’s by Meta Given, who was “a Chicagoan and one of the famous cookbook writers from the last century,” said Kraig as he looked through the well-used book with its broken binding and bookmarked, yellow pages. He is a food writer and professor emeritus in history at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.

So far, CHNI has gathered and scanned about 50 recipes from around the state. Rounds, the group’s president, said they will be archived online and hopefully available in January to researchers and anyone who wants to view them. Those interested can go to the CHNI website ( to learn where to the find the recipes online. They may also be published in a book.

CHNI will study the recipes to “look for local or regional food cultures,” says Kraig. “We want to see changes over time in our food. That depends on how the food is sourced, meaning once upon a time, when Eddie (Overby) was a boy, his mom cooked everything from their farm and in the garden. And a lot of Illinois farm life was like that until WWII. Now it’s all processed. Much of the food comes from California and all over.”

Rounds, a culinary historian and educator from Wheaton, adds: “We also want to see how outside historical forces, like WWI, WWII, the Depression, and the women’s movement impact (what we eat) and did they impact different areas the same way.”

She hasn’t noticed any trends in the recipes so far, but says “you see the same recipes over and over: biscotti, sugar cookies, relish — relishes are big from the early 1900s. Then you get into the 1950s, after WWII, when sugar wasn’t being rationed (anymore) and you see desserts and sweets because moms were staying home. Women weren’t working so they had more time to make these.”

Rounds says CHNI will hold more historic recipe road shows starting next spring, but if you can’t make it to one you can still submit an historic recipe (at least 50 years old) from your family online or by email. Directions are on CHNI’s website. Staff at the Pleasant Plains Library and Ashland Library also will help people scan and submit recipes, according to Kathy Roegge, the libraries’ director.

Contact Tara McClellan McAndrew through the metro desk at or 788-1401.



Your Cookbook Scribbles are a Part of Culinary History


(view original article)


Ever scribbled a substitution in the margins of a cookbook? That page is technically now a manuscript, which is the main ingredient of a culinary history.

Culinary history focuses on how food is prepared, whereas food history encompasses everything from how food is grown to how it’s served. Annotated cookbooks, recipe cards, and all other forms of recipe documentation are a culinary historian’s tools to construct a coherent narrative about what we eat and how it’s made.

To create an archive of regional manuscripts, the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois has begun collecting and uploading manuscripts in the past year from the likes of you and me. The archive is planned to be available online at the end of next year, so everyone has the tools to create histories about local cooking.

“Food is the core of our existence,” Bruce Kraig says, “Food and how it’s made is the driving force behind our identities.” Kraig is the vice president of the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois and published food historian. He has made a career out of studying food ways, and he’s learned to see the history of food as intimately intertwined with our personal histories and national identities.

“Take for example when Jewish immigrants first started moving to Naperville. We can look at how traditional recipes change to see what ‘Jewishness’ became in a protestant town.” Kraig points out how the recipe changes also reflect how food ways in the US were local; the lack of industrialization of agriculture and mass production of production lines demanded a short supply chain where immigrants had to make do with local ingredients.

But how accurate are annotated recipes in showing how people really cooked? I know a bud who can literally make 3 things: chicken soup, cucumber salad, and steak. These are all things he can prepare without a recipe, and he refuses to look at one to learn how to make new dishes. When you live in the heart of Chicago and have enough disposable income, there’s really no need to cook. Or take myself, who bakes with the mindset that recipes are more of a guideline. The result is that my muffins never rise right. Digressions aside, how “authentic” can recipes be?

I can hear Kraig shake his head over the phone when I ask him. “Authenticity is a loaded word,” Kraig sighs, “the general rule of thumb is that 70% of community cookbook recipes come from the back of a box.” A little archival digging here and there and one could cross reference to ensure a recipe truly came from a specific time period, but there’s no good way in determining whether or not recipes were strictly followed; “There’s no way to capture what people do unless it’s an oral history. You have to assume that the recipe is pretty close to what they’re making,” says Kraig.

Once you trust your sources, you can create your own histories. The Cookery Manuscript Project is a systematic way to collect local recipes, so that anyone can use them to learn how local eating has changed. This is integral to constructing family histories, but also learning more about the perspectives of women in the past. Often, it was mothers who prepared dinner, and examining the recipes they used offers a lens into their most personal habits. Whether or not you’re constructing a feminist or family history, the Cookery Manuscript Project is a simply great way to get your hands on tried-and-true recipes.

The Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois hope to have recipes uploaded for easy access by the end of 2018. Before that happens, though, they need more submissions from the likes of you and me. Submit your family recipes here and your recipes are historical documents that are only a step away from being archived

DuPage Historical Museum examines influence of food

By Brett Peto
Wheaton Park District

Daily Herald\updated: 10/6/2016 10:24 AM

Biscuits, gravy, persimmon jam, sausages and more were staples on the tables of early settlers in northern Illinois.

Culinary historian Bruce Kraig will examine the eating habits of local ancestors as he presents "What We Ate: A History of Northern Illinois Foodways" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at the DuPage County Historical Museum, 102 E. Wesley St., Wheaton.

The settlers' traditions and the fertile land they tamed influenced their own food from the 1850s to the 1930s, but Kraig will discuss how they've also influenced modern dining.

Kraig's presentation serves as the inaugural meeting of the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois, a new organization dedicated to understanding social and cultural history through the study and celebration of food and drink.

"Anyone interested in food culture, history and tradition is invited to join us on Oct. 13 as we explore the rich food culture of Northern Illinois," said CHNI co-founder Gerry Rounds.

A professor emeritus of history at Roosevelt University, Kraig has hosted an award-winning PBS series on global food and culture, written hundreds of food-related articles, and wrote several titles, including "Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America" and "America's Food," coming in 2017. He also has taught at the culinary school of Kendall College in Chicago.

Along with Kraig's program, Rounds will outline CHNI's first research project, Cookery Manuscript, which involves "the archiving of handwritten cookery manuscripts (recipes) 50 years or older."

Following the presentation, Elizabeth Carlson of Ellie Presents will provide a historically authentic tasting of some of the foods mentioned in Kraig's presentation.

Her presentation, "Tasting History," draws on her 30-year career as a museum curator and past theater experience.

Museum manager and educator Michelle Podkowa said the museum is excited to be involved in the new group for culinary historians.

"We look forward to our ongoing partnership with this group," she said. "We are especially excited to see the outcome of the Cookery Manuscript project."

"What We Ate: A History of Northern Illinois Foodways" is free, but registration is requested. For more information and to register, call (630) 510-4941.



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