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Statement of Purpose


The Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois was formed as a way to explore this question: what are northern Illinois foodways and do they make for a distinctive regional cuisine (or cuisines). By foodways we mean that food in all of its aspects- from growing, to production and preparation, to dining – that are fundamental to our existence. It is maybe the best way to understand a people’s way of living and thinking-in two words, culture and society. While initially focusing on northern Illinois, we will expand our exploration to numerous other geographical areas, their culture and foodways.


Looking at foodways is about identity. We know that America has a number of distinctive food traditions that represent local and regional cultures. New Orleans is the most famous example. Southern Illinois is another one with regional dialects to go along with distinctive dishes. The original European-American settlers of Northern Illinois were farmers whose production fed the growing food center called Chicago. Some of those old small town ways remain. But northern Illinois has a complex immigration and settlement history especially so because of Chicago. Some communities like Sterling retain some Scandinavian influences; West Chicago has a Mexican character. Others communities were formed from migration from Chicago-Bohemians to Du Page County, Italians to Melrose Park and other nearby towns, while African-American foodways have been represented in the near western suburbs for some time. The story of the region’s foodways has lots of threads that we hope to explore in depth.


The Manuscript Project, founding project for the Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois is one way to get at the stories of people and their food. By collecting family manuscript recipes and analyzing them a fuller picture of how much traditional fare remains within family traditions. How these older ways were affected by modern products and recipes is really part of the story: these additions and culinary elements that were incorporated into people’s basic cooking repertoire are part of the changing foodways picture. Recipes tell us what these were and, even more important, show us what people-women mainly-did to put dishes on their tables for their families. 

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