A local reporter had arrived to do a story on our new collection of African-American cookbooks. A librarian was explaining the significance of the collection when a researcher walked in and asked to see the Lupton collection. "What a coincidence," the librarian said, "this reporter is doing a story about it. Perhaps she'd like to hear of your interest." As the researcher explained her interest in the collection, she mentioned where she was from. The reporter was stunned. "You've come all the way from New York to Alabama to see these! Why?"
David Walker Lupton put together his collection of 450 volumes because, in the words of his wife, "David had a deep conviction that cookbooks compiled by individuals in America of African heritage needed to be identified and preserved." His collection covers the period from 1827, when the first book with recipes by an African-American was published, through the year 2000. When Mr. Lupton, a collateral descendant of former University of Alabama 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 in 2004.
Some of the cookbooks represent the work of talented African-American chefs responsible for much of the elegant cuisine in fine restaurants, hotels, clubs, and dining cars, but the beginnings of the soul food movement are well documented also. Many of the cookbooks are communitybased fund raisers from churches, women's clubs, and sororities. These are often the most difficult to identify and locate because they usually do not receive wide publicity or distribution beyond their contributors.
Because culinary texts are written from the point of view of an individual or a community, they 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. Almost every title in the Lupton Collection suggests more than recipes: food is linked with music, humor, social satire, cultural and religious celebrations, and other aspects of African-American life.
The Lupton collection has been used by students, faculty, and researchers from across the country. One researcher used the collection for research for a book and for a talk to be delivered in Africa on African foodways in America. A class on cooking and culture used the collection for group research projects, culminating in presentations complete with dishes prepared by the students. In an ethnography class, one student project resulted in tying recipes in several of the cookbooks to specific family traditions. Interest in the collection continues due to the initial press release and the information about the collection put on our Web site.
Collection Profile and Overview: Clark E. Center Jr.
Illustrations: Marina Klarić