The great West Coast-East Coast cookbook war is over. And the result is a compromise that nearly everyone pronounces delicious, if a bit too long in the oven.
After two years of academic lobbying, libraries at UC San Diego and Radcliffe College have split the 858 rare books on food, wine and agriculture that formed the world-famous Andre L. Simon-Eleanor Lowenstein Collection of Gastronomic Literature.
“I think it’s just marvelous,” renowned chef Julia Child, who helped arrange the solution, said in a telephone interview from her home near Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass.
The books belonged to the American Institute of Wine and Food, a San Francisco-based organization that brought them to UC Santa Barbara six years ago with hopes of moving its own offices to that campus soon afterward.
Robert Huttenback, UC Santa Barbara chancellor at the time, strongly backed the institute’s move despite some faculty opposition, but the proposal melted like butter in the heat generated by the chancellor’s subsequent legal troubles and resignation. Huttenback is appealing a 1988 conviction for tax evasion and embezzlement of university funds.
Then, other universities around the country began to ask for the collection, which experts say is probably unmatched in its representation of English, French and American gastronomical works from the 16th through 19th centuries.
Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America was considered by many to be the logical recipient because it already holds the nation’s premier center for gastronomy research. Besides, Child, a founder of the institute, had strong ties to the Schlesinger and recently gave her own book collection to that library.
But California scholars and gourmands insisted that the books stay on the West Coast. UC Davis, which has a wine studies program, wanted them, as did Stanford, UCLA and UC San Diego.
The institute was reluctant at first to break up the collection. The books and manuscripts languished for four years, rarely read, in a refrigerated vault at UC Santa Barbara as the tussle between East and West Coast contingents degenerated into a stalemate.
Finally, UC San Diego and Radcliffe were chosen to divide the collection evenly after San Diego and Boston area chapters of the institute each promised to raise $100,000 for the care and restoration of the books, officials said. The antique paper of some volumes had been damaged by handling near hot stoves and the passage of time.
“It was kind of painful politically. There’s no escaping that,” recalled Dun Gifford, chairman emeritus of the institute and a food consultant in Massachusetts. He described the recent compromise as “a win-win.”
Even split in half, the collection offers important social, economic and technological insights beyond the kitchens and wine cellars. Recipe ingredients help scholars date, for example, the opening of trade routes between Asia and Europe. Some volumes show how dependent the American South was on slavery. Household remedies and tips on grape mashing illustrate the progress of medicine and machinery.
Included in its treasures are a 1559 Latin discourse on wine drinking, a 1623 guidebook for the duties of an English housewife, a 1703 list of dessert recipes for French royalty and what is generally thought to be the first book about American cuisine, published in 1808.
To complement courses in the University of California system, books about wine, orchards and animal husbandry stayed in California. Works about the food trade and early Spanish cuisine also went to UC San Diego to supplement its Central University Library holdings of rare books on New World exploration. UC San Diego also received books that duplicated existing Radcliffe holdings.
“We’ve decided to carve out areas that haven’t been claimed by many other libraries,” explained Lynda Claassen, head of special collections at UC San Diego. “We want to build a culinary and gastronomy collection about Latin America, the Pacific Basin, the American Southwest and the Hispanic tradition.”
During a recent interview, Claassen pointed out a few of the most interesting volumes in her share of the collection. Among them: “The Houseservant’s Directory,” an 1828 volume by Robert Roberts, a black American servant in Massachusetts, who gave advice on everything from how to take care of mahogany furniture to how to choose a nice piece of fish; “Du Chocolat,” a 1643 French discourse about the various uses of chocolate, then a delicacy from the New World; “A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine,” a 1790 guidebook to British grape-growing techniques, complete with illustrations on pruning.
In what librarians call building to strength, Radcliffe got most of the books about French, British and New England cooking.
“I think it was hard for the California group to give them up,” recalled Barbara Haber, a curator at Radcliffe. “But at the same time, I think everybody is pleased that a new (cookbook) collection is starting in San Diego.”
Radcliffe’s share of books, specially packed, were moved by a company that ships fine art works. UC system curators handled the move to San Diego. All the books are being kept in temperature-controlled rooms to prevent further decay.
The books have moved a lot in the last 28 years. In 1962, New York antiquarian cookbook dealer Eleanor Lowenstein bought the British and French titles from Andre L. Simon, the English wine writer. Lowenstein added American texts. After her death in 1970, her husband sold the collection to Harvard economics professor David Segal for $135,000.
Later, at Child’s suggestion, Segal sold most of the books to the institute for the same price, with much of the money donated by California wineries. Undivided, the collection was valued at $270,000 two years ago but is thought to be worth much more now.
The collection moved to San Francisco and then to Santa Barbara, where it became a side course in the main menu of woes for the Huttenback administration.
The UC Santa Barbara faculty revolted against the culinary center proposal, with some professors ridiculing the idea as a giant wine and cheese party. Childs, who has a vacation home in Santa Barbara and who remains a strong supporter of Huttenback, still bristles at what she calls “the unsophistication” of some critics on campus.
Childs said she is talking with several other universities about starting masters’ degree programs in gastronomy, which she said no school now offers. “The unsophisticated think it’s only about cooks and chefs, but they don’t realize that most of the great movements in history centered on the sources of food. For example, look at Russia today,” she said, referring to the food shortages that endanger the Gorbachev regime.