For Patric Kuh, much of his quest to uncover the roots of the artisanal food movement for his last book did not happen on the land or in bakeries or distilleries, but at the Huntington Library, where he will be giving a lecture entitled “A Recipe is More than a Recipe”.
He certainly spent a fair amount of time getting to know producers and farmers and makers all over the country, but Kuh, the Los Angeles magazine restaurant critic, author of the James Beard Award-winning book “The Last Days of Haute Cuisine” and most recently, “Finding the Flavors We Lost: From Bread to Bourbon, How Artisans Reclaimed American Food”, is quick to credit The Huntington’s Anne M. Cranston American Regional and Charitable Cookbook Collection.
“The collection helped me understand an entire timeline for the artisan food movement,” he said. The upcoming lecture is inspired from his latest book and he plans to discuss the history of recipes, along with community and charitable cookbooks and their role in the changes in food and community and the way Americans cooked at home.
“I wasn’t even allowed to enter the vault,” as he describes the vast area where the collection is housed. “A team of librarians helped me gather my research materials on a daily basis.” He spent years sifting through the legendary collection, which includes 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. He also sorted through charitable cookbooks and ephemera, which gave him clues about the shifting role food and recipes played over history.
He plans to talk about the early artisans, living off the land, who started to write down their recipes and create the early cookbooks. Then to the onset of the industrial revolution, which led women away from fresh produce and their regional specialties to canned goods and national dishes, like Campbell’s soup casseroles and jello salads. Later, the movement would slowly revert back to high quality, locally sourced food. “We have reached a level that would be unimaginable to early artisans,” he said. Kuh also examines emerging principles of brand awareness, food purity, and modernity, which all occurred in the home kitchen.
“It took an entire generation in the sixties and seventies to reclaim the knowledge of the early artisans and we have only been improving on it since,” he said.
In terms of the future of the artisan food movement he believes the next arena will be affordability. “How can contemporary artisans maintain the highest level of quality and at the same time make it affordable?,” he asked. “These are the questions many artisans are already grappling with.”
“A Recipe is More than a Recipe”, Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 7:30 in Rothenberg Hall.
A book signing will follow the lecture. Free; no reservations required.