ACF Culinary Library : A Tour of History

Amidst the hustle and bustle at the ACF headquarters in -St. Augustine, Fla., sits a vast assortment of books lining a total of six bookcases and occupying 31 shelves. Passersby may quickly overlook the collection, but they miss an informative and exciting opportunity to dive into the world of culinary publications.

No matter what is included in the oftentimes narrow sense of the term “culinary genre,” the books that have been donated to ACF over the years span such broad areas that it is hard to peruse them and remain limited in the view of “cookbook.” In addition to the mass of cookbooks, which take up a total of three bookcases, there are a wide variety of books, pamphlets, and magazine anthologies.

The depth and variety of books lining the shelves would provide enough reading material to satisfy even the most well-read connoisseur of culinary traditions. One of the rarer books to be found among the assorted collections is a copy of The Home Queen World’s Fair Souvenir Cookbook which was first published in 1893. The pages are torn, and, in some cases, missing, but the history and wealth of information contained within is practically felt by simply holding the book. Flipping through the pages creates an unmatched level of nostalgia – the culture of the times and the history of the pages pours out before the reader’s eyes.

Another rare and dated book is a 1928 printing of Chef de Cuisine which was published in connection with the grand ballroom opening of the Chefs de Cuisine Association of Chicago. The book is a collection of articles, advertisements, and photographs of the time period, including such interesting titles as “The Lost Art of Eating,” “Can a College-Trained Dietitian Fill a Practical Chef’s Shoes?” and “Eating and Prohibition.” The photographs stir memories of a time past for many with the black and white pictures and the simple sketches.

In The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book, the yellowed, worn pages are the first clue that the book is aged, but the real hint lies in the word choice of the piece. The book was published in 1919 and presents its menus with the terms of class and style of the early 1900’s. The cookbook is more than a recipe collection; it is also a historical piece, sharing the guest book of the hotel in the menu files. Such interesting guests included the Knights of the Royal Arch on May 20, 1915, and The National Association of Professional Baseball on November 10, 1915.

The culinary library boasts a large selection of recipe and technique titles, but the information abundance does not stop there. In fact, the library contains over 35 subsections beyond the realm of “cookbook.” Such sections include the archives for The National Culinary Review from 1987 to the present and the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung Culinary ‘Olympics’ from competitions past. Educational and reference books, including titles on management and accounting for restaurant proprietors and workers, occupy two bookcases – approximately eight shelves in total. Interestingly, four shelves of books are written in foreign languages, from French and Chinese to Italian and German.

It is easy to see from the vast number of books on varying topics the arduous path toward creating and upholding the integrity of the culinary profession. Through the historical books, the stress that has been placed on foodservice, culinary artistry, and the importance of the trade is evident since the beginning of time. In the older books, the contents reveal a need for chefs of the early part of the last century to handle issues similar to the chefs of today