Before the internet, cookbooks were top sellers. Home chefs and famous culinary giants both had space in their kitchens and homes for recipes ranging from regional to international. Although new ways of cooking and time-honored techniques have found a solid home on the web, some people are diligently working to preserve the older versions of recipes, those found on paper. One example of these efforts can be found within the Special Collections Library at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
Photo: @jamiesue via Twenty20
Originally began with a donation of nearly 550 books, UTSA’s collection is now North America’s largest-known trove of Mexican and Mexican-American cookbooks. Items include a cookbook from 1789, the oldest cookbooks published in Mexico (from 1831), elaborate healthy eating and vegetarian cookbooks from 1915 and 1920, community cookbooks, and much more. Some books are from businesses such as Gebhardt Chili Powder Company and Bimbo brand bread. Some recipes are quite the undertaking. One calls for 14 cups of butter, 18 cups of sugar, 22 cups of flour, and several pounds of decorations. Big quinceañeras call for grand cakes!
In an effort to make the cookbook collection accessible to all, UTSA is in the process of both scanning and transcribing the books and papers, especially fragile and one-of-a-kind manuscripts. This method will allow the contents to be searchable. Today, in light of the personal restrictions of the pandemic, the university is releasing recipes from the collection as free e-books called Recetas: Cocinando en los Tiempos del Coronavirus/Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus. The first release focuses on the dessert course. The second release is all about main courses, and the third is for those looking for drink and appetizer recipes. Search and learn here; there is no telling what kind of comforting and experimental flavors you can discover within your kitchen’s walls!