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Searching the Chinese Cookbook Collection at Stony Brook

by Andrew Coe


Fall Volume: 2006 Issue: 13(3) page(s): 19 and 28

With more than two thousand six hundred titles, the 'Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection' at Stony Brook University is undoubtedly the largest assemblage of English-language Chinese cookbooks in the world. In comparison, next largest are the Library of Congress which possesses only some one thousand Chinese cookbooks and the University of California at Davis has about eight hundred recipe books of this ethnic group. In New York City, the main reading institution, The New York Public Library, owns some four hundred Chinese cookbooks in English, and New York University’s Bobst Library is owner of some two hundred of them. The Los Angeles Public Library does have more than fifteen hundred Chinese cookery titles, however, two-thirds of them are in Chinese. In Cambridge Massachusetts, The Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, a women’s history and culinary collector that once was considered Harvard’s sister institution, lists some four hundred titles.

Jacqueline M. Newman, one of the founders and the editor of Flavor and Fortune, the magazine of the Institute for the Advancement of the Science and Art of Chinese Cuisine, acquired her first Chinese cookbook as an engagement present in 1952. Her husband gave her a second Chinese cookbook. That was a Valentine’s Day gift in 1954. She cooked through that one cover to cover and began seriously cooking Chinese food. The serious collecting of Chinese cookbooks began about a decade later.

Collecting became an obsession that filled her home and took her all over Europe, Asia, and East Asia eating Chinese food and toting home her Chinese cookbook finds. Although she donated the bulk of her collection to Stony Brook University in 2002 and they began to put it on their web site and made it available in 2005, her obsession remains. She still purchases Chinese cookbooks and keeps some favorites for cooking; and she retains other volumes for reference. The donated collection is housed in the special collections division of Stony Brook’s Melville library on its second floor. The library itself is about two hours east of Manhattan using the Long Island Expressway, a bit less on the Long Island Railroad. The university does have a bus from train station to library.

Before you go, you can consult the collection off-campus but on line. One way is by using the web at www.sunysb.edu/libspecial/collections/manuscripts/newman.htm Another way it to use the web and type: www.stonybrook.edu/libspecial/collections/rarebooks

This is an alternate web entry point to explore the donated cookbooks. In addition to the books, this Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection contains thousands of food magazines, Chinese-, Asian- and food-related slides, videos, DVD’s, and older filmstrips. For most researchers, however, the most valuable part of this website is its portal to the collection’s searchable database. There is yet another way, and that is by visiting

It is of value to know that as Dr. Newman amassed this huge collection, she also put in a huge amount of time and effort to compile a database with separate entries for each and every title, and information about each book's contents. This is installed and coupled with the Chinese cookbooks listed on the library's website. It is an incredible aid for researchers and others just curious about Chinese food. You can search this collection by author's name, title, city of publication, state or country of publication, publisher, year, and the book’s ISBN number, should it have one, or by any keyword in its citation data including the annotations done for each book.

Yes, each cookbook entry in the database contains all the usual publication information (author, title, city and publication company, date of publication, number of pages, etc.). There is also a fairly detailed description of the book's contents, the number of recipes in it, every book's chapter titles as they appear in the Table of Contents, plus information about its front matter, pictures, index listing, and more.

Wonder what the earliest book title is, search by date and learn it is a 1899 U.S. Government Printing Office pamphlet titled: A Description of Some Chinese Vegetable Food Materials. It was authored by Walter C. Blasdale and printed in Washington D.C.

The main purpose of this database is to point you in the direction of any cookbooks you want to consult. You can use the database as a research tool in and of itself. For instance, you can gain insight into how cities like Honolulu, and Detroit--thanks to La Choy--became centers of Chinese cookbook publication. You can chart the rising popularity of Chinese food among English speakers. You can learn, for instance, that less than two dozen Chinese cookbooks were published between 1910 and 1930, and that in the 1950's that figure rose to fifty-nine. There are one hundred thirty-one listed for the 1960's and four hundred and two for the 1970's. The 1990's is the decade with the highest number of titles to date, eight hundred fifty-eight.

Close inspection reveals that at least a third of those published in the nineteen ninety's are dual language volumes (Chinese and English). They were published primarily in Hong Kong and Taiwan. For New York City publishers, interest in Chinese cookbooks peaked in 1970's, ninety-five titles were published in those years. That number dropped to seventy-one titles in the 1990's. Am I correct to think the number for the first decade of this millennium will surely be less? When Newman donates more titles, which she plans to at the end of this year and as soon as their annotation are done, the answer should be available.

The only drawback with this database is that it is sometimes difficult to make connections into it. From my home computer, which uses a Verizon DSL line, I can not connect to the database at all. I have only occasionally had problems while connecting from public computers, such as at the New York Public Library. Others advise they have no problems; perhaps they have larger storage space or faster systems. Should you experience any difficulties, do call the Special Collections chief librarian, Kristen Nytray, as I have done. She is very willing to help try to resolve these issues. She asks you to be aware that when they are adding new volumes or tweaking the system, use can be problematic. If you have problems, you can reach her at (631) 632-7119.

My next article will describe a visit to this huge Jacqueline M. Newman English-language Chinese Cookbook Collection. I can not wait to go and see for myself, and also to use many of its contents.
Andrew Coe is a food historian obsessed with the history of Chinese food in America. His article on the history of chop suey will be published in the 'American Heritage' magazine very soon. He is currently researching the histories of dim sum and General Tso's chicken; surely other fascinating topics will follow.

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