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Culinary Ephemera

by: William Woys Weaver

Berkeley CA: University of Californai Press 2010, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-520-25977-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(2) page(s): 22

This volume, subtitled: An Illustrated History, seduces readers with visual morsels. More than an amuse-bouche, though the author says it is just that, the volume includes wonderful pictures visualizing and telling tales about its food. The book is in the California Studies of Food and Culture series and Weaver dedicates it to Jan Longone who inspired him and others to explore uncharted culinary byways.

The contents, often discarded pictures needing little explanation, enriches readers enjoying their culinary ephemera. Take a long hard look and learn lots about these food-related photos found in eighteen diverse chapters. They are from almanacs, calendars, business cards, labels, match covers, sheet music, wrappers and packaging, trade cards, and more.

Four are things Chinese, each one a gem. Not 'culinary rubbish,' as the author generalizes about them, they are fantastic finds in the more than three hundred and fifty vibrant visuals about foods, meals, and culinary interactions. Each picture offers symbols and meanings; and we like to call them Weaver wonders.

As a collector of cookbooks and other ephemera for more than half a century, I am obsessed with food words and wisdom, cooking styles, social mores, knowledge of the past, and food’'s overall and specific cultural values. Find these things in his ephemera, ancient and modern, all times and tastes worth sharing. Take a look and savor what they represent and what we can imagine if tasting them. Weaver's book is a testament to the food and beverage business.

Among them are Chinese, German and English slips for wafers that tout love and prospects of marriage, matchbook covers from across the continent, one circa 1880 from Tingyatsok–a hole in the wall restaurant once in Manhattan at 21 Mott street, and another from the opulent Far East Café in San Francisco where white folk use chopsticks to advertise Chop Suey. In addition, see the menu circa 1906 from King Joy Lo in Chicago boast a Mandarin Restaurant. Check out sheet music with two Chinese men hanging a poster for music called Chow Chow. These words are more closely traced to India than China, and are a metaphor for a pickled food mixture that was quickly embraced by American housewives. Should you find or have any paper, plastic, or other materials with culinary ephemera, do not donate them to your garbage. Instead, send them to this magazine and we will forward American and European ones to Weaver, and Chinese and Asian ones to the Stony Brook University's Special Collections librarian Kristen Nytray. Large or small, beautiful or bungled, please save them from the trash helping to keep food history alive.

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