By Nicole Hennessy
Food can tell the story of a region. Throughout the years, popular recipes can give clues about what the economy was like, what trends in the grocery industry were or what marketing initiatives caught on at the time.
For example, “It’s pretty clear, looking at some of the older recipes that were passed down, that they didn’t have access to global supermarkets that we all have right now,” said Westlake Porter Public Library’s web librarian, Matt Weaver, who’s been compiling Northeast Ohio residents’ recipes for a new database accessible through the library.
As far as what kinds of foods are used in recipes, he added, “It kind of varies by era. A cookbook done in the 1950s has a lot of processed stuff in it because that was seen as innovation.”
In comparison, recipes in the past few years have included much more fresh food, as culturally, many cooks have been embracing the local and sustainable food trend.
When Weaver came across old cookbooks in the library’s collection, he wondered if he could successfully archive area recipes. With five volumes of books cataloged he’s been successful, and won’t be slowing down any time soon.
With another idea to make them available on an online database, Weaver thought, “If we took these recipes out of the container of the book, how would they get used differently?”
They’ve been up for public use for just a few weeks, but so far he’s seen more than 50 copies of various cookbooks downloaded.
To log onto the database, library cardholders should enter their card number and a chosen PIN. Those who’d prefer the hard copies can peruse them at the library.
Staff members and groups like the Westlake Women’s Club have contributed so far, as well as individuals and families, all of whom were happy to share their recipes.
“I had another organization that was a little more cautious,” Weaver said. “I think there’s concern that by participating in the project, (contributors) are handing over the copyright and all of their work, and then it becomes property of the library, but that’s not the case.”
All participants in Porter Library’s cookbook project retain ownership of their contributions. And for those who worry their recipes being shared online, Weaver says he’s happy to include those exclusively in the hard copies.
“There are some people that are very secretive with their recipes,” he added, “and some people just love to share.”
Even this early on in the compilation process, the collection is culturally diverse, and that aspect is expected to broaden further as more community members become aware of the project.
As Weaver continues soliciting community members and groups for recipes and making library users aware of the community cookbook project, he mentally files away observations made evident throughout the compilation process.
“Your great-grandmother cooked very differently from your grandmother and your mom,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting.”
SIDE BAR: To log onto the Westlake Porter Public Library’s new community cookbook, go to westlakelibrary.org. For questions or to submit a recipe, call 440-871-2600 and ask for Matt Weaver.