This article orginally appeared in the Bureau County Republican
WYANET — At the R.A. Sapp Library’s 2nd Thursday@the Library program at 6:30 p.m. today, Thursday, Penelope Bingham, a food historian, will speak about “Just What is American Food? Cookbooks and American Cultural Identity.” The Illinois Humanities Council sponsors Road Scholars grants and this program is the second such grant the library has received this year.
Bingham began accumulating cookbooks more than 40 years ago. Her own collection now exceeds 2,000 works. She feels that American cookbooks of the last two centuries tell stories about American culture and identity. Bingham also speaks in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition, “Key Ingredients: America By Food” and has addressed many professional groups.
Bingham is the volunteer “Cookbook Lady” for the annual Book Fair of the Newberry Library of Chicago. As such, she prepares thousands of donated vintage cookbooks for the sale. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and the University of Chicago, and is a member of the Culinary Historians of Chicago.
Thursday’s program looks at America’s “Founding Food” as evidenced by historic cookbooks, and then considers how the integration of immigrants into American society, from the 19th Century to the present, is reﬂected in our cookbooks and food preferences. How did pizza become as American as apple pie and lasagna ﬁnd its way onto the Thanksgiving table? Is our identity as Americans changed now that salsa outsells ketchup? This program invites the audience to think about the ways in which what we cook and eat inﬂuences – and is inﬂuenced by – our identity as Americans.
This will be the last program of the 2011-12 season for the library’s 2nd Thursday@the Library series. The programs will start back up in September.