March is Women’s History Month, and we’d like to highlight one of Michigan’s hailed female culinarians: Janice Bluestein Longone. Janice was a food historian who retired in Ann Arbor, MI, and most notably collected an extensive culinary archive that includes cookbooks dating back from the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as advertisements, flyers, and restaurant menus, and spent her life promoting it to the public.
The Archive pulls from a huge array of cooks, especially those of women-led church groups. The collection work simply would not have been possible without bands of women experimenting with food and contributing their recipes, at a time when Google wasn’t available. This caused women to band together, organize, and exchange information, which empowered them to affect change not only in the culinary world but also socio-politically, as women organized efforts to secure women’s right to vote and more. For an in-depth dive, check out Janice’s 2008 lecture at the University of Michigan, ‘The Old Girl Network: Charity Cookbooks and the Empowerment of Women’.
The Bluestein Archive’s collection of cookbooks, menus, and food-related advertisements spanning hundreds of years is priceless. Learning how people ate brings us closer to the reality of daily life in America than a dry list of dates, names, and events in a history book ever could.
The full Archive is now preserved at the University of Michigan Library as a historical resource that uncovers a look into how foodways — our cultural, social, and economic eating habits and practices — has changed for Americans since the 18th century. If you’re interested in food and history, you can request materials from the Archive in Ann Arbor here and spend a day flipping through its pages. You can also find online exhibits focusing on the Jewish contribution to American foodways and the wonder of Jell-O constructed using Archive materials at any time online. But perhaps the best way to honor Mrs. Longone this Women’s History month is to keep cooking, eating well, and sharing the gift of food with others.
Lily Venable is the former Social Media Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference.