In the Spring of 2015, members of UNC Asheville—Special Archivists Gene Hyde and Colin Reeve along with Dr. Erica Abrams-Locklear, Associate Professor of English at UNCA—teamed up with community member Pam Allison to move part of her cookbook collection to the university. Now known as the Pamela C. Allison Cookbook Collection, the collection contains about 700 books that detail cooking and foodways in North Carolina and the American South. Close to 600 of these are available for perusal in the Special Archives, and they span a great deal of the Spectrum of Cookbooks, as we came to call it during our research: small family publications intended for just a few people, community cookbooks used as a fundraiser, large commercial collections of regional recipes, and specialty cookbooks that showcased a specific cook, restaurant, or institution.
As much as we wanted to include the entirety of the books available, our time constraints forced us to limit the project’s scope. The two smaller subsets we chose to work with included a selection of about 90 community cookbooks from the Southern Appalachian Region, and a group of five other cookbooks used for a hands-on project. While true that these selections grant us only a fragment of the whole picture, these books allowed us to focus on the food culture of our exact region within Southern Appalachia, that of Western North Carolina.
Listed below are a few of the questions that became the focus of our research into the cookbooks and foodways of our region which are explored in greater detail through our analyzations of the physical characteristics of the books and their bibliographical information as well as our hands-on experiment to better connect with our material.
1. What is the purpose of these cookbooks? Are they a fundraiser, a celebration of the food, a local collection, a combination of the former, or something entirely different?
2. Who owned these cookbooks and what can we learn about them based on the form of the cookbooks and any provenance found within?
3. How does the culture and history of the Southern Appalachian region influence the recipes of the time and in a similar fashion, what can be extrapolated about the culture and history of the region based on the books’ contents?
Note: We hoped to have information on the purpose of the collection itself beyond what Pamela Allison wrote when she donated the collection. However, we were never able to line up an interview with her.