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Cooking Up History

By Kristen J. Nyitray, Contributing Editor
Photos courtesy of Special Collections

In this issue, “Rare Treasures” highlights diverse culinary collections including unique cookbooks and handwritten recipes from Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA). A growing body of literature emphasizes the research value of cookbooks as historical documents. More than recipes, cookbooks provide important evidence and insights into social histories, cultural norms, and economic conditions under which they were produced. They also tell us more about the people who devised the recipes and the circumstances under which they were created. SCUA stewards the university’s diverse collections of rare books, manuscripts, historical maps, and archives. For more information, visit

chinese cookbook

Cover of Chow! Secret of Chinese Cooking (1939) by Dolly Liu from the Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection, Special Collections. SBU Libraries.

Jacqueline M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection
Did you know that Stony Brook University has one of the largest, if not the largest, Chinese cookbook collections in the world? In 2002, Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman gifted her unique research collection to the university, which today includes more than 5,000 Chinese cookbooks, along with books about food culture, medicine, and history, and haute cuisine magazines. This special collection provides a valuable record of the Chinese diaspora that has carried its rich cuisine to every corner of the globe. Dr. Newman has been collecting Chinese cookbooks for more than 50 years, beginning when she received her first Chinese cookbook as a wedding present. Chinese cooking developed into her area of research and special interest. She wrote her Ph.D. thesis on changing Chinese food habits in New York City and was the founder and publisher of Flavor and Fortune, a magazine dedicated to Chinese cuisine. At the library dedication ceremony, Dr. Newman remarked, “This collection is like a child to me…It is hard to part with it, but I know that it will be in excellent hands at Stony Brook.”

View this link for more details on the collection..

old paper with recipe

Recipe for “Fruit-Cake” by Ann Eliza Tuthill from the Samuel Hopkins Miller Collection, Special Collections, SBU Libraries.

Samuel Hopkins Miller Collection
The Samuel Hopkins Miller Collection is a multi-generational archive of account books, diaries, ledgers, deeds and correspondence dating from 1705 to 1967. It documents the daily lives of the Miller, Tuthill, and Tillotson families on Long Island, New York. The pictured handwritten recipe for fruit-cake is one of several represented in the collection. It calls for a large quantity of ingredients, notably six pounds of raisins (!). Miller (1853-1937) was born in Miller Place, New York and married Alilah Young Tillotson on September 18, 1878. They had two children: Grace Julia Miller and Alila May Miller. Diaries of Alila May Miller and Ebenezer Miller (1762-1768) are subjects of scholarly works written by the collection’s donor, Willis H. White. Captain Ebenezer Miller (1733-1785), a farmer, was born at Miller Place, Long Island and was one of two elected representatives for Suffolk County to New York’s Legislative Assembly in 1768 and 1769. In September 1775, he was chosen as Captain of the 2nd Brookhaven Company in Colonel Floyd’s First Regiment of the Suffolk County militia. In 1781, his fifteen year old son William was shot from outside of the family’s house in Miller Place by raiders infiltrating Long Island from Connecticut. 

View the full list of the collection by clicking this link.

old cookbook cover

The 60th Anniversary Cook Book (1955)…arranged by the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society from the Long Island Cookbook Collection, Special Collections, SBU Libraries.

Long Island (New York) Cookbook Collection
Regional cookbooks provide insights into the communities that shape a geographic region, and the people that have contributed to their development over the passages of time. These cookbooks provide evidence of the norms, cultures, and values that embody the place in which they were created. The Long Island Cookbook Collection includes a spectrum of subgenres within the cookbook genre. One area of emphasis is community cookbooks which typically are produced by a collective to raise funds for a charitable cause. The recipes are contributed by group members and often published under the umbrella of an organization. Pictured here is The 60th Anniversary Cook Book arranged by the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society, East Hampton, Long Island, New York, 1895-1955. Manners, social life and culture, and customs can also be gleaned from the component parts of these cookbooks, such as the preface, descriptions of etiquette, and images of the plated meals. Many cookbooks feature locally sourced ingredients, bringing to the fore the concept of farm to table — and in the case of Long Island, sea to table.  

View the contents of the collection by clicking this link.

Kristen J. Nyitray is Associate Librarian, Director of Special Collections and University Archives, and University Archivist at Stony Brook University. A Certified Archivist (Academy of Certified Archivists), she is recipient of the Chancellor’s Award (SUNY) and the President’s Award (SBU) for Excellence in Librarianship. Her current research and writing focuses on Long Island Indigenous history, local and public history, and cultural heritage. Among her publications are the books Stony Brook: State University of New York and Long Island Beaches.