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Food for Thought

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Uncovering the edible NYPL in books, menus, and ephemera.

Fancy a Cuppa? Tea in the Rare Book Division

"Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea."— A Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith*

On the coldest winter days, I must say I agree with Smith. And while reading through a little 1863 recipe book called The Book of One Hundred Beverages in the Rare Book 

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Thanksgiving Recipe Decisions

Cooking is a very stressful situation that I do my best to avoid. I always get really excited and anxious when I decide to cook, but halfway through the process every burner on the stove is on, bowls, plates, and utensils have piled up on the counter, and all I’ve ended up making is a bowl of spaghetti for one. But as Thanksgiving rolls around my mother always asks the dreaded question, "What are you making?" I’m beginning to think that she regrets asking this question because the extent of my culinary assistance on Thanksgiving Day is opening up a can of cranberry 

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Indian Cooking: My Favorite Resources

Radha at night. Mughal painting ca. 1650., from Wikimedia commons

Are you looking for a healthy, flavorful, whole foods approach to cooking? Wherever you are on the vegan to meat-eating spectrum, Indian food offers a wide variety of tastes, colors, and textures guaranteed to appeal to every palate.

The most popular Indian cuisines 

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Recipes from the Reluctant Camper

Summer is in full swing. Maybe you've taken a cruise, a roadtrip, a European jaunt or a trip to the beach, but summer would not be complete without a night spent with only a thin layer of nylon separating you from the starry sky and the cool night air... am I right?

No?! Well 

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What Flavor is Your Book?

Do you have a "voracious appetite" for reading? Have you ever “devoured” a book? Have you ever had the depraved desire to slather your first-edition F. Scott Fitzgerald classic with whipped cream and chocolate sauce? Do you look forward to resuming that book you put down on the subway with the same hunger that you anticipate that chocolate cake at your favorite restaurant? Does a good dessert make you feel equally comfortable as a good book, like you would want to curl up in bed with either (aside from the crumbs that a dessert might shed, of course)?   If you ... Read More ›

Hold the Applause! Testimonial Menus

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few more people joining the menu party lately. The Buncombe County Medical Association is here. As are our friends from the National Life Insurance Company. We’ve even extended an invite to our canine crew (and their owners) from the Philadelphia Dog Show Association.

Clubs, organizations, companies, and associations often hosted an 

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The Queen B: Miss Buttolph and Her Menus

If you've transcribed even one menu, you've likely seen her stamp. A blue oval bearing her name, "Buttolph Collection", as graceful as a branding iron over asparagus, Russian caviar, or Boston baked beans.

Miss Frank E. Buttolph stamped nearly every menu she collected for the New York Public Library, twenty-three years worth, amounting to roughly 25,000 menus under her tenure 

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New Feature! Unlock Menus to Continue Editing

We've gotten a number of questions over the past week of What's on the Menu? about menus marked as "done." Do we really mean done? As in finished, vetted, archived for posterity? Fear not, we've cleared up this confusion with some new language. What we really meant to say was "under review."

On several occasions, a volunteer e-mailed us saying they'd spotted errors, or missing dishes, on menus marked as complete. I happily re-opened the menus in question (a facility only open to site administrators) and 

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Tricky Menu Tips: Ditto Marks, Prices, and More

Wow. We're sitting here with our mouths agape, simply overwhelmed --and thrilled! -- by the response to What's on the Menu? We knew you guys liked food, but holy (broiled) mackerel!

We launched WOTM very quietly, just three days ago, and, as of this typing, we have over 22K dishes transcribed! And it's evident, from the emails and tweets we've been receiving, that we have some very enthusiastic participants out there. Thank you!

But as you may have noticed, each menu is very different. Each has its quirks and 

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Doin' the Dishes!

Saratoga ChipsCorned Beef Hash.  Large Pot of Oolong Tea

Okay, so they’re not included in the works of Shakespeare (as far as I know), but that doesn’t mean these dishes aren't of value to researchers and scholars and the generally curious who read menus in order to learn more about the food served and consumed in restaurants throughout history.

But until now this kind of information (the food!) was 

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The Amazing, Wonderful, Incredible World of Beer: A Memoir

When health is bad and your heart feels strange, And your face is pale and wan, When doctors say you need a change, A pint of plain is your only man.

                                  —Flann O'Brien

I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes 

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An interview with Sri Walpola, creator of "A Taste of Home: Cooking Sri Lankan in New York"

Currently on display at the St. George Library Center is a photo exhibit by photojournalist Sri Walpola, "A Taste of Home: Cooking Sri Lankan in New York." We sat down with him for a brief interview.

What inspired "A Taste of Home: Cooking Sri Lankan in New York"?

Since my arrival in New York, I started cooking. I started looking for Sri Lankan ingredients first, and then I started cooking with the help of my mother and both my sisters via the telephone because all of them are in Sri 

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How to Cook Sri Lankan with Cabbage

Spices to prepare Sri Lankan chicken stewTraditional Sri Lankan cuisine is a wondrous mix of tropical produce, freshly pounded spices, and curries cooked slowly in clay pots over an open fire. Flavor comes with spare time and energy — two factors in short supply in the big city. As a result, photojournalist Sri Walpola became interested in how his fellow countrywomen manage to recreate the tastes of home on Staten Island.

Last year, Walpola photographed several women in the Sri Lankan enclave of Tompkinsville, Staten Island, documenting the way they adapt 

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A Helping Hand from Food Stamps

The United States Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known more commonly as the Food Stamp Program, provides support to low-income New Yorkers including working families, qualified immigrants, the elderly and the disabled to increase their ability to purchase food. A household must qualify under eligibility rules set by the federal government to enroll in this program.  To determine your eligiblity for this or other goverment assistance programs, click

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Before the Big Mac: Horn & Hardart Automats

115 East 14th Street. March 1933. credit: Robert Byrnes Collection of Automat MemorabiliaAsk anyone about the "Big Mac" and immediately one imagines an image of a double hamburger on a sesame seed bun. The golden arches are everywhere.  On Broadway and 42nd Street, New York City boasts one of the largest McDonald's in metropolitan America. 

Say the words "Horn & Hardart," you will probably get a different reaction.  Go back thirty years or more...

Horn & Hardart Automats were a common sight around the city.  

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November Reader's Den: "Kitchen Confidential" Discussion Wrap-Up

Welcome to the wrap-up of our discussion of Kitchen Confidential. We hope that we have inspired you to be adventurous in the kitchen this Thanksgiving holiday [if you happen to be reading this blog from a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving now, then we hope that it has inspired you to be adventurous in the kitchen in general], or at least inspired you to find some tasty reading.

Since Kitchen Confidential is a memoir, many of the scenes in it help us to understand why Anthony Bourdain is so 

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Finishing Up: "Kitchen Confidential"

The third course chapter of Kitchen Confidential recounts Tony's series of jobs after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.  From the fading glory with a view of the Rainbow Room to the Apocalypse Now atmosphere of Works Progress, then later to the slow failures of Tom's and Rick's Cafe, etc. Along with an increasingly fat paycheck, his stories of the various kitchens he worked in 

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Discount sushi and other really bad ideas

Welcome back to the Reader’s Den.  This month we are reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen ConfidentialJenny’s post from last week gave us some background on Bourdain.  We are progressing in the book onto the second course now, which outlines “what strange beasts lurk behind the kitchen doors” as well as several 

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November Reader’s Den: About the Author of "Kitchen Confidential"

Welcome back to this month’s Reader’s Den, co-led by Jenny Baum and Ursula Murphy, about Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

Anthony Bourdain is a polarizing figure and, as such, elicits strong responses, as strong as a few politicians I can think of. Cable channels like the Food channel, the newer Cooking channel and the Travel 

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November Reader's Den: "Kitchen Confidential"

Welcome to this month’s Reader’s Den!  This month we’ll have a discussion co-led by Jenny Baum and Ursula Murphy about Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. Please feel free to comment or bring up anything relevant to the book in the comment section.  We'll try to address and facilitate discussion as it comes up. 

“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating is 

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