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Michigan State University

Cookbooks and Food History: Cookbooks at MSU

Cookbooks are a valuable resource for studying social history, ethnic traditions, folk medicine, and gender studies - and of course, culinary history!

Historic American cookbooks from MSU Special Collections

Book cover - Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes

Book cover - Science in the Kitchen

Book cover - The Good Housekeeping Woman's Home Cook Book

Book cover - The American Woman's Home

Book cover Breakfast Luncheon and Tea

Collection highlights

MSU's Cookery & Food Collection includes more than 25,000 cookbooks and food-related works from all over the world. The collection spans more than five centuries, from as early as the 16th century up to the present.

Our collection is especially strong in:

  • Contemporary cooking of the Americas, including the United States
  • African American cooking
  • Jewish American cooking
  • Caribbean, Latin American and South American cooking
  • The influence of West African food and diet on the Americas
  • The Michigan Cookbook Project: an effort to collect all cookbooks published in our state.

We also have significant holdings on diet, health, and nutrition -- from long-standing traditions to the latest diet fad.

Using cookbooks in Special Collections

Please start your work early! The majority of cookbooks in the MSU Libraries are in Special Collections, and they are available for building use only.

Location: Special Collections Reading Room - Main Library, Basement East

Hours: 9 am - 5 pm, Monday - Friday. (Also Sunday 1-5 during fall and spring semester.)

A modest number of cookbooks are in the circulating collection, in call number range TX643 to TX840 (Basement East - near but outside the entrance to Special Collections, and accessible during the longer hours that the Main Library is open.)

Finding cookbooks in the library catalog

The basic subject heading for cookbooks is COOKING.

Many cookbooks gather recipes from a certain geographic area. This may be a broad region, a state or province, or a specific city. The subject headings will reflect this:

  • Cooking -- Europe
  • Cooking -- Spain
  • Cooking -- Spain -- Barcelona

Cookbooks may also have headings to show what type of cuisine the recipes represent. (This is a bit confusing -- most cuisines are identified with a geographic area, such as Mexican food or Asian food. But food and recipes travel from where they started, so many cuisines can be found all over the world.)

  • Cooking, Korean
  • Cooking, Middle Eastern
  • Cooking, Southern states

Many cookbooks are focused on using a certain food product or ingredient, such as:

  • Cooking (Filo dough)
  • Cooking (Maple sugar and syrup)
  • Cooking (Tropical fruits)

Finally, cookbooks focused on making a certain type of food generally don't have the "Cooking" subject heading. They will simply have a heading for the type of food, such as:

  • Muffins
  • Pasta salads
  • Sushi

The library catalog defaults to keyword searching. You can use the subject terms described here in a keyword search as well as a subject search.

More search terms

These are other terms often used in the subject headings for books on cooking and food history. You can often narrow your search results by adding a geographic name or the term "history."

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Cooking -- history
  • Cooking -- philosophy
  • Cooking, Medieval
  • Cooking, Roman
  • Cooks -- Biography
  • Diet
  • Dinners and dining
  • Ethnic food industry
  • Food habits
  • Food in the Bible
  • Food industry and trade
  • Food preferences
  • Food writers
  • Food writing
  • Food -- history
  • Food -- quotations
  • Food -- religious aspects
  • Food -- social aspects
  • Gastronomy
  • International cooking
  • Macrobiotic diet
  • Natural foods
  • Organic foods -- Not used as a heading, although it will appear in book titles. Also try "natural foods."
  • Vegan cooking
  • Veganism
  • Vegetarian cooking
  • Vegetarianism


Manuscript cookbooks

Where to get help

The staff in the Special Collections reading room are always ready to help!

Check the Reading Room hours here.

Resource Guide author

Ruth Ann Jones
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Michigan State University