Friday, September 16, 2016

Talking cookbooks in Special Collections with donor Pam Allison

One of our favorite recent acquisitions is the Pamela C. Allison Cookbook Collection, not only because it includes nearly a thousand Appalachian and Southern cookbooks, but also because we had the great pleasure of meeting and working with the donor, Pam Allison.

The Allison Collection is a critical resource for Dr. Erica Abrams Locklear’s LIT 374: Food in Literature class, and one of their projects is to examine and explore Appalachian and Southern food through recipes and community cookbooks in the Allison Collection. As part of the class, Dr. Locklear and her students came to Special Collections to meet with Pam Allison and have a conversation about her cookbook collection, cooking, and Southern food ways.

LIT 374 students listening to Pam Allison talk about her cookbook collection.
The class was very informal, and began with Pam discussing how she came to collect cookbooks, tracing her cookbook passion back to her early love of reading. She also talked about the process of becoming a serious cookbook collector, how she organized her cookbooks, how she found and purchased cookbooks, and how she came to donate them to UNCA's Special Collections. The class was then opened up for the students to query Pam, and the conversation revealed their own love of cooking: they asked questions about using specific ingredients, about varying written recipes (answer: Pam follows a recipe exactly as written the first time, then adapts it to her own taste), as well as a whole host of engaging and thoughtful questions about cooking techniques, food preparation, and finding specific ingredients for recipes. 

Pam Allison answering a question about a particular recipe
We had originally structured the class for Pam to spend about half of it talking about her cookbooks and fielding student questions, then we planned on touring Special Collections and talking about the Allison Collection from a Special Collections perspective. When we reached that halfway point we realized we were all having too much fun - and learning so much - by talking with Pam, so we devoted the entire class to working with her.

Dr. Locklear answering a question as the students examine the cookbooks.
After her talk and the Q&A period, students then explored the Allison collection, digging deep into cookbooks, and conferring with Pam individually about specific recipes, foods, and cookbooks (including a conversation about liver mush and/or liver pudding).  It was en extremely enjoyable and educational afternoon, one where we were all treated to the wisdom and experience of an experienced and gifted cookbook curator, Pam Allison.

The Pamela C. Allison Cookbook Collection is open for research for the public. Please see the Special Collections website for our Reading Room hours.