Help us preserve our heritage.

If you have old Iowa menus, brochures, or flyers, a collection of Iowa cookbooks, or your grandmother's handwritten recipe book, please consider donating them to the Iowa State Univerisity, Iowa Cookbook Collection. Old Menus, brochures, and recipes are invaluable for scholars. We will preserve them and make them available to researchers from around the world.


If you have questions concerning the
Iowa Cookbook Collection in the Iowa State University Library, please contact please contact the Special Collections Department
Phone: 515-294-6672

History of the Iowa Cookbook Collection

Iowa Cookbook Collection: What is it?

The Iowa Cookbook Collection consists of cookbooks generated in Iowa that have been collected by the Iowa State University Library as representative of the nature of the genre. As of 2011, this collection consists of approximately 3,000 items including family recipe books, church and other organizational cookbooks, recipe pamphlets and cookbooks centered around Iowa companies, Iowa restaurant cookbooks and cookbooks from other institutions such as radio stations.

These books can be found in 2 locations:

Where did it come from?

During the early 1990s, the ISU library accepted a large gift (over 12,000 pieces) from Robert F. Smith of What Cheer, Iowa and among the dirt and disorder discovered a treasure. As a plan was developed and decisions were made about what to save from this enormous gift and other small, but similar donations that arrived at about the same time, the focus became those materials unique to Iowa. Among the initial 12,000 items in the Smith gift were nearly one thousand cookbooks written and distributed by various Iowa organizations, companies and families from around the state; some dating back to the turn of the century. In addition, the collection included recipe booklets from Iowa companies such as Quaker Oats, Maytag and Amana.  About the same time, the untimely death of Ruth Ellen Church, also known as Mary Meade, added hundreds of titles to the collection. Ruth Ellen was an Iowa State University graduate and a long time food editor for the Chicago Tribune. Initial gifts such as these have broadened during the past several years to direct the focus of the collection to the need to preserve Iowa community cookbooks.

Why is it important?

These cookbooks speak volumes about Iowa's culture, history and society as it has developed/evolved over more than a century; however, these items have not been actively preserved and their history is threatened. These cookbooks represent much about whom we are as Iowans and how we have evolved to this point. They provide a mirror to the societal and cultural roots from which they emanate and provide a peek at some aspects of the value systems of their authors and organizations. Also to be treasured are those cookbooks that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers annotated with their comments and changes in their own hand. These materials have a great deal to teach us and are indicative of the changing life styles of Iowans over more than a century of eating and socializing. At this juncture the important issue remains the identification of existing items and the provision for some means of access to them for researchers. In addition, there is the need to create an awareness of the need to preserve these items as unique to our Iowa heritage.

What is the future for the Iowa Cookbook Collection?

As new Iowa cookbooks continue to arrive at Iowa State those published after 1972 will be cataloged and added to the circulating collection with an identification note in their catalog records indicating that they are part of the Iowa Cookbook Collection. Older incoming cookbooks (pre-1972) are cataloged for Special Collections and held securely in the temperature-and-humidity-controlled space along with the ephemera file of cooking-related pamphlets and booklets from Iowa companies.

The policy for collecting future items for this collection include:

Additionally, we will also supplement the collection with relevant books that document the history of American cookery to provide the necessary resources for background research and emphasize the impact cookbooks have on everyday life in America.

Looking beyond ISU? Where are other Iowa Cookbooks?

What is the availability of older community cookbooks in Iowa? Are libraries and historical organizations keeping and maintaining older editions of these family, corporate and organizational cookbooks or are they seen as disposable?

Space limitations and other issues make it impractical for the ISU Library to retain more than the most representative items in-house. What is now most important is to determine what Iowa cookbooks still exist, to identify their locations, and to assure that these materials are not lost to us or to the Iowans of the future. During the spring of 2001, I began a project to identify and locate what community cookbooks remain extant. As of the Spring of 2003, the survey of the 576 public libraries in the State of Iowa to determine their cookbook holdings has nearly been completed. Over 400 libraries submitted data indicating their holdings and the type of historical information available in their books along with the recipes. A survey of over 200 small historical museums in the State of Iowa is currently underway with one-half of these museums responding so far. This data is being entered into a database and will be available by the end of summer 2011.