With this, our seventh full-length catalogue, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of Rabelais. In November of 2006, Samantha and I passed a ‘For Rent’ sign in a Portland shop window, spent lunch sketching a business plan on a napkin and, just a few months later in the Spring of 2007 opened Rabelais. The shop has allowed us to spend our days surrounded by good customers and new friends, meet many of the greatest of chefs and cookbook authors, and engage with Maine’s incredible food community of farmers, fisherman, marketers, chefs, bartenders and others. Best of all, we get to spend our days in the company of cookbooks which have grabbed our attention, first to supply us with tasty meals, and then to make us think differently about the role of food and food writing in culture and history.
Over time, our attention has gravitated more and more toward the rare material. After all, most contemporary books can’t offer up chapters – at least not all at once – on: “Pickling, Collaring, Potting, Preparation of Hams, Bacon, &c., Elegant Ornaments for a Grand Entertainment, Made Wines, Cordial Waters, Malt Liquors, Culinary Poisons, and Necessary Articles for Sea Faring Persons.” (#22)
And, while old cookbooks have long been loved and collected, the systematic collecting of cookbooks remains a young-ish field, somewhat overlooked by parts of the world of institutional special collections (with some notable and magnificent exceptions), and by antiquarian booksellers (again, with some notable and magnificent exceptions). This is good news, as it is still possible to find unrecognized and underexamined works out in the wild, at book fairs, in used and antiquarian bookshops, and on the shelves of kitchen libraries. This catalogue offers seven items not found in the collections of research libraries around the world, and thus this provides a debut of sorts for these books, humble though some of them may be.
Another reason cookbooks continue to hold our attention is the range of purposes for which they are made. Almost every conceivable corner of society seems to produce a cookbook and for every possible reason: a confectioner claims preeminence in his field (#38); an inventor provides a technological innovation hoping to feed the poor (#24 & 25); a group of women from Missouri try to create of bit of American culinary normalcy while acting as missionaries in New Guinea (#72); or a businessman looks to take advantage of trade with China by introducing American customers to Chop Suey and Chow Mein (#54).
To list the rest of many reasons we continue to love finding, researching and selling rare cookbooks would take a book, but the real work is done one book, manuscript, or piece of ephemera at a time, which is exactly what we’ll continue to do.