I’m borrowing the name of this little column from William Woys Weaver, who uses the term to describe ‘culinary ephemera’ in an article in Fine Books Magazine in February of ’09. One reasonable definition of ephemera is printed material produced with the intention of having a limited life span. So culinary ephemera includes lots of categories: menus, trade cards, printed labels, catalogues, and much more.
In today’s world, items in those categories might be thought of as mundane and easily overlooked, but they often are carefully produced, occasionally beautifully printed, and more often than one might think, carry important historical information. Weaver has produced a new book, Culinary Ephemera. An Illustrated History, one of his many terrific books on food and food culture, for the California Studies in Food & Culture series, edited by Darra Goldstein. In this beautifully produced book from the University of California, he outlines the many categories of culinary ephemera, tells interesting stories about these little slips of paper, and illustrates it all with wonderful examples culled from his own collection and other important collections around America.
At Rabelais, we also have a nice (albeit much smaller) collection of culinary ephemera on hand. We have menus, some quite rare, as well as trade and business cards, wine and spirits labels, seed packets, product cookbooks, advertising booklets, and much more, from the 18th century through the 20th. Much of it is finely printed, with bold graphics and enticing illustration. Prices run from a few dollars to a few thousand. The examples you see here are from our collection. For info about the book, or to purchase, click here.