Friday, 12 April 2019

Cooking the Books

This month we are delighted to welcome Rachel Chan to the Innerpeffray blog.  Rachel is a Masters Student at the University of Stirling and guest curated an exhibition with us as part of the university's Making the Most of Masters programme.

Cookery as heritage
            Food is a big part of my life. Growing up in Hong Kong, a culinary capital, I can find different kinds of food easily. From Hong Kong street-food, traditional Chinese cuisines, Asian delights, to high-end French dinner, the only thing you have to do is go out and taste them all. So, moving to Scotland is a big change for me. Eating out is expensive so I mostly cook dinner myself, and I like to explore different recipes online. And when I first came across the opportunity to work with the Library of Innerpeffray, I was given the freedom to choose a topic I am interested in, and I decided I want to do something related to cookery.

            Cooking is so integrated into our daily life we seldom realise it is our heritage. Perhaps we all have that Grandma’s recipe which has been a tradition to cook during family gathering. My grandmother taught me how to make a perfect cup of milk-tea, which she learnt from her father when she was young. When my grandmother worked in the family’s cafĂ©, she used evaporated milk to make milk-tea; but now I use soy milk because it is a healthier choice. Recipes pass down to us from generation to generation with personal alteration in respond to the changes in society; and it is through these old recipes we can learn about the societies in the past.
Preparing the exhibition
I had a lot of fun preparing the exhibition in the Library. The first thing I did was to browse through the Library catalogue to search for cookbooks. Apart from cookery books, I also read through books that I did not think I could find recipes in. Recipes appeared in all kinds of books, gardening book, magazines and even dictionary. It is a perfect example of how different the book contents were in the past compare to the information we consume in present days. 
Crab from Poisson, by P Belon 1554

I enjoyed reading books at the Library. Nowadays technology is so advanced, we have so many ways to read. You can read it on a tablet, access ebooks, or even listen to a book. But the feeling of holding an actual book and flipping through pages remain the best way, in my opinion, to interact and connect with the literature. Reading books at Innerpeffray Library allow me to not only study the literature, but also to study the printing and typewriting in the past. The information is as important as the literature itself in understanding past societies.

Cookery for Every Household, by F Jack, 1914
After sometimes spent on reading and taking notes, I started deciding the content for the exhibition. I got a lot of help from the volunteers at the Library as they know more about the books than I do, and they know what will be interesting and appealing to visitors. The basic was to pick out the books for display, the more difficult part was to decide which pages to show. Books are very special objects, we can only show two pages at once, so we needed to choose somethings eye-catching and easy to read. With cookbooks and tool-books in the past this is difficult, as they were practical and did not have much illustrations. Eventually we decided to use illustrations from other books and rearrange some recipes from the cookbooks to visualise the exhibition.

The Red Deer, by HA McPherson 1896
The final step was to put up the exhibition. With all the materials prepared, I tried to draw up plan on the layout for the exhibition. Yet the final product looks quite different from my plan. As one of the volunteers said to me, ‘You will never know what works until you put them in the case.’ And we did prepare and plan for extra materials, and the exhibition turned out to be satisfactory, at least to me. I hope it is a fun and interesting exhibition to the visitors. This reminded me when I was holding an event during undergraduate; even after months of preparation, there were still unexpected issues and changes. The only thing we can do is to prepare beyond required. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.’

Working at Innerpeffray Library
            One of the reasons I chose to take the opportunity to work at Innerpeffray Library is that I love books. My family love reading, and I like to be surrounded by books. Being a student for the last five years, I have spent a fair amount of time in universities’ libraries researching. Innerpeffray Library is different. When in the Library, you can feel a personal connection with the book you are reading. Imagine in a quiet afternoon, you are sitting in the library, reading a book of your choice. The sun slowly enters through the window and the warmth making the room cosy. This is an experience you can rarely get in any other library.
            I enjoyed working at the Library a lot. It was a unique experience to work with books and manuscripts. But what makes the Library special is the people: the Keeper, the volunteers and the visitors at the Library. Lara is an amazing keeper of books; she knows everything about the books in the Library. She is very nice, and she taught me many things about handling books and manuscripts. The volunteers are lovely and friendly. Like Lara, they have extensive knowledge of the books in the Library and I sometimes got distracted from my book while listening to them introducing books to visitors. Apart from doing my research, I simply enjoyed talking with them on different subjects. From the drinking of tea, to discussion on history, to sharing life stories, meaningful conversations always make me happy. Visitors of the Library varies, but they all love books and are passionate about them. Sometimes the conversations between the visitors and the volunteers were so intriguing I would stop reading my book and listen to them.
            It has been a wonderful time working at Innerpeffray Library with Lara and the volunteers, and I hope to return to the Library sometime, perhaps as a visitor and explore the rest of the collections in the Library.