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New Exhibit "From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways" Opens November 12 at Alexander Library

September 27, 2018
From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot

From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot opens November 12 at Alexander Library. Image: Cookbook, American Field Service Glen Ridge Chapter, 1980.

Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries’ new exhibition From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways will open November 12, 2018 at Alexander Library. The opening will feature a presentation by Carla Cevasco of the Rutgers Department of American Studies, historian of food in colonial America and author of the forthcoming Violent Appetites: Hunger, Natives and Settlers in the Northern Borderlands. From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot is one of the first events in Transcultural NJ Revisited 2018-2020, a two-year, statewide celebration of local and global cultures in the Garden State under the auspices of Rutgers’ Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum.

New Jersey has one of the most culturally diverse populations in the United States. Beginning in the 17th century, emigrants from a range of European countries and enslaved Africans joined the area’s original inhabitants, the Lenape. Food became an important marker of culture for these new arrivals. This exhibition will trace the development of New Jersey foodways, starting with the influence of Native Americans through various waves of immigration to the present. In the years before contact, the Lenape cultivated native plants such as maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, and tobacco. They hunted game with bows and arrows, fished in the rivers, and collected oysters and mussels along New Jersey’s long coastline. The first immigrants from Sweden, the Netherlands, the British Isles, and West Africa learned from the Lenape as well as bringing their own traditional dishes from their homelands, which they adapted to the new environment.

In the 19th century, New Jersey experienced several waves of immigration. Beginning in the 1840s, the state became home to Irish settlers fleeing the potato famines and Germans and Austro-Hungarians fleeing political unrest. Later in the century they were joined by Italians driven out by grinding poverty and Eastern European Jews escaping religious persecution. New Jersey’s rich farmland and industrializing cities yielded jobs and a better way of life, including plentiful and varied food. Most immigrants brought their food traditions with them and they became badges of ethnic identity. At the same time, immigrants adapted their cuisines to the products available in their new home and were inevitably influenced by each other. As time passed, new traditions were created that became characteristic of New Jersey—for example pork roll, tomato pie, hot dogs, and ice cream.

After World War II, new waves of immigrants entered the state. New Jersey has become a truly global community as migrants from East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent have made settled here. These newer groups have shared their food cultures restaurants, festivals, and community events. This exhibition will trace the history of New Jersey foodways primarily through documents, photographs, and publications from Special Collections and University Archives’ printed and archival collections. Featured is the New Jersey Cookbook collection, which includes several thousand cookbooks dating from the late 19th century to the present produced by numerous churches, clubs, and organizations. The exhibition also features artifacts borrowed from the New Jersey State Museum, the American Hungarian Foundation, the Jewish Historical Society of Jersey, and the Hoboken Historical Museum. The exhibition will be on display in the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery from November 12, 2018 to February 28, 2019. The opening program will be held at 4 p.m. in the Scholarly Communication Center Teleconference Lecture Hall on the 4th floor of Alexander Library, followed by a reception and a chance to view the exhibition. For more information, please contact exhibition curator Fernanda Perrone at 848-932-6154 or