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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Alumna donates colossal cookbook collection

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A recent gift from an alumna is cooking up new opportunities for students and community members on campus. Firebellies, the student group dedicated to cooking and food, recently received a donation of 150 cookbooks, which is something that the entire school can enjoy.

It has become a tradition of Carleton Alums to donate items that are unusual, which reflect the interests that they had when they were at Carleton. Susan Beeby, the curator of Carleton’s Music Collection, said “a lot of gifts come from people who are retiring and getting rid of the collections they held on campus in their offices.” Other offers come from the estates of people with connections to Carleton who died.

Despite the seemingly random pattern of donations, there is a common explanation. Kirsti Wermager, curator of the Special Collections housed in the library, explained that “people who collect books are generally looking for a good place to put them, and so they often find places like Carleton.”

As the curator of Special Collections at Carleton, it is Kirsti Wermager’s job to decide whether to accept proposed donations. Generally, she explains, gifts are evaluated differently when they come from alumni, because “it’s really good when alumni want to give their alma mater a donation, because it shows that they are still interested and I think that it means a lot to them.”

Some examples of donations include an alumnus who donates any Ernest Hemingway first edition that he can find. This is due to the fact that he read Hemmingway for the first time at Carleton. Another alum donates one book every year about his specialty of Civil War history. Wermager noted, “it isn’t an incredibly valuable set, but it’s really special to think about an alum who thinks so carefully about this every single year.”

Firebellies started out three years ago as “an informal excuse to get together and eat good food,” says co-founder Vayu Maini Rekdal, “but it has evolved into one of the largest clubs on campus.” The members work to spread awareness about and build connections through cooking for college students and younger ones through the Young Chefs program, and have received media attention because of it.

Annie Katata of the class of 1978, saw the attention being drawn to this group and reached out to Rekdal in the fall of 2014. As a food activist herself, she wanted to support the Firebellies by making a donation of the many cookbooks that she had accumulated over the years.

Rekdal said, “The 150 cookbooks are coming in gradually, first in a set of about 60, so we’re going to get more and more as the years go own. We’ll be getting new books almost every year and so will get to have a celebration almost every year.” The cookbooks range from artistic collections of big-name chefs to New York Times home cooking books, and from Julia Child to World Market books and even extravagant hot dog recipes.

All of the books are being cared for by the library and are available on dedicated shelves on open reserves on 4th Libe for students and community members to explore and use. An open event Friday will inaugurate the collection and raise awareness and excitement, including among prospective students on campus for Accepted Students Days.

The Firebellies are planning to “integrate the cookbooks into everything we do at Carleton,” said Rekdal. An event called Cook From a Book will challenge participants to find and the best possible recipe after 20 minutes of searching, a New Orleans event will use Southern recipes found in the books, and the Young Chefs have already had a field trip to the collection.

This collection will help to improve the quality of Firebellies and serves as a reminder that Carleton Alums are still active in the many clubs that dominate Carleton’s campus.

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