What’s on the Menu? at NYPL – Fun and Volunteerism for Foodies

For those of us into food history, the New York Public Library has a fondant of a project: online transcription of their menu collection. Repositories such as libraries and archives are trying to meet the demand for online access to collections, but it is imperative to do it in a meaningful way, based on your users’ needs and collection priorities. And of course, who are you going to get to do all the transcribing and data entry?

The Hotel St. Regis menu for October 23, 1905. NYPL What’s on the Menu? project.

Foodiness is consuming the nation. Therefore, a curious and somewhat informed population is primed to transcribe the NYPL’s 40,000 menus. Go to the website, pick a menu scanned by NYPL staff, such as the one from the Hotel St. Regis, October 23, 1905 at the left, and pick a line to transcribe, like Pompano Calcalaise, or Veloutine, Reine. (As a side note, Canvas-back Duck is listed as the most expensive item on the menu at $4.50. The hunting of this popular turn-of-the-century menu item was banned by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918.)

Start typing. Try to stop. There are other fun components to the site, including a blog, raw transcription data (if that’s your bent), and a dish list. Click on any dish, and you arrive at a list of sites at which you may look up the recipe. I searched Mosaique Cake, which I discovered is a  dessert of Turkish origins made of broken tea biscuits, suspended in a flourless chocolate cake.

An image of Mosaique Cake. The French spelling on the Hotel St. Regis menu should have been a clue. I found many more hits for the recipe as “Gateau Mosaique” than Mosaique Cake.

Yum. So as you see, a worthwhile pursuit. Thanks to the NYPL and the National Endowment for the Humanities for this project.



About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.