In her work at the Huntington Library, mom discovered a 100-year-old piece cake stored in a tin tucked away in an archive. The old piece of cake struck a very popular chord on tumbler, inspiring the Huntington’s institional archivist to expand upon the cake, its original owner and the role food plays (or doesn’t play) in an academic archive. Her words:
My plan for the box of cake was to document it and then throw it away. After all, food has very little research value, and The Huntington primarily deals in manuscripts, rare books, and the like. We try not to collect objects, and cake has no place in an archive (just ask any book or paper conservator).
I’m fascinated by the thought that “food has very little research value” mostly because I’m so interested in culinary history. I love the Smithsonian’s reconstructed kitchen of Julia Child, vintage cookbooks and the stories shared by the Culinary Historians of Southern California. Yet I never thought about the preservation of actual food. Surely The Huntington and Smithsonian can’t be the only institutions to have stale wedding cake tucked away in their archive?
The archive (and old cake) belonged to Ed Carpenter, mom’s former colleague and friend at the Huntington. By the time mom came to the Huntington, Ed was a fixture of the institution. He probably knew every nook and cranny of the place, yet he preferred to hold court sitting on a stool just next to the reception desk.
That’s how I best remember him — sitting on the stool, talking to scholars on the stool, fielding questions from the public on the stool, walking away from the stool, walking to the stool. I was just a little girl and he was an old man when we knew each other. I hesitate to liken him to a grandfather… because, well he was more academic librarian than grandfather (now Dr. Paul Zall…he was a grandfatherly academic.)
Still, Mr. Carpenter (as I used to call him) was always warm and welcoming every time mom brought me to work. He treated my little-girl-questions seriously and always helped me on my little volunteer assignments. Many years later, both mom and I have such fond memories of him. He would be so tickled that the wedding cake he preserved so many years would make for such delicious reading. 🙂