A Retrospective of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor—Three Decades of Culinary Exploration
by Jan Longone
More than 30 years ago, on March 15, 1983, a small group of friends assembled in the living room of Jan and Dan Longone’s home on the west side of Ann Arbor. For several years, the group had talked about starting a Culinary Historians group.
Those invited to the meeting were Cathy Arcure, Tom and Mary Blaske, Janis Bobrin, Mitch Chyette, Beth and Doug Campbell, Charlene Depner, Nili Tannenbaum, Kathleen Vakalo, Ann Larimore, Andrea Leibson, and Dorothy Whallon Fish.
This first organizational meeting soon became the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor (CHAA). Our first formal gathering in 1983 was a group participation event called “Gastronomic Events I Would Like to Have Attended or Would Like to Re-live.”
It took place in the old Second Ward Building in downtown Ann Arbor, a building steeped in history. We found it a congenial setting for weaving our tales of our most beloved, sought-after culinary experiences.
In 2013, CHAA celebrated its 30th anniversary. All will agree that we have had a splendid and diverse culinary history education in the past 3 decades.
Although the purpose of a group such as CHAA is not primarily social but academic and scholarly, in reality the opportunity of meeting members, guests, speakers, and other contributors to CHAA has been one of its most rewarding aspects.
In its nearly 30-year history, CHAA has had an amazingly small number of chairpersons:
Jan Longone, 1983-1988 (currently CHAA Founder and Honorary President)
Julie Lewis, 1988-1999
Margot Michael, 2000-2001
Carroll Thomson, 2001-2012
Joanne Nesbit and Judy Steeh, 2012-2017
Mariam Breed, 2018–
Over the last 30 years, CHAA has met in many different locations. Currently, the regular monthly meetings are held on the third Sunday afternoon of each month between September and May at the Mallett’s Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library (but online during the pandemic). Special meetings have been held at many different venues, as varied as Zingerman’s Next Door and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Members have generously opened their homes and grounds for our annual summer picnics and December holiday potlucks, many more than once. Some hosted meetings in their homes; others hosted our speakers and gave special dinners to honor them. CHAA members and guests have also shared meals in a many different restaurants, covering a wide ethnic range from Vietnamese and Chinese to Cypriot, Lebanese, and Italian.
From its inception, CHAA dreamed of becoming a nationally recognized organization with its own newsletter. Although there were sporadic informal newsletters, it was a struggle to find responsible volunteers to undertake a formal newsletter. But our goal of publishing a formal newsletter was reached in June 1987 with Pat Cornett as its editor.
The contents of that first newsletter in 1987 reflected the Michigan Sesquicentennial, which was then being celebrated. Since then, many people have been involved in its writing, editing, production, and mailing. Editors and co-editors have included Jan Longone, Pat Cornett, Susan Fussell, Marion Prince Holt, Cheryl Depner, Julie Levine, Ann Woodward, and Randy Schwartz, the current editor. Without their dedication and talent, the newsletter would probably not have survived.
With the Winter 1999 edition (Volume XV #1), our current editor Randy Schwartz took over the reins of the CHAA newsletter, turning it into a splendid and reliable quarterly, christened Repast in the Winter 2000 issue.
Summer Picnics and December Holiday Potlucks
In some ways, our summer picnics and December holiday potlucks have been among our most memorable shared experiences. All have been special, but a few stand out in my mind. One special feast was held in 1996 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (1796) and the 100th anniversary of the first edition of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896). Every dish came from a recipe found in one of these two books.
Our summer picnics celebrating Julia Child’s several birthdays have been very special. Also noteworthy were the Shakespeare Holiday Feast in December 1999 and the Hawaiian Luau in July 2001.
For me, personally, the July 1993 picnic turned out to be more than memorable. The theme was Pacific Rim foods, and it was well carried out…but then CHAA honored me by making it a surprise party for my 60th birthday. I was not just surprised, but also touched and honored. I still have the crown presented to me on this occasion.
Other Culinary History Groups
We are proud to have established relationships with other Culinary History groups and culinary historians throughout the United States.
We exchange newsletters with most of them; several of our members have spoken at their meetings, and CHAA has hosted a number of their members.
Through our newsletter and meetings, we have gathered and shared information about national and international culinary events and locales: museums, libraries, collections, conferences, symposia, cooking classes, exhibitions, books, magazines, journals, articles, speeches and lectures.
All of this has contributed mightily to our joint culinary history education and knowledge over the past three decades.
A complete set of the CHAA newsletters and other records are being donated to the Clements Library as part of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive.
Thus, our history–and the contributions of all of the members who have made it possible–will be available for research by scholars in the future.
–Adapted and condensed from Jan Longone’s article “Two Decades of Culinary Exploration,” which appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of Repast.