Let’s Eat! Exploring Historical Menus
Did you know that the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the CALS Roberts Library has a collection of historical menus going back over 100 years? You can explore Arkansas’s culinary past by viewing our new mapping project here.
Menus provide intriguing snapshots into our past. Think about how intertwined restaurants are with our lives. We visit them when we’re hungry, of course, but they’re also the scene of first dates, birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations. Food is an important part of our lives. Menus allow us to see not only what people were eating in the past, but also how our tastes (and prices!) have changed over time.
Some, like this one from the Farkleberry restaurant in Little Rock, are just fun to peruse.
Check out the earliest menu in the collection, from Christmas dinner at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs in 1894. Doesn’t baked opossum with sweet potatoes sound good?
Some of the menus come from well-known national establishments.
While others are from eateries unique to Arkansas, like Jacques and Suzanne in Little Rock.
There are also menus from various events, such as one from Christmas dinner at Camp Pike during World War I.
Though they are ephemeral in nature, menus can tell us a great deal about our history. Not only can we learn what people were at eating various times, and how palates evolved, but we can also gain insight into what people were doing and what they valued. Much can be gleaned about the economics and sociology of eating a meal outside the home. The historical evidence found in menus allows us to better understand the role of food in our past as well as the role it continues to play in our cultural memory.
Now dig in!
By Brian Robertson, manager of the Research Services Division, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the CALS Roberts Library