Ex Libris Culinariis

All cooks have their tools. For some, that means knives and rolling pins. For Philadelphia Chef Fritz Blank, it includes a library of 10,000 cookery books he uses as often as any utensil. Chef Fritz taps his cookery library to create menus that are deeply rooted in the diverse culinary traditions of Europe and America. The music aficionado and former dairy farmer, clinical microbiologist and military officer collects books in all these fields, but his culinary collection has become a Philadelphia institution.

Here scholarly tomes vie with community cookbooks, entire newspaper food sections, menus and recipe pamphlets for shelf space. Even ephemera such as advertising postcards are not beneath notice in Blank’s eclectic and egalitarian library.

Born in “East Philadelphia” (Pennsauken, New Jersey), Blank learned to cook at his grandmother Mary Blank’s apron strings, and food has remained a constant in his life. His foray into restaurateuring was inspired by a series of dinners with friends in the early 1970’s. Cooking directly from the 1969 Great Dinners from Life, Blank recreated every menu in the book. His guests’ enthusiastic claims that he should open a restaurant proved his first push from cook to chef. Great Dinners includes international menus such as Brazilian, Belgian and French and gives precise explanations of how and why dishes work, the kinds of scientific framing Blank still serves up when teaching his own recipes at his Philadelphia restaurant Deux Chemineés.

On going projects -- stacks and piles of books, menus, articles and scrawled notes -- mark most surfaces in the library. Here, a tentative menu for a Verdi tribute dinner; there, experimental formulae for firmer watermelon pickles; over there, a series of notes on gelling agents. Like a symphony maestro, Blank is at the center of this bustling research, comparing recipes in original languages, FedExing hot soup across state lines or taking notes on dishes for staff meals.

What's with the Cows?

The library’s small herd of cows has been growing since Chef Fritz’s undergraduate days as a dairy farmer. Since then, cows have held a special place in the chef’s heart and form a continuing decorative motif throughout his library and home.

From Popular Culture to Learned Treatises

Clusius’ Latin dissertation on Hungarian mushrooms, originally published in 1601, separates over one hundred species into edible and nonedible fungi. Botanists of the time tended to describe few species and commingled safe and poisonous ones. Clusius, who detested the smell and taste of mushrooms, nonetheless gives examples of Hungarian preparations.

Keeping Track

Longtime librarian Elsie Cundy registers new acquisitions in a thick handwritten ledger. She then pastes one of five personalized bookplates on each of the 10,000 books.

Visitors to the library often ask about the hundreds of College Inn broth cans supporting book-laden shelves. Why broth cans? “Because,” a poker-faced Blank says, “they are cheaper than tomato juice cans.”

Say Cheese

Blank’s library includes thousands of culinary knickknacks and packaging examples. Not surprisingly, bovine themes arise again in cheese books and ephemera.

 

 

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Pork Loin.
Postcard. Des Moines, IA: National Pork Board, 2001.

Kurti, Nicholas and Giana, (eds.).
But the Crackling is Superb an Anthology on Food and Drink by Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society.
Bristol, England, Philadelphia: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1988.

Graves, Eleanor.
Great Dinners from “Life.”
New York: Time-Life Books, 1969.

Papier-mache model.

Fritz Blank with the prize-winning Brown Swiss “first calf heifer,” Flo at Delaware Valley College.
Photograph. Doylestown, PA, ca. 1961.

Petits Propos Culinaires.
London: Prospect Books Ltd., 1996.

Gardenier, Andrew A., (ed.).
The Successful Stockman and Manual of Husbandry.
Springfield, MA: The King-Richardson Co., 1901.
Gift of William Woys Weaver to Fritz Blank.

Animal manikins like those in the Manual were important tools to assist identifying disease and disorders among livestock.

(left) U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Cattle Fever Ticks and Methods of Eradication.

Washington: Government Printing Office, 1919. (USDA Farmers Bulletin 1057)

(center) Mahler, John R., U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Foot and Mouth Disease.
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915. (USDA Farmers Bulletin 666)

(right) Washburn, Henry J., U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Hemorrhagic Septicemin Stockyard Fever,
Swine Plague, Fowl Cholera, etc.

Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918.

Clusius, Carolus.
Fungorum in pannoniis observatorum brevis historia; et, codex Clusii.
Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1983.
Gift of Tásnadi Gábor

Chef Blank’s Bookplates.

Register Page from Chef Blank’s Catalog.

Broth cans.

Lord, Leonard.
Practical Butter and Cheese Making.
London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1925.

Morel, Robert, (ed.).
365 Fromages.
n.d.

Assortment of Cheese Boxes

 

© 2002 University of Pennyslvanian Library Trustees