In cookbooks written decades ago, pages are filled with more than ingredients and instructions, graduating Duquesne student Lily Berry has found.

These books also offer snapshots into the lives and cultures of their authors.

Berry, who just earned her master's degree in public history from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, spent her college years studying cookbooks written by women who were in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

She began that study during her undergraduate education at Hendrix College in Arkansas. At Duquesne, her research of the Holocaust continued — as well as her interest in historical recipes.

"The recipes that [the women in concentration camps] wrote were a very literal way for them to cope with the atrocities that they were surviving and resist oppression," Berry said. "I was really interested in that, and that's what struck my interest in recipes kind of as a whole. I've been able to pull that thread through my master's study."

At Hendrix College, Berry wrote her thesis on cookbooks compiled in concentration camps — with a focus on Auschwitz and Theresienstadt — and how these books memorialized women's experiences in the campus.

Many of the recorded recipes were initially passed down verbally, a phenomenon called "cooking in the mouth," Berry said.

Women wrote down family recipes from memory with hopes of passing their traditions and cultures down to future generations. Some of the women who authored recipes died in the camps, with the books being preserved by survivors, according to Berry.

"They truly just remembered the recipes that they cooked with their grandmothers, their mothers and their daughters," Berry said. "[They recorded] the exact ingredients [and] the exact steps to make [a recipe]."

When Berry enrolled at Duquesne, her study of the Holocaust continued. She landed an internship with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, through which she supported the "Americans in the Holocaust" traveling exhibition, which is set up in libraries in communities across the country that lack access to Holocaust education.

And she continued studying culinary history. At the Catholic university, she researched Chinese cookbooks published in the United States between 1910 and 1950 — a time when most Chinese immigrants to the United States faced government-imposed labor and immigration obstacles.

Berry works at the Parlor Dim Sum, a Cantonese restaurant in Pittsburgh, and said many of the recipes in the books were "very familiar" to her.

"[The project on the] Chinese American women's experiences through the cookbooks they published intersects, but is totally different from, the [Holocaust] project," Berry said. "It was really wonderful."

After graduation, Berry hopes to work at a public history institution like a museum. Reflecting on her education, she said it's important that people understand history as they look to the present and future.

"I think it matters a lot for college students, in particular, to understand historical contexts and to use that information to be civically involved in their own communities," she said. "Holocaust education is one thing that varies regionally, but often falls to the wayside. ... It's important to understand the world around you."


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