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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011

Milwaukee Recipes Find Second Life Online

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The Internet long ago replaced the need for generalized cookbooks. If you're looking for a simple sugar cookie recipe or ideas for a squash soup, there's no need to turn to a book when a simple Google search will bring up dozens of suggestions. What the Internet hasn't always been as useful for finding, though, is specialized recipes—the ones passed down through generations of family, or recipes for once-popular dishes at local restaurants, particularly restaurants that closed long ago. Hundreds of such recipes are now online as part of an ongoing Milwaukee Public Library project to digitalize its historic recipe file.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, librarians stored recipes from the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel, building an archive of thousands of newspaper clippings.

“You could come into the library to view them, or you could call Ready Reference and say, 'My mom used to make this dish; do you have the recipe?,' and our Ready Reference people would help you find it,” explains Sandy Rusch Walton, Milwaukee Public Library marketing director. “It was our Ready Reference manager who said, 'Why don't we try digitalizing these so people have an easier way to access them online?'”

So far the library has posted more than 800 vintage recipes to its easily searchable archive. Though the site hosts plenty of basic recipes—including 13 brownie variations—the recipes also include many unique ethnic dishes or old favorites from Milwaukee restaurants, including some that have long since shuttered. Among the scanned, yellowed newspaper clippings are recipes for the Olde Pink House's Southern peanut butter pie, El Sombrero's beef chimichangas, and the schaum torte from Pappy's Bay Shore Restaurant. There are also many recipes from Mader's, Karl Ratzsch's and Jake's restaurants, as well as instructions for Jewish-style carp (served cold in its own gelatin) and Polish czarnyna duck soup.

The library will continue adding to the archive in the months, and most likely years, to come.

“Around Thanksgiving and Christmas our reference desk always gets a lot of questions about how to cook a turkey or a goose, so we'll try to get those kinds of recipes up in time for the holidays,” Rusch Walton says. “And after that, we'll just continue chipping away at it, posting recipes until we're done. We have folders and folders of recipes we can keep posting, so it's a huge project.”

To view the library's online recipe file, visit mpl.org, click “Digital Collections” and then click “Historic Recipe File.”