RabelaisToday, on our trip to town, Paul and I finally poked our noses into Rabelais, the food bookstore here in Portland. The folks at Aurora Provisions had sung its praises on many occasions, so it had been on our list for a while.

I was expecting something of a fancy cookbook store, trucking mostly in new books, but Rabelais proved even better. In addition to a great selection of new and interesting books on food, drink, agriculture, cooking, brewing, cheesemaking, canning, et cetera — and, indeed, taking up far more shelf space — was a dizzying collection of used books on all those subjects and more. Historical books, old cookbooks, food company recipe books, farming publications — just about anything interesting and food-related you might imagine. For a historian of agriculture who thinks a lot about food, it was like wandering into the coolest archive ever, without having to check your bag at the door.

Today, in addition to boxes of new acquisitions waiting to be processed, the bookstore also contained boxes of six varieties of apples. Turns out they’re one of the pickup locations for the Out on a Limb Apple CSA. Shareholders were coming in every so often with carts to pick up their allotment. There were apples, one of each variety, arrayed on the checkout counter, and they looked incredibly delicious. What a great combination: books about food and farming, and locally grown food itself!

After discovering a collection of historical pamphlets in the back and growing ever more excited, I chatted with one of the owners, Don Lindgren, and found out that Rabelais is moving increasingly in the direction of historic books and materials. Indeed, they do a lot of acquiring for places like Cornell. They’re actually beginning to outgrow their space on Middle Street, and will be moving in January to Biddeford: bad for me, since I will no longer be able to walk there from the boat, but probably quite good in the long run, since it seems to mean that they will be able to do more exciting things in terms of historical materials on agriculture, food, and drink.

If you’re in Portland before January, drop into the store on Middle Street, just off the intersection with Franklin arterial. And definitely check out their web site: they have a wonderful web presence, including a searchable inventory, blog, online catalogs, and more. Definitely a resource for historians of food and agriculture to keep in mind!


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