Legendary Sacramento food journalist Elaine Corn has donated her papers to UC Davis Library, a gift that will help future researchers and historians looking to understand how we cook, consume and consider food.
In the early days of Corn’s career, newspaper food coverage was confined to “the women’s pages,” which published recipes and tips for homemakers. That started to change in the mid-’70s, when journalists like Corn expanded the notion of food reporting to include health and nutrition, consumer advocacy, agriculture, food equity and more. Corn created the first food section at The Austin American-Statesman in Texas and later joined the Louisville Courier-Journal before moving to Sacramento in the late ’80s to work as The Bee’s food editor. She’s been in town ever since, covering food as a freelance writer, a cookbook author and a reporter for Capital Public Radio.
Corn is known for her strong opinions, rapier wit and pointed use of language. She believes every child should learn how to cook in school: “It’s a survival skill.” Recipes should be simple and easy to understand. “A recipe is not a poem, or a mystery with a surprise ending,” she jokes. She preaches the importance of technique, like how to tell if a chicken breast is cooked by pressing it with your finger. And she has a passion for teaching novice cooks. Her 1994 book, “Now You’re Cooking: Everything a Beginner Needs To Know To Start Cooking Today,” received prestigious James Beard and Julia Child awards.
UC Davis approached Corn about donating her papers at the suggestion of her longtime friend, famed grocer Darrell Corti. Her archive, which includes stories, photos, handwritten notes, recipes and more, is now being collated and digitized. “It all went out the door in seven bankers boxes,” she says, adding plaintively, “I want my stuff back. This summer, I wanted my recipe for succotash, and it wasn’t in the house. I want my potted lobster, too.” Soon, everyone will have access to those recipes, and much, much more.