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Kay Shaw Nelson Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 15 Sep 2008

Biographical History

Kay Shaw Nelson is an American writer and researcher on a variety of current and historical topics relating to food and travel.

Born in Hanover, New Hampshire, Ms. Nelson graduated from Syracuse University in 1948 with a degree in Russian studies and journalism. She worked as a reporter for several New Hampshire newspapers before taking a job as an intelligence officer for the CIA. Beginning in 1951, she and her husband Wayne, also a CIA intelligence officer, spent many years abroad in the Middle East, the Far East, Europe, Africa, North and South America, and the Caribbean. In 1997 she wrote an introduction entitled "How to go from spies to pies: Operation Gastronomy" for the best-selling cookbook Spies, Black Ties, & Mango Pies: Stories and Recipes from CIA Families All Over the World. The author of numerous cookbooks and hundreds of articles in national publications such as the Washington Post, Gourmet, Woman's Day, and Family Circle, she is also a newspaper columnist and culinary historian.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

"Menu" comes from the Latin "minutus," meaning "small" or "detailed." One of the earliest known menus as print artifact dates from 1541, when the Duke of Brunswick compiled a list of dining options for his guests. Prior to this, early menus were usually intended for the chef, not the guests, as a set of instructions for the order of dishes. The individual menu reached its height in the early 19th century, and many of Europe's most talented artists illustrated them.

The Kay Shaw Nelson Papers consists of clippings, ethnic and regional recipes and cookbooks, menus, and miscellany. The majority of the collection consists of menus dating from the 1950s to the present, representing a wide range of nationalities, ethnicities, cuisines and occasions. In addition to samples from across the United States, the collection contains examples from Asia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Corsica, Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, Spain, St. Lucia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, and other countries. The collection is particularly strong in Germany, Australia, the British Isles, and Asia. Airline and ship menus are also represented.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection has not yet been processed and remains in original order (grouped geographically) as received.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Many of the cookbooks donated with the menu collection have been transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Nelson, Kay Shaw.


Dinners and dining.
Gastronomy -- History.
International cooking.
Mormon cooking.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)


Women food writers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Kay Shaw Nelson Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Kay Shaw Nelson, 2008.

Table of Contents


Ethnic and regional cooking