Women’s History Month, Part 8: Amelia Simmons (fl. late 18th century)

Since last week, I’ve been running around with the idea in my head that I wanted to write about a first: namely, the author of the first known American cookbook, Amelia Simmons. We aren’t lucky enough to own an early edition of the treasured American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plum to Plain Cake: Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life (first published in 1796), but we do have a 1996 reprint of the second 1796 edition. (Oh, how I do enjoy a long cookbook title!)

Below I’m sharing the book itself, but profiling Amelia turns out to be a near-impossibility! Her history is gleaned in bits and pieces. There’s a wonderful biography of what is known and speculated about her online at the Feeding America project from MSU. I won’t re-hash it here, but it is a great read and I recommend it.


American Cookery was first published in 1796. The country was young, still creating an identity. American food culture, influenced by Simmons and some of her receipts, was developing right along with it. Certainly this and other publications relied on mostly British cooking and British cookbooks would remain popular and common in America for decades to come. However, Simmons’ receipts incorporated native ingredients, most notably cornmeal (Indian meal), and, by the 1798 edition, advice for how to improve access to resources for cooking (“The cultivation of Rabbits would be profitable in America”).  Simmon’s recipes include the use of pearl ash (also called “pot ash”), which functioned as a precursor to what we consider modern baking powder, still about 50 years ahead of her time. The final page of our edition also contains directions for “emptins,” an ingredient that worked as a kind of yeast. Simmon’s book wasn’t only about recipes, but cooking and baking as processes in the home. The 1798 edition offered was expanded to offer information on growing and choosing foods, as well as preparing them.

Feeding America has a digital copy of the 1798 edition online, for those of you interested in viewing the whole item and Project Gutenburg includes the text of the first 1796 edition, if you’d like to compare. Either way, this book offers us a great peek into the roots of American food and its history. Now, Independence Cake, anyone? :)

From Tiny Books to Chunky Books

You may recall A Tiny Post on Some Tiny Books that we shared last October, when we acquired three tiny books, one each on salads, sandwiches, and chafing dish recipes. The post ended with a note about the elusive 4th volume in the quartet, The Tiny Book on Cocktails. I’m happy to report that it took a couple of months, but we’ve had success…sort of. Each of the four volumes were published individually in 1905, but finding a copy of The Tiny Book on Cocktails is tricky, as they are few and far between. However, we were able to purchase a rare version of all four books, published together, alternately titled, The Chunky Book.

The Chunky Book spine

The Chunky Book spine

The Chunky Book front cover. The book used to have a strap.

The Chunky Book front cover. The book used to have a strap.

The Chunky Book side view. Yes, it really is chunky!

The Chunky Book side view. Yes, it really is chunky!

The majority of The Chunky Book consists of the three volumes we already have (The Tiny Book on Salads, The Tiny Book on Sandwiches, and The Tiny Book on Chafing Dishes), each one divided by a few blank pages. The last part, however, is our new addition: The Tiny Book on Cocktails. There are some that may seem familiar, some that are forgotten in today’s modern cocktail age, and some that just make you wonder. There’s a table of contents and a short introduction on cocktails and ingredients, with the following note: “A cocktail should never be bottled and should always be made at the time of drinking. A bottled cocktail might be likened unto a depot sandwich–neither are fit for use except in cases of necessity.” While not a unique perspective, it makes an interesting contrast to the work of some other early cocktail book authors, who often have recipes for bottling mixes. 

If you were to spend a little more time looking through the recipes, you’ll notice a trend of certain ingredients, namely gin, whiskey, and brandy, along with wine-based aperitifs, bitters, and lemon peel. Lots of lemon peel. There are other, more unique ingredients–specific types of rum or liqueurs, for example–but gin, whiskey, and brandy were at the core of cocktail culture in early 20th century America, so we shouldn’t be surprised. (Rum was gaining ground, but vodka was still decades away from filling the American market and glass.)

In any case, The Chunky Book makes for fun perusing, if you’d like to stop by and swap sandwich, salad, hot dish, OR cocktail recipes. And until next week, cheers and eat well!

Eudora Welty’s Fruitcake

In 1980, Albondocani Press produced a Christmas card with Eudora Welty’s White Fruitcake recipe. The cover art, by Robert Dunn, was an hand drawn image that actually looks quite appealing! WhiteFruitcake
This fruitcake used bourbon, which would be a nice compliment to the pecan, crystallized cherries and pineapple, and lemon peel. You can find the recipe online in a number of places, including the Cookbook of the Day blog. Welty’s recipe may not have been created by her, but she did give it quite the boost. This recipe may be a little late for this year, but you can always start fruitcake planning for next year…

We have one New Year’s Eve post scheduled, then we’ll be back in 2014. We look forward to continuing to share our collection with you.

Happy Holidays from Virginia Tech Special Collections!

Culinary Cereals…Err, that’s Serials

If you missed the Special Collections Open House on September 3rd, don’t worry! You still have three more chances to visit us, see a selection of materials, talk with our staff, and even take a tour behind the scenes! Our next evening is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 1st, from 5-7pm. Come on by!

Last week’s almanac post got me thinking about serial culinary publications (aka food magazines). These days, they come in a variety of formats and with a wide range of emphases. Looking back at previous generations, you’ll see the same kind of variety, even in the same publication. While we don’t focus on collecting culinary magazines, per se, we do have some neat items on our shelves–i.e. What To EatWhat to Eat was Minneapolis based magazine from 1896-1908. (It later changed names and ran for a while as National Food Magazine). Sadly, we don’t have a complete run, but we have the issues from 1897.

January issue, front cover

January issue, front cover

April issue, front cover

April issue, front cover

May issue, front cover

May issue, front cover

Sample table of contents, February issue

Sample table of contents, February issue. This issue features an essay on hosting a Japanese-themed dinner. The cover and the table of contents are decorated with Japanese-style imagery.

The front covers all feature large color illustrations. Some relate to the time of year; others related to a particular item of interest within the issue. And they certainly are eye-catching. Even the table of contents for each issue features themed illustrations. Many other culinary publications at the time didn’t contain much color and those that did were often advertisements. Speakings of which…

Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).

Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).

More sample advertisements.

More sample advertisements.

Not only to the same ads appear again and again in each issue, but they address a VERY clear audience: middle-and upper-class ladies who can afford travel (EVERY issue includes train travel ads), servants, and a variety of food goods, and, in most cases, are also caring for a family in some way. But the meat (pun intended) of these publications is what’s between the advertisements: essays, poems, stories, nutrition advice, testimonials, letters to the editor and more!

Quite cleverly, What to Eat has a little something for everyone to read, enjoy, and entertain (including one certain archivist 116 years later!). Although we only have one year’s worth of issues in our holdings, it can offer some great insight in the American woman of 1897 and how she was targeted by publishers and advertisers. What to Eat doesn’t appear to have been scanned by anyone yet, so thinking about stopping by. And you never know, we might even have a volume out at our next Open House. :)

Rawleigh’s: Almanacs, Advertisements, and Information

This week, we’re featuring an almanac from 1926. More specifically, Rawleigh’s Good Health Guide, Almanac and Cookbook. As you might notice from the images above, the W. T. Rawleigh Company make a LOT of different products. The company began in 1889, is still in business today, and is still just as diversified. The almanacs were  yearly (or at least almost nearly) from at least as early as the 1910s and well into the mid 20th century. (Special Collections also has a 1957 almanac in its holdings.)

The title for this item really says it all. There are traditional almanac pages with weather information, sunrise and sunset times, and other predictions, grouped two months together. Opposite each is an essay, offering advise on maintaining good health or on some aspect of the company. Other pages combine mini-essays and recipes on a variety of topics: cooking for unexpected guests, feeding infants (always popular in advice-giving publications!), a vegetarian diet, and more.

What jumps out the most (at least for me) are the color images on the front and back covers are striking in their vividness and their idyllic scenes. While they may not have a blatant connection to the products and advise dispensed within, they certainly make you stop and smell the lilacs.

Rumford, or, The Return to Baking Powder

It’s been quite a while since we talked about baking powder, baking fans. In the past, we’ve looked at pamphlets from three baking powder companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Ryzon, Royal, and Snow King. This week, we’re taking on another big name–one that’s still around today: Rumford.

The Rumford Common Sense Cook Book is not the earliest Rumford publication in our collections, but it’s a rather interesting piece. It is one of MANY pamphlets and publications about Rumford in the History of Food and Drink Collection. Hardly surprising, in the case of company with a long history of production. Compiled by Lily Haxworth Wallace (who was associated with Rumford with many years), it consists mainly of what you would expect: recipes. Recipes for cakes and frostings, waffles and breads, pastries, puddings, candies and even salad dressings. Since baking is a precise art, the directions for properly measuring aren’t all that surprising either. However, a few other elements stand out.

Given the changing technology in the kitchen, this guide includes a conversion chart of sorts that translates from the previous generation’s cooking temperatures (hot or slow ovens, for example) to the (more) precise temperatures of newer stoves. There’s also a great two page glossary of cooking terms and a diagram of a table setting for semi-formal dinner. (Apparently the formal dinner hostess will have to look elsewhere. ;)) There are even two illustrated pages  about knowing your cuts of beef and lamb. Perhaps not as exciting as our set of flashcards, but a bit more conveniently embedded within a handy pamphlet.

girl in bonnet with wildflowersargument for purchase of Rumford baking powder which does not use alumcan of baking powder surrounded by wheat

Baking powder and the baking powder wars were a topic of one our first blog posts back in 2011 and while looking at Rumford publications, I did find something particularly relevant. This small (and, as you may notice, somewhat fragile) 1913 Rumford Home Recipes pamphlet includes an intriguing defense of Rumford’s brand, sandwiched between front and back covers with comforting and sweet imagery.

So, next time you starting baking, take a minute to remember baking powder. There’s a long and intriguing history to that helpful little can. And always remember: “Watch the label!”

From Root to Table: Raw Foods in the Early 20th Century

This week, we’re featuring Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food: With Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Christian. This particular volume is a recent addition to Special Collections. Published in 1904, it’s actually the 5th edition, so this husband and wife team seemed to be on a roll…

Eugene Christian was the more prolific of the pair, authoring a variety of books on food, diet, nutrition, and health in general between 1900-1930. His wife co-authored a several books with him, however. Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them features a little bit of everything: directions on how and what to eat, how to prepare foods (very little!), sample recipes, sample meal plans, and some about why the idea of eating raw foods was important to the authors. For Special Collections, this piece is a great new addition. While we have a number of volumes on vegetarianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, this is the first book we have on raw foods and the raw foods movement. (Now, we’ll be on the lookout for more!)

You’ll notice that there are a few cooked/prepared foods in the book, though they seem to be carefully chosen and few and far between. The section on soup, for example, is prefaced by the statement that: “We give here a few recipes for soups only because the soup habit is so firmly fixed in the mind of the housewife and the epicure that they can hardly conceive of a decent dinner without them. All soups may be warmed sufficiently to serve hot without cooking.” All but one of the few meat or fish dishes are smoked or dried. The others are all raw, including a beef tartare recipe.

So whether you’re hankering for egg-nog with fruit juice, raw carrot and turnips with (or without) salad dressing, or prune pie, this book could be for you. You’ll just have to come by and see. Until then, happy eating!

The Tale of a Few Tipples: Recipes for New Orleans’ Classics

Part of our staff is away this week at a conference in New Orleans (your loyal blogger archivistkira included); others are holding down the fort in Blacksburg. Those of us traveling will be looking for ways to keep cool while learning from colleagues, sharing information, and enjoying some great food–perhaps with a tipple or two. Quite a few classic cocktails were invented and/or popularized in New Orleans, including the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz,  and the Absinthe Frappe, as well as the more contemporary Hurricane and Zombie. So, if you feel like getting into the spirit (ha-ha) of things along with us, here are a few recipes from a new acquisition to our History of the American Cocktail Collection, Albert S. Crockett’s The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book from 1934.

(The full title of this book, by the way? The old Waldorf-Astoria bar book : with amendments due to repeal of the XVVIIIth : giving the correct recipes for five hundred cocktails and mixed drinks known and served at the world’s most famous brass rail before prohibition, together with more than one hundred established formulas for cocktails and other beverages, originated while prohibition was in effect : the whole flavored with dashes of history mixed in a shaker of anecdote and served with a chaser of illuminative information.)

Special Collections also includes a previous, first edition of this book from 1931, titled, Old Waldorf bar days; with the cognomina and composition of four hundred and ninety-one appealing appetizers and salutary potations long known, admired and served at the famous big brass rail; also, a glossary for the use of antiquarians and students of American mores. Crockett certainly had a way with titles! Despite the repeal of Prohibition between editions,  you  may notice the 1934 volume includes only nine more drinks. Apparently people were too busy catching up on missed cocktails to develop a few more just yet. Or perhaps Crockett was looking for an even number the second time around…

Whatever your favorite cooling drink on a hot day, from Virginia Tech Special Collections staff in Blacksburg, New Orleans, and everywhere in between this week, cheers!

365 Luncheon Dishes & 365 Days in a Year–What a Coincidence!

Some of the items we feature on What’s Cookin’ are things we know about and which stick with us for various reasons. Others, like our book today, come from good old fashioned shelf browsing. While not all the History of Food and Drink Collection titles are shelved together, the majority are in groups and it’s a great deal of fun to wander, looking at spines and flipping through pages. This week, we found 365 Luncheon Dishes; A Luncheon Dish for Every Day in the Year, Selected from Marion Harland, Christine Terhune Herrick, Boston Cooking School Magazine, Table Talk, Good Housekeeping, and Others. Published in 1902, it turns out to be exactly what it sounds like. Each month includes recipes for each day. (During Leap Years, we can presume, you’d need to come up with your own dish for February 29!) If you follow us, you’ll recognize some of these recipe authors: Marion Harland,her daughter Christine Terhune Herrick, and Janet McKenzie Hill (Boston Cooking School Magazine‘s first editor).

Despite the structure of the cookbook, the recipes don’t reflect any sort of seasonal nature. You’re just as likely to find warm dishes in summer and cold ones in winter. Some recipes are for main dishes and others are for sides or components of a larger luncheon menu. So, while not a meal planning guide, the book does offer lots of variety one could incorporate into planning. 

This volume has previously been scanned by Special Collections staff and you can view it online here: http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/10287. The samples we shared today just begin to scratch the surface!

You may be wondering, with a title like 365 Luncheon Dishes, if this book is part of a series. As a matter of fact, it is! In 1901, George W. Jacobs & Co. published 365 Breakfast Dishes. Although we don’t have a copy of this volume in Special Collections, you can view it online. In 1903, the company followed up with 365 Dinner Dishes. The copy available online is from the same year, but our copy has cover that looks more like the one above. These were followed by several more titles (none of which, unfortunately, reside on our shelves): 365 Tasty Dishes (1906). 365 Foreign Dishes (1908), and 365 Vegetables Dishes (1910). Clearly, the publisher felt they were doing something right with this format–No matter what your time of day or cooking need, they have you covered!

Happy July 4th!

Happy Independence Day from What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections!

(For all your July 4th Jell-O needs, we offer this!)

july fourth jello dessert recipe "gala holiday mold"

Gala Holiday Mold
The Jell-O Pages, c.1987

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