Culinary Communities: Blacksburg Organization Cookbooks

Several months ago, I wrote a post about the oldest Blacksburg community cookbook currently in the History of Food and Drink Collection. It also has a nice introduction to what we mean as “community cookbooks” and the region in which we focus. This week, I’ve pulled two more of the town organization community cookbooks from our shelves to share. On the surface, they may not have much in common, but at the core, they share something very important…which we’ll come back to after our image gallery interruption. :)

The first is Blacksburg’s Best, published by the Blackburg Junior Woman’s Club in 1968.

The second one is Bread of Life, published by the Blacksburg Christian School in 1996.

Okay, so what do these have in common? Like many community cookbooks, they are in a similar format–in many cases, books like this came from the same publishing house. However, with nearly 30 years between them, there are some changes in how the sections are named. But it’s the “local” nature of them that I think is far more important. These books include recipes from our community and as a result, they raise all kinds of questions: What are the recipes that contributors feel are important? Do they use local or regional foods/ingredients? Are they family recipes or something new? Can you find multiple variations of traditional recipes, and if so, what do those changes reflect?

While we can’t always answer these questions as users and preservers of these books, we can still begin to find stories (or at least threads of stories) that tell us about the community in which we live. In this case, it’s Blacksburg, but if I had selected different books this morning, it could be Roanoke, Fincastle, or a number of other Southwest Virginia towns. The 1996 book might reflect a more diverse set of recipes that include global influences, but you can’t go more than 4 pages into either publication without finding a recipe for a cheese ball. Look further and you’ll find cheese biscuits, barbecue chicken, meat loaf, sweet potato casserole, and sour cream cake appear in both of these (and a myriad of other) books, among other recipes. Which brings us back to my earlier comment: At their core, these books fulfill an important common role–they serve to document communities (and yes, fundraising, I know that part matters, too!). They show us the recipes that are the continuing favorites of our families and friends, that span generations, that remind us of being in the kitchen with people love, and that take us back to our roots and help us establish new roots as we go forward. Plus, they’re usually just filled with really good recipes!

New Acquisitions Round Up #1

Part of our staff, (archivist/blogger Kira included) are at the big annual archives conference most of this week. While we’re taking in the food scene of Cleveland, networking with colleagues, and discussing the finer points of preserving and serving up access to materials (even archival work can be talked about in food terms!), this week’s post will be a new acquisitions round-up. We’ve been VERY busy acquiring new items for the History of Food and Drink Collection in first half of this year, so this is a sort of sneak preview. Who knows which of these items might get their own blog post one day!

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We’ll see you again next week with another feature item from the History of Food and Drink Collection!

The Domestic Encyclopaedia: From A-Z–Or at least from M-Sn

It’s been a LONG while since we talked about a dictionary or encyclopedia on the blog, so today seems as good a time as any to bring up the topic of reference manuals for the home. Specifically, The Domestic Encyclopaedia; or, A Dictionary of Facts and Useful Knowledge, Comprehending a Concise View of the Latest Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements, Chiefly Applicable to Rural and Domestic Economy, published in 1803. There’s actually even more to the formal title: Together with Descriptions of the Most Interesting Objects of Nature and Art; The History of Men and Animals, in a State of Health or Disease; and Practical Hints Respecting the Arts and Manufactures, both Familiar and Commercial. (You really have to love those 19th century titles that contained every detail about the publication–at least you  know what you’re in for!) It was originally published in London, but ours is an American edition that includes, as noted on the title page, “Additions applicable to the present situation of the United States.” We don’t know for sure what the American editor added  Even more specifically, we’re going to look at Volume IV. Why, you ask? Because Volume IV is the only one we are lucky enough to have here.

This volume covers M-Sn (Mace-Snowdrops, in fact!). The pages from the index show you just how widely “rural and domestic economy” is defined. The entry for “roaster” is more than 5 pages long, including a history along with illustrations of different models and uses. Other entries, like the one for “red-ink” are short enough to fit several on a page. The topics vary from cooking ingredients to farming implements to diseases to geographical elements. While not too common, there are more pictures than one might expect for a dense reference book, some large enough to merit a whole page! But make no mistake, this is a text heavy series for those in search of an educated perspective.

You can view a pdf of the book in its entirety online through the University Libraries. And luckily, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Digital Collections has all five volumes online for your reading and reference pleasure. The NLM collection includes not only digitized books, but also videos, relating to biomedical history. I also want to take one last moment to point out another new online resource: the USDA National Agricultural Library’s Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection (HDGDC). It’s brand new this week and features “over 900 historical and contemporary federal dietary guidance publications.” This new resource is a subset of materials in the National Agricultural Library Digital Collections, which as additional digital publications relating to agricultural history.  Any and all of these resources are worth a few minutes of browsing when you have a chance, whether for research, fun, or both!

Six Little Cooks: Narrative, Recipes, and Culinary Instruction

This week, we’re looking at another instruction manual for cooks. This one, though, isn’t for adults–it’s for children. And while we have shelves of children’s cookbooks, each filled with recipes and directions, this one is a little different. It has elements of storytelling, a frame narrative that runs through each of the 14 chapters. Our edition of Six Little Cooks comes from 1891, but it was first published in 1887. Elizabeth Kirkland’s book tells the story of Grace, whose aunt and cousin come to visit. Grace, inspired by a story book, asks her aunt to teach her, her sister, her cousins, and her friends to cook. The 14 chapters cover the 14 days Aunt Jane spends teaching the girls recipes and etiquette for different meals, occasions, and events.

The recipes are usually grouped in the middle of each chapter, numbered and labeled, surrounded by the plot and often information about how to properly prepare, serve, or clean up from the particular focus of the lesson. Unlike many children’s cookbooks and like many manuals for housewives of the period, there are no illustrations. The book is written in simple language that the intended audience of young girls would understand, and it seems clear they are meant to learn by reading and practicing, rather than being provided pictures or images of “how to” (though the story IS entertaining). That being said, it does seem like a more effective way to spread the message of culinary instruction. It gives young readers something they can relate to, while hopefully making it fun to learn–which is a lesson we can still use today!

If you’d like to read more, you can always visit us. Or, you can check out a digital copy of the 1891 edition on the Internet Archive’s website.

What’s in the (Sugar) Bag?

This week, I thought we’d take a look at a “shaped” publication. (Also, I have plans to recreate an 1827 “Layfayette Gingerbread” recipe this weekend and I have sugar and molasses on the brain.) As we know from the wide array advertising materials we’ve looked at before, companies have all kinds of quirky strategies for attracting consumer attention. This booklet from W. J. McCahan Sugar Refining & Molasses Co. took a novel approach: they shaped the publication like a bag of sugar.


“McCahan’s Sunny Cane Sugar” was published in 1937, but as you can see from one of the images above, this was far from the first edition. The 88 pages are packed with information on the history of sugar, types of sugar produced by the company, recipes, and kitchen/cooking tips. The recipes primarily provide instruction for desserts (not surprising), but there are also sections for meat and vegetables. Because of course you’ll want to get sugar into every dish of your meal!

We have a couple other pamphlets from a different sugar company that are shaped like sugar bags (these are only about two pages long each) in the collection. My guess is, the sugar bag shape is relatively easy to create, since it involves the removal of the corners. I’ve also come across some can-shaped pamphlets and one strange booklet that’s square at the top, but features the image of a wooden salad bowl on the cover. The bottom of the booklet is rounded like a bowl. More recently, we acquired a book on peanuts shaped like–you guessed it–a peanut! Now, if only we had a bread-loaf shaped one to go with it, we would be part way to strange looking peanut butter sandwich…

Archivistkira’s Week at Culinary Geek Camp

If you’re a long-time follower, I hoe you’ll forgive me for going a bit more off track than usual this week. You know that usually I would post images and commentary/history on an item from the History of Food and Drink Collection. The thing is, last week, I got to do something amazing and 100% food history related. And I really want to talk about it. I think it may give our readers more insight into some of my future hopes/dreams for the collection, and you’ll learn about my passion for food history. It’s going to a long post, but I’ll keep my comments short and I promise there are pictures.

Each summer, the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) hosts a week long seminar. Each year, the topic changes and you’ll never see quite the same thing again. This year, the theme was “Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900.” You can read more about it online.  As soon as I heard about it from a colleague who attended last year, I knew I had to go. Luckily, the faculty member leading the seminar agreed and I was accepted.

The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.

The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.

My week was spent in the company of graduate students, faculty, and a couple of other library types from a variety of disciplines: History, Art History, English, American Studies, and Religion Studies. Led by a visiting faculty member and assisted by the staff at the AAS, we had lectures, hands-on workshops (with books, prints, ephemera, trade cards, images, and artifacts), field trips, and even time to do our own research. The archivist in me was giddy from the behind-the-scenes tour, the scholar in me was gleeful about playing in someone else’s archives, and the collection manager in me was thrilled to talk about and learn how and why people from diverse backgrounds study food and food history.

On our first day, we were shown a number of objects related to food and asked to pick one. Over the course of the week, we were supposed to keep thinking about the object, how what we talked about changed our understanding of it, and, on the last day, give a brief informal presentation about the object as an item. Some people put the object in the context of American culture at the time, others talked about how it could be used in a classroom setting to engage students, and still others used the object as a jumping off point for broader observations about what the item represented. I chose this 1759 advertisement for a merchant in Boston, printed by one Paul Revere. It was accompanied by a handwritten receipt for the items purchased by a customer, around which the ad would have been wrapped (you can still see the fold line under “Large & small Spiders” below).


1759 Advertisement for merchant Joseph Webb of Boston. Printed by Paul Revere.


Handwritten receipt from Webb to Obadiah Dickinson, 1759, accompanying the advertisement.

I could probably write a paper on what I talked about for those short 5 minutes, and I won’t linger on that today, but it won’t surprise anyone to know I focused on how this might fit in as something I would show a visiting class and what it says about culinary activities in early America.

During our daily workshops, we got to handle a wide variety of materials. The items related to the day’s theme. We spent time looking at them, then had group discussions about their significance, interest, use, etc., as they related to art, political, culinary, economic, and social/domestic history. I took lots of picture, from political cartoons to trade cards to hand-colored tea plants in a botany book. (Apologies for all the reflections, but most items were in mylar for their safety and flashes weren’t permitted. Also, I haven’t had a chance to crop and edit yet.)

A. Brown & Co. print, "Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864."

A. Brown & Co. print, “Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864.”

Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies' Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.

Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies’ Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.

Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the "baking powder wars!"

Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the “baking powder wars!”

The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.

The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.

Of course, you don’t put a group of scholars obsessed with food together and not cook. During a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, we cooked an 1830s meal over an open hearth from scratch (stuffed and roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, rolls, greens with burnt butter dressing, lemonade, pounded cheese, and “Washington Cake” with hand-whipped cream, plus we churned and washed our own butter!). It was an eye-opening experience to actually prepare this meal and if it weren’t for 20 sets of hands, it would have taken well more than our 3 hours. We tasted and talked about hard cider, cheese and cheesemaking, and Sazeracs and other historic cocktails, and bravely sampled hardtack. On our last day together, we made gingerbread as dessert for the evening’s cook out. It was Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe that included a pint of molasses and four different spices. Dense as it was, it tasted amazing and I’m looking forward to making it at home for friends.

Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)

Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)

Eliza Leslie's 1827 recipe for gingerbread.

Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe for gingerbread, made in 2015!

Besides the fun, my pile of notes, new knowledge gained, and the chance to do research (why yes, I DID find some interesting cocktail history in manuscript form, but more on that another day), there was something even more important I learned last week and it was a large part of what I wrote about in my application essay. I wanted to meet people from different disciplines who studied food and I wanted to know why they did. I’ve worked at Virginia Tech Special Collections with the History of Food and Drink Collection for more than 6 years. One of my biggest challenges is finding ways to make it seem usable and relevant in the classroom. After a week of conversation and collaboration, I’m looking forward to reflecting on how I can broaden the way I think about our collection and its use, and how I can encourage faculty and students on campus to do the same. Hopefully, I can find some angles to entice classes in unexpected areas of study to pay us a visit.

Finally, after going on way to long, I’ll leave you with two more images (no, not me washing butter–but a picture of that DOES exist!). They are two food items vital to the history of food and culinary culture in America and abroad. If you want a bit of my experience from last week, give yourself five minutes to consider them. It might just surprise you how politically charged your morning beverage might be.

A bottle of tea whose label reads "Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773."

A bottle of tea whose label reads “Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773.”

Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.

See you next week, when we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. :)

Producing Profits from Produce

In case it wasn’t obvious from the fact that last week’s post appeared in so timely a manner on a Wednesday as planned, this week should tip you off. Archivist/blogger Kira was and still is out of the office, but I planned two weeks ahead this time! (On a side note, while you’re reading this, I’m at a week-long academic seminar called “The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900,” sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. You can assume I’m thoroughly enjoying being a food history geek this week.) Through the magic of the ability to schedule blog posts, our feature today is a fun publication from 1948:

HD9005M471948_FCTo be honest, there isn’t much to say on the particular history of this publication. Rather, it’s one of those instances where it’s just really neat to look at and get a sense of what merchandising was like in the mid-20th century.

This book is full of technicolor images, colorful displays, and lots of helpful advice for A&P store managers and employees. One page even has an illustrated check list, “Eight Checks to Help You Please Customers” concluding with a friendly reminder that “Smiles mean sales.”

The second half of the book covers the wide range of fruits and vegetables. Each page consists of a picture (most are in color, but a few more “exotic” items aren’t), background information on the origins of the produce, and how it should be stored, handled, and displayed. Some items have additional information, like how something is graded, what varieties it comes in, or how it can be used.

We hope you’re enjoying your summer and finding some great recipes and ingredient to accompany it. And remember, even if you’re on vacation, we’re not! You can always pay Special Collections a visit, whether you’re doing research, or just want to find that perfect picnic snack.

Stove Technology: Progress and Efficiency

We’re back this week to talking about stoves. It’s not entirely intentional (we did talk about ovens back in May), since what attracted me to this feature wasn’t the stove, but the title. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was a corporate-sponsored, kitchen stove-based booklet until I reached the copyright page.


While I knew this wasn’t a publication from the future, a small part of me couldn’t help but hope. Still, Meals That Cook Themselves (1915) is interesting. It covers a little of all our favorites: economy in the household, efficiency in the kitchen, meal planning, and product placement.

Oddly enough, though, there are two of our more common elements from blog post features missing: recipes and images. Meals That Cook Themselves isn’t a recipe book. It’s more like a strange cross of a diary and an advertisement. As a result, it’s written in first person by the author and it largely an explanation of how the Sentinel fireless cooker greatly improved her life (and presumably, how it can do the same for other housewives). The publication covers how the stove works, why it saves time and money, how wonderful it makes the food, and even the science behind fireless cooking. It does include a few meal plans, largely as a way to illustrate the economy of the product. However, one of the best parts is Chapter X: “Questions that Women Ask about the Sentinel.” Or, if you prefer, the 1915 equivalent of the modern FAQ  (frequently asked questions). This chapter is in partially-conversational, partially formal language with questions like “But surely pastry cannot be put into a cold oven?” and “Will not the oven become rusty and a great deal of steam be condensed in using this fireless method, if there is no outlet for the escape of steam?” (I think for the moment, we can overlook the fact that “If 60 or 70 minutes of direct heat is needed for a 10-lb. roast, it does not seem as if the Sentinel is as economical as you say?” isn’t actually a question. And besides, the explanation is sound.)

Hurrah for fireless cooking, Christine Frederick is basically telling us, especially if it’s a Sentinel! It’s not exactly a new advertising ploy, given the publications we’ve looked at before, but it is a solid message, and one designed to speak housewife to housewife. Now, if only we could find a way for those meals to REALLY cook themselves…

Urban Farming for the 1900s Child

In 1902, Mrs. Henry Parsons (or Fannie Grissom Parsons, if you prefer) launched an experiment. Her idea was to find a way to city children to have the rural experience. Basically, she brought the farm to New York City.


Our feature this week is The First Children’s Farm in New York City, from 1904. This publication is the follow-up for three years worth of work on a project. It taught city children the basics of planting, caring for, and harvesting a garden plot by creating opportunities to work in De Witt Clinton Park. The report details how the project started (by inviting children to participate), covers what children learned, and, to some extent, documents the effect it had on participants and the neighborhood.

Based on Mrs. Parsons’ report, we can surmise that she had some success in the endeavor. She was even awarded a medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. In addition to recounting the how of things, her report includes a section titled, “Farm School Work in Aid to Schools, Hospitals and Asylums.” What follows is an account of where such programs are needed, the disconnect between city and rural settings in the start of a new century, and the benefits of teaching children about the environment, essentially. The report also contains a number of photographs (I’m partial to the before and after shots above).

While I don’t know how, more than 100 years, we can necessarily judge the effectiveness of Mrs. Parsons’ program, I think it does convey a message that still has bearing: finding a connection to what we eat. We might argue Mrs. Parsons’ work is a precursor to urban gardening and local food movements today. Our campus was host to a 4-H camp last week, and that has me thinking about what we are still teaching children today, whether in school, camp, or at home. The good news is that we haven’t lost sight of work that began over a century ago.

Gelatine (Yes, that’s with an “e”) from Across the Pond

After several months of stockpiling new items for the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, I finally had a chance to add half a box worth of new materials. There were plenty of new additions to companies for which we already have folders and lots of new companies are now represented. The collection itself is now into Box 5! Among the additions are two advertisements for one our favorite topics–you guess it–gelatin. Or, in this case, gelatine. J. & G. Cox was an Edinburgh, Scotland, based company, so we have acquired an extra “e.” (You’ll also get some additional vowels in the some of the recipes below.)

Cox_ad1_a Cox_ad1_b Cox_ad2Unfortunately, I don’t have any hints as to when these advertisements were created. I know that the company was active in at least the first four decades of the 20th century, but it could have slightly earlier roots, too. Between the 1910s and the 1940s, much like Genessee Pure Foods Co. (later Jell-O Company and General Foods Corporation–Jell-O Division) and Chas. B. Knox Co., this company produced LOTS of small pamphlets with recipes. J. & G. Cox even published at least one pamphlet in French, as well: “Recettes choisies, Cox’s instant powdered gelatine.” I found two copies cataloged by universities in Canada. Lest we forget, gelatin was not an exclusively American product. Until it was commercially available in the late 19th century, it was made at home, by housewives everywhere.

The advertisement on the more orange colored paper is the one with recipes. It’s also the one that appears to have been marketed for American audiences. It has a small “U. S. A.” in the upper left corner and is labeled “specially prepared for exportation.” Yet, the recipes are clearly in British English and have a certain air of British cuisine about them. The other advertisement is more of a single-page essay praising the quality, benefits, and low cost of the Cox’s gelatine. It even includes a testimonial from a chemist. However, both make a reference to it being prepared for export, suggesting J. & G. Cox’s market may have been broad. Both ads are a little different from the pamphlet-type items gelatin companies also produced and gave away. And while these two ads do stand out a little more because of it, the audience and the intention was the same: selling product to consumers, whichever side of the Atlantic they were on.

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