Wooden cheese boxes, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

Photographing Appalachia–And Its Foodways!

I’m hard a work on a new resource guide for students (one that is about Appalachian resources, and will include content on food & foodways!). I am hoping to have mostly finished during the start of classes next week, so it’s been my focus for the last day or so. I’m including in it one of my favorite pictures from the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025):

Women cooking apple butter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Women cooking apple butter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

When I sat down to write a blog post this morning, I though, “huh, why not Earl Palmer?” It’s not strictly food. To be honest, it’s not even primarily about food, but it’s a significant collection when it comes to Appalachia and there are some connections to be made.

Earl Palmer was born in Kentucky in 1905. He received his first camera at age 7, which launched a life-long love of photography. By the time he was 19, his images were already appearing in local papers and travel magazines. In 1945, he moved to Cambria (now part of Christiansburg) and his photos were in national magazines. Billing himself the “Blue Ridge Mountains’ Roamin’ Camera Man”, Palmer concentrated on the people and places of Appalachia, particularly the region’s traditional culture. Though based in southwestern Virginia, Palmer traveled the mountain regions of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia in search of subjects. From 1954 to 1964 (when Cambria merged with Christiansburg), Palmer was Cambria’s mayor. In 1972, he retired from the grocery business to devote more time to photography. During his many trips, Palmer also collected a number of artifacts associated with traditional mountain life, including wagon wheels, handicrafts, a moonshine still and tools. He died in 1996.

The Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025) contains about 750 photographs taken by Palmer, as well as a small group of printed materials relating to his photography, and a large selection of artifacts. A full description of the collection is online. But first, a few more photographs!

Peaks of Otter
Peaks of Otter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Corn shucks in a field, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Corn shucks in a field, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Newton Hylton whittling a miniature ox-yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Newton Hylton whittling a miniature ox-yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

The photograph portion of the collection has been digitized and is available online. You can search within the folio by keyword (for example, “apple butter” or “landscape”) or you can simply browse. While it’s broad in scope and captures many aspects of Appalachia, you will find image relating to food, agriculture/farming, social customs, and handicrafts, all of which can be tied to food and drink history in various ways

In addition to the photos, there is a series of artifacts, which includes items collected by Palmer, that are associated with traditional Appalachian folk culture. The series includes such items as a moonshine still, wagon wheels, ox yokes and hand-made brooms, as well as items associated with coal mining and railroading and small collection of cameras and photography equipment. Special Collections is not a museum and while we have some artifacts, the size and scope of the number in this collection made them difficult to manage. With the exception of a few small items, the majority of the artifacts reside permanently with the Appalachian Studies program at Virginia Tech and are on display at Solitude, like these:

Large wooden yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Large wooden yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Wooden cheese boxes, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Wooden cheese boxes, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

There’s a complete list of artifacts in the “Contents List” of the finding aid. As you can see, there are cornstalk carvings, farming equipment, household items, kitchenware, and even a moonshine still!

Photographs aren’t necessarily an obvious connection to food and drink history, but the fact of the matter is that images like these, captured by Earl Palmer and other photographers have as much of a story to tell as a handwritten receipt book or a community cookbook. Whether they capture a how an ingredient got started on the farm, how it was cooked, or what people used to store it, photographs can be a key element to studying culinary practices.

A Quick Link (#1): Victorian Cookbooks Were Stuffed with Costumed Roosters and Sphinx Cakes

Just a quick link to share, in an effort to get back to sharing news, recipes, or fun food stories on Mondays. It’s a short article, but includes some amazing, elaborate illustrations of cakes from mid-19th century British cookbooks and cooking encyclopediae: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-cookbooks-were-stuffed-with-costumed-roosters-and-sphinx-cakes. The images come from the New York Academy of Medicine collection and reveal just how decorative you can get with “tinted fat”…

“Method is the Soul of Management:” The Many Editions of Mary Randolph

Way back in the days of March 2012, when the blog was just a wee babe of 7 months old, I wrote a post about Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, America’s first regional cookbook. While I don’t plan to re-hash the post exactly, it seemed like time to revisit it. That post (found here) focused primarily on the 1846 edition of the book in our collection, though it made passing mention of the other two in our possession: the 1824 (first edition) and the 1855 (which we had only recently acquired). I’m pleased to say that these days, Special Collections includes SEVEN different editions of Mary Randolph on our shelves! (All told, this is just scratching the surface–there are more like 40 editions in print if you count different years of publication , publishers, and later reprints!) Let’s take a look, shall we?

Front cover. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1824
Front cover. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1824
Title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1824
Title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1824

Publication year: 1824 (sometimes cataloged or described as 1820 or [1820?])

Publisher: Hurst & Company, New York

Number of pages in the text: 180 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes (this edition also contains several pages of advertisements in the back).

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 4

Fun fact about this edition: “Arlington Edition” doesn’t denote the location of publication, but more likely where it was written (Mary and her husband David moved to the Washington, DC area in 1819, five years before this first edition was published.)

Bonus fact about this copy: Our 1824 is in particularly fragile shape. At some point in its history, it sustained water damage and has been nibbled on by insects. We provide a safe and stable home for this copy, so if you come to see it in person, we’ll have to help you look at it.

Title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1836
Title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1836

Publication year: 1836

Publisher: John Plaskitt, Baltimore

Number of pages: 180 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes.

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 24

Fun fact about this edition: In 1828, Mary Randolph added a small selection of recipes to 3rd edition of The Virginia Housewife. Our 1836 is our earliest copy to contain these additional recipes, which include items like “Mock Turtle Soup of Calf’s Head,” “Fried Chickens,” and “To Make Yellow Pickle.”

Title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1846
Title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1846

Publication year: 1846

Publisher: E. H. Butler & Co., Philadelphia

Number of pages: 180 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes.

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 14

Fun fact about this particular copy: Our 1846 edition was rebound in a new binding with new end-papers sometime in the latter half of the 20th century. However, the original front and back covers were retained (despite their damage) and applied to the new binding. This was a well-used copy with blotches and stains, suggesting it saw plenty of time in a kitchen!

Title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1855
Title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1855

Publication year: 1855

Publisher: E. H. Butler & Co., Philadelphia

Number of pages: 180 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes (this edition also contains several pages of advertisements in the back).

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 3

Fun fact about this edition: Like some other earlier additions, this one features several pages of advertisements in the back. In this case, there are 12 pages of ads for textbooks and educational volumes printed by the same publishers (E. H. Butler & Co. of Philadelphia).

Front cover. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1970 (1860)
Front cover. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1970 (1860)
Title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1970 (1860)
Title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1970 (1860)

Publication year: 1970 (reprint of 1860)

Publisher: Avenel Books, Richmond (1970); E. H. Butler & Co., Philadelphia (original 1860)

Number of pages: 180 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes (this edition also contains several pages of advertisements in the back which were part of the 1860).

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 30

Fun fact about this edition: Although printed in 1970, this edition is actually a page for page reprint of the 1860 version! The book is a little larger than the original would have been, which makes the text a bit bigger and easier to read, but once you get past the modern cover, this edition takes you back 110 years.

Frontispiece and title page. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1984
Frontispiece and title page. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 1984

Publication year: 1984 (reprint of 1824, plus pages from the 1825, and additional recipes which first appeared in 1828)

Publisher: University of South Carolina Press (1984); Davis and Force, Washington, DC (1824) (American Antiquarian Society copy); Way & Gideon, Washington, DC (1825 & 1828) (American Antiquarian Society copy)

Number of pages: 370 including preface, introduction, table of contents, and recipes, and extensive notes, commentaries, and appendices by author Karen Hess.

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 186

Fun fact about this edition: Unlike any of the 19th century editions or the later reprints, this 1984 edition contains a frontispiece with a picture of Mary Randolph (it would be common practice later in the 19th century to include author’s pictures or some sort of image opposite the title page). Karen Hess did extensive work comparing early editions and the result is this version which includes the original 1824 text plus recipes that were added to the 1825 and 1828 editions and a historical glossary. The 1825 edition also included Mary Randolph’s designs for a home refrigerator and tub, but these designs were removed from all subsequent editions–these pages are also included in this 1984 volume.

Front cover. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 2013
Front cover. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook, 2013

Publication year: 2013

Publisher:  Andrews McNeel Publishing, LLC, Kansas City (2013); Way & Gideon, Washington, DC (1828) (American Antiquarian Society copy)

Number of pages: 240 including preface, introduction, table of contents, recipes, and additional introduction by Nathalie Dupree.

Number of copies in public or academic libraries (incl. Virginia Tech): 30

Fun fact about this edition: This edition is part of a series of reproduced American cookbooks and culinary-related works that, to date, contains around 65 publications. It includes the works of people we’ve talked about on the blog before like William Alcott, Catherine Beecher, Lydia Maria Child, Eliza Leslie, Jerry Thomas, and Susannah Carter, as well as some community cookbooks, early translations of French cookbooks, and many more authors!

I’ve been wanting to do this little comparison for some time now. I know we didn’t get into the details of these volumes, but that would have made for an exceptionally long post. If you’re interested in seeing the volumes for yourself, you’re always welcome to visit us and do some comparing of your own. You can also find a few different editions of The Virginia Housewife, or; Methodical Cook online in digital and/or transcribed forms: Project Gutenberg has the 1860 editionMichigan State University’s “Feeding America” project has the 1838 editionthe Internet Archive, via the University of California Libraries, has the 1836 edition. In other words, Mary Randolph’s influence–or at least her recipes–are still available today for the curious culinary historian! And remember: “Method is the Soul of Management”–for Mary, it wasn’t just about what you cook, but how you cook it!

Appalachian Oral Histories at JMU

I’m thinking about a post for this week (welcome to 2017!), but in the meantime, something awesome happened this morning. Through the power of social media and happenstance, I discovered a resource I didn’t know about (but really should have). It relates in part to food, drink, agriculture, cocktails, medicine and other aspects of Appalachia, so I though I’d give a shout out to the great work of the folks at JMU! What is this amazing collection? The Shenandoah National Park Oral History Collection! There’s a page for the collection, that includes short summaries of interviewees/topics, along with transcripts and audio files. And for those of you who love a finding aid, there’s a larger description of the collection, too. Whether you’re interested in food preservation, education, or folk life, you might find something about Appalachia you didn’t know before!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Virginia Tech Special Collections! We don’t have a new feature for you this week, but we did pull an older post out of the archives(originally posted in . You  know, in case you have those last minute fruitcake needs…


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…

Food in the News: Rubenstein Test Kitchen Blog(#6)

A quick shout out to another great blog: “The Devil’s Tale” (the blog of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University). They just put up a post today on one of my favorite topics: food & advertising. Check out “From Hawaiian Pie to Mustard Meringue: The Role of Test Kitchens in Modern Advertising,” which talks about a collection at the Harman Center. This is a great post, a fun topic, and I’ve had the good luck to meet the people behind this particular post, too!

The blog also has a subset for the Rubenstein Test Kitchen, which focuses on their food materials! And makes me jealous because I wish I had the time to do something similar here. If you don’t already, you should be sure to follow them!