Wondering What’s Good to Eat? Rufus Estes Has Some Answers!

February is Black History Month. If you’re in Blacksburg and have a chance to drop by the library, one my collegues has put together an amazing display of materials in our reading room. The exhibit highlights African-American contributions from many our main collecting areas, as well as to university history. Some of my favorite past posts I’ve written include ones on John B. Goins’ The American WaiterS. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers, and the Women’s History Month profile last March on Malinda Russell and A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen. This week, I found something else I’ve never looked at before: Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus; A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, etc., written by Rufus Estes and published in 1911.

In a recent instruction session, I was talking with students about the idea of authority and food history materials. There are some really interesting question when it comes to cookbooks: What does “authority” mean? What makes (or doesn’t make) a writer an authority on the recipes they create and write? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how a cookbook might have been accepted in its own time? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how we look at a historic cookbook today and whether or not we accept is a good source of information? When we’re investigating cookbooks and food history primary sources, does authority even matter? Answering all of these would probably lead to an exceptionally long blog post–and, of course, as we say in the archival world, “it depends.” We might considered different cookbooks in different ways, depending on different factors. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t comment a bit on the concept of authority in conjunction with Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus. Especially since Rufus Estes very much invites us to do so, by beginning his book with a biographical sketch.

Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author's biography.

Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author’s biography.

Rufus Estes very carefully sets up his authority as a chef in the first few pages of his cookbook. He wants us to know where he comes from, what he has done, and, by default, what may have influenced him. Of course, in theory, this whole biography could be fake and Estes could have just been an identity. The idea of a constructed person to market or sell a book or products isn’t new. But, in this case, there are records and evidence to prove Estes was a real person and held the positions he tells us about (and those he doesn’t). He gives us his background to show his readers that he does, in fact, know a thing or two about being a chef. When we’re talking cookbooks, does one need to be a chef to be an authority? Certainly not. And my saying I accept Estes’ biography as giving him authority as an cookbook writer doesn’t mean we would all agree on that.  It’s just interesting to consider.

It’s also worth pointing out that having a biography is not unique to Estes. Malinda Russell included some information her life, as did Abby Fisher in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (a book we’ll talk about a little later this month). Mary Randolph talks about her expertise in The Virginia Housewife. Other authors rely on introductions written by seemingly well-known people in their own time to lend weight to a writer’s authority, reliability, and even like-ability. And we still see this as a common practice in books today, culinary-related or otherwise.

You can read a little more about this book and view the entire item online through the Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” project–which, if you haven’t looked at before, you should take a moment to peruse! And next time you start preparing a recipe from your favorite cookbook (or a new one), you might take a minute to think about who the author is, why they wrote the book, and why their recipes appeal to you. Even when we’re not aware of it, a writer’s “authority” may be at work!

A Monday Morning Recipe (#1)

This Monday, with a mug full of tea at hand, it seems a good morning to share a recipe. In particular, a recipe for “Tea Biscuits.”

"Tea Biscuits" from "Cooking Recipes" Recipe Book (Ms2008-023)

“Tea Biscuits” from “Cooking Recipes” Recipe Book (Ms2008-023)

This version comes from a handwritten recipe book in our collection, one that we believe dates from the 1930s. You can read more about the recipe book in the finding aid and you can see the whole item in digital form. Or, you can just make some tea biscuits and enjoy them for what they are!

Burdock Blood Bitters

Burdock Blood Bitters! You try saying that three times fast while we work on introducing it. This week, we’re back to bitters. Not the ale and not the cocktail kind (though we’ve talked about how THIS kind of bitters led to the latter before), but the wondrous, magical, spectacular, patent medicine kind! (Have we sold you yet? No? Then read on…we have testimonials!)

So, the Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health isn’t conveniently numbered or given editions. But, given the holdings of other institutions and the existence of other copies, it appears to have been published by a company in the United States (Foster, Milburn & Co. of Buffalo, NY) and a company in Canada (T. Milburn & Co. of Toronto, Ont.). Publication dates vary, and it may have been issued in Canada first, where the earliest one appears in 1866. The earliest date I could find for a U.S. edition was 1882 for the 1883 calendar year. And the almanac was still going strong in 1934! Whatever was in Burdock Blood Bitters, it was doing something (or at least convincing people it was)! We don’t get a nice clean list of ingredients (this was well before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906), but we are told that “B. B. B.” is a vegetable compound (pg. 2) and on page 10 (not pictured) that it “does not contain a particle of Mineral or hurtful drugs.” Vegetable compounds were not uncommon, made in the home or commercially, and we have talked about at one other producer of them before, Lydia Pinkham. Then there’s Charlie White-Moon, whose concoction was made of “roots & herbs.”

Despite the fact that patent medicines like this suggest they cure a lot of problems (hence the nickname “cure-alls”–though they often cured nothing), some companies might have admitted to limits, whether overtly or subtlety. Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, for example, is loaded with testimonials and advertisements for not only itself, but other products, too. If you’ve been following us for a long time, you might recall our first post about patent medicines, back in 2012–“The Cure for What Ails You.” It featured a trade card for a product called Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil.

woman with fandescription of ailments cured

Although we still don’t know exactly how long “Dr. Thomas” (probably just a moniker and not a real person, as was sometimes the case) was in business, we know the product was sold from at least the late 19th century (and we can now confirm 1888) into the 1910s. So, imagine the exciting surprise of finding Burdock’s almanac advertising it, too!

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil advertisement.

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil advertisement.

And there are a few other full page ads for other products, including this one:

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson's Magic Corn Salve advertisement.

Burdock Blood Bitters: Almanac and Key to Health, 1888. Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve advertisement.

While there may be a little bit of overlap between what Burdock Blood Bitter and Dr. Thomas’ Eclectric Oil claim to cure, it isn’t much. And Hanson’s Magic Corn Salve is right out of both their wheelhouses. So, it’s fair to guess, if someone will buy one product to fix a laundry list of problems, they might be willing to buy some others. It’s good advertising…and good business.

Interested in other Burdock advertisements? At least one other edition of Burdock Blood Bitters Almanac and Key to Health, from the Canadian publisher in 1913, is available online through the Internet Archive. East Carolina University has one of Burdock’s trade cards in their digital collection from about the same time as our almanac. I’ll try to get the entirety of our 1887 scanned and posted  in our digital platform, Special Collections Online. In the meantime, you can check out the nearly 200 publications and 6 manuscript collections in the History of Food & Drink Collection represented there.

February is Black History Month and I hope to have one or two posts this month on that theme, starting next week. Until then, remember to avoid all those B. B. B. imitators!

Digitized Cookbooks at the Folger

As you know, Special Collections at Virginia Tech isn’t the only special collections and archives to be digitizing its rare and unique content to share on the web! Over the weekend, the Folger Shakespeare Library some new material to its online platform. The best part? It’s almost all historic receipt books and cookbooks! You can see the list of recent additions online, complete with links to the items themselves. I also recommend you browse by category and check out “Cookbooks” and “Recipes” for other items.

Gerber-licious Toddler Dishes

Next week, your archivist & blogger Kira will be teaching an information session in Special Collections. More specifically, it’s for a class focused on mother, child, and infant nutrition and feeding. While I know we have more than 400 books in the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection, as well as other materials in the History of Food & Drink Collection at large that address these topics, it’s the first time I’ve gone digging for extensive research or instruction purposes. And I’ve discovered some fascinating items. Some stand out for their obvious content, like the 1917 Baby’s Welfare: Proper Care and Feeding or the 1846 The Young Mother: Or Management of Children in Regard to Health. Others are more “recipe” oriented, like the 1950 The Body Building Dishes for Children Cook Book or this week’s feature, the 1956 Recipes for Toddlers.

Sometimes, it’s just pure serendipity that leads one to a…let’s call it “unique” recipe. I picked up Recipes for Toddlers and opened it, completely by chance, to page 9 (above). My eyes zoomed in on “Meat-Milk Shake” (and the next 5 minutes were lost to me horrifying colleagues). Now, while it would be VERY easy to spend a paragraph making fun of a beverage like this, especially one for children, I’m going to resist the temptation and I’ll even do so with as much ease as I would show in avoiding an actual “meat-milk shake.”And for a good reason. Even in the case of recipes we might question in the modern age (or a 17th century recipe for “Snail Water” that might be questioned in the 19th centuries), there is a purpose to the idea of a “meat-milk shake”–a purpose that isn’t solely about Gerber Baby Food selling jars of beef liver or veal flavored strained meat. (Though that most certainly plays a role from a marketing and corporate perspective.)

No, what we’re talking about is nutrition and finding ways to get children and infants–in this case, toddlers–to eat and to preferably eat well. A “Meat-Milk Shake” actually accomplishes two important food groups at once: meat and milk. Which leads us to a diversion in the history of USDA food groups…

In the more recent decades, we might think of the variations on the food pyramid. But before the pyramids, nutrition was a little more circular (think “wheels”). The first wheel released by the USDA in 1943 had 7 food groups, including one for butter and fortified margarine. In 1956, the same year Recipes for Toddlers was published, the USDA released a new chart with the “Basic 4” (milk, meat, vegetable-fruit, and bread-cereal groups–butter was sent packing). In 1980, a new wheel was released that included some old favorite groups and some new ones. It wasn’t until 1992 that the first pyramids appeared, and in 2011, those were replaced with the “myPlate” concept. In a way, we’ve come full circle (pun intended) and we’re back to a round shape, albeit no longer an actual wheel, helping us make dining decisions. (If you’d like to see some visuals, check out this great post from WFSU!) But, back to 1956 as we finish up…

Our revised edition of Recipes for Toddlers was published in 1956, but it first appeared in 1950 (and later in 1959), which puts it square in the era of transition from the 7 group wheel to the 4 group “Basic” square. And our “Meat-Milk Shake,” quite literally, kills two birds with one stone, creating an easy and efficient way to get a toddler to eat protein, dairy, and meat. The malted milk powder, chocolate malt powder, chocolate syrup, or brown sugar may be a bribe in the end,  but it’s fair to say that liver and bacon flavor might just need an extra boost. Of course, not all the recipes in this booklet are as unique, either, but there is definitely a continued emphasis on nutrition. Even the desserts are light on sugar, heavy on fruit, and include substitutions like evaporated milk (for fattier cream).

One of the important points this publications reminds us of is that, especially when considering a historical item, we need also think about it in context. Whether a “Meat-Milk Shake” or a “Jellied Fruit Salad,” Recipes for Toddlers reflects the nutrition hopes and expectations of its time. And it might even teach us a lesson or two with its pages on the significance of mother-toddler meals and starting good habits young.

All spoons are not equal…

In writing receipts, it is impossible to give in each, every detail; it must therefore be understood that ‘a spoonful,’ whether table, dessert, tea, or saltspoon, be used, means a spoon of the ordinary size for kitchen use…If these remarks be remembered, no difficulty can arise, as in all cases where detail is necessary, it is given in the receipt.

-Cre-Fydd’s Family Fare, 1864

Snow Ice Cream?

Sorry for the lack of a feature post this week, but the snowstorm closed campus on Friday, cutting us off from our collection before we could scan anything to write about! Blacksburg has taken quite a hit, giving people the option to stay warm and dry, or go outside and play. If you’re looking for a way to interact with the snow AND stay inside, this article from NPR has some ideas for snow ice cream…or a creative way to cool down a cocktail: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/23/463959512/so-you-want-to-eat-snow-is-it-safe-we-asked-scientists.

Enjoy the snow…or lack thereof, if you escaped winter storm Jonas…and stay warm!

A Note on News and Quotations

At present, I (your archivist/blogger Kira) am going through some of the many presentations I’ve done on the History of Food & Drink Collection over the last 6+ years and, in the process, have stumbled back over some of my favorite quotes. In thinking about other ideas for the blog, you might see a subtle shift. In addition to the second-half-of-the-week feature item, keep your eyes open for an early week quote or culinary-related news story. Believe me, we’re NOT the only ones talking about food!


 

“One month during the year should be free of any special cleaning, so the homemaker may have a holiday from routine even if the family does not go away on an annual vacation.”

-House Cleaning Management and Methods. Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1834, January 1940


“The food in tin containers exposed [to a nuclear blast] at 3,750 feet and greater distances away, was undamaged except for perforations from flying bits of shattered glass window panes…the food was not adversely affected.”

-Those Blasted Canned Foods: Exhibit on Nuclear Tests in Nevada by the National Canners Association. Presented at Horticulture Show, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1956

Feeding en masse, 50 at a time!

2016 is off to a start and next week, our students return for the spring semester. Campus will be filling up with busy, hungry students. And there are a lot of them to feed. Of course the History of Food & Drink Collection has some advice on this topic! This week, we’re featuring Food for Fifty, a 1937 book with recipes for feeding groups of people. (Now, if we just multiply that by 142,200, we’ll reach the number of meals served by Dining Services on campus each year…)

As you may notice, it’s not just recipes. The book includes several pages of dictionary terms for cooking and foods, pages of cookery terms, a menu planning chapter, sections on how to best prepare ingredients, and some illustrations and photographs. However, there are plenty of recipes for every food group, too.

Food for Fifty was published and re-published with multiple editions: a 2nd edition in 1941 (in our collection), a 3rd edition in 1950 (in our collection) and a 5th edition in 1971. [I wasn’t able to find a date for the 4th edition.] It appears that, after a long absence, the book was adapted by new authors, and our collection also includes 3 editions of this version: 9th (1993), 10th (1997), and 11th (2001). Feeding crowds, whether in institutional settings or in more informal ones, has long been a trend in food history, and Food for Fifty isn’t our only example. If you check out the catalog record for the 1937 edition, you’ll see a subject heading “quantity cooking.” If you follow the subject heading down the rabbit hole, you’ll find we have 127 books in the libraries (25 of which reside in Special Collections) with that heading and more titles with similar or related headings. Some are aimed at specific types of quantity cooking, like for schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, community kitchens, or military. Others target a specific ingredient/set of ingredients like meat or baked goods, or focus on quantity cooking that’s cost-effective or for-profit in nature. In other words, there’s more than one reason and way to write a recipe book for quantity cooking.

So, whether you’re looking to fry frog legs for 50 or supply cake for 100 in your boarding house, keep in mind that Special Collections might just be the resource for you–and not just historically speaking. Some of the earlier publications may seem out of date in some ways (boarding houses are certainly less common in 2015 than in 1915), but that doesn’t mean we don’t all still want a slab of apple cobbler at our next family reunion. :)

Resolving to Dissolve and Reform?: Festive Salads & Molds; Plus, Looking Ahead to 2016 on “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!”

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe we’re already a week into 2016! It’s the time of year when everyone starts putting their resolutions into practice. Me, I’m not much of a “resolution-at-New-Year’s” kind of woman. I just have an on-going resolution to keep at least some part of the surface of my desk visible under the notes, paperwork, and new acquisitions at all times. In early January, before our student employees come back and before classes start up again, my goal is usually to create MORE of the that visible space for a couple of weeks so everyone else can cover it up by February. This week had been relatively successful until yesterday when a bunch of new items arrived (with paperwork), I talked to two potential donors (scribbling notes as I went), and I found a spreadsheet inventory of some architectural drawings from a collection I’m trying to do some processing work on (that I had to print out and start marking up). In other words, I’m back to my usual organized chaos (yes, I firmly believe it CAN exist). And I’m okay with that.

More important for our context, my goal is to continue to blog and tweet professionally (and personally) when it comes to our favorite shared topics: food, cocktails, agriculture, nutrition, etc., and all the history that goes along with those subjects, as well as in some other relevant areas for Special Collections. So, while I start thinking ahead (and backward), here are some Festive Salads & Molds for your post-holiday/getting back to normal entertaining. :)

Festive Salads & Molds, 1966

Festive Salads & Molds, 1966

In case the title doesn’t give it all away, Festive Salads & Molds is a focused recipe book. It was compiled by Evelyn Loeb  and decorated (not “illustrated”) by Maggie Jarvis. More than that, the publication capitalizes on the diet AND entertaining trends of the time. The preface includes a whole paragraph about salads as the “boon to the diet-conscious!” While there is some variety of recipes, the book is only 61 pages long. P.S. It was published in 1966, so I hope you’re ready for some gelatin…


With it only being Week One of 2016, we’ve got at least 51 more blog posts in this year’s future! Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have typed that–it’s an intimidating number now that I see it. On the other hand, with 297 posts behind us, 51 is only 17% of that-so, it should be easy, right? Anyway, I have a series of posts planned for Women’s History Month this March and I may try to come up with a few more themed series as we go. I also have a running list of topics or items for posts. However, this is also a great opportunity for YOU to tell US what you’d like to learn more about or how we can help inspire you. “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” has been running for more than 4 years and we have a small (but growing) group of followers, between WordPress, Twitter, email, and RSS feeds.

So, do you know about a particular item or collection we have but want to know more? Are you curious about a food-related topic and wondering if we have any relevant books or manuscripts? Love a particular recipe, cookbook author, educator, culinary figure, food trend, or even agricultural process? Do you have a favorite food or drink you’d just like to see us share something about? Let us know (today or whenever the mood strikes you)! You can comment on this post, tweet at @VT_SCUA, or use any of the options on the Contacting Special Collection page of the blog–We’ll be here!

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