Happy Pie Day (3/14)!

It’s March 14, and that can only mean one thing: It’s Pie Day! (3.14… and all that). While you may not know it, librarians and archivists, in addition to enjoying food ourselves and managing food collections, can get equally caught up in MAKING food. This year, a bunch of us just might be making pies from recipes in our collection. I missed out last year, but I wasn’t missing out this year! If you want to see what others are doing, I recommend checking out #PieDay2022 and #GLPBO2022. As for me? Well, it all starts with Nancy (Nannie) Godwin Figgat and her 1860s handwritten recipe book (see Southwest Virginia Counties Collection, Ms2000-092). No contemporary recipes for me, y’all–bring on a challenge! (Although we’ll talk about some…minor changes I made along the way in a bit.)

Nannie’s receipt book had more than one pie recipe, but let’s be honest about 19th receipts: Directions can be a bit sparse an a lot of assumptions are made on the part of the baker about their knowledge. I have SOME skills, but I wasn’t about to take on the “Molasses Pie” recipe that had only three lines of directions. Besides, then I found chocolate. “Chocolate Pie,” that is. Here’s the recipe (I can’t say for sure this is “her” recipe, but if she didn’t create it, at least she seemed to have wanted to make it):

Scrape three tablespoons full of Chocolate, put it on the Stove with a teacup of sweet milk, or cream, one tablespoon full of butter, one teacup of Sugar, let it come to a boil, take the yolks of three eggs, beat them hard+ pour them into the mixture of Chocolate, make a rich pastry + put it in the pie plate + pour in the mixture, season with vanilla, put into the stove + bake. When done beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth with half a teacup of white sugar + a little vanilla + spread it on the pudding, return to the oven + bake a few minutes. This makes three pies.

Before I could even get to baking (let’s also be honest that while I am a good baker, pies are not my forte), I had to a) think about a few things and b) consider what accommodations I might afford myself. I was up to the challenge of an 1860s filling. I was not up to the challenge of an 1860s “rich pastry,” too. So, in the spirit of honesty, two things: 1. I used a store bought crust (no regrets) and 2. standardized measurements were still almost 40 years away in 1860 and part of my work was guessing. But here’s the journey:

A couple of notes about process:

  • I absolutely loved doing this! I have made an 18th century gingerbread before, and challenges aside, it was super tasty. Historic baking can be tricky, but also delightful!
  • I 100% panicked when it felt like the mix on the stove was not thickening and I put a small amount cornstarch in, which seemed to do the trick. This is a common ingredient in modern chocolate (and other pudding) meringue pies, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating. Also I really didn’t want to serve my coworkers chocolate goo under meringue.
  • A “teacup” in 1860s terms was likely to be between 4-6 ounces (maybe as much as 8, if you had a giant one!). I erred on the side of 4 and calculated from there.
  • A tablespoon could be as equally random, so I went with the standard contemporary measurement, with some bonus chocolate (I tried three different methods for grating as I went from unnecessarily fine to still unnecessarily course to shaving/chopping it with a serrated knife, then threw it all in because chocolate, amiright?).
  • Egg sizes were not graded and separated as they are today, so I went with large eggs.
  • From the get-go this didn’t seem like enough for three large pies, so I assumed this meant three small, individual pies. I did make a singe large pie, so I do expect that my crust-filling-meringue ratio is not ideal.
  • Since I was using a store bought crust, I did pre-bake it for about 10 min in a hot oven (or what would have been called a “quick” oven) before turning the temperature down to bake the filling and finished pie(no regrets there!). Again, this can be a fairly standard contemporary practice and I hoped Nannie wouldn’t mind.
  • I 100% tempered my egg yolks, rather than just throwing them in. It could be that the recipe assumes the baker knows to do this,

I plan to post an update/part 2 to this post after we’ve had an opportunity to taste the results in Special Collections and University Archives, so stay tuned for some reviews!

A few other notes:

Betty Crocker at 100

2021 is the 100th Anniversary of Betty Crocker! Here at Special Collections and University Archives, we have over a hundred books and pamphlets throughout the years from this iconic company. While these are a sampling of our wide collection, here are a few books that SCUA staff find interesting.

Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book

Featuring over 450 recipes, you are sure to find a cookie recipe for everyone’s palette. This cookbook has been a staple in many kitchens since 1963, containing everything from drop cookies to Christmas favorites.

How to Prepare Appetizing, Healthful Meals with Foods Available Today

Like many food companies during World War II, Betty Crocker was involved with the war effort. This booklet from 1943 helped housewives to create good meals with rationing. Before the food pyramid, there was the Basic Seven Food Groups, as seen on the back of the booklet. This helped home cooks not only use rationed foods wisely, but in a healthy way as well.

Let the Stars Show You How to Take a Trick a Day with Bisquick

Before celebrities were sharing their recipes on Instagram, celebrities were sharing cooking and entertaining tips in newspapers and pamphlets. In this pamphlet from 1935, stars like Clark Gable and Bette Davis share their Bisquick tips for afternoon teas, snacks, and other meals.

How to Have the Most Fun with Cake Mixes

Betty Crocker is not only an icon in cookbooks, but also in cake mixes as well. This 1955 pamphlet features Betty Crocker cake mixes and recipes to spruce up each box to create something new. As Betty Crocker is known for recipes that are quick, easy, and fun, this pamphlet helps home cooks achieve that.

While this only a small sampling of our Betty Crocker collection, we encourage those interested by the home culinary icon to check out the Special Collections and University Archives website for a full list of the rest of the collection.

It’s National Pumpkin Month!

October is National Pumpkin Month! If you are not sick of pumpkin flavored everything by now, how about you try your hand at a few pumpkin recipes from the stacks here at Special Collections and University Archives.

Recipe 1 – Pompkin

If you are feeling slightly adventurous, try out one of the earliest ways to make pumpkin “pie.” When the first pumpkins appeared in European and American cookbooks, a common way to prepare them was hollowing out the pumpkin, filling it with a sweet, spiced milk mixture, and then baking the pumpkin. This recipe is from the first American cookbook, America Cookery, by Amelia Simmons in 1796.

Recipe 2 – Betty Crocker’s Pumpkin Pie

Still don’t know how to make this classic American holiday dessert? Well Betty Crocker has you covered. Known for her Picture Cook Book, this 1957 pamphlet features the best of Betty’s pie recipes.

Recipe 3 – Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Wanna feel fancy with your pumpkin pie? Upgrade it to a chiffon pie! This Encyclopedic Cookbook from the Culinary Arts Institute from 1948 will help make a fancy pie in no time.

Recipe 4 – Pumpkin Cake

Are you a lazy cook but still like delicious treats? Then grab a boxed mix of yellow cake and butterscotch pudding to add to your canned pumpkin for a delicious Pumpkin Cake from this 1979 Jell-O recipe book.

There are countless more cookbooks and pamphlets here in SCUA that have all sorts of pumpkin goodies! You can also learn more about the history of pumpkin pie through the Food Timeline! If you want to try something new at Thanksgiving or Christmas, come check them out!

Change in Operations

August 2021 Update:

  • Beginning August 9, 2021, Special Collections and University Archives will be open Monday-Friday from 8am to 5pm
  • Appointments will not be required, but strongly encouraged (**see below)
  • Appointments can be made by visiting the SCUA Seat Reservation page (instructions are included on this page)
  • Virtual reference help remains available at specref@vt.edu or by phone at 540-231-6308
  • Newman Library hours of operation and those of other University Library branches are also available online

**By making an appointment, you will help us limit the number of researchers using our Reading Room at any one time for health and safety; guarantee you a seat at the requested time; and help us plan for your visit, for example, making sure materials needed are onsite and available.

We are pleased to be able to return to closer-to-normal services, but we also appreciate your patience during changing times. If you have questions about our operations or policies, please feel free to contact us at specref@vt.edu or by phone at 540-231-6308.

We kindly ask that all visitors to Special Collections and University Archives comply with the current university mask policies, available online. Our staff are happy to provide you information on the current policies and expectations. Please contact specref@vt.edu or by phone at 540-231-6308.

Special Collections and University Archives Closure

Summer 2021 Update (Updated May 3, 2021): Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) will remain by-appointment for the summer (late May-early August 2021). SCUA will be open for appointments from 10a-4pm, Monday through Thursday (subject to change and availability of staff). Seats can be booked using the Library’s seat reservation system or by going directly to the Special Collections and University Archives seat page. Seats must be booked one (1) week in advance. Additional SCUA policies and information for booking and visiting by-appointment are available on our website or researchers can contact us at specref@vt.edu or 540-231-6308 (please leave a message for a call back).

We also remain available for virtual reference at specref@vt.edu, and we continue to check voicemail at our reference desk number (540-231-6308). You can find updated information about hours and services for Newman Library and University Libraries branches at https://lib.vt.edu/.

Please note: We will be closed Monday, May 31st, for Memorial Day and Monday, July 5th, for observance of July 4th. 

Update (April 1, 2020): As of Friday, April 3, 2020, staff in Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) will no longer be able to work in our building space. Newman Library is closed to the campus community, effective Tuesday, March 31, 2020. SCUA staff will still be checking email and voicemail and we will be in touch about your requests. However, we will be limited in our ability to answer reference questions and will only be able to provide scans of materials that have already been reproduced. We appreciate your patience in these uncertain times. We plan to be back in our offices around June 10, 2020, unless our state executive order is rescinded sooner. We will update our social media and website (https://spec.lib.vt.edu/) when we have new information. More information about the limited hours and access of the University Libraries at Virginia Tech is available online at https://lib.vt.edu/.

For the safety of our staff and researchers with concerns about COVID-19, the Special Collections and University Archives reading room is closed to the public effective March 18, 2020. We are available for virtual reference at specref@vt.edu and we will be checking voicemail for our reference desk (540-231-6308). We will update our social media and website (https://spec.lib.vt.edu/) when we have new information. More information about the limited hours and access of the University Libraries at Virginia Tech is available online at https://lib.vt.edu/.

Upcoming Event: April 5, 2019

The Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends are hosting an upcoming luncheon on April 5, 2019, in Roanoke. Please note that registration for the event is due by March 27, 2019. A downloadable flyer (same as the image below) and registration form are at the bottom of the post.

Announcement: Peacock Harper Culinary History Friends Scholarships Available

Awarded by the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends Committee (not HNFE), these scholarships honor Janet Cameron and Jean Allen Phillips, who were visionaries, exemplary teachers, passionate about health and nutrition, and dedicated to the success of their students. Applicants must be a graduate student in good standing with the university. Research and interests may include human nutrition and foods, culinary history, food culture, household equipment, kitchen design, social history, ethnic traditions, gender studies, or related topics. Two $2000 scholarships are available. Application is open January 24 – March 24, 2019 (closes at 11:59 p.m.)

These scholarships are open to graduate students of Virginia Tech, but they are not limited to students in the HNFE or related programs! More details about the selection criteria are available on the application form site.

Upcoming Event: October 4, 2018

Hello tomato fans and food history lovers! Just a quick note about an upcoming event in the library on Thursday, October 4, 2018. It’s a talk on the vast and global history of tomato, along with a tasting of some various tomato-based foods. In addition, Special Collections will feature a small exhibit of tomato-related materials from our collections, which should be in place by Tuesday, October 2nd. So, if you’re going to attend the event on the 4th, be sure to swing by Special Collections before or after and check it out (plus, I’ll post some pictures here next week)!

What: Tomato Pathways: From the Andes to the Apennines to Appalachia: Following the Agriculture Value Chain

When: Thursday, October 4, 2018 from 5-6pm

Where: Multipurpose Room, 1st floor Newman

Virginia Spirits Month (2018)

September is Virginia Spirits Month! (No, really, I’m not kidding, you can read about it online.) In honor of that, I thought I’d share a slideshow of some favorite spirituous images from our cocktail history materials. This is something I have as a background display for events and it highlights a lot of fun items (and some fun history!) about cocktails and their ingredients.

Cocktail Slideshow 2017

(the link will open a pdf of the slideshow to view or download)

And for all you Virgos out there, here’s a c.1980s French postcard with a festive cocktail on it!


This is part of series with one postcard for each astrological sign. They all seem a bit…overly garnished? One includes an entire walnut! This one includes lemon, a flower, and seeming an entire tree twig? And since Libra is just around the corner:

Figs and pears, anyone? (Actually, this rather reminds me of some of Jerry Thomas’ ornately garnished drinks of the 1860s…)

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), cocktails have been tied to zodiac signs and astrology for quite some time. In the 1960s and 1970s, Southern Comfort produced several small cocktail recipe pamphlets that ran along that theme. And we even have a 1940 book called Zodiac Cocktails; Cocktails for All Birthdays. It includes recipes and the names of famous people born under the same signs! (That’s my sneak preview of it, since I hope to give it a post of its own one day soon–stay tuned!)

In the meantime, continue to enjoy Virginia Spirits Month. Try something new or sip on an old favorite. After all, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

More News–and War Food News!

So, this summer has clearly gotten away from me. Due to impending space limitations, I was working on moving the blog to a new site, hosted by the library. That came with some delays and the new blog isn’t ready to go yet. Then, as I mentioned in June, we moved to some new systems in May. As usual, things got done, but not the things I intended. Then suddenly, it was the first week of class. As a matter of fact, I just taught my first session of the semester to a food history class! Which then reminded me I need to get back to blogging (it’s also my week to post on Special Collections’ other blog!). There’s still space for more pictures here, though, and I’ll be doing my best to get back into routine while I sort out other details for the new blog site in the background. So, a couple more updates and then a new item to share!

First: We have a new website! Our address is still https://spec.lib.vt.edu/, but you may notice an updated look. We are still working on many parts of the site and expect to be migrating some content for a while yet–either to the site or other tools we have in Special Collections. We appreciate your patience while we do so–it may mean some things are a little harder to find, but it will be worth it in the end! In the interim, if you’re looking for something, contact us and ask! We’re here to help.

Second: Colleagues are trying to plant dangerous ideas in my mind and I may be exploring a new medium to talk about one or two aspects of food history in the near future. Stay tuned for more on that.

Third: There’s going to a Peacock Harper Culinary History Friends Committee event here at Newman Library in October. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, consider marking your calendars for Friday, October 4th, at 5pm, especially if you like tomatoes!

Okay, on to new stuff!

Ta-da! Earlier this summer, we purchased this poster (close ups coming). It’s a World War I baker recruitment poster, c.1917:

Wanted! 500 Bakers for the U. S. Army (also 100 cooks) If you can bake bread Uncle Same wants you–if you can’t bake bread, Uncle Sam will teach you how in a Government School. A bakery company consists of 61 men so that you and your “pals” can join the same unit and bake and break bread together. Enlist for the war-bakers pay $33 to $45 per month Ages 18 to 45 Cooks pay $36 per month with clothing, food, quarters and medical attention.

We haven’t done a lot of research into this item just yet, but I love the visuals of it and wanted to share. We had a World War I and food exhibit up in the spring and this seems a good continuation of that theme. (And I was just talking about food and wartime in the class session earlier!)