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).

20150712_163832

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

20150712_163857

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.

TX831F7_FC

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.

SB56N4P3_TP

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.

Cooking with the Blacksburg Woman’s Club

For those of you who aren’t familiar with all the various areas of the History of Food & Drink Collection, one of our strengths is local community cookbooks. We do think about “local” a bit broadly, and while we look to gather primarily Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and Southwest Virginia community cookbooks, our shelves include plenty of titles from around the whole state of Virginia, as well as some of our neighboring Southern states (North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland especially). By “community” cookbooks, we mean cookbooks produced by churches, schools, clubs and social organizations, historical sites, and other groups, usually created for sale and fund-raising purposes.

This week, I’ve put together a slideshow (I haven’t done one in quite a while!) including selections from My Stove and I, published in 1948. It was compiled by the Blacksburg Woman’s Club and includes recipes by the wives of VPI faculty and administrators, town residents (some of whom have familiar last names if you’re into Blacksburg history), and other sources (including one “Mrs. Harry. S. Truman!”). From what I can tell, this is currently the oldest of our Blacksburg community cookbooks and we’re lucky enough to have three copies. This one includes some handwritten notes and recommendation, some of which you’ll see in the slideshow, presumably put there by the previous owner.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’d like to know more about the Blacksburg Woman’s Club, we can help with that! Special Collections houses a manuscript collection, Ms1960-002, Blacksburg Woman’s Club Records, 1907-1972. You can read more about the collection in the finding aid, and if you’d like to see materials, you can pay us a visit! We’ll be here!


On an unrelated note, we’ll be changing out the content in our public-facing display cases early next week. I’ll be putting together a picnic/grill/barbecue themed exhibit, featuring items from the History of Food and Drink Collection, which I plan to have in place by Tuesday (June 23rd). It will be up for about 4-5 weeks and if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by! Even if we aren’t open, you’ll be able to see everything through our glass wall.

Frosted Sandwich, Part 4: Return of the Son of Frosted Sandwich

I know. It’s the post you’ve been waiting months for…or dreading for just as long, wondering when I might find MORE frosted sandwich recipes to share. The long wait is over! (By the way, if you haven’t seen the previous posts in this series, you may want to check out #1, #2, and #3.)

Our first two recipes come from Sandwiches for Every Occasion, a booklet sponsored by Town Talk Bread. One looks like our traditional frosted loaf sandwich and includes recommendations for two ham loaf and egg-olive fillings. In the past, we’ve seen frosted sandwiches with one, two, or three layers and one of two “frostings”: cream cheese or mayonnaise. Here, we have a new frosting: cottage cheese. (I started considering whether cottage cheese would have the strength to stay on sides, or if it would sort of start to slide off. Then I stopped myself–some things are best left un-pondered.)

TX818T39_frosted1

Our second example from this booklet is a holiday-themed frosted sandwich! And a timely one, at that. I mean, what 4th of July celebration would be complete without cucumbers, tomatoes, and mayo rounds with a cream cheese shell, right? (It’s all very…round.) The best part is, these can be adapted to other parties and holidays. Just swap the flag on a toothpick for a piped heart-shape colored red or a baby shower decoration…

TX818T39_frosted2

After considering alternative decorations, I started thinking about color. If you really wanted to get into a theme, you could color your “frosting.” It turns out, despite the fact that we haven’t seen it in previous posts, I wasn’t the first to think of this idea.

TX714C87661971_P13

This party loaf from the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library is frosted with yellow-tinted cream cheese (thinned with light cream). It has three layers that caused a few of my coworkers to give it strange looks. I toyed with launching a new guessing game called, “Name That Filling!,” but thought better of it. If you’d like to guess, you’re welcome to do so. I’ll list the fillings at the bottom of the post. :)

Next up isn’t a frosted sandwich exactly. It’s a bonus frosted item–an appetizer I found while looking for the party loaf above. That’s deviled ham, rolled into logs, and frosted with cream cheese. It seems close enough. Put it between to crackers and voila!

TX714C87661971_P26

Our next frosted item comes from another pamphlet, “Sandwich Secrets,” sponsored by Dreikorn’s Orange Wrap Bread. I scanned the whole page, since I thought any of the “sandwich pastes” at the top could also be potential fillings. We’re back to black-and-white images, which leaves much to the imagination, for better or worse. I did notice this version seems to have a far larger bread-to-filling ratio. And, it seems to have less frosting than many other variations. Perhaps that for the best?

SandwichSecretsPamphlet_a

The last image in this week’s fascinating/terrifying post isn’t a sandwich, either. I’ve bombarded you with enough of those for the moment. It’s more…something to think about. The frosted sandwich isn’t something you’ll see on tables these days (no doubt we can guess why). But it seems there should have been more recipes during the height of its popularity. Besides the use of food coloring, “frostings” could have been adulterated in all kinds of way, including the addition of other flavors. So, this week, I’m leaving you with a selection of flavored mayonnaise recipes from Best Foods, Inc. (and the picture of a salmon salad mold that you could mistake for a frosted sandwich, unfortunately–I did at first).

BestFoodsPamphlet_a

Just imagine the possibilities for your next party! Got olives in a filling? Use an olive mayo. Try a chili sauce mayo on that ham and chicken salad filled sandwich. Using (gulp) fish/seafood fillings? Maybe it needs sour cream mayo. There’s even the potential for a sweet(er) frosted sandwich, coated in fruit juice mayonnaise!

All my making fun of frosted sandwiches aside, I think they make a great example of a past culinary trend that materials in our collections can help you learn more about. There are foods that come and go, some once and some in waves. Other trends survive decades or even centuries. Researching culinary history is fascinating, fun, and a great way to come up with some strange facts to share with friends and colleagues. Whether you’re curious, scholarly, or both, you’re always welcome to visit us in search of recipes.



*Fillings (from top to bottom) in the Betty Crocker Party Loaf: “Golden Cheese Spread” (shredded cheddar and cream cheese with seasonings); chicken and olive; salmon salad

Bitters: Thinking Inside AND Outside the Glass

For those of you who follow the cocktail scene, this week (June 1-7) is “Negroni Week.” It’s a relatively new tradition from the people at Imbibe magazine that celebrates the cocktail and is a chance to give back to charity. Bars around the globe serve their own variations of the drink and donate to their favorite causes. It’s also my inspiration for this week’s blog post. (I promise there is a point to the introduction that follows, we’re just taking the winding road–Like any good cocktail, the road to a good blog post should be savored!)

The Negroni is a cocktail, like many, with a somewhat uncertain origin, though it most likely was invented in Italy in the 1910s or 1920s. While you can find all kinds of variants with different names that have developed since then (much like the Martini’s many, many variations), the classic Negroni is simple: 1/3 gin, 1/3 sweet vermouth, and 1/3 Campari. For the moment, we’re interested in Campari…sort of.  Campari is an herbal-and-fruit-based liqueur made in Italy. In other words, it’s a type of bitters. Bitters are basically botanicals pickled in water and alcohol used in small quantities to flavor cocktails. (The origin story and history of bitters are far more complex, but those are topics for another blog post.) As a cocktail ingredient, there used to be a few specific brands that were common, including the Angostura bitters you can still buy today. The rise of the craft cocktail in the last decade has led to flavors of bitters just about anyone can dream up (I can speak from personal experience, having made a few batches myself). However, it’s Angostura bitters we’re featuring this week.

TX951F661937_fc

Our copy of For Home Use is from 1937, and the publication was already in its 8th edition at that point. Angostura Bitters, originally called “Aromatic Bitters” by their creator Dr. Johann Siegert, were first sold in 1824, though they wouldn’t exported beyond South America until 1830. From the book’s own pages, you’ll see that like others, Angostura bitters weren’t intended to be a cocktail ingredient (they predate the cocktail by a long shot–pun intended).

Toward the end of the publication, there are two pages of “Healthful Hints,” which take bitters into another part of the domestic sphere. The root of bitters (another pun intended) comes from more medicinal angle. One branch of the bitters evolution went in the direction of patent medicines, “cure-alls,” and the like, which were popularized in the 19th and early 20th century. But it didn’t stop there. From the cocktail glass to the dessert glass and from the soup bowl to punch bowl, Angostura bitters continue to be a versatile ingredient today.

Stay tuned for more about bitters, cocktails, and more in future posts. And, as always, if you’re in the neighborhood, pay us a visit. We love to share everything on our cocktail shelves, from Angostura bitters to recipes for Zombies.

 

New Blog Post from NPR

I’m working on a feature post for this week, but in the meantime, The Salt, NPR’s food-related blog, posted a story yesterday that touches on some of the themes I talked about last week: the Civil War, food supplies, and coffee. It also talks about cookbooks published during the Civil War (or lack thereof). You might want to check out “Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal” while you’re waiting on me.

%d bloggers like this: