After 4 years on the WordPress platform (which we still love), it seemed like time for a change. With the new year around the corner, “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” has gotten a makeover. We’ve switched to a new template that makes better use of different screen sizes and mobile devices and more accessible. We’ve also moved a few things around, updated a few widgets, and tried to make better use of our space. We hope you like it! (And either way, you’re welcome to comment on the post or use the form on the “Contacting Special Collections” page to give us your feedback!
Here’s to 4 more years (although perhaps we won’t wait quite so long for a change next time)!
A while back, I hinted to the fact that we here at Special Collections were working on another collection of ephemera, constructed from various purchases made and donations received since last year. I didn’t want to actually create a finding aid for the collection until I had at least a few items to go on, so I kept stock-piling pieces in my office. Last week, though, the Agricultural Ephemera Collection (Ms2015-053) became a reality! You can read the guide for the collection online. This collection came about for a couple of reasons. First, we were acquiring small pieces relating to aspects of farming, agriculture, livestock that weren’t necessarily connected to each other directly. Second, we are making a conscious effort to gather materials relating to food technology and production, which we’re thinking about as the agricultural, commercial, and scientific lives of foods and how these processes have evolved over time, and the system in which we as humans interact with those processes.
For now, this collection is organized around four main subject areas: agriculture, farming, livestock, and poultry & fowl. As we add new materials, these major topics may expand, or we may add new sub-topics to the existing ones. Below are examples from each, just to give you an idea of what we’re starting to collect for researchers and scholars!
First up, there’s color advertisement for Springfield Buckeye rakes. This is a small folded pamphlet (which is shown unfolded here) with both pictures and a short description of the products.
Next, we have one page (of two) from a blank order sheet. Created by and representing the Pomona Hill Nurseries in Greensboro, NC, this was a way for farmers to order plants, trees, and other items.
The Mason Produce Co.’s name may be a bit misleading, or at least limited–they sold a whole lot more than grocery goods (which are only a small part of what’s on this Thanksgiving flyer). They even sold bear, terrapin, and animal furs!
Last up is a piece with a local collection: a small cardboard advertisement for Dickinson Dairy Feed. The product itself came from elsewhere, but this particular advertising card promotes a place in Marion that sold it.
Right now, the collection is small, but like some of our other ephemera-full collections, I expect it will grow quickly! At any rate, you’re always welcome to visit and see what we have relating to agriculture, culinary history, and food culture!
To conclude, and that I may not trespass too far on your Patience and good Nature, or take up too much of your Time from the more important Affairs of your Families, I hereby ingenuously acknowledge, that I have exerted all the Art and Industry I can boast of, in compleating this Pocket-Book, complied for your Service, and intended as your daily Remembrancer; and that I an not conscious to myself of having omitted one Article of any real Importance to be further known…
This morning, I had a plan. A really good plan for today’s post and the idea to also prep one for next week (and see if I can get back on a weekly posting schedule after a busy last few months). While scanning materials for the second post, I discovered some new culinary history tidbits that were too good not to share today. So next week, I’ll tell you about our new agricultural ephemera collection. This week, we’re going back to the mid-18th century, to Sarah Harrison’s The house-keeper’s pocket-book, and compleat family cook : containing above twelve hundred curious and uncommon receipts in cookery, pastry, preserving, pickling, candying, collaring, &c., with plain and easy instructions for preparing and dressing every thing suitable for an elegant entertainment, from two dishes to five or ten, &c., and directions for ranging them in their proper order. First published somewhere in the late 1730s (probably, our recently acquired copy is the later 7th edition from 1760. The quote at the above comes from Harrison’s own introduction to the book.
Yes, another one of those books with a lengthy title that takes a whole page. (I”ll stick with The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book for the sake of my typing skills today.) Mrs. Harrison manages to pack of lot of information into 215 pages (plus another 36 for the added Every One Their Own Physician by Mary Morris).
Primarily, she provides recipes and suggested menus (bills of fare) for a year. Then, toward the end, we get a some of the more “housekeeping” or “household recipe” side of things: directions for removing stains, cleaning dishes, managing animals and livestock, and even a bit of distilling/brewing. Much in the British style, there is a significant section in the book on pies (not just the sweet, but the savory). And as chance would have it, I stumbled on to page 60 and the word “umbles.”
While working this this culinary history materials here has provided this archivist quite an education, I, too, get stumped on occasion. For those of you who already know the word, kudos! For those of you bit less acquainted with the term, “umbles” refers to the organ meats of deer (and comes from the French “noumbles”). In this case, we have a recipe for “Umble Pie.” This recipe for “umble pie,” with its humble ingredients of deer innards, very likely led to the phrase “humble pie.” From dinner recipe to idiomatic expression in a single bound!
The House-Keeper’s Pocket-Book also includes a few illustrations, like these plans for placing parts of a dinner course:
(The small “L2” at the bottom of the page was used to help construct the book, whose pages would have been printed in large sheets, then folded, cut, and sewn together.)
It wouldn’t be culinary history if we didn’t talk about one of our favorite topics: pickling. In 1760 (and when the earlier editions of the book were written), this was a main method of preservation. So, you could (and would!) pickle just about everything. Below is one of the page spreads on the subject and includes some items we recognize today, as well as a couple of ingredients (or at least terms) that are a bit less so. “Codlins” (also codlings) refers to a family of apples with a particular shape, usually use for cooking. “Samphire” is a plant that grows on rocks near the sea. Its leaves were often used pickling.
Sarah Harrison’s book would go on to have several other editions after this 7th one, but eventually, it was a cookbook that became more rare or unique to collectors and collections. We were lucky and happy to acquire this copy several months ago and we hope some one of you take the opportunity to come use it, too! Sadly, it hasn’t been scanned in its entirety for public viewing, but that may be a future task for us to undertake. In the meantime, you can always send us your (h)umble queries on Mrs. Harrison’s work.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a good time to talk about a favorite seasonal berry: The Cranberry! Underrated and sometimes forgotten, it’s more versatile than it’s typical jellied or un-jellied sauce or relish. And we have the pamphlets to prove it! Two different folders in the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002) have booklets from cranberry-centric companies. First, there’s “Cranberries and How to Cook Them” (1938) from the American Cranberry Exchange:
This pamphlet for “Eatmor Cranberries” (seriously!) puts cranberries in baked goods, sauces, salads, relishes and even–yup, you guess it–gelatin! It has tips for using cranberries as a meat tenderizer and a recipe for cranberries as an omelet filling. It also includes a little bit of detail about where the berries come from and how they are harvested. Although our last example (below) contains a lot more detail on the history of cranberries. But first, “Cape Cod’s Famous Cranberry Recipes” (1941) from the National Cranberry Association. This organization was also known early on as the Cranberry Canners, Inc., but most of you will probably recognize it by the company’s current name: Ocean Spray Cranberry, Inc.
This pamphlet presents the clever idea of using cookie cutters to produce shaped decorations for a surprising number of holiday meals–not just Thanksgiving, but also Valentine’s Day, Easter, and even Halloween (cranberry-sauce shaped turkeys, hearts, bunnies, and pumpkins respectively). In addition, of course, it’s full of recipes…including some meat dishes with cranberry accompaniments and a few interesting desserts (Cranberry Nogg?). Lastly, also from the National Cranberry Association, there’s “101 All-Time Favorite Cranberry Recipes.” (That’s a lot of cranberries!)
This pamphlet includes many of the expected items, but it also has “Cranburgers” (hamburgers with a cranberry sauce), a range of desserts, and some punches and cocktails. At this rate, you could work cranberries into every course of your Thanksgiving meal. Or your everyday meals, really. So, however you enjoy them, sneak some cranberries into your holiday. You won’t regret it!
Last week I taught three instruction sessions relating to Special Collections in three days (which is a lot for me, who usually averages maybe three such sessions over the course of a single semester). Two of those had to do with aspects of food history and elements of the third touched on the topic as well. Add that to the guest lecture in another course about food history in late September, and the students from those classes who have followed up with me or the department to do research, and, when I can spare a few moments, improving and/or creating some new resources guides on some food and drink topics, it’s safe to say this is turning out to be a food history-full semester. You’d think all of that would make it easy to find something to blog about this week, but with so many items in hand lately, well, choosing is never easy. But, since I pulled several volumes by this woman and mentioned her in another writing project, I thought we’re revisit an author and educator we last featured back in 2014: Sarah Tyson Rorer. More specifically, her Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick: Dietetic Treating of Diseases of the Body, What to Eat and What to Avoid in Each Case, Menus and the Proper Selection and Preparation of Recipes, Together with a Physicians’ Ready Reference, 1914 (available online: http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/HFDBooks/RM219.R7_1914). Below are the cover, title page, and two sample pages from the table of contents.
Mrs. Rorer was, over the course of her lifetime, was an author, educator, lecturer, columnist, and radio program host. She took all of these roles seriously and this book highlights that. Many recipes books/cookbooks dating back to the early publishing of such books in America included content on diets for the sick or invalid. The same is true of household management guides. Though these sections, as they often appeared as separate chapters or topics in books, largely consisted of recipes for beef teas, milk toast, and other simple dishes, they were a key skill for household managers. Some of Sarah Rorer’s other books include such chapters, too. But in Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick…, we find a far more specific, detailed book, as indicated in the forward (along with some beef teas and gruels, of course):
This book has been written especially for the sick. The foods here recommended for special diseases are not suited to the well…Simple, easily digested foods recommended for the sick are not necessarily good for even children or invalids; in fact, foods for the well and foods for the sick are not interchangeable.
My sole desire in writing this book has been to assist those persons who must care for their sick at home, and the doctor and the nurse, without trespassing on the domain of either. In disease each case requires special attention, and the knowledge that comes from observation cannot be supplanted by any dictated rules. Book directions are valueless unless modified by common sense.
The fact of the matter is that, in this volume, Sarah Rorer has packed in the information. At well over 500 pages, there are suggested and restricted foods for a range of diseases and hundreds of recipes.
There are a lot of things that make this book different. It isn’t usual for a non-medical professional to study up and impart this degree of food and medical knowledge in a book of the time period. Plus, with all the expected recipes, we find a wide variety of the unexpected: directions for vegetable dishes like cardoons; the use of “Edible Weeds” (common and uncommon herbs); surprisingly “luxury” foods like coconut or oysters (depending on where on lived); and even some remedies whose roots are more on the “home” than professional side, like “Irish Moss Water.” In short, Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick… is one diverse household manual, designed to prepare anyone providing home care to an ill family member.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how to write a post about political food without, well, getting into politics. Since food is so much a part of our lives, it’s hardly surprising that it would play a part in our political lives, too. For you dairy fans, there are two strange examples of food gifts to politicians: the 1,400 lb “Jackson Cheese,” gifted to the President Jackson in 1837 (with additional 700 lb cheeses given to Van Buren and four others for politicians/political organizations of the time) and the 1,234 lb “Cheshire Mammoth Cheese,” gifted to then-president Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Both are interesting stories (after all, what does one do with a half ton or more of cheese??) and worth reading about. But I was looking for something a bit more accessible–we have no recipe for giant cheese that I’m aware of in the collection. What we do have, though, are recipes for “Election Cake.” (I know, I know, it’s not November yet–but I’m sharing this in advance, in case anyone want to make it for Election Day!)
I’ve got four variations of “Election Cake” to share today, though there are some definite similarities between the three versions from the 18th and 19th centuries. (The origin of American “Election Cake” is actually in the 17th century, so it’s been around a while!) The latest of the bunch is from 1914 and is also the most distinct, reflecting not a change in politics or views, but a change in kitchen and baking technologies (we’ll come back to that in a moment).
The amount of ingredients in Simmons’ recipe, as you may notice, are quite large. This gets the origins of “Election Cake,” which was often commissioned by local officials in celebration of elections (and may have also been a way to entice voters to the polls). So, rather than a cake for a family or a small party, 18th century “Election Cakes” were designed to feed large crowds. Through the 19th century, such cakes were also time consuming. One had to make a mixture that would sit for hours (and even overnight) before it could be finished and baked.
Lydia Maria Child’s recipe is of a more manageable size, designed for the small/home baker. Her recipe first appeared in print in an earlier edition of The American Frugal Housewife from 1833. Like Simmons, though, her recipe relies on time and effort. This “single-loaf” version, as we might call it, occurs commonly in the time period. The first American version of Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts, published in Philadelphia in 1831, includes an “Election Cake” with the following directions:
Take 5 lbs flour, 2 lbs sugar, 3/4 lbs butter, 5 eggs, yeast, 1 pint of milk, and spice as you please.
Hopefully, a good baker would know what to do from there? At any rate, the recipe’s history in America goes back to at least, the late 18th century, and cakes of the same or similar ingredients or techniques can be found in the British tradition as early as the mid-17th century (though with different monikers). Two other American variations sometimes appear in books as “Hartford Election Cake” or “Old Hartford Election Cake.” There is a story behind that, too. Alternatively, because in some places in New England Election Day was also “Muster Day” or “Training Day,” you might also find recipes for “Muster Cake” or “Training Cake” that seem remarkably familiar.
Elvira Jane Hanna’s receipt book of recipes also features “Election Cake.” The instructions she recorded are less detailed than Child’s and more so than Mackenzie’s, but it’s easy to see that the published version was making the household rounds. Although we don’t have exact dates for Hanna’s manuscript cookbook, we believe it dates to about the mid-19th century, certainly during the time that Child, Mackenzie, and others were sharing the cake. Skipping ahead a bit, one can still find “Election Cake” published in the 20th century.
The first edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book was published in 1896 and “Election Cake” was among the recipes. However, our earliest edition of this title is from 1914. “Election Cake” was a staple in the Fannie Farmer classic cookbook in all its later editions, too. But, it has slightly different approach: it includes bread dough as an ingredient (which, one would have have to make or have on hand), adds more fruit and spices, incorporates baking soda as a leavening agent, and it even gets frosting! Most notable, perhaps, though, is the middle item on that list. We begin to see a modernization of this recipe that relies on new ingredients that can speed up the once-overnight process. Farmer’s book tells us one need only let the mixture rise for 1 1/4 hours, not overnight, or even the 3 hours suggested by Child in warm weather.
Of course, I’ve cherry picked some variations, but there are plenty more out there–and on our shelves, too! So, whether you’re looking to celebrate the election or drown your sorrows in delicious, cake-y goodness, you might want to think about an “Election Cake.” Regardless of the politics, cake will most certainly make you a winner among your constituency.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues in the library showed up on my doorstep with an old advertisement. She picked it up, thinking I would want it for the culinary collection–as, of course, I did. After all, it featured one of my favorite obsessions and frequent blog topic: gelatin. Today, however, I won’t be subjecting you, dear Readers, to a list of terrifying recipes or a series of taunts at this wiggly food I just can’t bring myself to eat. Rather, I thought I would take an opportunity to write a post about following a trail and where it could lead someone. But first, Jell-O!
This ad comes from 1921. Jell-O had, at that time, already been a commercially made product for 22 years (since it’s developer sold it to the Genesee Pure Foods Company). The original four flavors (strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and orange) were joined by cherry and peach, rounding out the six flavors advertised. Interestingly, during the 1910s and 1920s, Genesee Pure Foods Company flirted with a chocolate flavored gelatin (not a pudding or mousse mix), but it didn’t seem to have the popularity of fruit flavors and it was gone by 1927. By 1921, though, Jell-O was a household name in convenience, efficiency, and eating. For over 20 years, the company had been advertising in innovative ways, like giving away free little recipe booklets to tempt shoppers to try something new at home.
Anyway, back to our meandering: This ad came to me in a plastic sleeve of sorts, nestled against a piece of cardboard for support. After taking in the full-color image itself, a perfect Jell-O dessert set against a vase of flowers, I found myself, as usual, overly elated about a piece of ephemera. It wasn’t until later I noticed that the dessert is even shown in a ray of sunlight! We have lots of Jell-O booklets starting as early as the 1900s, but we didn’t yet have a large size (8″ x 11.75″) like this one. It was a bit of an odd size: not quite right for a magazine, too large and lacking in fold lines to have been in a package, and not a standard paper sheet. “Is there anything on the back?” I asked my colleague-turned-donor. She didn’t know, but we were going to find out. It turns out, there was–and one that explained a bit more:
As it turns out, this Jell-O ad had been neatly cut away from the back of a seed catalog, apparently as a collectible item. While the booklets are common collectibles and while the idea of cutting items out of other items isn’t new, I hadn’t quite seen it in action in this way. At times in our history, for example, people would excise pages from illuminated manuscripts to sell off piecemeal–but Jell-O ads?
Anyway, following the trail: The seed catalog, as you can see, was for one Stark Bro’s. nursery. Stark Bro’s, like Jell-O, is a company not unheard of here in Special Collections. In fact, they are responsible for one of my favorite items on our shelves, which I’ve written about before. Although this particular page shows mostly flowers and a couple of tomatoes, Stark Bro’s were equally well-known for fruit trees–making this catalog a great venue for a product in which people were experimenting with, well, embedding fruit. This brings us to an important consideration for advertising: knowing your product(s) and knowing your audience. You don’t always see advertisements for non-seed catalog products in seed catalogs. But, if you’re going to bring in outsiders, make it something that matches up!
So, the point of all this is that individual items, even a single advertisement from the back of a long-gone seed catalog, can be of use and can lead us somewhere. In this case, it might be interesting to pursue how long the advertising relationship existed between these two companies, how fruitful (pun intended) it might have been, and how direct the link between the development of fruit-filled gelatin recipes and these kinds of advertising relationships. Or one could pursue a more-single sided topic, like how the Jell-O advertising changed over time (the artwork, the methods, the partners. etc.)
This particular advertisement will be joining the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002) along with the myriad of other Jell-O and other gelatin booklets. Just in case it piques your interest…
Next Wednesday, October 5th, is #AskAnArchivist Day! During the day, several members of our staff will be on social media to take YOUR questions! Wonder about the oldest book in our collection? Curious about the number of collections we have? Interested in what archivists do all day? Want to know why we’re so passionate about what we do and why it matters? Just ask!
Archives around the country (and the world!) will be answering questions and engaging with people on Twitter. If you want to ask us about something, be sure to include us (@VT_SCUA) in your tweets. Or head to the Facebook page for the International Archive of Women in Architecture and ask there. You can also ask questions to the broader community–just use #AskAnArchivist and see who responds! Join the conversation on October 5th!
Exciting news! Thanks to the hard work (and on-going efforts) of our staff and students, a handful of the handwritten recipes books among our collections have gone online! As a group, you can find these items on our online platform, Special Collections Online. We will have more of them going up in the future, as we continue to scan and acquire new collections, but this feels like a great start! As with many of the Civil War diaries we have digitized, we are also working on transcripts of these manuscript receipt (and recipe!) books which we will add to the site as they are completed. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Hertford Receipt Book (Ms2008-027). You can view the whole item online, but we haven’t transcribed it just yet. Here’s the front cover:
There is a finding aid for this item, but it is, to use a recipe term, a bit scant. Many manuscript receipt books, when separated from original owners for whatever reason, lose context, and leave archivists and researchers with very little provenance (the archival field’s word for “[i’]nformation regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection”). In this case, there are multiple handwritings and a variety of attributed recipes, but no clue as to who collected them or wrote them on the pages. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t learn from it.
This is a soft, marbled cover notebook, and from what we know, it dates from about 1800 to 1833. If you’re expecting recipes for food, you won’t be disappointed, but hopefully you’re open to a bit more. You see, the Hertford Receipt Book is mostly home remedies. Many of them. Have a cough? Toothache? Boots need blackening? Need white paint? Have a rat problem? Worms (there are at least three cures for that one!)? This item can help!
That being said, in true English style, you’ll also find puddings, tarts, and cakes among the pages, along with wines, “devil’s pot” and other pickling options, jams, and the intriguing “to pot pigeons like lampreys.”
One of the things I really like about this receipt book is that it has an index. While not all the ones on our shelves do, I’m surprised at how often there’s a guide at the front or back to what’s in the pages. I shouldn’t be shocked by the organizational skills of these generations of savvy women, but they certainly should get extra credit for hand-indexing! If I had to guess, in this case, it was probably done by one owner (it’s all in the same hand) and probably at a point where new recipes weren’t being added. Still, a lovely, tasty, toxic, strange, and functional labor of love.
As football fever continues around Blacksburg (and elsewhere), keep an eye out for some posts to help with those tailgating days. (Though, as someone who enjoys a number of VT sports, I’m thinking we might need to start volleyball, soccer, or basketball tailgating trends, too.) And as fall has arrived, you can probably also expect some autumnal foods in the future, too!