Patent Medicines, Cure-alls, & Bitters Exhibit

Our new exhibit is done and on display! If you’re in Newman Library, swing by the first floor to check it out in detail! If you can’t visit us, here are a few pictures.

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Summer (Cooking) School, Part 7: Here’s How (to Make an End of Summer Cocktail)

The “end” of summer has arrived in Blacksburg. No, it’s still a month till the solstice, but the great event has begun: move-in! Students are coming back (though, if you ask anyone in Special Collections, we don’t know how time passed so fast!) and we’re getting back into a semester way of thinking. But, there’s time for one last hurrah and one last lesson before the real classes begin.🙂


Okay, okay, so the front cover of this small publication doesn’t tell you much. “Curb service,” by the modern definition, is  basically service from a restaurant provided to customers remaining in their parked vehicles. Or, in this cases, on their horses. The reason the cover may look a little odd in the scan is that is actually has a fuzzy fabric texture to it and it’s beginning to show a little wear. Let’s get to the fun part…

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So, this is Here’s How: A Handbook of Recipes of Spirituous and Non-Spirituous Drinks Gathered from Authoritative Sources. It dates from some part of the early 20th century (possible the 1930s). The back cover has a stamp from a jeweler in Allentown, PA, so it was likely something given away to promote the business (and a good drink). Some of the recipes between these two covers are drinks you’ve seen on the blog before from other historical manuals, in modern bars, or out in the ether, but sadly, we don’t get any clues as to what “authoritative sources” were actually used. Since this is our last summer cooking school lesson, I’ll be sure to point out the other page I’ve added above: the standards of measure for the recipes that follow. Not that we need follow these kinds of directions exactly–There’s a lot of fun in experimenting with proportions and substitutions…in most cases. As we’ll see below, it’s not recommended you mix vichy water with wine if you’re considering a variation on the “Kir.”

One of the interesting things about this little booklet has to do with the jewelers store information on the back (sort of). If you go looking for other copies of this little work, you will find a few, but with some differences. There are at least 3 other cataloged editions out there in academic or public libraries, but they have different places of publication and publishers–yet all of them appear to be companies or corporations of some sort. So, basically Here’s How: A Handbook of Recipes of Spirituous and Non-Spirituous Drinks Gathered from Authoritative Sources was a booklet with a set text block that a company could label with its own name as a promotional item. There aren’t any other copies digitized, so we don’t know if the front cover varies by edition. At any rate, it’s just one part of what makes this rare item even more intriguing!

When I sat down this morning to start scanning pages, I made the decision to scan the entire item. After all, it is only about 40 pages, out of copyright, and a quick scan due to its small size. I’m in the process of adding it to our digital collections site, where the entire item will be available for reading (and mixing)! In the meantime, hopefully there’s still something to strike your fancy in the pages above, whatever your tastes! UPDATE: You can view the item online here:!

On a related note, your usual archivist/blogger Kira will be installing a new exhibit in the Special Collections display cases over the next few days. Hopefully it will be done next Monday at the latest. It’s going to feature items in our collection relating to the history of patent medicines and bitters, and will include a bit about their role in the development of the American cocktail. It should be up for the next 4-6 weeks, so if you’re in Blacksburg and want to check it out, you can view our cases on the first floor of the library whenever the building is open!

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 6: British Baking at Home, Abroad, and in the Trade

This week, many of our staff are at the Society of American Archivists annual conference. This includes me, your usual archivist/blogger Kira who is, quite excitedly, presenting on a panel this year. “What panel?” you ask. Why, one about food collections and outreach! So, while I’m off definitely learning from others and hopefully inspiring a few colleagues, too, we’ve got another culinary lesson here on the blog. Despite the high temps in Blacksburg the last couple of weeks, I went a little crazy and was baking last week. For the library’s annual summer picnic, I whipped up a couple of cobblers (thanks to a very simple, 6 ingredient recipe!): blackberry peach and strawberry blueberry. While it may not have been the smartest move, turning on the oven and all, the summer smacks of cobbler to me and I hadn’t made one in a long time. Which also has me thinking about baking. I respect the fact that  baking is a precise and scientific art, but I’ve never been good at that in the kitchen. And, I’ve gone this long with any major baking disasters in my life (we’ll save tales of cooking and candy-making disasters for another day). Still, there’s plenty to learn from our historic resources, like The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide for Hotels, Restaurants, and the Trade in General, Adapted Also for Family Use, Including a Large Variety of Modern Recipes. The title actually goes on, but we’ll take a break there. (You can see the rest of it on the title page below.)

Written by Robert Wells in 1889, this is a short, but detailed, British guide to baking, confectionery (including sugar-work), meat pies, ornamental butter, and more. Since this is a British book, you’ll notice a few differences, but nothing that can’t be overcome in the historic or modern American kitchen. Castor (aka caster) sugar, for example, isn’t that common in the U.S. These days, though, it can found in some stores, most definitely online, and, with modern kitchen technology (a coffee/spice grinder or a food processor), you can make it yourself!

While, at first glance, this book may seem like a strange conglomerate of recipes–I can see including meat pies in a book on pastry–there is a theme here. The sections on cooking meat and poultry may seem a bit out of place, but if you can’t cook them properly, they aren’t going to make for a good meat pie. The one thing that is really lacking, especially since this is designed to be a manual not only for other professionals, but for the home cook, was pictures. I, for one, would love to see #294: To Ornament a Tongue as a Dolphin. This seems like the kind of manual that would benefit from a bit more visual content, but perhaps the lack thereof gives the home and professional the freedom to be creative rather than match a certain image.

The entirety of The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide can be found on Special Collections Online, our digital platform: You can read it online or download the pdf for later if you’re interested. Take a moment to learn something new about culinary history this week, even it’s just a little fact. I know I’m looking forward to finding out what my colleagues are doing with food history collection and outreach. I might even have some tidbits to share when I get back! Until then, good eating (though if your summer is as hot as our in Blacksburg, you might want to take a word of advice from me and skip the baking for now)!



Summer (Cooking) School, Part 5: All About the Bubbles

This week’s lesson is a sweet (and bubbly) one! If you’re remotely into food history, you’re probably aware that perspectives change, often rapidly. What’s good for us one day is bad the next (and may be good again next week). When it comes to carbonated beverages (aka soda), well, there’s definitely some history there. This week, our post features two pamphlets from American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages. Admittedly, they have certain bias, but they also offer a fascinating perspective on a time when soda didn’t have the reputation it might today. First up, there’s “Delightful Recipes with Carbonated Beverages.”

While “Delightful Recipes” isn’t dated, it’s probably from around the same time period as our second pamphlet, “Sparkling Party Recipes,” which comes from 1955.

There are a lot of interesting things to note about both of these pamphlets. We can start with the obvious–the recipes–which go beyond what you might expect. There aren’t just punches. You’ll also find salads (with and without gelatin, our constant friend), desserts, and even a sauce or two. There are also a handful of others recipes that don’t contain carbonated beverages–probably a good thing, since I’m not sure I want to know how one works ginger ale into a frosted sandwich…

There are plenty of party hints and party themes for the hostess looking to impress, too. Bringing bottled drinks on a picnic? Put a dish full of ice at the bottom of the basket to keep them cold. Want to coordinate your food and drink? Try dressing up your sandwiches and drink bottles (though that image of grinning food and beverages is a little creepy)! Want to confuse your taste buds? Freeze cubes of one flavor and pour another flavor over them!

And then there’s the health information, which was my point from the beginning. Both of these pamphlets spend time on the benefits and nutritional value of carbonated beverages. “Sparkling Party Recipes” includes a page about how carbonated drinks are used in hospitals. “Delightful Recipes” notes that:

Carbon dioxide has a peculiar dietetic value. Medical authorities point out that, when taken internally, it acts as a digestive stimulant, increases appetite and promotes absorption of food…The energy in bottled carbonated beverages comes from the pure sugars used.

This pamphlet also offers a list of “noted authorities who have put on record their statements as to the health value of carbonated beverages.” The statements were available by writing to the sponsor, the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages. And, no doubt, solicited by them for just this purpose. In any case, this touting of the health benefits seems a bit different from arguments today about the high amounts of sugar and sugar alternatives in modern sodas.

Both of these pamphlets are part of the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002), which we’ve highlighted before. However, it’s an ever-expanding collection and there are always new items to share. With about a month before the students come back, our “Summer Cooking School” lessons will continue for a little longer. Then I’ll have to find some new historic items to share. Until then, remember carbonated beverages aren’t just for the glass. They can be the highlight of any party…or hot weekend (like the one we’re headed for here in Blacksburg).

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 4: Back to Basics

This week in our summer cooking school series, we’re taking a step back to the basics, encyclopedia-style!


But don’t worry, it’s not just for grocers! This encyclopedia is packed with dictionary-definition terms and history, multi-lingual lists of foods, and black & white and full color illustrations. While it would certainly be useful for those in the food trade, it’s just as useful for the home cook who might be encountering something new or who wants to learn more about a common ingredient.

In addition to the strictly A-Z listing of grocery-related foods, the encyclopedia also includes 7 appendices. These include a 5-language “dictionary of food names,” short foreign language-to-English dictionaries (French, German, Italian, and Swedish), a list of culinary and menu terms, and a weights and measures table.


Page from “Dictionary of Food Names in Five Languages”


Sample page from Swedish-English dictionary of foods.

I’m still pondering the Swedish section. While I can see the common usage for the French, German, and Italian language sections, I’m curious about how much need there was for Swedish language food terms in 1911. Which sent me off to see if I could find anything out about the history of this publication. Artemas Ward, the author, first published a book in 1882 called The Grocer’s HandbookA desire to improve on this first work led to a nearly 30 year side project of expanding it into The Grocer’s Encyclopedia. Ward was an author of biographies, journal publisher, and advertising executive in his daily life. And, it seems, we can credit him with the idea of putting advertising on public transit vehicles. There wasn’t too much to find on Ward, though what there was suggests he was a man of many projects and occupations. But, it didn’t bring me any closer to an explanation for the Swedish-English section. Some publishing mysteries aren’t easily solved…

The entire encyclopedia is online through Special Collections–all 748 pages of it! (We could barely begin to represent it here.) Sure, it may not have EVERYTHING, but between abalone and zwetschenwasser (the German name for “slivovitz,” a European liqueur made from plums), there’s quite a bit to discover.

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 3: The Story of Meat

Honestly, I couldn’t come up with a title that was better than the actual title of the book we’re looking at this week. The Story of Meat basically says it all, doesn’t it? (It doesn’t…but luckily we have the book for plenty of answers and stories!)


Right off the bat, the frontispiece will catch your attention. While there are plenty more pictures, diagrams, and drawings to come, this is actually the only color one–sadly. Still, it’s not exactly where you might expect a book on meat to start–with the transport of pickled beef. TX373H51942_tp

Anyway, The Story of Meat was first published in 1939; our edition is from 1942. This is another one of those volumes that’s part text book/educational resource, part history, part…well, something else entirely. First, it covers a LOT of topics in its 291 pages as you can see from the table of contents. Seriously, from our early hunting ancestors to 1940s job opportunities in the meat industry, there’s commentary here.

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It was hard to pick some favorite pages from the many, but I did manage a few, including this spread from the chapter on the western frontier:


At first, I was so intrigued by the quote about the “woven bravery and of cowardice, of heroic generosity and sordid thievery (what lower creature in the ranch-lands than the cattle-thief?), of gentleness, murder, and sudden death…” I missed the map for a moment. But, if you’ve ever been curious about cattle trails–ta da! Or, wondering about the grading system for beef? There’s help for that, too!


Like some of the other educational volumes we’ve highlighted so far this summer, each of these chapters concludes with a series of questions about the content. The page below comes from the end of the chapter of selling meat in a retail setting.


To be sure, there’s a fair amount of meat propaganda here (which is hardly surprising). There’s a whole chapter on the importance of meat in the diet. Questions at the end of this chapter include things like “Why is it inadvisable to exclude meat from the human diet?” and “Is meat a necessary part of the diet of children? Of office workers? Why?” Clearly, the answer to the latter set is not meant to be a “No.”  This chapter is full of two page illustrations, showing the various cuts from animals and how to cook them. It’s also got charts on wholesale versus resale cuts and some depicting the protein, calories, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and vitamins in meat compared to other foods.TX373H51942_237 TX373H51942_260

While I don’t think we should necessarily be surprised by the propaganda itself, it can raise an interesting question about timing. The first edition of this book came out in 1939, but by 1942, when this edition was published, the war had started and rationing was becoming a growing practice in the United States and abroad. Yet, from what I can tell, there’s little to no mention of those concerns in the book. I should also mention that “meat” is predominantly used to refer to cattle in most of the book, but there are sections, as you may notice above, that tackle sheep, pigs, poultry, and indirectly, dairy, too. In other words, quite a versatile manual. The only thing that really seems to be missing are recipes. The authors cover cooking techniques, but don’t offer specifics. I guess that’s more the purview of the cookbook, not the history/textbook…

We haven’t digitized all of our copy (yet?), but the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has and you can view it on the Internet Archive if you can’t visit us in person. The Story of Meat, by the way, is just the start of our meat-related publications. And if you’re more interested in the opposite site, we have a few titles on vegetarianism that you might also want to sink your teeth into. Until our next lesson, remember to keep your cattle safe. After all, there’s nothing worse than a cattle-thief…right?

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 2: Canning and Preserving

Picking up on the theme from earlier this month, I thought it might be fun to continue some cooking school lessons over the summer. So, this week, we’re looking at Ola Powell’s Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use, published in 1917.

Each chapter includes a LOT of informational content, but each is also punctuated by photographs and illustrations throughout. Since the book is really designed to be a lesson book, though not exactly a text book, it does come complete with built-in quizzes. The end of every chapter includes a list of questions about the content, so you can make sure that learning has really soaked in and been preserved (pun intended, of course). The chapters cover the foods you would expect: fruits, veggies, pickles and relishes, jellies, preserves/conserves/marmalades, and fruit juices. But it also includes chapters on the history and safety of canning and preserving, techniques, drying foods for preservation, canning as a business, and teaching canning.

The diversity of this content is an important reflection on the significance of canning and food preservation. It was a necessity for feeding a family, but it was also a social activity, a profit-making opportunity, and clearly integrated into many aspects of domestic and home life, whether rural or urban.

Ola Powell was an extension agent by training and that surely shows. In addition to the many editions of Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use, between the mid 1910s- and the early 1940s, she also authored or co-authored works on a variety of other topics, including making and caring for mattresses and bedding, sewing, plants and plant diseases, home demonstration work, and farm and garden management.

You can find Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use in its entirely among the scanned books from Special Collections online. You know, in case you’re looking for a good mushroom ketchup recipe or a few trivia questions on the advantages of canning in tin versus glass.

Until our next summer school lesson, stay cool and enjoy something tasty…

Food in the News: Terroir (#4)

Late last week, NPR’s blog, The Salt ran a story about wine and terroir. “Terroir” is one of those beverage buzzwords that you might or might not have heard and might or might not know. The article, “Demystifying Terroir: Maybe It’s the Microbes Making Magic in Your Wine” offers a good background on the word and the concept as it relates to wine.  The general idea is that grapes and a wine, as a result, are influenced by a number of environmental and soil factors from the slope of a hill, the angle of sunlight on the plants, the amount of rainfall, and more. The article looks more specifically that even the local fungi and microbes may have an effect on the taste of a wine, too. However, it isn’t just wine that is influenced by the oh-so-subtle-factors of plant-based alcohols–think about the soil beneath hops that contribute to a beer or the elevation of the land on which agave grows before it becomes part of a tequila.

The idea of “terroir,” though, doesn’t stop there. At the local cheese festival here in Blacksburg two weeks ago, there was a talk/tasting on wine and cheese pairings. (And, since I’m often to be found where there’s one of those ingredients, you can bet I was there for both!) It certainly wasn’t surprising that the word came up, but it was fascinating to hear how much one of the experts had to say about the terroir of cheese and how much the locality in which it was produced can effect the food itself. While there’s an argument for consistency in a food product (whatever it is), there’s an argument for individuality, local influence, and terroir of a food, too. Just something to consider next time you’re in the farmers’ market, the co-op, or at a local farm.

Summer (Cooking) School is in Session, Part 1: A Few Food Lessons in Domestic Science

The spring semester is over, but summer school has begun here at Virginia Tech. If that reminds us of anything, it’s that we’re ALWAYS learning. So, this week, we’re looking at Twenty Lessons in Domestic Science by Marian Cole Fisher, published in 1916. We won’t look at all 20 (and honestly, we almost weren’t going make it past the awesome diagrams in Lesson One!), but we may also revisit this book in the future!

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There are a few pages before the actual lessons start, covering basics like cooking methods, budgeting, and rationing (although not in the war-time sense we’ll see this concept used staring the following year during World War I). And, there’s a table of “Important Equivalents to Memorize.”


Then there’s Lesson Number One: Function of Foods. Which includes some awesome charts from the USDA

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And here are a few pages from Lesson Number Three: Cakes and Their Process, which is where we start to get to some actual recipes!

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If you’re interested in the rest of the lessons, you can see this item in its entirety on Special Collection’s digital platform. It was part the more than 200 titles relating to food history that have been digitized. We also have two copies of the print volume in the collection, too, if you want to see it in person. (Or, you can wait and see if we add some more in the future!) For now, just remember it’s 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder to 1 cup of flour for your biscuits, muffins, and quick breads. Oh, and frosting goes well on just about anything sweet–right?🙂

A Monday Morning Recipe (#5) (& a Note on Summer Posts)

Summer (which isn’t even here yet!) is turning out to be busier than expected, so it looks like I may be posting features on a bi-monthly basis over the next few months, but I’m trying to get back on track with Monday quotes, news, and recipes.

Lately, I’ve been diving into a couple of culinary topics to help some researchers. Among other things, it’s led me to the topic of/ingredient Crisco, which is a staple in my baking pantry (which, to be honest, is the most substantial part of my pantry). These two recipes come from the 1948 edition of “New Recipes for Good Eating,” a Proctor & Gamble publication. It’s 112 pages of Crisco recipes, from frying to breads to pastry to cakes and cookies. Pretty versatile, huh?


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