The ABCs of Harry MacElhone

Much of late last week around here was focused on getting materials together for an open house-style donor event last Friday. For your usual archivist & blogger Kira, that meant preparing a two-drink historic cocktail tasting and talk (borrowing from an early 20th century euphemism, it was titled “Measuring Sidewalks Upside Down: Cocktail History in America (and Special Collections!)”). Cocktails aren’t quite on my brain anymore, but both of the drinks on the tasting menu came from rare volumes in our collection. One was a bottled (gin) cocktail from Jerry Thomas’ How to Mix Drinks, or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862), which has been a feature on the blog before. The other was the Scofflaw Cocktail, one of my favorite Prohibition-era drinks for a number of reasons (more on that shortly). There are a number of recipes for it, but one of the earliest appearances was in Harry McElhone‘s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, first published in 1921. Our copy is a 10th edition, from a bit later, probably about 1929.

When it comes to cocktail history, a lot of things have been lost–ingredients, recipes, and explanations of names among them. We’ve been lucky enough to discover recipes for “lost” ingredients and found long-forgotten recipes. Names, well, that’s a bit harder. A lot of times, there is no good explanation. Luckily, the same can’t be said for the Scofflaw (or, Scoff-law, if you prefer), which are two of the reasons I love this cocktail. It has a great name AND an origin story. We know that in early 1924, the Boston Herald newspaper held a contest to find a word to describe those lawless types who continued to  engaged in the illicit manufacture and transportation of spirits, brazenly consuming alcohol during Prohibition. Two different people sent in the word “scofflaw,” and the two split the $200 prize. We also know that it didn’t take long for these newly-minted scofflaws to fight back. Although located overseas and thousands of miles the States, it didn’t take long for someone at Harry’s New York Bar to have an idea: Co-opt the word and make it a drink.

Like many-a cocktail, the Scofflaw has seen some variation its 93 years, but not as much as some other cocktails. You probably won’t see arguments break out over the ingredient list or discover minor changes in almost every version you see (like with the Jack Rose). The original Scofflaw Cocktail was made with blended whiskey, but other variants suggest the use of rye or bourbon specifically (I prefer the former). And one could argue about balance, since you’ll see a 1:1 ratio of whiskey: vermouth, as well as a 2:1 ratio. But, as with any cocktail, it’s okay to adjust to a drinker’s taste. The other fun part about a drink like this is that it lends itself to homemade ingredients in the modern craft cocktail age, particularly in the case of the bitters and the grenadine.

If you obsess over cocktails like someone writing this blog post, you might notice some inconsistencies in MacElhone’s book, even with the few sample pages above. References appear to both “‘Canadian Club’ whiskey” and “‘Canadian Club’ whisky” which would be the same thing (and correctly spelled the latter way). Angostura sometimes has “Bitters” after it, but not always. Measurements come in standard (teaspoons) and non-standard (dashes) amounts, as well as in ratios, or sometimes, a combination of all of the above. We know that not all the recipes are from MacElhone and we can probably attribute the variation to his collecting some of the recipes from other sources.  Since, from a historical perspective, measurements are always tricky (they have shifted over time), it may mean a little research or experimentation is needed–but that’s hardly a bad thing. Just remember, we may no longer be scofflaws, but we certainly enjoy one!

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Quick Announcement Re: November 17, 2017

Just a quick announcement from our staff: Newman Library will be closing early at 4pm on Friday, November 17, 2017, for a donor appreciation event. This includes Special Collections. We will open at 8am, as usual, but we be closing an hour early. We will re-open at our usual time on the following Monday morning (November 20, 2017).

National Sandwich Day Round-Up

Today is National Sandwich Day, which means I can’t let the day go by without saying something on the topic. To be honest, sandwiches are quite the subject on our blog, though. From the savory-frosted to the sweet-filled, there’s some surprising and not-so-surprising history among our posts.

Frosted Sandwich series:

Celebrating sandwiches:

Of course, when talking about sandwiches, there is an inherent danger: Not everyone has the same definition of a sandwich. Or, perhaps, more accurately, some people are more open to interpretation. While venturing into that debate isn’t something for this post per se, it is worth mentioning that a collection like the one we have in here is just the kind of place you can do research on the history of sandwiches in American cookbooks. Or, if you’re just in search of new recipe to try. When it comes to bread and fillings, the combinations are endless.

The Sweet Truth About Sweets: Candy-Making at Home

With Halloween around the corner (by which I mean on the other side of the weekend), it seemed like a good time to revisit a sweet topic on the blog:

CANDY!!!

In the days before brightly colored bags of candy in store aisles, candy-making was a home activity. It took a set of tools, a set of skills, and, based on my own limited experience, a great deal of patience. And, since I’m certainly no expert, we’re revisiting an authority on many things in the late 19th/early 20th century, Sarah Tyson Rorer (see previous posts about her here and here).

In 1889, Rorer’s Home Candy Making was published. It wasn’t the first manual of its kind, but it is one of the earliest volumes we have in Special Collections specifically dedicated to candy-making.
Candy in the pre-mass-produced era usually fell into some standard categories which had a lot of variation within them. You’ll commonly see creams, glacés, nougats, caramels, drops (essentially hard candies), and taffy.

Following the table of contents, Rorer’s book has a few general rules for candy-making, which, if you delve into candy-making today, still hold true. Unlike some aspects of cooking and techniques, home candy-making today is pretty much the way is was 100+ years ago and not all that different from candy-making in previous, except maybe for the addition of the candy thermometer later on.
The book includes directions for making colorings at home using ingredients, as Rorer specifically advises against what she calls “colorings of commerce” (in other words, commercially produced ones). Her colors rely on an array of ingredients from just sugar and water to saffron, spinach, and cochineal. On a side note, at some point, someone stored a newspaper clipping in this volume, causing one of the pages to discolor–we see that a lot in Special Collections!
A few sample recipes from the section on cream candies and confections, including those flavored with coffee or tea, and those filled with fruit.
Some recipes from the section on taffy, which also includes candies using molasses and, interestingly, a recipe for cough drops.
In addition to more taffy and some fruit caramels, these pages also include a recipe for “chocolate chips.” These are a far cry from the chocolate chips we so often use for cookies today. Rather, they are a brittle hard candy coated in chocolate or chocolate fondant.
Toward the end of the book, there are about 10 blank pages labeled “Additional Recipes.” The idea, of course, is that home candy-makers would record their own recipes. As Rorer points out in the section on creamed confections: “This class is without limit if one has any inventiveness; one variety seems to suggest another.” But that inventiveness can be applied more broadly to all the categories in the book–once one has practiced and mastered the techniques, of course. Sadly, the previous owner(s) of our copy did not include an original recipes.

Also, because it’s too fun not to share, here’s a bonus recipe from The Tiny Book on Candies (1907):

The Tiny Book of Candies (1907) measures just over 2 inches (5cm) in height (paperclip for scale). It’s surprisingly readable and is part of a series of five “tiny” books, of which Special Collections has almost all.
Among its pages is a recipe for “spun sugar,” which are the thin strands of sugar that can be shaped while still warm. The process isn’t difficult, but it involves the use of some surprising tools: broomsticks, chairs, and wire “dippers.”

Special Collections has close to 50 books in the culinary collection that are devoted to the topic of candy and confections. Beyond that, we have hundreds of recipe books and other materials that touch on the subject to vary degrees. So, whatever you sweet-tooth, we probably have something to satisfy it for this Halloween and every other time of year.

Processing the Educational Cookery Collection, Part 3

As promised, this week we’re at the end of processing the Educational Cookery Collection (yay)! And, I remembered to take pictures while I was working on the collection this week, so there are plenty of visuals below!

After all that alphabetical sorting last week, I ended up with a stack of 16 folders that look, well, like this:

Each folder has the collection number and title on the left side, the folder title in the center, and the box-folder number on the right side. Given the final decision to sort the collection by creator name, there are 15 folders for letters of the alphabet and one for materials without clear creators. They sat in a stack on my desk as I worked through creating bibliographies for each folder, at which point I was shifting in their new home–an acid-free box:

In the end, they don’t take up the whole box, but that’s okay. I used the lid as a temporary spacer to keep folders from slumping or falling over, which can damage the contents over time (that’s also why, in the picture above, I turned the box on its side as I started added the first few folders to it). Before I put the box on the shelf, I made a more permanent spacer from some left over cardboard. (We keep many different kinds of scraps around here that come in handy for reuse: cardboard, old boxes, mylar, matboard…Plenty of archivists like to reuse and creatively “upcycle” where they can!) Also, this means we have space to add more items later!

The other part of processing, of course, is the intellectual description and processing. We use software called ArchivesSpace, which lets us keep track of new accessions, digital objects (scans), subjects, and creators, and helps us create the finding aids we put in Virginia Heritage. If you’re curious what it looks like, this is a screenshot with the list of folders for this collection. The navigation links in the lower left help us jump around the rest of the record below, since more complex collections can have a lot of content.

As I finished writing up the notes in the collection, I also grabbed a screenshot of those. The software consolidates sections with a lot of content (like the Subjects, in this case) and when you are viewing a section (like the Notes), shows you shortened versions, which you can expand and edit. I promise, it can save a fair bit of scrolling if you’re trying to get a specific section. The sidebar on the left shows you, at a glance, connections between this and other records or how many elements there are in a given section. In this collection, for example, there’s a link between this and one existing accession record, a single “date” component, and 9 notes.

Looking at that screenshot reminded me I missed something. That left side navigation can also help with that. If you’re expecting a number next to a part of the record and it’s not there, it’s a good reminder you might need to fix that! Anyway, this resource record, as it’s called, is what we can export from ArchivesSpace, tweak a little bit, and put into Virginia Heritage for researchers everywhere to discover. I finished up the finding aid on Thursday morning, along with my final checklist of items for collections. (Seriously, I have a spreadsheet checklist for collections I process–it helps me keep track of what gets processed, as well as all the little administrative and practical steps that going along with making it discoverable!)

As I mentioned last week, every collection is a little different and I wouldn’t be surprised if we talk about processing again in the future. I hope it gives some insight into what goes on behind-the-scenes so researchers can find our materials to use. And a little bit about what those of us who work behind-the-scenes do! The finding aid for the Educational Cookery Collection (Ms2017-032) is now available online and the collection is in its home on the shelf:

So, we encourage you to come by and take a look when you have a chance! I expect this collection will grow in the future (much like some of our ephemera-based collections), and I’m looking forward to finding out what we add next!

Upcoming Local/Regional Events

Just a quick announcement about some upcoming events, fresh from my email box to yours!

Tuesday, October 244-5:15 p.m.

“Clean Plate Club​: Combating Food Waste in America” by Susan Chen

Multipurpose Room, Virginia Tech Library (first floor)

Free and open to the public.

Up to 40 percent of all edible food is wasted in the United States. Food waste has recently gained traction in social media, and within the last couple years, many initiatives have been created to combat this extensive problem. Join us as we explore the past and present issues around food waste and explore solutions to prevent this in the future.

Susan Chen is currently a graduate student in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and is researching food waste behaviors in children. Susan has held an internship at the U.S. Department of Agriculture where she worked on projects related to nutrition and economic analysis. She ​was the recipient of the 2017 ​Janet L. Cameron Scholarship. 


Saturday, November 181-2 p.m.

“What Happens to your Leftovers? Food facts and food fun!” by Susan Chen

Blacksburg Library Community Room. Free and open to the public. Children are encouraged to attend.

So, what’s the big deal about throwing some leftovers into the trash? It can’t be that bad, right? But if everyone throws away their leftovers, that would surely create a giant mess! Come join us as we play fun food games to learn about where your leftovers go!


Friday, April 6, 11: 30 a.m.
Memorial lecture and luncheon in honor of Jean Robbins featuring Ronni Lundy, author of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes.

Roanoke Country Club.  

Winner of the James Beard Foundation Book of the Year Award and Best Book, American Cooking, Victuals is an exploration of the foodways, people, and places of Appalachia.

Born in Corbin, Kentucky, Ronni Lundy has long chronicled the people of the hillbilly diaspora as a journalist and cookbook author. She is the former restaurant reviewer and music critic for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, former editor of Louisville Magazine, and has contributed to many national magazines. Her book Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken was recognized by Gourmet magazine as one of six essential books on Southern cooking. In 2009, Lundy received the Southern Foodways Alliance Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award. She has contributed to Eating WellGourmetBon AppétitEsquire, and other magazines.

Processing the Educational Cookery Collection, Part 2

I know I missed a week, but I didn’t get to work on the Education Cookery Collection too much last week. My major work on it during the last two weeks was making sure all the books were on the inventory, getting cataloging slips into all those items, and finding space for them on a cart temporarily. There are 80+ publications to be cataloged. Here’s one shelf’s worth (of about 1 1/2 shelves):

In addition,  I worked on creating a list of publications in the record for the soon-to-be manuscript collection. Since it’s not done, it’s not public yet, but here’s what part of the list looks like for me (it’ll be much nicer-looking in the finished finding aid!):


Next up, there’s a stack of manuscript materials. At the moment, those items are organized into four folders, which match up to my thought process when I started looking at them, but in reality, don’t represent the final arrangement.

Folders: the archivist’s best organizational friend!

I wanted to look at what items in this collection align with/are similar to ephemeral items in other culinary collections. So, my post-it notes read things like “Adds to Ms2012-040” [the State/Regional Home and Agricultural Publications] or “Acc2017-083 Make into new collection?” The more I’ve considered it, though, I’m not going to break up the collection into three existing ones, plus one new one. The fact of the matter is, we usually organize collections by creator or collector, and this is one combined group of materials relating to aspects of educational cookery. It should stay together.

Sometimes, figuring out how to organize a collection is a case of “two steps forward, one step back.” I thought I knew what would make sense for this collection, but I then I started to waffle. I’ll have to back up a little bit, undo a few things, and move forward again. Rather than taking some items out and arranging what’s left, this collection now has a couple of possibilities: breaking out materials based on the type of creator (an individual, a cooking school, a corporation, a state or national government agency), thinking about them in terms of formats (corporate pamphlets, government publications, advertisements/trade items, cooking school catalogs, printed notes and information sheets, recipes, etc.), or sorting them by subject area (nutrition education, cooking instruction, fundraising, etc.). I went around and around a bit, confused myself, then I did the smart thing: I got a colleague’s opinion and he helped me get out of the weeds (thanks, John!). We looked at what we had, what we thought we could see happening with the collection in the future, and agreed that the simplest option was to rely on the alphabet and arrange materials in folders by creator name. (Asking a friend is always good advice and colleagues make great sounding boards!)

Alphabetical sorting–an invaluable, if boring, skill for archivists!

Anyway, I think I’ll finish up this post for this week and get back to my sorting. I expect to wrap up this series next week, when I get the materials foldered, boxed, and a finding aid completed to share. Hopefully this series is providing some insight into how things can work around here (and not just my sometimes-convoluted process). One of our favorite sayings in the archives field is “it depends” and for me, it’s something I say all the time when processing manuscripts. Every collection is a different and each one requires different attention. This is turning out to be a prime example!