Snail Water? Did I read that right?

This Friday, I thought I’d try a little commentary on the home remedy aspect of the collection here (archivist Kira, again!).

One of the joys of working with a culinary history collection is that, no matter what you think you know, you’ll be surprised, sometimes a little disgusted…and ALWAYS inspired to learn when you are caught off guard. So, when perusing a handwritten manuscript receipt* book from England, c.1731, I did a double take. “Snail Water.” I read it twice, then kept going, just to be sure: “Take 6 Lbs of Garden Snails…” 

Reading further along, the receipt instructs readers to bruise the snails, shells and all. As the list on ingredients continued (16 eggs with shells, half an ounce of nutmeg, root of “liquorice,” to mention a few), I wondered what would actually cause someone to ingest this mixture. A little research later, it turns out “snail water” was a common treatment for consumption (tuberculosis) during the 17th and 18th centuries. Recipes varied greatly—at least one included ground up earthworms in addition to snails, as well as various combinations of herbs—but none proved to be a miracle cure. 

We invite you to view our recipe, though I wouldn’t suggest trying it, before you accuse me of cruelty to snails. The 1731 Book for Receipts is available online in pdf. The recipe for snail water is on page 23, but the whole item is worth a look (check out that handwriting!). If you want to pickle something, this is the manuscript item for you: walnuts, kidney beans, pigeons, muskmelons, and the list goes on…

*That’s the historical “recipe,” for those of you thinking I made a typo—and perhaps a good discussion for a future post


What ‘n what?

It’s Wednesday morning again, and my computer reminds me it’s time for a new blog post (archivist Kira here, again)! I waffled—pun intended—for a bit on this week’s feature, but Whip ‘n Chill lends itself all to well for a visual post. Two gelatin related posts in the inaugural weeks? I know, but there’s plenty of Jell-O history here at Special Collections. Next week, a new direction awaits. For now, though, there’s Whip ‘n Chill…

For several years during the 1960s and 1970s, Jell-O produced Whip ‘n Chill. It came in a mere four flavors-chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and lemon-but there was no lack of recipes! Electric colors aside (go on, take another good look at the first photo above), the powder was mixed with milk to create something with a texture akin mousse. Many of the recipes in this particular pamphlet are familiar to the Jell-O fan: fruit in and on top, molded towers, multicolored loaves. But there are also new marvels here, too: Peppermint Candy Igloo (center above), petit fours, pies, parfaits, and even ice cream. Whip n’ Chill was born in a time of chemical innovation and the ingredients list reflects that. But it was also part of wave of simplifying, convenience, spending a little less time in the kitchen, and a little more time elsewhere. So, frightening as the ingredients may to be some modern readers, it was actually successful on all counts—at least for a few years.

For those of you who miss the familiar and sometimes described as “chemical” taste, or those wanting to try it, you can still acquire Whip ‘n Chill from the occasional Internet retailer…if you want to buy 8lbs of powdered mix at a time. (And yes, people ARE still looking.) Even though I feel I may have missed out on the experience, I think I’ll pass this time. A child’s wading pool of “Four Flavor Loaf” might be just a bit too much. To the rest of you, though, I say, happy whipping, happy chilling, and happy gelatin-izing!

“Magical Desserts with Whip’n Chill,” 1965. Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Newman Library Classic Film Series: Your 1960s Kitchen!

As part of an ongoing series, sharing films from the collection at Newman Library, we invite you to join us for three shorts relating to household management. On Sunday, October 2, at 8:30pm, the library will be showing “15 Minutes to Mealtime,” “Freeze for Ease,” and “Alice in Numberland.” The first of these two films are VPI productions, and the last comes to us from the USDA.

Weather permitting, this an outdoor event, so bring your blanket or lawn chair! 

More information on the event can be found on the Newman Library Classic Film Series: Your 1960s Kitchen Facebook page.

Notes from Newman: HNFE Research & Resources

Notes from Newman: HNFE Research & Resources

HNFE Librarian, Rebecca K. Miller, has a blog aimed at helping undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff and faculty, with their research here at Virginia Tech. She’s given us a shout out on her blog and we want to return the favor. Even if you’re not from around here, keep one eye on this site. Rebecca has great resources for researchers of nutrition, food, and exercise sciences!

Recipe: Food From North to South

Recipe: Food From North to South

The New York Times includes a short piece on the the tasting of several Civil War-era recipes earlier this week in NYC. The article includes recipes for beef jerky, Confederate biscuits, roasted rabbit, fried catfish, and molasses apple pie. A blog posting about the how and why of the event is also online here.

Lunch in Wartime


Food for Victory!

World War II continued to change the relationship between food and family. Pamphlets like this one provided suggestions on how to balance rationing with supporting working family members and other war efforts at home. “How to Pack Lunch Boxes for War Workers” included a detailed meal plan for lunches on any shift, regardless of gender—a factor we don’t usually mention when planning meals today. The aside in the second picture “(Or a Woman)” acknowledges the growing roles of women outside the home…although traditional expectations are still being reinforced. After all, SHE’S the one making lunch on the front cover, even if she was helping build bombers on the second shift.

Oh, and when it comes to sandwich fillings, be sure to consider the “Mock Chicken” on Day 14, or the “Peanut Butter and Chow-Chow” on Day 26. Motivation to stop thinking about lunch and get back to work? Quite possibly!

How to Pack Lunch Boxes for War Workers, 1944. Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.


Update: After several minutes of imagining the worst, curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate the “mock chicken” issue. Rather surprisingly, it is made up of ground pork or veal, chopped carrot and celery, Chow Chow, and mayonnaise. (This is Kira, one of the archivists at Special Collections.) Anything other tantalizing items need further description? Post a comment and ask!

Modernist Cuisine has arrived!

Friday afternoon bonus, Food-lovers:

After several months of anticipation, we have added Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking to our holdings! This amazing six volume set includes information on the history and basics of food, techniques and equipment, animals, plants, ingredients, new approaches to preparation, and recipes combining all the knowledge together. Recipes and techniques range from basic to the complex (french fries v. ultrasonic french fries?);the unique (mussels in mussel juice spheres) to the well, frankly, bizarre (foie gras cherries, anyone?); and include a range of ingredients from the household common (sugar) to the uncommon (black summer truffles) to the chemical specialists (super methylcellulose SGA 150). At the same time, with a willingness to acquire a few unusual items, most of these recipes are not beyond the capabilities of the adventurous home cook. More information on the set is available online.

Modernist Cuisine is available for viewing/use in the Special Collections reading room during our normal hours (Monday-Friday 8am-5pm). We invite you to come by and think about food in a new way (and see how it looks in detailed, high def photographs!). Seafood Paper, Ham Consomme with Melon Beads, Bacon Mushroom Cappuccino, or Gel Noodles may just turn out to be your new favorite dish!