Mail Call! (Some New Items!)

If you’ve ever wondered what “mail call” looks like around here, it can be all over the place! After so many years, I have come the conclusion that acquisitions work is really a master juggling act. There are items you think are coming to your door, items you know are, items you have that are waiting for your attention, and plenty of surprises! Yesterday, I got one of last category: an envelope stuff with one of my favorite things–pamphlets!

Collection of culinary pamphlets in a pile on a wood table
Collection of culinary pamphlets

This is the pile fresh from the envelope. I spread it all out on the table…

Culinary pamphlets spread out on a wood table
Culinary pamphlets

…and of course, my eyes lit up as I found some of my favorite topics: cocktails, gelatin, and Betty Crocker:

"Betty Crockers Continental Casseroles" pamphlet
“Betty Crockers Continental Casseroles” pamphlet
"Chalmers Granulated Gelatine" pamphlet
“Chalmers Granulated Gelatine” pamphlet–with a few friendly nibble marks on the corner!

Of course, in the south, you can’t look far without finding something about barbecue!

"Barbecue" trifold pamphlet
“Barbecue” trifold pamphlet

There are a lot of treasures in this package and I’m still sorting through. Some items will go in our Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002) and some will go for cataloging and be added to our book collection.

One other item that stood out is this pamphlet of “cookmarks.” The pages are perforated, and each one has two bookmarks with space to indicate the book, page number, and notes about the recipe!

"Cookmarks" pamphlet with individual cookbook bookmarks
“Cookmarks” pamphlet with individual cookbook bookmarks

As you can see, they even have quotes and illustrations!

One of the best part of being an acquisitions and processing archivist is that even when you think you know what materials you’re getting for the collections, you don’t! Surprises can show up on your doorstep and make your day!

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Pears and Cherries from the Stark World's Fair Fruit Catalog, 1903

What’s New at the Library and How it Relates to Food History (or, why there haven’t been many posts lately)!

Many apologies for the lack of posts lately, but life in the library has been hectic. While not meant to be excuses, there are reasons your archivist/blogger Kira has been otherwise occupied. Since they related to food history in at least a few ways, it seems like this week is a good week to talk about some recent activities and changes! Summer is that time of year when I always think I’m going to tackle a bunch of projects–then a million other things come along, asking for my attention.

Events

  • Last month, the library was closed for one day while we had our biennial staff day. The last few times, I have done food-related programs and this year was no exception! I talked about some of my favorite hot-spots (pun intended!) in the history of baking in America. Then, armed with 6 dozen cookies (sugar and gluten-free, dairy-free sugar), 5 cups of homemade buttercream (vanilla, chocolate, and vegan vanilla), and a bunch of edible decorations, attendees let loose customizing their own frostings and decorating cookies. I’m working on a place to share presentation about the history of food & drink materials on the LibGuide (more on that below), so it will hopefully be online soon.
  • Next week, I have a historic cocktail tasting and talk on the docket, so I’ve been putting together notes, menus, and more. I’m really looking forward to talking about the History of the American Cocktail Collection itself, as well as how it’s being used by researchers, with a new audience!

Searching Materials

The biggest changes lately have to do with how you can search for and discover materials in Special Collections and the University Libraries generally. In May, we got a new catalog and a new discovery search tool. If you’ve been on the library website, you’ve probably noticed some changes and may wonder how this affects you. (I’ve definitely been spending part of my time finding problems and trying to help solve them!)

  • Our new catalog is here: https://catalog.lib.vt.edu/. The catalog contains information on the physical collections held by the University Libraries at Virginia Tech (including Special Collections). Library staff are still working on some issues, so if you have trouble locating materials or need help using the new catalog, we encourage you to contact us and we’re happy to learn while we help you! (Here in Special Collections, we are still adjusting our workflows accordingly and learning as we go.)
  • Our new discovery tool is located here, right on the library’s front page: https://lib.vt.edu/. The discovery tool includes physical (items in the catalog) and electronic resources (e-books, databases, articles, and the like). Special Collections materials are in here, but it works a little differently from the catalog and some items are a little more hidden than others. Again, please reach out to us if you have trouble and we’ll help!
    • We hope that we will also be able to include our finding aids AND records for digitized collection content in this system in the near future. We are in the first stages of looking at making that happen, so stay tuned!
  • As you may know, I’ve created several resource guides for researching aspects of our history of food & drink collecting area. As of this week, there is a quick and easy way for researchers to find any and all guides related to Special Collections materials! “Special Collections” is now its own group on the list of guides. You can go to the group list and click on “Special Collections” to see our guides OR you can jump right to the alphabetical list of guides.
  • In light of the new catalog and discovery system, I’ve been updating links in the food-related resource guides (as well as some others I’ve developed), so they should be working correctly. Since you can’t search the new catalog the way you could the previous one, I have removed old directions, updated some text, and once we have some more things figured out, will go back and add some more detailed text about searching to those guides!
  • Also, I’ve been working on a new set of pages on the Food & Drink History Resource Guide. There is now an FAQ about the collecting area for some questions we get most often. And there’s a tab called “Sources for Selected Topics” that contains some content. Click on the arrow next to “Sources for Selected Topics” to see the list and jump to a page. There are a few more topical pages in draft mode that will get done one of these days…

What’s Coming Soon?

As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s still more! There are several projects in progress in Special Collections–basically, some things to look forward to in the coming months.

  • Our staff is working on a new and updated website. It will be a little more streamlined and you’ll probably also see some new resource guides, as we move some information around. But don’t worry, I’ll have a new post about the site when it goes live!
  • After over 6 years on a hosted WordPress site, “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” is starting to run out of space for content! (Side note: our blog will have it’s 7th anniversary this fall!) While it’s a problem I’m VERY glad to have, it also means we need a new place for our blog. Behind the scenes, I have been working with our IT Services department to move to a blog that is hosted on the library’s website. Good news: No concerns about space limitations! Bad news: There was a hitch or two (fixed!) and now it’s taking me a bit of time to update links and develop a new look and feel. I’m hoping to have it done later this month. When it’s ready for prime time, I’ll have a post here to redirect people to where new content will be posted. This site will remain, so you’ll still be able to find/read old posts, I just won’t be adding new ones.
  • Over the last 9+ years, I’ve done a fair number of presentations about the food & drink history materials. Some of them are posted in different places, but I’m hoping to be able to collect them together on the Food & Drink History Resource Guide to share. It’s definitely on my project list and we’ll see how it goes!

So, a long text post this week, but there was a lot to tell! But, to finish up, here are a couple of pages from one of my favorite publications in the collection, just because!

Pears and Cherries from the Stark World's Fair Fruit Catalog, 1903
Pears and Cherries

Berries from the Stark World's Fair Fruit Catalog, 1903Berries

Special Collections is opening LATE on Friday, May 10, 2018

Due to Commencement exercises on campus, Special Collections (along with the University Libraries) will be opening LATE on Friday, May, 10, 2018. We will open at 10am and close at our normal time (5pm). We will be CLOSED for a staff event on Monday, May 14, 2018, and we will resume our normal hours on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

Special Collections will be CLOSED on Monday, May 14, 2018

Just a quick announcement: Special Collections (along with the rest of the University Libraries) will be closed on Monday, May 14, 2018! Special Collections will reopen at our normal time (8am) on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, and we’ll resume our normal hours (M-F from 8am-5pm).

Also, an apology for the lack of posts lately, but we’re working on some things for the blog behind the scenes and it’s taking a little longer than planned. Hopefully after the end of the semester is behind us, we’ll be back on track!

Dining on Words, Part 3: The Versified Vegetable!

I’m working on some behind-the-scenes activities relating to the blog (& some other projects), so it’ll be a short post today. But, #nationalpoetrymonth continues, and there is still plenty food poetry to share!

Back in 2011, Special Collections collaborated on an amazing musical event: “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” You can read about the book that inspired it, and a bit about the collaboration in a blog post from the time. Not long after that, I (your archivist/blogger Kira) had an opportunity to give a presentation about that collaboration, which also gave me motivation to scan some more pages from the book. Now seems a good day to share a few more of Margaret Hays’ vegetable poems.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you want to hear the musical performance itself, we just happen to have a copy of “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” on our shelves. You’re welcome to visit us and have a listen!

Dining on Words, Part 2: Invitations and Dining (sort of…)

I know that I said this week was going to be a post of poetry relating to invitations to dine and the act of eating. But, as it turns out, while there are many poems on those topics, there aren’t so many of them on our shelves. So, we have a little of that, and then a poetical food tangent…

“Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson

This comes from Poems of Ben Jonson, edited with an introduction by George Burke Johnston, 1955. This one is an extra special find, since Johnston, the editor, was on the faculty at VPI and signed this copy!

Then I came across a short poem, really only four lines, by Robert Burns. It wasn’t so much an invitation as is it declining an invitation (it’s the first of two pieces titled “To Mr. S**E”):

I added the second page, since it included another four lines to the same Mr. Syme about a gift of beer and another four lines which were a reply to an invite to a tavern. Burns, it seems, enjoyed using poetry to say “yes” or “no” to a good invitation.

At this point, while I had some leads, I couldn’t find matching volumes on our shelves for things like Sylvia Plath’s “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper,” W. H. Auden’s “Tonight at 7:30,” or any of the occasional poems written by Oliver Wendell Holmes at dinner events. But I was still holding Robert Burns’ poetry in my hands and a glance at the table of contents reminded me of his “Scotch Drink,” an ode to, well, scotch whisky. And, like life in the world of archival research often goes, I found myself changing my focus to the food poems of Burns. So, while Jonson invited us to dine, Burns will supply the main course?


I should probably have saved “Scotch Drink” for next week, when I *plan* to talk about poetry about wine, beer, and spirits. (That shouldn’t be too hard to stay on topic!) But Burns had me hooked by now. Of course, I saved the best for last. Though I guess that should be qualified. “Best” may depend largely on your thoughts about haggis…Burns, of course, is firmly in it’s camp:



I couldn’t resist. It’s not often a dish that creates such mixed reactions in people gets such a lyrical, epic poem. Next week, we’ll have fewer lines about “gushing entrails bright” and a lot less dialect, but Burns does have a rather famous cocktail named after him, so this is some sort of segue. 🙂

Our National Poetry Month series continues next week, when we look at some poetry to the things that fill our glasses and make us say “cheers!”

Dining on Words, Part 1: Fruits

April is National Poetry Month. I know, you’re probably asking why I’m even bringing that up a blog devoted to culinary history materials. The truth is, it might just surprise you how much poetry there is on the subject of food, eating, and everything that goes along with it. Or maybe you aren’t–after all, food is so much a part of our lives. And we have touched on this subject before, with specific, culinary-focused literary items. Whether you’re surprised or not, for a couple of posts this month, I thought we would look at some poetry from other publications in our collections that somehow involve food. (And not just because both of those things have a special place in my heart.)

When it comes to the topic of fruit, there are a lot of poems. Seriously, a LOT. While looking for a specific on by D. H. Lawrence, I found five other ones, each dedicated to a specific fruit. The pomegranate has a long history as a symbol and plays a part of many-a-poem (and story), so it seemed a good place to start.

from The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence, v.2, 1928.

Lawrence talks briefly about pomegranates growing on trees, which got me thinking about Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking.” Although it does describe apples, it also focuses on the act of acquiring them from their trees.

from Collected Poems of Robert Frost, c.1930

From pomegranates and apples, we’re switching to stone fruits for our final poems. Wallace Stevens’ “A Dish of Peaches in Russia,” peaches are repeatedly tied to images of places for the speaker.

from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, c.1954

Last up for this week is probably the most well-known of this group. These days, you’re likely to find it used on the Internet as a meme, but William Carlos Williams’ poem about plums has been iconic for a long time!

from The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams, c.1951

In our next post, we’ll look at what do to once you have some food gathered (in other words, poetry about invitations to dine and the act of eating).

Although we don’t have a copy in our collection, my favorite poem laden with fruit imagery is Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” which part poem, part instructive lesson for young women in the Victorian era. It’s more than a little creepy as the poem continues, but the first part reads like a trip through the produce section! Did I miss your favorite “fruit” poem? Feel free to share in the comments!