A Quick Link (#1): Victorian Cookbooks Were Stuffed with Costumed Roosters and Sphinx Cakes

Just a quick link to share, in an effort to get back to sharing news, recipes, or fun food stories on Mondays. It’s a short article, but includes some amazing, elaborate illustrations of cakes from mid-19th century British cookbooks and cooking encyclopediae: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-cookbooks-were-stuffed-with-costumed-roosters-and-sphinx-cakes. The images come from the New York Academy of Medicine collection and reveal just how decorative you can get with “tinted fat”…

Appalachian Oral Histories at JMU

I’m thinking about a post for this week (welcome to 2017!), but in the meantime, something awesome happened this morning. Through the power of social media and happenstance, I discovered a resource I didn’t know about (but really should have). It relates in part to food, drink, agriculture, cocktails, medicine and other aspects of Appalachia, so I though I’d give a shout out to the great work of the folks at JMU! What is this amazing collection? The Shenandoah National Park Oral History Collection! There’s a page for the collection, that includes short summaries of interviewees/topics, along with transcripts and audio files. And for those of you who love a finding aid, there’s a larger description of the collection, too. Whether you’re interested in food preservation, education, or folk life, you might find something about Appalachia you didn’t know before!

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Virginia Tech Special Collections! We don’t have a new feature for you this week, but we did pull an older post out of the archives(originally posted in . You  know, in case you have those last minute fruitcake needs…


In 1980, Albondocani Press produced a Christmas card with Eudora Welty’s White Fruitcake recipe. The cover art, by Robert Dunn, was an hand drawn image that actually looks quite appealing!

WhiteFruitcake

This fruitcake used bourbon, which would be a nice compliment to the pecan, crystallized cherries and pineapple, and lemon peel. You can find the recipe online in a number of places, including the Cookbook of the Day blog. Welty’s recipe may not have been created by her, but she did give it quite the boost. This recipe may be a little late for this year, but you can always start fruitcake planning for next year…

Food in the News: Rubenstein Test Kitchen Blog(#6)

A quick shout out to another great blog: “The Devil’s Tale” (the blog of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University). They just put up a post today on one of my favorite topics: food & advertising. Check out “From Hawaiian Pie to Mustard Meringue: The Role of Test Kitchens in Modern Advertising,” which talks about a collection at the Harman Center. This is a great post, a fun topic, and I’ve had the good luck to meet the people behind this particular post, too!

The blog also has a subset for the Rubenstein Test Kitchen, which focuses on their food materials! And makes me jealous because I wish I had the time to do something similar here. If you don’t already, you should be sure to follow them!

Gelatin, Seeds, and Advertising History

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!

jello_1921001

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:

jello_1921002

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…