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!

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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!

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.

New Pamphlet Round-Up #6!

It’s time again for another pamphlet round-up! (Side note: As with last time around, these are all brand new items. They haven’t been added to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection yet, but they will be soon! I’m actually getting some processing done this summer!) Presented in no particular order:

“Winter Menu Magic” comes from the National Biscuit Company (which you might know as Nabisco these days), and was published in 1933. It largely focuses on simple, thrifty, one-dish meals, including things like a “Vegetarian Loaf” made with graham crackers, a “Beefsteak and Oyster Pie,” and for those more special Sunday Dinners, a “Lobster Bisque.”
“The Story of Sugar Cane” is a history of, you guessed it, sugar cane, from the American Sugar Refining Company. The American Sugar Refining Company owned several brands, including Sunny Cane, Franklin, and Domino.
“Infant Feeding and Hygiene” is a 1913 pamphlet from the Nestle’s Food Company. It’s a multi-part booklet that covers care and feeding of the well and sick child, as well as a whole section on Nestle’s food itself. It contains testimonials and pictures of happy babies who have, presumably, been fed the namesake product.
This item necessitated scanning two pages. The cover title continues on the title page: “Bread and–Swift’s Premium Oleomargarine.” I love the “Not touched by hand” tagline, which, although the pamphlet isn’t dated, points to a period where machine production and sanitary environments were on the minds of consumers AND corporations.

“Good Things to Eat” comes from D&C Quality Food Products and dates from 1928. The company was based in Brooklyn and made a number of convenience items, including “My-T-Fine pudding,” flour, and pie mix.
“Creative Cooking with Cottage Cheese” is from the American Dairy Association and probably dates to the 1960s. “Creative” is right: there are dips, breads, meatless and meat main dishes, veggie,s, salads, a couple of sandwiches, and a heap of desserts.
Last up is “Meat in the Meal for Health Defense,” a 1942 pamphlet from the National Livestock and Meat Board. It includes recipes and advice for feeding a family in compliance with nutrition programs and defense efforts.

This is only about 1/5 of the pamphlet backlog in my office at present, but there are definitely some good discoveries, no matter what your interest. As always, you’re welcome to come view items–even the unprocessed ones–and visit us in Special Collections. We’ll be here all summer!

Ephemeral Medicines (Patent and Practical)

Earlier this week, I got to spend a little quality time with the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028). There was a folder full of items waiting to be added. Items for this collection pile up a bit slower than for the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, so I don’t need to go back to it quite as frequently. But, despite some beliefs, many times, manuscript collections aren’t “done” when a finding aid is posted. They can become living entities that accrue new materials, require additional attention, or end up in need of corrections. Given the folder for items I had, in this case, it made sense to give the finding aid a little depth. If you’ve looked at it before, it was listed in series, but there wasn’t much detail in the contents list. This week, I was able to itemize some series and even given some historical background on a few of the more substantial and unique items. While I love all the items in the collection, I have talked about a couple of my absolute favorites before (Garfield Tea and the J. F. Lawrence Printing Company prospectus), this particular week, I was distracted by folder 14, which contains ephemera and items relating to “Medicines (Patent and Practical).”

First, a Latin lesson. I don’t know how good yours might be (mine’s there, but not nearly as strong as I would wish). “Non multum sed multa” is your classic “not quantity, but quality.”

The pages that follow are the history of and advertisement for “Kola-Cardinette,” a medicine made up of kola-acuminata (or, more modernly cola-acuminata aka the plant that produces kola nuts), cod liver oil, and cereal phosphates. The main effect of kola or kola nuts is caffeine. While I couldn’t discover exactly what cereal phosphates are or were, it does seem to have often been combined with kola to boost its effectiveness. The National Museum of American History, for example, has a bottle from a similar product, and you can find a number of digitized resources talking about other products. This particular Kola-Cardinette was the work of The Palisades Manufacturing Company in Yonkers, NY, and the pamphlet comes from about 1895!

ms2013_028_b1f14_eusoma

Another compound from about the same time, was this echinacia compound called “Eusoma.” The inside is a reprinted lecture given by Dr. C. S. Chamberlin in 1904, extolling the virtues of the product through a series of case studies, all of which used echinacea lotion and resulted in the healing of all sorts of skin issues and small cuts. Not a cure-all, but a cure-some? Other products are a little more targeted:

ms2013_028_b1f14_hollis

Thomas Hollis’ Bitters are specifically aimed at curing issues with certain parts of the body. They seem to have come in a powder form to be mixed with liquids, which isn’t the kind of bitters we might think of today (or even the kind of patent medicines!), but where else can you make a beer that will cure what ails you!

Last up is an ad on cardboard that was likely attached to packaging for cases of the products:

ms2013_028_b1f14_morse

Many patent medicines also came in pill form. While this item doesn’t tell us a whole lot, we have another item in Special Collections related to Dr. Morse: an almanac from 1908, full of advertisements, testimonials, and information about the year itself. The pills were touted as a “great blood purifier,” but in the context of the time, that meant a lot. Contaminants in the blood were believed to be the root of all illness, so something that could purify could, in theory, cure everything. Of course, we know that cure-alls were anything other than that, but plenty of people were on board with the theory.

Dr. Morse’s pills are among the more documented of 19th and 20th century patent medicines, thanks to a lot of research done on the family behind it, the Comstocks. The article is can tell the story better than I can, but it’s worth pointing out that some form of of these “Indian Root Pills” was available from the 1830s until the 1960s!

While we don’t recommend you go looking for a patent medicine to cure your ills today, if you’d like to learn more about them, we’re certainly happy to help. We have sponsored almanacs, pamphlets, and advertisements galore to give you insight into this lucrative and historically fascinating business.