Instruction, Reference, and the History of Food & Drink Collection

If it isn’t clear by now, there’s a lot I love about the History of Food and Drink Collection. In the last year, however, I’ve been especially excited about some emerging instruction opportunities. During the 2013-2014 academic year, I taught sessions that were both an introduction to Special Collections and an introduction to the History of Food and Drink Collection. One was a course on Food and Literature (we had two sections come to visit us, one in the fall and one in the spring). The other was a history seminar for undergraduates taught by Mark Barrow, Food in American History. It’s the latter I want to talk about today, because the work of students in that course led to a new acquisition for the collection.

Front cover of the collection of undergraduate student essays from HIST4004: Food in American History
Front cover of the collection of undergraduate student essays from HIST4004: Food in American History

Each student in the course wrote a paper on a topic of interest to them (relating to food in America, of course!). Over the spring semester, I was lucky enough to work with many of these students, whether it was helping them find an item for a blog post or helping with research for their paper. Each student kept a blog and all the blogs were consolidated into a single source. You can read that “mother blog” here:

I’ve opted not to scan and share the essays themselves for a variety of reasons. I didn’t want to do so without permission, and several of the students have graduated already, making them tricky to track down. Also, I don’t think there’s an easy way to pick any one or two above the others. As you’ll see from the table of contents below, these students covered a variety of food topics relating to business, history, technology, legislation, and health. Their creativity and ideas were eye-0pening for me. As always, it was a great experience, too, because it meant I discovered new resources to help answer new questions.

There will be two cataloged copies of this publication soon, one in Special Collections and one in the circulating collection. So, whether you come here and visit us, or check out the other copy, I hope you find something to suit your taste. I know I did. 🙂

Cora Bolton McBryde’s Cookbook

Some of our readers may know (and some of you may not) that Special Collections has a second blog. Launched in January 2014, it highlights materials from all of our collecting areas and features contributions from all our staff. Last week, our university archivist wrote a post about a handwritten cookbook we acquired last year. It was kept by Cora Bolton McBryde, the wife of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College president (from 1891-1907), John McLaren McBryde. It’s a very interesting piece of university history AND food history. So this week, our feature comes from our other blog. You can read about the cookbook, its preservation, and a little about the McBrydes here: Enjoy!

A Note on Acquisitions

Just before the holiday break here at Virginia Tech, I received a large  book donation from one person, an inquiry about another sizeable donation, and an email about a short list of four items. When I returned to my office early last week, there was a cart waiting for me with a box, a bag, and two more books. ALL of it was culinary related. I’m working my way through the large donation that was delivered in December (8 boxes of books!) and it’s reminded me to write post about acquisitions (though I promise to keep it short).

Here’s what the two carts outside my office currently look like (don’t even ask about the table in my office!), as I’m sorting and organizing:

IMG_1797 IMG_1795 IMG_1796

There two main ways we acquire materials for the History of Food and Drink Collection (and, indeed all of our collecting areas): purchase and donation. (There’s a bit of transferring that goes on with university materials, but that’s a topic for another blog.) Our department receives an acquisitions budget from the library each year to spend on new materials. We also have a number of endowments, most of which are restricted to purchasing certain types of publications and collections. For example, you may not know that we have an endowment to support the acquisition of children’s cookbook and nutrition literature, established by Ann Hertzler in 2001. With it, we’ve been able to add more than 30 titles to the several hundred books donated by Ann Hertzler herself.

Which brings me to my point for today–donations are what we rely on, when it comes to new acquisitions! A budget only goes so far. In the last two years, we’ve done a bit of refocusing and I’ve talked about that in various ways before on the blog. But the main idea is that we’re moving away from thinking about types of materials and toward considering things thematically. We’re interested in a number of themes for the History of Food and Drink Collection: early American cookery; local/community cookery from Virginia and southern Appalachia; social, domestic and economic history; gender roles and relationships; household management; food preservation/technology; history of cocktails and entertaining; children’s cookbooks and nutrition; and materials that help document how people did and do interact with food (i.e., advertising pamphlets, ephemera, handwritten recipe books, and compiled recipe collections).

If you have something you might like to donate to the History of Food and Drink Collection (or one of our other collecting areas), I encourage you to contact Special Collections. We’d love to know what you have and see if it’s right for our collections. We do our best to add relevant books and manuscripts. However, space is always at a premium, so we try not to add second copies of publications we already have on our shelves. Some items may not quite fit in with our collecting policies. But that’s okay! We can also help you to find an institution that may be the better home, if that’s what you need.

I’ve written more generally about acquisition for Special Collections on our other blog, “In Special Collections @ Virginia Tech.” So, if you’re curious, you might want to check here. Or, post your query in the comments and I’ll reply. It’s what I’m here for!

Modernist Cuisine, Part 2–Modernist Cuisine at Home!

Some of you culinary fanatics may already know about Modernist Cuisine, the amazing six-volume set of books from Nathan Myhrvold and the Cooking Lab that came out in 2011. And some of you may recall my (archivist/blogger Kira here!) enthusiastic post last year when we finally acquired the set. On Wednesday, as I was writing the post on finding materials in Special Collections, Modernist Cuisine at Home appeared on my desk. And I was like a kid in a proverbial candy store all over again!

Modernist Cuisine at Home is a two-volume set that’s a little more practical for the home cook. It contains lots of new content. From the website, “[t]he authors have collected in this 456-page volume all the essential information that any cook needs to stock a modern kitchen, to master Modernist techniques, and to make hundreds of stunning recipes.” (You can see more photos on the book’s website here.)

Yes, this is a cookbook. Yes, it is a modern cookbook that forces us to think about food in creative and , if you ask me, exciting new ways. But it is also a book that turns food and cooking into a home art. The time and effort that the Cooking Lab put into photographing and capturing kitchen processes will force any home cook to pause. Because, let’s face it, haven’t you wondered what your microwave, blender, pressure cooker, or siphon might look like if you sliced the back of it off and exposed its inner workings? (Or is that just me?)

Oh, and for those of you who are worried about keeping a book this nice in the kitchen, the creators have thought of that, too. Volume two of this set is a waterproof kitchen manual with complete instructions for all the recipes. So feel free to make a mess. I know I will.

If you’re interested and can manage to pry Modernist Cuisine at Home from my hands, I encourage you to come by and see it, as well as the 2011 set. There will certainly be something to surprise you…

Manuscript Cookbook, Just Where Are You From?

It’s been a while since we’ve highlighted a manuscript cookbook, so this week, it’s time for a brand new acquisition…

Sometimes, when it comes to manuscripts, the origins of an item remain a mystery. There is a name on the inside cover in this case, but a little research with the local resources on hand still left us unable to connect that name to a place.  While your usual archivist/blogger Kira is all for a good Scooby-Doo mystery, being an archivist often means knowing where to draw the line when it comes to research. There are plenty more collections waiting to be processed. And not knowing who created and/or compiled something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have research value.

This new addition our collection includes a diverse range of recipes, from cordials and syrups to cakes and baked goods to oysters. And, as if my usual interest in various preserved things isn’t bad enough, this week, I’m bringing you pickled cucumbers, oysters, and plums (at least they aren’t in gelatin…). The point to all this pickling repetition, though, is to show the common practices. Regardless of where this cookbook was compiled, it has recipes and ideas in common with manuscript receipt books we do know about.

Like many 19th and early 20th century handwritten receipt books, it does not have a neat order. (We did, for the record, just acquire a recipe book that does have an index!). Recipes for tallow candles are mixed in with apple pudding and cough syrup; a fruit syrup is next to “egg pone;” and the newspapers clippings are a blend of recipes, household hints, and remedies. Several pages have pasted in recipes on other paper, too. Very likely, it was a case of fitting the next recipe into the next available space…though there is a tendency among cookbook compilers to paste newspaper clippings in the back  pages.

Answers to questions about the cookbook’s organization are as much a mystery as its kitchen of origin, but this item does tell us that these recipes were significant to someone. This manuscript contributes to the larger discussion of late 19th and early 20th century food  preparation and preservation, the culture of recipe sharing (all those newspaper clippings came from someone else’s kitchen), and the overall picture of food history we are striving to create here at Special Collections. A little aire of uncertainty just makes it a little more exciting to research and ponder.

Plus, it has a recipe for blackberry syrup made with spices and brandy that I’d be willing to try, whether it was an effective cholera treatment or not…

A Smorgabord of Culinary Pamphlets

The core of our History of Food & Drink Collection is books, no doubt about it. But we’re working hard to add a variety of materials. In the last three years, we’ve acquired half a dozen handwritten recipe books from around the country, as well as personal compiled recipe collections, advertising and promotional materials, and papers of people working in food and nutrition. The increasing pile of pamphlets, whether advertisements, recipe booklets, “how-tos” for appliance, or a combination of all three, led to the creation of the Culinary Pamphlet Collection, Ms2011-002, in early 2011. Since then, we’ve added nearly 300 pamphlets to the collection. This week’s feature post is a sampling of the latest batch of materials, which just arrived last week!

We have 16 new acquisitions from a recent purchase, with topics including flavor extracts and condiments, canned juice and fish,  advice for feeding children and infants, and kitchenware. There’s a range of technicolor and black and white images which make some of the finished dishes a little less appealing, but it’s not all bad. It’s hard to go wrong with 9 variations of macaroons! (Although the fruit cake made with tomato juice might give you pause…)

The “Food and Fun” from Star-Kist Tuna was a particularly neat discovery. In addition to a variety of tuna recipes and household hints (not necessarily tuna related hints, either!), it contains suggested party games for adults and children–optical illusions, word puzzles, and number games. We also have a pamphlet for a new (to us) gelatine company: Gumpert’s Gelatine Dessert! And there’s the “A Mother’s Manual” from Ralston Purina Company, which includes growth charts for children, meal plans, and nutrition information on a range of products. Yes, before they started in the pet food business in the late 1950s, they made breakfast cereals.

The full finding aid for this collection, with a list of companies and pamphlets, is available online through Virginia Heritage. The newest materials haven’t been added just yet, but they’re on their way. And there should be lots more to come! This collection contains an amazing variety of little gems and it’s bound to surprise you.

Summer Dreamin’ (Of Marshmallow Sandwiches and Glorified Perfection Salad)

It may not be summer (or even spring!) yet, but we had this item on display for our Open House event here at Special Collections last night. Plus, we have more warm weather on the way here in Blacksburg. Terrifying cover color scheme aside (against the multi-tonal greens, that white bread sandwich looks a little too pasty), Salads, Sandwiches, and Summer Drinks is an interesting blend of recipes. Ranging from the economical to the lavish and the simple to the strange, this publication has it all.

We’ve encountered some strange sandwiches here and here before and this won’t be the last of it. Salads, Sandwiches, and Summer Drinks contains such chapter headings as “Distinguished Sandwich Service,” “Nutritious Sandwiches,” “Party and Occasional Sandwiches,” “Refreshing Sandwiches,” and “Toasted Sandwiches.” Plus, there is an entire category of “Sweet Sandwiches” with some recipes that certainly catch your attention: chopped, softened marshmallows with butter and honey; cream cheese on chocolate wafers; or hard-boiled egg and butter (mixed with powdered sugar, orange juice, and orange rind). If you’re looking for something healthier, the “Nutritious Sandwiches” section includes combinations like creamed butter, peanut butter and chopped stuffed olives; crushed baked beans mixed with Russian dressing; or cottage cheese and chopped prunes with mayonnaise. And while we may have missed the chance to make Lincoln Birthday sandwiches this year, there are plenty of suggestions for other holiday snacks (see images above).

As for the salads, they are not about to be upstaged by mere bread and filling. Dressing recipes range from the classic boiled to fruited mayonnaise to French with all kinds of additions. The salad chapters include “Garnishing the Salad,” “Fruit Salads” (with subsection on frozen salads), “Main Dish Salads,” “Molded Salads” (as if we could forget them!), “Party or Occasion Salads,” and “Vegetarian Salads.” In addition to prescribed recipes, the book also contains tables for both suggested fruit and vegetable combinations. Lobster salad with caviar and party salads aside, most of the recipes are for everyday sort of eating and of surprising variety. As for holidays, you still have time to whip up a little something special for St. Patrick’s Day: green peppers, stuffed with cream cheese (made green by adding some sort of herbs or olives), sliced onto a bed of lettuce, and served with mayonnaise (also colored green with either spinach juice or parsley).

It was difficult not to share this great little publication in its entirely, since it does have a wonderful variety of classic and not-so-classic dishes. This is one of many specialized pamphlets by Liberty Weekly, as a number of others are referenced within this one, although this is the only one we currently have at Special Collections. They were all intended to make life a little easier and a little fancier. So, on that note, we’ll leave this post with a few helpful hints:

  • “Dainty summer flowers…frozen in the [ice] cubes, are attractive.”
  • “Have greens crisp and well dried. Otherwise dressing slides off, resulting in considerable loss in piquancy.”
  • and most importantly, “Never serve sandwiches ungarnished except at a picnic.”

New Bites in the Culinary History Collection

We’ve picked up a few more followers this past weekend, so it seems like we need a bonus post this week (though what Wednesday’s feature is still a bit of a mystery). Special Collections launched this blog back in September and we’ve survived into 2012! With that in mind, it might be nice idea to give our readers an idea of the kinds of books we acquired recently. Between September and December 2011, we purchased more than 25 titles for the collection and received 12 publications as donations.

Highlights among these new acquisitions are:

  • One of a few foreign language items in the Culinary History Collection, Die Österreichische Hausfrau: Ein Handbuch für Frauen und Mädchen aller Stände; Praktische Anleitung zur Führung der Hauswirtschaft [The Austrian Housewife: A Handbook for Wives and Girls; A Practical Guide to Household Manangement] by Anna Bauer (1892);
  • Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du goût. A handbook of gastronomy, new and complete translation with fifty-two original etchings by A. Lalauze (1884);
  • A mid-19th century vegetarian cookbook, Vegetarian cookery by A Lady (1866?);
  • Additions to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection from Northwestern Consolidated Milling Co., William Underwood Company, and Malleable Iron Range Corporation;
  • Several publications relating to the health and care of children. Topics include whooping cough, feeding babies and children, and cookbooks designed from younger children;
  • And of course, a number of southern cookbooks!

We’re looking forward to 2012 and continuing to add new materials to the collection in all areas (and hopefully at least one NEW area)! We hope you’ll stick with us, read up on what’s new (and old) in the Culinary History, and as always, feel free to ask questions/comment!

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!