Closure Announcement: May 18, 2017

Please note: Special Collections will be closed to the public on Thursday, May 18, 2017, while we have some internal staff meetings. We will reopen as usual at 8am on Friday, May 19, 2017.

However, if you are attending the Old Guard Reunion on campus this week and will be at Thursday’s Peacock-Harper Culinary History Friends-sponsored luncheon, we will be there with a display of materials from Special Collections. We encourage you to drop by and say hello!

Community Cooking in (and Beyond) the Bluegrass State

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass: A New and Practical Cook Book Containing Nearly a Thousand Recipes was originally published in 1875. The copy is one of the 10th “new and enlarged” edition, first issued in 1879, but our actual copy is from 1881. Compiled and edited by the Ladies of the Presbyterian Church in Paris, Kentucky, these 206 pages are packed with recipes from women (and a few men) from mostly Kentucky, but also Virginia, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Our edition includes the original 1875 preface, which we can’t NOT quote a bit of for you:

The “Blue Grass” region of Kentucky, as is well know, is considered the garden spot of the State. It is celebrated for the fertility of its soil, the beauty of its pastures, its flocks and blooded stock, and last, but not least, for the hospitality of its people and their table luxuries.

It is useless to enlarge upon the last feature, especially to those who have attended Bourbon Fairs [that’s the county, not the whiskey], and made visits in this and the adjoining counties. We only refer to it, by way of introducing our book to the appreciation of the public.

The 1879 also had a preface of its own, which states, in part:

…Nine thousand copies have been sold, and its praises have been sung by many of the best housekeepers of the land.

In sending forth this new edition, we have corrected some errors, supplied defects, and added many valuable recipes, which will be found at the close of each section and in the Miscellaneous department.

The entire profits of this work have been, and will continue to be, devoted to religious charity.

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass was, at its core, a community cookbook, designed to raise funds for a cause. But the fact that it went on into at least 10 editions and over 9,000 copies sold says a lot for this little volume. (There was at least one more edition in 1905 AND it has been reprinted  at least once in the last 10 years.) It clearly appealed to a wide audience (not just Kentuckians!) in its originality. (The preface also states that “Many of our recipes are entirely original with our own famed cooks; others have been gathered from the most reliable sources; not one, so far as we know, has been copied from books.”) So, what are these amazing recipes?

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has elements we see in many other cookbooks of the time: sections for home remedies, home cleaning/upkeep, and cooking for invalids, in addition to all the other recipes. Of course, it also reflects a different era of cooking. The majority of the recipes have a list of ingredients in non-standard amounts (standardized measurements, courtesy of Fannie Farmer, were still several years in the future in 1881) and, in some cases, additional directions, but there was still an assumption that a reader would know what to do with those ingredients. Or, they would at least understand the basics of producing a pudding, a white sauce, or a pastry dough as a component. Compared to many modern cookbooks, there was a different set of expectations on home cooks in the late 19th century! Some of the basics may be covered in the book (Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has recipes for pie crust that you could use throughout, for example), but there’s no guarantee.

Community cookbooks were aptly named, especially in their early days–they weren’t just something produced by a community group (often of women). They were produced by a community of cooks, for a community of new and experienced cooks, and to help build community between those who had the knowledge and those who might have needed some culinary and domestic education. That’s a whole other topic we don’t have space for here today, but it is food for thought (at least it has been for me lately).

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass is available online, as it was scanned by Special Collections staff some years ago. So, if our amuse-bouche (I love that word!) of a blog post isn’t enough for you, you can delve further into the book and find recipes for deviled turkey, Sally Lunn, or fish pie…

Lettuce Talk Salads

May is National Salad Month. I know, not everyone loves their veggies, but historically speaking, “salad” can mean a lot of things. From dressed lettuce to frozen cheese and fruit, there are a ton (probably literal and figurative) of recipes in between, some more traditional than others. I’m currently working my way through a generous donation of 27 boxes of culinary materials–the first cart load of items is parked outside my office to prepare for cataloging and there are a range of titles relating to salads. This #foodfriday, here are a few ideas for the classic and the experimental salad fan.

First up, some fruit salads, courtesy of the Southern Living Cookbook Salads including Appetizers (1968). I was super-excited to catch the pages of recipes below because they include one from Rural Retreat, Virginia! Though I’m still working out the flavor profile of that fruit, greens, and cheese combo…

Next up, some more substantial meat-filled salads from The Salads Cookbook (1979), also from Southern Living. Since the front cover didn’t have a title (but does have a lovely caesar!), I included the title page below. Also, some rather interesting chicken options. Chicken and bananas? Pineapple & chicken in tomatoes? Well, at least I could totally get on board with all the avocado options!

Although perhaps I should have put this one first (because of the back cover image), the idea of picnic salads fit in better here, after the substantial/heartier options. So, this is the Better Homes and Gardens All-Time Favorite Salad Recipes (1978). The front cover features a “bowl” salad, a salad with its own edible bowl, and something more, well, freestanding. (Yes, there’s gelatin ahead.) The second page include some great picnic options, as well as advice on transporting salads for your outings. The back cover is also a handy guide to lettuces!

And, since we all know I can’t leave gelatin alone, here’s a page from The Knox Gelatine Cookbook (1977). It seems they took a classic element, Green Goddess Dressing, and made it into something gelatinous. Also, I’m not at all surprised to see a gelatin twist on a classic garden salad. I’m sure it’s been done before, complete with lettuce, though this option seems to skip that main ingredient…

None of these books are cataloged yet, but once they are, you can visit us in Special Collections to give them a look. (Actually, if you’re really interested and you come by fast enough, you might still catch them before we send them off for cataloging!) In the meantime, we have PLENTY of other salad books in the collection. Books with leaves (pun intended, of course) full of recipes, just waiting to be discovered.

The lesson for today is that salads come in many forms, some more traditional, others more…inventive. It’s also a great reminder of how the idea of a salad has changed and, in this particular case, gives us a sense of the trends in the late 1960s 1970s. And maybe it even offers us a little encouragement. Even if chicken and bananas don’t seem like an obvious pairing, someone liked it enough to publish it. So next time you’re wondering if you should put two ingredients together in your salad bowl, take a chance. We’ve got your back.

#FoodFriday Links (#1)

I’m taking this week off from a feature blog post while I try to work on processing some culinary and cocktail-related collections and/or additions that I’ve been hoarding in my office. However, it is #FoodFriday, so I wanted to share something–like these links!

  • Back in January, we talked about The Gentleman’s Companion and a bit about the “Papa Doble” (aka the “Hemingway Daiquiri”). You can read that post here. Just this week, NPR featured an article about the man behind the Papa Doble, bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert. If you’re interested in learning about the “Cocktail King of Cuba,” I recommend the article, which you can read here.
  • In March, we acquired a collection of more than 2,000 pieces of culinary ephemera, mostly trade cards and postcards, but some other items and formats, too. It was all collected by one person, Dr. Alice Ross, and it’s a great collection to get lost in! I just put up a finding aid this morning.  I hope to revisit it and add more detail in the future, but for now, you can read about the collection in the finding aid.

Army Cooking 101: The 1917 Edition

Earlier this month, it was the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I. While we don’t have a huge selection of culinary history materials relating to World War I (yet), over the last year or so, I have been on the lookout for items representing World War I and II culinary culture. Historically, though, we have previously acquired some items and I thought this week we might look at one of them.

Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks was published in July 1917. Given the title, it wasn’t too hard to trace the origins of the content. After all, earlier in 1917, the Government Printing Office produced the Manual for Army Cooks, 1916 (Document No. 564). The Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks is Document No. 564a. (Phew, sometimes you need an easy mystery to solve!) We don’t currently have a copy of the larger manual, which is 270 pages, but our extracted version is 116 pages of useful content. If you’re an army cook or looking to feed 100 men, that is…

Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks is a little bit different from the other World War materials we have in the culinary history collecting area. Most of those items and collections focus on what was or could be done at home to help the war effort: rationing/cooking under rationing conditions, Victory gardening, cookery that made use every scrap of food, or home activities that supported the war. The manual does touch on some of these ideas–the recipes include meat scrap and leftovers–but the major focus in on organization through structure, menus, and strict tracking of foods. It also talks about setting up kitchens in different kinds of locations, even on a railroad car! Of course, the reality of war-time experience likely differed greatly from the practical, planned manual, but a publication like this can give us some insight in the expectation of military efficiency in feeding a literal army.


On another World War I note, through the middle of May, Newman Library is hosting an exhibit on several VPI students who served in World War I. This display is an excerpt from a larger, on-going, multi-semester project that included the use of Special Collections materials. You can find out more about the exhibit, the project, and these students through the project’s website: http://vpiworldwarone.lib.vt.edu/.

The Science and Celebration of Cheese

So, this past Wednesday was National Grilled Cheese Day. As a cheese fanatic myself, I was happy to celebrate. But the thing about cheese, even in the specific form of melting it between two pieces of bread, is that cannot be contained by a single day. In fact, April is National Grilled Cheese Month, too! Which means it would hardly be appropriate to let that slide without some celebration. So, this week, I’m pairing two items (like a good cheese and cracker, a good cheese and wine, or a good cheese and another good cheese) from the same time that give us some insight into this curdled, crumbly, creamy, sliced, shredded, or sometimes smelly staple.

First up, there’s Cheese and Ways to Serve It (1931):

We’ve actually featured other pages from this little booklet on the blog before–it was part of my first ever post on frosted sandwiches, that oddity that we can’t quite escape, it seems. But this post includes a few more versatile options for the wide range of Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation of Chicago. Nowadays, we know it as Kraft, Inc. or the Kraft Foods Group, but the core of the company has a long history of names. It started out as Kraft Cheese Company, but would subsequently be known as Kraft-Phenix Cheese Company, Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation, National Dairy Products Corporation, Kraft Cheese Company, the Kraft Foods Company, National Dairy Products Corporation/Kraft Foods Division, Kraftco Corporation/Kraft Foods Division, Kraft, inc., and finally Kraft Foods Group. (Thankfully, I put that history of name changes together a couple of years ago!)

I love this little pamphlet, which is all on small cards cooks could leave intact or tear out and add to a recipe box. It displays the versatility of cheese from appetizers to desserts to midnight snacks. As you can see, even in the 1930s, the company was producing a multitude of flavors and styles, making it a great food for kitchen exploration. 1931 was right about the time Velveeta came out and the booklet features a page long description that reads, in part: “This is Velveeta–Kraft-Phenix’ wonderful new cheese food. Velveeta is digestible as milk itself–and as wholesome. To fine Cheddar cheese are added valuable milk products–milk-sugar, calcium and phosphorus. Velveeta is far richer in these elements than is butter, cheese, or milk itself.” Also, while there were previous cheeses made in the United States that were called “American,” it was Kraft who was mainly responsible for popularizing the processed American Cheese we think of today in the 1910s, though it was being developed in the late 19th century.

Around the same time, Chr[istian] Hansen’s Laboratory, in operation since 1874, was working on its own cheese-related chemistry. (The company was also responsible for junket/rennet tablets, as well as food colorings and other cultures/starters.)

The Story of Cheese was published by the company in 1933. It includes several short essays on cheese productions at home and in the factory, using (of course!) their products: “The Manufacture of American Cheese on the Farm,” “Another Method for Making Cheese on the Farm and in the Home,” and “Cheesemaking on a Factory Basis.” Processed or factory made cheese wasn’t new in the 1930s, but at the same time, cheesemaking was something that was just as commonly done at home.  As an archivist, one of the things I love about this pamphlet is its list of books and bulletins (several of which are already in our collection) on cheese and cheesemaking, which seem to me to suggest a sort of respect for the process. Chr. Hansen’s Laboratory wasn’t trying to take cheesemaking away from farms and homes. Rather, it was getting a jump on the “better living through chemistry” motto that was still 30+ years in the future by developing things to continue to make this a process that could still be done in the home.

Like many things, local cheesemaking is cyclical. (Cheese itself, I believe is NEVER like to go out of fashion.) Making cheese became more and more (though never exclusively) mass-produced as the 20th century progressed, but we are once again seeing the pendulum swing. Farmers’ markets everywhere sell small batches of homemade cheeses and many people are taking up the challenge again in their own kitchens for a taste of that creamy, gooey, buttery-toasted grilled cheese experience at home. I celebrated on Wednesday with sharp cheddar and sauteed mushrooms on slices of Tuscan-style boule, but after writing this post, I’m thinking tonight might just call for another commemoration of one of my favorite foods. I believe I hear some provolone and Dijon mustard calling my name…

“How Good Ale is Brewed” (and why we’re celebrating it!)

April 7th is one of my favorite cocktail-related anniversaries: This year, it’s the 84th anniversary of the passage of the Cullen-Harrison Act. It’s more correct to say it’s a beer-related anniversary and, even more officially, National Beer Day! You can read my two previous posts about the act here and here. I’ll keep piggy-backing on previous posts, but the one sentence version is that the Cullen-Harrison Act was a 1933 piece of Congressional legislation that provided for the sale of beer (or wine!) with an alcohol content of 3.2%. In honor of the occasion, I found a 1902, pre-Prohibition booklet called “How Good Ale is Brewed.”

I like the noble introduction this item, that can be found on page 2 (transcribed below): 

The objects of this pamphlet are: First, by means of actual photographs, to illustrate the progress and success of one of the most important industries of New England–a progress which is none the less interesting because its moral is, “Whatever you do, do it well”: and, second, to give a general description of the methods which have been (and are being) employed by one of the famous breweries of the world to obtain perfection both in brewing and in bottling.

This pamphlet was a new find on the shelves for me, and it’s a great, photograph-laden tour of the brewery and the brewing process. Most of the pages include several images, like these examples!

My favorite page was the last one that includes the label art from the brewery and a nice description of the beers the company produced at the time.  (Please note the “Nourishing Stout” which was “highly recommended by the medical faculty in all cases of weakness or during convalescence.” ) Much like the bitters and patent medicines, beer also had a place in medical history!

If you’ve never heard of the Frank Jones Brewery before, don’t feel bad. While it had a long run in one form or another (1854-1947), the Frank Jones Brewery, like many others in the alcohol business, was crushed (like an empty beer can?) by Prohibition. It closed its doors when New Hampshire as a state banned booze in 1917 (many counties already had restrictions in place). While a brewery reopened on the site after Prohibition ended, it wasn’t called the same thing. From 1933 to 1937, it was the Eldridge Brewing Company of Portsmouth, named for a former rival of Jones’. After that, the brewery reverted to the Frank Jones Brewery (whose recipe the owners had been using all along) and the name of standard ale was renamed “Frank Jones Ale.” Pre-Prohibition, the brewery was widely available and a strong competitor with brews from other large New England and northeast cities. Later, though, it lost some of its market. There is an interesting history of the brewery online that explains all this in more detail for the curious.  Frank Jones himself, in addition to his reputation as a brewer, was also known as a politician. He was a Portsmouth mayor, a New Hampshire Congressman, and failed gubernatorial candidate in the last third of the 19th century. He was born (b. 1832) and raised in New Hampshire and actually died the year this booklet was published (1902).

On National Beer Day, a pamphlet like this reminds us to give a little tip of the hat (or clink of the glass) to Mssrs. Cullen and Harrison and the demise of the Volstead Act, without which we wouldn’t be collecting these cocktail and beer history materials today!