Serial Domestication: Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book

Note: I scheduled this post to go out on September 1, but discovered this morning that never happened! So, here is it is (and apologies for the gap in posts)!


Among the history of food and drink materials, you’ll find quite a bit to say on the intertwined topics of cookery, household management, and domestic economy (later what we would call “home economics”). On the surface, that’s what Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book sounds like. It was a small serial publication that began in 1860 and ran until at least 1878 or so. Here in Special Collections, we have three different years: 1868, 1875, and 1877. This week, we’re looking at the volume from 1868.

It does, in fact, contain a lot of recipes for food and a short miscellany of household recipes and cleaners. And I love that the cover also states, “This book will be issued annually, with entirely new Receipts. By preserving them, and sewing them together, you will have in a few years the best collection of Receipts in the country.” It’s like an art project to build your own cookbook. It’s true if you compare editions, there are different receipts in them. But there’s something else going on in Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book, too.

ADVERTISING! It shouldn’t be surprising–we’ve seen that again and again in the collection–but it did sneak up on me in this case. As it turns out, Mrs. Winslow was a name used to sell a patent medicine (“Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”), and was tangentially attached to two other products, produced by the same companies. There are small testimonials tucked in between recipes, as well as some full page ads for the three featured products.

It’s worth noting that Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available starting in 1845, some 15 years before the receipt book first appeared in publication, and it was sold well into the 20th century. There’s a short history of it online (and yes, there was an actual Mrs. Winslow!). 1868 was still decades from the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 that would require labeling on medicines, so consumers weren’t likely to know that the main ingredients in the bottle were alcohol and some form of opioid (usually morphine). It certainly would help calm a child’s teething–and knock them out in the process.

The serial comes out of Boston, but the recipes included are fairly generic. They feature ingredients that would have been available east of the Mississippi, at least, and you’ll find corn breads, pies, pickled items galore, “a Ham better than a Westphalia,” and some uses for some less attractive cuts of meat. The recipe for “Pine-Apple Marmalade” stuck out, since pineapples weren’t really common yet and pineapple recipes in cookbooks remained a rarity through the end of the 19th century. They were hard to acquire and therefore, expensive. (And yes, I’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole of pineapple history I need to explore further!) Pineapples aside, it’s a collection of approachable and fairly basic recipes, which is good, since, like most cookbooks of the the time, they don’t include much in the way of directions.

It may seem we’ve gone a bit far a-field in this post (from patent medicines to pineapples), but it serves as a good reminder that cookery-related resources are rarely as straight-forward as we may expect or want them to be. Rather, they have a great deal to tell us about ingredients, techniques, and times–and they are well-worth a look.

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Alcohol by Mail, Early 20th Century Style

Like a good blogger, I have a constant list of ideas in a file somewhere: culinary books, ephemera, or collections to write about some day. Today’s feature has been on my list, probably since the day we got it (or very nearly). I forgot about it for a while, then put it on the list some months ago. It seems as good a day as any to look at an item about mail order booze…

The image above is a c.1910s mail order price list from Lowenbach Bros. At the time we acquired the item, tempted as I was to lose hours on a single sheet of paper, I resisted. Which is to say, I didn’t go down the genealogy road and attempt to identify or locate one or more actual Lowenbach brothers who may have been connected to the business. So, you can imagine how excited I was to do a little digging this morning for the first time in 4+ years and discover someone else was very interested in this family and had written about it on a blog devoted to the pre-Prohibition whiskey industry. So, if you want to learn about the Lowenbach family, which included three generations, check out the post on “Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men.” It’s worth noting that the referenced blog post points the origins of the business being even closer to Blacksburg than Alexandria–it was in Harrisonburg!

(Hmm, what? Where were we? I may have been a bit distracted by the discovery of that blog…)

Anyway, our collection consists of this single mail order flyer. If you’re a cocktail historian or fan, many or all of the brands listed may seem unfamiliar. While there are certain brands and distillery locations that have been around for the long haul (a version of Old Crow, for example, has been around since the 1830s, though it’s had many evolutions). There were also plenty of more short-lived ones, too. And, as we know, Prohibition took a lot of business out of the running–including the Lowenbach Bros. I suspect this price list dates to the early 1910s, as the company was shut down by the ban and didn’t reopen afterward (at least not under the same or a similar name). I also love that the flyer includes bottled cocktails in three kinds from three different companies. Bottled cocktails have been around since the early days and while some version of them has always been on the shelves, there was a distinct decline in the latter half of the 20th century. Interest in them is on the rise again, as well as in barrel-aged cocktails. I feel like the Lowenbachs would have been behind that trend, too. After all barrels have always been integral to distilling and transporting alcohol.

I digitized the item for the post and since the whole collection is this one item, I was able to add to our digital collection site. You can look at it in on the web here: https://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/items/show/6946. You can also read the finding aid online for the collection, too (though it may be time to re-visit it and add a bit more).

Items like this may seem odd or out of place, but they can still give us some great insight into cocktail culture and alcohol history. We’re here all summer, if you need some cocktail (or culinary) inspiration or just want to dig through some fun ephemera. You never know what you might find!

Women’s History Month, Part 21: Mrs. D. A. Lincoln (1884-1921)

Earlier this month, I had one book from our profiled woman this week on display. It was part of Women’s History Month exhibit and was placed, strategically, with the works of three other women: Fannie Merritt Farmer, Maria Parloa, and Janet McKenzie Hill. Like those three, Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln (aka Mrs. D. A. Lincoln) was connected to the Boston Cooking School, which is where we’ll start this week.

Founded by the Women’s Education Association of Boston in 1879, the Boston Cooking School (which I will happily abbreviate as BCS to save my fingers a bit of typing) was developed to “offer instruction in cooking to those who wished to earn their livelihood as cooks, or who would make practical use of such information in their families.” Inspired by similar schools overseas, in America, the Boston Cooking School, and others like it, signified a shift in domestic culture. Previously, both women cooking for their families and those making a profession from cooking, learned their skills at home and/or from their own community of women. The BCS was among the first formal education options for women of any age to improve their skills. During its tenure, a variety of culinary educators, authors, and lecturers worked there. In 1902, the BCS was incorporated in Boston’s Simmons College.

As to Mary…She was born in Massachusetts in 1844. Shortly after she graduated from the Wheaton Female Seminary, she married David A. Lincoln in 1865. About a decade into their marriage, with David’s health failing, Mary began cooking in the homes of others. In 1879, she was invited to teach at the new BCS, but she declined, as she had no teaching experience. After taking a few courses at the school, however, that soon changed. She started teaching at the BCS in 1879 and was the first principal, a position she held until 1885, during which time she began programs like free courses for immigrant girls in Boston’s North End to special instruction in “sick-room cookery” for nurses from area hospitals. During this time, she wrote the Boston School Kitchen Text-Book: Lessons in Cooking for the Use of Classes in Public and Industrial Schools, which would go through numerous editions. It represents a small portion of Lincoln’s work in establishing a textbook for cooking school education. Over the course of her career, which continued another 36 years after she left the BCS, she would author cookbooks and columns, continue to help establish the field of domestic science, provide endorsements, and teach at public and industrial schools. She died in 1921.

Mrs. Lincoln was, like many of the other women we’ve profiled, a household name. Her recipes were taken from her own sources and incorporated into generations of other published cookbooks, pamphlets, and community cookbooks, and shared among communities of women. By tying her name to products, like Janet McKenzie Hill, Marion Harris Neil, and others, she gained a certain level notoriety and fame in the culinary world. She authored or co-authored more than 30 individual titles, 10 of which we have in Special Collections (plus other editions of three of those). We have included those items in bold, as well as a sampling of some of her other works. On an interesting side note, from her first publication in 1884 until the time of David’s death in 1894, she published as Mrs. D. A. Lincoln. After his death, she published as Mary J. Lincoln.

  • The “Quick Meal” Cook Book, 1892 (Ringen Stove Company)
  • Cornstarch Cookery: A Collection of Recipes for Dainty Dishes in which Kingsford Oswego Corn Starch is a Principal Ingredient, 1893
  • Boston School Kitchen Text-Book: Lessons in Cooking for the Use of Classes in Public and Industrial Schools, c.1887. Also 1909 edition. 1901 edition available online through Special Collections.
  • Twenty Lessons in Cookery: Compiled from the Boston School Kitchen Text-Book, 1888
  • Frosty Fancies, c.1898. Available online through Special Collections.
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking, 1898. Also 1901 edition. 
  • A Cookbook for a Month at a Time, 1899
  • Frozen Dainties: Fifty Choice Receipts for Ice-Creams, Frozen Puddings, Frozen Fruits, Frozen Beverages, Sherbets, and Water Ices, 1899. Available online through Special Collections.
  • Dainty Recipes for the Use of Boston Crystal Gelatine, late 1800s
  • The Peerless Cook-Book: Valuable Receipts for Cooking, Compact and Practical, 1901
  • The Home Science Cook Book, with Anna Barrows, 1902. Available online through Special Collections
  • What to Have for Luncheon, 1904
  • Carving and Serving, 1910
  • Home Helps, a Pure Food Cook Book: A Useful Collection of Up-to-Date, Practical Recipes by Five of the Leading Culinary Experts in the United States: Mrs. Mary J. Lincoln, Lida Ames Willis, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer, Mrs. Helen Armstrong [and] Marion Harland, c.1910
  • Sixteen Dainty Desserts, with Mrs. C. M. Dearborn and Miss Anna Barrows, before 1930?

In addition to our digitized editions of her works, the Internet Archive has a large selection, many in various editions, available online. Mary was an early adopter of standardized measurements, as well as a proponent of teaching food chemistry and domestic science, and one of the first to push for a structure and organizational model for cookbooks that would be easy to use and easy to follow. If you spend a little time with early 20th century culinary history, you’re bound to come across her original works and her influences.

Chickens, Cattle, and Cultivation

A while back, I hinted to the fact that we here at Special Collections were working on another collection of ephemera, constructed from  various purchases made and donations received since last year. I didn’t want to actually create a finding aid for the collection until I had at least a few items to go on, so I kept stock-piling pieces in my office. Last week, though, the Agricultural Ephemera Collection (Ms2015-053) became a reality! You can read the guide for the collection online. This collection came about for a couple of reasons. First, we were acquiring small pieces relating to aspects of farming, agriculture, livestock that weren’t necessarily connected to each other directly. Second, we are making a conscious effort to gather materials relating to food technology and production, which we’re thinking about as the agricultural, commercial, and scientific lives of foods and how these processes have evolved over time, and the system in which we as humans interact with those processes.

For now, this collection is organized around four main subject areas: agriculture, farming, livestock, and poultry & fowl. As we add new materials, these major topics may expand, or we may add new sub-topics to the existing ones. Below are examples from each, just to give you an idea of what we’re starting to collect for researchers and scholars!

First up, there’s color advertisement for Springfield Buckeye rakes. This is a small folded pamphlet (which is shown unfolded here) with both pictures and a short description of the products.

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Springfield Buckeye Rake advertisement (front)
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Springfield Buckeye Rake advertisement (back)

Next, we have one page (of two) from a blank order sheet. Created by and representing the Pomona Hill Nurseries in Greensboro, NC, this was a way for farmers to order plants, trees, and other items.

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Blank order form for Pomona Hill Nurseries, Greensboro, NC

The Mason Produce Co.’s name may be a bit misleading, or at least limited–they sold a whole lot more than grocery goods (which are only a small part of what’s on this Thanksgiving flyer). They even sold bear, terrapin, and animal furs!

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Mason Produce Co. advertisement and price list for poultry and poultry products, game, and more (1911)!

Last up is a piece with a local collection: a small cardboard advertisement for Dickinson Dairy Feed. The product itself came from elsewhere, but this particular advertising card promotes a place in Marion that sold it.

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Dickinson Dairy Feed advertisement from Marion, Virginia

Right now, the collection is small, but like some of our other ephemera-full collections, I expect it will grow quickly! At any rate, you’re always welcome to visit and see what we have relating to agriculture, culinary history, and food culture!

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!

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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:

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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…

Preserving the Ephemeral (The Tasty, Odd, Ephemeral)

I seem to have inadvertently turned April into “Food Ephemera Month” on the blog, so why mess with a good thing? We have an entire box of culinary ephemera, another of cocktail ephemera, and we’re starting a collection of agricultural ephemera. You can’t say we don’t have folders to choose from! So, this week, it’s a mini round-up of some small, unique, even quirky pieces of advertising history that have survived well beyond their years and purpose. These are all newer pieces, on their way to being added into the Culinary Ephemera Collection (Ms2013-028)

We’ll start with dessert, because who doesn’t want dessert first!

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This is a 1946 bag from a drumstick ice cream cone (which is still a classic today). (It’s clean, I promise–we’re not inviting bugs into the archives!) The packaging may have changed over time, but the contents are still the same: a cone of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and peanuts. Mmmm!

Next up, a little something Virginia-based!

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…And no, I’m not really sure what “bacon squares” are, but I’m open to the possibilities.

Baby food advertisements are common in the late 19th and early 20th century. They often featured happy-looking babies (shocking!) and testimonials. The front of this 1891 trade card from Mellin’s Food includes a color image. The back is a bit simple, but it does give us a little hint.

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This other baby food ad comes from Wells Richardson & Co. It does have a back side, but before we acquired it, it appears to have been mounted on cardboard or some other heavy paper. When it was removed, most of the paper to which is was glued came with it, so although there’s a great deal of text, the majority of it is obscured. But, that is one happy child in a giant food tin!

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We talk a lot about baking and baking products on the blog, so this small oval advertisement from the Royal Baking Powder Company seems like a fun item to share. It’s only a little over 3 inches in length and contains just a single recipe on the back. How anyone managed to save this without losing it is a mystery!

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Last up is something particularly odd. Although the majority of the ephemera that’s been featured on the blog before is paper-based and 2-D, that isn’t always the case. (We have some great new cocktail ephemera which are really more like artifacts on the horizon!). Some of them have, well, a little something extra, like this item from Town Talk bread.

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Yes, that does say “Lipstick tissues.” Here’s what the inside looks like:

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So every time you blot your lipstick, ladies, think of Town Talk bread!

I should also note that about 3 months ago, we discovered a treasure trove of trade cards in a drawer as we were moving some collections and many are food related! I’m still working through them and figuring out which collections they might join, but at some point in the future, there will be a post about the series with bird illustrations and probably more advertisements featuring angelic images of children. Until then, though, remember: While I’m not advocating for hoarding, sometimes even the things you think aren’t valuable can give you an interesting glimpse into culinary history!

A Tea, a Counter-top Ad, and a Dead President

I know–that sounds vaguely like the start of a joke. And, after reading a little further, you might continue to think that’s the case. I promise, it’s not! This week, we’re featuring a newly-acquired piece of advertising ephemera. It’s a bit difficult to introduce. So, for the moment, I’ll let it speak for itself: The Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement…

Garfield Tea table topper, Stillman Remedies Co., likely c. 1885.
Garfield Tea counter-top advertisement, Stillman Remedies Co., likely late 1880s (maybe 1885?).

This 3-d piece has a flap that folds out in the back, so it would have most likely sat on counters to advertise. Judging by what we know of the company (see below), the product wasn’t sold until some years after the assassination of James A. Garfield. At the earliest, it probably dates to 1885, four years after his death. Which of course raises the question of why? (Or, as some of my colleagues and I said when we saw it, “Whaaaaa?”) There’s no obvious connection between the man or the man as President and a laxative tea, but that didn’t stop Stillman Remedies Co. We know the product came as a loose tea, a bagged tea, and in syrup form. Oh, and while there probably wasn’t actually a “Dr. Stillman,” there does appear to have been a medical man behind things.

Most of what I was able to glean of the Stillman Remedies Co. comes from now-digitized New York State documents, labor reports, and periodicals of the time. They were in business by at least 1888 (possibly sooner) and still around at least as late as 1910. For example, in 1897, from Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 18, we can tell how many male and female employees they had (2 male, 25 female) and that maybe manufactured a variety of medicines (patent or otherwise), but it’s hard to say for sure. Garfield Tea was the name that come up in conjunction with the business and the owners in the historical record. The periodical, The Medical World, Volume 16 offers us the best explanation of what was actually IN Garfield Tea: “Our examination showed it to contain chiefly senna leaves and crushed couch-grass. There are perhaps small amounts of other drugs present; but if so, they are relatively of little importance.” Hmm, not exactly inspiring, that last part. But, therein lies the danger of patent medicines of the time in the days before the Pure Food and Drug Act–no one was obligated to tell you what was in the box or the bottle. Most descriptions that exist in the modern age come from the small print on the advertisement itself or from one single contemporary description that was published word-for-word in multiple sources. There are some great images of other packaging through The Herb Museum’s website, though.

The Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan, Volume 76 suggest that people behind Stillman Remedies Co. were actually Emmet and Helen Densmore, which opened up a new pathway for research. (This case was a battle between the Densmores and a former employee who had been authorized to distribute the product in certain locations. The Michigan Reports include an opinion that reversed the first decision, in favor of the defendant, but it is unknown how the new trial turned out. There was at least one other case later on, too, in New York.) Dr. Emmet Densmore (1837-1911) was a physician and author, as well as owner of Stillman Remedies Co. (which is occasionally also referenced as the “Garfield Tea Company”). He had originally been involved in oil in his home state of Pennsylvania and later worked with his brothers on early typewriter designs. His books related largely to food, diet (favoring raw foods and limiting starches), and hygiene. His last work, in 1907, however, dealt with the question of the equality of the sexes.

At which point, it seemed wise to quit digging. After all, what I had intended to be simple post about a strange advertisement turned into an even stranger exploration with way more information than anyone could want. Yet, despite all that, Stillmore Remedies Co. and the Densmore still have some secrets we can’t divine (at least not in a couple hours’ worth of research). “Why Garfield?” and “Why a laxative tea as your prime product?” and “Why use Garfield to sell a laxative several years after he was assassinated?” (I kept expecting to find a lawsuit on the use of his image!) While we all ponder those questions and more, the advertisement is destined to become a part of our Culinary Ephemera Collection’s series on patent medicines. And you’re welcome to see it in person. We’ll be here, right along with the late President Garfield.