Photographing Appalachia–And Its Foodways!

I’m hard a work on a new resource guide for students (one that is about Appalachian resources, and will include content on food & foodways!). I am hoping to have mostly finished during the start of classes next week, so it’s been my focus for the last day or so. I’m including in it one of my favorite pictures from the Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025):

Women cooking apple butter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Women cooking apple butter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

When I sat down to write a blog post this morning, I though, “huh, why not Earl Palmer?” It’s not strictly food. To be honest, it’s not even primarily about food, but it’s a significant collection when it comes to Appalachia and there are some connections to be made.

Earl Palmer was born in Kentucky in 1905. He received his first camera at age 7, which launched a life-long love of photography. By the time he was 19, his images were already appearing in local papers and travel magazines. In 1945, he moved to Cambria (now part of Christiansburg) and his photos were in national magazines. Billing himself the “Blue Ridge Mountains’ Roamin’ Camera Man”, Palmer concentrated on the people and places of Appalachia, particularly the region’s traditional culture. Though based in southwestern Virginia, Palmer traveled the mountain regions of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia in search of subjects. From 1954 to 1964 (when Cambria merged with Christiansburg), Palmer was Cambria’s mayor. In 1972, he retired from the grocery business to devote more time to photography. During his many trips, Palmer also collected a number of artifacts associated with traditional mountain life, including wagon wheels, handicrafts, a moonshine still and tools. He died in 1996.

The Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025) contains about 750 photographs taken by Palmer, as well as a small group of printed materials relating to his photography, and a large selection of artifacts. A full description of the collection is online. But first, a few more photographs!

Peaks of Otter
Peaks of Otter, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Corn shucks in a field, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Corn shucks in a field, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Newton Hylton whittling a miniature ox-yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Newton Hylton whittling a miniature ox-yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

The photograph portion of the collection has been digitized and is available online. You can search within the folio by keyword (for example, “apple butter” or “landscape”) or you can simply browse. While it’s broad in scope and captures many aspects of Appalachia, you will find image relating to food, agriculture/farming, social customs, and handicrafts, all of which can be tied to food and drink history in various ways

In addition to the photos, there is a series of artifacts, which includes items collected by Palmer, that are associated with traditional Appalachian folk culture. The series includes such items as a moonshine still, wagon wheels, ox yokes and hand-made brooms, as well as items associated with coal mining and railroading and small collection of cameras and photography equipment. Special Collections is not a museum and while we have some artifacts, the size and scope of the number in this collection made them difficult to manage. With the exception of a few small items, the majority of the artifacts reside permanently with the Appalachian Studies program at Virginia Tech and are on display at Solitude, like these:

Large wooden yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Large wooden yoke, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Wooden cheese boxes, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)
Wooden cheese boxes, Earl Palmer Appalachian Photograph and Artifact Collection (Ms1989-025)

There’s a complete list of artifacts in the “Contents List” of the finding aid. As you can see, there are cornstalk carvings, farming equipment, household items, kitchenware, and even a moonshine still!

Photographs aren’t necessarily an obvious connection to food and drink history, but the fact of the matter is that images like these, captured by Earl Palmer and other photographers have as much of a story to tell as a handwritten receipt book or a community cookbook. Whether they capture a how an ingredient got started on the farm, how it was cooked, or what people used to store it, photographs can be a key element to studying culinary practices.


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!

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 3: The Story of Meat

Honestly, I couldn’t come up with a title that was better than the actual title of the book we’re looking at this week. The Story of Meat basically says it all, doesn’t it? (It doesn’t…but luckily we have the book for plenty of answers and stories!)


Right off the bat, the frontispiece will catch your attention. While there are plenty more pictures, diagrams, and drawings to come, this is actually the only color one–sadly. Still, it’s not exactly where you might expect a book on meat to start–with the transport of pickled beef. TX373H51942_tp

Anyway, The Story of Meat was first published in 1939; our edition is from 1942. This is another one of those volumes that’s part text book/educational resource, part history, part…well, something else entirely. First, it covers a LOT of topics in its 291 pages as you can see from the table of contents. Seriously, from our early hunting ancestors to 1940s job opportunities in the meat industry, there’s commentary here.

TX373H51942_iii TX373H51942_iv TX373H51942_vi

It was hard to pick some favorite pages from the many, but I did manage a few, including this spread from the chapter on the western frontier:


At first, I was so intrigued by the quote about the “woven bravery and of cowardice, of heroic generosity and sordid thievery (what lower creature in the ranch-lands than the cattle-thief?), of gentleness, murder, and sudden death…” I missed the map for a moment. But, if you’ve ever been curious about cattle trails–ta da! Or, wondering about the grading system for beef? There’s help for that, too!


Like some of the other educational volumes we’ve highlighted so far this summer, each of these chapters concludes with a series of questions about the content. The page below comes from the end of the chapter of selling meat in a retail setting.


To be sure, there’s a fair amount of meat propaganda here (which is hardly surprising). There’s a whole chapter on the importance of meat in the diet. Questions at the end of this chapter include things like “Why is it inadvisable to exclude meat from the human diet?” and “Is meat a necessary part of the diet of children? Of office workers? Why?” Clearly, the answer to the latter set is not meant to be a “No.”  This chapter is full of two page illustrations, showing the various cuts from animals and how to cook them. It’s also got charts on wholesale versus resale cuts and some depicting the protein, calories, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and vitamins in meat compared to other foods.TX373H51942_237 TX373H51942_260

While I don’t think we should necessarily be surprised by the propaganda itself, it can raise an interesting question about timing. The first edition of this book came out in 1939, but by 1942, when this edition was published, the war had started and rationing was becoming a growing practice in the United States and abroad. Yet, from what I can tell, there’s little to no mention of those concerns in the book. I should also mention that “meat” is predominantly used to refer to cattle in most of the book, but there are sections, as you may notice above, that tackle sheep, pigs, poultry, and indirectly, dairy, too. In other words, quite a versatile manual. The only thing that really seems to be missing are recipes. The authors cover cooking techniques, but don’t offer specifics. I guess that’s more the purview of the cookbook, not the history/textbook…

We haven’t digitized all of our copy (yet?), but the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has and you can view it on the Internet Archive if you can’t visit us in person. The Story of Meat, by the way, is just the start of our meat-related publications. And if you’re more interested in the opposite site, we have a few titles on vegetarianism that you might also want to sink your teeth into. Until our next lesson, remember to keep your cattle safe. After all, there’s nothing worse than a cattle-thief…right?

An Anniversary. Plus, Some Summer and Fall Fruits

Somewhere in the hectic month of September, “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” celebrated it’s 4th anniversary, which only occurred to me earlier this week in the hectic month of October. (Are you sensing a theme?) Last week was our 281st post–that’s a fair amount of blogging and some days I can’t believe what started out as as experiment is still going strong! We’re not going anywhere any time soon, mind you, but I felt like it was worth mentioning. (Happy belated anniversary, What’s Cookin’!) In fact, we’re doing some new things, which I’ll be talking about soon. In the meantime, though, today’s feature item is a look something agricultural: a c.1901 Broce Nurseries fruit catalog.

This is an odd little catalog, which seems to be the best way to describe it…sort of. Unlike most bound publications, this is almost completely text-free. Other than the captions for the fruits themselves, there is no title page, no introduction, and, aside from the note on the cover, no way to identify the origins of the publication. There isn’t even an obvious way to connect the product to the nursery. That, combined with the different lithographers of the various prints, suggests it may be been bound at a later date, rather than serving as a contemporary advertising tool. On the other hand, one look at the images, and you can see why someone might go to the trouble of having them bound.

I’m also particularly fond of this item for its local ties. If you’re from the Blacksburg area, you might recognize Broce as both a historical family name and a street. A little more digging resulted in a 1912 Virginia Wholesale Nurseries catalog with some background on Broce and the establishment of the nursery in 1907-it seems Broce himself was a VPI graduate!

During the winter of 1907 and 1908 J. H. Broce, a graduate of the Department of Horticulture of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, returned to Blacksburg after extended experience in nursery-work and began the propagation of apples and peaches in a commercial way. Having had the full training under Prof. Wm. B. Alwood and others at V. P. I., he was in the best possible position to profit by this experience, and his first crop of trees grown at Blacksburg showed the result in a very successful lot of stock.

The nursery still appears in 1913 directory of American florists, nurseries, and seedmen. Unfortunately, at least at present, I don’t know how long it was in business or where it was located. On a related note, we do have some papers from Dr. Alwood in our collection, too.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re fond of full-color fruit lithographs from the turn of the 20th century, you might also check out this previous post on the Stark Bros., written back in 2012. Both of these items call to mind “Goblin Market,” the work of one of my favorite poets, Christina Rossetti. In the poem, the luscious fruits that tempt two sisters have much darker consequences than our simple catalog of nursery products, but the opening stanza conjures up similar imagery:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
The whole poem is much longer, but you can read it, if tempted, in its entirety online. And it’s quite dangerous to let me start talking about 19th century British poetry, unless you’d like a MUCH longer blog post. 🙂 Instead, I invite you to read again next week, where we’ll take a look at a different item of agriculture production: flour.

The Domestic Encyclopaedia: From A-Z–Or at least from M-Sn

It’s been a LONG while since we talked about a dictionary or encyclopedia on the blog, so today seems as good a time as any to bring up the topic of reference manuals for the home. Specifically, The Domestic Encyclopaedia; or, A Dictionary of Facts and Useful Knowledge, Comprehending a Concise View of the Latest Discoveries, Inventions, and Improvements, Chiefly Applicable to Rural and Domestic Economy, published in 1803. There’s actually even more to the formal title: Together with Descriptions of the Most Interesting Objects of Nature and Art; The History of Men and Animals, in a State of Health or Disease; and Practical Hints Respecting the Arts and Manufactures, both Familiar and Commercial. (You really have to love those 19th century titles that contained every detail about the publication–at least you  know what you’re in for!) It was originally published in London, but ours is an American edition that includes, as noted on the title page, “Additions applicable to the present situation of the United States.” We don’t know for sure what the American editor added  Even more specifically, we’re going to look at Volume IV. Why, you ask? Because Volume IV is the only one we are lucky enough to have here.

This volume covers M-Sn (Mace-Snowdrops, in fact!). The pages from the index show you just how widely “rural and domestic economy” is defined. The entry for “roaster” is more than 5 pages long, including a history along with illustrations of different models and uses. Other entries, like the one for “red-ink” are short enough to fit several on a page. The topics vary from cooking ingredients to farming implements to diseases to geographical elements. While not too common, there are more pictures than one might expect for a dense reference book, some large enough to merit a whole page! But make no mistake, this is a text heavy series for those in search of an educated perspective.

You can view a pdf of the book in its entirety online through the University Libraries. And luckily, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Digital Collections has all five volumes online for your reading and reference pleasure. The NLM collection includes not only digitized books, but also videos, relating to biomedical history. I also want to take one last moment to point out another new online resource: the USDA National Agricultural Library’s Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection (HDGDC). It’s brand new this week and features “over 900 historical and contemporary federal dietary guidance publications.” This new resource is a subset of materials in the National Agricultural Library Digital Collections, which as additional digital publications relating to agricultural history.  Any and all of these resources are worth a few minutes of browsing when you have a chance, whether for research, fun, or both!

Urban Farming for the 1900s Child

In 1902, Mrs. Henry Parsons (or Fannie Grissom Parsons, if you prefer) launched an experiment. Her idea was to find a way to city children to have the rural experience. Basically, she brought the farm to New York City.


Our feature this week is The First Children’s Farm in New York City, from 1904. This publication is the follow-up for three years worth of work on a project. It taught city children the basics of planting, caring for, and harvesting a garden plot by creating opportunities to work in De Witt Clinton Park. The report details how the project started (by inviting children to participate), covers what children learned, and, to some extent, documents the effect it had on participants and the neighborhood.

Based on Mrs. Parsons’ report, we can surmise that she had some success in the endeavor. She was even awarded a medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. In addition to recounting the how of things, her report includes a section titled, “Farm School Work in Aid to Schools, Hospitals and Asylums.” What follows is an account of where such programs are needed, the disconnect between city and rural settings in the start of a new century, and the benefits of teaching children about the environment, essentially. The report also contains a number of photographs (I’m partial to the before and after shots above).

While I don’t know how, more than 100 years, we can necessarily judge the effectiveness of Mrs. Parsons’ program, I think it does convey a message that still has bearing: finding a connection to what we eat. We might argue Mrs. Parsons’ work is a precursor to urban gardening and local food movements today. Our campus was host to a 4-H camp last week, and that has me thinking about what we are still teaching children today, whether in school, camp, or at home. The good news is that we haven’t lost sight of work that began over a century ago.

A Bovine Round-Up

Our last post looked at turkeys, since it was just before Thanksgiving. (Hope you all had a lovely holiday, by the way!) This week, continuing with the agriculture theme, I thought we’d look at some books about bovines and milk products. We have a couple of particularly unique new items on the subject that just arrived, but they aren’t back from cataloging just yet–and both deserves a post all their own–so stay tuned. In the meantime…

Some books focus a little less on the cows as cows and more about how to feed, care for, and profit from the animals. The Book of Ensilage: Or, The New Dispensation for Farmers : Experience with “Ensilage” at “Winning Farm”. How to Produce Milk for One Cent Per Quart ; Butter for 10 Cents Per Pound ; Beef for Four Cents Per Pound ; Mutton for Nothing If Wool Is Thirty Cents Per Pound, from 1881, is just that!

The Book of Ensilage; or, The New Dispensation for Farmers, 1881

The Book of Ensilage; or, The New Dispensation for Farmers, 1881
This image includes directions for how to layout a dairy barn that would contain cows, as well as feed storage.

Some books are detailed (text-heavy) accounts of various breeds, their characteristics and classifications, milk production, etc. Guenon’s work, Guenon on Milch Cows. A Treatise upon the Bovine Species in General, went through several editions (including this 1883 edition), which were translated into English along the way.

Guenon on Milch Cows. A Treatise upon the Bovine Species in General, 1883Guenon on Milch Cows. A Treatise upon the Bovine Species in General, 1883

One of my favorites is Jacob Biggle’s Biggle Cow Book; Old Time and Modern Cow-Lore Rectified, Concentrated and Recorded for the Benefit of Man from 1913. This book combines technical and practical advice, along with color and black and white images. It includes chapters on everything from feeding cows, creamery design, and cow products (and by-products).

Not all our books on cows are strictly agricultural education, either! Some of them are just for kids! This storybook for children, Mr. Meyer’s Cow, talks about cows and milk production. It is part of the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection.

As you can see, when it comes to bovines, we’re pretty diverse, from professional to amateur, and from farmer to children. As always, this just scratches the surface. If you’re looking for more historical approaches to cows, or simply curious to find some bovine trivia, be sure to come by. We’ll help you milk the collection for all its worth!

All about the Turkeys!

Thanksgiving week is here! Special Collections is open through noon on Wednesday, but we’re all thinking ahead. In the meantime, it seems like a fun idea to talk turkey. (Or, at least look at them!) Agriculture plays a BIG part in culinary history and Virginia Tech history. So, it can’t be all that surprising we have material relating to all manner of poultry. Whether you’re looking to raise, exhibit, judge, cook, or eat, we probably have a publication for you. This week, we’re focusing on the turkey. And you might be amazed at the variety of breeds and things you might need to know about them.

The slideshow below includes images from two books: Turkeys and how to grow them. A treatise on the natural history and origin of the name of turkeys; the various breeds, and best methods to insure success in the business of turkey growing. With essays from practical turkey growers in different parts of the United States and Canada. Ed. by Herbert Myrick from 1897 and Turkeys, all varieties; their care and management, mating, rearing, exhibiting and judging turkeys; explanation of score-card judging, with complete instructions. A collection of the experiences of best known successful turkey breeders, exhibitors and judges from 1909. (And yes, that IS a census of the number of turkeys in each state in 1890 that you’ll see!)

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Happy Thanksgiving (and eat well)!

(We’ll be back to posting in December!)

Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part III

Happy 100th Birthday, Smith-Lever Act!

Continuing the theme of extension and agriculture work, today’s post features USDA publications from the 1930s to the 1980s. As you’ll see, it’s not just about cooking, but farming, gardening, building, organizing, and buying. All the publications below come from the same collection in Special Collections: Ms2011-022, National Agriculture Publications, 1917-1990. You can see the full finding aid, with bibliography, here.

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Continue reading “Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part III”

Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part II

We’re one week closer to the anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, so I wanted to share some more Extension materials. This week, I raided Ms2012-040, State/Regional Home and Agricultural Publications. Three folders of this collection contain a range of publications from Virginia Cooperative Extension, published between the 1930s and the 1970s. You can see the folder list, complete with a bibliography of publications, online

Continue reading “Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part II”