Six Little Cooks: Narrative, Recipes, and Culinary Instruction

This week, we’re looking at another instruction manual for cooks. This one, though, isn’t for adults–it’s for children. And while we have shelves of children’s cookbooks, each filled with recipes and directions, this one is a little different. It has elements of storytelling, a frame narrative that runs through each of the 14 chapters. Our edition of Six Little Cooks comes from 1891, but it was first published in 1887. Elizabeth Kirkland’s book tells the story of Grace, whose aunt and cousin come to visit. Grace, inspired by a story book, asks her aunt to teach her, her sister, her cousins, and her friends to cook. The 14 chapters cover the 14 days Aunt Jane spends teaching the girls recipes and etiquette for different meals, occasions, and events.

The recipes are usually grouped in the middle of each chapter, numbered and labeled, surrounded by the plot and often information about how to properly prepare, serve, or clean up from the particular focus of the lesson. Unlike many children’s cookbooks and like many manuals for housewives of the period, there are no illustrations. The book is written in simple language that the intended audience of young girls would understand, and it seems clear they are meant to learn by reading and practicing, rather than being provided pictures or images of “how to” (though the story IS entertaining). That being said, it does seem like a more effective way to spread the message of culinary instruction. It gives young readers something they can relate to, while hopefully making it fun to learn–which is a lesson we can still use today!

If you’d like to read more, you can always visit us. Or, you can check out a digital copy of the 1891 edition on the Internet Archive’s website.

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Food AND Fun? In One Book? :)

Food & Fun for Daughter and Son was published in 1946. We acquired a copy last year, but it slipped off my radar until recently. I must not have had the time to take a good look, or I undoubtedly would have shared it sooner!

As you can see, this book is a blend of “how-to/advice for parents,” meal planning guide, nutrition manual, and cookbook. Typically, we have a wide range of recipes and menus, some more intriguing that others. (I’m curious about a lunch of beef broth, potato salad, and cake…but also not saying I’d turn it down.) What I found more interesting, though, was everything else. The intended audience is adults, but it sometimes results in seeming non-sequiturs like:

“To limited degree and in a kind, friendly way, table manners should be taught at an early age to avoid embarrassment when he comes in contact with older, well-behaved children.

Your immaculate, regular care of the refrigerator will prolong its efficiency and life.”

There are a few more pieces of advice about the kitchen, then it jumps to advice for caring for a child with a cold. I see the general connection, but the first couple chapters are a conglomerate of advice on a range of subjects that contribute to raising healthy children.

We’ve definitely looked at books for/about children that featured party themes and planning, but I think this is the first time we’ve come across a book with section devoted to “Diversions for an Only or Lonely Child.” The suggestions themselves may seem outdated or silly, but it was neat to see the topic addressed in conjunction with entertaining kids who are sick or stuck in bed.

So, until next week, if you’re missing us, don’t worry! There’s an imaginary pony of your own that needs training!

Ann Hertzler’s Work: A Slide Show

Over the course of the last 14 years, Ann Hertzler made many contributions to Special Collections, including books for her endowed collection of children’s cookbook and nutrition literature publications, her professional papers from her tenure at Virginia Tech and the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a variety of other cookbooks. Continuing on last week’s post, I thought I would put together a slide show of materials donated or created by Ann (and, in some cases, both).

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Parties are for Kids, too!

With the holidays upon us, it’s important not to neglect the kids! So this week, we’re sharing the Children’s Party Book  from 1935. It includes games, decor, recipes, menus, and activities for kids parties. It not only covers major holidays (Valentine’s Day, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, and New Years), but birthday parties and “just because” events, too.

Surprisingly few of the games are really outdated, though some would need updating. The “States Game,” which requires children to write down the names of all the states may be a bit more challenging in 2013 than in 1935. But many of the word and puzzle games are still the same.

The Childrens’ Party Book  was produced by the A. E. Staley Company, so you will find a few “sponsor” elements to it. There’s an introduction and a post script by company people and  many (but not all) of the recipes are based on Staley products, but the advertising isn’t as invasive as some publications we’ve seen on the blog before. The focus really does seem to be on keeping kids (and adults!) occupied.

Over the next two weeks, Special Collections may be closed, but we won’t leave you without a couple of holiday surprises. Just be sure to enjoy the rest of 2013!

Basics for Children: Fun (and Fundamentals) in the Kitchen

A quick plug: If you enjoy “What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!” and would like to know more about Special Collections at Virginia Tech, we launched a new blog last month, “In Special Collections @Virginia Tech.” We’ll be sharing collections, books, and manuscripts from all of our collecting areas, as well as news, events, new acquisitions and newly processed manuscripts, projects, and more!  You’ll hear from all of our archivists (including archivist/blogger/foodie Kira, writing about something other than food and drinks) on a variety of topics. And now, back to your regularly scheduled food history….


This week, we’re back to the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection with Fun With Cooking from 1947. As the subtitle (Easy Recipes for Beginners) suggests, it’s about learning some basic recipes and techniques, and it’s very clearly aimed at girls.

From the introduction:

This cook book is for beginners. The recipes are interesting yet not difficult, and each step is carefully explained. The recipes are for things youngsters like to eat, so that the young cook can enjoy the results of her own work.

A girl who makes the things in this book, following carefully all instructions, gains enough experience to go on to more complicated dishes.

The recipes are prefaced by helpful hints and techniques like washing your hands well, reading a recipe before starting, and how to level measuring cups. The girl from the cover appears as a guide throughout the book, demonstrating steps from recipes (although in a few pictures, she looks less than pleased).

While the recipes may be none-too-exciting (the Tuna Casserole looks a little frightening and there is a reason the picture of the hamburgers is absent from this post), the concept is a good, common one. Learning the basics of preparing different types of foods–biscuits, cookies, cupcakes, vegetables, eggs, cooked fruits, and and even oddly-shaped salads–is a great place to start. One can create a LOT of variety from a solid foundation. Yet, it is also important to note that the author specifically included recipes for things children would want to eat and therefore be more likely to want to cook. Steaming Brussels sprouts might be a useful skill, but it could be a tough sell to a ten year old kitchen helper (and even some of us grown ups!).

Side note: Oddly-shaped salads, with or without the aid of gelatin, are not new to us on the blog. They were common courses in dinners beginning in the 1940s and through the next few decades. It’s hardly surprising that this book introduces the concept via the “Candlestick Salad” (half a banana upright in a pineapple right, with an almond “flame” and a “Mickey Mouse Salad” that should appeal to kids (but looks remarkably unlike the familiar character). Still, these basic versions of shaped salads do encourage kids to eat some healthy fruits and veggies.

Mae Blacker Freeman co-authored a whole series of “Fun with” books with her husband, Ira Freeman, on topics from dance to chemistry.  Outside of the series, she wrote other books for children on an equally wide range of subjects–Albert Einstein, gravity, using cameras, and history, to name a few. Many were even translated into German! And that can serve as a good reminder for us–culinary history isn’t “just” culinary history. It exists in a larger context, whether that means within the whole body of an author’s works or the part that food & drinks play in the social history of people. If Fun with Chemistry, for example, can eclipse language barriers, think about the barriers a good recipe can transcend…

A Tale of Two Covers, or, Why I Love My Job

About two weeks ago, I was hunting through the catalog to see if we had a copy of a book up for sale. To my surprise, I turned up not only one copy of The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People from 1912, but two. Even more surprising was the discovery that our two copies, printed the same year and with same text, had completely different covers and only one included a frontis piece!

The first two images above are the different covers, the first done by Jane Allen Boyer and the other by Margaret G. Hays. The third image is frontis piece that only appears in copy 2. Jane Eayre Fryer’s book is a combination cookbook/storybook (more on that later) that tells the tale of Mary Frances learning to cook and bake from a book created for her by her mother, all with a little help from the pots, pans, and tools in the kitchen.

There are lots of great pictures in this book, but the post today will be a little less about the content (I’ll let the images speak for themselves) and more about using publication to show the challenges and surprises of working with diverse food history collection. I guess, in part, I’m taking an opportunity for me, archivist/blogger Kira, to share some of the small reasons I’m passionate about Special Collections and the History of Food & Drink Collection in particular. I hope you’ll forgive my self-indulgence and read on…

“You never know what you’re going to get”

When a new book or collection arrives, despite conversations with donors and booksellers, something it likely going to catch you off guard.  After 3 1/2 years, I’m always making new discoveries–finding two copies of The Mary Frances Cook Book  is a wonderful example. And those discoveries almost always lead to a little research. When I took the two copies from the shelf and noticed the different covers, but the same publication date, I was intrigued. I like a good Scooby-Doo style archives mystery. A little WorldCat searching revealed at least three different cover titles: “Mary Frances’ First Cook Book, Adventures Among the Kitchen People,” “The Mary Frances Cook Book, Adventures Among the Kitchen People,” and “Easy Steps in Cooking for Big and Little Girls, or Adventures among the Kitchen People.” This last apparently has a different title on the title page, too: Easy Steps in Cooking; or, Mary Frances Among the Kitchen People. At this point, I don’t have a solid answer, but I suspect all the variation lies in the fact that the book was privately printed in at least three locations. The involvement of two illustrators, too, could account for different cover art. And since I can’t let a mystery alone, I’ll post an update when I have one!

A wealth of hidden connections

The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People includes contributions from two illustrators. The page decorations and small images were done by Jane Allen Boyer, as was the cover from copy 2 above. The full pages illustrations and the cover image from copy 1 above were completed by Margaret G. Hays. For our long-time followers, this name might sound familiar. Margaret G. Hays was the author of the 1911 Vegetable Verselets, a book featured on the blog last spring that even inspired a musical event here on campus! Vegetable Verselets was illustrated by Grace Wiederseim, Hays’ sister. (Wiederseim’s influence on her sister’s illustrations a year later is easy to see.) Wiederseim, later Grace Drayton, was the creator of the Campbell Kids. Just a little food art trivia that makes the world a little bit smaller!

On the one hand, many of the publications and manuscripts here in Special Collections are related. That’s part of the reason we collect them. Helping a researcher find papers relating to a family member four generations previous or reminding someone of their mother’s kitchen growing up because we have the same cookbook on display seem like little things that happen in the line of duty. On the other hand, I find satisfaction in the resolution of other people’s mysteries, alongside those I come across in my work processing collections.

Crossing formats, genres, and collecting areas

In many ways, this relates to my point above about making connections.  The Mary Frances Cook Book or Adventures Among the Kitchen People is a cookbook. It’s meant to be a first cookbook for young girls. In addition, it’s a storybook. There is a clear educational narrative connecting the recipes as Mary Frances learns about the kitchen. In addition to both of these things, we might even consider this a household manual. Mary Frances is playing the substitute mother role, at least as it relates to the kitchen. Over the course of her adventures, she learns not only how to cook and bake, but how having that role in the home relates to other (future) domestic roles. This publication doesn’t fit only into the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection. It relates to topics in the larger History of Food & Drink Collection, as well.

Although we are limited in the areas we are actively collecting materials here in Special Collections, the overlapping and interweaving of seemingly disparate fields of knowledge is forever revealing itself. Earlier this year, we acquired the letter of a Civil War soldier, written to his wife from a parole camp. Of the eight pages, most of it is consumed by the soldier’s descriptions of the limited (and sometimes barely edible) food he ate during his time as a POW. If he wrote to his wife at all during his imprisonment, his letters would have been heavily censored. Yet, among his first opportunities to write her unrestricted, his focus is food–perhaps a reminder of just how essential it is in our lives. (And yes, I plan to feature the letter on the blog as soon as I can get it processed.)

Sometimes the connections are obvious–Robert Taylor Preston’s correspondence, while usually considered part of our local history materials, relates also to the Civil War and the founding of Virginia Agricultural & Mechanical College and the university’s history.  At other times, it may not be quite as clear–it isn’t until you look inside the 1960s cooperative extension publication on kitchen cabinetry that you might connect it to the International Archives of Women in Architecture, when you realize it was authored by a woman.

My point to all this is that materials here never fit into a single category or collecting area, which I find to be an amazing observation. It means answering a reference question or putting together a display is never straight-forward. The more we think outside the box, the more creative an answer we can provide or exhibit we can share with all of you.

I’ve created a much larger post than I expected and it in the higgledy-piggledy of last week, it’s been a bit delayed, but I should be back on schedule this week. (“Higgledy-piggledy,” one of my favorite 19th and early 20th century expressions, actually appears in our feature book, by the way!) I hope, once again, you’ll forgive my diversion. More importantly, as the one year anniversary of “What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!” approaches (how time flies), I hope a post like this gives you a little insight into why I’m here, why the blog is here, and just why I love this project and my job.

Thanks for reading.

Children’s Rhymes and Baking Powder Revisited: A Gingerbread Man

This week features another item from the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Archives. It’s a companion post to one from early this spring about Billy and a visit to the strange land of Bunbury. Two years before, in 1923, Royal Baking Powder reached out to the children/mother audience with The Little Gingerbread Man, a sponsored look at a classic nursery rhyme character.

Once again, we’re supplied with vibrant images, rhyming couplets, and none-too-subtle product placement. Each illustration features a canister of baking powder and most include at least a partial view of the New Royal Cook Book, published in 1922 and in 1923, available for free by mail. In this story, the King of Jalapomp, a poor cook indeed, bans baked goods. It takes the influences of the Queen of the Flour Folk, Johnny Gingerbread, and a host of other characters bearing “good” cakes (all made with Royal Baking Powder, of course!) to change the King’s mind.

Each page containing part of the story also has a recipes, basic baked goods like cinnamon buns, gingerbread men, doughnuts, sugar cookies, birthday cake, and “surprise muffins.” (The general lesson we’ve learned so far on this blog is that the word “surprise” appearing in a recipes makes us wary. However, this is a prime example of the opposite! “Surprise muffins” include jelly or fruit in the center–yum!)

Both The Little Gingerbread Man and Billy in Bunbury are relatively rare pieces. There are 17 of the former and only 3 of the latter cataloged in academic and public libraries. Both publications are prime examples of culinary ephemera never intended to last this long. Yet, here they are, sitting quietly on our shelves, little pieces of children’s literary and food history we are pleased to  preserve. Which is just a friendly reminder to visit your local Special Collections, whether it’s us here at Virginia Tech or elsewhere. Chances are, they have a treasure or two worth seeing that may just brighten your day.