Staple Stories for Staple Items

This week, we’re back to the children’s cookbook and nutrition literature collection, looking at Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard by Mary and Elizabeth Kirby. First published in 1875, our edition is from 1901. There was at least one edition between those, published in 1895.


Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard is a series of stories told by Aunt Martha to her two nephews, Charley and Richard. We learn that both boys are less-than-stellar students at their school. One Christmas, they are sent to spend the break with their Aunt Martha, who they adore for her company, her jolly nature, her locked cupboard full of goodies, and her stories. Aunt Martha comes up with a plan to encourage the boys to be more curious (and hopefully better students in the future). Instead of her usual fairy tales, which even the boys have grown weary of, she decides to tell them a bit of history about tea-cups, tea, sugar, coffee, salt, currants, rice, and honey.

The book includes a few color lithographs and 36 engravings, ranging from full pages to smaller illustrations. Aunt Martha’s Corner Cupboard is strictly a storybook, but as we have seen with many other culinary-related storybooks for children, it is full of lessons. In this case, Aunt Martha teaches the boys history of items in her cherished cupboard, inspiring them to think and explore. After she finishes her series of tales about tea-cups, Charley and Richard find some broken pottery and clay, and contrive to make their own. Her lesson about tea offers the moral that we don’t always get things right the first time, when she talks about the introduction of tea from China to England in the 17th century:

There is a funny story of two old people, who had an ounce of tea sent to them, and who were quite at a loss what to do with it. At last, the old lady proposed to her husband that they should sprinkle it on their bacon, and eat it; which they accordingly did–and very nasty it must have been.”

(There are similar stories of tea in early America, where people brewed tea in boiling water, then tossed out the water and ate the leaves.)

If you’d like to see the book in its entirety, you can see two different versions online. One is the first edition from 1875, held by the New York Public Library; the other is an edition from 1895, held by Harvard University. Or, you can always pay us a visit and learn a little more about honey and currants alongside Charley and Richard. Aunt Martha really does have some great stories. 🙂



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.

The Incredible Shrinking (and Growing) Girl

My French is pretty much non-existent, so apologies in advance for my inevitable translation and synopsis errors in the post that follows. Several years of Latin means I can read words and sometimes correctly interpret sentences, but we’re winging it a bit this week. On the other hand, Les Gourmandises de Charlotte, a children’s story that borders on a fairy-tale, literally stuffed with food (pun-intended), has to be shared!


First published in the late 19th century, Les Gourmandises de Charlotte went through several editions between 1891 and 1915. We are lucky enough to have an early edition from 1891 (with a slightly fragile binding). This is the story of Charlotte, a little girl who gets a giant cherry-flavored candy egg for Easter, and all the trouble it causes. She develops a taste for sugar and sweets, first losing weight and eventually, in fairy-tale style, actually shrinking in size, as she refuses to eat anything else. She has a series of adventures while tiny (which are really meant as lessons to show Charlotte–and other children/readers–the importance of good eating). She regains her normal size, only to balloon up, facing mockery from other children. In the end, though, she sees the error of her ways and agrees to eating a more balanced diet.

Primarily, materials in the History of Food & Drink Collection, including many books in the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Collection are cataloged with cookbooks, medicine, nutrition, and other related call numbers. Les Gourmandises de Charlotte is one of the outliers. While there is a clear message about food and nutrition, this is first and foremost a children’s story. As a result, it’s actually cataloged with juvenile literature. It could an easy reader for native French speakers of a young age, and non-native speakers learning French, too. The illustrations help tell the story for even the youngest readers and read-ees.

Of course, it may also give you a craving for a super-sized cherry-flavored candy egg, despite all Charlotte’s troubles. While we can’t help you there, we CAN help you to another serving of culinary book history next week…

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!

The Little Housekeepers

This week, we’re delving back into the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Collection. The Little Housekeepers and Other Stores, Illustrated, was published in 1886. We purchased it with funds from the Hertzler Endowment in May of this year. And, while it may not seem like it on the surface, this book is definitely at home on our shelves!

We’ve looked at “how-to” cookbooks for children (most often girls) before. This book feels more like a version of a household management guide for little girls, a sort of “junior” version of something like The American Woman’s Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science… from the 1860s. It uses stories and poems to teach young girls about a variety of domestic activities: cooking, laundry, food shopping, sewing, and raising children. The book also  features a number of color illustrations, as well as many smaller black and white ones, all of which make the tasks in them look somewhat glamorous and exciting.

The idea that books for children can help groom them for expected roles certainly wasn’t new in the 1880s. Etiquette books for people of all ages had been around much longer. And we can still find them today. However, this publication takes a clever path and combines education with amusement, incorporating activities young girls would witness everyday and adding elements of childhood (games, dolls, and other toys). We’ve seen this in other books in the Hertzler Collection, too, and it’s a tactic that would likely worked very well! The Little Housekeepers and Other Stories, in any case, is a great example of the space where children’s literature, cooking, and childhood collide, which is one of many reasons it matters to us.

The Little Housekeeper and Other Stories is in fragile shape, but you’re still welcome to come by and see it. After all, you’ll only find about 10 copies of the 1886 edition in academic/public libraries and even fewer of the c.1900 edition. (Lucky for you, TWO of those libraries are in Virginia!)


Fruits, Veggies, Milk, Meats, Wheats, and Something Sweet

Some of the books in the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection are stories, some are full of basic and simple recipes. Other items, like those we’re featuring this week, are about education. Jane Dale’s series of five books each focus on a key food group, contain lots of black and white photos, and are written in a simple, explanatory way. All five books were published around 1940 by the Artists and Writers Guild (Poughkeepsie, NY). They make heavy use of news outlet and USDA photographs.

The series consists of:

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Their Kinds and Uses
  • Meat: Flesh Foods from Farm, Range, and Sea
  • Milk, Our First Food
  • Sugar: Sweetening Foods from Many Plants
  • Wheat for My Bread

Each book includes background on the food group and specific foods within the group. There is information about processes involved in getting foods from their original source to the table, too. The volume on wheat talks about planting and harvesting techniques, while the book on fruits and vegetables talks about farming and growing plants. Other volumes contain details on food technologies and processing: the book on meat has information about fishermen making nets and even skinning cattle at the stockyards; the book on sugar has details on how sugar cane is processed in a factory.

While some of the details may seem a bit–graphic (do we really want to SEE someone checking the viscera of sheep for disease?)–the history and facts Dale includes are wide-ranging  and educational. Which is really the point, it seems. The series represented an opportunity to teach children about the foods they need to grow.

We were lucky enough to acquire these books as a set in April of this year. Although a number of other public and academic libraries have some holdings, we appear to be the only one with a full set. So, if you want to know what equipment might be in a small, local creamery or what a boat full of 40,000 sardines looks like, we might just be able to help.

Ann and Bob Learn about Eating, Cooking, Freezing, and a Theme Party!

When it comes to educating children about food, materials in our collection take all kinds of approaches: cookbooks, story books, advertisements, activity/resource kits, and even a few toys! This week, our blog features Learning to Cook and Serve Our Meals by Ada R. Polkinghorne. Published in 1946 by the National Dairy Council, this story book follows Bob and Ann Brown and their parents, as the children learn about helping in the kitchen, cooking and preserving food, and having an airplane themed food party at school (no joke!).

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Learning to Cook and Serve Our Meals is clearly designed for children, from its colorful illustrations to simple text. More importantly, the book includes representations of several themes we’ve talked about on the blog previously:

  • The World War II and just-post-World War II time in which this publication was written, the emphasis on home gardens and self-sufficiency lingers. Not only do Bob and Ann help harvest, they also help freeze and preserve fruits and vegetables for the winter. Food preservation obvious had value beyond the age of rationing, and it continues to play in an important role in many families today.
  • A story book can be educational for children. Or, conversely, an education book for children can have a fun story. This is a story children are intended to relate to, giving them a greater ability to incorporate its values into their own lives.
  • Kids can (and should) learn to cook! The kitchen shouldn’t be a foreign place. Rather, it’s a place for work, fun, education, and experimenting/creativity.
  • Vegetables are good to eat!

Unlike many “sponsored” publications, this one is free from advertising, which is a little different. Items from the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection that we’ve look at on the blog to date have included varying degrees of product placement. Here, the National Dairy Council refrained from overtly forcing milk or cheese on the Brown family. And certainly not all children’s publications have an advertising agenda either (an idea we’ll come back in the future, no doubt).

While you may not be planning an airplane-themed party for a classroom of children any time soon, it is important to think creatively about food and family. There’s a lot you can do without the burden of reciting facts about flying or arguing over just who should be serving and why. Food really can bring people together, from preparation to clean up and everything in between–and a three day weekend holiday might be the perfect time to try it out!

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.