Processing the Educational Cookery Collection, Part 1

Over the last few years, we’ve talked about and around the idea of education when it comes to cookery. We’ve profiled women who started, trained, and/or taught at cookery schools; talked about the more community-based networks and community-learned skills; and shared PLENTY of recipes and advice for household management. We received a collection this week that brings all of that together and while it’s still in the early stages of processing, there’s also plenty to share. (I’m thinking we might follow this collection over the next week or two as it gets ready for the public use.)

Regrettably, the the idea to follow the collection hit me after I unpacked the boxes and started sorting, so no photos for the early stages. Suffice to say, we received 4 nicely packed boxes of books, pamphlets, and ephemera in binders. Over the last two days, I’ve taken the boxes apart and sorted materials. There are items to be cataloged, some manuscript materials that could be added to existing collections, and some manuscript materials that are going to result in a new manuscript collection. I’m contemplating the options, but I suspect the latter two kinds of items will be combined into a new “educational cookery” manuscript collection of some sort.

Anyway, here’s how things look now:

(I was trying to keep a little table space in my office open!)
(So, I *may* have stacked a few things upside down…)

The stacks of books will need cataloging slips and will go to the library’s Collections and Technical Services Department, then return to our shelves. These items will all have a note in their catalog records indicating they are associated with the soon-to-be-created manuscript collection. What kind of books? There are textbooks for public and normal schools, as well as textbooks from well-known cooking schools like the Boston School of Cookery, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, and the British National Training School of Cookery. In addition, there are community cookbooks to benefit educational institutions, study books and career guides for home economics, and what we might call “DIY” study or instruction for profit or for personal use (candy-making, running tea rooms, cake decorating, etc.). These materials fit in well with our existing holdings and will result in us gaining new publications by authors we’ve talked about before like Maria Parloa, Mrs. D. A. Lincoln, and Fannie Farmer.

There are MANY pieces of ephemera which we can look at in future posts. But for now, here are a few examples of some lecture announcements, basic cookery lessons, and and course catalogs from cooking schools.


By next week, I hope to have the books all organized and on a cart. And in the meantime, I’ll be working on some ideas for organizing the ephemera and manuscript items. Stay tuned for more pictures, a bit about how we figure out organizational structures for collections, and an update on progress so far in next week’s post!


On a side note, we also recently acquired a collection of materials relating to military and wartime cookery (which I am equally excited about!). Part of that, along with other items in Special Collections, formed the basis of our current exhibit. If you’re in Blacksburg, feel free to drop by in the next month or so and check out “Substitution, Self-Sufficiency, and Sharing: America’s World War I Food Policies and Practices.”

Photo of center display case from “Substitution, Self-Sufficiency, and Sharing: America’s World War I Food Policies and Practices”

 

Culinary Communities: Blacksburg Organization Cookbooks

Several months ago, I wrote a post about the oldest Blacksburg community cookbook currently in the History of Food and Drink Collection. It also has a nice introduction to what we mean as “community cookbooks” and the region in which we focus. This week, I’ve pulled two more of the town organization community cookbooks from our shelves to share. On the surface, they may not have much in common, but at the core, they share something very important…which we’ll come back to after our image gallery interruption. 🙂

The first is Blacksburg’s Best, published by the Blackburg Junior Woman’s Club in 1968.

The second one is Bread of Life, published by the Blacksburg Christian School in 1996.

Okay, so what do these have in common? Like many community cookbooks, they are in a similar format–in many cases, books like this came from the same publishing house. However, with nearly 30 years between them, there are some changes in how the sections are named. But it’s the “local” nature of them that I think is far more important. These books include recipes from our community and as a result, they raise all kinds of questions: What are the recipes that contributors feel are important? Do they use local or regional foods/ingredients? Are they family recipes or something new? Can you find multiple variations of traditional recipes, and if so, what do those changes reflect?

While we can’t always answer these questions as users and preservers of these books, we can still begin to find stories (or at least threads of stories) that tell us about the community in which we live. In this case, it’s Blacksburg, but if I had selected different books this morning, it could be Roanoke, Fincastle, or a number of other Southwest Virginia towns. The 1996 book might reflect a more diverse set of recipes that include global influences, but you can’t go more than 4 pages into either publication without finding a recipe for a cheese ball. Look further and you’ll find cheese biscuits, barbecue chicken, meat loaf, sweet potato casserole, and sour cream cake appear in both of these (and a myriad of other) books, among other recipes. Which brings us back to my earlier comment: At their core, these books fulfill an important common role–they serve to document communities (and yes, fundraising, I know that part matters, too!). They show us the recipes that are the continuing favorites of our families and friends, that span generations, that remind us of being in the kitchen with people love, and that take us back to our roots and help us establish new roots as we go forward. Plus, they’re usually just filled with really good recipes!

Cooking with the Blacksburg Woman’s Club

For those of you who aren’t familiar with all the various areas of the History of Food & Drink Collection, one of our strengths is local community cookbooks. We do think about “local” a bit broadly, and while we look to gather primarily Blacksburg, Montgomery County, and Southwest Virginia community cookbooks, our shelves include plenty of titles from around the whole state of Virginia, as well as some of our neighboring Southern states (North Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland especially). By “community” cookbooks, we mean cookbooks produced by churches, schools, clubs and social organizations, historical sites, and other groups, usually created for sale and fund-raising purposes.

This week, I’ve put together a slideshow (I haven’t done one in quite a while!) including selections from My Stove and I, published in 1948. It was compiled by the Blacksburg Woman’s Club and includes recipes by the wives of VPI faculty and administrators, town residents (some of whom have familiar last names if you’re into Blacksburg history), and other sources (including one “Mrs. Harry. S. Truman!”). From what I can tell, this is currently the oldest of our Blacksburg community cookbooks and we’re lucky enough to have three copies. This one includes some handwritten notes and recommendation, some of which you’ll see in the slideshow, presumably put there by the previous owner.

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If you’d like to know more about the Blacksburg Woman’s Club, we can help with that! Special Collections houses a manuscript collection, Ms1960-002, Blacksburg Woman’s Club Records, 1907-1972. You can read more about the collection in the finding aid, and if you’d like to see materials, you can pay us a visit! We’ll be here!


On an unrelated note, we’ll be changing out the content in our public-facing display cases early next week. I’ll be putting together a picnic/grill/barbecue themed exhibit, featuring items from the History of Food and Drink Collection, which I plan to have in place by Tuesday (June 23rd). It will be up for about 4-5 weeks and if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by! Even if we aren’t open, you’ll be able to see everything through our glass wall.

A Culinary Tour (Of Special Collections)

You'll see a variety of bindings from the 18th century to the modern age.

Some of you may have had the opportunity to visit Special Collections and see an exhibit in person. I’ve also posted photographs from a culinary-related exhibit or event on the blog before. If you’re lucky, you may have also had a chance to come behind-the-scenes and see parts of the collection in its natural habitat. Once in a while, we have visitors who ask “can I see the culinary collection?” It certainly won’t fit in the reading room, but if that question really means “can I see the books the shelf?” I’m usually happy to oblige. Although our goals here are about preservation, they are also about access. While you can’t hang out in our closed stacks to browse, a guided tour of Special Collections is a great way to better understand what we do and how we do it. This week, I’ve put together a slide show mini-tour of the History of Food & Drink Collection, in case you’re curious to see books and boxes on shelves. 🙂

Our rare book collection is cataloged according to Library of Congress Call Numbers. Most (but not all) materials in the TX sections from about the 600’s to the 900’s. We further divide books based on size, in order to maximize shelf space. We have “small” books (under 22cm), “large” books (22-28cm), and folio books (over 28 cm). Our manuscript collections are assigned a number based on the year in which they are processed. Currently, manuscripts are housed in various places in the department, but we’re in the midst of a reorganization that will help us find things more easily. That being said, let’s take a short “walk!”

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If you’re in the area and would like the behind-the-scenes tour in person, let us know. We’re always happy to share our materials, whether it’s culinary history, or one of the other areas in which we collect!