Very (Cran)berry Goodness!

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s a good time to talk about a favorite seasonal berry: The Cranberry! Underrated and sometimes forgotten, it’s more versatile than it’s typical jellied or un-jellied sauce or relish. And we have the pamphlets to prove it! Two different folders in the Culinary Pamphlet Collection (Ms2011-002) have booklets from cranberry-centric companies. First, there’s “Cranberries and How to Cook Them” (1938) from the American Cranberry Exchange:

This pamphlet for “Eatmor Cranberries” (seriously!) puts cranberries in baked goods, sauces, salads, relishes and even–yup, you guess it–gelatin! It has tips for using cranberries as a meat tenderizer and a recipe for cranberries as an omelet filling. It also includes a little bit of detail about where the berries come from and how they are harvested. Although our last example (below) contains a lot more detail on the history of cranberries. But first, “Cape Cod’s Famous Cranberry Recipes” (1941) from the National Cranberry Association. This organization was also known early on as the Cranberry Canners, Inc., but most of you will probably recognize it by the company’s current name:  Ocean Spray Cranberry, Inc.

This pamphlet presents the clever idea of using cookie cutters to produce shaped decorations for a surprising number of holiday meals–not just Thanksgiving, but also Valentine’s Day, Easter, and even Halloween (cranberry-sauce shaped turkeys, hearts, bunnies, and pumpkins respectively). In addition, of course, it’s full of recipes…including some meat dishes with cranberry accompaniments and a few interesting desserts (Cranberry Nogg?). Lastly, also from the National Cranberry Association, there’s “101 All-Time Favorite Cranberry Recipes.” (That’s a lot of cranberries!)
 This pamphlet includes many of the expected items, but it also has “Cranburgers” (hamburgers with a cranberry sauce), a range of desserts, and some punches and cocktails. At this rate, you could work cranberries into every course of your Thanksgiving meal. Or your everyday meals, really. So, however you enjoy them, sneak some cranberries into your holiday. You won’t regret it!

A Lesson in English (Receipts)

Exciting news! Thanks to the hard work (and on-going efforts) of our staff and students, a handful of the handwritten recipes books among our collections have gone online! As a group, you can find these items on our online platform, Special Collections Online. We will have more of them going up in the future, as we continue to scan and acquire new collections, but this feels like a great start! As with many of the Civil War diaries we have digitized, we are also working on transcripts of these manuscript receipt (and recipe!) books which we will add to the site as they are completed. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Hertford Receipt Book (Ms2008-027). You can view the whole item online, but we haven’t transcribed it just yet. Here’s the front cover:

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There is a finding aid for this item, but it is, to use a recipe term, a bit scant. Many manuscript receipt books, when separated from original owners for whatever reason, lose context, and leave archivists and researchers with very little provenance (the archival field’s word for “[i’]nformation regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection”). In this case, there are multiple handwritings and a variety of attributed recipes, but no clue as to who collected them or wrote them on the pages. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t learn from it.

This is a soft, marbled cover notebook, and from what we know, it dates from about 1800 to 1833. If you’re expecting recipes for food, you won’t be disappointed, but hopefully you’re open to a bit more. You see, the Hertford Receipt Book is mostly home remedies. Many of them. Have a cough? Toothache? Boots need blackening? Need white paint? Have a rat problem? Worms (there are at least three cures for that one!)? This item can help!

That being said, in true English style, you’ll also find puddings, tarts, and cakes among the pages, along with wines, “devil’s pot” and other pickling options, jams, and the intriguing “to pot pigeons like lampreys.”

One of the things I really like about this receipt book is that it has an index. While not all the ones on our shelves do, I’m surprised at how often there’s a guide at the front or back to what’s in the pages. I shouldn’t be shocked by the organizational skills of these generations of savvy women, but they certainly should get extra credit for hand-indexing! If I had to guess, in this case, it was probably done by one owner (it’s all in the same hand) and probably at a point where new recipes weren’t being added. Still, a lovely, tasty, toxic, strange, and functional labor of love.

As football fever continues around Blacksburg (and elsewhere), keep an eye out for some posts to help with those tailgating days. (Though, as someone who enjoys a number of VT sports, I’m thinking we might need to start volleyball, soccer, or basketball tailgating trends, too.) And as fall has arrived, you can probably also expect some autumnal foods in the future, too!

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 6: British Baking at Home, Abroad, and in the Trade

This week, many of our staff are at the Society of American Archivists annual conference. This includes me, your usual archivist/blogger Kira who is, quite excitedly, presenting on a panel this year. “What panel?” you ask. Why, one about food collections and outreach! So, while I’m off definitely learning from others and hopefully inspiring a few colleagues, too, we’ve got another culinary lesson here on the blog. Despite the high temps in Blacksburg the last couple of weeks, I went a little crazy and was baking last week. For the library’s annual summer picnic, I whipped up a couple of cobblers (thanks to a very simple, 6 ingredient recipe!): blackberry peach and strawberry blueberry. While it may not have been the smartest move, turning on the oven and all, the summer smacks of cobbler to me and I hadn’t made one in a long time. Which also has me thinking about baking. I respect the fact that  baking is a precise and scientific art, but I’ve never been good at that in the kitchen. And, I’ve gone this long with any major baking disasters in my life (we’ll save tales of cooking and candy-making disasters for another day). Still, there’s plenty to learn from our historic resources, like The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide for Hotels, Restaurants, and the Trade in General, Adapted Also for Family Use, Including a Large Variety of Modern Recipes. The title actually goes on, but we’ll take a break there. (You can see the rest of it on the title page below.)

Written by Robert Wells in 1889, this is a short, but detailed, British guide to baking, confectionery (including sugar-work), meat pies, ornamental butter, and more. Since this is a British book, you’ll notice a few differences, but nothing that can’t be overcome in the historic or modern American kitchen. Castor (aka caster) sugar, for example, isn’t that common in the U.S. These days, though, it can found in some stores, most definitely online, and, with modern kitchen technology (a coffee/spice grinder or a food processor), you can make it yourself!

While, at first glance, this book may seem like a strange conglomerate of recipes–I can see including meat pies in a book on pastry–there is a theme here. The sections on cooking meat and poultry may seem a bit out of place, but if you can’t cook them properly, they aren’t going to make for a good meat pie. The one thing that is really lacking, especially since this is designed to be a manual not only for other professionals, but for the home cook, was pictures. I, for one, would love to see #294: To Ornament a Tongue as a Dolphin. This seems like the kind of manual that would benefit from a bit more visual content, but perhaps the lack thereof gives the home and professional the freedom to be creative rather than match a certain image.

The entirety of The Pastrycook and Confectioner’s Guide can be found on Special Collections Online, our digital platform: http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/HFDBooks/TX773.W4457_1889. You can read it online or download the pdf for later if you’re interested. Take a moment to learn something new about culinary history this week, even it’s just a little fact. I know I’m looking forward to finding out what my colleagues are doing with food history collection and outreach. I might even have some tidbits to share when I get back! Until then, good eating (though if your summer is as hot as our in Blacksburg, you might want to take a word of advice from me and skip the baking for now)!

 

 

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!

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_ICParker

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!

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_HermitageHams

…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.

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_Mellin1 Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_Mellin2

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!

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_WellsRichardson

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!

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_RoyalBP1 Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_RoyalBP2

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.

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_TownTalk1

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

Ms2013-028_CulinaryEphemera_TownTalk2

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!

Wondering What’s Good to Eat? Rufus Estes Has Some Answers!

February is Black History Month. If you’re in Blacksburg and have a chance to drop by the library, one my collegues has put together an amazing display of materials in our reading room. The exhibit highlights African-American contributions from many our main collecting areas, as well as to university history. Some of my favorite past posts I’ve written include ones on John B. Goins’ The American WaiterS. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers, and the Women’s History Month profile last March on Malinda Russell and A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen. This week, I found something else I’ve never looked at before: Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus; A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, etc., written by Rufus Estes and published in 1911.

In a recent instruction session, I was talking with students about the idea of authority and food history materials. There are some really interesting question when it comes to cookbooks: What does “authority” mean? What makes (or doesn’t make) a writer an authority on the recipes they create and write? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how a cookbook might have been accepted in its own time? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how we look at a historic cookbook today and whether or not we accept is a good source of information? When we’re investigating cookbooks and food history primary sources, does authority even matter? Answering all of these would probably lead to an exceptionally long blog post–and, of course, as we say in the archival world, “it depends.” We might considered different cookbooks in different ways, depending on different factors. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t comment a bit on the concept of authority in conjunction with Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus. Especially since Rufus Estes very much invites us to do so, by beginning his book with a biographical sketch.

Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author's biography.
Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author’s biography.

Rufus Estes very carefully sets up his authority as a chef in the first few pages of his cookbook. He wants us to know where he comes from, what he has done, and, by default, what may have influenced him. Of course, in theory, this whole biography could be fake and Estes could have just been an identity. The idea of a constructed person to market or sell a book or products isn’t new. But, in this case, there are records and evidence to prove Estes was a real person and held the positions he tells us about (and those he doesn’t). He gives us his background to show his readers that he does, in fact, know a thing or two about being a chef. When we’re talking cookbooks, does one need to be a chef to be an authority? Certainly not. And my saying I accept Estes’ biography as giving him authority as an cookbook writer doesn’t mean we would all agree on that.  It’s just interesting to consider.

It’s also worth pointing out that having a biography is not unique to Estes. Malinda Russell included some information her life, as did Abby Fisher in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (a book we’ll talk about a little later this month). Mary Randolph talks about her expertise in The Virginia Housewife. Other authors rely on introductions written by seemingly well-known people in their own time to lend weight to a writer’s authority, reliability, and even like-ability. And we still see this as a common practice in books today, culinary-related or otherwise.

You can read a little more about this book and view the entire item online through the Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” project–which, if you haven’t looked at before, you should take a moment to peruse! And next time you start preparing a recipe from your favorite cookbook (or a new one), you might take a minute to think about who the author is, why they wrote the book, and why their recipes appeal to you. Even when we’re not aware of it, a writer’s “authority” may be at work!

Feeding en masse, 50 at a time!

2016 is off to a start and next week, our students return for the spring semester. Campus will be filling up with busy, hungry students. And there are a lot of them to feed. Of course the History of Food & Drink Collection has some advice on this topic! This week, we’re featuring Food for Fifty, a 1937 book with recipes for feeding groups of people. (Now, if we just multiply that by 142,200, we’ll reach the number of meals served by Dining Services on campus each year…)

As you may notice, it’s not just recipes. The book includes several pages of dictionary terms for cooking and foods, pages of cookery terms, a menu planning chapter, sections on how to best prepare ingredients, and some illustrations and photographs. However, there are plenty of recipes for every food group, too.

Food for Fifty was published and re-published with multiple editions: a 2nd edition in 1941 (in our collection), a 3rd edition in 1950 (in our collection) and a 5th edition in 1971. [I wasn’t able to find a date for the 4th edition.] It appears that, after a long absence, the book was adapted by new authors, and our collection also includes 3 editions of this version: 9th (1993), 10th (1997), and 11th (2001). Feeding crowds, whether in institutional settings or in more informal ones, has long been a trend in food history, and Food for Fifty isn’t our only example. If you check out the catalog record for the 1937 edition, you’ll see a subject heading “quantity cooking.” If you follow the subject heading down the rabbit hole, you’ll find we have 127 books in the libraries (25 of which reside in Special Collections) with that heading and more titles with similar or related headings. Some are aimed at specific types of quantity cooking, like for schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, community kitchens, or military. Others target a specific ingredient/set of ingredients like meat or baked goods, or focus on quantity cooking that’s cost-effective or for-profit in nature. In other words, there’s more than one reason and way to write a recipe book for quantity cooking.

So, whether you’re looking to fry frog legs for 50 or supply cake for 100 in your boarding house, keep in mind that Special Collections might just be the resource for you–and not just historically speaking. Some of the earlier publications may seem out of date in some ways (boarding houses are certainly less common in 2015 than in 1915), but that doesn’t mean we don’t all still want a slab of apple cobbler at our next family reunion. 🙂

Resolving to Dissolve and Reform?: Festive Salads & Molds; Plus, Looking Ahead to 2016 on “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!”

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe we’re already a week into 2016! It’s the time of year when everyone starts putting their resolutions into practice. Me, I’m not much of a “resolution-at-New-Year’s” kind of woman. I just have an on-going resolution to keep at least some part of the surface of my desk visible under the notes, paperwork, and new acquisitions at all times. In early January, before our student employees come back and before classes start up again, my goal is usually to create MORE of the that visible space for a couple of weeks so everyone else can cover it up by February. This week had been relatively successful until yesterday when a bunch of new items arrived (with paperwork), I talked to two potential donors (scribbling notes as I went), and I found a spreadsheet inventory of some architectural drawings from a collection I’m trying to do some processing work on (that I had to print out and start marking up). In other words, I’m back to my usual organized chaos (yes, I firmly believe it CAN exist). And I’m okay with that.

More important for our context, my goal is to continue to blog and tweet professionally (and personally) when it comes to our favorite shared topics: food, cocktails, agriculture, nutrition, etc., and all the history that goes along with those subjects, as well as in some other relevant areas for Special Collections. So, while I start thinking ahead (and backward), here are some Festive Salads & Molds for your post-holiday/getting back to normal entertaining. 🙂

Festive Salads & Molds, 1966
Festive Salads & Molds, 1966

In case the title doesn’t give it all away, Festive Salads & Molds is a focused recipe book. It was compiled by Evelyn Loeb  and decorated (not “illustrated”) by Maggie Jarvis. More than that, the publication capitalizes on the diet AND entertaining trends of the time. The preface includes a whole paragraph about salads as the “boon to the diet-conscious!” While there is some variety of recipes, the book is only 61 pages long. P.S. It was published in 1966, so I hope you’re ready for some gelatin…


With it only being Week One of 2016, we’ve got at least 51 more blog posts in this year’s future! Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have typed that–it’s an intimidating number now that I see it. On the other hand, with 297 posts behind us, 51 is only 17% of that-so, it should be easy, right? Anyway, I have a series of posts planned for Women’s History Month this March and I may try to come up with a few more themed series as we go. I also have a running list of topics or items for posts. However, this is also a great opportunity for YOU to tell US what you’d like to learn more about or how we can help inspire you. “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” has been running for more than 4 years and we have a small (but growing) group of followers, between WordPress, Twitter, email, and RSS feeds.

So, do you know about a particular item or collection we have but want to know more? Are you curious about a food-related topic and wondering if we have any relevant books or manuscripts? Love a particular recipe, cookbook author, educator, culinary figure, food trend, or even agricultural process? Do you have a favorite food or drink you’d just like to see us share something about? Let us know (today or whenever the mood strikes you)! You can comment on this post, tweet at @VT_SCUA, or use any of the options on the Contacting Special Collection page of the blog–We’ll be here!