Community Cooking in (and Beyond) the Bluegrass State

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass: A New and Practical Cook Book Containing Nearly a Thousand Recipes was originally published in 1875. The copy is one of the 10th “new and enlarged” edition, first issued in 1879, but our actual copy is from 1881. Compiled and edited by the Ladies of the Presbyterian Church in Paris, Kentucky, these 206 pages are packed with recipes from women (and a few men) from mostly Kentucky, but also Virginia, Arkansas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Our edition includes the original 1875 preface, which we can’t NOT quote a bit of for you:

The “Blue Grass” region of Kentucky, as is well know, is considered the garden spot of the State. It is celebrated for the fertility of its soil, the beauty of its pastures, its flocks and blooded stock, and last, but not least, for the hospitality of its people and their table luxuries.

It is useless to enlarge upon the last feature, especially to those who have attended Bourbon Fairs [that’s the county, not the whiskey], and made visits in this and the adjoining counties. We only refer to it, by way of introducing our book to the appreciation of the public.

The 1879 also had a preface of its own, which states, in part:

…Nine thousand copies have been sold, and its praises have been sung by many of the best housekeepers of the land.

In sending forth this new edition, we have corrected some errors, supplied defects, and added many valuable recipes, which will be found at the close of each section and in the Miscellaneous department.

The entire profits of this work have been, and will continue to be, devoted to religious charity.

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass was, at its core, a community cookbook, designed to raise funds for a cause. But the fact that it went on into at least 10 editions and over 9,000 copies sold says a lot for this little volume. (There was at least one more edition in 1905 AND it has been reprinted  at least once in the last 10 years.) It clearly appealed to a wide audience (not just Kentuckians!) in its originality. (The preface also states that “Many of our recipes are entirely original with our own famed cooks; others have been gathered from the most reliable sources; not one, so far as we know, has been copied from books.”) So, what are these amazing recipes?

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has elements we see in many other cookbooks of the time: sections for home remedies, home cleaning/upkeep, and cooking for invalids, in addition to all the other recipes. Of course, it also reflects a different era of cooking. The majority of the recipes have a list of ingredients in non-standard amounts (standardized measurements, courtesy of Fannie Farmer, were still several years in the future in 1881) and, in some cases, additional directions, but there was still an assumption that a reader would know what to do with those ingredients. Or, they would at least understand the basics of producing a pudding, a white sauce, or a pastry dough as a component. Compared to many modern cookbooks, there was a different set of expectations on home cooks in the late 19th century! Some of the basics may be covered in the book (Housekeeping in the Blue Grass has recipes for pie crust that you could use throughout, for example), but there’s no guarantee.

Community cookbooks were aptly named, especially in their early days–they weren’t just something produced by a community group (often of women). They were produced by a community of cooks, for a community of new and experienced cooks, and to help build community between those who had the knowledge and those who might have needed some culinary and domestic education. That’s a whole other topic we don’t have space for here today, but it is food for thought (at least it has been for me lately).

Housekeeping in the Blue Grass is available online, as it was scanned by Special Collections staff some years ago. So, if our amuse-bouche (I love that word!) of a blog post isn’t enough for you, you can delve further into the book and find recipes for deviled turkey, Sally Lunn, or fish pie…

Women’s History Month, Part 19: M. L. Tyson

This week’s Women’s History Month profile is going to a little different. Anyone who has followed this blog (or our general Special Collections blog) for a while knows that we deal with mysteries a lot. Sometimes, despite all the digging, people, places, events, and even ingredients can remain shrouded in secrets. And that’s okay. Frustrating (believe me, I know!), but okay. It doesn’t mean they can’t leave a legacy. Which is how we get to Miss M. L. Tyson, the “Queen of the Kitchen,” and her 1,007 recipes.

Published in 1886, The Queen of the Kitchen: A Collection of Southern Cooking Receipts Containing over One Thousand Southern Receipts in Practical Cookery is an anthology of recipes, recipes, and more recipes, along with a few sets of household management instructions thrown in for good measure (because how else will you get rid of that vermin problem?). Our mysterious Miss Tyson doesn’t take credit for writing everything, but she does claim compilation of generations of family receipt books and, as we’ll see from a Marylander, plenty of seafood. (I am deliberately not getting into geographical disputes about whether Maryland is southern enough, especially since we’ll see plenty of southern influence.)

On the “table of contents” surface, The Queen of the Kitchen has the same categories and general topics/subjects we expect in a work of this sort from this time. So, in that sense, it’s not entirely unique. At the same time, it brings together traditionally southern cooking and techniques with a strong Mid-Atlantic coastal influence. First, some recipes:

I started out with breakfast, since I had pancakes on the brain when I launched into this blog post. Whatever you to want to call them–pancakes, cakes, johnny cakes, cream cakes, saleratus cakes, clabber cakes, mush cakes, Washington breakfast cakes, etc.–Miss Tyson has a LOT of them. There’s plenty of seafood in this book, and in my typical style, I found a page with some more…interesting recipes, but for good reason! When we’ve looked at some early American cookery on the blog in the past, we’ve talked a fair bit about the British influence. Eventually, much that started to go away (though not all of it) as America found it’s vast and varied culinary culture. Miss Tyson’s ancestors, it seems, didn’t lose as much of that–suggested by the eel and cod. Cod tongues on its own is a striking recipe. Cod sounds, for those of you not up on your fish biology, are swim bladders. The recipe is a bit more common in British cooking, as is eel, but it also points to an important trend in 19th century American cookery–economy!

I skipped ahead to dessert after that, where we once again see the British influence in the section on custards and jellies. Blanc mange itself was common in the 19th century, but the idea of a “Yellow” one, which seems to be based on the resulting colo(u?)r, rather than the contents, was rather intriguing. I also like the idea of arrow root as a thickener, which has a long history as such. Since we can never escape food preservation technologies in the American culinary history, neither could Miss Tyson. Among her many recipes are TWO for cucumber catsup. We’ve certainly looked a catsup before on the blog, and the fact that it took a long time to get to the tomato kind we know today. I sort of expected cucumber catsup to more like a chow-chow or relish of some sort. In this case, it is kind of a cross between a relish and a pickle and was probably a condiment/accompaniment of some sort.

And lastly, because we’re in Virginia, it only seemed right to end a recipe that would have some weight here: ham! The recipes above are immediately preceded by “To Cure 1000 Pounds of Pork” and succeeded by “Westphalia Mode of Curing Hams,” after the book goes on to the topic of meat. The Westphalia recipe, while referring to a region of Germany, explicitly states that “[t]his receipt was brought from England by a gentleman who used it with great success.” So while Miss Tyson herself seems to be a self-proclaimed American “Queen of the Kitchen,” it’s important to note her somewhat world-wide and nation-wide influences.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to go on in terms of identifying our Miss Tyson. “Queen of the Kitchen,” sadly, does not appear on any census records. I wasn’t able to come up with a first name and the initials alone aren’t really enough to narrow down a search. This is also, it appears, Miss Tyson’s only work–a sort of opus, it seems. The Queen of the Kitchen is available online from Virginia Tech, if you’d like to delve further into its 428 pages and 1,007 recipes. There’s plenty of learn about jellies, ice creams, seafood, meet, and more! There was a previous edition in 1882, but, as far as WorldCat indicates, nothing before that.

On a related note, there’s a fun new hashtag out there on Twitter and other forms of social media: #FoodFriday. If you’re a social media user, especially on Twitter, you should keep an eye on it. Since I’ve been posting on Fridays a lot lately and because of this trend, I am tentatively looking at moving my posting schedule toward Fridays. Or at the very least, tweeting about blog posts on Fridays–and maybe some other things! If you are on Twitter and aren’t following us yet, you can find us @VT_SCUA, where we talk about Special Collections generally, as well as our many collecting areas, including culinary history.

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!