Food & Foodways Resource Guides Update

The majority of our staff was off at a conference last week and I, for one, took advantage of a great food scene. Playing catch up hasn’t left me with too much time to ponder a feature this week, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to post updates on some resources from Special Collections on the topic of food & foodways research. Since I last posted a link to these resources back in January of 2017, I’ve added at least one more.

The “Food & Drink History Resources @Virginia Tech” resource guide was created back in 2014 and there is a previous blog post about it. Since then, I’ve made period updates to content, fixed links, and tinkered a little bit with the layout, but it’s largely the same guide and serves the same purpose as when it was first created.

http://guides.lib.vt.edu/specialcollections/foodhistory

After that, I created a guide for the materials relating to infant, child, and family nutrition. This was partially to highlight this group of materials AND partially a response to a class I was working with at the time. It includes information about the collection, how to locate books and manuscripts in the collection, and some suggested online tools and resources.

http://guides.lib.vt.edu/specialcollections/childrensnutrition

Of course it didn’t take me long to get into the cocktail history materials, either. The guide for this group of materials is organized by time period and highlights some of the significant “eras” of cocktail culture in America. Each section includes a short introduction and a list of suggested resources. I’ve also put together some more general cocktail history and online tools.

http://guides.lib.vt.edu/specialcollections/cocktailhistory

Last (for now!), but certainly not least, at the start of this year, I put together a resource guide for the Introduction to Appalachian Studies course offered at Virginia Tech. It includes a breakdown of Appalachian resources by format and topic.

http://guides.lib.vt.edu/specialcollections/aps1704

One of the major sections is dedicated to food & foodways. It contains suggested resources in Special Collections relating to food items (i.e. cookbooks and research on food), as well as books about traditional folk medicine, farming, and agriculture. It’s a little bit broader that “just” food, but it’s another helpful place to collate information!

I’m still working on the latest guide, which will focus on aspects of food technology and production. I’m looking forward to getting it completed (or at least enough of it to go live), since this will talk about some other aspects of food history not covered in the same detail on other guides. This will include aspects of food technology, agriculture, food science, transportation of food products, manufacturing, advertising, and more!

So, if you’re doing any summer research on food, some of the resources above might help you out! The majority of the content covers print and manuscript materials housed in Special Collections, but most guides also contain some online resources, tools, and digital collection you can access wherever you are!


Also, in the realm of manuscript collection updates, just this week, I processed the remaining backlog of the Ann A. Hertzler Collection. The finding aid has been updated and it includes materials donated by the late Dr. Hertzler in 2014: research and subject files on foods and people in the culinary history world, as well as several small boxes of magnets and other small artifacts. We moved of the digitized items  that weren’t from Cooperative Extension to the same platform and updated the links. Digitized items from her collection are online via the Special Collections website. Digitized Cooperative Extension publications authored or co-authored by Dr. Hertzler are available through the university’s institutional repository.

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Cake and Politics/Politics and Cake

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to write a post about political food without, well, getting into politics. Since food is so much a part of our lives, it’s hardly surprising that it would play a part in our political lives, too. For you dairy fans, there are two strange examples of food gifts to politicians: the 1,400 lb “Jackson Cheese,” gifted to the President Jackson in 1837 (with additional 700 lb cheeses given to Van Buren and four others for politicians/political organizations of the time) and the 1,234 lb “Cheshire Mammoth Cheese,” gifted to then-president Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Both are interesting stories (after all, what does one do with a half ton or more of cheese??) and worth reading about. But I was looking for something a bit more accessible–we have no recipe for giant cheese that I’m aware of in the collection. What we do have, though, are recipes for “Election Cake.” (I know, I know, it’s not November yet–but I’m sharing this in advance, in case anyone want to make it for Election Day!)

I’ve got four variations of “Election Cake” to share today, though there are some definite similarities between the three versions from the 18th and 19th centuries. (The origin of American “Election Cake” is actually in the 17th century, so it’s been around a while!) The latest of the bunch is from 1914 and is also the most distinct, reflecting not a change in politics or views, but a change in kitchen and baking technologies (we’ll come back to that in a moment).

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Amelia Simmons’ “Election Cake,” c. 1796, in American Cookery
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Amelia Simmons’ “Election Cake,” c. 1796, in American Cookery. She also has other “political” recipes like “Independence Cake” and “Federal Pan Cake.”

The amount of ingredients in Simmons’ recipe, as you may notice, are quite large. This gets the origins of “Election Cake,” which was often commissioned by local officials in celebration of elections (and may have also been a way to entice voters to the polls). So, rather than a cake for a family or a small party, 18th century “Election Cakes” were designed to feed large crowds. Through the 19th century, such cakes were also time consuming. One had to make a mixture that would sit for hours (and even overnight) before it could be finished and baked.

Lydia Maria Child's recipe for "Election Cake," 1844, in The American Frugal Housewife
Lydia Maria Child’s recipe for “Election Cake,” 1844, in The American Frugal Housewife

Lydia Maria Child’s recipe is of a more manageable size, designed for the small/home baker. Her recipe first appeared in print in an earlier edition of The American Frugal Housewife from 1833. Like Simmons, though, her recipe relies on time and effort. This “single-loaf” version, as we might call it, occurs commonly in the time period. The first American version of Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts, published in Philadelphia in 1831, includes an “Election Cake” with the following directions:

Take 5 lbs flour, 2 lbs sugar, 3/4 lbs butter, 5 eggs, yeast, 1 pint of milk, and spice as you please.

Hopefully, a good baker would know what to do from there? At any rate, the recipe’s history in America goes back to at least, the late 18th century, and cakes of the same or similar ingredients or techniques can be found in the British tradition as early as the mid-17th century (though with different monikers). Two other American variations sometimes appear in books as “Hartford Election Cake” or “Old Hartford Election Cake.” There is a story behind that, too. Alternatively, because in some places in New England Election Day was also “Muster Day” or “Training Day,” you might also find recipes for “Muster Cake” or “Training Cake” that seem remarkably familiar.

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Handwritten “Election Cake” recipe from the Elvira Jane Hanna Receipt Book (Ms2013-052)

Elvira Jane Hanna’s receipt book of recipes also features “Election Cake.” The instructions she recorded are less detailed than Child’s and more so than Mackenzie’s, but it’s easy to see that the published version was making the household rounds. Although we don’t have exact dates for Hanna’s manuscript cookbook, we believe it dates to about the mid-19th century, certainly during the time that Child, Mackenzie, and others were sharing the cake. Skipping ahead a bit, one can still find “Election Cake” published in the 20th century.

"Election Cake" from Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1914
“Election Cake” from Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1914

The first edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book was published in 1896 and “Election Cake” was among the recipes. However, our earliest edition of this title is from 1914. “Election Cake” was a staple in the Fannie Farmer classic cookbook in all its later editions, too. But, it has slightly different approach: it includes bread dough as an ingredient (which, one would have have to make or have on hand), adds more fruit and spices, incorporates baking soda as a leavening agent, and it even gets frosting! Most notable, perhaps, though, is the middle item on that list. We begin to see a modernization of this recipe that relies on new ingredients that can speed up the once-overnight process. Farmer’s book tells us one need only let the mixture rise for 1 1/4 hours, not overnight, or even the 3 hours suggested by Child in warm weather.

Of course, I’ve cherry picked some variations, but there are plenty more out there–and on our shelves, too! So, whether you’re looking to celebrate the election or drown your sorrows in delicious, cake-y goodness, you might want to think about an “Election Cake.” Regardless of the politics, cake will most certainly make you a winner among your constituency.

Food History in the News (#2): Gastronomy of Genius

This article is a couple of weeks old, but if you missed it, it’s worth a look: “Gastronomy Of Genius: History’s Great Minds And The Foods That Fueled Them.” As we say on the blog all the time, food doesn’t existing in a vacuum and it influences us in our daily lives.  You don’t have to be a genius to know that, but apparently even geniuses are subject to their food passions (and lack of passions?), just like everyone else.

What’s in the (Sugar) Bag?

This week, I thought we’d take a look at a “shaped” publication. (Also, I have plans to recreate an 1827 “Layfayette Gingerbread” recipe this weekend and I have sugar and molasses on the brain.) As we know from the wide array advertising materials we’ve looked at before, companies have all kinds of quirky strategies for attracting consumer attention. This booklet from W. J. McCahan Sugar Refining & Molasses Co. took a novel approach: they shaped the publication like a bag of sugar.

 

“McCahan’s Sunny Cane Sugar” was published in 1937, but as you can see from one of the images above, this was far from the first edition. The 88 pages are packed with information on the history of sugar, types of sugar produced by the company, recipes, and kitchen/cooking tips. The recipes primarily provide instruction for desserts (not surprising), but there are also sections for meat and vegetables. Because of course you’ll want to get sugar into every dish of your meal!

We have a couple other pamphlets from a different sugar company that are shaped like sugar bags (these are only about two pages long each) in the collection. My guess is, the sugar bag shape is relatively easy to create, since it involves the removal of the corners. I’ve also come across some can-shaped pamphlets and one strange booklet that’s square at the top, but features the image of a wooden salad bowl on the cover. The bottom of the booklet is rounded like a bowl. More recently, we acquired a book on peanuts shaped like–you guessed it–a peanut! Now, if only we had a bread-loaf shaped one to go with it, we would be part way to strange looking peanut butter sandwich…

Archivistkira’s Week at Culinary Geek Camp

If you’re a long-time follower, I hoe you’ll forgive me for going a bit more off track than usual this week. You know that usually I would post images and commentary/history on an item from the History of Food and Drink Collection. The thing is, last week, I got to do something amazing and 100% food history related. And I really want to talk about it. I think it may give our readers more insight into some of my future hopes/dreams for the collection, and you’ll learn about my passion for food history. It’s going to a long post, but I’ll keep my comments short and I promise there are pictures.

Each summer, the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) hosts a week long seminar. Each year, the topic changes and you’ll never see quite the same thing again. This year, the theme was “Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900.” You can read more about it online.  As soon as I heard about it from a colleague who attended last year, I knew I had to go. Luckily, the faculty member leading the seminar agreed and I was accepted.

The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.
The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.

My week was spent in the company of graduate students, faculty, and a couple of other library types from a variety of disciplines: History, Art History, English, American Studies, and Religion Studies. Led by a visiting faculty member and assisted by the staff at the AAS, we had lectures, hands-on workshops (with books, prints, ephemera, trade cards, images, and artifacts), field trips, and even time to do our own research. The archivist in me was giddy from the behind-the-scenes tour, the scholar in me was gleeful about playing in someone else’s archives, and the collection manager in me was thrilled to talk about and learn how and why people from diverse backgrounds study food and food history.

On our first day, we were shown a number of objects related to food and asked to pick one. Over the course of the week, we were supposed to keep thinking about the object, how what we talked about changed our understanding of it, and, on the last day, give a brief informal presentation about the object as an item. Some people put the object in the context of American culture at the time, others talked about how it could be used in a classroom setting to engage students, and still others used the object as a jumping off point for broader observations about what the item represented. I chose this 1759 advertisement for a merchant in Boston, printed by one Paul Revere. It was accompanied by a handwritten receipt for the items purchased by a customer, around which the ad would have been wrapped (you can still see the fold line under “Large & small Spiders” below).

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1759 Advertisement for merchant Joseph Webb of Boston. Printed by Paul Revere.
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Handwritten receipt from Webb to Obadiah Dickinson, 1759, accompanying the advertisement.

I could probably write a paper on what I talked about for those short 5 minutes, and I won’t linger on that today, but it won’t surprise anyone to know I focused on how this might fit in as something I would show a visiting class and what it says about culinary activities in early America.

During our daily workshops, we got to handle a wide variety of materials. The items related to the day’s theme. We spent time looking at them, then had group discussions about their significance, interest, use, etc., as they related to art, political, culinary, economic, and social/domestic history. I took lots of picture, from political cartoons to trade cards to hand-colored tea plants in a botany book. (Apologies for all the reflections, but most items were in mylar for their safety and flashes weren’t permitted. Also, I haven’t had a chance to crop and edit yet.)

A. Brown & Co. print, "Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864."
A. Brown & Co. print, “Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864.”
Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies' Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.
Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies’ Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.
Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the "baking powder wars!"
Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the “baking powder wars!”
The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.
The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.

Of course, you don’t put a group of scholars obsessed with food together and not cook. During a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, we cooked an 1830s meal over an open hearth from scratch (stuffed and roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, rolls, greens with burnt butter dressing, lemonade, pounded cheese, and “Washington Cake” with hand-whipped cream, plus we churned and washed our own butter!). It was an eye-opening experience to actually prepare this meal and if it weren’t for 20 sets of hands, it would have taken well more than our 3 hours. We tasted and talked about hard cider, cheese and cheesemaking, and Sazeracs and other historic cocktails, and bravely sampled hardtack. On our last day together, we made gingerbread as dessert for the evening’s cook out. It was Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe that included a pint of molasses and four different spices. Dense as it was, it tasted amazing and I’m looking forward to making it at home for friends.

Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)
Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)
Eliza Leslie's 1827 recipe for gingerbread.
Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe for gingerbread, made in 2015!

Besides the fun, my pile of notes, new knowledge gained, and the chance to do research (why yes, I DID find some interesting cocktail history in manuscript form, but more on that another day), there was something even more important I learned last week and it was a large part of what I wrote about in my application essay. I wanted to meet people from different disciplines who studied food and I wanted to know why they did. I’ve worked at Virginia Tech Special Collections with the History of Food and Drink Collection for more than 6 years. One of my biggest challenges is finding ways to make it seem usable and relevant in the classroom. After a week of conversation and collaboration, I’m looking forward to reflecting on how I can broaden the way I think about our collection and its use, and how I can encourage faculty and students on campus to do the same. Hopefully, I can find some angles to entice classes in unexpected areas of study to pay us a visit.

Finally, after going on way to long, I’ll leave you with two more images (no, not me washing butter–but a picture of that DOES exist!). They are two food items vital to the history of food and culinary culture in America and abroad. If you want a bit of my experience from last week, give yourself five minutes to consider them. It might just surprise you how politically charged your morning beverage might be.

A bottle of tea whose label reads "Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773."
A bottle of tea whose label reads “Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773.”
Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.

See you next week, when we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

Women’s History Month, Part 12: M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992)

M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992). Photograph from book jacket of Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)
M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992). Photograph from book jacket of Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)

This week, we’re circling back to an influential woman of the 20th century: M. F. K. (that’s Mary Frances Kennedy, all spelled out) Fisher. Fisher was born in Michigan in 1908, but grew up in California. Although she would return there to live several times over the course of her life, it was France that seemed to influence her most. Between 1928 and 1932, she and her first husband lived in Dijon. From 1936 to 1939, she lived in Vevey and Bern, Switzerland. For a short year in 1954-1955, she took her two daughters to live in Aix, France, before returning to California. Her final lengthy time living abroad was between 1959 and 1961, again in Switzerland and France, though she would take additional trips to France in the 1970s. She designed and built a house in Glen Ellen, California, in 1971. She named it “Last House,” and it did become her last permanent resident, until the time of her death in 1992.

Fisher had a prolific writing career that included a large number of books, essays, and reviews related to food and food history. During the 1940s alone, she completed six books that blended history, food, and food culture designed for a wide audience. (Her personality and wit jump off of many pages!) However, food wasn’t her only genre. She wrote autobiographical works, novels, and essays, too. Between 1942 and 1944, she was even a writer for Paramount Studios!

We are happy to have five of her books among our collection. One of the things I adore are her book covers. They range from simple drawings to collages of image, but they are always something eye-catching and intriguing.

Bibliography (Titles in bold are among our holdings at Special Collections):

  • Serve it Forth (1937)
  • “The Flaw” (1939) (essay)
  • Consider the Oyster (1941)
  • How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
  • The Gastronomical Me (1943)
  • Here Let Us Feast: A Book of Banquets (1946)
  • Not Now But Now (1947)
  • An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
  • The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Transcendal Gastronomy (1949) (Fisher translated this new edition)
  • The Art of Eating (1954) (includes the text of Serve It Forth, Consider The Oyster, How To Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me, and An Alphabet for Gourmets)
  • A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man & Beast (1961)
  • The Story of Wine in California (1962)
  • Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)
  • The Cooking of Provincial France (1968)
  • With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)
  • Among Friends (1970)
  • A Considerable Town (1978)
  • Not a Station but a Place (1979)
  • As They Were (1982)
  • Two Towns in Provence (1983)
  • Sister Age (1984)
  • Spirits of the Valley (1985)
  • The Standing and the Waiting (1985)
  • Fine Preserving: M. F. K. Fisher’s Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann’s Cookbook (1986)
  • Dubious Honors (1988)
  • Answer in the Affirmative & The Oldest Living Man (1989)
  • The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990)
  • Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)
  • To Begin Again: Stories and Memories, 1908-1929 (1992)
  • Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories, 1933-1941 (1993)
  • Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations, 1943-1991 (1995)
  • From the Journals of M. F. K. Fisher (1999)
  • A Stew or a Story: An Assortment of Short Works by M. F. K. Fisher (2006)

A few titles about Fisher:

  • Conversations with M. F. K. Fisher (1992)
  • A Welcoming Life: The M. F. K. Fisher Scrapbook (1997)
  • A Life in Letters: Correspondence, 1929-1991 (1998)
  • Measure of Her Powers : An M. F. K. Fisher Reader (1999)

The majority of these titles came from a wonderful bibliography of Fisher that is available online. In some cases, it includes brief descriptions of titles. The M. F. K. Fisher Foundation website also include tributes and biographical information–it’s worth a look!

I hope you have enjoyed reading our third year of Women’s History Month profiles as much as I have enjoyed writing them. But, of course, every week is an excuse for me to learn new tidbits from culinary history and to share stories with our audience! We’ll be back next week, perhaps with a little less seriousness and a little more frivolity. Until then, eat well!

New Guide to Culinary Resources

Procrastinating Archivist Kira here. I’m still working on a post for this week. In the meantime, I wanted to share a resource I started developing last semester. The University Libraries have begun using LibGuides, an online tool that allows us to build topic, subject, and course guides. Since I love to experiment with new toys, I created “Food & Drink History Resources @Virginia Tech (and Beyond!).” This guide combines information about online and physical collections and publications we have here at Special Collections, as well as exhibits, digital collections, and physical collections at other institutions. I’ve also included a short list of sample food blogs (with more to come!). If you’re curious about our collection, this is a fun place to start. And if you’re wondering what other academic organizations are interested in food history, you can see that, too.

This continues to be a work-in-progress, as I add new resources, blogs, information, and soon, some images. Suggestions are welcome! Here’s a screenshot teaser of the first page:

Screenshot
http://guides.lib.vt.edu/specialcollections/foodhistory