S. Thomas Bivens and the Business of Food

February is Black History Month. Around this time last year, I was asked if I might be interested in giving a talk about African-American contributions to culinary history. Since my culinary history is learned on the job, I thought it might give me a great opportunity to explore a subject I didn’t know much about, and I agreed. With a time limit, there was only so much I could talk about, so I devoted my 20 minutes to a hundred year period, from about 1820-1920 (and even that BARELY scratched the surface). I talked about a number of significant and influential publications in our collection, including John B. Goins’ The American Waiter, which I’ve blogged about previously.

Today, I thought I’d share another important early 20th century African-American manual: S. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers. In 1912, S. Thomas Bivens wrote The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers. As we can infer from the activities and successes of previous  African-American authors like Abby Fisher (What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, 1881) , John B. Goins, Tunis Campbell (Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers’ Guide, 1848), and Robert Roberts (The House Servant’s Directory, or A Monitor for Private Families: Comprising Hints on the Arrangement and Performance of Servants’ Work, 1827), food had become a business, and an important one for African-Americans. Bivens was a teacher at the Chester Domestic Training Institute in Pennsylvania. In his introduction, he writes:

“Domestic service consists not simply in going the rounds and doing the humdrum duties of the house, but in scientifically cooking the food: in creating new dishes and in having a thorough knowledge of the family…Such service would be indispensable to any family.”

The recipes in Bivens’ book run across every meal and even include things like making cheese and a whole section on home brewing (beer, wine, cordials, vinegars and shrubs). There’s a wide variety of recipes in the book and, returning to southern roots, many foods made from brains, feet, and offal.  Much like the household manuals of a slightly earlier era, there are directions for cooking for invalids, but also three pages on easy dishes to make for poor or needy families. Charity is part of the experience of serving oneself and one’s boss. Bivens closes his volume with directions for table settings, etiquette, and suggested menus for the home. Equally important, when considering the work of Bivens and Goins, is that, by the early part of the 20th century (and perhaps as early as  Abby Fisher in 1881), voices, ideas, recipes and even foods that had been co-opted during the previous century were becoming more authoritative and instructional. And these authors began to pave the way for the next 100 years.

You can view the entire book online, via the Hathi Trust, here, if you can’t visit us. We do have a reprint of Abby Fisher’s book in our collection, so I won’t spoil that one today–it’s a post for another day. Currently, however, we don’t have a copy of either Tunis Campbell or Robert Roberts’ publications…yet. Thanks to MSU’s “Feeding America” project, you can see both online here and here.

William Tippett, Belle Island, and the Foods of War

UPDATE: As of March 2015, this letter, complete with transcripts, is available on our website for digitized collections, Special Collections Online! Check it out here: http://omeka.lib.vt.edu/items/show/2827


In May 2012, we bought a Civil War letter–certainly not the first, nor that last. However, it was one of those rare occasions in which I had to hoard a collection to process, all for myself. You see, Sgt. William S. Tippett had something to say–quite a bit, in fact–on the subject of food. I love Civil War letters and diaries. I also love food history. So, when the two subjects meet, I’m hooked.

Tippett’s letter to his wife Maggie is surprisingly lengthy, at 8 pages. However, Tippett was a Confederate POW for more than 7 months and during that time, his letters home, if he wrote them, would likely have contained limited information. Once in the parole camp, he would have had more freedom in what he could write to her. His letter begins and ends with news: news about her receiving his pay, about the location of people they knew, about his transition to a parole camp, and his current situation. But the middle pages focus on food. Over the course of the months, supplies were fewer and fewer:

 When we first came to this place they were giving six ounces of bread and 1 ½ ounces “meat” – beef in the morning and for supper we got four ounces bread and a pint of bean or rice soup…

We had nothing only what we had on, and at night we would lay down just on the sandy ground about twenty in a tent just like a lot of hogs. – not as good as some hogpens I have seen – in this way we would try and sleep but our sleep would be disturbed by dreams of something to eat and we would dream that we were at home just agoing to eat such a nice meal, when we would waken up and find that we were nearly starved – Some nights just about dark when we laid down I would think of home and just imagine that you were about eating supper and wish I could just drop in and help you…

Well I wish you could see one piece of the Confederate corn bread, issued at Belle Isle.  It aint such bread as you make.  It is made of white corn meal water and a very little salt.  Made in 2lb loaves, and about half baked.  The inside was all raw. – Then meat got scarce and they gave us Raw sweet potatoes and no wood, to make a fire with…

on my birth day (14th November) I shall allways remember it I got nothing to eat.  Christmas we got no diner only a little piece of corn bread in the morning – but I had a friend who was working in the new bakery their building on the Island and he brought me something to eat from the outside…

Since New Years we only got meat three of four times and very little then.  They only allow 10lbs meat and bones to a Hundred men which is a small piece when it is divided…

In February they quit making soup for us and gave us dry beans sometimes and we had to cook them as best we could but they did not give us enough wood to do that – we saved the wood and beans and used to cook them every second day in this way I stood it until the 6th of March…

as soon as we got on our boat [transportation to the parole camp] supper was ready, coffee meat and good wheat bread.         Oh but wasn’t it good – we had seen wheat bread since November and no meat since Crismas – and no coffee since we were taken prisoners. – I thought this the best meal I ever eat in my life.

Tippett’s experiences would not have been unique, as conditions for soldiers, and especially POWs, deteriorated as the war progressed. Other soldiers recount receiving moldy bread or no bread at all. Some lived on only soup and beans for months. Prisoners would share food rations, request money and food from home, and rely on just about any animal they could get their hands on to supplement limited supplies (including rats and, in one case, the pet dog of the officer in charge of the POW camp).

You can see the finding aid for the William S. Tippett Letter online. Now that the letter is scanned in full, I hope to be posting it online soon, and will add links to the images and transcript in the finding aid when that is complete. If you’re interest in Civil War food history, we have a number of resources, aside from Tippett’s letter, in Special Collections, and you’re always welcome to visit.

Thanksgiving and Virginia: A Brief History

Archivist/blogger Kira here again…Last week, I gave a talk for a Peacock Harper Culinary Friends luncheon, I started out investigating the question “was the first Thanksgiving [in the  modern United States] in Virginia?” Like many good research topics, the answer wasn’t a clear one. As a result, my talk became more a look at the early history and evolution of Thanksgiving as a holiday, and how I felt Virginia contributed to the holiday leading up to to the 20th century. A number of people asked for copies, so I thought I would post it here. 

This link should open a pdf in your browser that you can read, print, or download: ThanksgivingVirginiaTalk_Nov22,2013a

Many thanks to those of you who attended!

An Early Dictionary of Food

In 1830, Richard Dolby, cook at the Thatched House Tavern in London, wrote something “never hitherto attempted.” One might spend quite a bit of time pondering what Dolby produced that, in his own words, seemed so groundbreaking in the culinary world. It wasn’t a recipe/cook book (well, not exactly). It wasn’t an encyclopedia of food history (well, not exactly). And it wasn’t a guidebook for young housewives (well, not exactly). It was, however, The Cook’s Dictionary and House-Keeper’s Directory: A New Family Manual of Cookery and Confectionery, on a Plan of Ready Reference Never Hitherto Attempted.

Title page
Title page

From a historical perspective, we can’t speak to the accuracy of his claim that such a book was never attempted. For all we know, a work was finished, but never published. However, it’s entirely possible a work like Dolby’s was never published before. There certainly were food encyclopedias, guidebooks and household management books, and there was at least one botanical/medical/agricultural dictionary that pre-date 1830. Still, Dolby’s method of blending information about foods along with recipes in a dictionary-like structure seems pretty unique for its day. And it meets its goal of simplicity, as the introduction suggests:

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The meat of the book (pun intended, of course!) is an alphabetical listing of foods, food groups (classifications of recipes, rather than what we might think of as contemporary food groups), and recipes that are representative of foods. Even when an entry blends all three, it is provided as a straight narrative, recipe included, which is characteristic of many pre-20th century cookbooks.

Nor does Dolby abandon his readers after he finishes the “Zs.” His leaves us with two helpful additions: One, a short list of terms used throughout the book, and two, a calendar year list of when certain foods are available in season. While the latter may not be accurate today, nor overly helpful outside the UK, where growing seasons may differ, it’s easy to see how they could be useful to readers in 1830.

You can find the full text of Dolby’s dictionary online here. If you’re curious to see what he included, it’s very much worth the look. Plus, it’s in alphabetical order, so there’s no difficulty in finding an ingredient!

Food Blog Round-Up

It’s your loyal archivist/blogger Kira here. I’m out of the office for part of the week, so I’m going to cheat on this week’s post.  Rather than feature an item from the collection (don’t worry, we’ll be back to normal next week!), I thought I’d do a quick blog round-up.  Because when I’m not working or writing blog posts, I’m reading them. Some blogs I follow are news related, some culture related, and some are just plain fun. There are lots of individuals interested in food culture and history who find creative ways to blog on the internet. So, if you’re looking for a one-time read, or a new blog to follow, here are a few from my feed reader you might want to check out:

  • NPR’s food blog, The Salt, mixes food news, food culture, and usually, on Mondays, some pretty hilarious mockery of sandwiches (I can relate!).
  • Interested in Southern food culture? The Southern Foodways Alliance blog focuses on food projects, people, trends, and events.
  • We aren’t the only library with a food blog either! La Cocina Historica focuses on the Mexican Cookbook Collection at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
  • Food as a Lens is the work of a history/foodways professor who writes about food traditions from around the country.
  • 1972: The Retro WW Experiment. Retro Mimi recreates 1970s Weight Watchers recipes in her own kitchen and shares her adventures along the way. Some of what she makes might look VERY familiar to recipes you’ve seen here!
  • The Mid-Century Menu. Blogger Retro Ruth has a project that makes me wish for more time in the day! Each Wednesday, she posts her experiences making a mid-20th century recipe at home. On Fridays, she’s now testing out vintage cocktail recipes, too.

These are just a few examples. There are many, many more food blogs out there and you can find them with the click of a mouse. If you follow a food blog you think I should know about, leave a note in the comments below! I’m always on the lookout for a new read.

Happy reading!

From Root to Table: Raw Foods in the Early 20th Century

This week, we’re featuring Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them: A Treatise on How to Get the Highest Form of Animal Energy from Food: With Recipes for Preparation, Healthful Combinations and Menus by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Christian. This particular volume is a recent addition to Special Collections. Published in 1904, it’s actually the 5th edition, so this husband and wife team seemed to be on a roll…

Eugene Christian was the more prolific of the pair, authoring a variety of books on food, diet, nutrition, and health in general between 1900-1930. His wife co-authored a several books with him, however. Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them features a little bit of everything: directions on how and what to eat, how to prepare foods (very little!), sample recipes, sample meal plans, and some about why the idea of eating raw foods was important to the authors. For Special Collections, this piece is a great new addition. While we have a number of volumes on vegetarianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, this is the first book we have on raw foods and the raw foods movement. (Now, we’ll be on the lookout for more!)

You’ll notice that there are a few cooked/prepared foods in the book, though they seem to be carefully chosen and few and far between. The section on soup, for example, is prefaced by the statement that: “We give here a few recipes for soups only because the soup habit is so firmly fixed in the mind of the housewife and the epicure that they can hardly conceive of a decent dinner without them. All soups may be warmed sufficiently to serve hot without cooking.” All but one of the few meat or fish dishes are smoked or dried. The others are all raw, including a beef tartare recipe.

So whether you’re hankering for egg-nog with fruit juice, raw carrot and turnips with (or without) salad dressing, or prune pie, this book could be for you. You’ll just have to come by and see. Until then, happy eating!

Women’s History Month Profiles, Part 3: Marion Harland (1830-1922) and Christine Terhune Herrick (1859-1944)

This week, our Women’s History Month feature includes two women, a mother and daughter with LOTS to say on the topic of cooking and managing the home. Each was an author in her own right, though, as we’ll see, their efforts resulted in at least one collaboration.

Mary Virginia Hawes (later, Terhune) was born in Virginia in 1830. Writing under a series of pen names, she published articles beginning at age 14. Eventually, she adopted Marion Harland as her author identity. She married a preacher, Edward Terhune, a Presbyterian minister, and they had six children, three of whom survived infancy (and who all became writers!). For nearly the first twenty years of her writing career, she wrote novels and fiction, primarily aimed at women. In the 1870s, she added to her repertoire and completed a book on household management, full of recipes and hints. It was the first edition of Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. Although she never gave up writing fiction, and even added some non-fiction to her bibliography, from the 1870s to the early 1900s, her focus seemed to have shifted to cookery and domestic guides in cookbook and narrative styles. She died in 1922, at the age of 91, leaving behind a legacy of fiction, non-fiction, articles, household advice, recipes, and more.

Our holdings in Special Collections are by no means complete. Marion Harland wrote on culinary, literary, and historical topics, as well as travel and fiction. We have half a dozen of her culinary and domestic related books, which represent only a small percentage her catalog of works. The gallery below contains scans from selected University Libraries’ holdings (in chronological order).

For more about Mary Terhune, you can check out her obituary in the New York Times; her autobiography online, and the Encyclopedia Virginia article about her.

Christine Terhune (later Herrick), was born in 1859, after her parents had relocated to New Jersey for her father’s work. Following an extensive education in the US and in Europe during family life abroad, she taught private school briefly. In 1884, she married James Herrick, a newspaper editor, in Springfield, Massachusetts. She began writing articles for newspapers and ladies journals. By 1888, her first book on household management was published (Housekeeping Made Easy) and she became quite successful. After her husband’s death in 1893, she wrote to support her family while she raised two young sons. In 1905, she edited a set of books, Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes that included some her mother’s writings. By the time of her death in 1944, she had published more than 25 books on raising children, living on a budget, manuals for servants and housewives, cooking, and housekeeping in general.

Currently, Special Collections includes only four of Herrick’s books (don’t worry, we’re always on the look out for more!), highlighted in the gallery below.

For more on Christine Terhune Herrick, you can read about the entry for her in the Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 2 online.

Together, mother and daughter wrote more than 50 publications, the majority of which related to culinary history and domestic life. Their books, including editions and reprints, provided housewives, mothers, servants, and families with advice for almost 60 years. Clearly, they were an influential force to be reckoned with in the domestic sphere! (And one with ties to Virginia food and household history, too!)

A complete list of Marion Harland’s publications at the Virginia Tech University Libraries is available here. A list of Christine Terhune Herrick’s publications at the University Libraries (all of which are in Special Collections) is available here. If want to come visit and see more, be sure to check out both lists.

And if you can’t visit, you can still see more! Previous efforts to digitize some of the culinary history holdings in Special Collections resulted in five of Harland’s and two of Herrick’s publications being scanned. You can read, save, and download the pdf versions here.

Next week, we may return to the Boston Cooking School to talk about author and educator, Mrs. D. A. Lincoln (aka Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln), or we may look at the work of Janet McKenzie Hill–author, culinary reformer, and food scientist. (With only one week left in Women’s History Month, it’s hard to decide!) You’ll just have to come back and see.

Until then, take some of Marion Harland’s advice: “Practice, and practice alone, will teach you certain essentials.” This week, cook something you’ve practiced and love. Those essentials will never let you down…