An Anniversary. Plus, Some Summer and Fall Fruits

Somewhere in the hectic month of September, “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” celebrated it’s 4th anniversary, which only occurred to me earlier this week in the hectic month of October. (Are you sensing a theme?) Last week was our 281st post–that’s a fair amount of blogging and some days I can’t believe what started out as as experiment is still going strong! We’re not going anywhere any time soon, mind you, but I felt like it was worth mentioning. (Happy belated anniversary, What’s Cookin’!) In fact, we’re doing some new things, which I’ll be talking about soon. In the meantime, though, today’s feature item is a look something agricultural: a c.1901 Broce Nurseries fruit catalog.

This is an odd little catalog, which seems to be the best way to describe it…sort of. Unlike most bound publications, this is almost completely text-free. Other than the captions for the fruits themselves, there is no title page, no introduction, and, aside from the note on the cover, no way to identify the origins of the publication. There isn’t even an obvious way to connect the product to the nursery. That, combined with the different lithographers of the various prints, suggests it may be been bound at a later date, rather than serving as a contemporary advertising tool. On the other hand, one look at the images, and you can see why someone might go to the trouble of having them bound.

I’m also particularly fond of this item for its local ties. If you’re from the Blacksburg area, you might recognize Broce as both a historical family name and a street. A little more digging resulted in a 1912 Virginia Wholesale Nurseries catalog with some background on Broce and the establishment of the nursery in 1907-it seems Broce himself was a VPI graduate!

During the winter of 1907 and 1908 J. H. Broce, a graduate of the Department of Horticulture of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, returned to Blacksburg after extended experience in nursery-work and began the propagation of apples and peaches in a commercial way. Having had the full training under Prof. Wm. B. Alwood and others at V. P. I., he was in the best possible position to profit by this experience, and his first crop of trees grown at Blacksburg showed the result in a very successful lot of stock.

The nursery still appears in 1913 directory of American florists, nurseries, and seedmen. Unfortunately, at least at present, I don’t know how long it was in business or where it was located. On a related note, we do have some papers from Dr. Alwood in our collection, too.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re fond of full-color fruit lithographs from the turn of the 20th century, you might also check out this previous post on the Stark Bros., written back in 2012. Both of these items call to mind “Goblin Market,” the work of one of my favorite poets, Christina Rossetti. In the poem, the luscious fruits that tempt two sisters have much darker consequences than our simple catalog of nursery products, but the opening stanza conjures up similar imagery:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
The whole poem is much longer, but you can read it, if tempted, in its entirety online. And it’s quite dangerous to let me start talking about 19th century British poetry, unless you’d like a MUCH longer blog post. 🙂 Instead, I invite you to read again next week, where we’ll take a look at a different item of agriculture production: flour.

We’re on the Air…and Cooking!

We certainly talk on the blog about how improvements in kitchen technology have changed the way food was (and continues to) prepared, stored, served, and shared. Today, we’re going to look at how another form of technology had an equally interesting effect on cooking and improving one’s culinary skills. Also, there will be talk of Jell-O (briefly, I promise, but not without good cause). Enter General Foods Cooking School of the Air. Which “air” and which technology, you may ask? Radio!

Before we go too far, though, I should point out that the General Foods Cooking School of the Air series should not to be confused with the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air (see the National Women’s History Museum post on Betty Crocker for more on the latter). Same concept, some overlapping years on the radio, but two different companies behind them. (Coincidental titles? I’ll leave that up to you!)

(The images below are all individually captioned, which I haven’t done in a while. To read the full captions, click on the first image to bring up a browse-able gallery!)

General Foods Cooking School of the Air was published for at least 2 years (and probably longer). It’s a set of companion pamphlets to the radio show of the same title, hosted by Frances Lee Barton. Holdings are limited in public/academic libraries, so we’re sure happy to add these to our collection. A little searching revealed five other libraries with some of the pamphlets, but it’s unclear if anyone is lucky enough to have a full run. And, from what I can see, no one has digitized them yet. Ours are on rings with a paper front and back cover, but they could also be ordered with a 3 ring binder for easy organization.

Even with only a limited number, you can get a sense of the range of topics Barton covered: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts; holidays; formal and informal lunch and dinner parties; food service; jams, jellies, and butters; and more. Since we just acquired ours, they are about to go for cataloging–which means they aren’t quite available for use in the reading room, but I hope it won’t be long. In the meantime, as you know, we’ve got plenty of other culinary items for you to check out, if you’re thinking of paying us a visit. We’ll be here!

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…

Producing Profits from Produce

In case it wasn’t obvious from the fact that last week’s post appeared in so timely a manner on a Wednesday as planned, this week should tip you off. Archivist/blogger Kira was and still is out of the office, but I planned two weeks ahead this time! (On a side note, while you’re reading this, I’m at a week-long academic seminar called “The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900,” sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society. You can assume I’m thoroughly enjoying being a food history geek this week.) Through the magic of the ability to schedule blog posts, our feature today is a fun publication from 1948:

HD9005M471948_FCTo be honest, there isn’t much to say on the particular history of this publication. Rather, it’s one of those instances where it’s just really neat to look at and get a sense of what merchandising was like in the mid-20th century.

This book is full of technicolor images, colorful displays, and lots of helpful advice for A&P store managers and employees. One page even has an illustrated check list, “Eight Checks to Help You Please Customers” concluding with a friendly reminder that “Smiles mean sales.”

The second half of the book covers the wide range of fruits and vegetables. Each page consists of a picture (most are in color, but a few more “exotic” items aren’t), background information on the origins of the produce, and how it should be stored, handled, and displayed. Some items have additional information, like how something is graded, what varieties it comes in, or how it can be used.

We hope you’re enjoying your summer and finding some great recipes and ingredient to accompany it. And remember, even if you’re on vacation, we’re not! You can always pay Special Collections a visit, whether you’re doing research, or just want to find that perfect picnic snack.

Salads: “A Necessary Luxury?”

As is often the case when things are busy (like at the end of the semester), and your loyal archivist/blogger Kira is, well, less likely to plan her blog posts in advance, the best option is wandering the shelves. With more than 4,400 books and nearly 100 manuscript collections, there’s a lot I don’t know about and always something new to discover. I’m getting into the habit of training myself not to look only at eye level, which led me to today’s feature item: How to Make Salads from 1894.

I was intrigued by the title on the small envelope that houses this 121-year-old publication. I mean, in general, how difficult can be it? Put ingredients in bowl. Mix. Serve. Then again, I have gotten used to finding directions for the seemingly obvious (Lettuce sandwiches or hot cocoa, for example). Then, I took it out of the envelope and saw this:

TX740C2391894_5

“A Necessary Luxury” Salads? “By all means, let’s see where this goes,” said the little voice in my head. It went here:

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Quotes by Sidney Smith and Shakespeare, a collection of elves, and what can only be described as a chicken, a lobster, and a bottle of salad dressing dancing in a circle? How…interesting.

All kidding aside, this is a rather neat little pamphlet. It’s easy to joke, but these 16 pages are full of practical recipes. There isn’t much variation of the secondary ingredients (celery, salt, pepper, vinegar, and the occasional other vegetable or garnish) and of course all the recipes include Royal Salad Dressing (the booklet’s sponsor). And there is a surprising range of primary ingredients from classics like chicken, lobster, cabbage, egg, or potato to the more exotic/unexpected ones like oyster, frog legs, sweet potato, or cauliflower. So, no matter what your salad needs, there’s something here for you.

According to WorldCat, Virginia Tech is one of only four academic or public libraries with copies of this, and it doesn’t appear to be digitized, which suggests it is relatively rare. I’m hoping to get the entire item scanned and online in the not-too-distant future.

Vaughan’s Veggie Basket

It’s another shorter post this week, since I’m trying to plan for March posts already. As with the last two years, we’ll be continuing our series of posts about women and their always-amazing contributions to food & drink history. If you need a refresher before next week, you can read parts 1-8 online.

In the meantime, I thought I’d offer you a dose of veggies…

I had never noticed this little publication before, but I found it in an envelope this morning, shelved between two other small items. There is  quite a bit of diversity of recipes and vegetables/herbs in this booklet. They come from a variety of sources, though only a few seem to be attributed (and most of those are to the Chicago Record newspaper), however, may seem familiar: Mrs. S. T. Rorer’s–her recipe for fried artichokes is included. The majority of the recipes run through classic preparations steaming, frying, baking, blanching, pickling, and creaming of veggies, as well as making soup. But a few of the titles make one stop and read. Care for some “Ambushed Asparagus,” “Corn Vinegar,” “Violet Marmalade,” “Cream Rhubarb Pie,” or “Tomato Wine?” Then you’ve come to right booklet!

As always, you’re welcome to visit us for a closer look or send us your comments/queries! We’ll see you again next week with the kick-off of our Women’s History Month posts for 2015 (although EVERY month is Women’s History Month when you’re talking about culinary history!).

Jell-O Pamphlets, c.1931

Here we are, eight weeks into 2015 and we have yet to talk about gelatin. That’s a problem I can solve. 🙂

This week, we’ve got some strange and intriguing recipes from two Jell-o pamphlets published in 1931. One has “thrifty” in the title, suggesting it may include some of the more basic (and down-to-earth?) recipes, Thrifty Jell-O Recipes to Brighten Your Menus. The other, The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book, is “greater” in the sense that is has more pages and more recipes. More…creative, shall we call them…recipes. “Greater” is a subjective word and open to interpretation in this context, and I’ll leave it up to you, dear foodies. However, the latter publication does focus more on dishes you might use in entertaining, rather than those you might put on a family dinner menu.

Lime Jell-O came out the year before in 1930, so there are a number of recipes utilizing this new flavor (“Cheese Cube Relish,” “Grapefruit Salad,” and “Creamy Lime Flakes,” for example). There are also plenty of recipes that appear in both booklets and are what we might consider “classics” today. This includes things like “Under the Sea Salad” and various fruit-flavored “fluffs” and jellied strawberries.

I very nearly posted some frozen gelatin recipes, but thought better of it. It’s cold enough here that we don’t need to think about that. Of course, if you’re in many parts of the country this week, you can simply put your Jell-O outside and make your own frozen creations, sweet or savory. Stay warm out there, and we’ll meet you back here next week!