Six Little Cooks: Narrative, Recipes, and Culinary Instruction

This week, we’re looking at another instruction manual for cooks. This one, though, isn’t for adults–it’s for children. And while we have shelves of children’s cookbooks, each filled with recipes and directions, this one is a little different. It has elements of storytelling, a frame narrative that runs through each of the 14 chapters. Our edition of Six Little Cooks comes from 1891, but it was first published in 1887. Elizabeth Kirkland’s book tells the story of Grace, whose aunt and cousin come to visit. Grace, inspired by a story book, asks her aunt to teach her, her sister, her cousins, and her friends to cook. The 14 chapters cover the 14 days Aunt Jane spends teaching the girls recipes and etiquette for different meals, occasions, and events.

The recipes are usually grouped in the middle of each chapter, numbered and labeled, surrounded by the plot and often information about how to properly prepare, serve, or clean up from the particular focus of the lesson. Unlike many children’s cookbooks and like many manuals for housewives of the period, there are no illustrations. The book is written in simple language that the intended audience of young girls would understand, and it seems clear they are meant to learn by reading and practicing, rather than being provided pictures or images of “how to” (though the story IS entertaining). That being said, it does seem like a more effective way to spread the message of culinary instruction. It gives young readers something they can relate to, while hopefully making it fun to learn–which is a lesson we can still use today!

If you’d like to read more, you can always visit us. Or, you can check out a digital copy of the 1891 edition on the Internet Archive’s website.

Instruction, Reference, and the History of Food & Drink Collection

If it isn’t clear by now, there’s a lot I love about the History of Food and Drink Collection. In the last year, however, I’ve been especially excited about some emerging instruction opportunities. During the 2013-2014 academic year, I taught sessions that were both an introduction to Special Collections and an introduction to the History of Food and Drink Collection. One was a course on Food and Literature (we had two sections come to visit us, one in the fall and one in the spring). The other was a history seminar for undergraduates taught by Mark Barrow, Food in American History. It’s the latter I want to talk about today, because the work of students in that course led to a new acquisition for the collection.

Front cover of the collection of undergraduate student essays from HIST4004: Food in American History
Front cover of the collection of undergraduate student essays from HIST4004: Food in American History

Each student in the course wrote a paper on a topic of interest to them (relating to food in America, of course!). Over the spring semester, I was lucky enough to work with many of these students, whether it was helping them find an item for a blog post or helping with research for their paper. Each student kept a blog and all the blogs were consolidated into a single source. You can read that “mother blog” here:

I’ve opted not to scan and share the essays themselves for a variety of reasons. I didn’t want to do so without permission, and several of the students have graduated already, making them tricky to track down. Also, I don’t think there’s an easy way to pick any one or two above the others. As you’ll see from the table of contents below, these students covered a variety of food topics relating to business, history, technology, legislation, and health. Their creativity and ideas were eye-0pening for me. As always, it was a great experience, too, because it meant I discovered new resources to help answer new questions.

There will be two cataloged copies of this publication soon, one in Special Collections and one in the circulating collection. So, whether you come here and visit us, or check out the other copy, I hope you find something to suit your taste. I know I did. 🙂

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.

Getting to the Heart (or Kidney or T-Bone) of the HF&DC, Part 2

If you missed last week’s post, you’ll want to take a look at it here–Otherwise, today’s short post won’t make much sense. If you did tune in, or you’ve just caught up, you’ll want to check out the two images below.  These are the two “key” cards, that list all the flash cards in the kit.

List of cuts, Part I
List of cuts, Part I
List of cuts, Part II
List of cuts, Part II
So, as you can see, our “quiz” last week featured:

  • #8, Tenderloin Steak (Filet Mignon)
  • #15, Flank Steak
  • #43, Fresh Ham, Shank Portion
  • #63, Slat Pork (Side)
  • #81, Riblets
  • #102, Hearts (Pork, Veal, Beef)
  • #105, Ox Joints

How well did you do?

Getting to the Heart (or Kidney or T-Bone) of the HF&DC

Even Special Collections staff who don’t spend a lot of time with the History of Food & Drink Collection have a favorite item. Many of the library staff and Special Collections visitors do, too. Some of our personal favorites have already appeared on the blog, and we’ll definitely see more of them in the future. We’re attracted to items for different reasons, whether we’re questioning who created a recipe in the first place or copying something down to try at home. This week, we’re sharing an item that fascinates us all.

If you’ve come to a display or event at Special Collections where we had culinary materials, chances are you’ve seen this week’s feature before. It was discovered among some unprocessed materials back in 2007, but it’s been a staff favorite every since. We just hope you’re ready to test your knowledge of meat cuts!

Vegetarians, now would be a good time for you to look away…

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

The Natural Color Meat Identification Kit [flash card]: Complete with Suggestions for Using and Instructor’s Key actually includes 108 different organs and cuts of meat from six different animals. By no means a single purpose tool, it comes with 8 suggested uses for home economics and agriculture students, including games, quizzes, field trip studies, nutrition education, and exhibits. Despite the jokes we make around here, this is one of those rather timeless items in our collections that can still fulfill its initial purpose today. If you need to learn about meat and pictures help you learn, this is the way to go!

Besides Virginia Tech, five other libraries in the U.S. are lucky enough to own copies of this kit. (I’ve also met one visitor to Special Collections who had a set of their own at one time!) We can’t be certain about the year the produced, though one catalog record does suggest it was some time in the 1960s.

You may have noticed that while we posted a number of pictures of cards (with the corresponding number), we haven’t supplied the key. The reverse side of each card has the number, but the list of cuts and organs are on two separate cards. If we put those in the gallery, it would take all the fun out of kit! While some may be obvious, others may not. The answers, along with the full list of items, will appear on the blog early next week.

In the meantime, we encourage you to hazard a guess or two in the comments below…