Efficiency in All Things

In case you haven’t noticed it before, we don’t really tend to post about items in any particular order. Last week, we featured a U. S. Food Administration publication from 1918. Next week, we’re going to look at a book from the 1930s. But today, we’re jumping backwards a few years, to 1915. Georgia Robertson, the author of Efficiency in Home-Making and First-Aid to Good Cooking, might find it, well, inefficient. However, if you ask me, it sure is fun!(We certainly hope you learn something, too, but we want to have a good time sharing with you!)

This book is all text (sorry, no illustrations this week) and it’s almost difficult to call it a cookbook. There are plenty of recipes, but this is primarily an instruction manual. A vast and moral instruction manual, at that. You can’t quite call it prosaic, since there a fair share of descriptive language (I recommend the section on cooking with alcohol on pages 56 and 57 above), and the question-and-answer style that most of the volume uses is quite unique.

Efficiency in Home-Making and First-Aid to Good Cooking covers topics like daily and weekly activities for household staff (it presumes you have at least two maids, a cook, a coachman, three bedrooms, and a library), what to serve, and how to serve it. You’ll find sections like “Labor Saving Devices that are Worth While” (the vacuum, the dish drainer, and the electric or gas iron among them) and underlying principles of bread-making. There are all kinds of helpful hints for storing kitchen items and kitchen organization,  as well as recipes (all without alcohol, of course). On the whole, it’s a practical, if dry, volume that clearly has a home with our collection of household management materials. You can find a full copy of the book online through the Internet Archive.

Next week, we’ll take a look at a book full of recipes and planned luncheons, dinners, and special occasion meals from the 1930s. It’ll be different from this week, so be prepared for a bit decadence, alcohol, and, of course, a few odd ingredients.

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“An Ideal Home”: A Scrapbook Guide to Setting Up Roots

Last December, we found a catalog description that intrigued us. When the item arrived, it was better than we imagined. A scrapbook filled with cut out images from newspapers and magazines, depicting everything you might need to get started as a new homemaker.

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This scrapbook, wonderful as it is, reflects one of the challenges for archivists. Sometimes, when we acquire an item or a collection, it’s obvious. We know the who, what, where, why, and when of it. Sometimes we think we know, discover we’re wrong, and find out something new. And other times, we get, well, a scrapbook like this.

As you may notice, the images in the gallery do not indicate anything about identity. Unfortunately, neither do any of the other pages. There’s no name of the compiler, who took the time to find and place the clipped items, no name of the person who came up with the lists and prices, and no name any owner. Without a clue to the creator, we’re left with the other questions of “why?” and “when?” This item may very well have been a gift to a new bride, a scrapbook full of advice about setting up a household for the first time. Alternatively, it may have been a school project, perhaps a home economics assignment for a student. Not all mysteries can be solved, but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean a few interesting facts or lessons from the scrapbook, either (though sadly, you won’t be able to buy a house and fill it for $12,500 today!):

  • Kitchen appliances and items never go out of style. (Well, they might go out of style, but whether it’s avocado green or stainless steel, you still need a refrigerator these days, as well as pots and pans and knives.)
  • Organized closets make it much easier to find things.
  • It never hurts to be over-prepared for the cocktail hour.
  • Plan your menu, especially if you’re having company.

We hope to be posting the whole scrapbook for online viewing in the near future, as we’re experimenting with some new software. (Currently, you can view the finding aid here.) Once it’s all set, we’ll be sure to post an update! Or, come by and see it in person!

The New Art & Convenience in the Kitchen

Convenience and efficiency are a common theme in the collection here. Growing middle classes in the late 19th and into the 20th century meant women were responsible for managing the kitchen and preparing food. In 1934, the General Electric Kitchen Institute offered this handy little home helper: The New Art of Buying, Preserving, and Preparing Foods. The book includes tips for home management, advice for how to modernize your kitchen, recipes and meal planning, and details on how to use modern appliances to improve feeding one’s family (especially the refrigerator, the range/over, the electric mixer, and the dishwasher).

“The most important room in the home has now become the most enjoyable. No longer is the modern woman tied down to monotonous hours of kitchen routine. Magic electric servants work for her, giving her new joyous hours of freedom–hours she can spend in any way she chooses.” The G-E Kitchen Institute was even offering personalized directions on how to modernize kitchens for women who sent a sketch of their current set up!

The book includes suggested menus for all kinds of meals, from family dinners to entertaining at a bridal shower, as well as recipes for every course. But there is an emphasis on convenience and speed (“Today in over 1,000,000 American homes, electric cookery does in minutes the work that hours did in years gone by”). There is a whole section on oven meals, in which the whole dinner goes into the oven and finishes at the same time. Many things can now be done in advance and stored in your refrigerator! Leftovers won’t be wasted, either! And the dishwasher will keep your hands out of that dirty water! A few of the recipes may make you wonder (like many of those in our collection) just who thought onions rolled in bread and spread with mayonnaise resulted in a tasty canape or chopped chicken needed to be embedded in gelatin, but that’s always what makes this collection and these publications special. They offer us a window in a food past we don’t see today.

It’s a bit challenging to pigeon-hole this publication into a single category. It isn’t just a cookbook, an advertisement for GE appliances, or a household manual. Rather, it’s a creative melding of all three–which is one of other reasons to highlight it this week. We’re gradually starting to think about our culinary collection in a new way here at Special Collections. Instead of defining it simply in terms of formats (books, manuscripts, educational kits, electronic resources, etc.), we’re trying to imagine it in terms of topics. While that could potentially be a long list, we’re noticing there are some distinct themes among existing holdings: receipts & recipes (including home remedies); dietetics, education/home economics & nutrition (children and adults); household management & social history; technology, food processing & preservation; and entertaining & the history of the cocktail.

We’ll be sharing more about some of these themes on the blog in the weeks to come, as well as serving up our usual fare of recipes, history, and a little gentle fun, so be sure to stick with us.

Presenting the History of Food & Drink at Special Collections

This week, I’m giving our loyal blog readers something a little different. Yours truly, archivist/blogger Kira, was invited to give a presentation on the culinary collection to library staff and faculty as part of an in-house training day. Happy (as always) to share the collection, I spent an hour yesterday sharing images of items, talking about how we’re re-imagining the collection, and poking a little good-natured fun.

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and describing all our collecting areas in terms of formats, but we’re trying to break away from that model. Instead, we’re beginning to talk about collections and collecting areas thematically. Whereas we used to talk about the culinary collection in terms of books and manuscripts, we’re now talking about it in terms of larger themes: receipts and recipes, domestic/social/economic history, the history of cocktails and entertaining, changing food technology and processes–just to give a few examples. The presentation I gave was almost entirely image-based, so I’m including it here. It has a nice cross section of the collection.

(Use the arrow buttons below the slides to click through. Clicking on the button showing four arrows pointing out in different directions will show the slides at full screen size.)

Virginia’s First Regional Cookbook

In 1824, Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife: Or, the Methodical Cook was published. Considered one of the first American regional and first Virginia cookbooks, it includes an eclectic variety of recipes for the home, along with Mrs. Randolph’s observations on a number of topics. Virginia Tech Special Collections is home to a copy of a coveted 1824 first edition, but its condition prevents it from being scanned. So this week, we’re sharing the 1846 edition from our collection (we also have an 1855!), which was clearly used in someone’s kitchen–and there’s plenty of stains to prove it!

Mrs. Randolph’s book opens with some advice to her readers, or, more specifically, to the ladies of the household:

Management is an art that may be acquired by any woman of good sense and tolerable memory…The Virginia ladies, who are proverbially good managers, employ themselves, while their servants are eating, in washing the cups, glasses, &c.; arranging the cruets, the mustard, the salt-cellars, pickle vases, and all the apparatus for the dinner table. This occupies but a short time, and the lady has the satisfaction of knowing that they are in much better order than they would be if left to the servants.

Regardless of who does the actual cooking, Mrs. Randolph continues to reinforce a woman’s responsibility for the household and kitchen. She should know what is going on at all times to make the best impression.

As for the recipes, Mrs. Randolph offers the total range: beef and other meats (including several uses for calf’s head), poultry, fish and other seafood, vegetables, breads, cakes, puddings, jams, creams, and (what cookbook with be complete without!) pickles. There is also a section with beers, wines, cordials, and vinegars. The book contains international recipes, particularly those with Spanish and East/West Indies influence, as well as recipes from other regions of the US. There are pastas, polentas, and New England style cakes along side southern staples like croquettes and catfish. Among the puddings and preserves are instructions for coffee and fruit ice creams. (Mmm, coffee ice cream!)

So, whether it’s breakfast for the family or a multi-course dinner for guests, Mrs. Randolph can help. Her book is still reprinted today. Although it shares certain characteristics with other cookbooks of the period (particularly the lack of specific directions of cooking times and temps), none of her recipes are beyond the capabilities of the modern kitchen. As for taste, well, that’s another story. Whether you want to make mock turtle soup from a calf’s head is entirely up to you…

On a last note, there are a several digital editions (transcripts and/or scans) if you can’t get here to see our copy:

  • Project Gutenberg has the 1860 edition
  • Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” project has the 1838 edition
  • the Internet Archive, via the University of California Libraries, has the 1836 edition

The Fruits (and Veggies) of a Little Kitchen Labor

Food preservation tends to be a relatively common topic in food research, at least here at Special Collections. Early on in the blog, we featured a publication on nuclear testing and preserved foods. This week, we’re taking a slightly different approach. In other words, no cans were harmed in the creation of the Ladies’ Home Journal’s How to Can Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats from 1917–just the foods being canned.

This pamphlet features advice on how to can, what to use/what not to use, and common failures and their causes. In addition, it points out the monetary values of preserving your own garden to save on shopping and to make a little extra cash:

If you can produce a “fancy” quality of fruits and vegetables you can demand as fancy price as many fancy grocers. Last year one girl put up such an excellent quality of fruits and vegetables that she was able to market them at…unusual prices.

Possible overuse of the word “fancy” aside in the paragraph above, the money-saving aspect of canning has continued to make it a common practice today. And then there’s the convenience of getting fruits and veggies “from your own cellar.”

The second half of the pamphlet includes canning-specific recipes for different types of foods, including the challenging (meats) and the easy basics (soups). All the information comes from a variety of sources, helpfully compiled here by the Ladies’ Home Journal–which was likely all the more valuable during war-time. The pamphlet doesn’t make too many explicit references, but it is important to remember this was published during World War I. (It does, however, refer to canning work by “Uncle Sam’s girls” more than once.) Stretching, rationing, and saving are themes of no small importance in 1917 and we will see them repeat even more so during World War II, as women increasingly split their time between work and home.

So, don’t be scared when it comes to preserving your fruits and veggies, war-time or not. Just remember, if you can eat it, you can probably can it. Which is a good thing, right?

Service with a Smile :)

When it comes to household management, there are more than just books for the “lady of the house.” The 1894 book, The Expert Waitress:A Manual for the Pantry, Kitchen, and Dining-Room, is aimed at the female domestics working in the kitchen and dining room. This manual covers everything from detailed meal service and washing the silver to personal presentation and additional skills a waitress should have to improve her role in the household. Sadly, no pictures this week, although the book does include some helpful charts showing what dishes and flatware are required for what meal. Just about the only thing missing, with all the book’s details on where to put what dishes during a meal and how to set a table,  are diagrams of the actual table settings!

The pages above are from a number of different chapters, including those on serving luncheon, on keep the pantry “ship-shape,” on being indispensable in the home through other skills, and on the conditions of the contract for a servant. Some particularly striking quotes caption the images in the gallery (click on the first image to open the gallery).

While The Expert Waitress may not have practical applications today, it does offer a detailed look at one specific role in the late 19th and early 20th century household. One that, if absent, would have left everyone hungry!

Our copy is one of about 40 in public or academic hands, but one of only 2 in Virginia libraries. However, if you can’t get here to see it, this book is also available online via the Internet Archive or the Hathi Trust Digital Library.