Wondering What’s Good to Eat? Rufus Estes Has Some Answers!

February is Black History Month. If you’re in Blacksburg and have a chance to drop by the library, one my collegues has put together an amazing display of materials in our reading room. The exhibit highlights African-American contributions from many our main collecting areas, as well as to university history. Some of my favorite past posts I’ve written include ones on John B. Goins’ The American WaiterS. Thomas Bivens’ The Southern Cookbook: A Manual of Cooking and List of Menus including Recipes used by Noted Colored Cooks and Prominent Caterers, and the Women’s History Month profile last March on Malinda Russell and A Domestic Cook Book Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen. This week, I found something else I’ve never looked at before: Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus; A Collection of Practical Recipes for Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, etc., written by Rufus Estes and published in 1911.

In a recent instruction session, I was talking with students about the idea of authority and food history materials. There are some really interesting question when it comes to cookbooks: What does “authority” mean? What makes (or doesn’t make) a writer an authority on the recipes they create and write? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how a cookbook might have been accepted in its own time? Does authority (or a lack thereof) affect how we look at a historic cookbook today and whether or not we accept is a good source of information? When we’re investigating cookbooks and food history primary sources, does authority even matter? Answering all of these would probably lead to an exceptionally long blog post–and, of course, as we say in the archival world, “it depends.” We might considered different cookbooks in different ways, depending on different factors. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t comment a bit on the concept of authority in conjunction with Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus. Especially since Rufus Estes very much invites us to do so, by beginning his book with a biographical sketch.

Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author's biography.
Good Things to Eat, 1911. Author’s biography.

Rufus Estes very carefully sets up his authority as a chef in the first few pages of his cookbook. He wants us to know where he comes from, what he has done, and, by default, what may have influenced him. Of course, in theory, this whole biography could be fake and Estes could have just been an identity. The idea of a constructed person to market or sell a book or products isn’t new. But, in this case, there are records and evidence to prove Estes was a real person and held the positions he tells us about (and those he doesn’t). He gives us his background to show his readers that he does, in fact, know a thing or two about being a chef. When we’re talking cookbooks, does one need to be a chef to be an authority? Certainly not. And my saying I accept Estes’ biography as giving him authority as an cookbook writer doesn’t mean we would all agree on that.  It’s just interesting to consider.

It’s also worth pointing out that having a biography is not unique to Estes. Malinda Russell included some information her life, as did Abby Fisher in What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (a book we’ll talk about a little later this month). Mary Randolph talks about her expertise in The Virginia Housewife. Other authors rely on introductions written by seemingly well-known people in their own time to lend weight to a writer’s authority, reliability, and even like-ability. And we still see this as a common practice in books today, culinary-related or otherwise.

You can read a little more about this book and view the entire item online through the Michigan State University’s “Feeding America” project–which, if you haven’t looked at before, you should take a moment to peruse! And next time you start preparing a recipe from your favorite cookbook (or a new one), you might take a minute to think about who the author is, why they wrote the book, and why their recipes appeal to you. Even when we’re not aware of it, a writer’s “authority” may be at work!

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!

Food AND Fun? In One Book? :)

Food & Fun for Daughter and Son was published in 1946. We acquired a copy last year, but it slipped off my radar until recently. I must not have had the time to take a good look, or I undoubtedly would have shared it sooner!

As you can see, this book is a blend of “how-to/advice for parents,” meal planning guide, nutrition manual, and cookbook. Typically, we have a wide range of recipes and menus, some more intriguing that others. (I’m curious about a lunch of beef broth, potato salad, and cake…but also not saying I’d turn it down.) What I found more interesting, though, was everything else. The intended audience is adults, but it sometimes results in seeming non-sequiturs like:

“To limited degree and in a kind, friendly way, table manners should be taught at an early age to avoid embarrassment when he comes in contact with older, well-behaved children.

Your immaculate, regular care of the refrigerator will prolong its efficiency and life.”

There are a few more pieces of advice about the kitchen, then it jumps to advice for caring for a child with a cold. I see the general connection, but the first couple chapters are a conglomerate of advice on a range of subjects that contribute to raising healthy children.

We’ve definitely looked at books for/about children that featured party themes and planning, but I think this is the first time we’ve come across a book with section devoted to “Diversions for an Only or Lonely Child.” The suggestions themselves may seem outdated or silly, but it was neat to see the topic addressed in conjunction with entertaining kids who are sick or stuck in bed.

So, until next week, if you’re missing us, don’t worry! There’s an imaginary pony of your own that needs training!

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!

365 Luncheon Dishes & 365 Days in a Year–What a Coincidence!

Some of the items we feature on What’s Cookin’ are things we know about and which stick with us for various reasons. Others, like our book today, come from good old fashioned shelf browsing. While not all the History of Food and Drink Collection titles are shelved together, the majority are in groups and it’s a great deal of fun to wander, looking at spines and flipping through pages. This week, we found 365 Luncheon Dishes; A Luncheon Dish for Every Day in the Year, Selected from Marion Harland, Christine Terhune Herrick, Boston Cooking School Magazine, Table Talk, Good Housekeeping, and Others. Published in 1902, it turns out to be exactly what it sounds like. Each month includes recipes for each day. (During Leap Years, we can presume, you’d need to come up with your own dish for February 29!) If you follow us, you’ll recognize some of these recipe authors: Marion Harland,her daughter Christine Terhune Herrick, and Janet McKenzie Hill (Boston Cooking School Magazine‘s first editor).

Despite the structure of the cookbook, the recipes don’t reflect any sort of seasonal nature. You’re just as likely to find warm dishes in summer and cold ones in winter. Some recipes are for main dishes and others are for sides or components of a larger luncheon menu. So, while not a meal planning guide, the book does offer lots of variety one could incorporate into planning. 

This volume has previously been scanned by Special Collections staff and you can view it online here: http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/10287. The samples we shared today just begin to scratch the surface!

You may be wondering, with a title like 365 Luncheon Dishes, if this book is part of a series. As a matter of fact, it is! In 1901, George W. Jacobs & Co. published 365 Breakfast Dishes. Although we don’t have a copy of this volume in Special Collections, you can view it online. In 1903, the company followed up with 365 Dinner Dishes. The copy available online is from the same year, but our copy has cover that looks more like the one above. These were followed by several more titles (none of which, unfortunately, reside on our shelves): 365 Tasty Dishes (1906). 365 Foreign Dishes (1908), and 365 Vegetables Dishes (1910). Clearly, the publisher felt they were doing something right with this format–No matter what your time of day or cooking need, they have you covered!

Women’s History Month Profiles, Part 4: Janet McKenzie Hill (1852-1933)

The last week of March has arrived, leaving us time to meet one more lady of influence from the late 19th and early 20th century–Janet McKenzie Hill.

Born in Massachusetts in 1852, Janet McKenzie finished her education and began working as an assistant teacher. She married Benjamin Hill in 1873. She later attended the Boston Cooking School (yes, another BCS graduate this week–but to be fair, it was the place for a culinary education at the close of the 19th century), graduating in 1892. Four years later, she founded and served as the first editor of the Boston Cooking School Magazine (later American Cookery from 1914-1946).  Over the course of her long career as an author, editor, demonstrator, and lecturer, she wrote more than 15 books, not including pamphlets, promotional brochures, and articles. She died in 1933.

The images below contain scans from publications by Hill available in Special Collections ranging from cookbooks, product/brand specific pamphlets, and posthumous revised editions of her works. Over time, her books reflected the changing times, whether an improvement to an available technology, a country at war (World War I), or defining a new kind of relationship between author/educator and product/producer.

A complete list of Janet McKenzie Hill’s publications in the library’s catalog can be found here. The Culinary Pamphlet Collection at Special Collections includes two more of her brand-related pamphlets. Six of her books are available through the library’s digital rare book collection here.

Incidentally, Janet McKenzie Hill was also known for popularizing the baked bean sandwich. So if you’re looking for something to try that isn’t creamed fish between slabs of aspic or prunes on toast, or won’t require special skills in food construction, a nice fruit salad or baked bean sandwich might be a safe choice.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our profiles of some culinary leading ladies this month (at least as much as archivist/blogger Kira has enjoyed researching and learning about them)! There are plenty more where they came from if you want to pay us a visit and ask. Next week, April is upon us, and there are all kinds of spring surprises in our History of Food & Drink Collection, waiting to be discovered and shared…

Veggie Goodness, Part II: On Vegetarian Loaves and Alternatives to Fishes

“Do not regard cooking from a standpoint of taste only. Endeavor to use the various food materials to the best possible advantage–carefully preserving their nourishing qualities and maintaining their true value.”

This week, we’re featuring the Vegetarian Cook Book published by the City of David in 1934. Full of vegetable, egg, cheese, and meat substitute dishes, there are a few surprises as well…

Whether theosophical vegetarians or religious vegetarians, we’ve clearly made every attempt to represent the “loaf” in the past couple of weeks. This title also includes a good deal of “mocking,” too: Mock Veal (Cutlets), Mock Turkey (Croquettes AND Dressing),  Mock Steak (or Salmon or Sausage or Crabs), and even a Mock Cherry Pie (made with cranberries and raisins).

Mary’s City of David, the religious organization behind this publication, was based in Michigan. Their dietary choices were religious-based and as the preface states, they were focused on their own supplies of vegetables, fruits, poultry (for eggs), and dairy products. The resulting recipes are quite different from the Vegetarian Cook Book from last week (despite the duplicate title). Rather than relying on a protein substitute (the Protose made by the Battle Creek Food Company), this group found all sorts of creative alternatives in the section on Meat Substitutes: peanut butter, other ground nuts, beans, cracker crumbs, and even tomato pulp (see “Mock Salmon”).

Another oddity we see in this cookbook is the  number and variety of actual vegetable recipes. There are classic veggies: potatoes, corn, tomatoes, beans, carrots, and peas, but also asparagus, beets, dandelion greens, “egg plant,” salsify, and pumpkin. And while there’s some repetition (you can cream just about anything, for example), there is not shortage of veggies and veggie-based dishes.

The other big surprise here is the significant number of desserts. After the sections on salads and dressings, the book jumps straight into pastries. Nearly 50 of the publication’s 140+ pages share recipes for pies, tarts, cakes, cookies, puddings, fritters, dumplings, custards, and candies. However, like many cookbooks, we cannot reach the end without several pages devoted to canning and preserving! Once again, neither fruit nor vegetable is ignored. There are instructions for quince jelly, plum conserve, spiced crabapples, pickled tomatoes, homemade catsup, and even pickled beets to get you through any season.

On a side note (and since I made a passing reference last week), the Mary’s City of David did have a baseball team. It has a long and interesting history (the team, for example, played in the first ever night game in 1930). While not the topic of our post today, you can read more about the team here: http://www.maryscityofdavid.org/html/baseball.html.

And who knows, lima bean croquettes and cabbage salad may have been just what the team needed!