Dining on Words, Part 3: The Versified Vegetable!

I’m working on some behind-the-scenes activities relating to the blog (& some other projects), so it’ll be a short post today. But, #nationalpoetrymonth continues, and there is still plenty food poetry to share!

Back in 2011, Special Collections collaborated on an amazing musical event: “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” You can read about the book that inspired it, and a bit about the collaboration in a blog post from the time. Not long after that, I (your archivist/blogger Kira) had an opportunity to give a presentation about that collaboration, which also gave me motivation to scan some more pages from the book. Now seems a good day to share a few more of Margaret Hays’ vegetable poems.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you want to hear the musical performance itself, we just happen to have a copy of “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” on our shelves. You’re welcome to visit us and have a listen!

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Dining on Words, Part 2: Invitations and Dining (sort of…)

I know that I said this week was going to be a post of poetry relating to invitations to dine and the act of eating. But, as it turns out, while there are many poems on those topics, there aren’t so many of them on our shelves. So, we have a little of that, and then a poetical food tangent…

“Inviting a Friend to Supper” by Ben Jonson

This comes from Poems of Ben Jonson, edited with an introduction by George Burke Johnston, 1955. This one is an extra special find, since Johnston, the editor, was on the faculty at VPI and signed this copy!

Then I came across a short poem, really only four lines, by Robert Burns. It wasn’t so much an invitation as is it declining an invitation (it’s the first of two pieces titled “To Mr. S**E”):

I added the second page, since it included another four lines to the same Mr. Syme about a gift of beer and another four lines which were a reply to an invite to a tavern. Burns, it seems, enjoyed using poetry to say “yes” or “no” to a good invitation.

At this point, while I had some leads, I couldn’t find matching volumes on our shelves for things like Sylvia Plath’s “Miss Drake Proceeds to Supper,” W. H. Auden’s “Tonight at 7:30,” or any of the occasional poems written by Oliver Wendell Holmes at dinner events. But I was still holding Robert Burns’ poetry in my hands and a glance at the table of contents reminded me of his “Scotch Drink,” an ode to, well, scotch whisky. And, like life in the world of archival research often goes, I found myself changing my focus to the food poems of Burns. So, while Jonson invited us to dine, Burns will supply the main course?


I should probably have saved “Scotch Drink” for next week, when I *plan* to talk about poetry about wine, beer, and spirits. (That shouldn’t be too hard to stay on topic!) But Burns had me hooked by now. Of course, I saved the best for last. Though I guess that should be qualified. “Best” may depend largely on your thoughts about haggis…Burns, of course, is firmly in it’s camp:



I couldn’t resist. It’s not often a dish that creates such mixed reactions in people gets such a lyrical, epic poem. Next week, we’ll have fewer lines about “gushing entrails bright” and a lot less dialect, but Burns does have a rather famous cocktail named after him, so this is some sort of segue. 🙂

Our National Poetry Month series continues next week, when we look at some poetry to the things that fill our glasses and make us say “cheers!”

Dining on Words, Part 1: Fruits

April is National Poetry Month. I know, you’re probably asking why I’m even bringing that up a blog devoted to culinary history materials. The truth is, it might just surprise you how much poetry there is on the subject of food, eating, and everything that goes along with it. Or maybe you aren’t–after all, food is so much a part of our lives. And we have touched on this subject before, with specific, culinary-focused literary items. Whether you’re surprised or not, for a couple of posts this month, I thought we would look at some poetry from other publications in our collections that somehow involve food. (And not just because both of those things have a special place in my heart.)

When it comes to the topic of fruit, there are a lot of poems. Seriously, a LOT. While looking for a specific on by D. H. Lawrence, I found five other ones, each dedicated to a specific fruit. The pomegranate has a long history as a symbol and plays a part of many-a-poem (and story), so it seemed a good place to start.

from The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence, v.2, 1928.

Lawrence talks briefly about pomegranates growing on trees, which got me thinking about Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking.” Although it does describe apples, it also focuses on the act of acquiring them from their trees.

from Collected Poems of Robert Frost, c.1930

From pomegranates and apples, we’re switching to stone fruits for our final poems. Wallace Stevens’ “A Dish of Peaches in Russia,” peaches are repeatedly tied to images of places for the speaker.

from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, c.1954

Last up for this week is probably the most well-known of this group. These days, you’re likely to find it used on the Internet as a meme, but William Carlos Williams’ poem about plums has been iconic for a long time!

from The Collected Earlier Poems of William Carlos Williams, c.1951

In our next post, we’ll look at what do to once you have some food gathered (in other words, poetry about invitations to dine and the act of eating).

Although we don’t have a copy in our collection, my favorite poem laden with fruit imagery is Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” which part poem, part instructive lesson for young women in the Victorian era. It’s more than a little creepy as the poem continues, but the first part reads like a trip through the produce section! Did I miss your favorite “fruit” poem? Feel free to share in the comments!

Culinary Cereals…Err, that’s Serials

If you missed the Special Collections Open House on September 3rd, don’t worry! You still have three more chances to visit us, see a selection of materials, talk with our staff, and even take a tour behind the scenes! Our next evening is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 1st, from 5-7pm. Come on by!


Last week’s almanac post got me thinking about serial culinary publications (aka food magazines). These days, they come in a variety of formats and with a wide range of emphases. Looking back at previous generations, you’ll see the same kind of variety, even in the same publication. While we don’t focus on collecting culinary magazines, per se, we do have some neat items on our shelves–i.e. What To EatWhat to Eat was Minneapolis based magazine from 1896-1908. (It later changed names and ran for a while as National Food Magazine). Sadly, we don’t have a complete run, but we have the issues from 1897.

January issue, front cover
January issue, front cover
April issue, front cover
April issue, front cover
May issue, front cover
May issue, front cover
Sample table of contents, February issue
Sample table of contents, February issue. This issue features an essay on hosting a Japanese-themed dinner. The cover and the table of contents are decorated with Japanese-style imagery.

The front covers all feature large color illustrations. Some relate to the time of year; others related to a particular item of interest within the issue. And they certainly are eye-catching. Even the table of contents for each issue features themed illustrations. Many other culinary publications at the time didn’t contain much color and those that did were often advertisements. Speakings of which…

Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).
Sample advertisements (throughout the issues, the same ads appear again and again).
More sample advertisements.
More sample advertisements.

Not only to the same ads appear again and again in each issue, but they address a VERY clear audience: middle-and upper-class ladies who can afford travel (EVERY issue includes train travel ads), servants, and a variety of food goods, and, in most cases, are also caring for a family in some way. But the meat (pun intended) of these publications is what’s between the advertisements: essays, poems, stories, nutrition advice, testimonials, letters to the editor and more!


Quite cleverly, What to Eat has a little something for everyone to read, enjoy, and entertain (including one certain archivist 116 years later!). Although we only have one year’s worth of issues in our holdings, it can offer some great insight in the American woman of 1897 and how she was targeted by publishers and advertisers. What to Eat doesn’t appear to have been scanned by anyone yet, so thinking about stopping by. And you never know, we might even have a volume out at our next Open House. 🙂

“The Night Before Christmas”–Straight Up with a Twist

This month (and on into 2013), Special Collections is featuring two festive cocktail and food exhibits. They include some holiday and seasonal themed drinks, publications with party games, and recipes for canapés and appetizers. One of the major highlights is a set of French-language post cards, one for each astrological sign, and each featuring a somewhat outlandishly decorated cocktail. (More on those when they aren’t in the case and can be scanned.)

One of the other particularly exciting items in the case is this:

A Modern Version of the Nightmare Before Christmas, 1932
A Modern Version of the Nightmare Before Christmas, 1932

Private printed in 1932 as gift to family and friends of Mr. and Mrs. Melbert Cary, Jr., this little publication is unique find! (There are only 11 copies in libraries!) In addition to the shaker-shaped pages, the covers are actually covered in brushed aluminum, so it has a metallic feel. It’s bound together at the bottom, so the pages fold down as you read. One wonders if the gift book came with any sort of liquid accompaniment…

As some of you may know, December 5th, 2012, marked the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. If you do the math, you may notice that this book was published while the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol was still illegal. A Modern Version of the Night Before Christmas is no mere re-telling–it’s a cleverly-written parody. (Robert McBlair, the author, seems to have contributed largely to literary magazines as a poet, though he also published two novels in the 1920s, in addition to this work.) Since our edition is in somewhat fragile condition, our exhibit does feature of transcript of the full text and it would be unfair not to share at least part of the text here.

1
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
When all through the flat
Not a creature was sober,
Not even the cat.
The glasses were placed
On the mantel with care
In hope that our Nicholas
Soon would be there;
The children were dining
At Tony’s and Fred’s
Where speakeasy vintages
Danced through their heads;

2
And Mamma with her whiskey,
And I with my gin,
Had just settled down
For an evening of sin,
When out in the lane
There arose such a clatter
I swallowed an olive—
Now what was the matter?
Agulp to the window
I fell like a flash,
Tore open the shutters
And threw up the sash.

6
As I drew in my head
And was turning around
In the doorway our Nicholas
Came with a bound.
He was dressed like a Mayor
From his head to his feet,
And his tie was all spangled
With diamonds and sleet;
A bag full of beer
He had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler
Just opening his pack.

8
He laid down his burden
To draw forth a sample,
And snapped off the cap
With a thumb that was ample.
He was cheerful and prompt—
An expensive young beggar—
And we laughed when we saw him—
Our Christmas bootlegger!
A wink of his eye,
And a twist of his head,
Soon gave us to know
We had nothing to dread.

9
He spoke not a word,
But went straight to his work,
And filled all the glasses;
Then turned with a jerk,
And, laying his finger
Aside of his nose,
And giving a nod:
“Down the hatch! Here she goes!”
He sprang to the door,
To his men gave a whistle,
And away they all went
Like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim,
Ere he drove out of sight:
“Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a good-night!”

This book is yet another wonderful example of the surprises that are lurking in Special Collections. We acquired A Modern Version of the Night Before Christmas earlier this year and we’ve been gleefully waiting to share it. Plus, it just seems to be a fitting feature this time of year.

As 2012 comes nearer to its close, we should have just enough time to share one or two more items with you, complete with recipes that range from the delicious to the disturbing. There’s an exciting food-related event or two in the works for early 2013, lots more books and manuscripts, and a few other Special Collections projects that may be of interest. So keep following and keep commenting! We’re glad to have you along for the ride.

Bowlen und Getränke: Or, On Punches and Drinks (Cocktails!)

In early October, Special Collections acquired four particularly interesting additions to our History of the American Cocktail Collection–two Spanish and two German books relating to punch and cocktails. This week, the focus is on the latter, while I (archivist/blogger Kira) take a little time to brush up on my Spanish translation skills. The German I can manage with one hand wrapped around a glass…

The first of the two books is Das Kidronsquellchen und andere trinksame Ubungen from 1913. Part cocktail book and part book of poetry about punch and other drinks, this little volume falls into a comfortable space–we’d be hard pressed not to agree that alcohol and poetry have long intertwined history of inspiration and trouble-making. The second is Hegenbarth’s Bowlen, Punsch-, und Kaffee-Haus-Getränkebuch: eine Sammlung zeitgemässer Vorschriften zur Herstellung von kalten, warmen und sonstigen Mischgetränken: Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der in- und ausländischen Kaffeehaus-Getränke der “american drinks”, sowie Äpfel und sonstiger Frucht Bowlen und Punsche  [that’s something to the effect of “Hegenbarth’s Punch and Coffee-house Drink Book: a collection of contemporary recipes for making cold, warm, and other mixed drinks: with particular attention to native and foreign coffee-house drinks, as well as apple and other fruit punches” in English] from 1903.

A few notes on punches, cocktails, and our new German publications:

1. There are entire books written on the history of punch, cocktails, specific cocktails and ingredients, etc. (I should know, as I have an ever-expanding personal collection at home.) While the evolution of the cocktail could be debated for hours, it does have at least part of its origins in the history of punch. So, the fact that German books about alcoholic drinks start with punch, a drink that would have be known and consumed in Germany, isn’t surprising.

2. The Germans are so cool when it comes to punches, they have two words for it: Punsch (hot punch) and Bowle (cold punch).

3. Hegenbarth’s book (an in particular, its publication date) shows us that, while the major evolution of the cocktail started American during the early 19th century, word and recipes spread to Europe well before 1900. In addition to hot and cold punches and wine drinks, it has sections on American-born cocktails and cobblers, iced mixed drinks, and a few French drinks thrown into the mix.

4. Meyer’s “Feuerzangenbowle a la Alfred Richard Meyer” poem above refers to a type of red wine punch popularized in Germany. It’s made by soaking or pouring rum on loaf sugar held over the punch by “feuerzange” (fire tongs), setting the sugar on fire, and letting it melt into the punch bowl. (Feuerzangenbowle have made their way into German film, song, and print!)

The whole point, of course, it that the cocktail isn’t a purely American concept, nor is punch a purely British one. Like food recipes and food cultures, cocktails and mixed drinks evolved over continents and oceans and continue to do so. They inspire us to write and sing…perhaps dabble in a bit of mixology ourselves.

Stay tuned for a look at our new Spanish acquisitions…but until then, ponder the joy of Bowle and Punsche. Prost!

Veggie Displays in the Reading Room!

Next week, there’s something exciting happening here on the Virginia Tech campus–the premiere of “Vegetable Verselets: A Vegetarian Song Cycle!” Inspired by a book from our own Culinary History Collection, the Sunday April 29th concert event sets to music a series of poems about vegetables. Following the concert, Special Collections will open its doors and share some of the Culinary History Collection during a reception in the library.

To whet your whistle, in celebration of the concern, the collection, and National Poetry Month,we have two themed exhibits in our display cases here at Special Collections. One is all about vegetables; the other is highlights poetry about food from our Rare Book Collection. There are a few pictures below, but if you’re in the area, you’ll want to stop by!

More information, including ticket prices and location, is available online. We hope to see you there!

For more about how this collaboration came about, check out the spotlight here–it includes a video preview.