Archivistkira’s Week at Culinary Geek Camp

If you’re a long-time follower, I hoe you’ll forgive me for going a bit more off track than usual this week. You know that usually I would post images and commentary/history on an item from the History of Food and Drink Collection. The thing is, last week, I got to do something amazing and 100% food history related. And I really want to talk about it. I think it may give our readers more insight into some of my future hopes/dreams for the collection, and you’ll learn about my passion for food history. It’s going to a long post, but I’ll keep my comments short and I promise there are pictures.

Each summer, the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) hosts a week long seminar. Each year, the topic changes and you’ll never see quite the same thing again. This year, the theme was “Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900.” You can read more about it online.  As soon as I heard about it from a colleague who attended last year, I knew I had to go. Luckily, the faculty member leading the seminar agreed and I was accepted.

The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.
The front of the main American Antiquarian Society building, Worcester, MA.

My week was spent in the company of graduate students, faculty, and a couple of other library types from a variety of disciplines: History, Art History, English, American Studies, and Religion Studies. Led by a visiting faculty member and assisted by the staff at the AAS, we had lectures, hands-on workshops (with books, prints, ephemera, trade cards, images, and artifacts), field trips, and even time to do our own research. The archivist in me was giddy from the behind-the-scenes tour, the scholar in me was gleeful about playing in someone else’s archives, and the collection manager in me was thrilled to talk about and learn how and why people from diverse backgrounds study food and food history.

On our first day, we were shown a number of objects related to food and asked to pick one. Over the course of the week, we were supposed to keep thinking about the object, how what we talked about changed our understanding of it, and, on the last day, give a brief informal presentation about the object as an item. Some people put the object in the context of American culture at the time, others talked about how it could be used in a classroom setting to engage students, and still others used the object as a jumping off point for broader observations about what the item represented. I chose this 1759 advertisement for a merchant in Boston, printed by one Paul Revere. It was accompanied by a handwritten receipt for the items purchased by a customer, around which the ad would have been wrapped (you can still see the fold line under “Large & small Spiders” below).

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1759 Advertisement for merchant Joseph Webb of Boston. Printed by Paul Revere.
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Handwritten receipt from Webb to Obadiah Dickinson, 1759, accompanying the advertisement.

I could probably write a paper on what I talked about for those short 5 minutes, and I won’t linger on that today, but it won’t surprise anyone to know I focused on how this might fit in as something I would show a visiting class and what it says about culinary activities in early America.

During our daily workshops, we got to handle a wide variety of materials. The items related to the day’s theme. We spent time looking at them, then had group discussions about their significance, interest, use, etc., as they related to art, political, culinary, economic, and social/domestic history. I took lots of picture, from political cartoons to trade cards to hand-colored tea plants in a botany book. (Apologies for all the reflections, but most items were in mylar for their safety and flashes weren’t permitted. Also, I haven’t had a chance to crop and edit yet.)

A. Brown & Co. print, "Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864."
A. Brown & Co. print, “Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864.”
Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies' Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.
Hand-colored tea plant illustration, Ladies’ Wreath and Parlor Annual, c.1854.
Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the "baking powder wars!"
Czar Baking Powder Trade Card (back). Straight out of the “baking powder wars!”
The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.
The Grocer, 1827. This tiny book contained rhymes for children relating to food, including the title piece about what a grocer does.

Of course, you don’t put a group of scholars obsessed with food together and not cook. During a trip to Old Sturbridge Village, we cooked an 1830s meal over an open hearth from scratch (stuffed and roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, rolls, greens with burnt butter dressing, lemonade, pounded cheese, and “Washington Cake” with hand-whipped cream, plus we churned and washed our own butter!). It was an eye-opening experience to actually prepare this meal and if it weren’t for 20 sets of hands, it would have taken well more than our 3 hours. We tasted and talked about hard cider, cheese and cheesemaking, and Sazeracs and other historic cocktails, and bravely sampled hardtack. On our last day together, we made gingerbread as dessert for the evening’s cook out. It was Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe that included a pint of molasses and four different spices. Dense as it was, it tasted amazing and I’m looking forward to making it at home for friends.

Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)
Historic Sazeracs (and yes, I got to help bartend!)
Eliza Leslie's 1827 recipe for gingerbread.
Eliza Leslie’s 1827 recipe for gingerbread, made in 2015!

Besides the fun, my pile of notes, new knowledge gained, and the chance to do research (why yes, I DID find some interesting cocktail history in manuscript form, but more on that another day), there was something even more important I learned last week and it was a large part of what I wrote about in my application essay. I wanted to meet people from different disciplines who studied food and I wanted to know why they did. I’ve worked at Virginia Tech Special Collections with the History of Food and Drink Collection for more than 6 years. One of my biggest challenges is finding ways to make it seem usable and relevant in the classroom. After a week of conversation and collaboration, I’m looking forward to reflecting on how I can broaden the way I think about our collection and its use, and how I can encourage faculty and students on campus to do the same. Hopefully, I can find some angles to entice classes in unexpected areas of study to pay us a visit.

Finally, after going on way to long, I’ll leave you with two more images (no, not me washing butter–but a picture of that DOES exist!). They are two food items vital to the history of food and culinary culture in America and abroad. If you want a bit of my experience from last week, give yourself five minutes to consider them. It might just surprise you how politically charged your morning beverage might be.

A bottle of tea whose label reads "Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773."
A bottle of tea whose label reads “Tea thrown into Boston Harbor Dec 16 1773.”
Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Unroasted coffee beans taken from the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant.

See you next week, when we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

Upcoming Event

The Peacock-Harper Culinary Friends, in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the Old Guard Reunion are hosting an event on May 21st at the Inn at Virginia Tech. This luncheon will feature two guest speakers and a menu with recipes from a book we’ve talked about before! If you live in the Blacksburg area and would like to attend, you can the view and print the registration form: PHCHFG May 21, 2015. Please note: Registration is due by May 15, 2015. 

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Women’s History Month, Part 9: Laura Jane Harper (1914-1996)

We’re kicking off our Women’s History Month posts with a faculty member, administrator, academic dean, and author close to our hearts here at Virginia Tech: Laura Jane Harper. For those of you familiar with the History of Food and Drink Collection’s origins, the Peacock-Harper Culinary Collection, you can guess why the late Dean Emeritus Harper is even more special to us in Special Collections. Without her cookbook collection, I wouldn’t be blogging about food history today!

picture of Laura Jane Harper
Laura Jane Harper

Laura Jane Harper was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and received her bachelor’s degree from Belhaven College in 1934, her Master of Science degree from the University of Tennessee in 1948, and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1956.1

Harper first joined the faculty at VPI in 1948, but took an educational leave in 1951 to pursue her doctorate. She returned in 1956 as a a full professor, resumed teaching, and completed her dissertation. During her career she taught graduate and undergraduate nutrition courses. In addition to teaching, Harper also conducted research for the Virginia Agricultural Experimental Station as director of home economics research. Her research focused on food habits, food and culture, nutrition in international development, and nutrient metabolism. In 1958, she began an interim term as the head of the Home Economics Department. When the department became a college two years later, she was the first women to serve as an academic dean at VPI and the first dean of the College of Home Economics (a position she held for twenty years, until she retired in 1980). For more about her, see the online thesis: A Fighter To The End: The Remarkable Life and Career Of Laura Jane Harper. 

Dr. Harper was also an advocate for women in higher education, as both students and teachers. Our holdings of her written materials may be few, but they are powerful. 

In honor of her work to the university, there is a dorm building on campus named after her. too. Finished in 1999, according to the resolution, Harper Hall was named as “an enduring tribute to Dean Emeritus Laura Jane Harper, a true pioneer, educator, and leader with remarkable vision who profoundly influenced the course of education at Virginia Tech, leaving a legacy of equal educational opportunity for all.”2

You can find a great deal more material related to Dr. Harper’s administrative role in the University Archives, primarily in the form of correspondence with other campus leaders:

  • Records of the Office of the Vice President for Administration, Stuart K. Cassell, 1945-1975. Finding aid available online.
  • Records of T. Marshall Hahn, 1962-1974. Finding aid available online.
  • Records of the Office of Vice President (1963-1966) and the Office of Executive Vice President (1968-1969), Warren W. Brandt, 1958-1969. Finding aid available online.
  • Records of William James McKeefery, Vice President, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1969-1973. Finding aid available online.

https://www.hnfe.vt.edu/People/faculty/Memoriam/Harper_Laura.html
2 http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/125th/women/harper.htm


As with last year, this is the first in a series of four posts for women’s history month. While (I hope) I am always honoring the contributions of women to the food and drink history, this is an opportunity to look a little closer at the lives of the women, in addition to their works. Join me as we stroll through three more women of culinary history again this March. I have some interesting profiles planned, continuing next week with Mrs. Harriet Anne De Salis, a London author who also wrote a book on one of my favorite topics: cocktails!

Cora Bolton McBryde’s Cookbook

Some of our readers may know (and some of you may not) that Special Collections has a second blog. Launched in January 2014, it highlights materials from all of our collecting areas and features contributions from all our staff. Last week, our university archivist wrote a post about a handwritten cookbook we acquired last year. It was kept by Cora Bolton McBryde, the wife of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College president (from 1891-1907), John McLaren McBryde. It’s a very interesting piece of university history AND food history. So this week, our feature comes from our other blog. You can read about the cookbook, its preservation, and a little about the McBrydes here: http://vtspecialcollections.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/cooking-for-the-president-cora-bolton-mcbrydes-cookbook/. Enjoy!

Mark Your Calendars!

There will be a new feature post this week (a little late), but in the meantime, here’s a heads up! Once again, Special Collections will be hosting a series of four (that’s right FOUR!) Open House evenings during the Fall 2013 semester. (See the flyer below.) Among the materials on display will be some more recent additions to the History of Food and Drink Collection. Who knows what we might share! Cocktail publications, handwritten receipt books, corporate pamphlets, and cooking ephemera–it’ll be a surprise! So, even if you’re joined us before, we’ll hope you will consider visiting us again.

Open House events will be on the first Tuesday of every month (September 3, October 1, November 5, and December 3) and will take place from 5pm-7pm. Special Collections is on the first floor of Newman Library, near the study cafe. 

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Women’s History Month Profiles, Part 1: Maria Parloa (1843-1909)

March, as some of you may know, is Women’s History Month. While a good portion of what we talk about on this blog relates to women’s history, it seems like a good opportunity to explore the contributions of some authors, educators, and cooks (and sometimes, all three at once!). Each week this month, we’ll share a little about an influential lady from late 19th/early 20th century culinary history. They may not be household names these days (or even in their own time), but their works paved the way for modern home economics, cooking, and cookbooks.

On a side note:  if you’re in the Blacksburg area, we always invite you visit Special Collections. This month, we have two small exhibits devoted to women’s contributions to science, technology, science fiction, architecture, literature, culinary history, and more! You can also go “hands-on” with examples of items in our collection. We’ll also be profiling manuscripts, publications, and items on the Special Collections blog on Tuesdays during March.


Maria Parloa was born in Massachusetts in 1843. Even before she entered a teacher’s school in Maine in 1871, she had experience cooking in homes and hotels in New England. In 1872, while still in enrolled at the Normal School of the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, she published her first cookbook, The Appledore Cookbook (ours is the later 1878 edition).

(Click on any of the images for a larger view.)

1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook
1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook
Index from the 1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook
Index from the 1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook
Samples pages from the 1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook
Samples pages from the 1878 edition, The Appledore Cookbook

After several years of teaching in Florida, she eventually relocated to Boston, Massachusetts–she had visited several times to lecture and felt there was a gap. By 1877, she opened a cooking school. Two years later, she became one of the first instructors at the famed Boston Cooking School.By 1880, she had authored two more books, First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families, and Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book: A Guide to Marketing and Cooking.

1880, First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
1880, First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
Sample pages from First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
Sample pages from First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
Sample introductory pages from First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
Sample introductory pages from First Principles of Household Management and Cookery: A Text-Book for Schools and Families
1880, Miss Parloa's New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
1880, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
Images from Miss Parloa's New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
Images from Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
Kitchen appliances from Miss Parloa's New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
Kitchen appliances from Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, A Guide to Marketing and Cooking


In 1883, she left her cooking school and Boston for new opportunities in New York City, where she opened a new school. She continued to teach for the next four years before eventually taking more time to write and travel. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, she was prolific, publishing later editions of earlier books, as well as three new ones: Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would Be Good Housekeepers in 1887; Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management in 1889 (we have the 1898 edition); and Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three in 1893 (we have the 1895 edition).

1887, Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
1887, Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
Index pages from Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
Index pages from Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
Lunch planning tips from Index pages from Miss Parloa's Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
Lunch planning tips from Index pages from Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion: A Guide for All Who Would be Good Housekeepers
1898, Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
1898, Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
Recipes from Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
Recipes from Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
Kitchen plan from Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
Kitchen plan from Home Economics: A Guide to Household Management, Including the Proper Treatment of the Materials Entering into the Construction and Furnishings of the House
1895, Miss Parloa's Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three
1895, Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three
List of kitchen needs from Miss Parloa's Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three
List of kitchen needs from Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three
Invalid recipes from Miss Parloa's Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three
Invalid recipes from Miss Parloa’s Young Housekeeper: Designed Especially to Aid Beginners: Economical Receipts for Those Who are Cooking for Two or Three

Parloa was among the nation’s first home economics instructors and her focus was broad. She was also one of the first to embrace/promote a brand. Last summer, we acquired One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company’s Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives, published in 1897. Parloa also endorsed and created publications for Walter Baker Chocolate in the 1890s.

1897, One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company's Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives
1897, One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company’s Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives
Title page from One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company's Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives
Title page from One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company’s Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives
Index from One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company's Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives
Index from One Hundred Ways to Use Liebig Company’s Extract of Beef: A Guide for American Housewives

By 1903, Parloa had mostly retired from writing. She moved to Bethel, Connecticut, where she lived until the time of her death in 1909. Maria Parloa was devoted to an all-around home economics education, as her book titles and the contents suggest. In addition to recipes, she featured directions for maintaining a clean and orderly home, thriftiness, hygiene, and temperance. She worked to provide a wider education in household management, caring for the home and family, and cooking techniques, and she was an important influence in the rise of home economics.

Special Collections’ Rare Book Collection includes 10 of Maria Parloa’s books. You can see a list of our holdings here: http://tinyurl.com/mariaparloa-vtsc. A New York Times description of one of her classes, published in 1882, is available online. A lengthier biography is available on the website of the Bethel Public Library, which began with a donation from Parloa.

Next week, we’ll look at another important figure in the Boston Cooking School, Fannie Farmer. Until then, be sure your pantry is organized and your luncheons are simple!