The Grove–A Big Bite of University History

Just last month, an exciting new cookbook arrived on the Virginia Tech campus (actually, two did, but the other one will get its own post, too!): The Grove: Recipes and History of Virginia Tech’s Presidential Residence. Last week, we acquired a copy for the History of Food & Drink Collection. In addition to the recipes, the book also features an illustrated history of the Grove itself.Since it’s a relatively new publication and proceeds from sales are going to the endowment for the Employees’ Spouse and Dependent Scholarship Program, you can’t expect me to give too much away on the blog.

We’re adding a non-circulating copy here in Special Collections, but there will also be a copy going on the 3rd floor, if you’d like to check it out! If you’re looking for a copy all your own, you can pick one up at the University Bookstore or order it online.

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.

Cooking for the Sick Isn’t All Tea and Toast

Many of the cookbooks in the collection, especially those from the 19th century, include a section on cooking and preparing food for the sick. Others feature instruction on feeding children and infants. This week’s feature, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, has a little of everything. A combination textbook for cooking school students and cookbook, it was written by well-known teacher/author Fannie Merritt Farmer. The book went through multiple editions between 1904 and the early 1920s (ours is from 1911), and it has been reprinted occasionally since then.

The book contains information on nutrition and food values, feeding children and infants, and a lengthy list of recipes. While many cookbooks include simple recipes for the sick (teas, gruels, and toast),  Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent is much more elaborate, as you can see from some of the images above. Chapters have detailed instructions on preparing luncheon and dinner trays appropriately so they look neat and aren’t overcrowded. Recipes range from teas, soups, puddings/gelatins (it was too hard to resist the image of a carved orange basket!) and toast to chops, oysters, and custard souffles. The latter is not quite the simple fare you might expect.

However, if you look at Farmer’s list of things to consider when feeding the sick, the first two are appealing to sight and taste. “Never consult a patient as to his menu, nor enter into a conversation relating to his diet, within his hearing,” she advises, but “…the best means of stimulating the appetite is to have good food, well cooked, and attractively served.” (Admittedly taken to some strange extremes–see “Flowering Ice-Cream” above.) Chapters on specific types of food include notes on nutritive value, recommendations on the best ways to serve, and a variety of recipes.Contradictions aside (“Cream and Mayonnaise dressings, although highly nutritious, are so complex as to render them difficult of digestion” followed by recipes for both),  the fact that the book addresses different types and phases of illness, and, to some extent, transitioning back to a regular diet, is a change from many other publications from the time period. And it clearly had an audience for nearly 20 years!

And for those of you wondering what kind of stance the book takes on alcohol, there are cases of illness that justify its consumption, as “[t]he use of alcoholic beverages in some diseases seems almost imperative.” Before going on talk about when and why to drink a little brandy or  a lot of whiskey, however, Farmer includes the following statement: “Lives, without doubt, have been saved by the use of champagne.” There is a very brief explanation about champagne putting those with fevers into beneficial sleep, but either way, it might be my new favorite quotation.

And, on a vaguely related note, since it’s graduation weekend here at Virginia Tech, a little champagne might just be in order. Congrats and good luck, Class of 2012! Go out into the world…and find something good to eat. That’s my advice.

Nutrition Month…a couple days late!

Notes from Newman: HNFE Research and Resources is a blog run by Virginia Tech HNFE Librarian, Rebecca Miller. In honor of Nutrition Month last month, she featured a number of guest posts by HNFE students. For those of you out there particularly interested in nutrition, you may want to check out this series of “Get Your Plate in Shape” posts.

The Cure for What Ails You

This week is a sort of mini double feature. As is often the way of working in Special Collections, looking at one item reminds you of one (or six!) more. So, while scanning Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, I was reminded of the trade card for Dr. Thomas’  Eclectric [No, that’s not a typo, I promise] Oil. Suddenly I had patent medicines on the brain [I blame the book I’m reading on the history of bitters]! There is plenty of history on patent medicines out there, so if you’re interested, I encourage you to go looking. But in the meantime…

Dr. S. J. Sears’ Domestic Receipt Book, produced in 1868, combines baking recipes, advertisement for Dr. Sears’ cough syrup, and testimonials into a neat, if someone puzzling, package. On a single page, there are pudding recipes, directions for making horse liniment, and treatment for infections in the finger. The focus of the little pamphlet, however, are the testimonials. Written by the general public, physicians, and even a minister (and admitted long-term friend) of Sears. Of course, no one could have a bad word to say about the cough syrup, though in the modern age, one can’t help but wonder about the contents of a bottle. Samuel J. Sears (1815-1894) was a real physician in New York, though, which is more than can be said for some producers of medicines, legitimate or not. Dr. Sears’ syrup, at least, has specific claims and intentions–it is meant for coughs, colds, and a series of other lung-related complaints. 

When it comes to Dr. Thomas, the claims are not so humble. Eclectric oil apparently cures it all! 

woman with fan

description of ailments cured

Although the actual date of the trade card is unknown, Dr. Thomas’ oil was marketed from the mid 19th century well into the 20th century in the US and Canada. While it seems unlikely a blend of botanicals (and probably more than a little alcohol) would cure deafness in only two days, it seemed to do something for someone!

In addition to more patent medicine materials, there is also a great deal of information in our collections relating to home remedies. In fact, few 19th century cookbooks with complete without at least a page or two for dealing common injuries and recipes for useful household products. There are a whole range of books devoted in full or partially to the correct foods to feed the sick or invalid, too, but that might just be a blog post for another day…Until then, here’s hoping you don’t require a remedy of any kind.

First Annual Edible Book Contest @ Newman Library

This spring, Newman Library at Virginia Tech is hosting what we hope will became an annual event: an Edible Book Contest! The First Annual Edible Book Contest will be held on Friday, March 30, 2012, from 2-4pm in Torgersen 1100 and we need your help!

If you like food and books, we have a challenge for you! The Edible Book Contest is a chance to represent, make fun of, interpret, or just share you favorite (or least favorite) book with edible ingredients.  Looking for a visual example? Photographs from the Newman Library pilot project, held in July 2011, are online. (Also, you can find all kinds of examples on the web–these are popular events!)

Below is the flyer for our contest (click on the image for a larger view). Additional information, including rules and the registration, can be found on the contest website: We only have space for 50 entries, so sign up soon! And even if you don’t want to make something, be sure to join us on March 30. Winners in six different categories will be chosen by attendees and our Edible Book artists want your vote!

Candy Holiday Redux: In Honor of Valentine’s Day

In honor of yesterday’s candy-laden holiday, it seems appropriate to feature, well, candy. And what good culinary history collection doesn’t have material on that subject? Sure, there are traditional chocolates, candy hearts, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and chocolate cherries. But what if there was something better…something healthier? Enter Candy -Making Revolutionized: Confectionery from Vegetables, a book about making candy from vegetables. Seriously.

Published in 1912, this little book takes a novel approach to the sweet. Ranging from root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets, and carrots) to fruits (tomatoes and dates) to spices (ginger), the book includes recipes for candies of all sorts. In addition simply crystallizing or candying pieces, there are specific directions on making marshmallows, puffs, creams, bon-bons, nutlettes, and pastilles. There are instructions for making basic candy you can shape into anything (note the table spread in the image gallery above with its pigs, flowers, and boutonnieres). The book includes several chapters on the techniques, as well information for caterers looking to expand their menus and teachers looking to add that little something extra to a class. And, like every good recipe book, it contains at least one treatment for sickness–onion tablets! You can read about those in the pages above.

Mary Elizabeth Hall’s introduction includes her reasons for touting vegetable confectioneries: the healthy nature of vegetables, the ease with which anyone with a garden has access to ingredients, the fact that beautiful items can be made with simple kitchen tools. However, good reasons aside, it is well worth sharing the start of the introduction:

The years of work in candy-making that have made possible this book, I now look back upon with a certain feeling of satisfaction. The satisfaction comes from the knowledge that because of the discovery that is here recorded, the candy of the future will be purer, more wholesome, more nourishing than that of the past has been. Even if the processes that are here set forth fail of the widest adoption, I have still the satisfaction of knowing that just so far as they are adopted will there be greater healthfulness of confectionery. (vi)

While no one really grabbed hold of Mary Hall’s philosophy, and a majority of our candy is a lot less healthier than it was in her day, there is still some hope. Organic, local, and healthy trends in eating may very well bring us to something close to the green bean taffy and potato caramel of 1912.

Besides, when you think about it, is there better way to say “I Love You” than with a decorative box filled with beet puffs, tomato marshmallows, and potato mocha walnuts? Yes, plenty (perhaps but NOT giving someone that box in the first place?)! On the one hand, this book could be a reminder that just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. On the other hand, you could do a lot worse than a candied green bean and gingered carrots…right?

On a final note, if you can’t come here to see our copy, this book is out of copyright and you can find is online in a number of formats.