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: http://tinyurl.com/VTEdibleBooks2012. 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.

Special Collections Open House Events!

We’re trying something new this semester at Special Collections. Since it indirectly relates to the Culinary History Collection, I hope you’ll excuse a slight diversion…

In order to give everyone an opportunity to learn just what goes on here, we’re hosting a series of open house events! This is a great chance to come in, see some materials in a variety of formats and relating to all our different collecting areas (including culinary history, of course!), take a behind-the-scenes tour, or just meet an archivist and ask questions! 

We will have four open houses this semester, on the first Tuesday of each month, from 5:30pm-7:30pm. The dates are February 7, March 6, April 3, and May 1. We invite you to drop in for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or the whole two hours! You can view the Open House Flyer or contact us for more information.

Be sure to drop by and spread the word!

A full-color apple a day…

Some dreary and chill weather in Blacksburg lately calls for a bright and cheery post.  Enter the World’s Fair Fruits catalog from Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards Co. Created in 1903, the catalog included full page spreads of fruit varieties sold by the company (still in existence today and now simply Stark Bro’s).  The catalog also contains detailed information on the history of the family company, established in 1816; black and white photographs of the orchards; and descriptions of the available fruit varieties. This particular Stark Bro’s catalog was produced for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 (aka the St. Louis World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri.

Although not all the color images are represented here, each one is part of  a two-page spread. The first four spreads feature apples. Varieties include those common today (Delicious, Northern spy, and McIntosh); those considered “heirloom” (Banana, Arkansas Black,  Liveland Raspberry, and Grimes Golden); and those rarely heard of today (Early Colton, Geneton, and Ben Hur). In addition the pear/cherry and berry pages above, there are also color pages for plum varieties, more pears and cherries, peaches, and grapes. (You can imagine how hard it was to select only a few pages!)

The copy of World’s Fair Fruits here in Special Collections is one only four or five in public and academic library hands. It’s rarity aside, we just couldn’t pass up the catalog once those color images caught our eyes.  We have a number of other seed and nursery catalogs in our collection and while they may, at first, seem an unlikely addition, seeds and trees are a vital component to the larger picture of food and drink history we are documenting. Knowing who was providing these ingredients, where they were growing, and how they were marketed and shared 100 years ago gives us a little insight into foods we still enjoy today.

And remember, there are likely to be wonderful (and local or uncommon) varieties of many fruits wherever you live. So, when the growing season arrives, be sure to get out there, try something new, and find a creative way to make it last all winter! Even if it means giving up half your freezer space to applesauce made in the fall (like a certain archivist/blogger here at Special Collections)–it’s well worth the effort.

 Happy eating!

New Bites in the Culinary History Collection

We’ve picked up a few more followers this past weekend, so it seems like we need a bonus post this week (though what Wednesday’s feature is still a bit of a mystery). Special Collections launched this blog back in September and we’ve survived into 2012! With that in mind, it might be nice idea to give our readers an idea of the kinds of books we acquired recently. Between September and December 2011, we purchased more than 25 titles for the collection and received 12 publications as donations.

Highlights among these new acquisitions are:

  • One of a few foreign language items in the Culinary History Collection, Die Österreichische Hausfrau: Ein Handbuch für Frauen und Mädchen aller Stände; Praktische Anleitung zur Führung der Hauswirtschaft [The Austrian Housewife: A Handbook for Wives and Girls; A Practical Guide to Household Manangement] by Anna Bauer (1892);
  • Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie du goût. A handbook of gastronomy, new and complete translation with fifty-two original etchings by A. Lalauze (1884);
  • A mid-19th century vegetarian cookbook, Vegetarian cookery by A Lady (1866?);
  • Additions to the Culinary Pamphlet Collection from Northwestern Consolidated Milling Co., William Underwood Company, and Malleable Iron Range Corporation;
  • Several publications relating to the health and care of children. Topics include whooping cough, feeding babies and children, and cookbooks designed from younger children;
  • And of course, a number of southern cookbooks!

We’re looking forward to 2012 and continuing to add new materials to the collection in all areas (and hopefully at least one NEW area)! We hope you’ll stick with us, read up on what’s new (and old) in the Culinary History, and as always, feel free to ask questions/comment!

The Spices of Life

When it comes to cooking and eating, neither would be as interesting without spices! Ground or whole, seeds, pods, and leaves have a long and complex history with our favorite and not-so-favorite foods:

  • The Romans filled their sauces with spices.
  • During the Middle Ages, spices were a sign of wealth and largely only accessible to those of rank. The more elaborate the dinner and the more spices in your dishes, the more your guests were likely to “oooh” and “ahhh.” Of course, it also conveniently covered the taste of the rotting meat you may not have otherwise preserved.
  • Salt, common on our tables today, has been everything from a religious offering to a barter item to literally a guarded commodity, locked away in towers.
  • Many spices (and herbs) have medicinal values, in addition to their flavor powers!

This week, we’re featuring a spice supplier’s price list from 1899. This small publication from the collection contains photographs of the facility and testimonials from stores, in addition to the price lists themselves. The images above (click on the first image to bring up the gallery) include the title page, several photographs, and lists for a household spice, as well as as a few more exotic choices. It is worth noting that the title pages states “Quotations subject to fluctuations of the market” and the first page has hand-changed prices! Market values changed fast, which has long been a trend when it comes to the supply and demand of spices.

The Culinary History Collection includes a few cookbooks whose recipes are based around spices, rather than specific meals or ingredients. Although limited in number, they are a nice homage to the humble spices, from the bitter to the sweet. Like food, we have our favorites and our not-s0-favorites, but without them, life might be a little more bland. So when you’re in the kitchen today, be sure to spice it up, whether it’s plain old salt and pepper or saffron.

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Just a little update: About two hours after I posted this entry, a story popped up on one of my news feeds from Epicurious.com. Apparently, it’s National Pepper Week! So cracked those little white, pink, or black corns into your favorite dish!

1731 Book for Receipts (Or, You Want to Pickle WHAT?)

Acquired in 2005, the 1731 “Book for Receipts” includes handwritten recipes by at least two different people. In addition to extensive directions on pickling everything from walnuts to melons to pidgeons, there is also a large collection of baked goods, wines, and even a variation of cheesecake! Like many collections of the time, there are home remedies, too!

By the way, this is also the manuscript that inspired our “Snail Water” post several weeks back.

A finding aid (or collection guide) for this manuscript collection is available online. The entire book was digitized in 2005 for preservation purposes. A pdf version can be viewed, saved, and/or printed here.

Vegetables: The Food of Inspiration?


In 2010, Special Collections purchased a book called Vegetable Verselets. Published in 1911, it contains poetry about (you guessed it!) vegetables by Margaret Hays. Many of the poems include illustrations by Hays’ sister. Our copy here is one only 7 or 8 cataloged in public or academic library hands.

The other reason we’re featuring Vegetable Verselets this week, aside from the hilarious nature of the poems, is to introduce the event that this book inspired. After it arrived here, the volume went into a display case, where it then caught the attention of a professor, Tracy Cowden, in the Department of Music, who took an idea and ran. Several months later, Special Collections is pleased to be part of a new kind of collaboration (at least for us)! In April 2012, a song cycle featuring eight of the poems from the book will premiere at Virginia Tech! The links below include both an article about the creation of this song cycle, as well as a video clip preview of two pieces.  As we get closer to the big day, you’ll be seeing and hearing more about the event (the when/where and why you might just want to join us). We’ll even post more of the pages, too.  For now, enjoy the teasers:

And while you’re at it, consider this: Is reading about the soap opera-esque lives of your vegetables any better than eating them? Lettuce know!