A Book (by its) Cover

This week, I really wanted to do a post highlighting materials related to the various wintertime holy days and celebrations that happen during December. That didn’t exactly work out. I did find some materials in our rare books collection that were Christmas related but I had trouble finding things for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Yule, and Eid (I would have included it even though it’s not really the same and was in September this year). So, I shelved that post for another year when we’ve made better progress increasing the representation in our collections.

As I searched for something else to post about, I saw them: Wood and Metal book covers. They were just my style and I had to share them. The wood-bound (and metal housed) books I’ve chosen today are from our History of Food and Drink Collection and focus on Southern cuisine, Astrology/Mixology, and general cookery.

woodbooks16First, a little bit about wood book covers in general. If you take a moment and do a quick Internet search (I’ll wait…), you will likely discover that there are hundreds upon hundreds of sites providing instructions on how to make your own wood book cover. Wood has been a popular material for electronics cases and other applications for a few years now (I’ve personally watched as the number of products in this space has increased exponentially). Not surprisingly, this is a phenomenon that falls squarely into the category “everything old is new again”. The covers from our rare books collection are not freshly made. They mostly hail from the late 1930’s (one is on a book from the 1970’s – another period where wood was exceedingly popular on everything from cars to walls). Going back a few centuries further, the Copts of North Africa lent their name to the technique of binding with wooden covers sewn together around pages. So, that hip new trend is actually ancient – – and still amazingly beautiful (if you can get past the problematic racial issues raised by the illustrations).

woodbooks1Our first two examples both focus on Southern style cuisine. They also rely on the Jim Crow mammie caricature. The introduction from the 1930’s volume reads “The very name ‘Southern Cookery’ seems to conjure up the vision of the old mammy, head tied with a red bandanna, a jovial, stoutish, wholesome personage . . .”

Yikes! That alone makes me want to avoid this book. For more on the history of the mammie caricature, head on over to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia page.

TX715.2.S68 L875 1939

Clearly that Jim Crow era attitude was still around in the 1970’s when the mammy image cover was placed around this cookbook with the ’70s dinner party cover.


TX715.2.S68 S675 1972

Our next two offerings both focus on astrology and mixology, or the fine art of combining cocktails with mysterious planetary influences on our destinies. I ask you: What could go wrong?

TX951 .M17

Well, to start, how about this cover from Zodiac Cocktails (1940). The artwork, while creatively using the tools of the bartender’s trade, manages to evoke racial and religious stereotypes about Caribbean Islanders and Voodoo priestesses. Surprisingly, once past the cover, the illustrations are more referential toward medieval British conceptions of the mystical.

woodbooks8The content of this volume is as it would be with any book of cocktail recipes: useful in making cocktails. Still, it’s hard to take the author seriously in his attempt to “. . . demonstrate that people born under one sign of the zodiac are capable of drinking one or more combinations of liquor without ill-effect, whereas other combinations bring less pleasing results.” He has formulated a cocktail for each sign that he believes is the ideal cocktail for anyone born under that sign. Since we are currently under Sagittarius, I share with you the ideal cocktail for that sign:

1 Lump Sugar
2 Dashes Cocktail Bitters
1 Glass Rye or Whiskey
Crush sugar and bitters together, add lump of ice, decorate with twist of lemon peel and slice of orange, using medium glass, and stir well.
This cocktail can be made with Brandy, Gin, Rum, etc., instead of Rye Whiskey.

woodbooks10The next item from 1939 will tell you your Bar-o-scope. This one is definitely not taking itself too seriously. It is described as:

Spiced with “Astro-illogical” guidance in rhyme + pictures for those REborn under the different signs of the Baroscope.

The cocktails are arranged in chapters by type and each chapter contains a little poem about a zodiacal sign:

TX951 .B37 1939

Nov. 23 to Dec. 23

Are idealists at heart
And to parties and functions
Good spirits impart.

It’s a fun little book, but it’s actually not bound in wood. It’s really press board (sometimes called particle board). It’s tied with leather thongs and is very similar to the traditional coptic binding style but has a spine added where one would not normally be present in coptic style.

woodbooks15Finally, there is a glorious metal “bound” cookbook from Pillsbury (1933). Right in the heart of the Art Deco period, this book incorporates elements of that iconic style into a housewife’s reference book titled Balanced Recipes.

TX715 .B3 1933

The book includes sections for bread, cakes, cookies, desserts, luncheon and supper dinners, macaroni and spaghetti, meat and fish, pies, salads, soups and sauces, vegetables, and menus. The recipes included were developed in Pillsbury’s “home-type experimental kitchen” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Of all these books, this one is by far my favorite. It avoids the caricatures and racial issues of the others while being really cool to look at. It also has a connection to Minneapolis (my favorite big city). Plus, when I was flipping through, it gave me a holiday surprise and landed on a recipe for that perennial holiday favorite: fruit cake. Enjoy!


For more about the History of Food and Drink Collection at Virginia Tech, check out the dedicated blog: What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!


St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

Dia dhaoibh! When I found out I’d be posting on March 17th, I knew I had to do something for St. Patrick’s Day. You see, I love the Irish! I love the annual celebration of Ireland that happens this time every year! I love the shamrocks, the parades, and the green decor everywhere! I DO NOT, however, love the ever present corned beef and cabbage or the green beer.

Since I have been assaulted by corned beef and cabbage one too many times in my life, I decided to explore our History of Food & Drink Collection in search of more palatable Irish fare. During my search, I found various recipes for Irish potato dishes, a few roasts, and even one recipe for the dreaded corned beef. While I was searching, I came across a little Irish cookbook. No, literally! the book’s title is A Little Irish Cookbook (TX717.5 .M877x 1986).


A Little Irish Cookbook includes 28 recipes representing everything from breakfast to dessert. The book was originally published by The Appletree Press Ltd. in Ireland in 1986. The copy held by Special Collections was published the same year by Chronicle Books in the United States but was printed in Ireland. The author, John Murphy, states in his introduction that the book is not intended to represent all of Irish cuisine. It is merely a collection of recipes that “…if a visitor to Ireland were to encounter only what is in this book … he would be satisfied that he had eaten well in the Irish style.” That makes me think it’s perfect for a St. Patrick’s Day repast.

In celebration of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve created a five course menu from Mr. Murphy’s book. The menu is below accompanied by the appetizing illustrations from the book.

But first … Since March is Women’s History Month, I want to spend a moment talking not about the author of the book but about its amazing illustrator, Karen Bailey. Karen Bailey is a working artist with a studio in Ottawa, Canada. Her first art exhibition was in 1981. Since then, she has had both solo and joint exhibitions across Canada and the United Kingdom. She has provided illustrations for a number of Appletree Press books, including “Irish Toasts”, “A Little Scottish Cookbook”, “A Little American Cookbook”, and “A Little Canadian Cookbook”. More examples of her work can be seen on her website: www.karenbailey.ca.

Now for our menu:


Géarú Goile (appetizer)


Introduced in the book as “… a traditional potato dish, celebrated in the rhyme: Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan, If you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get your man.”



Anraith (soup)

Irish Stew

This is a classic that everyone should expect when looking into an Irish cookbook. Murphy describes his recipe as “… hearty, nourishing, and traditional enough.”


Cúrsa Éisc (fish course)

Dublin Lawyer

Ireland is an island, so I had to include some seafood! Plus, I love seafood and this is my menu. 🙂 While I wasn’t able to find the origin of this dish’s amusing name, many sites on the Iternet claim it has to do with the wealthy status of lawyers in Dublin. Regardless, I firmly believe Murphy when he says “This dish is delicious and traditional…”



Príomhchúrsa (main course)

Spiced Beef with Champ

First, the Spiced Beef. With this dish, I’m slipping into Christmas fare a little but I couldn’t pass up this delicious image from Karen Bailey. The Spiced Beef “… can be made at home, but it does take time.” according to Murphy.


As for Champ, it “… is a simple, warming dish which is cheap, easy to produce and very filling. I’ve actually tried Champ and it was wonderful!


Milseog (dessert)

Gooseberry Crumble

OK. I’m partial to gooseberries but there’s another great reason to highlight this dish in my menu. It’s apparently so good the publishers not only included it in the 28 recipes but they also printed the recipe a second time on the included bookmark!


I hope you enjoy whatever you decide to make for St. Patrick’s Day! And remember: Women’s History Month is only half over! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our online exhibit for Women’s History Month 2016.



Agriculture Experiment Stations & Food History

I’m posting on both Special Collections blogs this week, so I’m all about food! On this blog, we’re looking at the intersection of agriculture experiment stations, recipes, and meal planning. And a work by a man named George Washington Carver. (If you want to see the latest History of Food and Drink post about sandwiches, you can view it here. Either way, you’re going to hear about peanut butter. 🙂 ) Here’s a bit of Three Delicous Meals Every Day for the Farmer from 1916. (And no, that’s not a typo–“Delicous” is how it appears on the title page and throughout the text.)

George Washington Carver served as the director of the Tuskegee Institute’s Agriculture Department from 1896 until the time of his death in 1947. During his tenure, he published numerous bulletins, including this one. Three Delicous Meals Every Day for the Farmer begins with an introduction about the relationship between people and food, including what he saw as some of the issues of the time. The majority of the provides a plan of three meals a day for one week.

What grabbed my attention was the “Explanatory” section at the end, which includes recipes for eight dishes that are among the planned menu. There is a focus on simplicity, economy, and (re)use. “Granulated Toast” is basically breadcrumbs which can be used in a number of other ways and in other recipes. “Bacon Puffs” are made from a piece of the bacon that’s already been used at least once. Carver’s recipe for “Nut Sandwiches” means using whatever kind of nut or nuts you have available, peanut or otherwise. These are easy, satisfying, sustainable (if a bit repetitive) dishes meant to appear over and over again in meal plans and they require (mainly) ingredients that were available on the farm.

You can see the full version  if you pay us a visit. Or, you can find it online through the Tuskegee University Archives Online Repository here:

“How to Cook a Husband,” Or, Metaphors in the Kitchen

Our History of Food & Drink Collection is full of surprises, including recipes, household management guides, books on nutrition and dietetics, advertising ephemera, children’s cookbooks and nutrition publications, and information on the history of cocktails in America. We’re working hard to add some original materials, too, and we now house more than two dozen handwritten receipt books, compiled recipe collections, and faculty papers. This “How to Cook a Husband” was a small manuscript item discovered among a box of publications in 2010. And its catchy title was hard to resist.

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Like many manuscript materials, handwriting is always a challenge. In general, if you spend a few minutes with it, you’ll get the hang of it. In the meantime, here’s a transcript:

A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement in cooking, and do not turn out tender or good. Some go about the task as if their husbands were balloons. They blow them up, others keep them constantly in hot water, others let them freeze by their carelessness and indifference. Some keep them in a stew by their irritating way and words. Other roast them. Some keep them in a pickle all their lives.

It cannot be supposed a husband will be tender or good so managed but they are truly delicious when properly treated.

In selecting your husband, you must not be guided by a silvery appearance, as in buying mackerel, or by the golden tint as in salmon. Be sure you select him yourself as tastes differ and be sure you do not look for him at market for the best are always brought to the door.

It is far better not to have any unless you patiently learn how to cook them. A preserving kettle lined with the finest porcelain must be used, yet if you have but an earthen pipkin, it will do if carefully handled. See that the linen in which you wrap him is nicely washed & mended and with the required buttons and strings neatly sewed on.

Lie him in the kettle with a strong silken cord called Comfort, as the one called duty is apt to be weak. They are apt to fly out of the kettle and get burnt and crunchy on the edges since like crabs or oysters you have to cook them alive. Make a good steady fire out of love, neatness and cheerfulness. Set your husband as near this as seems to agree with him. If he sputter and fizz, do not grow anxious. Some do this until quite done.

Add a little sugar in the form confectioners call kisses & spice if used with judgement may be added. No sharp instrument must be stuck into him to see if he is tender. Stir him gently and you cannot fail to know when he is done.

If thus treated, you will find him digestible, agreeing nicely with you as long as you do not grow careless and stick him in too cold a place.

The  contents are based on a popular story that uses cooking metaphors to instruct young women in treating their husbands well (assuming, of course, that a young lady has already locate and hook a young man). Although the creator of the original story is unknown, the story is thought to have originated in New England in the early 1880s. A  finding aid for this collection is available online.