Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Archive Adventures: What's On Your Plate?

We may wish for a "Grandma's Thanksgiving" and instead get family fights. We may spend the day with strangers, at work, or even alone, but the one thing we all share on Thanksgiving is...FOOD. Thanksgiving's roots are tightly woven into the harvest season of the agricultural cycle, and thus is celebrated at different times, in many different countries, and in many different ways across the world. Despite all those differences it's still all about food and sharing! So, in preparation for the holiday and since there's so much to harvest in our own field, I'm going to share the bounty of cookbooks we have in Special Collections. Yes, our cups and minds overfloweth!

The one I'd like to focus on visually today is the Susan Frierson Cookbooks and Advertising Pamphlets collection. Thanks to her generous donation of material from her grandfather's business--the L.C. Marts General Store--in Nowrytown, Pennsylvania, we have an excellent example of early 20th century food ephemera. Let's dig in...

Gelatin was a big deal in the early to mid 20th century. Today, we mostly know it as a sweet dessert, like the ones pictured here from the Knox Gelatine recipe pamphlets...

The illustrated pictures are just darling! Notice the bowl of cakes with little frosting flowers in the back

Haute cuisine? Simple lemon jello may not seem like it, but the way they present it--set on gold-trimmed china, surrounded by blackberries, and accented with a vase of lavender-- you might think twice!

But Jell-O wasn't just about the sweet. There's a recipe in the Knox Gelatine pamphlet for a tomato jelly creation and both the Knox and Jell-O books we have mention "salads" on the cover. Yup. Fruit and nuts aren't the only additions to add to Jell-O in these recipes. You've got peas, carrots, mayonnaise... Sometimes, there is a reason for certain food fashions falling to the wayside. I love my Jell-O, but I'll take it without the veggies, please! 

Appealing to the nostalgia of the Antebellum!

A young mother's dream. Jell-O was, and still is, cheap, fast, and easy to make!

Besides many of these having gorgeous little illustrations that make your mouth water (similar results at home not guaranteed), they all have a common theme...

Uneeda Bakers

Land O' Lakes

American Stove

 They are published almost exclusively by food/appliance manufacturers! Now, the first one blew my mind (and might surprise people of my generation). Back then it was known as Uneeda Bakers, aka National Biscuit Company. Nabisco! You can officially go to bed tonight because you learned something new if this tidbit rocked your world .

Food chart for seven course meals! For the extremely dedicated housewife or hostess.
While this is a concentrated collection of ephemera that covers a wide range of food styles, we also have a large holding of cookbooks that are closer to home. Do you like Scrapple and Shoo Fly Pie? We have shelves of books that are dedicated to the tasty joy of PA Dutch/Amish/Mennonite cooking.  Thanks to the Chris Gaines Collection, you won't run short on delicious recipes from our devout friends!

We do have a few cookbooks that really hit home for those of us at the University. There are six that come specifically from PSU: Salt of the Earth, by the College of Earth and Minerals; How to Serve Patrons, by the University Park Libraries Employee Association; Penn State Student Athlete CookbookJust What the Doctor Ordered, by the Resident Wives Club of the Hershey Medical Center; Cooking with the Nittany Lion Athletic Department; and Cookin' with the Lion, by the Alumni Association. Though I haven't checked them out yet, all the ones with puns instantly get my nerdy approval.

And, last but certainly not least, we have a sprinkling of other cookbooks in our holdings. You may want to check out our various African Americana cookbooks and recipes in Blockson if you're feeling like ditching the turkey in favor of some new soul food. Strangely enough, our Utopia collection also has an offering, The Futurist Cookbook, which is just...surreal. I would not suggest this cookbook if you're looking for meals to make for the family dinner, let's just put it that way. Also, it doesn't have turkey. Or cranberry sauce. I think I'll just put that one down, back away, and head for that cocoa recipe from Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1840).

Though that's the end of my spiel about what's on our plate at Special Collections, I do have one more thing. We'd like you to share something of your own! Leave a comment describing your favorite or least favorite Thanksgiving food memory. Did you run into any awful creations or food fads? What about plans gone awry? We'd love to hear from you!

Best wishes for a happy, safe, and filling holiday from Special Collections!


  1. Best: my Nana's mashed potato recipe from a magazine that was given to her by a friend and passed down to me after 40+ years of Thanksgivings!

    Worst: Tofurkey in the shape of a turkey. It was tasty, but I couldn't get over the way the "bird" jiggled as you cut squares off it...ewwww

  2. My grandmother-in-law was a vegetarian so for years my late husband's family Thanksgiving was a mixture of vegetarian fare as well as the ubiquitous turkey. There were many years when I never got around to the turkey because the vegetarian offerings tasted so good.

  3. J-E-L-L-O!
    Take 2, large rectangular pans. Place one or two large packages of raspberry Jell-O in bottom of each. Add boiling water per package directions. Place one pint of mashed, frozen raspberries into each pan. Let set. Take chilled sour cream and spread the Jell-O into one pan thick and even. Take second pan and set bottom in one inch of warm water for 5 seconds. Slide or flip contents onto first pan. (Invite friends to watch if you decide to "flip" the set Jell-O. Too much fun to keep to yourself!) Center Jell-O on sour cream layer and return to fridge. Allow to be still and set again overnight. Indescribably delicious.