Category Archives: Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Almond Cake (1911) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

When Kate—our fearless Test Kitchen coordinator—assigned me to the Friday, April 15th post, I was very excited. Not because I love the month of April so much, although a couple of my nearest and dearest count it as their birthday month. And not because I love doing my taxes, it’s definitely not that. What I do love is a theme, and Tax Day—although not this year for a very good reason— provides an excellent opportunity for a monetarily themed baked good: financiers.

A financier is a small cake made with almonds. Its distinct name bears testament to the financial market in 19th Century France: financiers were first created in a bakery near the financial center of Paris, where many a financier could visit; the cakes are also a crisp golden color and baked in small rectangular molds (Hesser). So at their heart, financiers are really just edible gold bars, which may be even better than real gold bars, as food resembling precious metals most likely can’t be subject to additional income taxes.

While the origin story of these gilt cakes can be found on websites and is recounted in a 19th Century tome (Mémorial Historique et Géographique de la Patisserie), recipes for it don’t make frequent appearances in cookbooks (Hesser). Some of this may be born from the fact that the recipe is fairly straightforward, mainly involving eggs, butter, flour, and sugar. Haute cuisine (fine food) was very much a part of the French cookbook tradition, dating back to the publication of La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier Francais in 1651 (DeJean, 2005, p.107-109). Or, it could be a recipe known very well to the French, and just little known to Americans. In fact, there was little interaction between French cuisine and North Americans until the mid-to-late 20th Century when Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published, bringing French cuisine across the ocean (DeJean, 2005, p.131).

All this is to say, a recipe for financiers proved too elusive for me, and so I substituted in a similar recipe from our collections involving almonds, conveniently titled “Almond Cake” and found in  Royal Baker and Pastry Cook published by Royal Baking Powder Company. There are only two notable differences between the almond cake selected and financiers: baking powder and brandy, which I didn’t have anyway, and so I just left it out.almond cake 1

Royal Baking Powder Company was based out of New York and copyrighted its cookbook in 1911. The company took baking powder very seriously, and in its cookbook included such sections as “General Directions,” which “must be carefully read by everyone using this book” (p.1) and “Facts worth knowing” (p.44). These sections pertain to the merits of different types of baking powder. Did you know that there were 3 kinds of baking powder in 1911, with 3 different main ingredients? These ingredients were 1) cream of tartar, 2) phosphate of lime, and 3) alum and alum-phosphate. Royal Baking Powder is made with the “wholesomeness of cream of tartar” (p.1), and the makers advocate using only those baking powders made with cream of tartar.

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The recipe I used was appealingly tiny and contained mostly familiar terms. I did learn a new definition for the word “gills.” Not only does it refer to a specific kind of fish tissue, but it is also “a measure for liquids, containing one fourth of a standard pint.” (Gill, n.3). Thankfully, the latter definition is the one referenced in Royal Baking Powder Company’s recipe.

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The ingredients in the recipe were all things that might normally be in a kitchen, which meant I made a couple trips to the store. And even though I’m truly enamored with the word “gills,” I did not follow this part of the recipe, instead choosing to grind my pre-sliced almonds with their skin still on. Because Royal Baking Powder so vehemently argued against aluminum based baking powder, I chose one that prominently advertised that it did not contain any:

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Whenever I read my colleagues’ Test Kitchen posts, I always envision the labor involved in cooking the food– whether that’s scooping up lard to fry Mexican ravioles or carefully molding meat into a box shape.Some of these activities undoubtedly look exactly the same as they did in the recipes’ heydays. Others feature new technologies and look decidedly different. My own activities fell into the latter category. I chose to use my blender and hand mixer to combine ingredients, both because of time constraints and because my arms just aren’t strong enough to mix in each egg individually, with 3-4 minute intervals for beating.  What would’ve taken me 12 minutes to do thus took me 5, and the recipe came together very quickly. Je ne regrette rien.

 

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almond cake 6Financiers are most typically baked in individual molds. Royal Baking Powder specifies a fluted pan, which I don’t own. I thus didn’t follow the recommendations for either financiers or the almond cake and baked it in a clear pan. This was probably a mistake, as glass pans do not conduct heat as well as metal ones (Lawandi, J.).

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As with other recipes of its time, Royal Baking Powder doesn’t specify a temperature, and so I arbitrarily chose 375 degrees. After checking on the cake at 20 minutes, and then again at 35 minutes, I decided to bump up the heat to 400 degrees. (You may recall that the recommended cooking time was 20 minutes.) Another 10 minutes resulted in a cake that would not poison eaters, and I called that success and took it out of the oven.

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I attempted to give my almond cake a more financial appearance and shaved the cake down into gold bars. The cake was quite crumbly and didn’t quite take to my tender ministrations. I quickly let go of my gold bar dreams (and taking pictures) and just started eating, which was a good thing to do. The cake was much better than expected, and I quickly helped myself to another couple slices. I imagine that it would taste even better with ice cream.

My quest for a financier recipe ultimately reminded me of a library aphorism: let the resources guide your research, meaning that it’s probably not a good idea to choose a topic (or theme) until you look at the resources available to you. If I had paid more attention to that rule of thumb, I might have chosen a slightly more accessible recipe and ended up with a delightful French pastry that more closely followed the instructions.

To be fair, I also ended up learning more about financiers, French cuisine, and baking powder than I ever dreamed of, and those are things certainly worth knowing. Just as importantly, I ended up with a delicious dessert to get me to the weekend.

Works Cited

DeJean, J. E. (2005). The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. New York: Free Press.

Gill, n.3. (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/78285?rskey=ObQoES

Hesser, A. (1999, November 24). The Pastry Chef’s Rich Little Secret. The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/24/dining/the-pastry-chef-s-rich-little-secret.html

Lawandi, J. (n.d.). When to Use Glass Bakeware and When to Use Metal – We’ve Got Chemistry. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.thekitchn.com/glass-vs-metal-bakeware-is-there-a-difference-food-science-217961

Royal Baker and Pastry Cook: A Manual of Practical Receipts for Home Baking and Cooking. (1911). New York, U.S.A.: Royal Baking Powder.

Post Contributed by Liz Adams, Special Collections Cataloger

 

Oatmeal Cakes and Baked Oatmeal (1917) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

While processing the Slade Family Papers my colleague came across several delightful pamphlets from the US Department of Agriculture on economical and nutritious foods. One in particular caught my eye, “Do You Know Oatmeal?” which was published in 1917. Conveniently, it had already been digitized and was available through the Internet Archive.

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Do you know oatmeal?

As a long time fan of oatmeal, I was thrilled to see it get the government promotion it deserves. There were several recipes to choose from, and in a change from some past test kitchen experiences, all the recipes seemed edible to this oatmeal lover. Finally, I decided on “Spiced Oatmeal Cakes” which seemed to be a cross between a cookie and a muffin, and “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts.” As a vegetarian, I was especially intrigued by the direction “Instead of meat, cook this appetizing dish for your family.”

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Part cookie, part muffin?
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Savory oats

According to Wikipedia oatmeal can refer to ground oats, rolled oats in various forms (instant, quick cooking, “old fashioned”, etc.) or steel cut or Irish oats. The recipe did not specify a type, but the long cooking time given on the front page (1 hour in a double boiler) suggested the “old fashioned” variety rather than instant or quick cooking. However, I never cook my oats longer than 10 minutes on the stove top so I was a bit skeptical. In the end, I went with what I had in my cabinet, Quaker Old Fashioned.

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The Face of Oatmeal

I started with the oat cakes. All the ingredients were things I already had in my pantry. The only oddities in the recipe were 3 tablespoons of unspecified fat and the lack of oven temperature. I chose canola oil and 350 degrees.

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Mise en place

These were very easy to assemble, even with the extra step of precooking the oatmeal. The dough/batter was very dry and I had to add ¼ cup water in order to reach a stir-able consistency. I also did not get 12 cakes.

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Into the oven they go!
Thirty Minutes Later
Thirty Minutes Later!

Verdict: They were super tasty warm from the oven. I ate 3. They also smelled delicious while they baked.

The “Baked Oatmeal and Nuts” was equally as easy to assemble. Sadly, this would not feed 5 people, despite what the recipe says. I regularly cook 2 cups of dry oats for 2 people for breakfast, and then add fruit, flax seeds, and sugar. 2 cups already cooked oatmeal, split between 5 people would be a snack at best, even with the addition of peanuts and milk.

I used apple cider vinegar, and I used soymilk instead of regular milk. I also reduced the salt to 1.5 teaspoons. I also accidentally added ½ teaspoon pepper instead of ¼ that the recipe calls for. Since the oven was already preheated, I stuck with the previously decided upon temperature of 350 degrees.

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Ingredients for Baked Oatmeal and Nuts
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The Final Product

Verdict: This was fairly tasty, although a little bland. I would also bake it longer than 15 minutes if I were to make it again.

Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Mexican Ravioles (1947)

cookbook coverIf the E. coli outbreak at Chipotle has you looking for a new way to satisfy your cravings or if you are simply hoping to make a step up from those late night Taco Bell runs, then this post is for you. If you have a hankering for warm cheese and fried foods (and who doesn’t?), Josefina Velazquez de Leon and her Mexican Cook Book Devoted to American Homes are here to help.

Before I introduce you to the wonders of Mexican Ravioli, the woman behind this delicious (yet messy) dish deserves a brief shout-out. A famous figure in mid-20th century Mexico, Josefina Velazquez de Leon has been called the “apostle of the enchilada” by one food historian. A widow who began teaching cooking classes in the 1920s, Velazquez de Leon was popular with Mexico City’s middle and upper class women. These women came to class hoping to learn how to cook Mexican favorites as well as the secrets to European cuisine. She was a particularly sought after cake decorator and wowed her students with sugar sculptures of such Hollywood icons as Popeye the Sailor Man and Snow White & the Seven Dwarves.

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“Apostle of the Enchilada” Josefina Velazquez de Leon

In addition to classes at her Mexico City cooking school, Velazquez de Leon took to preaching the word of the enchilada in magazines and books in the 1930s and 1940s. Initially submitting recipes and helpful culinary hints to women’s magazines, Velazquez de Leon published her first cookbook in the late 1930s with the release of Practical Manual of Cooking and Pastry. Velazquez de Leon would eventually publish 150 cookbooks and establish her own press. Quick to adopt new technologies, Velazquez de Leon worked to reach a larger audience through radio and television programming in the 1940s. Her first of many daily radio programs was called “Laziness in the Kitchen.” The show was intended to teach women to prepare appetizing meals with the modern appliances and packaged foods making their way into Mexican homes at the time. In the early 1950s, Velazquez de Leon made the jump to television with the launching of her show “The Menu of the Week.”

Through print, radio, and television, Velazquez de Leon worked to promote Mexican foods at a time when many of her contemporaries concentrated on international cuisine and traditional Mexican dishes were associated with lower social classes. Her work highlighted the diversity of Mexican cuisine as well as the culinary contributions made by each of the country’s regions to a national food landscape. Velazquez de Leon’s devotion to her nation’s cuisine did not preclude experimentation. She frequently fused culinary elements from other nations with traditional Mexican dishes. The recipe tested here is just one example of this. Another recipe, “Italian Enchiladas,” uses sardines, potatoes, and Parmesan cheese as enchilada filling.

Mexican Cook Book Devoted to American Homes offers a particularly interesting look at Velazquez de Leon’s promotion of Mexican cuisine. The book is tailored to the needs of cooks in the United States. In addition to providing text in both Spanish and English, the book explains the main ingredients and cooking equipment used in Mexican cooking. Instructions for preparing the essentials (such as tortillas and beans) in the mid-20th century American kitchen are also provided. Most of the recipes included are recognizable to the 2016 chef.  However, for the more adventurous American cook, Velazquez de Leon offers a chance to test your skills or possibly cause your dinner guests to flee. “Exquisite eggs,” “huevo rancheros,” and the tantalizingly named “Mexican Macaroni” are sure to delight. The somewhat oddly named “Horse Back Riders with Leather Overalls” seems like more of a gamble. But if you’ve got a radish, a ½ pound of lard, a pork loin, 12 eggs, and a laurel leaf cluttering the pantry it might be worth considering. Sadly, I lacked most of those. Nor did I have the 5 birds required to make “Old Fashioned Pigeon” or the “kid” necessary to cook “A Kid in its Blood.” I assume that this is a reference to a young goat. I also doubted that I possessed the technical abilities or the amount of bleach that would ultimately be needed to create the undoubtedly appetizing “Gut Stuffed with Blood.”

I was a bit less daring and went with the more sedate “Mexican Ravioles.” Despite the delectable end result, the teacher in Velazquez de Leon would probably have been horrified at the mess I made as well as the purple plastic spatula that I melted in a pot of hot lard. This was C plus work at best.  However, not all of the blame should go to the student.The cooking instructions, for instance, require the use of 2 eggs and tomato puree, neither of which made it into the ingredients list. Broth is listed as an ingredient, but fails to make an appearance in the recipe. The appropriate oven temperature is also omitted. I picked 375 degrees for no particular reason.

recipe

The ingredients (or, at least, the ones that you actually need) are basic and easy to find. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that lard is a key ingredient. The recipe lists nearly a ½ pound of this, but I used significantly more (a fact which would likely make my Southern grandmother immensely proud).ingredientslard!

The dough, a combination of flour, cornmeal, lard, salt, egg, and baking powder, was rolled out and then cut into medium-sized circles. Following the dough instructions provided in the recipe produced an extremely dry mixture. Upon reflection, I assume that this must have been what the broth was for, but hindsight is 20/20 and I simply added hot water at the time.

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The dough circles are then filled with cheese, folded closed, and sealed along the edges with egg white.

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And now onto the frying! My experience creating fried foods is minimal so I was surprised at how easy this step was. (My experience eating fried foods, on the other hand, is not as I make a yearly pilgrimage to the North Carolina State Fair). I simply tossed a hunk of lard in a pot, waited until it seemed hot enough, and then dropped in the ravioli. I waited until the dough took on an attractive golden brown color and then removed the ravioli from the pot. While this was not the final step, I’ll admit that I “tested” 1 or more of these post-frying. It was a good decision. Warm, fried cornbread-like nuggets filled with melted cheese could never be a bad decision.

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Making the sauce was the next step. Onions and green chiles are (that’s right, you guessed it!) fried in lard. Tomato puree is added and the mixture is boiled until thickened. While it thickens, you get to put away the lard and bring out the butter. Layers of ravioli, sauce, cheese, and chunks of butter are created in a baking dish and then put in the oven until golden brown.

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Going into the Oven
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And coming out of the oven

The end result was unsurprisingly delicious. The sauce was slightly spicy. The ravioli were flaky, warm, and topped with melted butter and cheese. It was similar to an empanada, but with a thicker, more cornbread-like dough. Would I make it again? Maybe. It was messy and took an unexpectedly long time to cook. That being said, the fresh-from-the-fryer ravioli were worth the effort.

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A lovely little biography of Josefina Velazquez de Leon was used for this post and can be found in Jeffrey M. Pilcher’s The Human Tradition in Mexico.

Post Contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Coordinator

Meat Box, or, The Price of Butter Holds No Terror for Users of Swift’s Oleomargarine

This very special edition of the Rubenstein test kitchen is intended to build bridges between Duke and UNC, between a Digital Collections Program Manager and a Serials Access Librarian. Though both librarians, they live completely different professional lives. Until now…

Given the digital nature of Molly’s work, we decided to choose a recipe from those that had been digitized as part of the Emergence of Advertising in America digital collection. After looking at a handful of recipes we realized that Molly didn’t want to cook with beef tongue, Kurt didn’t want to bake, and neither of us wanted to deal with jello. So we settled on this “pretty and palatable” gem of a recipe from the The Kitchen Encyclopedia, by Swift & Company: “Spanish Minced Beef in a Meat Box.”

meat box

We were excited about taking on the challenge of constructing a meat box to contain yet more meat that the title conjured in our minds, although we had no idea at all how it might work. It wasn’t until later, when we were about to start cooking, that we paused to ask the following: What exactly is Spanish about a recipe in which the only spices are salt and pepper? Why does the title refer to minced beef in a meat box when there is no minced beef listed as an ingredient in the filling? This last question particularly filled us with anxiety – did we miss something? Should we have assumed that since the recipe title refers to minced beef in a meat box, that we should put minced beef in the meat box, even if it’s not called for? (About the matter of a “meat box.” As our guests pointed out, can something with only four sides properly be labeled a box?)

Cooking can be so stressful!

Before we proceed, however, a question posed by the text: “Have you tried Swift’s Oleomargarine?” If you have not, permit the book to let you know, “It is worth trying” (p. 26).  In case that’s not enticement enough, consider that “The price of butter holds no terror for users of Swift’s Oleomargarine” (p. 27).

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Theses quotes are Molly’s favorites of the short, persuasive selling points on the benefits of oleomargarine that appear on every page of the book (and which had to be pointed out to Kurt, who overlooked entirely the margarine-filled pearls of wisdom in his single-minded focus on the meat box). Has it been mentioned that Swift & Company were leading the fight against the tyranny of high-priced butter circa 1911 with their “oleomargarine” and that this cookbook touts that revolution? Indeed, anyone interested in oleomargarine (or House-Cleaning Hints and Helps (p. 9), or The Practical Value and Use of Fireless Cookers (p. 17) … To the Wage-earning Woman (p. 21)) should consider this book a must-read. But we digress.

The recipe calls for the filling to be cooked in an “oatmeal kettle,” and we did not then nor do we now have any idea what that means. Without consulting any resources (bad librarians!), we decided it must be a double boiler, which we don’t own. This leads us to the night’s first derivation from the recipe, as we decided to saute the filling in a saute pan. This filling consists of sweet peppers (red bell peppers, in our case), tomatoes (canned, in our case, rather than whole tomatoes “cut in halves and the seeds squeezed out”) and onions cooked in (you guessed it) oleomargarine, which we substituted with regular margarine (do you know how hard it is to even find margarine at the grocery store these days?).

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Regarding the preparation of the filling, refer to these excerpts from our kitchen conversation: “peppers into strips – insanity!” “1 onion to 4 peppers – madness!” This from Kurt, a former student in the esteemed Johnson County Community College Hospitality & Culinary program.

With the filling sauteeing-rather-than-sweating away, we turned our attention to the “meat box.”  The only instruction given by the recipe is to “form into a box whose sides are about an inch thick.” This (relative lack of) instruction generated some pretty fundamental (and philosophical) questions: should the box have a bottom and a top? If it doesn’t have a bottom and a top, is it still a box (see above: guests)? How tall should it be? WHAT IS IT FOR ANYWAY?!?”

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Sidebar: When did cookbooks stop presuming any basic knowledge of cooking – as seems to be the case in the books we looked in for recipes – and become the step-by-step manuals they are today?   

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In the end we created a kind of meat enclosure, with no meat top and no meat bottom. We basted the box with melted margarine, as per the recipe, before and during cooking. Once it was cooked in a “quick oven” (we used our regular old, modern-day electric oven, which is pretty quick), we put the filling into the enclosure and served it to some fellow librarians who were employed as testers.

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Sidebar: Unlike the ongoing mystery of an oatmeal kettle, Kurt believes a quick oven to be one that’s pretty hot, i.e., 425 degrees. This “knowledge” comes from a search in the midst of constructing this post, and might have been more helpful in determining proper oven temperature in the moment (we went a slower 350 degrees), but then, that might have been cheating.

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The verdict? Everyone agreed it tasted like bland hamburger. Not bad, but not really flavorful in any way, either. Certainly not flavorful in any way, shape or form associated with “Spanish” cooking. If we ever do this again, we decided we would add sausage, not use margarine, and add some actual seasonings, maybe some paprika, a little garlic, and some rosemary. We wonder what might have been had we not missed the advice on the page opposite that “For … mince meat … the neck is best.” We might also try using potatoes for the bottom of a true box. We are still really unsure whether this dish should have a top, and why this involves forming a box in the first place. Some questions will just have to remain a mystery.

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Post contributed by Kurt Blythe, Serials Access Librarian, UNC, and Molly Bragg, Duke Digital Collections Program Manager

For the woman who would reduce: Prune soufflé

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Browsing our digitized collections for Test Kitchen fodder on the recent snow day, I stumbled upon an item from the Emergence of Advertising in America project, How Phyllis Grew Thin, created by the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company and published circa the 1920s. On the advertisement’s cover, Phyllis shields her rosy complexion with a parasol as she gazes off the page, inviting the reader to discover the secret to achieving the willowy frame holding up her stylish sweater and pleated skirt.  We open the booklet and find stories of how women can shed undesired pounds through a reduced diet and relieve menstrual cramps, cycle irregularities, and menopausal symptoms through the use of Lydia E. Pinkham’s products.

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The epistolary advertisement is addressed to Nancy, a pudgy cartoon foil to Phyllis’s elegant watercolor. Phyllis promises to share with Dear Nancy the keys to losing weight through a proper diet. We learn that Phyllis has not always been so effortlessly thin. Inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’ and President Taft’s weight loss, Phyllis determines to do the same. As soon as she announced her intention to lose weight, “the derision and ridicule of my family strengthened me in my determination.” (page 2) In addition to the nourishing fire that comes from wanting to prove someone wrong, her reduced-calorie diet consisted of “plain meat without butter or gravies,” corn, prunes, and the occasional crustless pie. (page 2)   This kind of confessional tone continues to be a mainstay in contemporary weight loss advertising. The letter from Phyllis to Nancy serves as a precursor to current weight loss advertising’s penchant for before-and-after photos, Instagram hashtag culture (check out #transformationtuesday and #fitspo), and celebrity-endorsed diets.  (After a few Google searches for weight loss advertisements, my Facebook feed populated with sponsored content promising me a smaller pant size in mere days.)

Though her crash diet kept the weight off for a few years, Phyllis eventually gained the weight back and got serious about counting calories as a way to reduce again. She shares with Nancy that “it is not necessary for you to know just what a calorie is so long as you remember not to eat foods containing too many of them.” (page 3) The suggested calorie intake is considerably lower than most contemporary diet plans recommended by nutritionists, advising that Nancy (and “the army of women who are interested in reducing”) consume 1000-1200 calories a day. Phyllis then advises Nancy to take Lydia E. Pinkham’s Liver Pills and Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, claiming that they help alleviate constipation and excessive nervousness, respectively. Lydia E. Pinkham established the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Company in 1873. Its signature product, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, was a tincture of  “black cohosh, life root, unicorn root, pleurisy root, fenugreek seed, and a substantial amount of alcohol” formulated to ease menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms (1). Pinkham’s products still line shelves today, each box featuring Lydia Pinkham’s face, promising relief.

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Dry toast, baked beans, and fish balls, oh my!

At the top of each page, the booklet provides a daily meal plan with calorie counts for each item. The offerings are spare. One suggested breakfast consists of “4 saltines, 1 tbsp. cream cheese, 2 prunes, tea and lemon (without sugar).” (page 18) An idea for one dinner is little more than bun-less hot dogs and a small bowl of ice cream.

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Does getting to eat ice cream and macaroons make you forget you ate frankfurts and cold slaw for dinner?

Faced with these choices, I considered upping the Test Kitchen ante by following one of the suggested meal plans for a few days. Upon reflection, I thought better and opted to spare my friends and colleagues the monster that I am when not eating enough at regular intervals. Even reading meal plans for day after day of fruit (or saltines!) for breakfast followed by a mayonnaise-laden lunch had me throwing my Phyllis-esque determination out the window. The booklet contained few actual recipes. Oddly, most of them were for desserts: frosting, Brown Betty, orange sherbet, and pudding. The dessert that caught my eye, though, was prune soufflé. Why? Frankly, it sounded so unappetizing that I felt compelled to give it a shot. Maybe I’d been missing its hidden appeal. And, having never tried to make a soufflé, it seemed a fun technical challenge.

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The recipe given by the advertisement is deceptively simple. It’s less a recipe and more a list of ingredients. Perhaps this suggests that Pinkham’s target customer already had a thorough knowledge of soufflé-making and would simply need the inspiration to try a new take on the dessert. Since I have no such skills, I turned to the internet as a supplement, sourcing tips from a 1998 issue of Gourmet.

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The most appetizing shot of the night — and it’s of prunes!

When beginning a cooking project, I recommend ensuring you have all the right tools at your disposal before cracking your eggs. Alas, I did not follow my own advice! I began my soufflé only to find that my  house apparently lacks a hand mixer. Already committed to the recipe, I decided to channel my foremothers and hand-whip the eggs into stiff peaks. If cooks beat eggs into submission for years by hand, then surely I could as well! All those hours spent practicing surya namaskara should be good for something, right?

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My foam never quite peaked–a souffle’s death knell.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the time and effort needed to beat the eggs into fluffy mountains. I achieved the early stage, a frothy foam, but never progressed to the stiff peaks a soufflé needs to bloom. Still, it was late and I had cracked five eggs to try to make this work, so I soldiered on. Per Gourmet’s  instructions, I had soaked the chopped prunes in hot earl grey tea and lemon zest, hoping to brighten the flavors. After pureeing and cooling them, I slowly folded the foam into the mixture. Uneven in color, bubbly, and flat, I knew things had taken a turn for the worse. Still, I slid the muffin tin into the oven anyway, hoping that even if the souffle didn’t rise, I’d end up with a sweet baked egg fluff?

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In they went anyway!

Sixteen minutes later, I pulled them out of the oven to find a sad, deflated pan of brown blobs. I tasted one, and suddenly understood how easy it would be to “reduce” while following this diet. I tossed the remnants and dosed myself with a small handful of chocolate chips, the rest of which will hopefully go into a more successful baking project.

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I have made a terrible mistake.

Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant. 

 

King Cake – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

image09-23New Years Eve marked the final celebration in a slew of winter holidays that put my more introverted side through the social ringer. With New Year’s resolutions on my mind, I am eager to settle back into the routine that unraveled during the holidays (perhaps with a few more trips to the gym during the week). More than anything, I want to “get back to normal” and recharge.

Whereas I am cozying up for the long, comfortingly mundane winter, New Orleanians are gearing up for the most magical time of year: Mardi Gras season. That’s right. I said season. Unbeknownst to many, Mardi Gras is not just a day, it’s a weeks-long celebration marked by cloudless skies, community parades, and good street food.

Although Mardi Gras day jumps around from year to year depending on Easter, the season always kicks off on January 6, or the Epiphany – the day in the Christian religious tradition when the three wise men visited Christ, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In New Orleans, community members consume brightly colored King Cakes to celebrate the start of the Mardi Gras season.

Continue reading King Cake — Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Hoppin’ John (1847) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

As much myth as morsel, the traditional southern dish of black-eyed peas, long-grain rice and salt pork–known as Hoppin’ John—has long been associated with good fortune when eaten on the first day of the new year.

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With January 1st fast approaching, I thought I would use the test-kitchen blog to try out the earliest known published recipe for Hoppin’ John, which comes from Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife, originally published in 1847.

Book Title Page

But like any good legume dish, half of the work lies in letting the beans soak, so before I get into the recipe itself, I want to spend a little time soaking up the aura of this deceptively simple meal.

soaking beans

Google the term Hoppin’ John, with or without the conspicuous g-deletion, and you’ll find a veritable cottage industry of food historians contemplating its finer points. While rice and pork are essential features of Hoppin’ John, most commentators center their accounts on the black-eyed pea, known variously as the cow pea, crowder pea and southern pea. Native to West Africa, the black eyed-pea was cultivated throughout the ancient world, from Greece and Rome to the Middle East and Asia. The durability of the dried African bean made it a prime provision aboard the transatlantic slave ship. The hardiness of the plant and its resistance to heat made it a staple crop on southern plantations, where it became a cheap and reliable means of feeding slaves and livestock. Poor whites across the south embraced the food, and in time, it eventually appeared on the table of southern planters, where it was received as a “very nutritious” and “quite healthy” alternative to the English field pea. Despite attempts on the part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the crop beyond the Mason-Dixon line after WWI, the food has remained part of the often-caricatured culture of the American South.

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And this is to say nothing about the black-eyed pea as prosperity charm or the twisted narrative behind the name Hoppin’ John. In the context of ancient Greece and Egypt, beans were said to possess the spiritual energy of the dead. Whether or not this has any bearing on the America tradition of eating black-eyed peas for good luck is impossible to know. A popular theory as to why the food must be eaten on New Year’s Day revolves around the supposed resemblance of the spotted pods to coins. Similar theories hold that collard greens, often served alongside black-eyed peas, represented paper money. Having grown up in a Tennessee household that regularly consumed black-eyed peas, I called my mother and asked her what she thought. Timid when questioned, she only said: “On New Year’s Day, it didn’t matter what else you had, as long as you had black-eyed peas.” She has a point. It makes sense for the working poor and enslaved to project mythical powers onto the foodstuff that was a ubiquitous part of their everyday lives. When life seems little more than a series of uncontrollable events, strung together by forced migration, famine and persecution, you don’t want to leave matters of good fortune to chance. Or as my mother says, “You don’t go borrowing problems.”

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As for the name Hoppin’ John, there is no definitive etymology. Some researchers focus on the semantic meaning of the term, suggesting that it grew out of a folk idiom for inviting a neighbor to dinner, i.e. Hop in John. Others focus on the phonetic properties of the term, insisting that it is an English appropriation of either a French-Haitian name for the pigeon pea (pois à pigeon) or the Arabic name for a similar dish of beans and rice (bahatta kachang). For me, I think the mystery of the name points back to that essential feature of vernacular culture that Richard Wright proposes in his essay “The Literature of the Negro in the United States,” where he describes black folklore and folkways as “The Form of Things Unknown.” By positing unknowing and mystery as the basis of vernacular culture, one is able to entertain various, competing theories while maintaining a healthy respect for the hermetic resistance of anonymous practices.

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These various theories were debated in real-time as Ashley Young (Duke, History PhD) and Lin Ong (Duke, Marketing Strategy PhD) helped me bring Rutledge’s recipe for Hoppin’ John to life.

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The original recipe is short on details. Here it is in its entirety:

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Given the ambiguity of the description and the dramatic changes affecting cultivation and cooking practices, the recipe requires a certain amount of creativity. The cowpeas that Rutledge mentions are prevalent in most parts of the rural south, but I could not find a local store in Durham that carried them in December, so I settled for the black-eyed cousin. As for the rice, I went with Luquire Family Food’s Long Grain Rice on the suggestion of Ashley, a food historian with an eye for unpolished grains. Instead of the standard cured bacon, I decided to go with a medley of swine. A hamhock would provide ample seasoning and flavor, while pieces of pork belly would give a little meat for the actual dish. Lin made the important point that the pork belly would probably take on an unappealing texture if cooked in the boiling stew. So we sliced the pound of pork belly into 1-inch cubes and pan-fried the cubes, adding them (along with a spoonful of the rendering) to the dish at the end.

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To speed up the cooking time, I soaked the pint of beans by bringing them to boil in a quart of water, letting them boil for a minute and then leaving them to cool for an hour. We then transferred the beans into a new pot with a fresh quart of water and the hamhock. We brought the stew to a boil and then let it simmer for close to an hour. While the beans were cooking, we washed the rice, making sure to remove all pieces of gravel, as per Rutledge’s slightly outdated instructions. With no objective way of determining when the beans were “half-boiled,” we settled on an hour. In that amount of time there was still enough water in the pot to cook the rice. But this seems totally arbitrary. If you like mushy beans (which I do), don’t be afraid of cooking them longer. You can always add more water when it comes time to cook the rice.

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IMG_0471Instead of just placing sprigs of mint on top like a garnish, we decided to slice them into shreds to help bring out the flavor. The experiment paid off. The sharp soprano sweetness of the herb cut against the walking bass notes of the simple grain and savory fat. The end result was a meal that made us feel plenty lucky, if only to have leftovers to go around.

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Notes

One could spend an entire day reading through the many, thoughtfully composed online histories of Hoppin’ John.  Most of the points made in these posts can be traced back to two works.

Miller, Adrian. Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Hess, Karen. The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Post contributed by Pete Moore, Intern for the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History 

Boston Apple Pudding (1823) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen


IMG_3277The Cook’s Oracle
was a bestseller when it was first published in 1817. Its author, William Kitchiner (1775-1827), was a household name in England at the time, and was known for being an atypical host to his dinner guests – he prepared the food rather than his staff and even did the cleaning up as well. In addition to being an avid cook and successful cookbook author, Kitchiner was also an optician and inventor of telescopes, which perhaps explains why this particular cookbook is in the History of Medicine Collections here at Duke.

In the United Kingdom, the origin of the potato chip is attributed to Kitchiner, with The Cook’s Oracle including the earliest known recipe. The recipe, “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings,” instructs readers to “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.”

Other notable entries include eleven recipes for ketchup – including two types each for walnut, mushroom, and tomato ketchups – and the recipe for wow-wow sauce, which is parodied (though retains the same name) in the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.  [Ed. note: Earlier this year, one of our cooks made Kitchiner’s Shin of Beef Stewed with Wow Wow sauce, complete with mushroom ketchup.]

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Looking through our copy of The Cook’s Oracle, I was drawn to the recipe for Boston Apple Pudding. It seemed like a simple recipe, and I was curious to know what apple pudding would be like.

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As I was gathering ingredients, some things were unclear. How does one determine what constitutes “one dozen and a half good Apples”? I ended up buying a five pound bag of apples and peeling all of them with the help of a friend.

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photo 3The apples actually cooked down pretty quickly – it probably took less than thirty minutes in total. I didn’t know what “moist sugar” is, but it turns out it is actually a thing. Because we already had brown sugar, that’s what I used to sweeten the apples.

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Next, it was time to strain the apples through a hair sieve. You can see a hair sieve at the British Museum here – but as it turns out, I don’t have one! We first tried to pass the apples through a fine-mesh sieve, to no success. Next we went out and bought some cheesecloth to try and pass it through that. Again, no luck! Finally, I used my colander to press the apples through.

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photo 6We mixed in the butter, eggs, and lemon zest. For the crust, I used a sheet of puff pastry, but since puff pastry is square, I used some of the other sheet of puff pastry to fill in the missing pieces. As you can see below, it ended up looking like a giant flower!photo 7

The recipe only says to bake for 30 minutes, so this part required a little finagling. First, I set the oven to 350 degrees and baked for 30 minutes, but the pudding didn’t seem to be setting up, so I added on another ten minutes. It was really unclear what the final product would be like, but even after an additional ten minutes, it still didn’t seem quite right. At this point, I turned off the oven, propped the door open with a large slotted spoon, and left it for a final fifteen minutes. At this point, I was worried about burning the crust, so I accepted the pie as is.

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The final pudding was really interesting. It wasn’t quite what I think of as a pudding, but it definitely wasn’t a pie either. The crust added a nice variety to the texture, and the apples had a really robust flavor – cooking them with the lemon peel really made a difference.

To see this recipe and others in The Cook’s Oracle, the book can be found in our catalog here.

Post contributed by Amelia Holmes, History of Medicine Collections Intern

 

 

19th Century Maple Ice Cream – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

IMG_3257A manuscript (i.e. handwritten) cookbook can tell us a great deal about its creator. What foods were available to her? How would her family have celebrated holidays and birthdays? Was she an elite woman with a cook who could prepare elaborate dishes, or a farm wife who had to prepare simple, hearty fare and preserve her harvest to feed her family? Do the recipes reflect a particular ethnic or religious background or geographical location? As is the case today, routine meals do not require a recipe. It is the special occasion recipes, especially those that require careful measurements to work properly, that are recorded for future reference.

We know, based on the ingredients, that Rubenstein Library’s New England Manuscript Recipe Book, [ca. 1860]-[1900] comes from the northeastern United States. It is no surprise that the little book includes a page of maple recipes, since maple is such a distinctive regional product.


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I was intrigued by the Maple Ice Cream Recipe, in part because I am the proud owner of a fancy electric ice cream maker, so much easier than the hand-crank models that would have been available when the recipe was recorded. There is also the nostalgia of tasting maple:  Santa always left a maple sugar woman in my Christmas stocking.

This is an extremely simple recipe, with just three ingredients: eggs, maple syrup, and cream:

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I made a couple of changes. Given concerns about salmonella, I was not comfortable leaving the egg whites uncooked. I was also worried that mixing the eggs and syrup and boiling the mixture would result in curdled eggs. Instead, I boiled the syrup for about ten minutes to reduce it slightly, thereby intensifying the flavor. In a separate bowl, I beat the whole eggs. Then I slowly dribbled in about a cup of hot syrup, whisking the egg mixture constantly before whisking the egg mixture into the pot of hot syrup. Then I brought the mixture to 170 degrees, turned off the heat, and stirred in the cream.

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Finally, I strained the mixture through a sieve to remove any solids and chilled it overnight before freezing, emptying into a plastic container, and leaving it in the freezer for a few hours to firm it up. The result: an absolutely luscious and elegant frozen dessert.

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How did it taste? I brought in the whole container to share with my Rubenstein colleagues and it got rave reviews. It is very rich (note the quart of heavy cream!), but delicious.

Intrigued by the annotations (1896, Mrs. Kimber Thomas, Ladies Uplift Club), I did some searching and found a Morrisville, Vermont Uplift Club in The Register of Women’s Clubs (1922). I wondered whether Mrs. Kimber Thomas was given the recipe for Maple Ice Cream in 1896 and contributed it to an Uplift Club fund-raising cookbook and was thrilled to find a reference to this 53-page cookbook: Tried and Proven Recipes from Many Households. Morristown, Vt. : Ladies of the Uplift Club. The one known copy is in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Staff have dated it to 1921, based on advertisements printed in the cookbook. As I write this, I am waiting for scans that I hope will confirm my hunches about the Maple Ice Cream recipe’s provenance. The tradition of noting the source and date of a recipe is a lovely way to link culinary creations to a vast network of friends, family, community, and history. The additional information would also allow us to more precisely identify the origins of this precious little cookbook.

Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian

Praline Thumbprint Cookies (1989) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen:

Now that we’re all moved into our new building, we’re excited to bring back our test kitchen series! New here? On the fourth Friday of every month we share a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted.

The Campus Club has been around since 1914, starting out as a social and educational group for the wives of faculty members. Open to all women of Duke, the Campus Club is a social and activity group that hosts a wide variety of events and interest groups. Interest groups meet regularly, allowing members to explore new foods, drink, activities, and culture. A long-lasting and highly active group within the Campus Club is the Morning Gourmet group, which selects a particular topic or theme and invites members to prepare a dish related to the topic or theme, bring the dish, and share the recipe with the group.

Processing a recent accession from the Campus Club, I was distracted again and again by the many intriguing recipes this group has tried over the years. Some themes were related to national or cultural cuisines, others to parts of a meal or an ingredient. But when I stumbled across the Praline Thumbprints, I found my personal winner.

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This is a very recent recipe from an archivist’s perspective, appearing in a 1989 Southern Living (I was actually alive when this recipe was published, so: recent). It seemed very simple and straightforward, with modern measurements and guidance, and seemed like no problem at all. I’ll admit here that the above image is a photocopy I made of the original item in the collection, which is itself a typed version of the recipe as it appeared in the magazine. After a bit of digging, I discovered the recipe appeared in the May 1989 issue of Southern Living, in an article titled “Moms and Daughters Bake Cookies,” and you can see a PDF copy of the original through Duke’s subscription to the electronic version of Southern Living here (libraries hooray!). This also led me to discover that the version in the Campus Club records includes comments, recommendations, and modifications by the person who typed it up, and which were very helpful.

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I got my ingredients together and got rolling. The first thing I needed to do was grind up some pecans nice and fine. I bought some pecans in bulk at Whole Foods (this is cheaper than buying pre-ground or bagged pecans, but requires an extra step) and put them briefly through the food processor to get them finely ground.

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Then I mixed together the cookie ingredients and got a pretty sticky dough, with lovely bits of pecan mixed in. I rolled it up into balls as instructed, but I am not so good at accurately replicating the size mentioned in recipes. I also only have one cookie sheet and a very tiny oven, so the shaping and baking part took me a while.

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Eventually I shaped, placed, pressed, and baked the cookies until I had many scooped cookies. I ended up with probably close to the 4-5 dozen described in the recipe (I didn’t count, but it seemed like a lot). I don’t have a picture of the plain baked cookies, but it should be noted that since they do not contain any egg, they are a little powdery and can crumble very easily.

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Due to underestimating the amount of time it would take me to actually get all the cookies finished, I didn’t get a chance to make the praline topping until two days later, at which time I had several fewer cookies to fill. I added the ingredients to a pan I usually use for candy-making (a regular, good-quality pan with a thick bottom).

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The praline filling is essentially a candy, and candy-making can sometimes be tricky. I have a candy thermometer, but I recommend in this recipe paying a little more attention to the time passing than to the precise temperature. I was very concerned with getting to the recommended temperature, which took waaaaaay longer than the prescribed two minutes, and the candy set up before I could finish scooping it onto the cookies, leaving me with a pan like this:

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Luckily, it’s pretty much just sugar and will dissolve in hot water. But even though it set sooner than I expected, it didn’t get really hard and I could still cram it into the cookies. And it was SO. WORTH IT. This stuff is AMAZING. All those little crumbly bits at the bottom of the pan were extra; the recipe even notes you’ll make more filling than cookies. Maybe I was supposed to make three batches of cookies and two of filling? LOL, no. That’s too much work and the extra filling was crazy good on its own. I recommend putting it on ice cream or just eating it with a spoon (no judgments).

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I ended with some pretty nice looking and definitely delicious cookies. They were very popular when I brought them to work (safely quarantined from the materials) and had some friends take some home, which is the only thing that prevented me from eating them all myself. As mentioned above, the cookies are a bit crumbly and I accidentally made the praline a bit crumbly as well, so be warned: just put the whole thing in your mouth at once.

More recipes tried by the Morning Gourmet group and lots of other information about the Campus Club can be found in the records described in this collection guide.

Post Contributed by Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives