Category Archives: Featured

Tizhe Lizanguage bizof Lizovers: Carny Latin Reincarnated

While I processed a collection of correspondence between two lovers, a handful of letters stuck out. Martha Simpson, then Martha Eleanor Booker, a young African American woman working on her teaching degree at Elizabeth City Teachers College, had a penchant for writing in code. Paul Simpson, her love interest, did not share the same inclination, but did indulge her in his responses. As I read through the letters, the code used in three of them piqued my curiosity. My search revealed that the code used seems to be a form of carnival Pig Latin, also known as Czarny, Z-Latin, or Carny (Hautzinger 30).


Martha first sneaks in her secret code at the closing of a letter from January 10, 1951, with a little taunt, “Ha, ha, I bet you can’t read it.” Paul’s response to this letter, dated January 13, 1951, briefly acknowledges that he, indeed, could read her secret language with the opening line “Dizear Cizheré,” before continuing his letter unencumbered by the extra z’s.


But Martha doesn’t give up.  She continues the code in a response from January 17, 1951, written half in this “z-language,” eventually switching back to conventional English.


Martha’s next letter clearly was not on pink paper (did you catch that one?), but she did keep on with her code. The secret language was formed by inserting iz after the first consonant, and if there was no consonant present, beginning the word with biz. In linguistic circles, this is known as iz-infixation and has been linked to rap and hip-hop music. Examples include Frankie Smith’s 1981 hits Double Dutch Bus and Slang Thang (or Slizang Thizang), both of which boast the iz-infix in their lyrics. More recent examples include work by Snoop Dogg and Kanye West (Viau 1). But these letters come decades before the iz-infix made it big in music, and the question remains: Where did this secret language come from?

We think the answer is this: carnival slang. Published accounts of Carny go back to 1926 (Russell and Murray 401), well before Martha was writing to Paul. It was a language immersed in the subculture of the carnival, intended to distinguish between outsiders and the true Carnies, given the questionable legality of the carnival. Sarah Hautzinger describes it as a dialect that “rearranges English to make it unintelligible to the unenlightened ear” (32). In Czarny, “a Z-sound is inserted after the first consonant, and if the word begins with a vowel, before the vowel sound, in the first syllable only” (32). This certainly seems a lot like the iz-infixes found in the letters between Martha and Paul. Rumor has it that this carny talk found its way into popular culture years later.

Whether or not their secret language was descended from Z-Latin, the coded (and uncoded) correspondence between Martha and Paul D. Simpson provides an interesting read. Recently acquired by the Rubenstein, these roughly 300 letters detail the love, life, and struggles of a young African American couple on their way to becoming teachers.

For more information on the Martha and Paul D. Simpson Papers, check out the collection guide.

For further reading on Carny Latin and the iz-infix, see:

Hautzinger, Sarah. “Carnival Speech: Making the Jump.” Journal of American Culture, 13: 29–33, 1990. Web. 16 December 2014.

Russell, Carol L. and Thomas E. Murray. “The Life and Death of Carnie.” American Speech, Vol. 79 No. 4: 400-416, 2004. Web. 16 December 2014.

Viau, Joshua. “Introducing English [IZ]-Infixation: Snoop Dogg and bey-[IZ]-ond.” 2006 LSA Summer Meeting, 24 June 2006. Web.  16 December 2014.

Post contributed by Janice Hansen, a Ph.D. student in Germanic Languages &  Literature and Technical Services intern at The Rubenstein. 

Glass eyeballs and amputating saws and enema syringes, oh my!

As Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library, I often feel I have one of the best jobs in our library.  I have the opportunity to work with wonderful people, but also remarkable rare books, manuscripts, and a wonderful collection of material objects.

amputating saw

Amputating saw

Over the years, a number of generous donors have given a variety of instruments and artifacts to the History of Medicine Collections. These items are often used in classroom instruction and teaching, and enrich and enliven exhibits and displays. The depth and breadth of this collection represents advances made in science and medicine, and reflect the importance of our historical understanding of material culture.

glass eyeballs

Glass eyeballs

Artifacts range in date from the 17th century to today, with many aspects of medicine highlighted in the collection: surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, and more. That “more” category includes items like our prosthetic glass eyeballs, the irises of which are all blue. These hand-blown glass items were intended to serve as prosthetic eyes. In a box reminiscent of a Whitman’s sampler, these eyes were made in a variety of sizes with differing tints of yellow and white. This box would have been used and carried by a traveling salesman of sorts – a person who visited doctors’ offices and sold them to patients in need.

A remarkable collection guide is now available to document the range of historical medical artifacts we have in our holdings.

enema syringe

Enema syringe

I’m often asked by students and researchers what my favorite item is. It really changes on a weekly basis. Currently, I’m intrigued by our range of microscopes. They are quite beautiful, span several centuries, and some include ivory specimen slides – with specimens!


Box mount microscope


Screw barrel microscope

Some of my other favorites? Female pills and dental keys. Why were these female pills created and what are they? When I ask students, they often answer that it’s really just Midol.

female pills

Female pills

The dental keys really illustrate how medical technology has evolved in tooth extraction. The illustration below shows how a dental key would be used. This image is from the monumental work by J. M. Bourgery, Atlas of human anatomy and surgery, that includes a translation of his work and colored facsimiles. Of note, we also have the nine volume original work of Bourgery.

dental chart


Dental key

A tremendous amount of thanks go out to so many people: our donors who have generously given such wonderful materials; previous staff of the History of Medicine Collections who researched these items, provided descriptions, and took photos that we can now share; and current staff from the Rubenstein Library’s technical services department and DUL digital projects – all who have made this guide possible.

What will your favorite item be?

Post by Rachel Ingold, Curator for the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Library.

Durham’s Beardy Bros

We have collections and rare books from so many far-flung locations, but we occasionally come across historical materials documenting life right here in Durham.

Brush Brothers Plege BookThe city of Durham’s centennial celebrations took place from April 26th through May 2nd of 1953, and people were excited! Excited to reflect on how much Durham had progressed and also on what changes might or should take place in the next hundred years. A particularly strange way in which some chose to celebrate the occasion was to join the Brothers of the Brush. Never heard of ‘em?

Spearheaded by Dante Germino, an engaged Durham resident who worked for the Herald-Sun Co. at the time, the fund-raising effort collected $1.00 per member; and the 3093 members pledged to do their “civic duty” by growing and maintaining a “moustache, full beard, goat-tee, or side-burns” throughout the celebrations. If a member failed to keep his promise he was brought before a Kangaroo Court of his peers.

Roster of the Brothers of the Brush

Evidence from newspapers at the time show that many local businesses took up the challenge. Check out these fellows at Coman Lumber.

Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.

Want to find out if a local family member of yours was an official Brother of the Brush? We’ve got the registry in our holdings for you to peruse; and we’ve also got local newspapers from that time.

Times have changed. These days, with so many hipsters out and about in Durham, we’d have an easy time collecting funds from bearded folks throughout the city. We could use Duke Libraries’ button-maker to make buttons for participants! We’ll have to wait until 2053 for the next centennial, though.

Dominique has a lovely beard!Post contributed by Dominique Dery, Research Services Intern, who may or may not have the lustrous and full beard pictured at right.

Now Accepting Applications for our 2014-2015 Travel Grants

Researchers! The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2014-2015 travel grants.SLA2053

The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture,  the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, and the History of Medicine Collections will award up to $1,000 per recipient to fund travel and other expenses related to visiting the Rubenstein Library. The Rubenstein also offers the Eleanore and Harold Jantz Fellowship, a $1500 award for researchers whose work would benefit from use of the Jantz Collections.

The grants are open to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, independent scholars, artists, and activists who live more than 100 miles from Durham, NC and whose research projects would benefit from access to collections held by one of the centers.

Please note that the Rubenstein Library will be closed to the public from July 1st, 2015 through August 23rd, 2015, while we relocate to our newly renovated space. These dates are subject to change.

More details—and the grant application—may be found on our grants website. Recipients will be announced in April 2015.

Building the Gottmensch: The Library of Ordensburg Sonthofen

A grim symbol is stamped inside nearly 60 books at the Rubenstein Library: the eagle and swastika; symbols of the German Nazi Party. The markings also indicate that the volumes belonged to “Ordensburg Sonthofen.” What was this place, what constituted its library, and furthermore, what happened to its holdings?

KIC Image 1
Der Wille zum Kind

In 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler’s party came to power, the Ordensburgen were built as elite training facilities for high-ranking officers in the military called Junker. The program was under the direction of Robert Ley, and the purpose of instruction was, as he stated in Der Weg zur Ordensburg, for the “spiritual and philosophical education of the NSDAP.” Qualifying candidates between the ages of 25 and 30 were sent to three facilities and spent a year at each: Vogelsang in the Eifel, Krössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in Allgäu. Each facility had its own training focus. The focus of instruction at Sonthofen, intended to be the third and final year of training, was diplomacy and administrative tasks. The libraries at each location would have facilitated such research and instruction.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936
Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Although the exact story of how Sonthofen’s books ended up at the Rubenstein is unknown, Nazi-related material did come to the United States through the efforts of the Library of Congress and were then distributed to institutions throughout the country, including Duke University. The program was called the “Cooperative Acquisitions Project for Wartime Publications,” and details about the program can be found in Volume 16, number 2 of the Duke University Libraries magazine. Parts of German libraries and archives, if not destroyed outright at the end of the war, were broken up and distributed. Tracking down the remainders of the collections, which can be aided by the ownership stamps, and analyzing the content, is invaluable for understanding the operations of facilities such as Sonthofen.

Rohstoffe und Kolonien
Rohstoffe und Kolonien

Analyzing the stamps and markings in the Rubenstein’s collection can help to at least partially recreate the library at Sonthofen and give insight into its functioning. Some books are marked “Hauptbücherei” (main library), while others are marked with specific group or class designations such as “Seminar Völkische Behauptung” (racial assertions). This shows, for example, that the instruction at Sonthofen was not strictly limited to understanding military strategy. Titles in the collection also indicate a variety of subjects, including Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen (What We Don’t Know About the World War), a justification of rapid militarization after World War I, and Der Wille zum Kind (The Will to Child), part of a series called “Political Biology,” which encourages procreation to build the perfect Aryan race.

The opening of Vogelsang in 2006, held until then by the Belgian military, created the opportunity to investigate the ultimate destination of its library. For example, Michael Schröder (article in German) reveals that of what is thought to be almost 70,000 items, 40,000 were probably plundered or destroyed, and the rest ultimately ended up at the University of Bonn. The opportunity is here for a similar investigation to be conducted regarding Sonthofen, also now a historical site, and its 57 books held by the Rubenstein present a window to view its history. This material is also just a small part of the rich German language holdings at the Rubenstein Library, which also include the extensive Harold Jantz collection.

Post contributed by Sarah Carrier, Research Services Coordinator

Corn, Rice, and Beef Casserole & Blueberry Pie (1982)

This is the last post in our pre-Thanksgiving Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen series. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring our collections through food and found some find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving. If you’re local  join us on December 3rd from 3-4:30 in Perkins 217 for our tasting event and a chance to sample these recipes!

FullSizeRenderWhen I set off on my hunt for a recipe for my turn in the Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen, I knew only that I wanted a fun challenge. For a search that began with nothing in particular to guide it, I found a very lovely little book that seemed perfectly suited for me in my task. One thing I love about working in the Rubenstein Library is that I’m never sure what I’ll come across in a day’s work but I’m always delighted or intrigued by what I find, and this book was no exception! It is an artists’ book called Light and Flaky: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother: a Cookbook (1982) and was made by Lise Melhorn-Boe. The work combines Melhorn-Boe’s mother’s memories of experiences and adventures in cooking along with recipes from these stories and photographs of her mother throughout her life. And the handmade paper that covers the book is made from tea towels, aprons, tablecloths and dish cloths. The book was collected by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture here at the Rubenstein.

In the spirit of the book’s many memories about cooking for a large family, I chose two recipes to make for the lovely family that lives next door to me. The recipes I chose also give a good sense of the work as a whole, since these recipes are accompanied by touching and silly remembrances and photographs. I made a Corn, Rice, and Beef Casserole and a Blueberry Pie for my friend, her parents, and her two boys (4 and 8 years old respectively).















I began my cooking adventure as soon as I returned home from the Rubenstein one evening: I first made the pie crust. The recipe calls for an all-Crisco crust, and I just happened to have a very very old tin of it in my cupboard. Perfect! Also slightly disturbing, since I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I didn’t tell my guests that, though! I let the crust chill for a while as I assembled the casserole.

CasseroleDish2It’s an extremely simple recipe. I cooked up a cup of rice, opened a can of corn, browned a pound of ground beef, and threw everything together in a dish to bake for 20 minutes at 350. I thought I’d jazz up this plain casserole just a bit for my special guests, and added onions and a dash of ground cloves (a flavor sensation that I picked up from my own mom) to the meat, and threw a bunch of cheddar on top towards the end of its baking. When the dish was cooked, I also chopped up some parsley and chives from my porch for a tasty garnish. This was an easy and fast recipe to fix for a bunch of folks at a moment’s notice, and there could be endless improvisation depending on what you had on hand.

Back to the pie: When the time came during my preparations to roll out my crust, I had a lot of trouble keeping it together. My guess is that I hadn’t given it enough time to chill. But I was determined to have everything done in time, so I pressed shards of it into my pie dish anyway, in a slapdash and frantic fashion, and poured in 3 cups of blueberries that I’d frozen from the summer (tossed with flour, sugar, butter, lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, as the recipe suggests). Although the recipe noted that this crust would be enough for two, I didn’t find that to be the case, so I also whipped up a crumble topping with flour, brown sugar, butter, and spices.


Things came together just in time after all. The casserole was warming and hearty, and a good reminder that cooking for friends doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. I noticed that one of my young taste-testers ate it up in a flash and quickly disappeared under the table to begin tying guests’ shoelaces together. I took this as an excellent review.


The pie wasn’t done until after the boys’ bedtime, which means that I had a lot leftover and have been enjoying it with ice cream for breakfast ever since. Despite small disasters in its making, and although it won’t supplant my tried and true butter-only pastry crust recipe, it was pretty delicious. It was also fitting that it would give me trouble since, in one of the stories in this book, Lise’s mother Pauline recalls summers when she would bake wild blueberry pies with her aunt; on one such occasion, her aunt mistakenly uses salt instead of sugar. Even in their attempts to hide the evidence of their error from an angry mother, they are beset with trials: “We tried burning [it] in a little old iron stove – we just had enormous clumps of large crystals, which we dragged out to the garden, and covered with earth and tears.” Luckily, no tears were shed in the making of my pie misshapen though it was.


I looked at this book alongside another by Melhorn-Boe called Recipes (2001), also part of the Sallie Bingham Center’s collection. It is housed in an old recipe card tin, and contains memories and reflections of several women about family and food, typed on recipe cards and divided by topic — including “Atmosphere” (stern, relaxed, in silence, in front of the television), “The Cook” (stories about mothers and fathers and how they shared kitchen work, or didn’t), “Force-feeding” (thoughts about weight, body image, and abhorrent foods forced upon the writers – like lima beans!), and “Manners” (mouths closed, guests served first, elbows off the table).


Both works are funny and sweet (and sometimes bittersweet), and contain much food for thought about women’s roles in the kitchen and in the domestic labour of family life generally, and how these have changed over time.

Post contributed by Dominique Dery, Research Services Intern

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Sweet Potato Custard (1870)

recipes cropFor this week’s test kitchen, I made a Sweet Potato Custard from a recipe in the November 1870 issue of The Rural Carolinian. The Rural Carolinian was “An Illustrated Magazine of Agriculture, Horticulture, and the Arts” published out of Charleston, South Carolina that provided advice and information on a number of topics that would have been of interest to farmers. Other articles in this issue include “How to Utilize Forest Leaves,” “Prickly Pear or Cactus,” and “How to Prune a Peach Tree” as well as more general interest reading such as “Anesthesia — What Is It? And to Whom are we Indebted for it?”

Each issue of The Rural Carolinian also included recipes, part of the magazine’s “Literary and Home Department,” which was intended to appeal to women, broadening the magazine’s audience. They sought submissions from women, asking them “Will not our dear friends, the ladies, interest themselves in our behalf and help us to make this department an attractive feature of The Rural Carolinian.”  The recipes included aren’t necessarily what we think of as recipes, under recipes this issue has instructions on how to make “family glue” and lamp wicks. However, this is in line with the older sense of the word which encompasses any “statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something,” per the Oxford English Dictionary.

When I originally saw this recipe, I was interested, thinking, “I’ve never had sweet potato custard before!” Especially next to recipes like family glue, pumpkin chips, and apple water, it seemed unusual and intriguing. I didn’t read the recipe all the way through at first, and I missed the part where you put it in a pie crust, making it a not-so exotic sweet potato pie. Even still, I wanted to see how it compared to our modern sweet potato pies.

sweet potato custard crop

Like a lot of pre-twentieth century recipes, the recipe is minimalist in its approach and doesn’t offer detailed directions. The recipe calls for four sweet potatoes, and I bought four originally, but I think the sweet potatoes sold at my farmers market are monsters compared to what was available in 1870, so I used only two of them.

all ingredients

The recipe didn’t specify what to do with them beyond boiling and mashing, so I peeled and cubed them first before tossing them in a pot of boiling water until they were soft, about twenty minutes. After that I added the “two large spoonsful of butter,” which I interpreted as just over two tablespoons of butter, as well as a little salt. Then I got to use my potato masher, which only gets used at Thanksgiving. This gave me two cups of mashed sweet potato, which ended up being enough to fill my pie and then some.

Next four eggs “beat light,” sugar, spice, and milk or cream are mixed in with the mashed sweet potatoes. As Aaron noted in his post about rice apples, the lack of specifics in a recipe would have allowed for flexibility and improvisation based around what you had in your pantry. I appreciated this when the recipe called for milk or cream to thin it out, since all I had in the house was half-and-half. But I was a little flummoxed by the “teaspoonful of ground spice” called for. Was this referring to some particular spice that if I were cooking in 1870 would have just known? As a good librarian, I did some more primary source research and looked at other recipes from the era. As far as I could tell “spice” didn’t mean any particular spice, and there wasn’t one spice that dominated recipes of this time period. Cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves all come up frequently. I settled on half a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg which was a tasty choice, but I think any common spices would be good.


There was also the matter of a half-pound of sugar.  Before Fannie Farmer popularized standard and level measurements of cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons in her 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, recipes offered looser measurements (hopefully your household cups and spoons were similar in size to the recipe author’s!) or if you were lucky weights. But I don’t have a scale and had to do a little converting. According to Farmer, one pound of sugar is equal to two cups, so I added a cup of sugar to my potato mixture.


After combining all this, it is to be poured into a “rich pie crust” that had been rolled thin and put in a pie plate. Interestingly, no pie crust recipe was offered, which makes me think the author thought everyone would have had a pie crust recipe at the ready. I went with a basic all-butter crust. Given the number of other recipes in The Rural Carolinian that call for lard, a crust with lard would have been more authentic, but I wanted my vegetarian friends to be able to partake.

The final direction is to “bake brown.” Grateful for a modern oven where I have the ability to set a temperature, I went with 350.  I kept waiting for my pie to get “brown” and it never quite got there, so I took it out after an hour. This may have been a little too long; it did crack once it cooled.  Next time, I’d check it at 45 minutes and if the center seemed cooked thoroughly, I wouldn’t worry about it getting brown.


Despite the slight overcooking, this was a very good sweet potato pie. There was nothing that distinguished it from any more modern sweet potato pies I’ve eaten though.  I took a look at some modern recipes and they’re remarkably similar, though they usually have more butter and fewer eggs in them. I think I’ll actually fix this again for Thanksgiving, though I want to try pairing it with an ahistorical maple bourbon whipped cream.


Want to make history this Thanksgiving? Every Friday between now and Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted. We’re excited to bring these recipes out of their archival boxes and into our kitchens (metaphorically, of course!), and we hope you’ll find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving.

Post contributed by Kate Collins, Research Services Librarian

“Human Rights, Truth Telling, and Justice” Symposium

Date: Friday November 14th, 2014
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm
Location: Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, Franklin Garage

The Human Rights Archive is co-sponsoring a symposium that will focus on truth telling and justice in the context of human rights. The exciting list of speakers includes representatives from two of the Archive’s partners:

Eduardo GonzalezEduardo González is Director of the International Center for Transitional Justice’s (ICTJ) Truth and Memory Program, which provides advice to countries on truth commissions, declassification of archives, memorialization activities, museums, and other instruments. He has provided technical and strategic support to truth-seeking initiatives in places as diverse as East Timor, Morocco, Liberia, Canada, and the Western Balkans. Before joining ICTJ, he helped organize and carry out the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Previously, he worked as an advocate for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The historical records of ICTJ are also part of the Human Rights Archive in the Rubenstein Library.

Pamela MerchantPamela Merchant is the Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), and an attorney with 25 years of experience in the conduct and management of complex state and federal litigation. She joined CJA in October 2005 and has overseen a period of significant growth – both programmatically and financially. Under her leadership, CJA has grown from an organization devoted solely to human rights litigation in the U.S. to one that also engages in human rights litigation in foreign jurisdictions, such as Spain and Cambodia. Ms. Merchant has testified before Congress on accountability for human rights abusers and other human rights issues and received degrees from Georgetown University and Boston College School of Law. Ms. Merchant will explore changes in the field over the past 30 years with a particular focus on the resilience of survivors and their communities and the critical role they play in building high impact human rights cases.

All sessions are open to the public. For a free lunch, please RSVP to by Thursday November 13th.


9:00 am- Coffee and Pastries
9:30-10:30 am- Andrea Petö, “Revised and Revisionist Histories in Eastern Europe” (followed by Q & A)
10:30-11:30 am- Kimberly Theidon, “Incarnations: Legacies of Violence in Peru” (followed by Q & A)
11:45-1:00 pm- Lunch
1:00-2:00 pm- Pamela Merchant, “Truth telling, Human Rights Litigation and Resilience” (followed by Q & A)
2:00-3:00 pm- Eduardo Gonzalez Cueva, “Truth Orthodoxies: The Truth Commission Model, 30 Years after Argentina” (followed by Q & A)
3:00-4:00 pm- Roundtable discussion

Sponsored by The Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, the Duke Human Rights Center at FHI the Trent Memorial Foundation. Cosponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies, Duke History Department, and Duke Cultural Anthropology.

For further information contact Patrick Stawski, Duke University 919-660-5823.

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Velveeta Corn Ring with Creamed Mushrooms (1942)

Corn_Ring_RecipeThis is a food story that begins in a laboratory.  Imagine white coats, goggles, beakers, hastily written formulas on a chalk board, and vapors with odd odors.  No, this is not the kitchen-lab of a trendy restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy.  This is a lab at the Kraft Cheese Company and the year is 1915.  This is the beginning of Velveeta.

According to a 1930 advertisement from Kraft’s Educational Department titled “The Story Behind the Product,” in the year 1915, Kraft research scientists, uncomfortable with the amount of valuable milk nutrients lost in the traditional cheese making process, embarked on a food quest: to create a cheese product that would retain all of these nutrients without losing all of the desirable characteristics of ordinary cheese.  Ladies and gentlemen, the results of that noble inspiration are, in my mind, truly a food miracle.  Named for its smooth, velvety texture when melted, Velveeta is a dairy-based product composed of cheddar cheese, whey concentrate, skim milk solids, cream, sodium phosphate, and salt (the 1930 ingredients list).  But how would the company sell this miracle cheese food to American consumers?  How would they transform this product from a science experiment to a staple of the American table?  This would be a task assigned to Kraft’s advertising agency of record, the J. Walter Thompson Co. (JWT).

With slogans such as “Let Them Eat it Freely!” and “As Digestible as Milk Itself!,” Velveeta’s  early advertisements were educational with a focus on the product’s nutritional benefits, particularly for growing children.  A 1932 advertisement that appeared in several women’s magazines boasted of the product’s endorsement by the Food Committee of the American Medical Association and its award of a nutritional rating of “Triple-Plus.”  Velveeta’s balance of vitamins and minerals would effectively build up “resistance to colds, throat and lung infections,” act as a “safeguard against unsound teeth and bones,” and contribute to the “building of firm flesh.”  With Velveeta’s nutritiousness established, by the mid-1930s JWT’s campaigns for Velveeta began to focus on the product’s versatility in the kitchen.

JWT’s Chicago office test kitchen, ca. 1920.
JWT’s Chicago office test kitchen, ca. 1920.

In order to instruct American consumers on the myriad culinary uses of Velveeta JWT began to introduce recipes in the advertisements, a practice pioneered by the agency in the 1910s for another Chicago-based food client, Libby, McNeil & Libby.  In 1918, JWT opened a test kitchen in its Chicago office in part to develop recipes that featured their client’s products as central ingredients.  It was in this kitchen that JWT developed hundreds of recipes incorporating not just Velveeta but many other clients’ brands.  As the home of the Archives of the J. Walter Thompson Co. the Rubenstein Library has hundreds if not thousands of these advertisements.

My obvious enthusiasm for Velveeta aside, I chose this recipe for a harvest-time corn ring with creamed mushroom sauce for several reasons.  First of all, despite the fact that the recipe is devoid of any harvest fresh ingredients, the fall harvest theme seemed appropriate for this time of year.  Secondly, mushrooms.  I also wanted to see what this thing looked like in color—I had a feeling the black and white photo wasn’t doing the dish any justice.  Lastly, with winter approaching I felt myself in need of some firm flesh building, one of the many benefits of a steady Velveeta diet.

I more or less stuck to the recipe in the ad with only slight modifications.  I at least tripled the amount of diced onion, added a pinch of paprika to the corn ring batter, and used crushed croutons rather than fresh bread crumbs.  Additionally, despite the fact that everything from our grandparent’s kitchens is now trendy again, I do not possess a ring mold.  To mimic a ring mold I used an upside-down glass ramekin in the middle of a 9-inch pie pan.  Although this rig lacked the authenticity of a 1940s ring mold I felt it to be sufficient.  I also opted against the recommendation of the recipe that I purchase the economical 2lb. loaf of Velveeta, opting instead for the 16oz. package.  Other than dicing the onion and quartering the mushrooms there was minimal prep.


The corn ring actually smelled wonderful while baking, filling the house with a warm cheesy aroma.  After plating the corn ring with the mushroom sauce I began to understand why they opted for a black and white photo in the ad.  Aside from the decorative greens, the brown and grey color palette of the dish wasn’t exactly photogenic so I sprinkled a dash of paprika on top to give it a bit of color.  There were also no serving instructions so we sliced it like a pie and watched the creamy mushroom sauce flow.  Although extremely rich the dish was actually quite good overall.  This is one instance at least where the product lives up to the promise of the ad.


Every Friday between now and Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted. We’re excited to bring these recipes out of their archival boxes and into our kitchens (metaphorically, of course!), and we hope you’ll find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving.

Post contributed by Josh Larkin Rowley, Reference Archivist, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Goblin Sandwiches (1946)

Adolph Levitt was the developer of the automatic donut making machine and father of the modern American donut industry. In 1920 he founded the Doughnut Machine Company to make and market the machine across the United States and to sell donuts under the name “Mayflower.”  Soon the company began preparing and selling standardized mixes for the machine, and acquired bakeries to produce the donuts. In 1931, the company opened the first Mayflower donut shop in New York City; 17 other shops followed across the country, making the first retail doughnut chain. The company changed its name to the Doughnut Corporation of America, dominating the industry with a range of products and equipment.

In the 1940s the Doughnut Corporation of America distributed pamphlet style cookbooks encouraging the use of donuts as the main ingredient in a variety of recipes recommended for serving at a Halloween party. I found one of these in the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Advertising Cookbook Collection entitled How to Run a 1946 Halloween Party. Looking for a Halloween themed recipe for the RL Test Kitchen, I was drawn in by the idea of using donuts in place of other bread products. There are several intriguing recipes included in this pamphlet, but the one that stood out above the others was for Goblin Sandwiches. It is worth noting that despite the fact that the company name includes the word “doughnut,” the recipes use the more layman spelling, “donut.”

Goblin Sandwiches

My only deviation from the core recipe was the substitution of toasted almonds for the requested Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts proved elusive in the two grocery stores I visited in preparation. A quick internet search showed that almonds (or most any other common tree nut) are an acceptable substitute. I toasted sliced almonds and chopped them using a small food processor rather than using the rolling pin technique described in the recipe.  Woe is the 1940s cook who has to roll her nuts finely using only a rolling pin.  Also worth noting is that an “avocado pear” is really just another name for avocado.


Once the nuts were toasted and chopped this recipe came together very quickly with only five ingredients. I’ve always wondered what Deviled Ham was like having seen the cans in the grocery store.  Now I can tell you that the smell is not unlike dog food and the consistency is finely minced meat with a layer of yellowish water on top. I added the chopped avocado and almonds and mixed well.  The instructions said to “season highly” with Worchester sauce, which gave me a moment of pause.  I added a teaspoon, reasoning that more could be added to taste.  Once everything was mixed together it was quite green in color.  Cans of Deviled Ham are actually quite small at only 4.25 ounces each.  The cup of chopped almonds and an entire avocado actually were much larger in volume in this recipe, which probably diluted the pet food like taste of the ham. I imagine that the strong green of the avocado inspired the goblin name.  I spread the filling onto a typical plain cake donut sliced in half, making the traditional sandwich shape.


My willing taste testers included my husband Steve and colleague Josh, both of whom profess willingness to try anything.  Steve said that the filling was quite bland and was over shadowed by the sweet taste of the donut. When he tried just a spoonful of the filling he reconfirmed its blandness and added several more shakes of Worchester sauce to the mix. Josh also confirmed that the sweetness of the donut overpowered the taste of the spread.  He acknowledged the crunch of the nuts and an occasional chunk of avocado, but felt that it was better suited for little rye toast rather than a donut. Should you decide to test this recipe at home, I recommend cutting and adding the chopped avocado as close to serving time as possible to retain the bright green color, which turns to an olive drab over time.

One other recipe to note is the Donut Fruit Salad.  I really wanted to make this recipe as well, but I have to admit that I could not follow the recipe and visualize what the end product should resemble.  Perhaps you, gentle reader, might have better luck.  We’d love to see if you can successfully follow the directions in this recipe and scare up a good time with this Donut Fruit Salad.  Tweet your pictures to @hartmancenter and @rubensteinlib.

Donut Fruit Salad

Besides the notable recipes, this small pamphlet also includes a number of Halloween Party activities to add spooky fun to your celebration.  Ideas include making place holders with donuts and donut horse centerpieces.  Both use quite a few toothpicks to achieve the desired effect, so make sure you have plenty on hand.  One game idea is called Donuts on a String and calls for contestants to try and eat a donut dangling on a string while their hands are tied behind their backs.  “First to finish and whistle the first two lines of ‘Dixie’ wins.”

Donut Horse

Perhaps these recipes and activities will give you some ideas for a last minute Halloween party tonight.  Just make sure you have plenty of donuts on hand and have a spooktacular night! Happy Halloween from the RL Test Kitchen!

 Every Friday between now and Thanksgiving, we’ll be sharing a recipe from our collections that one of our staff members has found, prepared, and tasted. We’re excited to bring these recipes out of their archival boxes and into our kitchens (metaphorically, of course!), and we hope you’ll find some historical inspiration for your own Thanksgiving.

Post contributed by Jacqueline Reid Wachholz, Director, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History