Tag Archives: food

From Hawaiian Pie to Mustard Meringue: The Role of Test Kitchens in Modern Advertising

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

One of the Duke Libraries’ most popular blog series is the Rubenstein Test Kitchen. For this series, we invite library staff and affiliated scholars to recreate historic recipes, some of which delight and some of which cause fright (wiggly meat jell-o, believe it or not, isn’t as appealing as it once was to the American consumer). Our contributors exercise a fair amount of creativity and patience as they replicate decades- or even centuries-old recipes. Their trials and tribulations at the stovetop are indicative of the culinary skills and know-how that can be lost in translation. For example, many historic gumbo recipes begin with the phrase, “First you make a roux,” but do not provide instructions for how to actually make the roux. The creators of those recipes assumed that readers would have mastered the challenging technique of slowly toasting flour in fat, which, in the 1800s was common knowledge. Many Americans today, however, would not know how to start a roux or even know that it is a traditional base for sauces and soups. Recipe writing and replication are no easy tasks.

Reflecting on our popular posts, a question came to mind: where did test kitchens originate? After co-curating our most recent exhibit, “Agencies Prefer Men!” The Women of Madison Avenue, I learned that the early history of test kitchens is actually tied to advertising agencies.

Woman in JWT test kitchen, mixing a batter.
J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago office test kitchen, 1919. JWT Archives, Iconographic Collection.

In 1919, the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) was the first advertising agency to invest in an on-site home economics service and test kitchen. The initial purpose of the kitchen, according to the JWT News Bulletin, was simple: “to invent and test recipes” in order to instruct women “how to get the best results with the greatest economy.” The kitchen was located in the Chicago office, which catered to important clients in the food industry, including Libby, Kraft, and Quaker.

As the test kitchen matured, its goals diversified to fit the demands of JWT clients. Researchers in the test kitchen, for example, worked to discover new uses for client products so as to increase sales opportunities in new fields. The test kitchen also had an important relationship with the art department at JWT. Researchers prepared dishes and brought them to the art team to be photographed for print advertisements. Those early experiments regularly failed because the food quickly lost its luster and thus looked unappetizing in photos. After an hour or so, for example, flaky biscuits and airy souffle no longer looked fresh. In order to remedy this issue, JWT employed home economics experts and renovated the test kitchen space, turning it into an “art gallery” for prepared foods. JWT understood the importance of the adage, “we eat with our eyes first.” The efforts of JWT paid off. As recounted in the News Bulletin, “The piping hot biscuits of the copy were made ten times as attractive by the delicate flakiness of the samples in the illustration.”

In this laboratory, test kitchen staff also created recipes to include in print advertisements. For example, they would have tested Libby’s products like Hawaiian Sliced Pineapple and Pineapple Juice before the agency designed advertisements for publication in magazines like The Ladies’ Home Journal

Advertisement for Libby's Pineapple, featuring pineapple upside down cake
Libby’s advertisement, 1947. JWT Archives, Domestic Advertisements.

In time, the test kitchens of JWT not only functioned as places to present foods more effectively in advertising, but also as places that defined the trajectory of American cooking. As reported in the September 1958 JWT newsletter, the Home Economics Center was “an endless source of food ideas of all kinds.” As a promotion for their client, French’s mustard, JWT created a new recipe for meatloaf that featured a tangy mustard meringue on top of a mustard-laced loaf. The researchers also created a recipe for a heartier pizza crust made with French’s mustard. These innovative uses for ordinary products helped boost sales for many of JWT’s clients, bolstering the company’s reputation as one of the most dynamic and influential advertising agencies in the world.

Two women in the JWT Chicago Office Test Kitchen. One is icing a cake, the other is in the background preparing a turkey.
J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago Office Test Kitchen featuring Mabel Anderson (left), the head of the Home Economics Division, and Mildred Stull (right), 1958. JWT Archives, Iconographic Collection.

As we ready ourselves for the next round of Rubenstein Test Kitchen posts, I hope that our contributors think back on the paramount role that test kitchen researchers played in the making of the modern American palate, including the fascinating recipes preserved in our archives.

You can learn more about the JWT test kitchen researchers and their contemporaries in advertising via the “Agencies Prefer Men!” The Women of Madison Avenue exhibit, open through March 17, 2017 in the Mary Duke Biddle Room at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

Amari Victoria Stokes was a student in Kelly Alexander’s Our Culinary Cultures course offered in the Fall 2015 semester in the Center for Documentary Studies. Utilizing Rubenstein Library resources, students in the class were asked to explore the history of a culinary ingredient of their choice, find a recipe that exemplified their chosen ingredient, and prepare it for the class. The following is Amari’s research paper submitted for the class.

Ginger DropsTwo eggs well beaten, one-cup brown sugar, two teaspoons ginger, one-cup N.O. molasses (boiled), one-teaspoon baking soda, flour to roll out. Mix in the order given. I poured the molasses into a pot and watched small bubbles form and subsequently burst as the dark liquid began to heat. As the molasses boiled on the stove, I started mixing the ingredients in the order specified in the recipe. After the eggs had been beaten furiously with my new silver whisk, I began to measure the brown sugar for what I hoped would be a delicious dessert.

Sticky and compact, I remember struggling to handle this strange sugar during family barbeques as we seasoned our meat. As I thought about it, I realized besides an occasional pineapple upside down cake, outside of barbeque, I couldn’t recall ever having used brown sugar. Why was that, I asked?

The story of brown sugar begins, unsurprisingly, with the story of sugar. Sugars are natural ingredients found in most plants but what we have come to known as sugar is often extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugar cane, from the genus Saccharum, was originally cultivated in tropical climates in South and Southeast Asia.1 Neither should it be a surprise that the road from brown sugar to white sugar looks very much like the roads taken to get to white bread, white flour, and white cotton. All have similar histories where the unnatural but white version is preferred or is seen as a higher quality than the browner, natural varieties.2

Three hundred years after being introduced to Europeans by Christopher Columbus in 1492,3 by the 19th Century, sugar was considered a necessity.4 This evolution of taste and demand for sugar had major economic and social implications for the entire world. As a result of this demand, tropical islands were colonized and sugarcane plantations began ‘cropping up’ in record numbers. Consequently, the demand for cheap labor to assist in the labor-intensive cultivation and processing of sugarcane contributed greatly to the transatlantic slave trade, which displaced many African peoples.5

As I turned down the heat on the molasses to allow it simmer, I carefully added ground ginger. Watching the ginger disappear into the creamy brown concoction, I thought back to my ancestors. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in history one of them had made the same treat for her master’s children while her own children toiled in the hot sun picking cotton or harvesting sugarcane.

Continue reading A Bitter Look at the Sweet History of Brown Sugar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: World War I Soldiers’ Soup

Allied Cookery Cover
Grace Glergue Harrison. Allied Cookery: British, French, Italian, Belgian, Russian.  New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1916.

A century ago, the Great War was causing massive casualties and destruction in France. Allied Cookery, the product of an international collaboration, was written as a fundraiser. The proceeds were distributed by Le Secours National, the French organization created immediately after war was declared in 1914. The brainchild of banker and arts patron Albert Kahn, Le Secours raised funds to provide food and warm clothing to French soldiers and their families and to civilians in the country’s devastated regions. The cookbook’s introduction explains that any money raised will go to those areas that had been invaded by the Germans and subsequently retaken by the Allied forces. The impact of the damage was all the more horrific because these were France’s most fertile agricultural regions. With the buildings destroyed and the farm implements, livestock, and food stores seized, the surviving farmers could not produce food. With armies to supply, shortages were a real danger. Allied propaganda posters encouraged citizens to grow vegetable gardens and to restrict their consumption of wheat, meat, sugar, fats, and fuel. (French propaganda posters included the wine and tobacco products so badly needed by the military!) Fittingly, the recipes in this cookbook emphasize vegetables, beans, and soups. The section on meats includes many dishes using the less choice bits:  tripe, kidneys, sheep’s head and the like.

In addition to the countries listed in the title, Allied Cookery includes recipes from Commonwealth countries and Eastern Europe. Hence, there is a whole section on curries and dishes such as Pilau (pilaf) and Serbian Cake. I decided to try the Soldiers’ Soup (Soupe à la Battaille); it seemed altogether fitting when highlighting a World War I cookbook and also potentially tasty.

Soldiers' Soup Recipe

The ingredients were, for the most part, easily obtained at my usual supermarket. I was unable to find chervil for the garnish, and so simply left it out. The note at the bottom suggests that “a bone of ham or the remains of bacon improve this soup immensely.” I therefore purchased a bone of ham from our local HoneyBaked Ham. The instructions were extremely simple to follow and it is easy to imagine an army cook preparing the soup over an open fire using vegetables that had been requisitioned from nearby farms.

Mise en place

There was a great deal of washing, peeling, and chopping and I needed to use my largest cooking pot. After everything was added, I left the soup to simmer, with only occasional stirring, for two hours. I pulled out the ham bone and skimmed the fat. The recipe says that the mixture should be quite smooth at that point, and if it is not, the cook should “beat it well with a whisk.” Mine was not smooth, so I cheated a bit and used my 21st century immersion blender. The result was a beautiful jade green silky concoction.

Finished product

The flavor was absolutely delightful—a fresh vegetable taste with a little smoky depth from the ham and a creaminess from the potatoes. I shredded the ham and served it on the side, but the soup was delicious without it. My husband ate three full bowls. I would rate this soup a five out of five. Without the ham, it would be a perfect vegan dish. It makes so much that I refrigerated enough for another two or three meals and froze several large containers for later consumption. Civilians were called upon to sacrifice for the war effort, but preparing and eating this soup was no sacrifice whatsoever!

You can explore Allied Cookery in the Rubenstein Library or on the Internet Archive.

 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 Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian.

Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen: Apple Kuchen

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.

Happy Oktoberfest!  To kick off our Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen series, I prepared a recipe to celebrate the German festival, which runs this year from September 20th to October 10th.

The Recipe and Duke History

I found a recipe for apple kuchen, or apple cake, in the Ted Minah Papers.  The recipe was grouped with a series of recipes apparently intended for Duke’s Woman’s College, [1] ranging from barbecued meatballs to a lemon soufflé pudding.  Although a sweet cake, interestingly, the recipe was labeled as a bread recipe rather than a dessert.

The recipe helped me learn more about some of the culinary history at Duke, especially about the influential Theodore W. “Ted” Minah.  Minah was the director of Duke University Dining Halls from 1946 to 1974. By his retirement in 1974, Minah had transformed the dining halls at Duke University from a small operation to 12 dining halls serving approximately 15,000 meals each day.

The context for the recipe collection wasn’t clear – the ingredient proportions were for smaller portions, usually 4 to 6 servings.  Since it was coming from the collection of the Dining Hall director, I expected the recipe to be scaled to serve large groups of students, but perhaps the recipes were designed for a Woman’s College cookbook?  I’ve seen university-related cookbooks in other collections, like the “Culinary Casebooks” in the Duke Law Dames records (possibly a topic for a future “Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen” post!).

Like many older recipes, it was short and to the point – no lengthy descriptions of methods or ingredients to coddle the home cook.  I did encounter an interesting culinary term I’d never seen before, but which continues to appear in other archival collections I’m processing: Oleo.  Oleo was a common colloquial term used to refer to margarine, whose full name is oleomargarine.  I admit that I strayed from the recipe and used butter rather than margarine, but that substitution didn’t seem to hurt the recipe.

The Results

As often happens in the archives, I learned a variety of interesting new facts that I would have never guessed I’d encounter – from the history of the university, to colloquial cooking terms!

AppleKuchen in pan

Overall, the recipe was perfect for fall – the tart apples, cinnamon, and somewhat unusual cake batter made a tasty seasonal treat.  The recipe was easy and quick to make, used common ingredients found in any grocery store, and should appeal to even the pickiest eater.

apple kuchen on plate

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars!

Stay tuned for more tasty recipes from our collections!

1. The Woman’s College was established at Duke in 1930 as a parallel to Trinity College for men. The Woman’s College fostered a community that allowed for shared university faculty, curriculum, and educational facilities with the men’s college, while giving women an opportunity for leadership through separate student government, social standards committees, and judicial board.  The Woman’s College merged with Trinity College in 1972.

Post contributed by Patrick Dollar,  Drill Intern, Duke University Archives.