Friday, October 27, 2017

Schenectady's Community Cookbooks

This post was written by library volunteer Diane Leone.

In recent years, historians have taken an interest in community cookbooks as valuable primary sources for understanding not only foods and cuisine over time, but also the larger life of the communities from which these texts originated.  Community cookbooks, also called charities, have a history stretching back to the Civil War, when Maria J. Moss assembled recipes for what became A Poetical Cook-Book (1864), which was sold to raise funds for wounded soldiers.  Her brainchild became so popular that, according to Feeding America, from 1864 to 1922 a variety of community groups produced over 3,000 charity cookbooks (Stoller-Conrad). Charitable causes included helping wounded veterans, widows and orphans.  Still others were motivated by social and political issues such as temperance, poverty, and suffrage.  Almost exclusively run by women, many, though not all, of these groups were religious in nature. The development of cheap printing techniques in the first half of the twentieth century led to greater popularity of the community cookbook, defined as follows in the McIntosh Cookery Collection at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: “The typical community cookbook was a profoundly local affair, produced by church or community groups, fraternal organizations, or charities using recipes submitted by members, and edited and published locally, aimed almost exclusively at a local audience” (“Community Cookbooks”).

The five texts under consideration (see insert above) are community cookbooks produced by local groups—four church-affiliated—in the city of Schenectady.  Of the group, the Tabernacle Housewives’Guide is the only title not in the Grems-Doolittle Library collection, although available online, as is the 1903 text.

These texts reveal considerable information about food, recipes, and cooking techniques over a period of eighty-nine years, from 1890 to 1979.  One of the most obvious features of the recipes is the manner in which they are presented.  In the earliest books, each recipe is laid out in paragraph form.  An example is a recipe in the Schenectady Cook Book (1903): “Muffins. — One pint sweet milk, two eggs, one tablespoonful of melted butter, three cups flour, pinch of salt, three teaspoonfuls baking powder. — 0. B.” Both the 1890 and 1903 texts (see photo above) follow this paragraph format, which sometimes omits instructions, and at other times includes them. The 1913 text, however, is transitional; while it features some recipes in paragraphs, it also includes those which list ingredients first, followed by preparation instructions.  This is the format used today. This change was influenced by the rise of cooking schools, and particularly by Fanny Farmer – author of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896) – whose scientific approach to teaching cooking had a major impact on its future direction.

A review of the books also reveals a change in the foods consumed over the years.  One of a number of notable differences is in the popularity of oysters in the early cookbooks.  Recipes for this popular shellfish abound in the 1890 and 1903 cookbooks.  Other recipes from 1890 include tripe (stomach lining, often of a cow) and sweetbreads (thymus and pancreas, usually of a calf or lamb), which are not popular today.   An assortment of puddings is found in the earlier texts.  The 1903 cookbook contains 69 puddings, many with ingredients such as suet and bread crumbs, which contemporary Americans do not associate with their conception of pudding as a sweet and creamy milk-based dessert  

Another major feature of the three early cookbooks is the prevalence of recipes for catsups (the term “ketchup” is more often used today) ; pickles; and jellies and preserves.  While most households around the turn of the twentieth century had access to a wide variety of store-bought comestibles, food preservation was still popular among housewives of means.  The recipes are varied, including plum catsup, cucumber catsup, mustard dressing, and other items not currently thought of as catsup.  The variety of pickles is also quite varied.  Although Americans are familiar primarily with pickled cucumbers, earlier cookbooks include recipes for items such as pickled string beans, oyster pickles, and mustard pickles.

The more recent cookbooks, from 1948 and 1979, reflect culinary changes resulting from new food technology.  One example is a 1979 chicken and rice recipe, which calls for “1 can celery soup, 1 envelope dry onion soup, 1.5 cups minute rice, 1 can mushroom soup.”  It was not until 1897 that Campbell introduced condensed soups, which were widely distributed by 1911. Kraft began marketing Minute Rice only in 1946.  A recipe for Spinach Torte required 3 packages of frozen spinach, available only in 1930, when Clarence Birdseye introduced frozen food to consumers.

Later cookbooks also include recipes that reflect changes in society.  World War II exposed American GIs to exotic foods overseas, which influenced post-war cuisine.  Furthermore, decades of immigration led to greater familiarity with ethnic foods. The GE cookbook offers recipes for Pizza Sauce, Chop Suey, and Italian Spaghetti.  Filling the “International Fare” chapter in the 1979 text are recipes such as Chicken Kiev, Tamale Pie, Flank Steak Teriyaki, and Chicken Orientale.  The chapter on “Meatless Main Dishes” reflects the rise of vegetarianism in the 1960s and 70s, given impetus by Frances Moore Lappe’s 1971 groundbreaking book, Diet for a Small Planet.  Another post-war change was the growing popularity of the cocktail party, made fashionable by renowned American chef James Beard, author of Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapes: With a Key to the Cocktail Party (1940). The 1979 book includes appropriate chapters titled “Appetizers” and “Cooking for Crowds.”

The introduction of the gas stove around the turn of the 20th century changed the way food was cooked.  The early cookbooks, probably written with coal-burning ovens in mind, do not include oven temperatures, which would have been very difficult to determine. Instead, instructions include statements such as the following, in The First Reformed Church Cook Book (1903): “Have a hot oven at first, then decrease the heat,”  “Bake 35 minutes or until rhubarb is done,” “Bake in slow oven,” and “Place in an oven of moderate heat.”  Some recipes omit oven instructions entirely.  The 1948 and 1979 cookbooks include cooking temperatures for gas and electric appliances.

Measurements changed over the years as well. Prior to the twentieth century, people often used everyday utensils to measure food quantities.  Thus, occasionally sprinkled among the recipes in the early books are quantities such as “one gill of melted butter,” “one teacup of molasses,” “one coffee cup of sour milk,” and “butter size of an egg.” With the publication of Fanny Farmer’s cookbook in 1896, exact measurements became the norm. The three early cookbooks reflect the growing importance of these new standards in their “Weights and Measures” sections, which convert commonly used utensils into the newly accepted measures.  Thus, we learn the following: 4 salt spoons equals 1 teaspoon, four gills equal 1 pint, and 12 tablespoons equal 1 teacupful.  The above photo shows both a gill and a ½ gill measure (Joshknauer at English Wikipedia).

Examples of the types of ads in our community cookbooks. From the 1890 Schenectady Cook Book.
Full-page advertisements pepper the three early texts.  The growth of packaged foods, combined with the expansion of the railroads toward the latter part of the nineteenth century, led to the widespread distribution of new products around the country.  Sales were bolstered by ads, which are often seen in community cookbooks, sometimes helping offset the books’ production costs. Royal Baking Powder was one of the largest advertisers.  The Schenectady Cookbook (1890) features a full page ad for this popular leavening agent.  Another favorite product was Knox Gelatine, created by Charles Knox, who revolutionized the time-consuming gelatin-making process.  This new packaged item made it easy for any cook to create molds and aspics.  The top of almost every page of the Tabernacle Housewives’ Guide features a catchy phrase, such as the following, acclaiming the value of this product: “For dainty delicious desserts use Knox Gelatine.”

Advertising also crept into the recipes.  The 1903 recipe for clear bouillon includes “Durkey's or Bell's mixed seasoning,” and the 1913 publication cites Quaker Oatmeal as an ingredient for oatmeal bread and Coleman’s Mustard for salad dressing.  The later books, which do not include advertising space, feature even more brand names in their recipes: Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice, Wesson Oil, Crisco, Miracle Whip Salad Dressing, Campbell’s Soup, La Choy Soy Sauce, and Velveeta Cheese.

While community cookbooks offer glimpses into culinary habits, they also provide insight into society. The three early texts are directed toward women of means, as many of the ads suggest.  Among those offering goods and services are jewelers, piano teachers, picture framers, hotels, photographers, homebuilders, and other providers of what would be considered luxuries for the average working class family at the time.  That many of these women employed hired help is indicated by two 1903 ads which feature cooks, one an African-American woman stereotyped in the most racist way. 

Unlike cookbooks today, their earlier counterparts include sections which contain “recipes” for a wide variety of domestic chores.  The 1890 Schenectady Cook Book offers in its “Miscellaneous” section instructions on how to blanch almonds, remove ink stains, make laundry detergent, and whiten one’s hands. 
Interestingly, these early books also advise the woman of the house—generally the caretaker—on coping with a variety of ailments.  This information would have been useful at a time when infant and childhood mortality rates were much higher than today, and people convalesced at home.  Included in the 1890 and 1903 books are recipes for the following: cough syrups; preventing cholera; curing felon (infection of the fingertip); and treating dizziness, scrofula (a tuberculosis infection of the neck’s lymph nodes), and erysipelas (a streptococcal skin infection).  The Tabernacle Housewives’ Guide features a section titled “Invalid Cookery,” with recipes for bran tea, beef tea, cornmeal gruel, and barley water.  The other two earlier books offer “Eggs for Invalids,” which the 1903 cookbook points out, “…will not distress even sensitive stomachs.”

Earlier cookbooks are often strewn with literary quotations.  As Janet Theofano writes of the cookbook authors in Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote, “Primarily conscientious and busy housekeepers attending to the needs of their families, they displayed their education and their knowledge of elite culture even in cookery books” (142).  The 1890 and 1914 texts preface many chapters with quotations, often Classical or Shakespearian, generally related to the genre of food being introduced.  For example, the soup chapter in 1914 is begun with an excerpt from Cicero: “Hunger is the best seasoning,” and a Longfellow couplet adorns the chapter on pies.  The salad chapter in 1890 begins with a passage from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: “My salad days when I was green in judgment.”

Religion played an important role in women’s lives in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were expected to be models of correct behavior for their husbands and children.  Although the early cookbooks in this survey do not contain many overt references to religion, the 1890 and 1903 texts feature a recipe for Scripture Cake, a common item at the time, mixing ingredients with specific biblical passages, so that the lady of the house can study scripture while cooking.   The recipe, as presented in 1903, begins as follows: “One cup butter, Is. 7:15; three cups sugar, Jer. 6:20; three and one-half cups flour, I. Kings, 4:22.” Although written much later in the century, The Episcopal Church Women’s Cook Book of 1979 was also compiled by a church-affiliated group, and states at the outset that “Hospitality is one form of worship.” It lovingly incorporates religion into the text, with a section on a history of foods from Bible lands (see photo above), including recipes, and a story of wheat and grapes, commemorating the Eucharist.

Women of a century ago were expected to behave as good wives and mothers. Typical of period cookbooks are life recipes, which advise women on upholding one’s role as the moral center of the household.  The 1914 text includes the recipe, “How to Grow Meek and Patient: Take two small, irrepressible boys to your heart, and home. After ten years, if you are not meek as Moses and as patient as Job, it will be because you have not improved your opportunities.” One of the more common “recipes” often featured in early community cookbooks is titled “How to Preserve a Husband.”  Interestingly, this appears only in the 1948 text, placed before the table of contents, perhaps as a quaint reminder of earlier times. It reads:

"Be careful in your selection.  Do not choose too young and take only such varieties as have been reared in a good moral atmosphere.  When once decided upon and selected, let that part remain forever settled and give your entire thought to preparation for domestic use.  Poor varieties may be made sweet and tender by garnishing them with patience well sweetened with smiles and flavored with kisses to taste; then wrap them well in a mantle of charity, keep warm with a steady fire of devotion and serve with peaches and cream.  When thus prepared they will keep for years."

These women were also expected to manage a household efficiently.  Many ads promoted this belief.  The Van De Carr Spice Company’s 1890 ad tells potential customers that “Economy is wealth.”  According to a 1903 ad for The Schenectady Trust Company, “Modern women of intelligence and standing find a bank account absolutely necessary for their personal and household affairs.” A knowledge of cooking was essential for any lady of the house.  Gracing the inside cover of the same cookbook is a bookstore ad, featuring a poem, “She Could not Cook.”  The bride in the poem “…went to a book-store and bought a cook-book as every wife ought.”  Another company, Barhyte & Devenpeck, purveyors of baking flour, will “Guarantee light bread/And pastry, and light-/hearted women.” Another important aspect of running a home is the subject of an ad in the 1914 cookbook by Guarantee Polishing & Plating: “Look over your silver. – Would you feel ashamed of it if you were entertaining?”

Community cookbooks also reveal information on local society.  In the five texts under consideration, the names of the recipe contributors and in some cases, the cookbook committee members, are indicated; this can be an aid in examining the activities of Schenectady citizens.  In the earlier books, the numerous ads provide insight into the variety and locations of businesses operating in Schenectady and other localities over a specific time period.  The most interesting source for local history is the Episcopal Church Women’s Cook Book of 1979, which offers a brief overview of inns, taverns, breweries and bakeries operated by parishioners throughout the history of the church.  It also traces the role of the St George’s Ladies Industrious Society in raising funds, since 1833, for a variety of projects, including a church, Sunday School, a new church tower, a parish house, and church restoration. 

Community cookbooks are a wonderful resource for tracing the evolution of food trends, as well as the life of society at both national and regional levels.  Today, online kits have made self-publishing easier than ever.  Perhaps future readers will comb them for historical gems, as we do today.

Works Cited

"Community Cookbooks." Special Collections and University Archives UMass Amherst
Libraries, 2017,

Stoller-Conrad, Jessica. "Long Before Social Networking, Community Cookbooks Ruled The   
Stove." Northeast Public Radio, 20 July 2012, 

Theofano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They
Wrote. Palgrave, 2002.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mayor Ellis' Excellent Adventures

Schenectady native Malcom Ellis was mayor of Schenectady throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s. Judging by a collection of Ellis' publicity photos in our library, he sure seemed to have a good time during his run as mayor. Prior to his political career, Ellis had management experience at several Grand Union Company locations. He was also a partner at the Jewell and Ellis Funeral Home which he bought in 1950s, changing the name to Ellis Funeral Home. Ellis was first elected mayor in 1960, 5 years after a short stint on the Schenectady County Board of Representatives.

Accomplishments that were made during Ellis' run as mayor included computerizing assessments, taxes, payroll, and parking tickets, completing the 22-block urban renewal project, upgrading housing code enforcement, and developing downtown Schenectady. He also had a pretty good publicity department. It wasn't all positives for Ellis, but as Art Isabel and Larry Hart wrote in their April 9th, 1971 column The Art and Hart of Politics "Ellis is a good campaigner; he photographs well both for newspapers and the tube; he shows up at as many social events as possible and has probably cut more ribbons, issued more proclamations and named more patroons than any mayor in Schenectady's history." Our photo collection of Ellis prove this statement to be true.

Ellis was mayor during the time when there was both a city manager and a mayor, which he felt gave the mayor responsibility for fixing things, but little authority. Unfortunately, this wouldn't change until the late 1970s when Schenectady city government changed from a City Manager and Mayor to a Strong Mayor.

Despite his problems with the city manager/mayor system in Schenectady, Ellis seemed to have a good sense of humor with his job. As shown in the photos below, Mayor Ellis was rarely seen without a smile. This collection takes us around Schenectady to see ribbon cuttings, Patroonships, declarations, proclamations, and even inside City Hall to visit Ellis and his staff. Unfortunately, many of the photos are unlabeled. So besides Mayor Ellis, we don't know who is in the photos, or in some cases, where they were taken. Still they're a fun tour through early 1970s Schenectady and show the lighter side of what must have been a stressful job.

Mayor Ellis (in full suit) trying out his skills at a local dojo.
The back of this photo reads "It's that time again." Our detective skills indicate that "that time" refers to Christmas time. Ellis is second from the right.
Ellis at the ribbon cutting of the Golden Dragon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge.

Shucking corn at the Glenville Sesquicentennital with Scotia Mayor John Ryan (second from right)

Hey! That building looks familiar and I think we can name everyone in the photo. From left to right: Gertrude Naylon, Ann George, Mary De Julio (Former Executive Director of SCHS), Wayne Harvey (Former President of SCHS), Larry Hart (Schenectady City and County Historian), and Mayor Malcom Ellis.
Mayor Ellis hanging out with Schenectady's youth and attempting to hold a reluctant looking baby.

Probably the best photo in the whole collection. Did Mayor Ellis eat this sandwich himself, or did he bring it back to staff? We'll never know!
A nice shot of Ellis and his staff.
This photo ran in the April 28, 1971 edition of the Schenectady Gazette. It was captioned "12 Years is Enough" In the accompanying article, Ellis stated that after his last meeting as mayor, he would like to "devote more time to my business (Ellis Funeral Home, golf, bowl and some curling."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

It's Not Easy Being Green's

This post is written by library volunteer Ann Eignor

There have been several songs written about Schenectady - "I Can't Spell Schenectady," It's Forty Miles From Schenectady to Troy," "Our Schenectady," and a few others. One of the most unusual is "Joe Green's Clothes Shop."

Credit for the music is given to Charles E. Benham, a local printer. The words are based on the text of the advertisement below which appeared in the May 22, 1924 issue of the Schenectady Gazette. Notice the ads for the two different Green's.

Green's Clothing Store was tricky in it's advertising, stating that it was a new location rather than a whole new store. It also looks like Joe had a bigger advertising budget. Joe Green's ad included a photo of Joe, just in case you wanted to put a face to the song.
Joe Green's Clothes Shop first appears in the 1918 City Directory at 412 State Street. At that time George Green (possibly a brother or cousin to Joe) is listed as a tailor at that establishment. Since Joe and George were both listed as living on Summit Ave. so it seems likely that they were related. By 1921 it seems that George had his fill of being a tailor at Joe's shop and struck out on his own. In the 1921 Schenectady City Directory, George Green is listed as the President of Green's Clothing Store Inc. located at 306 State Street while Joe Green's Clothes Shop remained at 412 State Street.

Lyrics to "Joe Green's Clothes Shop!"
Notice; statement to the public
Don't be fooled, there is only one Joe Green
One Store, No branch,
Look for the name Joe at the old established place
Look for the big number Four Hundred Twelve
State Street before you enter
Joe Green's Clothes Shop,
Joe Green's Clothes Shop,
Joe Green's Clothes Shop,
Over the Worthy Lunch,
Opposite the Wallace Company
Same block as Carl Company,
over the Worthy Lunch
Jooooeeeee Greeeeeennnn (editorial note)

It would seem that Joe Green was not pleased with this new competition who used a similar name, sold similar items, and was located just a block away. The words of the 1924 advertisement make Joe Green's dissatisfaction quite clear. Once the words became song lyrics in 1924, no one should have confused the two stores. The sheet music was probably given out as a "Souvenir of Schenectady" to Joe Green's customers, State Street pedestrians, and was available "at all music dealers." It was not a best seller.

In the battle of the Green's, Joe outlasted George. George Green's Clothing Store was no longer listed in the 1933 City Directory, but Joe's was still going strong. Was the song a deciding factor for Joe's success? We may never know. Joe remained in business until selling to his employee Jerome Oppenheimer in 1938. The store was renamed The Rochester Pants Company which continued in business for several years 

"Don't be fooled - There is only one Joe Green!"