Hartman Center News
The Rubenstein Library’s three research center annually award travel grants to undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars through a competitive application process. Congratulations to this year’s recipients, we look forward to working with all of you!
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture
Jason Ezell, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, University of Maryland, “Queer Shoulders: The Poetics of Radical Faerie Cultural Formation in Appalachia.”
Margaret Galvan, Ph.D. candidate, English, The Graduate Center, CUNY, “Burgeoning zine aesthetics in the 1980s through the censored Conference Diary from the controversial Barnard Sex Conference (1982).”
Kirsten Leng, assistant professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Breaking Up the Truth with Laughter: A Critical History of Feminism, Comedy, and Humor.
Linda Lumsden, associate professor, School of Journalism, University of Arizona, The Ms. Makeover: The survival, evolution, and cultural significance of the venerable feminist magazine.
Mary-Margaret Mahoney and Danielle Dumaine, Ph.D. candidates, history, University of Connecticut, for a documentary film, Hunting W.I.T.C.H.: Feminist Archives and the Politics of Representation (1968-1979, and present).
Jason McBride, independent scholar, for the first, comprehensive and authorized biography of Kathy Acker.
Kristen Proehl, assistant professor, English, SUNY-Brockport, Queer Friendship in Young Adult Literature, 1850-Present.
Yung-Hsing Wu, associate professor, English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Closely, Consciously Reading Feminism.
History of Medicine Collections –
Cecilio Cooper, PhD candidate in African American Studies, Northwestern University, for dissertation research on “Phantom Limbs, Fugitive Flesh: Slavery + Colonial Dissection.”
Sara Kern, PhD candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State University, for dissertation work on “Measuring Bodies, Defining Health: Medicine, Statistics, and Civil War Legacy in the Nineteenth-Century America.”
Professor Kim Nielsen, Disability Studies & History, University of Toledo, for research on her book, The Doctress and the Horsewhip, a biography of Dr. Anna B. Ott (1819-1893).
John Hope Franklin Research Center –
Beatrice Adams, Rutgers University – Why African Americans remained in the American South during the Second Great Migration.
Gretchen Henderson, Georgetown University – A narrative and libretto for an opera rooted in African American slavery and history entitled CRAFTING THE BONDS
Maria Montalvo, Rice University – All Could Be Sold: Making and Selling Enslaved People in the Antebellum South (1813-1865)
Nick Witham, University College London, Institute of the Americas – “The Popular Historians: American Historical Writing and the Politics of the Past, 1945-present”
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History –
FOARE Fellowship for Outdoor Advertising Research:
Dr. Francisco Mesquita, Fernando Pessoa University, Portugal, “Billboard Graphic Production and Design Analysis”
John Furr Fellowship for JWT Research:
Jeremiah Favara, University of Oregon, “An Army of Some: Recruiting for Difference and Diversity in the U.S. Military”
Alvin Achenbaum Travel Grants:
Megan Elias, Borough of Manhattan Community College, “Be His Guest: Conrad Hilton and the Birth of the Hospitality Industry”
Sarah Elvins, Department of History, University of Manitoba, “Advertising, Processed Foods, and the Changing Notions of Skill in American Home Baking, 1940-1990”
Alison Feser, Anthropology, University of Chicago, “After Analog: Photochemical Life in Rochester, New York”
Spring Greeney, Environmental History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Line Dry: And Environmental History of Doing the Wash, 1841-1992”
Elizabeth Castaldo Lunden, Media Studies – Center for Fashion Studies, Stockholm University, “Oscar’s Red Carpet: Celebrity Endorsements from Local to Global (A Media History)”
Eric Martell, History, State University of New York – Albany, “Kodak Advertising in the U.S. and Latin America, 1920-1960”
The post Rubenstein Library 2016-2017 Travel Grant Award Winners appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
The Hartman Center is currently processing the Gary B. and Sandra G. Baden Collection of Print Advertisements, a collection of about 50 linear feet of print ads that cover primarily the first three quarters of the twentieth century. It is notable and was initially attractive to the Hartman Center for its early ads for automobiles, perfume and watches, but it also includes a wide range of corporate ads as well as some travel and tourism literature.
The Badens were avid collectors, and the collection also includes some non-advertising-related materials: issues of international magazines; direct mail materials; packaging; old maps; and some sheet music. There are about eight compositions from the early 1900s-1930s, including Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin as well as some tunes from the Ragtime/Minstrel/Vaudeville era. Of these, two items especially stand out.
The first, a Thomas Allen/William Macauley ragtime tune entitled “M-M-Mazie” from 1904, is fairly well known, but this one has a seemingly rare cover. Most digitized versions, including one held by Duke, features a red cover with a photograph of pianist Joseph A. Callahan. The version found in the Baden collection features a blue cover with a photograph of the African American Vaudeville duo Brandow and Wiley. Brandow and Wiley were quite prominent in their day, one of the few black song-and-dance acts to star in the mainly white Keith-Orpheum circuit of theaters. Russell Brandow was an acrobatic dancer and a specialist in what was known as comedic “grotesque dance.” Stella Wiley was a singer and dancer who was previously married to the notable composer, producer and musician Bob Cole, credited with creating the first all-black musical production, “A Trip to Coontown” (1898), and a creative who worked to break down the minstrel-era racial stereotypes in theater. The history of African American vaudeville, minstrel shows and other performing arts in the early 20th century is still an emerging research field, so it is exciting to find a picture of this pair of performers.
As a side note, March was Disability Awareness Month, and “M-M-Mazie” regularly appears in scholarly work on the exploitation of speech impediments and other disabilities in popular cultural productions like songs and story narratives. The chorus goes “M’m M’m M’m Mazie My d’d d’d daisy You I adore; and everyday that passes by I love you m-m more and more.”
The second piece of sheet music poses a bit more of a mystery. It’s an 1899 piece entitled “Coontown Promenade” or alternatively, “Coontown or Loyola Minstrels Promenade,” a cake-walk and two-step composition. The composer, Johann Schmid, was quite prolific composer of popular music, with nearly 300 known compositions ranging from minstrel tunes to rags and schottisches, but very little is known of him as a person. “Coontown Promenade” does not seem to appear in any library holdings, digital sheet music collections or in the WorldCat database. It also does not appear in online databases of known compositions by Schmid, although it does appear in the register of U.S. copyright applications. The Loyola University Music Club did perform minstrels in the early 1900s but it is unclear whether this was among them. A very exciting find in a very unexpected place.
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.
Two 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.
At the heart of the American sugar industry was the Domino Sugar Company. Founded during the height of the Industrial Revolution, in 1807, the company was created by William and Frederick Hevemeyer in the city of New York. The company led industry efforts to gain control of brown sugar production and to restrict price competition in the sugar industry. One of the primary tools used was to mount a smear campaign to denigrate brown sugar, whose refining it did not completely control. By blowing up photographs (taken through microscopes) of grotesque but harmless microbes found in brown sugar, reproducing and then distributing them with warning of the supposed dangers of eating brown sugar, the company convinced the American public that brown sugar was of an inferior quality than white refined sugar.6
The success of this campaign and the widespread adoption of white over brown sugar was evidenced in the widely accepted cook book of 1897, Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What To Do And What Not To Do In Cooking, originally published in 1884. An early home economist, Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln was an influential Boston cooking teacher and cookbook author. She was among the first to address the scientific and nutritional aspects of food. At that time, her book was the authority on cooking. In it, she gives detailed descriptions of everything from understanding cooking terms to distinguishing between different cakes based on butter content. In her section about sugar, she makes a clear distinction between brown sugar and white sugar: “All brown sugar and moist sugars are inferior in quality: they contain water and mineral matter, and are sometimes infested by a minute insect. Loaf sugar is the purest.”7 Domino had done its job. Its executives had effectively tarnished the reputation of brown sugar.
To prevent it from boiling over, I quickly took the molasses off the stove. I watched as it oozed into my giant red mixing bowl. Baking soda followed it into the mix. While the recipe in and of itself was not difficult, finding it was an entirely different story. There I was, staring at genuine cookbook from the 1800s. I carefully scanned each recipe looking for the word sugar but then had to further distinguish sugar from brown sugar. Only four of the thousand or so recipes in Mary’s cookbook included brown sugar and among them were Ginger Drops.8 Due in part to the success of the campaign to disparage brown sugar, farmers and workers gave up producing molasses, brown sugar, and sorghum. In the United States, between 1880 and 1915 the per capita consumption of white granulated sugar doubled.9 Brown bashing marketing and advertising had worked. White America had once again embraced what looked like them.
As I added the final ingredient, it became perfectly clear that the history of brown sugar was more than aggressive advertisement but was also an adequate representation of black people in America. My great-grandmother was brown sugar. I am brown sugar. The contemporary artist Kara Walker paid homage to this lost history in one of her thought-provoking pieces that once sat in the remains of the Brooklyn Domino Sugar Refinery, which, after running for 148 years, closed for business in 2004. One has to look no further than the title to know exactly what the piece is about: “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.” Her exhibit consisted of a colossal kerchief-wearing, white sugar-coated, female sphinx measuring 80 feet long by 40 feet high. Yet, despite its white coating, the sphinx’s features are exaggerated black/African features: very full lips, high cheekbones, large breasts, vulva, and buttocks. Fifteen or so “sugar babies,” child-sized, brown-skinned boys, “attendants” carrying baskets accompany her. Walker’s work brought visitors back to the 18th and 19th century slave trade that was built to profit from the insatiable Western market for, among other things, refined sugar and rum.10 As the exhibit continues, the brown sugar babies begin to melt, leaving a trail of melted ‘bloodied’ molasses. The symbolism of blood and loss is appropriate Walker explained in an interview about “The Subtlety,” that to make the sugar, the cane had to be fed into large mills by hand. It was a dangerous process: Slaves lost hands, arms, limbs and lives.11
Holding court in a dated, 30,000 square foot abandoned industrial space, at the center of “A Subtlety” the giant white sphinx stares at you. “A Subtlety” is meant to serve as a critique of perceptions of black women’s bodies. Culture critic Yesha Callahan of the Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”12 This mirrors Mary’s Johnson’s sentiment about the uses of brown sugar. Brown sugar “is good for fruit cake, but for all other varieties use the finest granulated or powdered sugar.”13 Just as brown sugar is only good for fruitcake, perhaps black women’s bodies can only be sexualized.
With all the ingredients in, my mixture slowly spilled into the pan, the sticky substance occupied every crevice. My apartment was filled with the sweet, succulent aroma of ginger as my drops began to bake in the oven. I thought back to the passage where Mary reinforced the inferior quality of brown sugar to white sugar. Her “white is right” mentality extends past sugar as it is pervasive in American society as well. Black peoples have always been seen as inferior and have been taught to think the same of themselves, and thus have been limited in their place in society. The whiter you are the better you will be. Blacks have been trying to assimilate into white culture from the time they were stripped from their homelands. Light skinned black people would attempt to “pass as white” to ensure better economic and social opportunities for themselves. Light-skinned black people were seen as less black and thus more valuable than their darker counterparts who measured their color and therefore their worth against the shade of a brown paper bag. Hair straightening products and bleaching creams were just a few of the other ways in which the white European ideal was mimicked. Black women were prized for how closely they could fit the white mold. A fashion magazine editor once lauded the famous Somali-American model, Iman, as being a white woman dipped in chocolate.14 Using white as the standard is not unique to the fashion industry. Similarly, black dolls have historically been made with the same cast as white dolls with the added features of dark hair and darker complexion, but without any of the other defining features of black people. Commercial brown sugar is made in a similar way. Molasses is added to refined white sugar to control the ratio of molasses to sugar crystals and to reduce manufacturing costs. Commercial brown sugar contains from 4.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar) based on total volume.15
I took the Ginger Drops out and allowed them to cool. I thought about the different sugars I had used for this recipe. Traditionally, sugar cane is crushed and heated which allows impurities to be separated out. These are removed and the juice is boiled down and solidified. This solidified product is brown sugar. Brown sugar is again dissolved, boiled, and filtered. Molasses is the drainage of the raw sugar. Granulated sugar is brown sugar refined again.16 The sugar refining process mirrors the cultural landscape of Americans today. What was once black eventually becomes white and in turn black culture is perceived as acceptable only when appropriated by whites (as white sugar is given regulated amounts of molasses). From Elvis and his guitar to Kylie Jenner and her cornrows, black creativity and innovation is repackaged for massive white consumption. But just as commercial brown sugar is white at is core, cultural appropriators neglect to acknowledge the stories of struggles so prominent in black culture. It’s cool to act black but not to be black.
I tore off a small piece of my sweet confection and popped it into my mouth. Sweet and moist, the drops had the consistency of a brownie but the taste of gingerbread. The recipe for Ginger Drops could be a testament to Mary Lincoln’s innovation in cooking or the Domino Sugar Company’s successful smear campaign, but it better represents the stories of black bodies. Brown sugar does not have to be limited to fruitcakes or Memphis barbeque. It can be used wherever white sugar can be used. Its quality should not be determined by the amount of molasses in it but should instead be celebrated in its natural state and not only after it has been “refined”. Black peoples are pushing back against their assumed inferiority, celebrating their diversity, breaking down barriers, and now emphatically chanting, “Black Lives Matter.” If you have ever had a sweet tooth or enjoyed a sweet treat you are part of this narrative. You are brown sugar.Notes:
- Kiple, Kenneth F., and Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas. “Sugar.” The Cambridge World History of Food. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), 284.
- Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. (New York: Penguin, 1985), 285.
- Abreu Galindo, Juan de, and Alejandro Cioranescu. Historia De La Conquista De Las Siete Islas De Canarias. (Santa Cruz De Tenerife: Goya Ediciones, 1955), 385.
- Mintz, 186.
- Fryer, Peter. Black People in the British Empire: An Introduction. (London: Pluto, 1988), 252.
- Eichner, Alfred S. The Emergence of Oligopoly: Sugar Refining as a Case Study. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1969), 68-69.
- Lincoln, Mary Johnson Bailey. Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking. (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884), 458.
- Lincoln, 388.
- Cummings, Richard Osborn. The American and His Food. (New York: Arno, 1970), 114.
- Cornish, Audie. “Artist Kara Walker Draws Us Into Bitter History With Something Sweet.” NPR. (16 May 2014).
- Callahan, Yesha. “Reactions to Kara Walker’s A Subtlety Prove a Black Woman Will Be Sexualized, Even in Art.” The Root. (Root, 28 May 2014).
- Lincoln, 371.
- Cadwalladr, Carole. “Iman: ‘ I Am the Face of a Refugee'” The Guardian. 28 June 2014.
- Figoni, Paula. How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 82.
- Lincoln, 438.
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.”
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).
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?).
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?!?”
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?
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.
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.
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.
Post contributed by Kurt Blythe, Serials Access Librarian, UNC, and Molly Bragg, Duke Digital Collections Program Manager
The post Meat Box, or, The Price of Butter Holds No Terror for Users of Swift’s Oleomargarine appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
According to Wikipedia, the webcam era began in 1991 when a camera was aimed at a coffee pot in a Cambridge University lounge and left on for a decade. Nowadays it’s commonplace to communicate via video-conferencing, FaceTime, Skype or other video-phone platforms but the technology has only been widely available for a relatively short time. In the mid-1950s links between telephones and televisions were developed, but the public only saw the technology for the first time at the 1964 World’s Fair, which also introduced touch-tone phones. Industrial trade ads touting the ability to send phone signals to television screens appeared in the early 1960s, and consumer possibilities of what were then called “Picturephones” began to be marketed in 1963-1964, as seen in this 1964 ad from New York Telephone. It would take another 40 years before smartphones put telephone and video capabilities in the hands of most consumers worldwide.Image from JWT Competitive Advertisements Hartman Center
Post contributed by Rick Collier, Technical Services Archivist for the John. W. Hartman Center
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.
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) The kind of confessional tone continues to be a mainstay in weight loss advertising today. 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.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.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.
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.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?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?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.I have made a terrible mistake.
Post contributed by Katrina Martin, Technical Services Assistant.