culinary history nerd

Kitchen Tech Saturday: The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™

Today’s Kitchen Tech Saturday comes to you courtesy of one of my many trips down the internet rabbit hole. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what I originally searched for, but an hour or so later, I ended up at thehenryford.org, and I was not even a little bit disappointed.

“Wait,” you say. “Didn’t Henry Ford build cars? What’s that got to do with food or cooking?”

Oh honey, let me tell you. This online collection is about so much more than cars. It’s about innovation in all areas, from American Democracy and Civil Rights, to Information Technology, to, you guessed it, Home Life, including life in the kitchen. The physical collection, housed at The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, includes something called a PartioCart, used by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1960’s, and described as “an all-in-one electric range, charcoal barbeque, and rotisserie.” Sweet!

But, it’s the online recipe collection that’s gonna get all us foodies and food historians all in a tizzy. The good kind of tizzy. This database of historic recipes and cookbooks, helpfully organized both by recipe type and historical era, goes all the way back to the 1700’s, and includes reprints of recipes from women like Fannie Farmer and Ida Bailey Allen, who served as America’s first “celebrity chefs”  before Bobby Flay was even a twinkle.

 

One of my favorites, from a cookbook called “Catering for Two” by Alice James (1898), is something called a Pineapple Jardiniere that sounds like just the kind of fruity, boozy concoction we all need to keep a big ole bowl of in our refrigerator all summer long.

 

And speaking of boozy, how about Peg Bracken’s Hootenholler Whisky Cake, from the 1960 “I Hate to Cook Book”? Any recipe that begins with an instruction to do a shot of whisky and ends with encouragement to get a little stabby is definitely gonna find its way into rotation in my kitchen.

This isn’t a database of hundreds of thousands, but the recipes it contains are carefully curated to give you the best representation of each era, and honestly, anything more might be just too overwhelming.

As hard as it might be, I’ll encourage you to not just get stuck in the recipe and cookbook section. The entire “On Living” section of the website is worth perusing.  Honestly, I wish I’d known about this website back in culinary school, when I had to write all those papers for my American Regional Cuisine class. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t. It provides such an in depth look at home life through the decades, my food history nerdery might have hit a particular peak of Jordan-ness.

Check it out!

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Kitchen Tech Saturday: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Normally, when we’re talking technology, we think of the future, as in, new technology. The latest digital, computerized whatchamacallit that will change the way we cook, or shop, or go out to eat.

But today’s Kitchen Tech Saturday is actually kind of a time machine… one that only goes backwards.

A few years ago, the New York Public Library put all of it’s digital collections online, for free, and available to the public. The collections grow all the time, and you can look up everything from old political campaign pins to pin-ups, but today, we’re talking about a couple of search terms I’ve been using lately: recipe and cookbook. I’ll warn you up front– this website can become quite the rabbit hole.

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Right off the bat, the word “recipe” will get you not only cool, old images from, oddly enough, a tobacco company, but also their corresponding recipes. Decades ago, tobacco companies were the source of a lot of collectibles… things like baseball cards, and obviously, recipes.

lemonbuns

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But as you dive deeper into the search results, you’ll see everything from old advertisements for a variety of products, handwritten recipes, snippets from old cookbooks, recipe collection brochures and their covers.

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For a real treat, also add “menu” to your list of search terms. You’ll see some really great menus from restaurants, events, and even hotel room service menus!

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If you’re a big culinary history nerd like me, you’ll find that this time machine also has the odd effect of also speeding up time. You sat down for a quick little poke around in the archives, and before you know it, it’s 2am, your tea’s gone cold, and some random infomercial for people who have a hard time with pancakes is playing in the background. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Online digital archives are a real treasure trove of information, and the NYPL collection is definitely my favorite. There’s material in there on a huge array of subjects, although, obviously, this is the one I come back to time and time again for not only a NerdyFunGoodTime, but also some serious culinary inspiration.