82 Vintage Cookbooks, Free to Download, Offer a Fascinating Illustrated Look at Culinary and Cultural History

With the holidays fast approaching, two interns at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture at Duke University's Rubenstein Library turned to the center’s collection of vintage advertising cookbooks for inspiration.

Their labors, and the fruits thereof—a queasy-looking Crown Jewel Dessert and a savory fish-shaped “salad” as per the Joys of Jell-O Gelatin Dessert cookbook—are showcased above.

While the library has yet to digitize that particular early-60’s gem, there are plenty of other options from the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Advertising Cookbook Collection available for free download, including several that are gelatin based.

The authors of the pre-Women’s-Suffrage Jell-O: America's Most Famous Dessert, would have boggled at our 21st-century abundance of flavors (and our godlike telephones), just as our eyes widen at their lush full-color illustrations and hundred-year-old social norms.

As one might expect, given the Sallie Bingham Center’s mission of preserving printed materials that reflect the public and private lives of women, past and present, these vintage cookbooks speak to far more than just culinary trends.

Royal Baking Powder’s 55 Ways to Save Eggs puts a positive spin on wartime economies by framing cheap ingredient substitutions as something clever and modern, attributes the young housewife depicted on the cover would surely wish to embody.

(Shout out to any home bakers who were aware that cream of tartar is derived from grapes...)

Dainty Dishes for All the Year Round (1900) finds its publisher, North Brothers Manufacturing Co., sitting pretty, unable to imagine a future some twenty years hence, in which technological advances would result in the commercial mass production of ice cream, thus damning their star item, Shephard’s “Lightning” Ice Cream Freezer, to the category of inessential countertop clutter.

Sadly, not all of the delicious-sounding ice cream recipes by Mrs. S. T. Rorer, a leading culinary author and educator and America’s first dietician, are included, but you can browse many illustrated ads for North Brothers’ built-to-last goods, including a meat cutter, a number of screwdrivers, and a magnificently steampunk Christmas tree stand.

Would it surprise you to learn that our current preoccupation with ancient grains is far from a new thing?

1929’s Modern Ways with an Ancient Food was aimed squarely at mothers anxious, then as now, that their children were properly nourished.

The grain in question was not quinoa or freekeh, but rather farina, referred to by most Americans by its most popular brand name Cream of Wheat, a fact  not lost on this volume's publisher, Cream of Wheat competitor Hecker H-O Company.

History shows that Cream of Wheat trounced Hecker’s Cream-Farina.

Given the blandness of the grain in question, chalk it up to Cream of Wheat's muscular advertising approach, and robust licensing of products featuring the iconic image of Rastus, a smiling black spokeschef whose palpably offensive, dialect-heavy endorsements are one pitfall Hecker seems to have skirted.

Begin your explorations of the Sallie Bingham Center’s Nicole Di Bona Peterson Advertising Cookbook Collection here, and let us know in the comments if there's a recipe you're intending to try.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC tonight, Monday, December 9, as her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates another vintage advertising pamphlet, Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday

Revisit the Infamous Rolling Stones Free Festival at Altamont: The Ill-Fated Concert Took Place 50 Years Ago

The Tate-LaBianca murders and the violence at Altamont in 1969 have become emblems of the end of “the notion of spontaneity,” writes Richard Brody at The New Yorker, “the sense that things could happen on their own and that benevolent spirts would prevail. What ended was the idea of the unproduced.” Perhaps it's important to keep in mind that this was only ever an idea, nurtured by those with the means and talent to produce it, and to overshadow, for a time, figures like Manson, a Laurel Canyon hanger-on before he became a cult-leading, spree-killing mastermind.

Likewise, the Hells Angels had been present at the birth of the counterculture. As anyone who’s read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test knows, they were regular attendees of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test parties and early Grateful Dead shows, at the same time as the release of the famous 1965 Lynch report, a six-month study detailing the criminal activities of motorcycle gangs in California. Two years later, Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angels book would both corroborate and downplay the report's shocking revelations.

It was evident to people paying attention that the supply chain moving drugs through the scene was a particularly nasty business, a shadow side of hippie culture as menacing as Manson’s power tripping race war delusions. Leave it to the Rolling Stones to move this background to the foreground when they hired the Hells Angels to do security at Altamont on December 6, 1969, paying them in beer. The drunken bikers responded to unrest in the crowd by beating fans with weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains before stabbing 18-year-old black fan Meredith Hunter to death, as the band, unaware, played “Under My Thumb.”

All of this now plays out before us close up in footage from the Maysles brothers’ iconic documentary, Gimme Shelter, with a view almost no one among the 300,000 fans present that day could claim. “Many people who attended Altamont thought it was a great day and a great concert,” says Joel Selvin, author of Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day. No one at the back of the crowd noticed the fights in front of the stage, such as those that breaking out between fans and bikers during "Sympathy for the Devil," above.

George Lucas happened to be there, working with Robert Elfstrom on the Maysles crew. The two were sent “to the top of this hill and they spent all day futzing with this long lens,” says Selvin, “trying to keep it in focus. When it was all over, they were both convinced they had been to Woodstock.” Indeed, “Woodstock of the West” is how Altamont was characterized until Rolling Stone published its in-depth coverage of events. How then did Altamont become known thereafter as the “anti-Woodstock” that broke the sixties?

Woodstock itself “was very close to being a total disaster,” Selvin points out, a point Jerry Garcia himself makes in post-Altamont interview above. They were "two sides of the same coin, two ways that that kind of expression can go." The stigma surrounding the Hells Angels greatly contributed the infamy, as news of their full involvement spread. Had accused killer Alan Passaro not been in a notoriously violent biker gang, Selvin believes, he would have been seen as a hero, since Hunter had rushed the stage with a gun after an earlier altercation with the gang. (Passaro was not charged.)

But perhaps no artifact has helped mythologize the tragic events at Altamont more than Gimme Shelter, a film that also documents just how electrifying the Stones were onstage, how transformed as a band after the death of Brian Jones months earlier and addition of guitarist Mick Taylor.

They debuted “Brown Sugar” at Altamont (hear it above), a song that wouldn’t be released until three years later on Sticky Fingers and that would define their take on roadhouse blues in the early seventies. At least in performance, they held up remarkably well in a festival that bristled with restless, overcrowded menace even before the bikers started a riot. (A fan punched Mick Jagger as he got out of his helicopter.)

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of Altamont, we might also rethink its immortalization as a symbol of the death of sixties' innocence. Something else died instead, writes Brody. “The haunting freeze-frame on Jagger staring into the camera, at the end of the film, after his forensic examination of the footage of the killing of Meredith Hunter at the concert, reveals not the filmmakers’ accusation or his own sense of guilt but lost illusions" of control over the culture's darker side.

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Hear the First Live Performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar:” Recorded at the Fateful Altamont Free Concert in 1969

Gimme Shelter: Watch the Classic Documentary of the Rolling Stones’ Disastrous Concert at Altamont

Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sympathy for the Devil”: From Jean-Luc Godard’s ’68 Film One Plus One

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Radical Tea Towels Offer a Graphic Crash Course in Progressive American History

Those of us who are deeply disappointed to learn we won’t be seeing Harriet Tubman’s face on a redesigned $20 bill any time soon can dry our eyes on a Tubman tea towel… or could if the revered abolitionist and activist wasn’t one of the family-owned Radical Tea Towel’s hottest selling items.

The popular design, based on one of Charles Ross’ murals in Cambridge, Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden is currently out of stock.

Fortunately, the company has immortalized plenty of other inspirational feminists, activists, civil rights leaders, authors, and thinkers on cotton rectangles, suitable for all your dish drying and gift giving needs.

Or wave them at a demonstration, on the creators’ suggestion.

The need for radical tea towels was hatched as one of the company’s Welsh co-founder’s was searching in vain for a practical birthday present that would reflect her 92-year-old father’s progressive values.

Five years later, bombarded with distressing post-election messages from the States, they decided to expand across the pond, to highlight the achievements of “amazing Americans who've fought the cause of freedom and equality over the years.”

The description of each towel's subject speaks to the passion for history, education  and justice the founders—a mother, father, and adult son—bring to the project. Here, for example, is their write up on Muhammad Ali, above:

He was born Cassius Clay and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, but the name the world knew him by was simply, 'The Greatest.’ Through his remarkable boxing career, Ali is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century and was an inspiring, controversial and polarising figure both inside and outside the ring. 

Ali started boxing as a 12-year-old because he wanted to take revenge on the boy who stole his bike, and at 25, he lost his boxing licence for refusing to fight in Vietnam. (‘Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam when so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?’ He demanded.) It was perhaps the only time he surrendered: millions of dollars, the love of his nation, his career… but it was for what he believed in. And although his views on race were often confused, this was just example of his Civil Rights activism.

Ali became a lightning rod for dissent, setting an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement. And he took no punch lying down – neither inside the boxing ring nor in the fight for equality: after being refused service in a whites-only restaurant in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, he reportedly threw the Olympic gold medal he had just won in Rome into the Ohio River. So, here’s an empowering gift celebrating the man who never threw in the (tea) towel.

The Radical Tea Towel blog is such stuff as will bring a grateful tear to an AP US History teacher’s eye. The Forebears We Share: Learning from Radical History is a good place to start. Other topics include Abigail Adam’s American Revolution advocacy, the bridge designs of revolutionary philosopher Thomas Paine, and Bruce Springsteen’s love of protest songs.

(The Radical Tea Towel design team has yet to pay tribute to The Boss, but until they do, we can rest easy knowing author John Steinbeck’s towel embodies Springsteen’s sentiment. )

Lest our educational dishcloths lull us into thinking we know more about our country than we actually do, the company’s website has a radical history quiz, modeled on the US history and government naturalization test which would-be Americans must pass with a score of at least 60%. This one is, unsurprisingly, geared toward progressive history. Test your knowledge to earn a tea towel discount code.

Begin your Radical Tea Towel explorations here, and don't neglect to take in all the rad designs celebrating the upcoming centennial of women's suffrage.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What the Great Pyramid of Giza Would’ve Looked Like When First Built: It Was Gleaming, Reflective White

The Great Pyramid at Giza—the oldest and most intact of the seven ancient wonders of the ancient world—became a potent symbol of the sublime in the 19th century, a symbol of power so absolute as to eclipse human understanding. After Napoleon’s first expedition to Giza, “Egytomania… swept through European culture and influenced the plastic arts, fashion, and design,” writes Miroslav Verner in The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt’s Great Monuments.

At the end of the century, Herman Melville satirized the trend that would eventually give rise to Ancient Aliens, asking in an 1891 poem, “Your masonry—and is it man’s? More like some Cosmic artisan’s.” Egyptomaniacs saw otherworldly magic in the pyramid. For Melville, it “usurped” nature’s greatness, standing as “evidence of humankind’s monumental will to power,” as Dawid W. de Villiers writes.

The ancient Greeks believed the pyramids were built with a massive slave labor force, a theory that has persisted. As Verner exhaustively argues in his book, however, they were not only built by humans—instead of aliens or gods—but they were constructed by tradesmen and artisans whose skills were in high demand and who were paid wages and organized under a complex bureaucracy.

And as you can see reconstructed in the Smithsonian video at the top, one of those artisanal tasks was to polish the monument’s outer limestone to a gleaming white finish that reflected “the powerful Egyptian sun with a dazzling glare.” Once the pyramid was completed, “it must have truly added to the impression of Giza as a magical port city, bathed in sunlight,” says archaeologist Mark Lehner in the clip.

In addition to its glowing, polished limestone sides, “the structure would have likely been topped with a pyramidion, a capstone made of solid granite and covered in a precious metal like gold,” writes Kottke. “No wonder they thought their rulers were gods.” Or did ancient Egyptians see the Great Pyramid as a masterpiece of human engineering, built with the skill and sweat of thousands of their compatriots?

Who can say. But it’s likely that 19th-century European explorers and artists might have characterized things differently had the Great Pyramid still scattered the sun over the desert like an ancient beacon of light instead of sitting “dumb,” as Melville wrote, stripped of its facade, waiting to have all sorts of mysterious meanings wrapped around it.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Digitized Menu Collection Lets You Revisit the Cuisine from the “Golden Age of Railroad Dining”

The coming of the railroad in the U.S. of the 19th century meant unprecedented opportunity for millions—a triumph of transportation and commerce that changed the country forever. For many more—including millions of American bison—it meant catastrophe and near extinction. This complicated history has provided a rich field of study for scholars of the period—who can tie the railroad to nearly every major historical development, from the Civil War to presidential campaigns to the spread of the Sears merchandising empire from coast to coast.

But as time wore on, passenger trains became both more commonplace and more luxurious, as they competed with air and auto travel in the early 20th century. It is this period of railroad history that most attracted Ira Silverman as a graduate student at Northwestern University in the 1960s. While enrolled at Northwestern’s Transportation Center in Evanston, Illinois, Silverman and his classmates found endless “opportunities for research, adventure, and unparalleled feasting,” writes Claire Voon at Atlas Obscura.

Silverman especially took to the dining cars—and more to the point, to the menus, which he collected by the dozens, “eventually amassing an archive of 238 menus and related pamphlets. After a long career in transit, he donated the collection to his alma mater’s Transportation Library, which recently digitized it in its entirety.” Silverman’s collection represents “35 United States and Canadian railroads,” points out Northwestern, and its contents mostly date from the early 60s to the 1980s—from his most active years riding the rails in style, that is.

But Silverman was also able to acquire earlier examples, such as a 1939 menu “once perused by passengers aboard the famed 20th Century Limited train,” Voon writes, “which traveled between New York City and Chicago.” Twenty years after this menu’s appearance, Cary Grant, “playing an adman in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, orders a brook trout with his Gibson” while riding the same line. The Art Deco menu for the "new streamlined" line features such delicacies as “genuine Russian caviar on toast and grilled French sardines.”

Even kids' menus—now reliably dominated by chicken fingers, pizza, PB&Js, and mac & cheese—offered far more sophisticated dining than we might expect to find, with “items such as grilled lamb chops, roast beef, and seasonal fish" on the North Coast Limited menu below. “The mid-20th century seems to have been a golden age of railroad dining,” remarks Northwestern Transportation Librarian Rachel Cole. “It was never something that railroads profited on, but they used it to compete against each other and attract passengers,” taking pride in “selections that would be rivaled in restaurants.”

The fine dining-car experience might also include novelty items passengers would be unlikely to find anywhere else, such as Northwestern Pacific’s Great Baked Potato, “a monstrous spud,” Voon explains, “that could weigh anywhere between two to five pounds” and came served with “an appropriately sized butter pat.” One can see the appeal for a food and travel enthusiast like Silverman, who had the privilege of trying dishes on most of these menus for himself.

The rest of us will have to rely on our gustatory imaginations to conjure what it might have been like to eat prime rib on the Western Star in the Pacific Northwest in the early 60s, or braised smoked pork loin on an Amtrak train in 1972. If your memories of dining on a train mostly consist of pulling soggy, microwaved “food” from steaming hot plastic bags, or munching on packaged, processed salty snacks, expand your sense of what railroad dining could be at the Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

160,000 Pages of Glorious Medieval Manuscripts Digitized: Visit the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis

We might think we have a general grasp of the period in European history immortalized in theme restaurant form as "Medieval Times." After all, writes Amy White at Medievalists.net, “from tattoos to video games to Game of Thrones, medieval iconography has long inspired fascination, imitation and veneration.” The market for swordplay, armor, quests, and sorcery has never been so crowded.

But whether the historical period we call medieval (a word derived from medium aevum, or “middle age”) resembled the modern interpretations it inspired presents us with another question entirely—a question independent and professional scholars can now answer with free, easy reference to “high-resolution images of more than 160,000 pages of European medieval and early modern codices”: richly illuminated (and amateurishly illustrated) manuscripts, musical scores, cookbooks, and much more.

The online project, called Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, houses its digital collection at the Internet Archive and represents “virtually all of the holdings of PACSCL [Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries]," a wealth of documents from Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, Swarthmore, and many more college and university libraries, as well as the American Philosophical Society, National Archives at Philadelphia, and other august institutions of higher learning and conservation.

Lehigh University “contributed 27 manuscripts amounting to about 5,000 pages,” writes White, including “a 1462 handwritten copy of Virgil’s Aeneid with penciled sketches in the margins" (see above). There are manuscripts from that period like the Italian Tractatus de maleficiis (Treatise on evil deeds), a legal compendium from 1460 with “thirty-one marginal drawings in ink” showing “various crimes (both deliberate and accidental) being committed, from sword-fights and murders to hunting accidents and a hanging.”

The Tractatus' drawings “do not appear to be the work of a professional artist,” the notes point out, though it also contains pages, like the image at the top, showing a trained illuminator's hand. The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis archive includes 15th and 16th-century recipes and extracts on alchemy, medical texts, and copious Bibles and books of prayer and devotion. There is a 1425 edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English (lacking the prologue and several tales).

These may all seem of recent vintage, relatively speaking, for a medieval archive, but the collection reaches back to the 9th century, with hundreds of documents, like the 1000 AD music manuscript above, from a far earlier time. "Users can view, download and compare manuscripts in nearly microscopic detail," notes White. "It is the nation’s largest regional online collection of medieval manuscripts," a collection scholars can draw on for centuries to come to learn what life was really like—at least for the few who could read and write—in Medieval Times.

via Medievalists.net

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912): The Truly Weird Origin of Modern Stop-Motion Animation

These days, ever more ambitions computer-animated spectacles seem to arrive in theaters every few weeks. But how many of them capture our imaginations as fully as works of the thoroughly analog art of stop-motion animation? The uncanny effect (and immediately visible labor-intensiveness) of real, physical puppets and objects made to move as if by themselves still captivates viewers young and old: just watch how the Wallace and Gromit series, Terry Gilliam's Monty Python shorts, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even the original King Kong as well as Ray Harryhausen's monsters in Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad have held up over the decades.

The filmmakers who best understand the magic of cinema still use stop-motion today, as Wes Anderson has in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. They all owe something to a Polish-Russian animator of the early-to-mid-20th century by the name of Ladislas Starevich. Longtime Open Culture readers may remember the works of Starevich previously featured here, including the Goethe adaptation The Tale of the Fox and the much earlier The Cameraman's Revenge, a tale of infidelity and its consequences told entirely with dead bugs for actors. Starevich, then the Director of the Museum of Natural History in Kaunas, Lithuania, pulled off this cinematic feat "by installing wheels and strings in each insect, and occasionally replacing their legs with plastic or metal ones," says Phil Edwards in the Vox Almanac video above.

"How Stop Motion Animation Began" comes as a chapter of a miniseries called Almanac Hollywouldn't, which tells the stories of "big changes to movies that came from outside Hollywood." It would be hard indeed to find anything less Hollywood than a man installing wheels and strings into insect corpses at a Lithuanian museum in 1912, but in time The Cameraman's Revenge proved as deeply influential as it remains deeply weird. Starevich kept on making films, and singlehandedly furthering the art of stop-motion animation, until his death in France (where he'd relocated after the Russian Revolution) in 1965.

And though Starevich may not be a household name today, Edwards reveals while tracing the subsequent history of stop-motion animation that cinema hasn't entirely failed to pay him tribute: Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox is in a sense a direct homage to The Tale of the Fox, and Gilliam has called Starevich's work "absolutely breathtaking, surreal, inventive and extraordinary, encompassing everything that Jan Svankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk and the Quay Brothers would do subsequently." He suggests that, before we enter the "mind-bending worlds" of more recent animators, we "remember that it was all done years ago, by someone most of us have forgotten about now" — and with little more than a few dead bugs at that.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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