Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Alexa Starry from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0001)

Stepping into the life of Julia Booker Thompson

Alexa Starry

Cookbooks are a wonderful way to share things through time, heritage, and generations – recipes, ideas, home remedies, you name it. They are an incredibly valuable source of information for historical narratives. When you follow a recipe that was handwritten with care by someone before you, you’re keeping a piece of that person alive. Cooking can be a beautiful, shared experience throughout history, and, in that case, cookbooks can be the blueprint for interpretations of these experiences. They can help shed a light upon the past.

Through Julia Booker Thompson’s 1898 recipe and travel book, we get a glimpse into the daily life of a woman during the nineteenth century. We know she enjoyed trying new recipes, traveled occasionally, and oftentimes looked through the newspaper for home remedies. The details in the journal point to a woman dedicated to running an efficient household, something expected of many middle- and upper-class women at the time. 

Julia’s recipe collection ranges from sponge cake to pumpkin pie to potato puffs. She includes a recipe for scalloped tomatoes which consists of tomatoes seasoned with sugar, pepper, salt, and butter, then covered with breadcrumbs and baked. There are also recipes for grape juice, orange filling, ice cream, and soda mixtures. She would often leave notes in the margins of these recipes with brief personal reviews such as “fine” and “good.” Though short, these notes are an impression of Julia’s character, her tastes and thoughts. A few of her recipes are credited to a woman named Ella Churchill, and there are also recipes from an “Aunt Florence,” the namesake behind Julia’s entry of “Aunt Florence’s Chicken Pie and Biscuits.” The preservation of cookbooks like this one give us the chance to recreate ideas, such as meals, in the present day. It is a way to vividly reimagine the past in a modern context.

Some of the most interesting things in the book are the home remedies and newspaper clippings tucked inside, including tips on how to remove mildew, a remedy for poison ivy, how to clean silk with a raw potato, a trick to remove ink stains with a “paste of sweet milk and corn meal,” and a cure for Cholera Infantum that calls for boiled strawberry leaves. These remedies not only provide a glimpse into common ailments that might afflict a household during this time, but also a look into how people were applying their knowledge and resources to fight these afflictions. 

Another noteworthy and unique component of the book is that a short portion of it serves as a travel journal. There are notes of a trip to Montreal, followed by a quick journey to St. Paul, as well. It is a look into not only the ordinary home life of Julia Booker Thompson, but also an exciting moment in time for her. 

Though we often associate women of the nineteenth century with the home, this little book shows several facets to Julia Booker Thompson. The recipes and reviews show a woman who cared about the food she cooked, and the names with the recipes show a community of women Julia found herself a part of. Paper clippings show someone interested in furthering her knowledge of best practices for a healthy, clean, and efficient household. And the unique travel log shows a woman not just confined to one space. In fact, her recipe and travel book offers a vivid and sensorial look into the past. It has been over a hundred years since Julia wrote in this book, but we are still able to see details of a life lived, of Julia’s life, live on. 

 

Further Reading:

Driver, Elizabeth. “Cookbooks as primary sources for writing history: a bibliographer’s view.” Food, Culture & Society, vol. 12, no. 3, 2009, p. 257+. Gale Academic OneFile. Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

“Everyday Life & Women in America: C.1800-1920 / from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture, Duke University, & the New York Public Library.” Marlborough, Wiltshire, England: Adam Matthew Publications, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, 2006.

Robinson, Jane. Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wessell, A. “Cookbooks for Making History: As Sources for Historians and As Records of the Past”. M/C Journal, vol. 16, no. 3, Aug. 2013.

From the Classroom–Business, Beer, and the Bible: The Case of the Maude’s Commonplace Books

“From the Classroom” is a series that features some of the great work and research from students who visit our collections. Below is a blog by Elizabeth McKay from Dr. Jennifer Burek Pierce’s class “History of Readers and Reading” (SLIS:5600:0EXW)

 

AMERICAN COOKERY MANUSCRIPTS: MAUDE, WILLIAM & JOHN. Brewer’s Duties & Commonplace Books (2), Early 19th Century, England & Frontier America. Ink, in legible hands. Leeds, England: Ca. 1820. Narrow 4to. Ca. 124 & 50 pp. Full contemporary calf., 1820


Business, Beer, and the Bible: The Case of the Maude’s Commonplace Books

By Elizabeth McKay

William Maude was born in 1787 in England, and his son John emigrated to New England. There he worked in cotton mills before moving to Delaware County, Iowa. These notebooks found their way into Iowa’s Special Collections Culinary Manuscripts collection because of the recipes they hold. Maude recorded many recipes for beer from Morrice’s Treatise on Brewing which was published in 1802. There are more than just beer recipes, though. There are also recipes for ink, medical recipes for coughs and colds, and even a tongue-in-cheek recipe for lovesickness.

Example of record keeping from Maude family

However, the primary use of these books pertained to William Maude’s job in the customs business in England. He used the notebook for calculations and charts that he would’ve copied into an official record. He also included useful reference material for work and notes on bookkeeping. Besides William Maude’s business notes, these “commonplace books” were used by his family for several generations. They continued to be used as a space for quick calculations or sometimes to practice handwriting or jot down a note.

Amidst its casual usage, the Maude family kept a record of important moves and new jobs. Other meaningful additions are a thorough scriptural index (probably copied down out of a book or periodical for the Maude’s use), hymns, fables, jokes, as well as the recipes mentioned above. These books seemed to straddle the line between holding valuable reference information and being used as a kind of collective notebook. While some entries are quick and messy, others are written in very clear and legible hand— designed to be referenced again and again.

Recipe for Brewing

It is these entries designed to be referenced that makes these volumes “commonplace books.” The term comes from a renaissance pedagogical practice of recording quotes from important works under specific sections in a notebook for memorization and reference. Scholar Ann Moss describes commonplaces as “purpose-built instruments for the collection, classified storage, and recycling of knowledge.” Commonplace books in the renaissance were defined by their “heads” that coincided with strict rules for filing quotations under their proper category. By the time the Maude family is writing, this practice is not strict at all. Today, the term “commonplace books” is used even more loosely. A commonplace book can be any sort of compiling notebook with no organizational structure. In the case of the Maude’s books, these notebooks were not used to organize their reading. Rather, they are at times just the paper at hand, at times a business record, and, occasionally, a place to store a hymn or a story. In fact, these notebooks most resemble commonplace books of old in one particular entry: the scripture index.

In the 19th century, manuals, indexes, and all varieties of textual navigation tools were published as appendixes to bibles or in separate volumes. These indexes were highly valued as reference tools to help understand the Bible. Even as the pedagogical tradition of commonplacing drifted into the past, this organizational practice remained strong as a way to understand the Bible in terms of themes. One of the Maude’s writes above the thorough index: “Select Scriptures arranged under their respective heads” — harkening to the language of an older type of commonplace book.

Portion of the religious text in these volumes

While the history of what are called “commonplace books” is rooted in educational practice and the ideal of knowledge organization. Its story throughout history is marked by a gradual decline of the ideals of organization, and the commonplace book moves more firmly into the realm of “miscellany.” This also may strike us as the story of many of our own notebooks. Beginning a new notebook with the highest of intentions, by the end, the notebook has taken on a life of its own, collecting various bits and pieces of our experiences. This seems to be the case with William and John Maude’s two volume set of commonplace books. Toward the beginning of the first volume, there is a page that reads “Contents” at the top. This attempt to categorize the contents seems to have never reached fruition— the page remains empty. The result is a delightfully messy notebook showing many facets of the Maude’s lives in the early 19th century.

 

Cited:

Moss, Ann, “Commonplace Books.” In Brill’s Encyclopaedia of the Neo-Latin World. Craig Kallendorf, Editor. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/9789004271296_enlo_B9789004271012_0019>

Images from Iowa Digital Library

 

Further Reading on Commonplace Books:

Allan, David. Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Finnegan, Ruth, Why Do we Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2011.

Morrice, Alexander. A Treatise on Brewing: Wherein Is Exhibited the Whole Process of the Art and Mystery of Brewing the Various Sorts of Malt Liquor; with Practical Examples upon Each Species. Knight and Compton, 1802.

Moss, Ann. Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought. Oxford University Press, 1996.

 

The Detroit News Menu Cook Book

 

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In August of 1920, a radio station under the name “8MK” was launched for The Detroit Evening News. Later named “WWJ”, it was the first radio station with daily programs. Less than a year after the station was launched, the radio show “Hints to Housewives” was created and later, “Tonight’s Dinner by Radio”. The show aired every morning, except for Sundays and holidays, and included ideas for evening meals and table service. Recipes for the dishes on the show were then published in the Women’s Pages of The Detroit News. However, many listeners and readers wanted a more permanent form of the recipes, so in 1933, The Detroit News published The Detroit News Menu Cook Book.

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This cookbook includes four weeks of dinner ideas for each of the four seasons, as well as meal ideas for a few major holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving. There is a wide variety in the menus included, from “Meat Loaf with Scalloped Potatoes and Mashed Turnips”, to “Calf Hearts with Onions and Parsley Potatoes”. The book even includes a recipe for “Baby Porcupines”, which do not actually contain any porcupine, but appear to be meatballs rolled in rice. Everything from Brussel sprouts to apple soufflé can be found in this book. In the back of the book is a section titled “CleaningHints”, which includes suggestions for removing stains from clothes, removing mildew spots, and even how to clean oil paintings.
Even though it is over eighty years old, this adorable purple with white polka dot cookbook could be found useful today.

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-Emily