Eating Our Way Through History: A Preview of CAP’s Historic MSU Meal Recreation

As I’m sure any of our regular readers are aware, CAP has been looking into the foodways of the early MSU campus this year.  Our ultimate goals for the project were to create a website documenting early foodways on campus, and to recreate an 1860’s MSU-inspired meal based on archaeological and archival research. Autumn is almost ready to launch our website, and our meal recreation is this Thursday, April 27!

​MSU Culinary Services will be preparing the lovely meal for us.

​MSU Culinary Services will be preparing the lovely meal for us.

We have worked closely with Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski and Chef Jay Makowski of MSU Culinary Services and Cindy Baswell of MSU Bakers to create a historic menu fit for a king… or maybe just a nineteenth-century college student. In any case, I believe this will be a delightful treat.

Here is the menu, with explanations as to why each dish was chosen:

Appetizer: Codfish Balls

Codfish balls closeup!

Codfish balls closeup! Image source

​Historic cookbook from Port Huron, MI. Image source: MSU Special Collections

​Historic cookbook from Port Huron, MI. Image source: MSU Special Collections

While we have no evidence that anyone ever made codfish balls on the early college campus, codfish was purchased by the boarding halls in the 1860s. A church cookbook from Port Huron, MI, lists this appetizing recipe:

“Parboil fish, pick it up; mash a few potatoes, mix well with the fish; add a little butter, enough sweet cream to moisten, then make in small cakes, dip into corn meal and fry in pork gravy.”

Basically, it is a fancy fish stick that will clog your arteries faster than you can say “I love Midwestern cuisine!” So naturally, we had to include it as our appetizer.

Main Dishes: Walleye; Spiced Beef; Turkey with Oyster Dressing; Beef Tongue

What initially inspired our meal recreation was the food remains found in a privy excavated on campus in 2015. Many fish bones were encountered, including walleye, a quintessential Midwestern fish. There is no mention of walleye in the boarding house account books, so this fish may have been caught locally rather than purchased.

Beef was purchased by the early college boarding halls and undoubtedly was a common item on their menu. A menu from 1884 (for the Class of ’86) lists both “pressed beef” and “beef tongue, spiced” on the menu. Both pressed beef and spiced beef are brined and cooked slowly, then pressed and served cold. Spiced beef has, well, more spices and presumably more flavor, and it is common in nineteenth-century cookbooks, so we selected that as our primary beef dish. Beef tongue is also frequently featured in historic cookbooks, and we threw it in there just to have a more oddball option that we can dare our guests (and ourselves) to try!

​Beef tongue - you know you want to try it!

​Beef tongue – you know you want to try it! Image source

Turkey was a special dish served at the Agricultural College. It was purchased seasonally for Thanksgiving and early students took part in hunting and feasting on wild turkeys as well. We have written much about oysters on our blog in the past, and so we felt we had to include them in our dinner. Since we felt we should adhere to the historic habit of consuming canned oysters, which sound wholly unappealing, we decided to incorporate them into a stuffing for the turkey. Together, the turkey and stuffing represent the “special occasion” dish for this meal.

Sides: Chow-Chow; Potato Croquettes

​Chow-chow. Evidently still popular in Tennessee

​Chow-chow. Evidently still popular in Tennessee. Image Source

Chow-chow is a popular vegetable relish in the nineteenth century, and it is still popular in parts of the South. Made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, as well as with other vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, it consists of foods that would have been easily grown in the college gardens. Chow-chow is also featured on the 1884 banquet menu, suggesting it was an important and common side on historic tables.

Potato croquettes are basically deep-fried mashed potato balls, so naturally we wanted to eat them. A cookbook from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Lansing (ca. 1890) had a whole section devoted to croquettes, suggesting their local popularity. Early campus boarding halls did sometimes purchase potatoes, but also grew their own, as student work logs record them “working in potatoes” and “hoeing potatoes and peas” in 1869.

Desserts: Ginger Cake; Charlotte Russe with Raspberries

Is this what we mean by "ginger cake"?

Is this what we mean by “ginger cake”? Image source

It is apparent from nineteenth century cookbooks and banquet menus that cake was a popular dessert. And can you blame them? Cake is amazing. There is nothing in the MSU records specifically mentioning ginger cake, since specific recipes weren’t written down and specific spices were never recorded in the account books. In his diary, Edward Granger mentions stealing cakes from “downstairs” (presumably the kitchens) and eating ginger snaps at Christmas in 1859. Recipes for gingerbreads and cakes are abundant in historic cookbooks, meaning it was likely a common dessert at the time.

Our final dish will be Charlotte Russe. Nowhere is this fancy molded dessert of custard, gelatin, and cake mentioned in the MSU records but it is heavily featured in historic cookbooks, as are molded and gelatin desserts in general. Furthermore, an abundance of raspberry seeds were found in the historic privy on campus, so the raspberries will be incorporated into the meal in the Charlotte Russe.

Bread: Graham Bread

Graham bread is just a fancy term for whole wheat bread. While today we consider whole wheat to be the healthiest and premium flour, in the past it was not considered as refined as bleached white flour. The early boarding halls purchased graham flour and undoubtedly made much of their bread and rolls using it. It may sound like a healthy component of our meal, but historic recipes often incorporate molasses into the bread.

​We will eat many grams of graham bread

​We will eat many grams of graham bread. Image source.

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We are very much looking forward to our lovely meal on Thursday. Invitations have been sent out and we hope to have a wonderful time with guests from across the campus. Autumn will be writing a summary of the event, so look for that next week!

 

Sources:

What the Baptist Brethren Eat, and How the Sisters Serve It, a variety of useful and reliable recipes compiled by the Ladies of the first Baptist Church, Port Huron, Mich. Times Company, Port Huron, 1876.

Michigan State University Archives:

Edward Granger Papers, UA10.3.56
Diary of E.G. Granger, 1859

Peter H. Felker Papers, UA10.3.44, Folder 2, Box F.D.
Peter Felker Diary, 1869

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Vol. 32,
“Accounts 1867-1873”.

The Udderly Legen-dairy History of Dairying at MSU: Part II

You heard me wax poetic about dairy and the history of dairy production in my previous blog. However, as I pointed out then, the importance of dairy at MSU lies not only in the delicious cheese and ice cream produced but also in dairy education and research. The Dairy Department, and now jointly the Department of Food Science and Nutrition and the Department of Animal Science, have carried on a tradition of instruction of students, research, and outreach since the founding of MSU.

Students Attending first Dairy course, ca. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Students Attending first Dairy course, ca. 1895. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Professor C.D. Smith (Anthony 1929)

Professor C.D. Smith (Anthony 1929)

No official courses on dairying were taught in the earliest days of the College, although its tenets and techniques were incorporated into more general instruction. Professor Peter M. Harwood was first to bear the title of Instructor in Dairying, which he received in 1892, but was succeeded in 1983 by Clinton D. Smith. Smith strongly believed in the potential for Michigan to develop a strong dairy industry and therefore offered the first dairy course at the college in the winter of 1894/1895. These early courses were taught in the basement of the Agricultural Laboratory, which is now known as Cook Hall. A new building, which housed both Dairy and Forestry classes, was built in 1900, modern-day Chittenden Hall. In 1910, courses offered included Elementary Dairying, Creamery Butter Making, Cheese Making, and Market Milk (Anthony 1929).

Agricultural Laboratory (aka Cook Hall – on right) and the Dairy and Forestry Building (aka Chittenden Hall) (left). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Agricultural Laboratory (aka Cook Hall – on right) and the Dairy and Forestry Building (aka Chittenden Hall) (left). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cheese-making class, 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Cheese-making class, 1915. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

As recounted in my previous post, the first building completely devoted to dairy education and manufacturing, the aptly-named Dairy Building, was constructed in 1913. It was the home of the first Dairy Plant, housed all dairy courses and faculty offices, and contained state-of-the-art laboratories for that time. Graduate courses were added in 1920, and following Dr. Ernest L. Anthony’s appointment as Head of the Dairy Department in 1928, the curriculum had expanded to include Farm Dairying, Dairy Standards and Tests, History of Dairy Cattle, Market Milk, Milk Production, Elements of Dairying, Advanced Dairy Cattle Judging, Advanced Dairy Products Judging, Dairy Farm Management, Butter Making, General Dairy Production, Plant Management, Ice Cream Making, Cheese Making, Concentrated Milk Products, and Dairy Seminar (Anthony 1929:4-5)

Dairy Science Building, no date. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Dairy Science Building, no date. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The Dairy Department (later called the Department of Dairy Science) was ultimately absorbed by the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition and the Dept. of Animal Science. Today among the only courses specific to dairy foods is FSC 432 Food Processing: Dairy Foods, and the general principals of food science are taught in courses such as Food Safety, Food Chemistry, and Food Microbiology, and Food Engineering. Animal Science offers courses in Dairy Farm, Herd, Feed, and Cattle Management; Diary Cattle Judging; Dairy Growth, Health and Lactation in Dairy Cattle; just to name a few.

Research Papers by G. Malcolm Trout (courtesy John Partridge)

Research Papers by G. Malcolm Trout (courtesy John Partridge)

Research has also been important component of the dairy curriculum at MSU. In 1896, Dr. Charles E. Marshall arrived at the college and became a pioneer in the field of bacteriology, all through his research on the bacteriology of milk (Anthony 1929:3-4). Early faculty and students also conducted extensive work in dairy cattle breeding (Anthony 1929:10). Malcolm Trout, a professor at Michigan State between 1928 and 1966, discovered how to homogenize milk by linking it to the process of pasteurization, the combined techniques which are integral to commercial milk sales. C. F. Huffman was a leader in the field of the effects of animal nutrition on production, while research and publications on market milk and ice cream were also spearheaded by the department (Trout 1955).

Dairy Lab Research, date unknown (Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections)

Dairy Lab Research, date unknown (Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections)

Dairy recruitment brochure, date unknown (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 9)

Dairy recruitment brochure, date unknown (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 9).

Much of the current research conducted within the Department of Food Science and Nutrition now focuses to expand the use of underutilized commodities, using by-products of the meat and dairy processing industries; and to determine how the biochemical and physical properties of foods influence their quality and safety. The Animal Science department researches bovine lactation biology, including regulation and manipulation of ruminant lipid metabolism and the impact of milk on human health.

Babcock Test lab kit (courtesy John Partridge)

Babcock Test lab kit (courtesy John Partridge)

Outreach and collaboration with local Michigan farmers has also been a priority of the dairy department. Dissemination of latest developments by researchers both at Michigan State and elsewhere through farmers’ institutes has a history extending back to 1871 (Trout 1955). The Babcock test, a method for testing milk fat content which was developed at the University of Wisconsin, was brought to farmers in 1892 and demonstrated the need for quality control of milk products (Anthony 1929). Also part of the diary extension work has been the development of Michigan’s farm youth through organizations such as 4H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) (Trout 1955). Today, MSU is active in outreach with the Michigan Dairy Youth Program and 4H, and the Dairy Extension program is still active in engaging with the public and with dairy educators across the state. They have also added online resources, bringing outreach into the modern age.

Instructing students in dairy judging (Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections)

Instructing students in dairy judging (Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections)

Michigan State University has not only been a center of production for dairy products, but perhaps more importantly has played a central role in scientific innovation for improving food safety standards, food production, and production and manufacturing efficiency. It has also served to utilize this research by educating students in both the practical and scientific aspects of dairying and production and by disseminating new information to farmers across the state.

So next time you sit down and eat your Dairy Store ice cream, take the time to appreciate all that past MSU researchers and educators have done to make it safe and… udderly delicious.

 

Sources:

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections

Madison Kuhn Collection. UA17.107, Folder 3, Box 2411.
L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.

UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 14
Malcolm Trout, Two Hundred and Fifty Years of Michigan Dairying,1955.

Online sources:

http://www.fshn.msu.edu/

http://www.ans.msu.edu/

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/dairy

Paste and the Past: Scrapbooks as a Source for Understanding Campus Culture

Cover of scrapbook. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Cover of scrapbook #50. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Here at CAP, we find artifacts of the past that are generally not meant to have been found (e.g. items from trash pits or ruined buildings or privies). In contrast, the scrapbooks curated by MSU Archives contain elements that students found so important that they preserved them in personal record books. The college used to give scrapbooks to students and while most of these did not end up in the University Archives collection, quite a few did. Flipping through these scrapbooks gives current students a glimpse into student life 100+ years ago and I must say the old adage is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same!

some fraternity shenanigans (Scrapbook #57) Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Some fraternity shenanigans (Scrapbook #57)Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

scrapbook made by male student with "classroom boneheads" (Scrapbook #47). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Scrapbook made by male student with “classroom boneheads” (Scrapbook #47). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

For my gendered landscapes project, I spent a lot of time looking through scrapbooks made by female students. While doing my search, I noticed some patterns. Grades were rarely, if ever, recorded. Instead, there are dance cards, photographs, drawings, sorority and literary club information, flyers for events, postcards from travels, and clippings from newspapers. When I went through the male scrapbooks last year, I found the same patterns (though, to be honest, much more emphasis on sports photos!). Initially, I started reviewing the scrapbooks to fill out some gaps in my gendered landscapes paper. I wanted to get a sense of how the female students might have experienced restrictions in movement around the campus, but what I started to realize was I had to do a lot of reading between the lines. Instead of looking for injustices or exclusionary actions, I started to focus on what the students focused on: what was important enough to record? Who is being photographed and why? Where do students like to hang out? Why is there little focus on any negative experience? Why are particular themes from newspaper clippings highlighted? What else was going on culturally, historically, and socially at the time of each scrapbook?

Felt MAC letters sewn by male student (Scrapbook #331). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Felt MAC letters sewn by male student (Scrapbook #331). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“The Art of Fancy Work” student project inside Hugh Irvin Glazier’s scrapbook #350. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“The Art of Fancy Work” student project inside Hugh Irvin Glazier’s scrapbook #350. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

My biggest surprise was not in the female scrapbooks, but in the ones created by male students. I admit that I was expecting to see a lot of emphasis on sports and fraternities, and those themes were indeed very present. However, what I have found in scrapbooks made by both sexes was a seeming ability to find importance in courses that we might today label “female” or in courses that we might assume were filled with male students. Photos of women, (presumably enrolled in the Home Economics course of study offered to female students beginning in 1896) working in chemistry and biology laboratories were commonplace. Male students proudly scrapbooked their attempts at sewing and domestic arts, so we can assume that these courses were open and welcoming to men. The classroom, then, was not a site of restriction by sex.

Styles of scrapbooks change, but this is a popular style for a few years (first two pages) (Scrapbook #320). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Styles of scrapbooks change, but this is a popular style for a few years (first two pages) (Scrapbook #320). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

It might not seem like a distinction worth discussing now since integrated classrooms have been part of a long campus tradition, but in the early years (precisely the ones we are interested in archaeologically) this integration cannot be assumed. It is especially useful for CAP to review these scrapbooks as we study the material culture of the past so that we do not overstate restrictions or underestimate the early campus experience. From these scrapbooks, we do see continued exclusions based on sex (try to find a woman in one of the sporting event pictures – it’s like trying to find Waldo!) but not to the extent that we might think. The scrapbooks, while fun to go through, also teach us a valuable lesson in using all data sources to best approximate the reality of the past.

 

The University Archives occasionally posts about the scrapbooks – visit their site and search for the tag “scrapbooks”: https://msuarchives.wordpress.

The Udderly Legen-dairy History of Dairying at MSU: Part I

I am a Midwestern stereotype: I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. We sold our milk to a creamery in the Cheese Curd Capital of the World (Ellsworth, WI). Milk runs through my veins. I admire my vegan friends for their ability to resist the creamy deliciousness of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, without which I would languish in despair. As you can guess, my interest in anything dairy-related is rather high.

Therefore I was delighted upon my arrival in East Lansing to discover the MSU Dairy Store. Most of you who have spent any time at MSU are familiar with the delicious flavors of the ice cream and cheese produced here on campus. Since we are in the middle of project documenting early foodways of the college, I thought it would be fun to explore a topic integral to both my personal history and the agricultural origins of MSU. This first in a series of two blogs about the history of MSU dairying will chronicle dairy production and manufacturing on campus.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd.E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the earliest days of the College, the only cows on campus were kept by the families of the professors. Frank S. Kedzie, a former MSC president, was the son of one of the first professors, recalls that his mother made the first cheese on the campus grounds (UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411). In 1867, Dr. Manley Miles, Professor of Practical Agriculture, bought the first dairy cattle for the college, which were Ayrshires. Jerseys were added to the herd in 1871, and the first Holsteins, the black and white standard dairy cattle, arrived in 1880 (Anthony 192: 12-13). Brown Swiss and Guernseys were slowly added into the mix, as well. We know from the early account books that the boarding halls were acquiring milk from the early herds of the  Farm Department by 1871, if not before.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The first dedicated Dairy Barn was built in 1900 and held 100 cows. A new barn was constructed in 1929, which could house almost 150 heads of cattle and contained the most up-to-date equipment of that time (Anthony 1929:19). While updates were part of the reason for this move, another reason was disease. Tuberculosis wiped out most of the herd in 1904 (Anderson 1929), and contagious disease continued to plague the herd in the decades after. Those in charge of the dairy hoped the move to a new, sanitary location would break the disease cycle (Anthony 1929:16).

The first building containing a plant dedicated to dairy manufacturing was constructed in 1913. Known as the Dairy Building, it was located on the north end of Farm Lane and cost $55,000 (Anthony 1929:16). It contained a well-equipped creamery for the practical training of the students. The original Dairy Store was opened in this building, although the exact date of this event is unknown.

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913) Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913). Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

The Dairy Department and Plant remained in the Dairy Building until 1954, when Anthony Hall was constructed. Letters from the Michigan Agricultural Conference (1948), Michigan Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (1950) and Michigan Livestock Improvement Association (1952) to the state complained about the poor facilities and outdated equipment of the Dairy Building plant and called for improved agricultural, livestock, and dairy facilities at MSC (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8). Following the construction of Anthony Hall—which was named after Ernest L. Anthony, the former head of the Dairy Department—the new dairy plant was highly productive. They provided milk to all of the residence halls, and made products such as chocolate milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dry milk, butter, and, of course, cheese and ice cream (including ice cream bars).

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can. Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. John Partridge, an emeritus faculty member of both the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition and the Dept. of Animal Science, could be considered the Oral Historian of dairying on campus. He showed me and Lisa, our Campus Archaeologist, his stash of old dairying equipment, packaging, and photos from the mid-century era of the Dairy Plant. It provided us insight into the type of things we might encounter during our archaeological investigations on campus, such as historic milk bottles, bottle crates, and milk cans.

According to Partridge, the high level of productivity during the 1960’s become a point of contention with local private dairies, who did not feel it was fair that the MSU Dairy should have a monopoly on the campus milk market. Therefore, the dairy plant closed in 1968. In the meantime, local dairies found out how difficult it was to handle the fluctuating demands for milk of a college campus, and the dairy plant opened up again in the early 1970s. After this time the plant ceased to distribute fluid milk. The plant was gutted in the early 1990s and refitted with updated equipment.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Engstrom, the Dairy Complex Manager, kindly gave Dr. Goldstein and several CAP fellows (myself included) a tour of the dairy plant in early February. The facilities are spacious, shiny, and clean, and we saw the production of the curd for cheeses take place, which thrilled this Cheesehead. Some of those curds were bagged and sold the following day in that form, while the others were packaged into box forms to be pressed and aged and sold as various kinds of block cheese later on.

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall. Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dairy Plant currently focuses on producing shelf-stable cheese and ice cream. They produce 40,000 gallons in 40 different flavors of ice cream each year and 40,000 lbs of cheese in 11 different types or flavors. The milk is supplied by the 180 cows milked on campus in the Dairy Teaching and Resource center, as well as those milked in the Pasture Dairy center in the Kellogg Biological Station (although cream is acquired from another source). The MSU Dairy Store is both locally and nationally renowned, and you can even order their products online here.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the long history of diary production and manufacturing on the Michigan State Campus is intriguing, the role of dairy in our institution extends far beyond just the delicious output of the Dairy Store. Part II of this series will explore the illustrious history of diary research and education and MSU, so stay tuned!

 

Sources:

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

Madison Kuhn Collection. UA17.107, Folder 3, Box 2411
E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 2411, Folder 2
A.C. Anderson, “The Dairy Herd” (1929)

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411
F.S. Kedzie, Letter to Mr. G.A. Bowling, Graduate Assistant in Dairy Husbandry, ca. 1955.

UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8

Accounting for Historic MSU Foodways

Last semester I focused much of my attention on the account books from the boarding halls (i.e, dining halls) during the Early Period of MSU history. The books cover a period from 1866 to 1874, during which the school was known as the State Agricultural College. While I have written about some of the information gleaned from these books (check them out here and here), below are some final themes and observations:

Food Logistics and Transportation

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references - says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references – says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Today, MSU faces the challenge of keeping its many cafeterias and coffee shops stocked with enough food to feed 40,000 students on a daily basis. While this is quite a feat, they have the advantage of modern transportation and bulk food suppliers to make the task a bit easier. Although the student population was much smaller in the nineteenth century, it must have been a great challenge for the State Agricultural College to acquire the amount of food needed to feed the students and faculty, considering the limited amount of transportation available in and out of East Lansing at the time. Railroads reached Lansing by at least the 1860s, but all roads leading into campus/East Lansing were reportedly very poor, making the delivery of goods from town an unsavory task for horses and wagons (UA.17.107 F10 B2410). However, certain items were ordered via mail or train, such as teas and extracts, which are always noted to have the added expense of “express”. The first direct railroad line between Detroit and Lansing opened up in August of 1871 (MDOT 2014), and the first mention of food items being purchased occurred in April of 1872, when “express on extracts from Detroit” was paid. By early 1873, “freight from Detroit” was a very common listing amongst provisions purchases, indicating a change in the ways in which food was being procured and perhaps even influencing the types of foods being selected. “Fresh fish from Detroit” became increasingly more common after this time as well.

Fry Me an Egg and Butter My Biscuit:

Much of what is listed in the account books is eggs and butter. Eggs and butter. Butter and eggs. Over and over again. It’s obvious that these items were important ingredients for the boarding hall cooks. Sometimes the accountant listed the people from whom butter and eggs were purchased, usually the names of individuals. The college therefore had to coordinate with various local farmers and producers to procure enough eggs and butter to feed hundreds of students and faculty. In May of 1871, one account book (UA 107.17 Vol. 32) lists payments for 273 pounds of butter and for 246 dozen eggs! Can you feel your arteries clogging?

Self-Sustainability at the Agricultural College

While it might be assumed that an agricultural college would produce a lot of its own food, evidence of this in the account books is sparse. Not until 1871 does one account book specifically list vegetables purchased from the “garden” (and later the Horticulture Department). Garden purchases include items such beets, parsnips, salsify, pickles, onions, cabbage, and carrots (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). In 1872 they begin listing purchases of meat and milk from the Farm Department. The boarding hall bought 6838 lbs. (795 gallons) of milk from the MAC farm in June of 1872 alone! It must be assumed that the boarding hall was acquiring food from the Horticulture and Farm Departments prior to this date, but did not record these as monetary transactions prior to the school’s expansion post-1870. Therefore, while food needed to be purchased from sources outside of the college, it was partially self-sustaining. In 1872, Beal himself mentions that crops in garden did well and were used in the boarding halls, but that the “orchards and fruit gardens are a disgrace to the Agricultural College” (UA 17.4, B891, F16). Records we found from 1863 indicated plans for a pear orchard on campus (UA 17.107, F2412,) – this was evidently not very successful.

So…What Else Were They Buying?

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

While the account books give us good information about the types of raw foods being purchased, there are a lot of specifics that get left out because of the nature of the account book listings. Meat was purchased almost exclusively from a butcher named A. Bertch – he was billed monthly but the types of meats purchased are usually not listed. Some individual meat purchases were recorded – veal, beef, mutton, and pork were all offered on the boarding hall menu at some point or another. Flour was purchased in bulk from vendors like Thoman & Co. and Reitz & Beiderslatt. “Groceries” were obtained from the grocers E.B. Miller and J. Esselstyne & Son, and the details of the items within those bulk purchases are lost to time.

It’s clear from these books that some foods were reserved for special occasions or came at too high a price to buy in bulk for students. President Abbot purchased beef steak, veal, and oysters through the college account (UA 17.107, Vol. 32), all items that do not frequently appear in the books otherwise. Canned oysters were purchased for students only occasionally: “oysters and jelly for commencement” and “18 cans of oysters, supper for students, Week of Fires” both show up in 1871 (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). Who knew canned oysters were such a special treat?

Canned Oysters - mmmm!!! Image source

Canned Oysters – mmmm!!! Image source

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the account books have given us a good idea of the types of foods being purchased and consumed. While the types of food chosen for consumption are strongly tied to culture, so too are methods of food preparation and dishes/recipes – all of it is part of cuisine, or food culture. In the coming weeks I will be exploring what dishes were prepared from the ingredients that were purchased—as well as how these dishes were received by the students.

 

References:

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA.17.107 Folder 10, Box 2410, “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 52, Box 2412, “Pear Orchard Report,” 16 June, 1863.

Beal Papers, UA 17.4, Box 891, Folder 16, “Reports to the President of MAC”, 11 Nov. 1872.

Michigan’s Railroad History 1825-2014. Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, 2014. Accessed online at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Michigan_Railroad_History_506899_7.pdf

The Kitchen Girls Part 2: Early Campus Female Life

In my last blog I introduced the female employees working at the Saint’s Rest boarding hall in 1866. These 33 women were paid an average of $2.00 – $2.50 a week for their work and were purchasing personal items through the university, charged against their monthly pay. Their purchases don’t appear to be work related; rather they are personal in nature. So let’s take a moment to further examine what these women were buying.

Corsets

Page of Saint's Rest Account Book showing corset purchases. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Page of Saint’s Rest Account Book showing corset purchases. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Corsets were the first things that caught my eye in these boarding hall purchasing records. On April 19th, 1866 seven of the women purchases corsets at a cost of $2.50 each. That’s an entire week’s pay!

Today wearing a corset may seem odd (although in some circles they are making a comeback) but the 1860s were at the height of the Victorian era (1837-1901), when corset wearing wasn’t just the norm, but was expected of women in order to obtain an ideal form. Because some of the women were also separately purchasing whalebone (at $0.15 a piece), we can deduce that they were not purchasing corsets with pre-weaved boning, which became popular (but more expensive) in the 1860s.

Whalebone corset c. 1864. Image Source - Victoria & Albert Museum

Whalebone corset c. 1864. Image Source – Victoria & Albert Museum

Balmoral Skirt

Balmoral Skirt. Image Source: American Textile History Museum

Balmoral Skirt. Image Source: American Textile History Museum

In May of 1866 Millie Trevallee purchased a balmoral skirt for the whopping price of $5.75. A balmoral skirt, or petticoat, is worn over a hoop skirt. There are several entries for girls purchasing hoop skirts. A hoop skirt gave the structural component to the large full dress skirts in fashion during this era. A balmoral petticoat was made of colored or patterned fabric and intended to show at the bottom of a dress. The most common type of Balmoral skirt was made of red wool with 2-4 black stripes running around the hem. In the late 1860s other patterns became popular as the trend spread through different levels of society.

Fabric

Sewing machine invented in the early 1850s lead to mass production of clothing. However, due to the amount of raw fabric being purchased, it’s likely that these women were making their own clothing. The rural nature of the area, and their socio-economic status may explain the lack of pre-made clothing. The kitchen girls were purchasing muslin, printed fabric ( such as gingham), cotton fabric, ladies cloth (a lightweight multipurpose fabric), bishop lawn (light weight slightly blue cotton fabric), silk, and a variety of colored fabric (such as pink and purple). They also purchased trim, ruffling, buttons, and hook and eye closures.

Saint's Rest Account Book showing purchase of hoop skirt, fabric, medicine and other personal items. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Saint’s Rest Account Book showing purchase of hoop skirt, fabric, medicine and other personal items. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Ayer's Ague Cure Ad - Image Source

Ayer’s Ague Cure Ad – Image Source

Medicine

Most of the entries related to health purchases are vague such as pills, “Doctor Bill”, “Paid to Dentist”, or “1 chicken for Mary Bage (sick)”. However a few purchases give us a glimpse into the medical issues and treatments of the time. Several women made purchases of iron tinctures, quinine, and Ague Cure. The iron tincture is a bit more straightforward than the quinine and Ague Cure. Today quinine may only sound familiar to as an ingredient in tonic (it’s what gives tonic it’s bitter flavor), but historically this was used to treat malaria and other ailments. Since malaria isn’t exactly common place in Lansing, it’s more likely that Ada was using it for one of it’s other purpose – such as treating a fever of another cause. The Ague Cure she also purchased in June was also used for fever and chills, known commonly as “malarial disorders”.

This is not a complete list of the items purchased by the female employees, but they are perhaps the most interesting.  Although clothing related purchases dominate the 1866 record they were also incurring expenses for mending shoes, purchasing stamps, and travel.  These account books have provided a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of early female university employees.  They have also allowed us to begin to understand part campus history that we have not yet uncovered in the archaeology of campus.

References:

http://www.maggiemayfashions.com/corsets.html

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-and-crinolines-in-victorian-fashion/

http://thedreamstress.com/2012/11/terminology-what-is-a-balmoral-petticoat/

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA 17.107 Box 1140 Folder 8

Madison Kuhn Collection 17.107 Box 1141 Folder 66

UA 17.107 Box 2461 Item #40

Seasons’ Eatings! Seasonality of Food Acquisition and Consumption on the Early MSU Campus

Behold the Seasonal Bounty!" (source: https://janebaileybain.com/2011/11/24/thanksgiving-traditions/)

Behold the Seasonal Bounty! Image Source

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the long winter holiday season, and as we don our elastic-wasted pants and prepare to eat until we hate ourselves, there seems no better time to, once again, talk about food. As you sit down to your holiday meal this week, take some time to think about the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving. Some of the signature dishes include items such as cranberries, yams, apples, squashes, and pumpkins. These are late-autumn harvest foods, and they demonstrate how deeply food traditions are embedded in the seasonality.

What is seasonality, you may ask? The term refers to foods, usually fruits and vegetables, that are only available during the season of the year in which they ripen or are harvested. In our modern world of industrialized agriculture and global markets, it is easy to forget that people were once at the mercy of the nature for their food. In the past, fresh fruits and vegetables were not available all year round like many types of produce are now. Today, once-seasonal foods can now be grown in climates that produce year-round or in specialized greenhouses, and then distributed across the world via modern transportation. That’s not to say that we are not completely unaffected by seasonality, but societies in the past, including the early MSU population, were affected by it to a much greater degree.

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint's Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint’s Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

During MSU’s Early Period (1855-1870), the boarding houses, or dining halls, faced the challenge of feeding hundreds of students based on the availability of local resources. Routinely transporting foods in from long distances would likely have been generally too difficult and costly during most of this early period. A report from 1874 notes that there was a railroad to Lansing but none to campus, and all roads leading into campus were very poor. Therefore, acquiring food from MSU’s own fields, gardens, and livestock, and purchasing additional foodstuffs from local farmers and stores would have been the preferred and necessary means by which to procure food.

I and other CAP fellows have been mining account books from the early days of the college and boarding halls to determine early food purchasing habits. In three separate receipt books, all spanning the general time frame between 1866 and 1874 (which captures the end of the Early Period and the beginning of the Expansion Period), food seasonality patterns become strongly apparent.

The boarding house bought berries exclusively between July and September, while cherries are purchased almost every year, only in the month of July. Other summer items purchased only in summer months include plums, tomatoes, beets, radishes, summer squash, and salsify, a root vegetable that tastes like oysters (what a treat!). Grapes and pears, which are available in the fall, were both purchased in November, and turnips, and autumnal vegetable indeed, were procured in August and September. Dried fruit, dried apples, and dried peaches, however, were purchased mostly between February and April, although dried peaches were also bought in July. Therefore in the absence of fresh fruit, it seems dried alternatives were sought to supplement the daily nutrition of students and faculty.

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa." (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/salsify

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa. Image source

Other seasonal items were also noted in the account books. Maple syrup was purchased in March and April, when sap would be flowing freely through the Michigan maple trees. MSU diners happily guzzled down cider as the apples ripened and the weather turned chilly from September to November. And of course, MSU maintained holiday traditions as well. Pumpkins were bought annually in October, either for decoration or consumption, and large numbers of turkeys were procured in November. Even our earliest students were lulled into tryptophan comas following their Thanksgiving feasts.

So let us follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and dine upon the season’s ripest and most delectable comestibles. Let the starch of yams and squashes fill our bellies, the juice of cranberries stain our tongues, and the grease of turkey glisten upon our hands and faces. ‘Tis the season, the season for eating!

 

Sources:

Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 10, Box 2410, UA.17.107; “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/to_everything_there_is_a_season_understanding_seasonality_in_michigan

http://www.sustainablebabysteps.com/seasonal-foods.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragopogon_porrifolius

Rim Diameter for President!: An Archaeological Distraction for Your Anxious Election Day

Hopefully, like me, you have already voted today and are awaiting the results.  While we all wait anxiously to hear what the next four years will be like, let me distract you with some good, old fashioned archaeology.  In my last blog post, “Let’s Dine Like it’s 1872!,” I explored archival evidence for a diverse set of college-owned dinner wares within the Saint’s Rest boarding hall, signaling that the college at this time followed the Victorian ideal of mealtime as one of education and conspicuous presentation.  Since that time, we in the Campus Archaeology lab have been classifying and measuring dinner wares from the Early Period (1855-1870) of campus that were recovered through various archaeological excavations.  What we have found matches quite closely with the information seen in the archival documents, but also presents us with aspects that were left out.

"Berlin Swirl" pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

“Berlin Swirl” pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

For this work, we have been identifying specific vessels, which were then analyzed for a number of characteristics.  While this work is still underway, we do have some preliminary results to share.  During this time, most of the college-owned vessels were white ironstone dishes, which were much cheaper alternatives to the fancier, porcelain dish sets so popular with the upper class.  While these dishes were not colorful, many of them have different embossed designs on the rim, such as the Berlin Swirl pattern, a wheat pattern, or a scalloped decagonal pattern.  A few were plain white dishes with no designs at all.  Many of these dishes have maker’s marks, all coming from pottery manufacturers over in England, such as Davenport, J. and G. Meakin, Liddle Eliot and Sons, and Wedgewood.

"Wheat Pattern" plate produced by J.&G Meakin. Photo source : Lisa Bright

“Wheat Pattern” plate produced by J.&G Meakin. Photo source : Lisa Bright

"Fig Pattern" plate produced by Wedgwood. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Fig Pattern” plate produced by Wedgwood. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Thanks to further archival research done by CAP fellow Autumn Beyer, we can presume that these different designs do not represent different functional sets owned by the college, such as dinner sets, tea sets, or lunch sets, but instead represent different purchasing episodes.  In the purchasing records from MSU in 1862, we have evidence that the college did not buy all of their dishes at one time, but were buying a small number of them each month (MSU Archives: Kuhn Collection Volume 91-Agricultural Boarding Hall).  As the student population grew and as dishes broke, the college needed to acquire more, possibly buying them from different grocers.  This might be why different dish patterns are represented, as different grocers could have had different selections.  The stock of the grocers may also have changed based on the availability of different imported dishes and what was popular for that year, so it may have been difficult for the college to buy replacement dishes that matched their original set.

Small "Scalloped Decagonal" bowl produced by Davenport. Image source: Lisa Bright

Small “Scalloped Decagonal” bowl produced by Davenport. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Rim diameter and vessel height data also provide further evidence that a number of different vessel types and sizes were present.  Among the plates, at least four sizes were represented.  While there is some minor variation due to refitting, incompleteness, and different manufactures, plates tend to group around a 6.5 inch diameter small plate, a 7.5 inch medium plate, a 9.5 inch large plate, and an 11 inch very large plate or small platter.  Two diameters of bowls were present, small bowls that were only 5.5 inches in diameter or smaller and larger bowls with diameters around 9.5 inches.  These bowls also had different depths. Of the large bowls, some had depths of 1.5 inches while others had depths of 2 inches, suggesting that these bowls had different functions.  The small bowls all tended to be shallower, with depths of around 1 inch.  Besides bowls and plates, other dishes represented include saucers, handle-less cups, deep casserole-like dishes, and other serving dishes that were more fragmented and difficult to identify.  While different styles of cups and saucers were represented, all of them tended to be the same shape and size, only differing in their embossed designs.

"Scalloped Decagonal" serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Scalloped Decagonal” serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Photo source: Lisa Bright

This archaeological data further corroborates the information found in archival documents and demonstrates the power of using these tools in tandem.  When only archival resources were used, it was clear that the college owned a number of dishes of various types that were used as dinner ware, a dining style typical of wealthier Victorian Era families.  What these sources did not make clear was the type of dishes that were used.  Were they expensive porcelain dishes or cheaper ironstone?  Were they plain dishes or decorated with elaborate glazes or painted designs?  Archaeological data, on the other hand, can tell us more about the types of dishes used, how cheaply they could be purchased, and what they looked like, but it cannot inform us about the total amounts of dishes and dish types that were present, or how the college went about procuring these items.  Together, the use of both archival and archaeological information helps to paint a more complete image of what life was like for the first students that attended MSU.  Dining was a much more elaborate affair than it is now, involving the use of numerous specialized dishes that were meant to educate students about proper behavior and to demonstrate their middle-class status.  MSU, despite not having great amounts of money, must have believed this practice to be important for the well-being and education of the students; therefore, they invested hundreds of dollars into buying cheaper versions of these dishes.  Based on the great variety of designs present, the college must have had a difficult time finding dishes that matched when it came time to replace or expand the number of dishes.  Overall, by combining these two types of data, it can allow archaeologists to create a more accurate and life-like vison of the past, one where the anger of those who had to replace broken dishes and could not find the same type of designs can reverberate through history.

 

References:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.

Here Fishy Fishy: Fish Importation in the 1860s

As I have been going through the purchasing records for the Agricultural Boarding Hall at the MSU Archives, I’ve noticed some interesting purchases that I did not expect to run across. These are the purchasing notes for imported fish, including Lake Superior Whitefish and Halibut. I am particularly interested in the importation of the Lake Superior Whitefish because I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right across the street from Lake Superior. Growing up in Marquette Michigan, Lake Superior Whitefish was a staple in our house and is very common at local restaurants in town. I was surprised to find it purchased by Michigan State during the Early Period! The archival records show that during the 1860s, not only was MSU was purchasing Lake Superior Whitefish, but that they were doing it throughout the year. During the Early Period of MSU (1855-1870), I was expecting that almost all food resources that MSU utilized would be local, because of the difficult nature of transporting more exotic/distant food. To be able to transport fish from Lake Superior to MSU, the fish would have to be either transported on ice (more difficult to do during the summer months) or they would have been salted to preserve them.

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint's Rest) - lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint’s Rest) – lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Before I dive into the history of fishing on Lake Superior, here is a quick background information on Lake Superior Whitefish. Lake Superior whitefish are a member of the trout/salmon family (Salmonidae). The reason whitefish were and still are such a popular fish is due to its tasty flavor, convenient size, and their habit of schooling that allows for easier mass catching (DNR). Whitefish hatch in the spring, and grow rapidly, allowing them to reach over 20 pounds and can live over 25 years (DNR).

Whitefish - Image Source: DNR

Whitefish – Image Source: DNR

Fishing for Lake Superior Whitefish has a long history in the state, and commercial fishing on Lake Superior has had some major changes throughout Michigan’s history (Goniea DNR; Minnesota Sea Grant). Small steamer ships are no longer required for transporting fish to the market (Holmquist 1955). Now it is possible to drive the fish catch downstate along the highways throughout Michigan, many of which follow the Great Lake shorelines. One part of commercial fishing that has not changed is the most common method of fishing: gill nets. However, there are now different laws that govern the size of the mesh used by fishermen as well as fishing seasons (Holmquist 1955).

The steamer "Hiram R Dixon" fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

The steamer “Hiram R Dixon” fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

Through the 1890s, whitefish were the most popular/mainstay within the Lake Superior commercial fishing, but through the early 1900s, the species almost became extinct. Now with the help of more restrictive fishing methods and artificial propagation, whitefish populations are at adequate levels for commercial fishing once again (Holmquist 1955). According to Holmquist (1955) a second attempt of large-scale fishing on Lake Superior occurring around 1860, when a commercial operation was opened at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is possible that this push in commercial fishing during this time influenced Michigan State’s purchasing of imported fish in addition to the more typical local resources.

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

While MSU farms and local businesses provided the majority of the food resources consumed by campus residents during the Early Period, it has been exciting to learn about the non-local resources that are being purchased for the boarding halls. While the purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish does not appear to be a constant throughout the 1860s (archival records indicate sporadic purchasing during three separate years), it is interesting that there was an inclusion of food that would have been more difficult to acquire. Students and faculty were treated to a more varied diet than what their local surroundings could produce. The purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish during this time shows the appreciation of great resources and the wonder of the Upper Peninsula before the building of the Mackinaw Bridge!

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.

Commercial Fishing on Lake Superior in the 1890s by June Drenning Holmquist (1955): http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/34/v34i06p243-249.pdf

DNR: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html

Tom Goniea (DNR) – The Story of State-licensed Commercial Fishing History on the Great Lakes: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_52259-316019–,00.html

Minnesota Sea Grant – Lake Superior and Michigan Fisheries: A Closer Look: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/superior_michigan_fisheries

 

 

 

 

Four Pickles for Dinner? Trials and Tribulations of Archival Research and Tips for Success

History is fleeting yet enduring. We hardly ever realize that we are making it, but the remnants of our historic actions can sometimes remain long after they are done. Things casually jotted down, random papers and notes tucked away—these are items we don’t realize that someone may use for information in the future. Fortunately for Campus Archaeology, the Michigan State University Archives serves as a repository for these bits of history, housing both official records and other written information collected from MSU alum and faculty emerita.

As lovely as such resources are, the often pose a problem for researchers. Diaries and notebooks, etc. were not written for the public and may only make sense the author. More official records, such as account books, weren’t necessarily private, but still bear the marks of individuals living in certain times and places, which doesn’t always translate for later generations.

In my efforts to recreate diet and foodways on the early MSU campus (1855-1870), I have been begun recording the food purchases in account books for the boarding houses. Boarding houses and clubs were the original cafeterias, so they are key to understanding early MSU food culture. However, the documents I have surveyed thus far, dating to between 1866 and 1871, have given me as much trouble as information.

Here are some of the issues facing researchers using historic archives:

  1. Illegibility:  Most handwriting prior to the last couple decades was in cursive, particularly in official records. Some record-keepers’ handwriting is clear and perfectly legible, but most of the time, this is not the case. As we move further away from using and reading cursive in the modern era, our untrained eyes find further difficulty with deciphering it. This problem will only continue to worsen, as many elementary schools have ceased teaching cursive writing.
Exprep

Exprep on extracts from Saints Rest account books. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

2. Outdated Terms:  Some of our problems with reading past documents can be attributed to the use of terms that are no longer commonplace. Early on I ran into a word I could not read (see photo), but upon a text conversation with Lisa, we decided the word may be “exprep”. Googling this phrase didn’t turn up anything useful, and we concluded that it may have stood for external preparation (hiring an outsider to prepare something). Later I ran into the phrase “express in tea”, referring to postage for a tea delivery. I thought perhaps I had misread it the first time around, but the last letter of the previous entry simply does not look like two esses. I remain confused! (And please help if you can!)

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

3. Incomplete information: One issue I have been running into with the receipt books is the lack of itemization of food purchases. Sometimes entries are very specific (e.g., “4 3/12 dozen eggs”), while others simply say “Pd Bill to Hentch for meat” without specifying the amount or type of meat that was purchased. Often the bookkeeper would simply reference the person paid without indicating the goods for which they were paid. This means that we are only able to get information about some food goods being purchased and not others.

So, how can you deal with the issues we face when researching in the archives? Here are some tips:

  1. Talk to an archivist:  This is the most obvious and probably most useful tip of them all. If you are having problems reading something, then it’s likely that the archivist has encountered the same problem and is much more experienced at reading and interpreting old records. This is a resource I have yet to tap—I’m  saving up all of my problems so I only have to bug them once!
  2. Discuss with friends:  Visiting the archives with friends can make the tedium a little less painful, plus you can ask them if they can decipher a word that has you flummoxed. If you go alone, you can take a picture (with permission of the archives) and send it to a friend for help.
  3. Revisit:  Take note of words you can’t read and revisit them later. Sometimes looking at them again or after you’ve seen a certain word or term written more clearly can help you read it the second time. I kept thinking I was seeing the word “sand” but later realized that it actually said “lard,” which makes more sense for a boarding house…
  4. Utilize alternate resources: Since certain documents often include only one type of information, you must draw on other resource types for context and other types of data. The account books list only foods purchased, so how foods were prepared, the recipes used, and students’ perception of the food are still unknown. I will be drawing on a variety of other sources for this information, so stay tuned…

These methods, however, cannot solve everything. One entry in the boarding house account book said “four pickles for dinner.” Did they really just buy four pickles? Or did they forget a word? Pounds? Jars? Barrels? And why were these pickles specified to be used for dinner? Was it a special dinner?! Or were pickles banned during lunch?!? Oh 1870 account book keeper, why do you vex me so?!?

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Some remnants of history may always remain a mystery.

Resources:

Kuhn Collection Vol. 108, Boarding Hall Account Book 1866-1871