All Over the Board: Student Discontent and Agency in the Historic MSU Boarding Halls

I’ve written at length about the foods purchased by the early campus boarding hall (aka dining hall), as well as the dishes they likely served. However, what we do not know is what the students thought of this food. Did they like it? Or did they find the boarding hall offerings unsatisfactory? Items such as diaries and student newspapers can provide students’ perspectives on the meals they were served. In the case of early MSU, student dissatisfaction with food eventually led to widespread changes in the early boarding system in the 1880s.

Saints' Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities

Saints’ Rest, the original boarding hall and site of illicit late-night feasting activities. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Edward Granger was among the earliest students at the Agricultural College, and luckily wrote in great in detail about food served in Saints’ Rest, the first student dorm (ca. 1858-1859). Granger occasionally expressed positive feelings about the food, stating on Christmas Day that he “had a fine Christmas dinner considering that it was in the Agricultural College.” The next day, he wrote “After meeting we had a feast… Chicken and peaches, brown bread and ginger snaps. Everything was first rate, and we had a glorious meal.” (1)

However, Granger generally wasn’t the biggest fan of the food served by “the Institution,” as he refers to it. He mentions frequently skipping dinner and despairingly declares “[I] finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.” To cope, Granger and his friends ate snacks from home in their rooms or occasionally stole food from the kitchens. One late night he recounts that “Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice.” Another evening, a snack of eggs led Granger to observe, “Where Charley procured the eggs I don’t know. We asked no questions for conscience’s sake.” (1)

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum

Cover of the first issue of The College Speculum. Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Student discontent with food increased over the following decades as the college grew. The students expressed their anger through the establishment of a student newspaper, The College Speculum, and dissatisfaction with food served in the boarding hall is indicated as one of the principal arguments in favor of starting the paper (2). The first issue of The Speculum contains a lengthy treatise on the “question of the students’ board”. The author notes:

“Our system itself is no doubt at fault. Two hundred different tastes and dispositions can never be satisfied with the same food. The wholesale preparation of victuals is objectionable. Food cannot be well prepared in large quantities, and with the haste that necessarily attends such preparation. The wholesale use of canned and prepared goods, which are nearly always unwholesome, is a feature which has been overlooked. The finest vegetables are now growing in the garden, and are literally wasting as fast as they become eatable. Canned beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc., take the place of fresh food in the dining hall. With these facts before us we do not wonder that so many students complain of ill health, and so many leave college on that account.” (3).

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?!

Holy mackerel! Was Emory Fox charging his luxury food items to the students?! Image source.

This treatise may have been laying the groundwork for a student movement against the boarding hall steward, Emory C. Fox. The boarding hall stewards purchased supplies, oversaw food preparation staff, and presided over the tables in the dining hall (4). Fox was the steward from 1877-1881, and was extremely unpopular with students. In 1881 they charged him with fraud, claiming that Fox purchased lemons, oysters, mackerel, and oranges but that these items were never served to the students, implying that Fox purchased these items for himself (5). The students accused Fox with several other acts of fraud, as well (6).

After a review of the charges against Fox, the college Board of Trustees found that the alleged illicit food items were actually served to sick students in their rooms, and they found Fox to be an overall competent steward (7). However, on August 15, 1881, President Abbot notes that Fox resigned following the backlash but that “there was some hesitation about allowing him to resign” on his part (8).

This was not the end of student discontent, however. The Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College listed average weekly boarding costs for the prior academic year. During Fox’s tenure as steward, the average cost was between $2.27-$2.38. Under his successor, Conroy B. Mallory, this cost rose to $3.15 in the Spring of 1882. Students appreciated the improved menus under Mallory’s tenure, but not the increased cost (9).

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College.

Professor Rolla C Carpenter (c. 1885 pictured with his surveying equipment) was instrumental in bringing about the boarding clubs at the College. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The idea of boarding clubs was inspired by Professor Carpenter, who, after observing the boarding system of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, painted a “bright picture” of the advantages of the club-boarding system, including better food at less cost (4). The Speculum supported this idea, suggesting the establishment of cooperative boarding clubs which would be under the control of the students. The establishment of smaller clubs would also serve to resolve the “boisterous conduct” seen in the solitary boarding hall (3).

The College, likely weary of student complaints, was quick to acquiesce to this plan. Cost effectiveness and practical concerns for feeding the increasingly large student body undoubtedly also played into the decision to do away with the traditional centralized boarding system. The transition is mentioned once in the Board meeting minutes:

“Prof. Carpenter presented the petition of the from the students of the College asking the Board to allow them to adopt the System of Boarding in clubs & made recommendations regarding the carrying out of this plan… It was resolved that the Secretary be Authorized to have the College Carpenter construct moveable partitions according to the plans of Prof. Carpenter in the basement of Wells & Williams Halls for five clubs at a Cost not to exceed $150.00 dollars.” (10)

The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 includes the first formal proof of the establishment of such clubs, stating, “A new plan of boarding in clubs has lately been put into operation. Separate kitchens and dining halls have been provided, and five clubs have been organized, by which the students are divided into groups not exceeding forty persons” (11) The average cost of board was $2.45, much less than the previous year.

Following this move, The Speculum reported that “not a word of complain was heard as to [the club system’s] price or quality,” marking a drastic change from prior discontent (2). However, this level of satisfaction would not last forever, and the boarding club system would see critiques, modifications, and eventual dissolution. But that’s a story for another time…

This account of MSU’s early food services is full of the kind of drama that makes for exciting history. More importantly, it exemplifies the power of unified student voices in times of great discontent, and just how much food-related issues can drive people to question and challenge powerful institutions.

 

References:

  1. Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
  2. The College Speculum (1883) Vol. 3 No. 2, p.12
  3. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 1, p.7
  4. Beal, W.J. (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 216)
  5. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives)
  6. The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 2
  7. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 28 July 1881 (MSU Archives)
  8. Diary of Theophilus Abbot, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives UA.2.1.3, Box 861)
  9. Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
  10. State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 27 November 1882 (MSU Archives)
  11. The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 (1883). Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 38)

Jumbo Peanut Butter: Good Enuf for Me

Peanut butter is a staple of the average American kitchen.   It’s a favorite in the lunch boxes of school age children, college students, and archaeologist’s in the field. And although the peanut has been widely cultivated for a long time, peanut butter as we know it today only dates to the late 1800s. In 1895 John Harvey Kellogg (yes that’s Kellogg) applied for a U.S. patent for a nut butter made from peanuts or almonds. By 1896 the Kellogg Company was producing nut butter on a small scale. By the turn of the century peanut butter was fairly widely available from commercial sources, as it gained popularity following the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. By 1922 there’s even a National Peanut Butter Manufacturers Association (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015).

Jumbo Peanut Butter Jar from Brody/Emmons complex.

Jumbo Peanut Butter Jar from Brody/Emmons complex.

There’s a single peanut butter jar recovered from the Brody/Emmons amphitheater excavations: Frank’s Tea & Spice Company Jumbo Peanut Butter. In 1896, Jacob, Emil, and Charles Frank founded the Frank Tea & Spice Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company originally sold small, shelf-size packages of whole and ground spices. They later expanded their offerings to tea, spices, peanut butter, and olives (American Jewish Archive). However, their most famous and most enduring product was Frank’s RedHot® hot sauce, first produced in 1920 (www.franksredhot.com). Unfortunately this jar doesn’t have any makers mark or date stamps.  The overall construction of the jar, and the date range of the other artifacts recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex suggests that this jar is from the 1930s.

Information about their Jumbo brand peanut butter is spotty. We know that the Frank Tea & Spice Company applied for a trademark on the world “Jumbo” in 1927 (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 2015). So, why Jumbo peanut butter? To unwrap this decision, we need to look to the elephant on the jar.

Jumbo and his caretaker. Image source.

Jumbo and his caretaker. Image source.

Well, today jumbo as a word is part of every day speech – a word to describe something that is large. Merriam-Webster notes that the first use of the word was only in 1883. That’s because the common use of the word comes from Jumbo the Elephant. Jumbo was the most famous elephant of the 19th century. He was sold to the London Zoo in 1865, and became famous for giving rides to visitors. Jumbo was fold in 1882 to Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he quickly became their most popular attraction. Jumbo was a beloved public figure and was featured on soda bottles, popcorn bags, matches, playing cards, puzzle, children’s toys, and even used as advertisement for tires and spark plugs (http://now.tufts.edu/articles/glory-was-jumbo).

Jumbo smoking tobacco ad. Image source.

Jumbo smoking tobacco ad. Image source.

Jumbo brings soap trade card. Image source.

Jumbo brings soap trade card. Image source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumbo at Coney Island. Image source.

Jumbo at Coney Island. Image source.

Advertisement to see Jumbo's skeleton at the circus. Image source.

Advertisement to see Jumbo’s skeleton at the circus. Image source.

Jumbo was killed in an unfortunate train accident in 1885, but that did not mark the end of his illustrious career. Barnum had his hide taxidermied and his skeleton mounted. The skeleton and mount traveled with the circus for years. Today the skeleton is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The hide was donated to the P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts’ University. Although the hide was unfortunately destroyed in a 1975 fire (Jumbo’s ashes are kept in a Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter Jar in the Tufts athletic director’s office), Jumbo remains the Tufts mascot. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo)

Jumbo peanut butter elephant shaped jar. Image source.

Jumbo peanut butter elephant shaped jar. Image source.

The fact that Jumbo had died more than 40 years before Jumbo Peanut Butter was produced speaks to the endurance of his legacy.  And the connection between elephants and peanuts.  Elephants don’t eat peanuts as part of their natural diets. However, roasted peanuts were popular fair at the circus, and were often purchased to feed elephants. So perhaps Frank’s Tea & Spice Company was playing on national nostalgia in naming their peanut butter Jumbo.  Although our jar only has an image of Jumbo, they also produced small jars in the shape of an elephant (wouldn’t that be fun to find!).

Jumbo Peanut Butter was also known for the eclectic sayings on the bottom of the jars including “Try Jumbo Peanut Butter Sandwiches”, “Best for the kiddies”, or like our jar says “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.

Bottom of Jumbo Peanut Butter jar from Brody/Emmons complex. Reads "Jumbo Good Enuf for Me".

Bottom of Jumbo Peanut Butter jar from Brody/Emmons complex. Reads “Jumbo Good Enuf for Me”.

When I started researching this peanut butter jar I never imagined I’d be learning about a famous elephant (but that’s what makes research fun!). Jumbo the elephant impacted many facets of history: rise of mass entertainment/pop culture, museums, advertisement, ever our lexicon.  To learn more about Jumbo, and the wild rumors P.T. Barnum concocted about his death, check out the information video produced by Tufts.

 

References:

https://www.tufts.edu/about/jumbo

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

http://now.tufts.edu/articles/glory-was-jumbo

https://www.animalanswers.co.uk/classes/mammals/elephant-myths-busted/

Elephants shaped jar: https://i.pinimg.com/236x/21/1f/3a/211f3a60888660aa1849f6533a9d989d–antique-glassware-vintage-kitchenware.jpg

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jumbo?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld

William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. 2015. Origin and early history of peanut butter (1884-2015): Extensively annotated bibliography and sourcebook. Soyinfo Center.

Jumbo and care taker”: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/02/05/article-2552606-1B14452D00000578-388_634x589.jpg

Jumbo at coney island: http://www.heartofconeyisland.com/uploads/5/1/5/8/51585031/8778343_orig.jpg

Jumbo skeleton: http://www.ohiohistoryhost.org/ohiomemory/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/jumbo4.jpg

Jumbo trade card: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-news-photo/93302350?esource=SEO_GIS_CDN_Redirect#soapona-ordered-this-anthropomorphic-trade-card-capitalizing-on-the-picture-id93302350

Jumbo tobacco: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/27/4c/bd/274cbdf9cfdbd25ae60362476a0c4e4c–lettering-art-advertising-signs.jpg

http://americanjewisharchives.org/exhibits/aje/details.php?id=526

 

 

You Eat What You Are: Consuming Identities of the Recent and Ancient Past

Chicken and waffles from Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing, MI.

Chicken and waffles from Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing, MI.

Two days ago, Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Camp, and the Campus Archaeology fellows went to Eastside Fish Fry in Lansing to have some chicken and waffles, and we had a deliciously good time. Why did we embark on this endeavor? The Flower Pot Tea room, operating from 1922-1923 (Kuhn 1955) in the Station Terrace building the CAP field school excavated this summer, listed this dish on one of their menus. It struck us as odd that a dish so closely associated with southern cuisine would have been served in Michigan during this early period.

Although I love trying new foods, I must admit that I never tried chicken and waffles until about a year ago. This was partly because I had little opportunity to do so—it still is not a common dish in the Midwest—and partly because, well, it sounded weird. I didn’t grow up eating it and the combination, quite honestly, sounded strange to me.

This demonstrates an interesting point: the foods we choose to eat and the way we prepare them are often closely associated with the contexts in which we are raised. In other words, what we choose to eat is shaped by and representative of our identities.

This concept is evident when looking at personal accounts of early MSU students. Peter Granger, who kept a diary during his first year at MSU in 1858-1859, demonstrates this in his writing. Although from Detroit, getting used to the food at the College seemed difficult for Granger, who several times laments the lack of chicken on the menu and also wrote:

     December 28, 1859: “Didn’t get home till they were most through eating supper. Ate       a little down there and then had something good in my room.”

     January 1, 1859: “Finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to           live on the Institution or starve.”

Granger also several times laments the lack of chicken served in the boarding hall (he likely would have gladly enjoyed chicken and waffles!). While these accounts may simply reflect the poor food options served by the boarding hall, we must also consider our own experiences. Isn’t your mother’s or grandmother’s way of cooking a dish your favorite? No one can seem to rival mom’s roast beef or grandma’s pie. Students continuing to eat food from home or longing for the moment when they can visit home and have a home-cooked meal is something nearly all college students, past and present, can relate to. Food that evokes memories of home and comfort might best represent our personal identities.

What else is often integral to a college student’s identity? Why, getting into trouble, of course! There are a great many accounts of students stealing food from various sources across the university. Granger once “hook[ed] a loaf of bread and some molasses” while another night he and his friends feasted on a “booty [of] about a peck of fried cakes” after an “expedition to the lower regions.” Anecdotes from the class of 1895 demonstrate a similar penchant for mischief. Instead of stealing food from the kitchens, these young men concentrated on fruits from the orchard. In one hilarious tale, the boys tied the bottom of their pant legs and stuffed them full of apples. Upon getting spooked by an approaching figure, they had to dash off in pants full of fruit! (Kains 1945).

Students in the MSU Apple Orchards, 1912

Students in the MSU Apple Orchards, 1912. Image Source

These personal accounts of food habits are easy to access in the written records, given the right sources. Understanding eating behaviors of individuals in the archaeological record, however, is a bit trickier. Food remains found in ancient trash pits and historic privies can be connected to general groups, but not necessarily individuals. Sometimes trash pits can be associated with individual households, such as at Fort Michilimackinac, an 18th-century fort in northern lower Michigan. Here, archaeological faunal remains showed that French households consumed local wild animals, while later English houses ate a variety of imported domesticated livestock, as did Jewish families, with the exception of pigs (Scott 1996). The French were adaptive to their new environment, while the English wanted to express their superiority and sophistication through the consumption of animal species they had dominated and domesticated. Jewish consumers expressed their ideological identity by choosing NOT to eat pork, as dictated by their religious customs.

Colonial Fort Michilimackinac

Colonial Fort Michilimackinac. Image Source.

These archaeological and archival evidences can show how people may have expressed their identities through what they chose to eat and what they refused to eat. We have yet to find food remains in contexts associated with certain population subsets (such as students vs. faculty or men vs. women) at MSU, so determining food identities on campus archaeologically is not yet possible. Thankfully, we have the archival information to help us fill in the gaps. And as we dined on chicken and waffles, we expressed our identities as archaeologists eager to connect with the students of MSU past, as we ponder their food choices and attempt to understand them.

 

Sources:

Kains, Maurice G., editor.
   1945   Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. New York: Greenberg.

Kuhn, Madison
1955   Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press  East, Lansing.

Scott, Elizabeth M.
1996   Who Ate What? Archaeological Food Remains and Cultural Diversity. In Case
Studies in Environmental Archaeology, edited by Elizabeth J. Reitz, Lee A.           Newsom, and Sylvia J. Scudder. Plenum Press, New York.

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA10.3.56, Edward Granger Papers, Folder 1
Diary of E.G. Granger, 1859

Capturing Campus Cuisine: The Saga Continues

I am excited to announce that Capturing Campus Cuisine, the food project that Susan Kooiman and myself began this past year will continue! Last year, we studied the earliest period of MSU’s campus from 1855-1870, focusing on the production, processing, and consumption on campus. This research culminated in the recreation of a historic campus meal with the assistance of MSU Culinary Services. You can read more about what we did previously on the project website: earlyfood.campusarch.msu.edu. This year, we will continue to visit different areas of campus including visits to the MSU farms and meat lab, and conduct further archival research and archaeological analysis in order to expand upon what we have learned.

Personally, I am going to focus on analyzing more of the animal bones that have been recovered during campus excavations. While we can assume that there will be many domesticated species, including cow, pig, sheep, and goat, it is also possible that there are undomesticated species, such as white-tailed deer, elk, or turkey, in the archaeological assemblages.

Cow in front of barns c. 1896. Image Source.

Cow in front of barns c. 1896. Image Source.

We know through archival research that both students and faculty hunted on campus (see Autumn’s previous blog on this topic) and that there was also a deer park on campus from 1898 into the early 1900s. This deer park contained three deer as well as two elk. The university even considered expanding to include a buffalo at one point (Beal 1915 pp. 263; MAC Record Nov 15, 1898)! In 2008, the campus archaeology program uncovered the foundations of the barn in the photo below during excavations near present day Mayo Hall.

Deer Park c. 1907. Image Source

Deer Park c. 1907. Image Source

Elk in the deer park c. 1907. Image Source

Elk in the deer park c. 1907. Image Source

As I continue with the faunal (animal) bone analysis, I will need to be aware of this, and compare the specimens against both domesticated and undomesticated species to verify the animal species identification. Another layer of analysis that I will conduct this year will be on identifying the specific meat cuts that were utilized. Understanding what cuts of meat come from which skeletal elements in an animal will allow us to compare and contrast what is present within the campus archaeological collection against the archival records which list specific meat portions!

Below are a few images of the animal remains that are being analyzed. Stay tuned for updates on the results of the animal bone analysis!

Sample of the faunal remans being analyzed.

Sample of the faunal remans being analyzed.

Autumn sorts bones in the cap lab.

Autumn sorts bones in the cap lab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Cow Barns May 31, 1896 Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-3D3/a-picture-of-a-cow-in-front-of-barns-1896/

Deer Park 1907 Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-96D/deer-park-1907/

Elk Deer Park Image: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-970/elk-in-the-deer-park-ca-1907/

MAC Record: Tuesday, Nov. 15, 1898 Vol 4 No. 10: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-4EC/the-mac-record-vol04-no10-november-15-1898/

Beal, William James. History of the Michigan agricultural college and biographical sketches of trustees and professors. 1915.

http://campusarch.msu.edu/Exhibits/FacultyRowExhibit/FacultyRowExhibit.html

 

The Tell-Tale Tart: Chronicling Campus History with Cake

Birthdays—at my age, they are just another day in our gradual and inevitable march through time, but my one pleasure in marking my incremental increase in years is eating cake. Cake is my favorite food, and I’ve mentioned it in other blogs before, but since I had a blog due on my birthday this year, I decided to exploit the situation for my own advantage and write about this exquisite dessert.

Cake is an iconic, beautiful marker of momentous occasions and our biggest celebrations: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations. Birthday cakes have a long history in Europe, where they began as fruitcakes. The modern layered birthday cake became popular in early America where there were fewer bakeries and home bakers used layers to make taller cakes more quickly (Byrn 2016:266). Although bakeries are more plentiful now and bake many birthday cakes, they carry on the tradition of being tall, layered spectacles. Check out the awesome options offered on campus by MSU Bakers!

Bakers along side MSU centennial cake. Image source: MSU Archives

Bakers along side MSU centennial cake. Image source: MSU Archives

Anniversary celebrations also frequently include cake. For its centennial anniversary in 1955, MSU had a large and ornate layered cake made. For MSU’s sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary in 2005, the Dairy Store released an ice cream flavor that remains a favorite today: Sesquicentennial Swirl. It is vanilla ice cream with white cake and green frosting swirls. Cake evokes such feelings of communal celebration that it was incorporated into this celebratory flavor.

Last year I wrote about an 1884 banquet held for the MSU class of 1886. They served ten (10!) different types of cake at this occasion, including chocolate (my personal favorite). My perusals of earlier cookbooks found they rarely included chocolate cake, and it only became popular in the 1880s after companies like Hershey arose and railroads facilitated travel and the spread of ingredients and ideas. The first chocolate cake recipe wasn’t published in the US until 1886 (Burn 2016:68), so these MSU students were ahead of the curve!

Although cake can act as a public symbol of jubilation, it can also play an important role in everyday life. As much as I enjoy birthday and wedding cake, so do I enjoy grabbing a coffee and cupcake with a friend, or enjoying a slice at home by myself when relaxing after a long week. It is these little moments that do not get captured in photos posted in the newspaper, but instead these are moments captured in the memories of students as part of their experiences here at MSU.

The earliest mention I can find of cake on campus is from the diary of Edward Granger in 1858. On Christmas Eve he wrote, “12 o’clock (midnight) Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice” (UA10.3.56, Folder 1). Whether these fried cakes were more like donuts or johnny cakes we cannot be sure, but it’s obvious that these scandalously-procured items were a sinful treat for these mischievous college students. Granger also revealed an affinity for ginger treats, which inspired the ginger cake we served at our 1860s meal reconstruction last spring.

Ginger Cake and Charlotte Russe made for CAP's 1860s Meal Reconstruction

Ginger Cake and Charlotte Russe made for CAP’s 1860s Meal Reconstruction

One of the most entertaining accounts of cake come from Maurice Grenville Kains in a memoir from the Michigan State College of Agriculture Class of 1895. He recounts a take from Boarding Club A, when the notorious Joe Bush would sneak into the dining hall before everyone else so that he could position the pie or cake of the day near his seat so he could choose the biggest piece and also assure that he would get a second piece once the dessert was passed back around. His fellow students grew tired of his hijinks and delayed him from entering early one day, and “when he saw his place, the whole room burst into a roar of laughter; for beside his plate was a little pig trough!” (Kains 1945:135).

The Anna E. Bayha Home Management House was one of four buildings on campus built to give women students the task of living in and running their own homes (see Lisa’s post from a few years ago for more information). Each year, the Bayha House residents made photo albums documenting both everyday and special events that went on in the house. In the Fall 1949 Album is a delightful page titled “Char Baked a Cake” with comments such as “frosting is good!” inscribed on the page (UA.15.3, Vol. SB10, Scrapbook 10, 1947-1953). This is a lovely peek into the lives of women on campus, and it appears they enjoyed both baking and eating their culinary creations.

Page from the 1949 Bayha House Scrapbook. Image used with permission of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Page from the 1949 Bayha House Scrapbook. Image used with permission of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The Bayha scrapbooks even provided us with a clue to an archaeological mystery on campus. CAP found pieces of distinctive plates with raised edges at the Gunson trash pit. The Gunson house later became the Bayha House, and a photo from the 1946 scrapbook shows the ladies serving cake on the same style plates!  We do, however, know that this type of plate was likely used for serving cake and other desserts, and may have been specially reserved to function as cake plates on campus.

A page from the 1949 Bayha Home Management Scrapbook showing the serving of birthday cake on glass plates. Image used with permission of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

A page from the 1949 Bayha Home Management Scrapbook showing the serving of birthday cake on glass plates. Image used with permission of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Fragment of a glass plate recovered from the Gunson/Admin Site.

Fragment of a glass plate recovered from the Gunson/Admin Site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cake has undoubtedly played a significant role in the history of MSU, acting as a symbol of celebration, community, friendship, leisure, and even defiance in both the public and private lives of student and faculty alike. With the popularity of Sesquicentennial Swirl, the vast array of cakes available in the cafeterias, and the gorgeous creations of the MSU Bakers for birthdays and graduations, I think cake will continue to be an iconic treat on campus for a very long time.

Well, that’s enough from me. Writing this blog has made me hungry, so I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my MSU predecessor’s and go eat some cake!

Sources:

Byrn, Anne. American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes. New York: Rodale, 2016.

Kains, Maurice G., editor. Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. New York: Greenberg, 1945.

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA10.3.56, Edward Granger Papers, Folder 1
Diary of E.G. Granger, 1859

UA.15.3, College of Human Ecology Records, Vol. SB10
Scrapbook 10, 1947-1953

A Taste of History: Our 1860s MSU Meal Reconstruction Event

So what does history really taste like? As you can read from Susan’s event preview blog post, this past week we hosted a 1860s MSU-inspired meal based on archival and archaeological research. This event took place through the collaboration of Campus Archaeology and the MSU Culinary Service, specifically Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski, Chef Jay Makowski, and MSU Baker Cindy Baswell.

Our menu included codfish ball appetizers; main dishes of walleye, spiced beef, turkey with oyster dressing, and beef tongue; sides of chow-chow, graham bread, and potato croquettes; and desserts of ginger cake and raspberry charlotte russe. We also had ginger beer (non-alcoholic) as a beverage option. This was included because Campus Archaeology uncovered a ginger beer bottle during the excavation of Saint’s Rest dormitory in 2005 (read more about ginger beer here. About 25 guests attended the event, ranging from anthropology graduate students and faculty to college administrators.

A little bit of everything from the nicely prepared meal.

A little bit of everything from the nicely prepared meal.

It was a wonderful meal recreation and I have created several videos below that give a view into what was put into the event, as well as the food that was created and some reactions to beef tongue!

 

As the meal was finishing, we asked the other guests what dish was their favorite; it ranged from the codfish balls and potato croquettes (with a side of chow-chow!) to a surprising enjoyment of the beef tongue! Personally, I really enjoyed every dish but I was most surprised with how much I actually enjoyed the beef tongue (as long as I didn’t think about what I was eating too much!).

Susan Kooiman and I are extremely proud of how this event came to fruition, and hope to continue researching the early foodways of MSU with Campus Archaeology! Later this week the website I have been building through MSU’s Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship will be launched, which will detail the information that led us to create this event, an interactive map with interest points from historic MSU, and a designated page about the meal itself! Look for the announcement of the webpage on the CHI blog.

Thirsty Throwback Thursday: A History of Ginger Beer

Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market research—on ginger beer.

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Ginger beer bottle found at Saints’ Rest

Archaeology provides a unique opportunity to look at the physical evidence of past consumption. At MSU, archival documents tell us the official records of what the school bought for students and faculty to eat and drink. However, we can learn about what people were actually consuming on campus by looking at the archaeological record of things they threw away. This is how we learned that at least one thing people drank was ginger beer, as evidenced by a stone ginger beer bottle excavated from Saints’ Rest dormitory in 2005.

Ginger beer was a popular drink in Britain and North America from the 18th century until Prohibition. Technically speaking, ginger beer is not a beer. Whereas the production of beer involves the fermentation of a grain (typically barley or wheat) malted to turn its starch into sugar, ginger beer involves the fermentation of ginger and added sugar, typically molasses or cane sugar. Ginger beer is more likely related to the ‘small beers’ popular in Europe from Medieval times until Industrialization. Before the advent of sodas and modern soft drinks, these weakly alcoholic, fermented beverages were typically brewed at home and provided a safer alternative to often-contaminated water.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer.

Ginger beer plant, the SCOBY responsible for fermenting ginger beer. Image source.

Why make a ginger drink? Humans have been drinking ginger beverages for thousands of years, often for medicinal purposes. However, the history of ginger beer is tied to the cultural and economic importance of its two main ingredients, ginger and sugar. Ginger and sugarcane, crops native to tropical regions of South Asia, were introduced to Europe via the spice trade. Europeans brought these crops and others to the New World, where they flourished in the tropical climates of the Caribbean. Powered by the labor of enslaved Africans, French- and English-controlled Caribbean plantations became the world’s biggest sugarcane producers. By 1655, England also controlled Jamaica, the Caribbean’s most prolific producer of ginger, with over two million pounds exported to Europe each year. Jamaican ginger was considered especially flavorful and was a prized ingredient in ginger beer.

Apart from ginger and sugar, ginger beer has two other traditional ingredients: lemon, and a special microorganism that aids in fermentation. The microorganisms responsible for the fermentation in ginger beer are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY) known by the more innocuous name of “ginger beer plant.” A culture of ginger beer plant is added to sugar water flavored with ginger. These microorganisms ingest the sugars and produce carbon dioxide and low levels of alcohol as waste products. While today’s ginger beers are typically non-alcoholic, prior to the mid-19th century, ginger beer was up to 11% alcohol by volume. In 1855, British Parliament passed an act that imposed export taxes on beverages with an alcohol content above 2%. After this, most ginger beer brewers reduced the alcohol content in their products (via reduction of the fermentation time) in order to keep them affordable.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. From diggersdiary.co.uk.

An example of a plain, early stoneware ginger beer bottle. Image source.

After it was brewed, ginger beer was corked inside stoneware bottles, like the one found at Saints’ Rest. Early stoneware bottles and those brewed locally in North America at were usually fairly plain, brown in color, and etched with the bottler’s name or city. The Saints’ Rest bottle seems to fit into this category. Beginning in the 1880s, however, sleeker gray bottles with colorful shoulder slips and stamped logos designed to attract consumer attention became more popular.

Part of the reason for packaging in stone rather than glass bottles was cosmetic: ginger beer was usually unattractively cloudy in appearance. However, packaging was also functionally important in the export of ginger beer. England shipped large amounts of ginger beer to the U.S. and Canada beginning in the 1790s through the 19th century. Though ginger beer was brewed regionally, England maintained market dominance in North America because English breweries used superior quality stoneware bottles that better maintained ginger beer’s effervescence and kept it cold. The bottles were sealed with liquid- and gas-tight Bristol Glaze and wired and corked shut to maintain carbon dioxide in solution.

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles

Examples of later, more decorative stone ginger beer bottles. Image source

During Prohibition, ginger beer dipped in popularity in favor of its cousin, ginger ale, and other soft drinks. Unlike traditional ginger beer, ginger ale is made by adding ginger flavoring and sweetener to carbonated water and does not involve the addition of a microorganism. Today, the difference between ginger beer and ginger ale is much less clear. Many modern manufacturers use this abiotic process to make or enhance ginger beer, adding flavoring and carbonation without the use of a microorganism. For this reason, modern ginger beers differ from ginger ales primarily in flavor; they are typically spicier and less sweet than ginger ales.

All this research got me excited to try some ginger beers. Naturally, Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright and I had to do our own taste test, you know, for science. We picked four brands of ginger beer that I hadn’t yet tried at stores near us: Regatta, Barritt’s, Q, and Bundaberg. We tasted each ginger beer alone and for science—and because #gradschool—we added vodka and lime to make some Moscow Mules.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

Modern ginger beer bottles from our taste test.

In no particular order, the first brand we tried was Regatta. It was spicy with a strong ginger flavor and made an enjoyable cocktail. Barritt’s was up next. This one was much less flavorful so it seemed disproportionally sweet, like a ginger ale. Third, we tried the Bundaberg. This was spicy and sweet and definitely enjoyable alone. Last, we tried Q ginger beer: spicy, very fizzy, but not at all sweet. According to the Q website, it is made with chili pepper and is specifically intended to be used as a mixer. Our highly scientific and definitive ranking put the Bundaberg in first place, Regatta in second, Q in close third, and Barritt’s in fourth.

If you have a favorite ginger beer, please tell us about it! We hope you open one up and think about early MSU students who might have enjoyed a ginger beer in their dorm after a long day of classes and farm work (although this was probably enjoyed in secret as alcohol was banned on campus).

References

http://www.ilovegingerbeer.com/ginger-beer-history/

http://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/1_3.html

http://www.scienceinschool.org/2008/issue8/gingerbeer

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/ginger-ale-vs-ginger-beer_n_1438420.html http://gingerlibation.com/what-is-ginger-libation/

http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/antique-glass/bottles-antique-glass/collecting-ginger-beer-bottles

http://www.fohbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/GingerBeerRootBeerHeritage.pdf

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.

***

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”.

There is Something Fishy about this Privy

It’s official… the fish skeletal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest privy, the toilet associated with the first dormitory on campus contained walleye!

Walleye. Image source

Walleye. Image source.

Walleye are the largest member of the perch family and can be caught in shallow bays and inland lakes. As there are plenty of inland lakes surrounding East Lansing, it is possible that these fish were caught locally and served on campus. Also, walleye actively feed all year round, they can be caught during any season, however, it is easier to catch them during the early morning and evening, as that is their prime feeding times (MI DNR).

Walleye Teeth image source

Walleye Teeth. Image source.

When the privy was excavated, an immense amount of bone was recovered from the southwest corner. The bones were very densely packed, and excavators were under time constraints so the area was block lifted and screened back at the lab!

West Circle Privy after excavation.

West Circle Privy after excavation.

This privy was a permanent brick structure, a earth-closet type of privy, which means that it would have been cleaned out regularly, which may explain why the fish remains were packed tightly into the back corner, possibly out of reach as a result of the cleaning process.

So how do I know that they are walleye? To determine which species the fish remains were, I began at the MSU Museum, where in the collections is a small fish index. This has many different bone elements separated out and labeled by species. This allowed me to get a preliminary identification of walleye or sauger. However, as the index does not include every single fish bone, I wanted further verification. Luckily for me, Dr. Terrance Martin (Illinois State Museum, emeritus) was visiting MSU and was able to take a few minutes and look at the Saints Rest privy fish remains. He also agreed that they looked like walleye, but suggested that I verify the remainder of the materials against other walleye specimens. Unfortunately, the MSU Museum did not have any other walleye skeletal materials in the collections so I turned to another museum. This past week, a specimen loan from the Field Museum arrived, allowing me to take the material and confirm that it is in fact walleye! Below are some images of the fish remains, in comparison to the walleye specimen.

Walleye Dentary

Walleye Operculum

Walleye Operculum

Now that I have many of the previously identified elements confirmed as walleye, I am going to move forward on identifying the remainder of the fish remains, as I already have them sorted by side, counted, and weighed. In addition to focusing on the fish materials, I will begin looking through the mammal remains that have been uncovered on campus, including cow, pig, and sheep/goat with the goal of determining what type of meat cuts were present, and the proportions of species present within the archaeological contexts. Stay tuned for more updates on the Campus Archaeology animal bone identifications!

Resources:

DNR Walleye: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_53405-216550–,00.html

So We Meat Again: Species and Meat Cut Purchasing Records for Early MSU

During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.

In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.

 

Resources:

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

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”