This is a guest post from Zach Klitzman and Susan Reyburn, writer-editors in the Library of Congress Publishing Office and the authors of American Feast: Cookbooks and Cocktails from the Library of Congress.
Part of the sparkling new Collection Close-Up Series, American Feast traces the lip-smacking evolution of American recipes, from the earliest founding-era American household manuals to 21st century cookbooks and everything in between. The book showcases some of the tens of thousands of books related to cookery in the Library’s collections, along with vintage advertisements, movie posters, and other illustrations of food and drink.
To give you some tasty morsels of what’s featured in the book, here are some trivia questions inspired by culinary items in the Library’s collections.
- The first recipe for what classic Thanksgiving dessert appeared in American Cookery (1796) by Amelia Simmons?
- What novelty dish did President Thomas Jefferson often serve in the White House that is now a favorite with American children?
- What unusual step is a key component of the Blue Blazer, the signature drink of 19th century bartender Jerry Thomas, the first celebrity bartender?
- Who was the first celebrity cook to share recipes on the radio, beginning in 1926?
- What is the signature ingredient in Rosa Parks’ recipe for “Featherlite Pancakes”?
- What recipe did publisher Harper & Row omit from its first American edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book in 1954 because it was “dangerous”?
- What classic feature film includes a memorable scene in which William Powell and Henry Fonda try to make scotch out of medical grain alcohol, Coca-Cola, iodine, and hair tonic?
- What commercially available powdered drink mix did NASA make popular with its use on manned missions, beginning with John Glenn’s Mercury flight in 1962?
- What diet book with recipes has sold more than 15 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books in American history?
- Author David Hoffmann wrote a gourmet cookbook in 2003 celebrating the 40th anniversary of which iconic American toy?
- Pumpkin Pie. American Cookery is considered the first cookbook written by an American and published in the United States. Simmons, little of whom is known, incorporated native North American ingredients, including pumpkin, into existing British recipes.
- Macaroni. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed European cuisine while serving as minister to France in the 1780s. While there, he had his enslaved servant James Hemings train as a chef, and they brought back several French and Italian recipes to the United States. Jefferson was one of the first Americans to serve delicacies like ice cream, peach flambé, and macaroons, and he also was a trendsetter in serving macaroni (albeit usually without cheese). He even created this drawing of a pasta machine.
- Setting it on fire. Thomas was a legendary bartender from the 1850s to the 1880s, and he created the first ever drinks recipe book. His signature drink, the Blue Blazer, involved lighting whiskey and passing the flaming stream back and forth between two metal mugs, as seen in the frontispiece to the 1928 edition of his book.
- Aunt Sammy. Regarded by the public as the wife of Uncle Sam, Aunt Sammy was the creation of three women in the U.S. Bureau of Home Economics. They researched and developed recipes—adaptable to all parts of the United States—and wrote Aunt Sammy’s radio scripts to help home cooks prepare a wide variety of nutritious meals.
- Peanut Butter. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913–2005) jotted down this undated recipe on the back of a small manila envelope. A vegetarian long before it became fashionable, Parks credited her long life to a healthy diet that also made room for dessert.
- Haschich Fudge. Not realizing what it entailed, Alice Toklas included a friend’s recipe for marijuana-infused majoun, a Moroccan candy, in her cookbook and memoir. The recipe appeared in the British edition of Toklas’ book, but in the United States, Harper & Row decided to omit it, even writing to the Eisenhower White House to ask for advice. It was later reproduced in the 1984 American reprint edition.
- Mister Roberts. This 1955 film, listed in the Library of Congress National Film Registry, is set aboard a U.S. cargo ship in the Pacific during the waning days of World War. Doc (Powell) and Mr. Roberts (Fonda) come up with a substitute for Red Label scotch to assist Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon) in his romantic efforts with a navy nurse.
- Tang. Tang accompanied astronauts on early NASA missions, becoming the best-known consumable in outer space. Already commercially available before Glenn’s flight, Tang enjoyed astronomical sales after its association with the space program was publicized.
- Atkins’ Diet Revolution. Dieting books have long been bestsellers, but Dr. Atkins’ work has enjoyed unusual longevity in a field known for changing trends. Published in 1972, the Diet Revolution has continued to reappear on the bestseller lists in the half-century since its release.
- Easy-Bake Oven. Hoffman describes the history of the famous little oven and includes customized Easy-Bake gourmet recipes from well-known chefs for single-serve delicacies such as Roasted Quail Breast with Wild Mushrooms and Pomme Anna and Deep Dish Truffle Lobster Pie.
How did you do? Whether you know all the ins and outs of culinary history or if all of these were new to you, this book is for everyone of all levels of historical knowledge and culinary appreciation. If you have tried any of the recipes mentioned in this post, or have made any recipes based on historical cookbooks, please share with us in the comments!
For more riveting tidbits from our national culinary history, pick up a copy of American Feast, available in the Library Shop and from other favorite booksellers.