The Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC)’s newest quarterly newsletter will offer updates on exciting happenings at HMRC. Our spotlight articles will give you a closer look at our materials, tips and research help from our expert staff, and much more.
Have you ever been curious about the history of Houston cooking? Would you like to embrace your Texas roots and explore the culinary diversity that Houston has to offer?
The Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) boasts a sizable collection of cookbooks and recipe books. They celebrate Texas history and culture through southwestern inspired dishes. highlight local cuisine, and collect the recipes of Houston’s many organizations.
As we enter the winter holiday season, our cookbook collection at HMRC could provide a great source of inspiration for great family dinners. The Texas Holiday Cookbook, for example, covers winter holidays from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, providing holiday recipes with a distinct Texas twist. These recipes embrace the cultural diversity of Texas and reflect the different food traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
These historic cookbooks not only provide a lengthy list of recipes to try for yourself, they also offer an interesting glimpse into the lives of people from different moments in history. By studying historic cookbooks, a reader can get an idea of the many social and cultural changes that occurred at the time a recipe book was published.
One of HMRC’s oldest cookbooks is The New Hydropathic Cookbook, which was published in 1855 and is an early look at nutrition and the vegetarian diet, listing several fruits, vegetables, and grains along with their nutritional benefits.
Another interesting cookbook is The Groom Boils and Stews: A Man’s Cookbook for Men. This recipe book was published in 1947 and writing implies that the intended audience for this book was male World War II veterans returning to civilian life. The book covers several basic cooking instructions, beginning with how to boil water, and covers a variety of meals that are both tasty and easy to make.
Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook is another that highlights several significant trends in historic cooking. Helen Corbitt was a renowned chef, who spent much of her career in Texas and was called “The Balenciaga of Food.” Although not popular by current standards, the food trends during Corbitt’s time included sweet and savory gelatin molds and a copious amount of mayonnaise. Corbitt was also the chef who popularized the “Texas Caviar,” a relish of black-eyed peas and greens that is a holiday staple to this day.
Whether you are looking for holiday meal inspiration or are interested in studying the recipes of the past, HMRC’s cookbooks are an excellent resource to browse.
- Photo of “Bread Fruit” from The New Hydropathic Cook-Book by R. T. Trail, M.D. ©1855, p.82. By Elizabeth Mayer.
- Photo of “Ambrosia Salad” and “Texas Caviar” from The Texas Holiday Cookbook by Dotty Griffith, ©1998, p.27, 150. Photo by Elizabeth Mayer.
In May 2017, I was promoted to Collection Development Librarian, a position that makes me responsible for the books at HMRC. I began to learn how to catalog, and it became clear that our books often need more detailed cataloging than regular library materials. This is even more true of the rare books we have.
A book may be rare for reasons other than simply being old. A unique binding, notes written by authors (or well-known owners), first editions, and limited editions can all be considered rare. In the case of our oldest materials, the book itself may be an object of research.
To better understand our rare books, I wanted to go to the Book History Workshop at Texas A&M University. Through the generosity of the Friends of the Texas Room, who paid my tuition, I attended the eighteenth year of this annual event on June 2-7, 2019.
At the workshop, each day began with an informal lecture on a time period in the history of the book and printing. After the lecture, we looked at example texts from the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at Texas A&M.
One of the example items was a Dharani scroll. In the year 764 AD, one million small wooden pagodas, each containing a paper scroll with a small woodblock print, were distributed to temples throughout Japan. These scrolls are the earliest known examples of woodblock printing, and possibly the oldest verifiable printed matter in the world. Houston’s Printing Museum also has one of these pagodas in their collection.
Then it was off to the pressroom, where the different processes and steps involved in the creation of early printed books were demonstrated in more detail. The printing press used was built by Steve Pratt, the first director of the Book History Workshop. Houston’s Printing Museum also has a press built by Mr. Pratt.
A portion of almost every day at the workshop was spent doing the job of a compositor, or typesetting. Each letter, symbol, punctuation mark, and space must be set by hand into a composition stick. In order to be printed properly, text in the composition stick must be upside down and backwards from the typesetter’s view. Most typesetting mistakes are made because of this. The text in the pictured composition stick reads, “have time to act, before the relish for new.”
In addition to the varied chores involved in working with type and the printing press, workshop participants made paper, tried their hands at marbling paper, and carved their own illustrations into woodblocks. This hedgehog woodblock carving wasn’t my own, but it was one of my favorites.
The hands-on experiences at the Book History Workshop, along with the lectures, has helped me better recognize the unique features present in our rare books. HMRC plans to take advantage of what I’ve learned by adding a book history element to the 2020 Student History Intern Program (SHIP). I am already working on ideas of how to do this and looking forward to taking part in the creation of new book nerds.
- Picture of Dharani Scroll at Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University. Taken by Jo Collier.
- Picture of printing press in the pressroom at Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University. Taken by Jo Collier.
- Picture of a composition stick at Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University. Taken by Jo Collier.
- Picture of woodblock carving of hedgehog at Cushing Memorial Library, Texas A&M University. Taken by Jo Collier.
As I neared the end of my studies for my master’s degree in Library Science (with a focus on archival management), one of the last few things I needed to tackle was the internship. I felt so lucky to land it at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. Even as an older student, it was a little intimidating to be in a new environment, especially when I was coming from an entirely different field. But I was quickly put at ease; my supervisor, Abra Schnur, and the other staff were so helpful answering my many questions.
I was assigned the task of processing the papers of a Houston City Councilman from the 1970s, Jim Westmoreland. This entailed diving into the old boxes, building new archival boxes, refolding the papers into archival folders, and labeling the folders. I also put dozens of photographs into archival sleeves. I then created a box inventory, which my supervisor will arrange for searchability and create a finding aid. I was able to condense the collection by 4 linear feet, which is a great thing for an archive with limited space!
Little did I know when I first laid eyes on those nineteen boxes that I would become so familiar with Houston policy, procedures—and even a little in-fighting—from the 1970s and ‘80s. I also learned the meaning of certain city council terminology, such as “pop off”, when I found many folders with that label. “Pop off” simply means ‘matters to be presented by council members.’
It was gratifying to work on this collection and see the difference I was making each week. When I was finally able to shelve those fifteen boxes with their new folders at the end, I knew I had helped.
If you are interested in completing an internship at HMRC, please contact the volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 832-393-1662
Photos feature archival materials from the Jim Westmoreland Papers (MSS 0389). Courtesy of HMRC.
Mark your calendars: Houston Metropolitan Research Center (HMRC) is going to be at the Houston Archives Bazaar on Sunday, November 17, 2019 from 12:30 PM – 4 PM at the White Oak Music Hall in Northside.
Presented by the Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!), the Archives Bazaar is a free, family-friendly event that gives you the chance to engage with history in the Houston area. Representatives from local archives, historical societies, and preservation groups will be there at the resource gallery, sharing information about their organizations and answering questions.
While you’re at the Bazaar, pick up a Passport to Houston Archives (also free). You’ll be able to collect stamps from visiting different exhibitors and taking part in activities. You’ll also qualify for prizes and Bazaar swag. Be sure to swing by the Houston Public Library’s table, where you’ll find HMRC, The African American Library at the Gregory School, and the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research.
Are you curious about archives and historical institutions in the Houston area? Do you want to learn about preserving your personal or family papers? The Ask-an-Archivist station will have professional archivists available to answer your questions.
You can become part of the archives by bringing a photo, document, or even writing a letter on-site to contribute to the 2019 Houston Archives Bazaar Time Capsule. You’ll get to learn first-hand how those materials will be properly stored, as they are “buried” under a 50-year access restriction. Be part of a snapshot of 2019 Houston for future generations to see. You can also archive your voice by sharing an interesting Houston experience or story at the Oral History Storytelling Booth.
If you have any questions about the event, you can contact the planning committee at email@example.com. Come see HMRC at the Archives Bazaar on Sunday, November 17!
Photos courtesy of the Houston Archives Bazaar, presented by the Archivists of the Houston Area. By Ai-Ha Do.
Exhibit: !Música! A History of Hispanic Sounds in Houston
August 24, 2019 - November 9, 2019
This exhibit captures key moments through the decades of different Hispanic music genres and reveals the vast impact it made on the Bayou City.
Halloween in the Archives (social media)
Thursday, October 31, 2019
HMRC is taking over the HPL instagram! We'll show followers special behind-the-scenes content as well as our favorite spooky finds in the archive. Like #AskAnArchivist day, this virtual program seeks to break down barriers that can make archives seem inaccessible and fosters interaction between viewers and HMRC staff.
Nick Vaughn and Jake Margolin: Cabin Boy Blue
Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 6 PM
This performance lecture is offered in collaboration with DiverseWorks.
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