Sarah Hale’s Campaign for a National Thanksgiving Holiday

Portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale in Woman's record, or, Sketches of all distinguished women
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, National Portrait Gallery
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, 1842, National Portrait Gallery

If you love Thanksgiving, you should learn the name Sarah Josepha Hale.

Starting in 1846 and continuing until her retirement in 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) used her position as editress1 of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine — one of the most popular and influential magazines of the time — to campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday in November. For many years, she wrote two editorials each year in the magazine explaining the benefits of a national Thanksgiving holiday and encouraging her readers to pressure public officials to establish the holiday. She also wrote thousands of personal letters (by hand!) to elected officials, to the influencers of the day (other magazine editors, prominent preachers, etc.), and to her wide network of friends and family.

When Hale started her campaign, Thanksgiving wasn’t a new concept in America. Towns, villages and states held harvest festivals that included a late-morning trip to church for a special service, followed by a feast2.  But there was no national Thanksgiving Day — every town chose its own feast day. In 1789, President Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that set forth “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” but this was a one-time event.

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You Like Tomato, I Like Tom-ah-to, Dr. Kitchiner Likes Apples

Pizza with Mock Tomato Sauce (Mock Tomata) from the Cook's Oracle by William Kitchiner
Pizza with Mock Tomato Sauce (Mock Tomata) from the Cook's Oracle by William Kitchiner
The pizza sauce isn’t yellow because I used yellow tomatoes, it’s because I used a “mock tomato sauce” made with apples

After posts on 19th century complaints about plagiarism and the evolution of recipe writing style, we finally get to the recipe that originally attracted me to William Kitchiner’s 1818 book, The Cook’s OracleMock Tomata Sauce [sic].

When I first saw Mock Tomata Sauce on my screen, I had a few thoughts. First: ????. Next: I need to try this. And then: this reminds me of the delicious mostarda spread / sauce in the Gjelina cookbook (a concoction of lightly fried apples, coarse mustard, rosemary, etc.), so it will probably taste good.

Here’s Kitchiner’s recipe (mid-sentence capitalizations and “tomata” in original):

Mock Tomata Sauce. — (No. 293.)

Reduce sharp tasted apples to a pulp as in making apple sauce; pound them in a mortar with as much turmeric as will give them colour, and as much Chili vinegar as will give the same degree of acid flavour that the tomata has; add to each pint a quarter of an ounce of shallots shred fine; put all into a well-tinned saucepan and mix them well together, and give them a gentle boil; when cold, take out the shallot1 and put the sauce into small stone bottles; your sauce should be of the consistence of a thick syrup 2; this may be regulated by the Chili vinegar.

Obs. — The only difference3, between this, and genuine Love-apple Sauce, is the substituting the pulp of Apple for that of Tomata, and colouring it with turmeric.

Unfortunately, Kitchiner doesn’t explain why he includes this mock recipe (or any of the others — there are more than 15 “mock” recipes in the book).

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Old Restaurant Menus for Christmas, New Year’s Day, and a Gathering of Bankers

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu

The Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library shows what people were eating in restaurants decades ago. It contains tens of thousands of menus, with the bulk from the early 20th century, when the collection’s creator, Miss Frank E. Buttolph, was actively collecting menus.  In this post, I’ll highlight three seasonal menus and a creative menu for bankers.

A Stocking Menu from Detroit

The Christmas Spirit moved the Griswold House’s menu designer in 1900, leading to a stocking-shaped menu. Based on my reading of menus from around 1900, this one is fairly typical. It is loaded with French cuisine, and also has some game (roast canvasback duck and stuffed roast opossum). And celery, of course (restaurant menus of that era often had celery in the salad or appetizer section).

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu
Cover and interior of Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu (a much larger picture of the 1900 Griswold House Christmas menu, ~4 MB)
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San Francisco in the Movies: Taking Goldfish To The Ocean

Photo of the apartment building used in the Dark Passage film, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco
Photo of the apartment building used in the Dark Passage film, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco
Apartment building used in Dark Passage, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco

A escaped convict is on the run in San Francisco, one step ahead of the police, trying to prove he didn’t commit the crime that sent him to prison. The only person he trusts is a wealthy woman who lives in a lavish apartment on Telegraph Hill.

That’s a basic mostly spoiler-free summary of the plot of Dark Passage, one of the great “San Francisco films.” Released in 1947, Dark Passage is notable for its use of location, notably the apartment shown above, and for its unusual use of the film’s biggest star — Humphrey Bogart — for the first third of the film. And like other San Francisco films, it has quite a bit of geographic weirdness. For example, when Sam the cab driver (Tom D’Andrea) tells Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) a story about a fare who got in the cab carrying a bowl with goldfish in it.

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A Google Books Ngram of Pumpkin Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice

Halloween postcard, circa 1908, showing four pumpkin creatures cutting a cake and celebrating. From Huron County Museum's Flick Commons collection
Mother Earth's children; the frolics of the fruits and vegetables (1914) - from Internet Archive on Flickr

We are at the edge of pumpkin and pumpkin spice season, with the peak still ahead of us, so I thought it would be fun to run three pumpkin terms through the Ngrams Viewer from Google Books:  pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin spice.  For those not familiar with the tool, The Ngrams Viewer tool searches the Google Books library of digitized printed materials, which is mostly books but also includes periodicals, for the terms you request (with numerous variations allowed, as explained in the documentation).

Pumpkin Pie, Pie Spice, and Spice

Here is the Ngram chart for the three terms (link) from 1800 to 2019:

Not surprisingly, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice do not appear until the mid-to-late 20th century. Pumpkin pie spice was probably created by one of the big spice houses (like McCormick), while pumpkin spice is a much more recent creation of the food and drink industry.    

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What is the First Movie to Mention Pizza?

Google Books Ngram of Pizza - pizza pie, pizza pie 1950-2008

Updated, 8/29/21 with an earlier sighting

I’m a big fan of old movies — film noir, musicals, the epics of the 1950s and 60s. I recently watched The Band Wagon, a 1953 musical directed by Vincente Minnelli1, one of the last huge and lavish MGM musicals. In a scene that follows the out of town premiere of the “show within a show” that stars Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) and Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), the cast and crew are having a party to reduce their sorrow after the out-of-town premiere did not go well. Soon after Hunter arrives, one of the cast members offers him “some pizza pie.”2

Screenshot from The Band Wagon movie, where Fred Astaire's character is offered pizza pie
At a post-show party, one of the performers in the show offers Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) some pizza pie. Screenshot from The Band Wagon (released on August 7, 1953).

That “Want some pizza pie?” line made me wonder: in which Hollywood movie was pizza first mentioned? Could The Band Wagon be the first one?

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B.T. Babbitt’s Soap Factory and a New Shoreline for Lower Manhattan

Image of a soap and saleratus factory for the B.T. Babbitt company. From Industrial America or manufacturers and inventors of the United States, 1876. Via-NYPL
The B.T. Babbitt company’s soap and saleratus (baking soda) factory in Lower Manhattan, 1876 (note Trinity Church in the background)

My previous post about B.T. Babbitt and his soap company provides a brief sketch of his life and soap company. As I looked closer at his company it turned out that the location of his factory is also an interesting story (to me anyway).

Babbitt’s New York City soap and saleratus (baking soda) factory was near the southern tip of Manhattan, occupying about 20,000 sq. ft. (1,848 sq. m) of land on 1/2 of the block bordered by West St, Rector St, Washington St, and Morris St (41-44 & 46-51 West St, and 64-82A Washington St). The first map below shows that it was just a few blocks from Battery Park (“The Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down”, as the “New York, New York” song in “On The Town” goes). The second and third maps show other views of the area.

Its riverfront location was probably not by accident, as the facility produced more than 100,000 pounds (~45,000 kg) of soap, and a large amount of baking soda each day. This required a lot of raw materials from outside of New York City, and therefore, having the docks close by was an advantage.

Today the Babbitt factory site is covered by residential buildings and a large parking garage.

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B.T. Babbitt, Soap and Baking Soda Magnate of the Late 1800s

"Pet of the Household" trade card for the B.T. Babbitt soap company showing child and cat on a soap box. Created in 19th century. B T Babbitt Soap trade card from the late 1800s. The reverse of the card showing a child, cat on table, and soap box B.T. Babbitt Soap trade card with boy in Revolutionary Era costume, flag, and soap box. Created in the 19th century. Trade card for the B.T. Babbitt soap company showing two children at a pond. Created in 19th century. Trade card for the B.T. Babbitt soap company showing child in a soap box sled. Created in 19th century. Trade card for the B.T. Babbitt soap company showing a child, cat, and soap box. Created in 19th century. Trade card for the B.T. Babbitt soap company showing children, puppet, and dog. Created in 19th century.

At the end of my post on the Sanitary Fair in Brooklyn to raise funds for Union Army soldiers, I highlighted an advertisement from the B.T. Babbitt company, and noted that one of their all-text ad felt as if it could have been written today. It offered free shipping for certain orders and promised a donation to charity with every purchase. Those features, plus the wording made me think that this B.T. Babbitt company was a small operation, maybe even a huckster.  I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to find out that that Benjamin T. Babbitt was a big deal: he held numerous patents, his company was an innovator in advertising, the company had multiple factories and multiple product lines, including a 300,000 sq. ft. (27,870 sq. m) factory in Lower Manhattan.

The B.T. Babbitt company was a pioneer in advertising and marketing, perhaps the first to use retail premiums to sell products in America, as they gave away free lithographic prints with purchase of baking soda 1. Some of the marketing items that survive are advertising cards: one side typically shows a cute child or two, sometimes a pet, and always a box of B.T. Babbitt soap; the other side has text that praises the soap and its proprietor Mr. Babbitt. For example:

“Full of hope with Babbitt’s soap…Call on B.T. Babbitt if you would know how joyous life is beyond the clouds…”

“Behold! you washing world; the soap, / That lightens labor, brightens hope, / Begrudge to worthless wares your dimes, / And order BABBITT’S BEST betimes”

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Using Arduino for Better Homemade Bread

Drawing of a DIY dough proofing box that is controlled by an Arduino microcontroller
Photograph of homemade proofing chamber for bread dough
The DIY proofing box in use

During the COVID-19 pandemic and run-up to the 2020 U.S. Election, I started watching the Great British Baking Show (a.k.a. Great British Bake Off) on Netflix as a way to reduce stress. When one of the contestants mentioned a “proofing drawer” my ears perked up. Soon I understood that the proofing drawer (a.k.a. warming drawer) as a tool that provided a warm, temperature-controlled environment that would keep a batch of dough happy and growing.

My personal interest in this appliance is driven by the room temperature in my house Berkeley, California, which is usually too cool for most bread fermentation (typically 65 F/18 C)1, but I don’t have space or energy to research and install a commercial proofing drawer.

Evolution of the DIY Proofing Drawer

A few years ago, while living in another house in Berkeley, I also faced the room temperature problem. Full of creative inspiration from the Maker Movement of the time, I built a DIY proofing drawer, using a kitchen cabinet as the container and a 60 Watt incandescent light bulb as the heat source. An Arduino microcontroller with various accessories controlled the temperature in the cabinet. It worked OK, but I didn’t use it much because it was a pain to set up — empty the cabinet, dig out my Arduino stuff, set it up, etc.

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Before 1950, Celery Was an Extremely Popular Restaurant Menu Item

Charts of celery on restaurant menus, data from NYPL

I don’t like celery, so it might have been a defense mechanism when I started noticing it on menu after menu from the late-19th and early-20th centuries1. As I looked through the Buttolph Collection of Menus for food conservation messages on World War I-era menus, it seemed that nearly every menu included celery as a distinct menu item, like the five shown below.

Collage of menus with celery, menus from NYPL
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