Ask A Librarian

I’ll date you a dish of _____

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 17th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the sixth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

Each recipe is a date! The author, Freda de Knight, introduces recipes with tidbits of history or personal advice. In the modern cookbook world, I get overwhelmed quickly. Each online recipe begins with paragraphs of extra tips on how exactly to roast this or marinate that, followed by bulleted lists of ingredients and instructions. A Date with a Dish slows down and eases you into the upcoming recipe, much like a girlfriend would sit me down to describe the guy she was setting me up with for a blind date.

A snippet of the preamble for “Smithfield Ham:”

The preamble reads, "So, as we date this dish, we ask who could be more competent to cook this delicacy, whether peanut cured or hickory smoked, than the Negroes who helped raise the hog, kill, and cure it?
The recipes for Smithfield ham date back to when "mammies" wore bandanas and took charge of the kitchen on festive occasions...tiny thin slices of ham for appetizers, or a thick, juicy slice for breakfast, or the whole ham garnished with all sorts of goodies for the main dish. And here are two of the finest ways to prepare this most wonderful ham, and both excellent."

Freda respects her contributors, radiating pride for Black chefs like Jimmy Daniels:

Excerpt reads, "Jimmy Daniels' Kedgeree
Here is a recipe from Jimmy Daniels, a young man who, before the last war, was proprietor of one of New York's finest Negro restaurants. The food and service were superb and definitely a "must" for all New Yorkers and visitors.
Jimmy, who has traveled all over America and Europe, knows and loves food. He definitely belongs in the gourmet class. Among his favorite recipes is "Kedgeree." an East Indian dish which is his pride and joy. It is simple, tasty and inexpensive."

See what I mean?

Jimmie Daniels Restaurant front

More than a list of ingredients, the reader hears about Black Americans that invented the dish, festivities when it is served, and a vivid depiction of how to simmer, chop, or prepare for the main event.

Note that each “date” ends with an underlying message: Black cooks are diverse, skilled, and worthy of society’s praise and recognition.


Image of Jimmie Daniels Restaurant:  Harlem World Magazine

Freda de Knight, “A Date With a Dish: A Cook Book of American Negro Recipes,” 1948.  

Newspaper Recipes: Porcupine Sausage Balls

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 11th, 2021

Blog post by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Thanks to the National Digital Newspaper Program, the WVRHC has been able to make more newspapers available digitally through Chronicling America.  Check out the full list of newspapers currently available for West Virginia, arranged by city.  You can use these newspapers to do historical research, to search for the names of relatives or famous people, to marvel at the clever advertisements of yesteryear, and you can also use them to find fun recipes.

To celebrate the latest group of digitized newspapers going up online, I decided to look for a fun recipe to test, and I found one I loved in The McDowell Times issue from March 14, 1941.  (You can take a look at the newspaper page in question to see this and other recipes.)

The recipes in this issue are in the “Household News” section by Eleanor Howe, and they’re all about diversifying sausage use.  To be honest, I was hooked from the beginning of the column.  The very clear gender roles of that time period practically jump off the page.  The column starts with a homemaker [clearly a woman] who claims to get as much of an emotional boost from trying a new recipe as from buying a new hat.  As the column continues, a small ad for a cookbook by the column author includes this sign of the times: “The best part of the adventure [in cooking], however, comes about when the recipe makes the man of the family look up and with both pride and appreciation in his voice pronounces the whole meal a tremendous success.”

It is worth noting that these recipes aren’t specific to Keystone, WV, the publishing location of The McDowell Times.  The clue, for me, was the mailing address for the advertised cookbook, which was in Illinois.  I did a quick search of Chronicling America’s newspapers and found that this same column ran in The Midland Journal, in Maryland, Carbon County News, in Montana, and The Frontier, out of Nebraska, all during a two-day period. It is delightful to have a database like Chronicling America available to bring together materials from so many institutions, to allow for this kind of cross-searching.

While the image of a wife as a queen of domesticity doesn’t resonate with me, the part about cooking as an adventure does.  I am a beginner cook, and I’m always on the lookout for relatively quick and easy things that are appropriate for family dining or get-togethers with friends.  When I saw the recipe and image for Porcupine Sausage Balls, I knew this would be it.

Recipe for porcupine balls featuring a cartoon illustration of a porcupine

Porcupine Sausage Balls

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 ½ cups canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound bulk pork sausage
¾ cup uncooked rice

Melt butter in frying pan and brown onion in it. Add chopped green pepper, tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Cook until green pepper is tender. Make the sausage into small balls and roll in the uncooked rice. Place in greased baking casserole and pour the tomato mixture over the sausage balls. Cover baking dish and bake 1 ½ hours in a moderate oven (350 degrees).

Ingredients for porcupine sausage balls

The recipe was relatively easy to prep and easy to follow.  I did note partway through that salt does not appear on the ingredients list, so I just assumed that all I needed was a big pinch of it.  I approached the rice with skepticism – I have been disappointed once before by rice that didn’t actually cook in a recipe, so I worried if this rice would cook properly.  I chose a small casserole dish so that the tomato sauce mixture would cover the sausage balls completely, to give the rice a fighting chance.  If you want to make this recipe, too, I suggest using a smaller amount of rice than what the recipe calls for, with more on standby. I probably only used a half cup of rice.

Rice covered porcupine sausage balls in a bowl

While they didn’t look quite like the adorable drawing in the recipe, the sausage balls were quite cute with the rice on them. With the sauce on top, it was ready to cook for what felt like a surprisingly long time.

Porcupine sausage balls covered with the tomato and pepper mixture

The final result was delicious.  It probably wasn’t intended as an afternoon snack, but that’s how we ate it.  The rice [which DID cook, except for a few crunchy pieces on the bottom] doesn’t actually stick to the meatballs, so if you are expecting the presentation of the dish to reflect the name of it, you will be disappointed. However, the most important part is that this was so tasty.  Everyone in my family enjoyed it, even the kids, who are pretty hit or miss at this age.  I am surprised to say that I will be making it again.  Tip: make sure to choose a sausage that has a flavor balance you like; for me, the sausage flavors really shined through.  Alternatively, you could try this with ground beef or meat substitute, but I don’t know how that would affect the cooking time, if at all.

Completed meal of porcupine sausage balls on a plate

Not just fried chicken.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
May 3rd, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fifth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

“It is a fallacy, long disproved, that Negro cooks, chefs, caterers and housewives can adapt themselves only to the standard Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, greens, corn pone, hot breads, and so forth.” The preface was probably quite inflammatory to prejudiced whites that came across it. To get a sense of the author’s courage, glance over the first page here:

A copy of the Preface page of A Date with a Dish. The preface reads, "There has long been a need for a non-regional cook book that would contain recipes, menus, and cooking hints from and by Negroes all over America. I have attempted in these pages to present, along with my own contributions, as complete a collection as can be found anywhere in the land. Recipes new and fresh in the modern ages old brought back to life...original, traditional, and exciting.
It is a fallacy, long disproved, the Negro cooks, chefs, caterers and housewives can adapt themselves only to the standard Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, greens, corn pone, hot breads, and so forth. Like other Americans living in various sections of the country they have naturally shown a desire to branch out in all directions and become versatile in the preparation of any dish, whether it be Spanish in origin, Italian, French, Balinese, or East Indian.
Years ago, and even today, some of our greatest culinary artists were unable to read or write. But their ingenuity, mother wit and good common sense made them masters in their profession without the aid of measuring spoons."

The author, Freda de Knight, in her book, A Date With a Dish: A Cook Book of American Negro Recipes, acknowledges stereotypes. She knows that Black individuals had to improvise, cooking without measurement or modern equipment. How could they formally publish cookbooks when they couldn’t read or write?

Hannah Giorgis in Bon Appetit describes how Freda’s cookbook transformed the future of Black cooks. She recognized that “cultural archiving and culinary research are both pursuits for which few black people have received compensation.” It’s a great read for home chefs, history buffs, or anyone interested in how one woman stood for justice.

*It’s nearly impossible to find a print copy of Freda de Knight’s book, as numerous Amazon and Google searches proved. However, WVU students and staff can visit the Ebersole Collection on the 6th floor of the library to read our copy for free! Make an appointment. (They’re open during the COVID-19 pandemic by appointment.)

**I also found this online version of A Date with a Dish digitized by Cornell University.

Preservation Week 2021

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 27th, 2021

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Logo for Preservation Week April 25-May 1, 2021

Each year in April, libraries and archives take time to share information about one of our core activities: preservation. Caring for the collections materials under our stewardship is part of the mission of the West Virginia & Regional History Center, the WVU Libraries, and many other library and heritage institutions. Many of you have your own collections – records, letters, photographs, artifacts, videos, and more – that contain your personal history, the history of your family, your school, and your communities. The theme for Preservation Week 2021 is Preserving Community Archives and the goal is to provide resources and education to help you take care of your collections.

West Virginia takes pride in its sense of community and our history is often written by looking closely at groups with shared experiences. Coal camps, unions, sports teams, and homemaker’s clubs are just a scant few of the communities that have been explored to tell the story of the people of the state. Not all communities have been studied, nor their records collected. Black, ethnic, and LGBTQ communities in West Virginia are underrepresented in our histories and our archives. Community archives are a way for groups to collect and interpret their own history.

There are many things you and your community can do to preserve your historic records so they can be passed down to others in the future. The resources linked below offer guidance on many different kinds of materials. We can also offer some advice at the WVRHC.  If you have a preservation question or want to start a community archive, send us an email. We’ll try to assist and provide answers or get you in touch with someone who can. 

Caring for Your Treasures: Guides on architecture, books, glass & ceramics, documents & works of art on paper, furniture, home video, metal objects, paintings, photographs, textiles, and matting & framing from the American Institute for Conservation

Dear Donia: Ask preservation expert Donia Conn a question, and review the archive of her answers

Disaster Recovery: Disaster planning, salvage, and restoration resources

Preservation Leaflets: Handouts on numerous preservation issues from the Northeast Document Conservation Center

Preservation Week Webinars: Free webinars on numerous preservation topics

Saving Your Stuff: Tips for audio, books, data, documents and paper, film and home movies, photos, scrapbooks, slides and textiles

Shakespeare’s Birthday! Celebrating with the Flowers of Shakespeare’s Plays

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 23rd, 2021

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

Shakespeare loved flowers and it is well known that he used them in his plays.  Flowers conveyed meaning and symbolism in Shakespeare’s day.  Each mention of a flower or tree would provide a clue to the readers of his plays.  Let’s take a look at some of the flowers and plays where they are mentioned.  I’m sure Shakespeare would be happy to celebrate his birthday with a bouquet of flowers!

All of the flower portraits you see here come from a set of books in the Rare Books collection, William Woodville’s Medical Botany.  Published in 1832 in five volumes, each with beautiful images of flowers and other plants illustrated with hand colored plates. 

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’

Romeo and Juliet

Botanical illustration of a rose

Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors,
Which some call nature’s bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of a carnation

 ‘The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!’

The Winter’s Tale

Botanical illustration of an iris

‘Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.’


Botanical illustration of a poppy

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

If you’d like to see Shakespeare’s works or Woodville’s Medical Botany, contact me, Stewart Plein, to schedule a visit to the Rare Book Room. 


Carnation image

Rose image

Iris image

Poppy image


Recent Acquisition of Historical Photos of Mountaineer Field in the 1920s

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 19th, 2021

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator for Archives and Manuscripts, WVRHC

A recent gift to the History Center includes negatives featuring Mountaineer Field in the 1920s, among other material. Shot by local photographer Scott Gibson, they afford a glimpse of the stadium and field in their earliest days. Before discussing them, however, a review of some of the history of WVU football and the stadium will help to contextualize and enhance our appreciation of these photographs.

Today the Mountaineers are a popular team, having achieved much success in recent times under coach Nehlen and in the years following. They were also a big deal in the 1920s. The 1922 team under coach Clarence Spears were unbeaten, the first and only WVU football team to achieve such a record. The Mountaineers then made their first appearance in a bowl game against Gonzaga in the East-West Bowl, while also stopping in Hollywood to have their picture taken with child star Jackie Coogan. A Charlie Chaplin discovery, Coogan posed front and center with the team.  The resulting autographed photo is in the collection of the History Center.

Jackie Coogan and the Mountaineers at Hollywood
Mountaineer Football Team with Coogan (front, center); 1922.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, no. 040447,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

The success of the Mountaineer team gained the positive attention of the administration of West Virginia University, who then initiated the construction of the first iteration of Mountaineer Field, which was completed in time for the 1924 season.

Construction of Mountaineer Field
Construction of the Stadium at Mountaineer Field; 31 July 1924.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, no. 019396,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

Some of the subject matter in the negatives just recently acquired from the studio of Scott Gibson include the stadium not long after its completion. Apart from mostly Monticola yearbooks and a few scrapbooks, the 1920s at West Virginia University are not as well documented by photography as in later years, so the acquisition of these images is a welcome addition to our collections. We will feature three of them here.

One of the images shows what appears to be a football game in progress, or perhaps a practice session, we don’t know since identification is lacking. Although the number of spectators is low in this photo, we do know that the Mountaineers could draw crowds of up to 10 to 20 thousand in that era, based on newspaper reports.

Football game at Mountaineer Field
Football in progress at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(from the West Virginia History OnView collection, Scott Gibson collection,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

The other two photos to be featured here show what appear to be college aged students posing among the stadium benches. They could be young family members, perhaps with friends, of the photographer Scott Gibson. We don’t know. We do know, however, that the negatives for these photos date from ca. 1926, since they are clearly related to other negatives in the collection documenting a 1926 parade in Morgantown. The cloche hats, a virtual fashion necessity of the 1920s and early 30s, clinch this analysis. These images show a casual and candid side of WVU students that’s missing from photos typically seen in Monticola yearbooks.

Two female students posing at Mountaineer Field
Students posing at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(Scott Gibson collection, West Virginia and Regional History Center)
Two groups of female students posing at Mountaineer Field
Students posing at Mountaineer Field; ca. 1926.
(Scott Gibson collection, West Virginia and Regional History Center)

Wikipedia articles consulted:

“1922 West Virginia Mountaineers football team”

“West Virginia Mountaineers football”

For other History Center blog posts related to new acquisitions, see:

Collection Highlight: A Souvenir of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Sampling a New Collection: Historical Postcards of Railroad Depots

Sampling a New Collection: More Historical Postcards from the Edward Utz Collection

The Cicadas are Coming!

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 12th, 2021

Blog post by Angela Spatafore, Program Assistant, WVRHC

I love cicadas. In fact, you can probably say it is an obsession at this point. If you visit my house or take a ride in my car, you will undoubtedly be reminded of this obsession by the cicada taxidermy on my bedroom walls to the plush cicada on my dashboard to the various art pieces I’ve collected. So naturally when I was hired at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, one of my first questions was what the Center had about cicadas in its collections. In the spirit of Brood X’s emergence later this year, let’s look at some of what I could find.

Cicadas in various stages of emergence on a tree.
Here is a photo I took of the emerging Brood V cicadas in Fairmont, 2016. If you look closely in the bottom right and left corners, you can see two full grown cicadas sporting their signature black and orange coloring. The milky, freshly emerged cicadas will eventually dry to black. The entire process takes about ninety minutes!

With six broods of periodical cicadas covering almost the entire state, West Virginia certainly has its fair share of history with the cicadas. Every seventeen years like clockwork once the ground warms to 64° F eight inches underground, the cicadas begin to emerge, and given their predictability, newspapers publish articles warning and educating those within range of the incoming invasions.

One of my favorite newspaper articles comes from the Ceredo Advance in May 1911. In the article, the author, John E. Watkins, describes the oncoming emergence of not just one but two broods, one of the 17-year broods and one of the 13-year broods. He remarks on how he and everyone living in his time would never witness both broods emerge simultaneously again. While this emergence occurred mostly in New Jersey, it was interesting to see how the news made its way to West Virginia. After all, there’s nothing like a cicada to get you to brood about your mortality.

Newspaper article from the Ceredo Advance titled 1911 Invasion of Insect Armies. Included in the article is a 6-panel comic following a cicada's metamorphosis from nymph to adult.

Growing up, no one I knew called them cicadas. Until my obsession took over and I began pouring through book after book, I, like everyone I knew, called them locusts. After paging through newspapers from as far back as 1834 to today, apparently the term “locust” never quite went out of style. Nearly every article includes some statement explaining the difference between a locust and a cicada to the reader, but why the confusion in the first place?

Apparently the massive scale of a cicada emergence was reminiscent of the biblical swarms of locust to the settlers who witnessed the event. This anecdote was included in The Periodical Cicada of West Virginia by the entomologist William E. Rumsey, a publication I found interesting not only for its scientific content but also its discussion of regional folklore related to the insect, and while I was unable to find any photographs of past invasions in my search of the Center’s OnView collection, I was able to find a photograph of Rumsey. While obviously not a cicada himself, it was nice to put a face to the man whose words I read as I put together this post.

William E. Rumsey, an entomologist, sitting in a greenhouse.

With that said, love them or hate them, cicadas are a part of West Virginia history, and for those of you with ties to the Eastern Panhandle or any of other fourteen states covered by Brood X, be prepared. The cicadas are coming.

The woman behind one of West Virginia’s fine bakeries.

Posted by Angela Spatafore.
April 5th, 2021

Blog post by Christina White, undergraduate researcher at WVU

This is the fourth post in White’s series on race, justice, and social change through cookbooksfeaturing the following books from the Ebersole collection: Mammy Pleasant’s Cookbook, A Date with a Dish, A Good Heart and a Light Hand, and The Jemima Code.

Freda de Knight authored the next featured cookbook, A Date with a Dish, but it would be better described as a midnight phone conversation with a friend who knows more than you.

She published this guide in 1948, but her culinary journey began at age 5 when she, like many girls at the time, helped her mother pack lunch for her siblings and prepare family meals.

A page from the guide includes a photo of Freda de Knight and the following biographical information, "This extremely charming, brown-skinned little woman who has written A DATE WITH A DISH brings a wealth of experience as well as a natural bent to her subject. 
"By the time I was five years of age," Freda de Knight relates, "I was able to bake my first loaf of bread, make biscuits, and garnish plates. Instead of cutting out paper dolls and playing house, I was cutting out recipes and playing cook."
After completing her early education in a convent at Salem, N. D., she took several courses at different colleges, majoring in home economics. She has acted as teacher and counsellor in all phases of the culinary arts in the New York schools. During the past twenty years she has collected thousands of recipes from Negro sources, and has used these recipes time and time again for gourmets and people who just love good food. 
She is the Cooking Editor of EBONY, popular Negro national magazine, in which her monthly column, A DATE WITH A DISH, is read by hundreds of thousands."

Freda didn’t hide from challenges facing Black cooks. This was the first cookbook I read that outright rejected the status quo, calling for “a non-regional cook book that would contain recipes, menus, and cooking hints from and by Negros all over America.” Here, there are hundreds of those recipes with anecdotes from the cooks themselves. I have no choice other than sharing one recipe by a West Virginia resident and baker, Ruth Jackson!

Text excerpt reads, "Ruth Jackson. As a girl, Ruth Jackson started her career as a "top notcher" in the Cooks and Bakers Class. Later she married a minister and became one of the pillars of her community when it came to good foods. All this helped toward her Epicurean education and for years she's been holding down first-class positions in her field. 
During her early years of cooking she studied and perfected the art of making pastries and candies. At one time she had charge of one of West Virginia's better bakeries. Everything that passed through her trained hands was baked to perfection, and her wedding cakes and petits fours were "picture-perfect," as if they had come out of the finest French bakeries."

I tried to find more information about Ruth, like her bakery’s name, city of residence, or even a photo. I had no success, although a more intensive search might work out. Either way, her memory lives on in A Date with a Dish.

When I think of West Virginia in the 1940’s, I never thought I’d hear about it from the perspective of a Black, female baker. It is truly awesome that Freda takes a moment to celebrate other women of color, whose recipes and ideas were generally shut off from popular cookbooks or publications. Wouldn’t it be great if they read about female entrepreneurs like Ruth Jackson in West Virginia history classes? The recipe is there, tucked away on a shelf in the West Virginia & Regional History Center. If you take away anything from this blog, don’t be afraid to fill a void in a story you care about.