Trawling the source materials in Food and Drink in History

24 February 2020

Cultural Studies | History

This is a special guest blog by Roger Horowitz, a food historian, director of the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library, and editorial board member for Food and Drink in History.

The Hagley Library and Adam Matthew Digital have developed an excellent relationship over the past decade creating digital sources for historical research. As a large research library with eight miles of manuscript material, three million images, and likely 30 million pages of printed materials, we’ve welcomed these opportunities to make our resources available to a larger audience – and which is in keeping with our mission, to document the unfolding history of business and technology and their impact on the world.

We’ve worked with AM Digital on many projects, most recently Food and Drink in History. AM Digital asked me to give it a test drive, so I tried out my own current research into Jews and food to see what I could find. I learned there are great cookbooks and other sources in this collection. But I was especially impressed with what I learned about the contents of trade journals from Hagley Library that were and digitised, with keyword searching allowing me to access content in a new way.

One such journal is the Spice Mill. Its contents belie the misleading title that implied it was about spices; its founder explained in the opening issue that he picked the name “the SPICE MILL, because we intend to deal in a spicy way with the spice of active manufacturing business life.”  Its wide-ranging coverage included, I learned, extensive commentary on Jews and kosher food practices. A particularly insightful article from 1901 commented on the spread of Jewish-operated tea shops in New York City “that are just as popular with the Gentiles as with the Jews” because of the excellence of their hot beverages. It warned gentiles, however, that they could not get milk with their coffee if they ordered a steak, as doing so violated the Jewish dietary law separating milk from meat.

Another useful trade journal was Quick Frozen Food, whose title leaves no mystery as to its contents: to guide food manufacturers into the profitable world of frozen food targeted towards consumers. Its March 1962 issue heralded increasing sales of kosher frozen food “indicating a hard-won confidence and acceptance in a traditionally conservative market.” The article featured the highs sales of frozen knishes, and augured the introduction of kosher frozen dinners by, among other firms, the Karmey Kosher Products operating out of Far Rockaway, New York.

I was unaware of these – and other – valuable sources in the Hagley Library while I was sitting upstairs in my office writing Kosher USA: How Coke became kosher and other tales of modern food. Creating keyword-searchable versions of these trade journals will be a “godsend” to future researchers. It is a true mitzvah (good deed) for these materials (and future materials) to be made so available; I look forward to the continued collaboration between Hagley and Adam Mathew to that end.

Available now, Food and Drink in History provides a unique lens through which to view social and cultural history. The materials in this collection illustrate the deep links between food and identity, politics, power, gender, race, and socio-economic status, as well as charting key issues such as agriculture, nutrition, and food production. 

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About the Author

Roger Horowitz

Roger Horowitz

Roger Horowitz is an historian of American business, technology, and labor and an expert on the nation’s food. He has written widely about the consumption and production of meat in America, and admits to being quite fond of eating all varieties of meat himself. Most recently his research has turned to kosher food, incited by powerful personal connections and intellectual curiosity.