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State Doc Pick of the Week : The Old North State at War : The North Carolina Civil War Atlas

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The state document of the week, this week, is a little different than in previous weeks. There is no digital version but it is something that is a long time coming and is filled with a lot of great content. The Old North State at War : The North Carolina Civil War Atlas is a book filled with 99 high detail maps created specifically for the study of the impact of the Civil War in North Carolina, it covers every Civil War military engagement in the state. It is authored by Mark Anderson Moore with Jessica A. Bandel and Michael Hill and is a product of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, a part of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The book itself is beautifully illustrated, hardbound, 200 pages, and in full color. For anyone interested in Civil War history and/or North Carolina history, this is a very important addition to your collection.

You can purchase this book for your own collection here. You can view the official press release for the book, here. The book will also be available here in the State Library of North Carolina as well as for sale at museums and historic sites gift shops here in North Carolina.

For an adventurous Thanksgiving: Historic cooking techniques and recipes from North Carolina

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Dessert recipes from Mary K. William's "Polk Cookbook", 1858, NC Digital Collections.

Dessert recipes from Mary K. William’s “Polk Cookbook”, 1858, NC Digital Collections.

Recently the New York Times published a piece on the “Cook’s Oracle”, an historical cooking database that has been a five decade long work of scholarship (and labor of love) of Barbara Ketcham Wheaton.  Wheaton is a food historian and worked for 25 years as a curator of the culinary collection at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.  In the Cook’s Oracle, she has gone back centuries to patiently and persistently cataloge recipes, ingredients and food techniques with the goal of doing so for all of the cookbooks printed in North America and Europe.  To date she has logged the contents of more than 3,400 cookbooks with more than 130,000 records.  The possibilities for research are intriguing, particularly with the recent growth of historical work being done by ethnographers and food historians.

Wheaton’s work inspired me to visit the oldest cookbooks we have at the GHL and in the NC Digital Collections.  Looking at some of the earliest gave me a taste of the magnitude of her project.  For example, the Polk Cookbook  (1858, from the State Archives collection) was handwritten by Mary Williams, mother of President James K. Polk’s sister-in-law Lucy.  The book includes culinary recipes as well as cleaning and medicinal concoctions.  Some that might today even come under the heading “don’t try this at home.”  The ante-bellum culinary recipes are at times notable for the absence of the precision of modern recipes with their measurements, tools, process, temperatures, and timing.  If you’re up for experimenting with these artifacts, my favorite edible recipes with holiday desserts in mind are “Transparent Pudding” and “Bread Pudding”.  On the same page, she also includes a recipe for traditional mince pies, made with beef. (See the image at top right for recipes and link to the cookbook.)

Pumpkin Pudding, from Mary Mason's The Young Housewife's Counsellor and Friend, published 1871.

Pumpkin Pudding, from Mary Mason’s The Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend, published 1871.

The most unique recipe a propos of Thanksgiving that I’ve come upon is from Mary Ann Bryan Mason.  Mason was a native of New Bern, born there in 1802, who eventually relocated to Raleigh with her husband, the Rev. Richard Sharpe Mason (rector of Raleigh’s Christ Church).  She published the Young Housewife’s Counsellor and Friend in 1871, and in its 380 pages she includes instruction for housewives from everything from the nursery and sickroom to recipes for food, cures, and poisons.

My favorite is a recipe for turkey boiled in (yes!) a towl.  General disclaimer:  we don’t necessarily recommend that you try this at home!

“If your turkey or fowl is to be boiled, have ready a pot of boiling water, dip a towell into it, then, after rubbing it with flour, inclose your fowl or turkey; tie it tightly, and drop it into your pot of boiling water.  A large hen will take an hour and a half or two hours, a turkey hen two hours.  When you think it is done, thrust a large darning needle into the breast of thigh; if it goes in readily, it is done, if not, let it boil longer.”

Mason also included more pudding recipes than I could count, including Edgecombe Pudding, Croatan Pudding, Henderson Pudding, Raleigh Pudding and Barbados Pudding (no doubt included for her husband, a native of Barbados).  Her recipe for Pumpkin Pudding is included in the lefthand image.

If you have the courage to experiment, you can find Williams’ and Mason’s cookbooks in the North Carolina Digital Collections.   And you can learn more about the Masons in NCpedia.

Happy Thanksgiving from the N.C. Government & Heritage Library!

— Kelly Agan, Digital Projects Librarian

Library Closing: Thanksgiving 2015

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Turkey, J.J. Davis Farm, Cape Hatteras, NC, 1909. From the H. H. Brimley Photo Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

Turkey, J.J. Davis Farm, Cape Hatteras, NC, 1909. From the H. H. Brimley Photo Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

The Government and Heritage Library  will be closed Thursday, November 26th –  Saturday, November 28th for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Regular hours will resume on Monday, November 30th. Have a good holiday!


Searching census records – online and the “old fashioned” way

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small snipet from the Stokes County census for 1800

Everyone knows how amazing databases and online repositories are for genealogy research—millions of names have been indexed and can be easily searched. But just in case you thought you could consign the old cumbersome paper and microfilm sources to the dumpster, just remember that the database indexes are only as good as the OCR programs and readers who are trying to decipher old and faded handwriting.


This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.