What’s Cooking Wednesday: Top Ten Food Records of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, so does our exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” which will end on January 3, 2012.

It’s been a great year for food here at the National Archives. We’ve had amazing guests come and speak, including Chef José Andrés, our neighbor and Chief Culinary Adviser for the exhibit; Chef Roland Mesnier, former White House pastry chef; Diana Kennedy, guru of Mexican food; Ann Harvey Yonkers, co-director of FRESHFARM markets; Jessica B. Harris, author of High on the Hog; and George Motz, author of Hamburger America.

And of course, we’ve been writing about food-related records in the National Archives almost every Wednesday since the exhibit opened. We thought it would be fun to look back at the Top Ten Food Records in honor of this exhibit. Since we couldn’t include all of the records, we chose the ones that were most striking, strange, or popular.

Here’s our Top Ten list of memorable food records!

TEN: My coworker was constantly amused by this label for “Grains of Health,” which is profuse in its praise but vague in its description of these grains might actually be. Her favorite line: “It is so prepared that the strongest and the most delicate person may drink it at the same table.”

Grains of Health Label (ARC 5714039), Records of the Patent and Trademark Office


NINE: “Pig Cafeteria” is a photograph of a USDA exhibit meant to inform farmers about hog nutrition. The finishing touch is the napkin being tied around this pig’s neck. It was meant to catch the attention of the farmers, and it certainly caught ours!

Pig Cafeteria (ARC 5729281)


EIGHT: Long before Mr. Potato Head and his interchangeable parts came onto the scene, we had the “Potatriots.” Americans were urged to consume these noble spuds so that more wheat could be sent overseas, and our Education Department set up a potato photography studio for our visitors to recreate scenes from history using the starchy tubers.

Potatoes in Iowa become "the newest fighting corps" on the domestic front, ca. 1917 - ca. 1918 (ARC 283501)


SEVEN: “Exploding Ketchup” lent an air of danger to hamburgers and french fries everywhere. We nearly burst with excitement.

Contaminated ketchup (ARC 5710028)


SIX: Candy could be deadly. For Alice Kamps, who curated the exhibit, finding this tiny notebook was very moving. It was kept by a food investigator who was looking into purchases at Schuyler, Nebraska, where one child had died from candy and two others were made very ill.

Food adulteration notebook (ARC 5822069)


FIVE: “Crimes Against Butter” just keeps coming back. We’ve profiled the Oleo Gang before for their crimes, and the staff at the National Archives in Kansas City even reinterpreted them as Potatriots. There’s something about the combination of outrageous facial hair, Wild West mug shots, and illegal margarine trade that makes these records endlessly fascinating.

Charles Wille, in Federal prison for crimes against butter (ARC 596115)

FOUR: “Whale Surprise” is not in the exhibit, but when the staff at Kansas City told us about this Midwestern recipe for whale, we had them send a guest post! Let us all hope there is not a return to the time when the “housewife could take pride in her patriotic sacrifice and new skills searing and roasting whale.”

Recipe for whale pot roast, National Archives at Kansas City

THREE: “Vitamin Donuts,” with their 25 units of vitamin B1, were meant to strengthen the population during wartime. Ultimately, the company was told it could call the product “enriched flour donuts,” but “vitamin donuts” was out.

Vitamin donuts poster


TWO: Maybe it was the excitement of the royal wedding in April, but “The Queen’s Scones” was insanely popular. The recipe from Queen Elizabeth II, sent to President Eisenhower, was viewed over 10,000 times on Scribd.com, tweeted, featured in the news, and even made and eaten by some of our readers.

Family recipe from the Queen for scones (ARC 5721363)


And….drumroll please………ONE: Butter was the seventh food group. This poster has meant with approval from chefs and home cooks alike, and has been talked about at our programs, on radio shows, in the news and in blogs. And of course, who doesn’t like the slogan at the bottom: “In addition to the basic 7, eat any other foods you want.” Pass the butter, please!

Poster with butter as the seventh food group (ARC 514288)

3 thoughts on “What’s Cooking Wednesday: Top Ten Food Records of 2011

  1. Wonderful use of this posting. These are truly remarkable items. “Potatriot” — gotta love that..

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