The sweet taste of Texas cookbooks

Elizabeth Borst White knows cookbooks! Twenty-five years ago, recognizing the unique window into cultural history that they provide, Ms. White began a collection that now contains nearly 1,600 volumes.  Recently retired after nearly 40 years as a librarian for the Houston Academy of Medicine–Texas Medical Center Library, White understands the value of her Texas cookbook collection as a historical resource and has pledged to donate her materials to The Texas Collection, significantly enriching our already wide assortment of resources in this area. In addition, Elizabeth White has generously established the Biscuits and Gravy Endowed Fund–a permanent endowment that provides funding for future purchases and preservation of the cookbook collection.

White says that her favorite types of cookbooks are “community cookbooks with lots of advertisements for local businesses” because they “give the reader a good picture of the community at that time. We just do not see advertisements for rifles and ammunition, or corsets and ladies’ hats in cookbooks today.”

Here’s a small taste of the delights you can find in the Elizabeth Borst White Texas Culinary Collection:

  • “Treasure Pots,” The Austin Woman’s Club, 1940 which includes recipes for Salmagundi Dressing, Admiration Pie, and ‘Possum and Sweet Taters.
  • What’s Cooking in Our Swedish-American Kitchens, Central Methodist Church, Austin, c.1951, with Wienerbrod (Coffee Bread), Kroppkakor (Potato Dumplings with Pork), and Brysseikax (Iced Box Cookies). Also Tuna Noodles and Tamale Pie.
  • Portrait of A. Fillmore, author of one of the first cook books by an African-American chef, The Lone Star Cook Book and Meat Special (From the Slaughter Pen to the Dining Room Table), Hotel Lubbock, 1929.


  • Advertisement for Kitchen Queen’s Baking Powder (“Healthful and efficient.”) and J.E. Grant Fine Wall Papers (“Don’t paper your house like everybody’s house.”) from the Waxahachie Cook Book, 1902 .


  • Advertisements for Miss Julia A. Hillyer, Teacher of Piano, and Kauffman Vehicles (“Would be pleased to figure with you if in need of a good Vehicle.”) also from the Waxahachie Cook Book, 1902.

The Texas Culinary Collection is a fascinating look into the kitchens of the past. These cookbooks help us understand the history of the organizations that authored them, and the daily lives of the chefs and homemakers whose recipes they contain. They remind us of businesses and products no longer available, and of trendy foods no longer in fashion. Come in and sample the collection for some great reading and great cooking!


Before the Decepticons: early projected images from the Victor Animatograph Company

In the days before Decepticons and Autobots, Viopticons, Stereopticons, and the other members of the Magic Lantern family thrilled audiences in darkened rooms. While perhaps difficult for us to imagine from our movie-savy perspective, for many years before the advent of cinema people went out to the “picture show” to look at slides.  Theatergoers were captivated by the magical effect of these projected images. Eventually, enterprising showmen added musicians and sound effects to enhance the show–even animating the images by various mechanical techniques. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, phantasmagoria shows left audiences shivering with terror for fear that ghosts and demons had been set upon them.

The Texas Collection recently uncovered two boxes of glass slides manufactured by the Victor Animatograph Co. of Davenport, Iowa. These slides were 2 x 2.25 inches and were shown on the Viopticon, the first truly portable stereopticon. The Vioptican projected images using a brilliant carbon arc lamp.  Sets of Viopticon slides were available for purchase or rent as illustrated lectures. Our two sets of slides were used by Baylor history professor Francis Gevrier Guittard in the early 1900s. One set contains hand-tinted photographs of Yellowstone National Park, and the other set depicts important events from the life of George Washington during the American Revolution. While these slides were not part of a spectacular Magic Lantern theater experience, they represent an early example of educational technology as manufacturers began to promote the use of projectors in the classroom.

The inventor of the Viopticon, Alexander Victor, lived a fascinating life. Born in Sweden in 1878, his first career was as a magician and showman working with the renowned Stephanio. Victor had obtained an early Lumiere Cinematograph and added projected pictures to Stephanio’s show, much to audience delight.  After Stephanio’s death, Victor continued touring with his own troupe, but a warehouse fire in Ohio destroyed his entire collection of magical props and his career as a performer ended.

Despite this setback, the astonishingly creative Victor began again, and went on to invent the first electric washing machine for the White Lily Company.   In keeping with his interest in projected images, and recognizing that there could be a larger market for motion pictures than as entertainment, Victor next invented what may be the first amateur 16mm movie camera and projector.  In 1915, realizing that the danger created from highly flammable nitrate film stock would limit market growth in schools, businesses, and churches, Victor began pushing the film industry to adopt new safety standards and move to cellulose acetate “safety film.”

You can see a slideshow of these Viopticon images and imagine yourself in an early 20th century classroom by visiting our flickr page. For the Yellowstone slides click here, and for George Washington, click here.