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11 Vintage Cookbooks (1861-1920)

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These days, cookbooks are all fairly similar in that they offer photos of the food and maybe a few pictures of the celebrity chefs responsible for the creations. But long ago, drawings had to suffice, making these recipe collections far more artistic.

Since all these books are in the public domain, many sites have scanned in all of the pages for you to enjoy. I’ve only included the covers here, but follow the links and you can read the contents of most of these titles.

1. Beeton's Book of Household Management - 1861

Originally published in 24 parts between 1859 and 1861, the complete set was bound together for sale in 1861 bearing the cover above. It was an immediate success, selling over 60,000 copies in the first year and almost two million before 1868. The book was revolutionary in its format, particularly in the author’s decision to list the ingredients first, setting the standard for cookbooks in years to come. Unfortunately, Mrs. Beeton did not enjoy the spoils of her success very long as she died in childbirth in 1865.

Her husband soon sold off the rights to the book, and over the years it has been changed repeatedly to the point where the last edition, published in 1960, bears barely any resemblance to the original. These days though, the 1861 version is considered a classic, giving a detailed glimpse into the life of a typical English Victorian housewife.

Read the whole thing here.

2. Sloan's Cook Book and Advice to Housekeepers - 1905

Dr. Earl S. Sloan was the head of his family’s liniment treatment company (Dr. Earl S. Sloan, Incorporated) and was known for being an excellent spokesperson and a great advertiser. In 1905, he released this book dedicated to "the women of America who are the home-makers" in order to gently market his products while creating goodwill towards his brand.

The organization of the book is a bit odd, transitioning abruptly from vegetables to the care of a child and from how to treat a horse to preparing lobster, but I guess you can’t expect too much from a fake doctor releasing a cookbook to sell liniment.

Read the whole thing here.

3. The Vital Question Cook Book - 1908

If you immediately ask yourself what the “vital question” is, well then, you just fell victim to the marketing ploy of the Natural Food Company who created this cookbook to promote their shredded wheat products. In fact, the title should hardly be considered a cookbook at all given that most of the text is dedicated to educating consumers on the benefits of eating shredded wheat and about the Natural Food Company’s Shredded Wheat Plant. There are some general cooking tips and a few recipes which include shredded wheat, but the majority of the book is dedicated to showing why shredded wheat should be in every home.

As for the vital question, it’s “how to best maintain vitality in a person?” The answer: eating shredded wheat, of course.

Read the whole thing here.

4. Oysters and How to Cook Them: 100 Delicious Meals at One Half the Cost of Meat – circa 1910

Yes, there was a time when oysters were far cheaper than other, more common meats. That’s why the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of America wanted to help frugal housewives learn to save money by making delicious meals with the shellfish with the help of this short recipe book. Even knowing their historically low cost, it sounds bizarre to read how “the high cost of living can be greatly reduced by eating oysters more frequently.” Perhaps the organization promoted their product a little too well.

Read the whole thing here.

5. Home Helps: A Pure Food Cook Book - 1910

While created to help promote Cottolene, a shortening made from cottonseed oil and beef suet, this cookbook covers everything, including a number of recipes that do not require shortening. It even tells readers how to make incredibly simple things like tea and boiled eggs. Interestingly, while Cottolene is no longer produced, it is still fondly remembered by many people precisely because the company released so many useful cookbooks like this one.

Read the whole thing here.

6. The Kitchen Encyclopedia - 1911

Like other recipe indexes in this list, this title was created as an advertisement –this time for Swift’s Oleomargarine. Aside from recipes, this book also provides household cleaning tips and gardening advice. It must have been a fairly successful compilation, because this 1911 version was already a fifth edition printing.

Read the whole thing here.

7. Choice Recipes: Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes, Home Made Candy Recipes - 1913

This book was unique for the time in that there are actually photos for many of the recipes inside the book and they do look tempting indeed. Like many cookbooks today, the recipes include a specific brand of cocoa to use, but any chocolate could suffice, making this seem like a fairly useful dessert cookbook even if it was intended to be a marketing tool.

Read the whole thing here.

8. Proven Recipes Showing the uses of the Three Great Products from Corn - 1915

This one was printed by the Corn Products Refining Co., which represented Kingsford Corn Starch, Karo Corn Syrup and Mazola corn oil. While the recipes inside actually look pretty tasty and were supposedly endorsed by the legendary Oscar Tschirky, maître d'hôtel of the Waldorf Astoria, I don’t know that most modern readers would ever be able to get past the image of a Native American girl dressed as an ear of corn.

Read the whole thing here.

9. War-Time Cook and Health Book - 1917

Printed shortly after America entered World War I, this book had two goals: to teach women to better ration and save their food, and to help promote Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound. The first goal is obvious in the recipes in the book, most of which were created by the U.S. Department of Food Conservation or the U.S. Food Administration. The second goal is obnoxious in its persistence. That’s because practically every page contains a paragraph telling women why they desperately need to start using Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, whether it’s to give them energy, stop their headaches, ease their p.m.s. symptoms, make them more focused, or help any other ailment they may have.

Read the whole thing here.

10. How To Do Pickling - 1917

As far as advertising cookbooks go, this one is unique in how it handles the ads. In fact, the pickling recipes are printed in their entirety without any ads. Instead, the ads are inserted on every other page, featuring information on maladies and how Dr. D. Jayne's Family Medicines can help treat them.

Read the whole thing here.

11. Selected Recipes and Menus for Parties, Holidays, and Special Occasions - c1920

While the artwork and photos from this book are definitely dated, the recipes from this book would mostly seem right at home in a modern cookbook. Indeed, Calumet Baking Powder, the main product advertised here, is still commonly used and is even still issuing promotional cookbooks. In fact, if you want to print out one of these cookbooks and actually start using it, this is certainly the one I’d recommend, if for no other reason than the ingredients are all still readily available.

Read the whole thing here.
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Do we have any vintage cookbook collectors out there? If so, what’s your favorite piece from your collection? Have you tried any of the recipes from it? How did they turn out?

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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