Monday, August 25, 2014

Growing the Killer Tomato, Circa 1892

The tomato-growing season is just about over in my garden.  And if indeed we are what we eat, I should be about ready to turn into a freshly-picked, vine-ripened tomato. 

Over the last several weeks, we ate tomatoes straight off the vine.  We introduced them to slices of mozzarella cheese and some fresh-from-the-garden basil, drizzled these new friends with olive oil, sprinkled them with a little garlic salt, and had a caprese salad.  

And we picked more tomatoes.  We put them on sandwiches. We sauteed them in olive oil with basil and minced garlic and served them over freshly-cooked pasta. We blended them with a peeled cucumber, some chopped green onions, some minced garlic, a little olive oil and some red wine vinegar and had gazpacho.  Then we ate more of them straight off the vine.

But now the tidal wave of tomatoes we experienced earlier this year has slowed to a steady drip.  I know the day is coming when I will pick the last few tomatoes that never got ripe and make fried green tomatoes.  Then I have to resort to buying the kind of tomatoes that Garrison Keillor says were "strip-mined" in some far-off location.  They just won't taste the same as a fresh tomato.  And I will have to think longingly of next season's fresh tomatoes.

Tomatoes come in all shapes, colors and sizes.  Recently I saw an ad for tomato seeds in an 1892 copy of the Ladies' Home Journal, that I found at an estate sale, that emphasized size: 

"Raise the biggest Ponderosa Tomato 
and Both Glory and Profit Await You."

The ad was for Peter Henderson & Co., with offices in New York and its own gardens in nearby New Jersey.   New Jersey City University has an interesting web page devoted to the history of the company: 

It records the beginnings of Peter Henderson's very successful business, as well as one belonging to his brother James:

Peter and James Henderson, brothers and immigrants from Scotland, founded what ultimately became two prosperous gardening businesses in Jersey City. Their companies flourished by specializing in different niches in the market gardening trade and by adopting cooperative business relationships with each other.

Peter Henderson
The Henderson & Co. catalogs were gorgeously illustrated.

"The arrival of the illustrated catalog
in the midst of winter was a harbinger of spring."

Peter Henderson was more than just a seed salesman and marketing expert; he was a horticulturist with a passion for sharing his knowledge of gardening with other people. notes:

At the time of his death, name of Peter Henderson was synonymous with gardening: "His was thought to be the largest, and was certainly the best appointed establishment of the kind in the world" (Jersey Journal, 17 January 1890).

The tomato mentioned in the ad was first introduced as "No. 400" in 1891.  The company held a naming contest for their large, pinkish tomato, and its name was changed to "Ponderosa."

I have to wonder, though: How did a company verify the size of a prize-winning tomato, back in 1892?  It wasn't like people could submit a digital picture of a tomato on a scale in real time, back then.  And seed company representatives couldn't travel easily to all parts of the country, to weigh the individual entrants.  The ad says that full details of the contest were explained in the catalog (which would be mailed to the interested home gardener "on receipt of 25 cts.").  Perhaps one of their catalogs will turn up at an estate sale and I can read more about the contest.   

For now, though, I think it's time for lunch.  Perhaps I'll have some of the last of this year's crop of tomatoes, and start thinking about what to plant next season.


Here's a blog post about Peter Henderson: 

Old-school gardening enthusiasts still sell seeds from plants developed by Henderson.  This is the Ponderosa -- still making gardeners happy after all these years.  One company that sells heirloom seeds, says the average Ponderosa will weigh between 12 ounces and two pounds.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Eat Your Cereal, Young Lady

Dorothy had saved about dozen magazines from her teen years during the 1940s.  When she sold her home and moved to a smaller place, I went to the estate sale, and brought her old magazines home with me.

Several of the magazines Dorothy had so carefully stored were 1940s issues of The American Girl.  This magazine was published by Girl Scouts, Inc. from 1920 to the late 1970s (and has nothing to do with the rather large dolls with ditto price tags).  The other magazines in the collection were Calling All Girls and Miss America.

As you'd expect, these magazines contained advertisements for things that were important to World War II-era young teenage girls: 

Clothing, especially sweaters, skirts, dresses and shoes

Jewelry, especially bracelets and brooches 

Underarm deodorant (the importance of this was often linked, in the ads, to the wearing of sweaters) 

Nail polish (basic red)


Hair care products 

Feminine hygiene products (these ads seem refreshingly straightforward but tactful, in this day of over-the-top public discussions of such personal things)

And another, very famous, product that purported to help solve an age-old adolescent problem: 

Being ignored by a cute person of the opposite sex.

For Beverly, it was when she walked across campus.

Mary Ellen wanted someone to sit on the front porch with her.

Kay's difficulty occurred in the classroom.

Care to guess the solution to the problem (according to these ads, that is)?  I was a little surprised, because I'd never known that Wheaties cereal had been targeted at young teenage girls.

The ads all encouraged young women to eat three good meals a day, starting with breakfast.  And probably unlike Beverly's mother, the ads explained that eating breakfast is a means to an end: girls who want to "sparkle" around young men, needed energy, and having energy at school was the result of eating breakfast.

It's interesting that in two of the ads, the young lady could eat the cereal with "milk or cream" and fruit.  

But the third ad, which was in a later magazine, simply said "milk and fruit."  No mention was made of sugar in any of the ads.  I wonder if this was due to rationing of dairy products during the war? 

Wheaties first came out in 1921; they were originally called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes (Washburn's Crosby Company was the predecessor of General Mills).  By 1923, the name had been changed to Wheaties; the slogan "Breakfast of Champions" was first used about 1927.  In the 1930s, the first endorsements by famous athletes appeared on the boxes.

Even though a couple of famous women had appeared on boxes of Wheaties in the 1930s, I always think of this cereal as being marketed to men and boys, with a picture of a famous athlete on the front of the box.  General Mills tried promoting Wheaties to younger children in the 1950s, tying the product to characters like the Lone Ranger and Wyatt Earp.  By the late 1950s, General Mills had returned Wheaties to its sports promotion roots and that tradition continues today.  

On the official Wheaties website, no mention is made of the advertisements targeted towards all the Beverlys, Mary Ellens and Kays in 1940s Amerca.  These ads in Dorothy's treasured magazines show us a lesser-known snapshot of marketing history on the US home front during World War II.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Part-Arabian Foal by Gladys Brown Edwards

When I go to estate sales, I usually look for small ceramic animals I can add to my collection.  At a sale I attended last month, I spotted a number of little ceramic animals -- and a metal one, dusty and showing its years a bit, but still charming.  

I recognized this as a Dodge, Inc. lying foal designed by Gladys Brown Edwards (1908-1989).  If you love horses, and you aren't already familiar with Gladys Brown Edwards, you should become acquainted with her work.  She was a brilliant equine sculptor, artist and writer, long associated with the W.H. Kellogg Arabian Ranch in California.  Her designs were used to many years as trophies by the Arabian Horse Association and others.  Most of her sculptures were produced by the Dodge foundry in Los Angeles, from the 1930s onward. 

Gladys Brown Edwards is one of the gold standards in 20th century American equine art.  She is known not only for her work with Dodge, Inc., but also for her paintings and illustrations of Arabians and other horse breeds (as well as dogs) in books and magazines.  

I found a 1968 magazine, The Thoroughbred of California, at another estate sale that featured an article GBE wrote and illustrated, on horse anatomy and conformation.  Here are some of the pages that feature her illustrations.

Gladys Brown Edwards certainly knew about horse breeds.  So what breed does the little foal figurine I found represent? I assumed it was an Arabian. But Carolyn Martin's book, Gladys Brown Edwards' Equine Works in Metal, says that little foal, produced in 1947, was modeled after the offspring of GBE's first horse, a part-bred mare named Tequila, and the Kellogg Ranch Arabian stallion Hanad.  Dodge, Inc., also produced bookends showing both the mare and the foal.  Liz Bouras has a picture of the bookends on her Pinterest page.

And here's a picture of the real Hanad, from the Kellogg Ranch Library website:

Sidebar, about Hanad:  He was one of the most famous Arabian horses of his day.  A website describes Hanad's career at the Kellogg Ranch in California: 

Hanad was the star of the Kellogg Sunday programs, where he performed as a five gaited horse, did the Spanish walk and other tricks such as jumping rope. He was a born show horse and exceptional sire... His descendants inherited his marvelous disposition and attitude, and excellent conformation..... Twenty of his 52 foals were born during his last three years of life.

So the foal statue I found (like so many of the good horses) represents not a purebred but a part-bred horse.  And even though he's not ceramic or plastic like most of my collection, he fits in rather well with the other lying foals.


Here are some resources on Gladys Brown Edwards and her work.

Cal State University Pomona holds the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library's Gladys Brown Edwards collection:

Liz Bouras has a Pinterest page dedicated to the art of Gladys Brown Edwards:

A great resource for the metal horse collector is Carolyn Martin's Gladys Brown Edwards' Equine Works in Metal.  (If you're shopping or selling, keep in mind that the values for the pieces shown in any book on collectibles should be compared with recent selling prices for the same piece.) You can preview the book here:

An article in Morgan Horse Magazine describes the depth of GBE's knowledge of the way horses moved:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Back to School with the Pee-Chee Folder

School starts this week for a young man of my acquaintance who is entering the fifth grade.  If you are over a certain age, and you just read the previous sentence, your first thought may have been that school used to start the day after Labor Day, or perhaps on September 1st, but never in August.

Regardless of the start date, lots of traditions come at the beginning of the school year, including shopping for school supplies.  In 1943, a classic school supply item first came on the market: the Pee-Chee Folder.  I found one the other day at an estate sale in clean, undecorated condition.

The Pee-Chee was an essential part of the school experience for American students for decades in the mid- to late 20th century.  It was first produced in 1943 by the Western Tablet and Stationary Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  I don't recall seeing them till I was in high school; I don't recall owning a Pee-Chee, but many of my peers carried them like badges of honor. 

The Pee-Chee All Season Portfolio was made of cardstock and came in one color: peach.  The most enduring designs on the folder were drawn by outdoor artist Francis Golden.  Its popularity wasn't just because the Pee-Chee was functional; it had two vertical pockets inside to hold papers, and tables of Useful Information printed inside.  

The Pee-Chee wasn't just useful for holding loose papers; it was effectively a blank canvas to be decorated by its student owner.  One blogger remembered:

I loved picking out a fresh "Pee Chee" folder for school. Those were the famous golden colored folders with images of high school athletes on the front and back cover. They are still made today. You were defined in many ways by the scribblings and drawings you would create on your Pee Chee folder!

Why students tended to adorn the Pee-Chee, more than other folders, with their thoughts, artwork, doodles, stickers, photos and anything else that would adhere to cardstock, seems to be a mystery.  Perhaps it was because the sports images on the front and back were ripe for being decorated. Perhaps customizing a Pee-Chee folder was a cultural phenomenon that "went viral" before the term was invented, as one student after another experimented with self-expression.

There are websites and blogs and online photo albums dedicated to the Pee-Chee Folder, where you can see other examples of clean Pee-Chees and also decorated versions that people have saved for decades.  (If you look for some of these images, just remember that most of these artists were in high school, so you may be looking at examples of rude and/or puerile humor and sarcasm.  You may also see some pretty amazing artwork and graphic design.)   

The Pee-Chee folder I found has the price marked on the front: "2 for 25 cents."  But on the back, it still has its original price tag: nine cents at Penneys (not J.C. Penney or JCP). 

Considering that the price of one Pee-Chee folder now is more than a dollar, that makes me think that the Pee-Chee I found is...well, several years old.

Pee-Chee folders are still being made by Mead; they now come in a variety of colors and, if ordered individually online, can be quite expensive once you factor in the shipping costs.

Smithsonian Magazine has covered the Pee-Chee:

Here's an interview with one of the original artists for the Pee-Chee folder:

(You have to be careful when you do an online search for "Pee-Chee" Folders, because there are "O-Pee-Chee" sports trading cards and those search results will come up as well.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rare Bird: The Blackstone White-Breasted Nuthatch

The estate sale at the little old house in Sierra Madre was, to say the least, highly anticipated.  People started lining up to get a numbered ticket to get inside, 24 hours before it started.  Some of them had traveled from other states and planned their family vacations around this estate sale. (This happens sometimes, at a sale that's well-advertised and offers thousands of highly collectible or resellable items.)

I showed up early in the afternoon before the sale started, got my entry ticket (marked #24), and came back early the next morning. I felt sorry for the woman who told me she had shown up at 5 a.m. (for an 8 a.m. start) thinking she would be one of the first people in line, only to discover that she was number 112.  (At least she felt better than the people who arrived after she did.)

The morning of the sale dawned clear and calm. When it was light outside, the estate sale company employees started setting up tables in the front yard and putting out large flat boxes full of some of the odds and ends they'd found inside the house and garage.  From my place in line, I craned my neck to see what was inside the boxes, and spotted a few things I hoped to get.  When the sale finally started, I went first to the tables and started carefully loading small figurines into my shopping bag.  

Biblically, a lot of them came in twos:

A pair of Royal Doulton "K" series miniature penguins.

Ditto for the Doulton "K" series hares...

The Hagen-Renaker lop-eared rabbits...

And the Kay Finch cats.

One little critter, though was all by himself: tiny, lightweight, carved from some sort of wood and perched on a base.   I felt sorry for his solitary state and brought him home, where I looked at him more closely.  My first thought was, Whoever carved and painted this, loved birds.

On the bottom of the base of my tiny new friend was written the number 4, and the bird's name, W. B. Nuthatch.   (Yes, I know that's short for "White-Breasted Nuthatch," but I still like to think of him as "W.B.") 

A sticker under the writing reads HAND CARVED & PAINTED BY BLACKSTONE.

I went online to see if I could find any information on W.B. Nuthatch and his creator or creators.  It turns out that this particular White-Breasted Nuthatch is a pretty rare bird indeed.

Decoy Magazine's website has a good article by Jim Cullen on the man who helped create little W.B. Nuthatch -- the New Hampshire artist Jess Blackstone (1909-1988).

When Jess was a boy, his father, Arthur, introduced him to wood carving.  Cullen writes:

[Jess] Blackstone was a talented, trained and accomplished artist. He had a sure hand and worked quickly. His ornithological background, combined with his artistic abilities, enabled him to produce a miniature bird carving that was correct and complete. The essential feathers are placed with no excess interpretation, resulting in a clean, meticulous rendition with no wasted effort.

Jess Blackstone kept careful records of his work; the article says he carved 371 white-breasted nuthatches during his lifetime.

But the article also states that Jess Blackstone hand-wrote all the information about the birds he carved and painted on their bases; it didn't say anything about gold foil stickers.  That told me I needed to do further research.

After digging through a few more websites, I found a source via Google Books that said that Jess Blackstone and his father Arthur also worked together at times to carve and paint small birds. In Birds in Wood and Paint, Joseph H. Ellis notes that Jess decided to give up his job as a sign painter in the 1930s to work with his dad:

Early carvings produced by the father-and-son team have a gold foil label that simply says "Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone."

Jess later branched out on his own, moved to New Hampshire and sold his own carved songbirds through the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts. 

I contacted Mr. Cullen, who wrote the article for Decoy, and he told me he thinks that the little carved nuthatch is indeed the result of the collaboration between Arthur, the father and Jess, the son.  

Their mutual love of birds and their craftsmanship is apparent, even in this small example.


Here's a YouTube interview with Joseph Ellis on his reference book on carved birds:

There are pictures of lots of other Jess Blackstone birds here:

An article reproduced (without citing the original source) here, is an interview written during Jess Blackstone's lifetime. It describes and illustrates how he worked with wood. 

And here's the web page for the real white-breasted nuthatch:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sugar Cookies from the Good and Easy Cookbook

Some days, you just need to bake cookies.  This was one of those days, and the cookies were sugar cookies from a classic recipe in Betty Crocker's Good and Easy Cookbook.  My copy, which I found at an estate sale, is a 1954 first edition (fourth printing).  

I remember the recipe from when I was little, because my mom had the same cookbook.  By the time I got old enough to cook, Mom's copy of the Good and Easy Cookbook was falling apart.  But the recipe was still intact, and we made these cookies dozens of times when I was a kid.  

Stir-N-Drop Sugar Cookies

2 eggs
2/3 cup cooking (salad) oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Beat eggs; stir in oil, vanilla, lemon rind.  Blend in sugar until mixture thickens.  Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and stir into oil mixture.  
Drop with teaspoon 2" apart on ungreased baking sheet.   
Flatten with a greased glass dipped in sugar.  
Bake 8-10 minutes, just until a delicate brown.  
Remove immediately from baking sheet.

There was also a picture of how to flatten the cookies with the greased bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, inside the book.

My estate sale copy of the Cookbook is in pretty good shape for being 60 years old.  

I imagine that many women (and maybe a few men) owned the Good and Easy Cookbook in the post-World War II era.  It gave suggestions for "1000 time-saving, taste-tempting recipes and hints for busy modern homemakers."  Some of the hints were suggested menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You'd never see a recipe encouraging you
to serve a drink made with raw eggs in the early 21st century.
The idea of serving strawberry shortcake 

for breakfast is still appealing, though!
I often find mid-century cookbooks at estate sales, and most of them have one thing in common: photographs of strangely-colored food -- or do I mean strangely-colored photographs of food?  Whether the pictures develop a sort of olive green complexion over time, or the four-color printing process back then wasn't very good, the end result is sometimes sort of odd.

If you can find a copy of this old cookbook, I encourage you to take a look inside.  There are lots of good classic recipes, as well as a few that really don't stand the test of time very well. The Good and Easy Cookbook is also a time capsule, showing us what kinds of "frozen, canned and ready-mixed foods" made cooking easier for the mid-century family.

Having made the sugar cookies, I needed to find a place to store them.  I got out a classic covered glass dish by Anchor Hocking (which I also found at an estate sale) to go with my classic-recipe cookies.

The whole batch of cookies fits nicely inside the storage container.  And the heavy,clear glass lid fits neatly on top to help keep the cookies fresh until it's time for dessert.

We'll talk more about vintage Anchor Hocking glass products in a future blog post.