Tara O'Brien

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Back in December we posted a blog on penmanship. At the same time I created a penmanship display for the window opposite the elevator in the library.


They had such nice hand writing back then!

If only I had a dollar every time I’ve heard that. Yes, many scribes of our manuscripts did have a nice script. But there are plenty of writers who didn’t. My personal favorite is William Penn:


In November the Conservation Department at HSP started its latest grant project; conserving the Bank of North America Collection.Generously funded by Wells Fargo, this project will focus on repairing approximately 650 volumes, 400 graphics, and several boxes of loose manuscripts. Over the next three years conservation staff will be reparing and stabilizing ledgers, minute books, account books, stock certificates, and currency of the first bank in the United States. The collection is also being processed and we look forward to a new finding aid to help research within the collection.

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When I tell people I love to cook from cookbooks that are 150 to 200 years old, I am always surprised by those who cringe. The first question is always, “Eew – how could it be any good?” Second question, with a look of disgust on the face is, “What did they eat back then?” Answer: same as we do! People have always loved good food. The other reaction is that everyone thinks the food was so rich; cream and butter everywhere. While it is true, Mrs. Emlen does use a lot of butter in her kitchen, that is because butter was used instead of oil. In reality, Mrs.

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For some, Macaroni and Cheese is a sacred family recipe, passed down from generation to generation. For others it is a box purchased in the super market with pasta and a pouch of mystery stuff. Try Mrs. Emlen’s “Macaroni au Gratin” and you will never buy the boxed stuff again!

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In the Penn family papers (Collection 485), Volume NV-006, there are two recipe books.”  Institutional lore says that they were written by each of William Penn's wives and as they are in obviously different handwritings, this is possible. However, at the top of one of the pages there is a note, "My Mother's receipts for Cookerys.... [signed] William Penn." Unfortunatly for this blog post, I do not have the time to explore this mystery further. Suffice to say, the manuscripts belong to the Penn family.

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Within the first three days starting my job at HSP, I was told of our major treasures. These include:  the first four drafts of the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation proclamation signed by President Lincoln. And as an aside, someone mentioned that  we also own Martha Washington’s cookbook. Since my first introduction to it, this book has become one of my favorite documents in our collections. I am a foodie and I love to cook. I enjoy the challenge of a unique recipe, especially one 400 years old.

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The collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include several manuscript recipe books. This includes Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and the Mrs. Penn's cookbooks, along with several volumes from family papers. In the next few weeks before the holidays I thought I would post some of our favorite recipes from these books. If you are looking for something unique for your holiday table, check back weekly for delicious dishes. Recreating the recipes from these books is fun and educational. Those who enjoy such adventures in the kitchen will be well rewarded.

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Last Wednesday Nov 16th, HSP celebrated the publishing of Ellen Emlen's Cookbook. Sound familiar? That's because we posted about it here.

 The event included a display of  our historical cookbooks from the collection, including Martha Washington's cookbook, both of the Mrs. Penn's cookbooks, a 2nd edition of Amelia Simmons' book printed 1808 as well as the original manuscript cookbook from Ellen Emlen.

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This past weekend I attended a Guild of Bookworkers, Delaware Chapter workshop taught by Pamela Spitzmueller.  Pam is the first James W. Needham Chief Conservator for Special Collections in the University Library and the College Library at Harvard University. The workshop was to inform us about considerations that must be taken into account with folded items within an atlas structure.

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