Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

14 NOVEMBER, 2012

John Keats’s Porridge: The Favorite Recipes of Beloved Poets

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What simple dishes reveal about the complexities of poetry as a creative act of constant transformation.

The relationship between food and literature seems to be an enduring one, from literary parodies of recipes to meals from famous fiction. In late April of 1973, poet and self-taught chef Victoria McCabe decided to formalize the relationship and mailed form letter requests to 250 of the era’s leading poets, asking them to share their favorite recipes. Some 150 replied, 117 of whom made it into John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets (public library) — a tiny yet enormously delightful little cookbook spanning everything from Edward Abbey’s Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge to Claire McAllister’s Baked Stuffed Sweet Oranges. Only about half a dozen of the recipes were written in verse, at least half “were chosen for their ability to keep a poor poet full for a long time without putting too large a dent in the pocketbook,” and all were tested by McCabe, her husband, and their friends.

Allen Ginsberg offers his uncompromising borsch recipe:

Boil 2 big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, an one cup of sugar as for lemonade. When cooked, add enough lemon to balance the sugar, as for lemonade (4 or 5 lemons or more).

Icy chill; serve with hot boiled potatoes on side and a dollop of sour cream in the middle of red cold beet soup. On side also: spring salad (tomatoes, onions, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers).

Joyce Carol Oates cooks up some disciplined Easter Anise Bread:

1 dozen eggs
1 tablespoon sugar for every egg (¾ cup)
2 cakes yeast
½ cup oil
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 pinch salt
9 cups flour
Warm milk, enough to dissolve yeast

Beat eggs; add juices, yeast, and milk an beat slightly. Mix flour, sugar, salt, and anise. Now add to liquid mixture and mix until well blended. Let rise in bowl until nearly double in size. Punch down. Let rise again. Shape into four loaves. Place in greased pans. Let rise and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Muriel Rukeyser makes an irreverent Omelette Philleo:

On the side of variousness in life, this is my omelette. It is made with all the combining of egg yolks and milk (or, for weight watchers, water) beaten, and egg whites and salt, beaten; the folding, slashing, and then the variation: fill with slices of cranberry sauce for a tart and various omelette. It is named for Philleo Nash, friend, former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Cranberry Prince.

I do not mention my pickled watermelon rind with scotch. Nor others.

Ultimately, what John Keats’s Porridge offers, besides the promise of some filling dishes, is an apt metaphor for poetry itself — even creativity at large — as an endless cycle of borrowing, remix, and transformation. As William Cole eloquently puts it in the introduction,

It’s interesting to note that nearly ninety per cent of all the recipes submitted are either the poet’s original recipe or his variation on a standard recipe. Few poets, it would seem, are willing to claim as favorite any old run of the mill standard recipe. This is not surprising when we consider the nature of the Beast: the poet as creator, inventor, who makes out of a few necessary ingredients a magic potion.

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14 NOVEMBER, 2012

An Illustrated Vintage Bicycle Safety Manual circa 1969

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Keep your head up, your speed down, and your hands on those handlebars — or else!

On the heels of yesterday’s vintage infographics comes this charmingly old-timey bicycle safety manual circa 1969, which admonishes cyclists against common perils, street hazards, and show-off behaviors. Though significantly more evolved — not to mention better-illustrated — than that Victorian list of don’ts for women on bicycles, this guide still bespeaks the era’s tacit gender biases and cultural norms.

Got it? Now, put your bicycle safety acumen to the hypothetical test:

Then, dive deeper into the cultural history of the humble bicycle with Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way).

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

13 NOVEMBER, 2012

Britain vs. America in Minimalist Vintage Infographics

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A time-capsule of mid-century cultural contrasts.

ISOTYPE, the vintage visual language pioneered by Austrian sociologist, philosopher and curator Otto Neurath and his wife Marie in the 1930s, shaped modern information graphics and visual storytelling. America and Britain: Three Volumes in One, also known as Only an Ocean Between, is a wonderful 1946 out-of-print book by P. Sargant Florence and Lella Secor Florence from the golden age of ISOTYPE, kindly digitized by Michael Stoll, presenting a series of minimalist infographics that compare and contrast various aspects of life in Britain and the United States, a-la Paris vs. New York.

As a time-capsule of cultural change and technological progress, the infographics put present-day numbers in perspective, especially in the domains of telecommunication, media, and resource usage.

Though this particular triad edition is regrettably long out of print, you can find it at your local public library and, with some rummaging through Amazon, you might be able to secure some remaining used copies of the individual volumes.

For more on the history and legacy of ISOTYPE, see the excellent The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts.

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