Friday, July 23, 2010

Spicy Reading: Let's Eat Peanut Butter

I'm sure that everyone has by now seen the infamous Old Spice Guy talking about the wonder of words, those non-pictures that communicate anything to other minds, found in books, in libraries ;)

But just because I've been loving watching it over and over, here it is again:

And there is also the nearly immediate excellent spoof that was made for the Harold B. Lee Library -- it has already had over a million hits itself:

All this wonderful, goofy concatenation of Old Spice and libraries inspired me to create a thematic book list -- here are

Some Old Books that have something to do with Spice

1. Campbell's Tea, Coffee and Spice Reader

This is a delightful book from 1920 which covers all the latest teas and coffees, where they are from and the best blends to use, then provides an alphabetic listing of popular spices in the same line; where they are from and how to use them. I love the author's note at the beginning:

"The writer does not challenge Criticism but honestly courts it. If, in the perusal of this work, you find an error, or an article, which, in your judgement, is incorrect, or incomplete, and you have more authentic "data" at hand, please forward same to the author."

2. Spices, their Nature and Growth; the Vanilla Bean; a Talk on Tea

In 1915, McCormick & Co. put out this pamphlet -- and they are still in the spice trade! This is a pretty little book, with colour plates of all the basic spices they discuss, including tea, plus a few period recipes... including the slightly questionable Banana, Pimento and French Dressing salad. Hmm.

3. Deadly Adulteration & slow poisoning unmasked (1839?)

Something that these old books seem very concerned about was the frequent occurence of adulteration of spices - this was common with tea and coffee and many other household goods as well - and it could be deadly. Here is an early "consumer beware" guide to the many ways such items could be adulterated, and there is a whole section on spices.

4. The compotus or yearly-account roll of Thomas Syngleton, monk, keeper of the common stock of spices (custos communiae specierum), and chamberlain of the monastery of St. Mary, York, from the Sunday after the feast of St. Michael the archangel, 1528, to the same Sunday in the year 1529 (1851?])

This book with the super-long title tells us a bit about the expansive use of foreign spices in English monasteries - as it says in the introduction, the expenditure on spice in 1528, according to this document, was over 38 Pounds, when at the time a sheep was going for 2 s.

5. Spices and How to Know Them / Walter Gibbs (1909)

Another introduction to the history of spices, this has wonderful photos of spice plantations from all over the world. Chapter II is all about adulteration again - a going concern, with the strong admonishment "Spice millers should not be counterfeiters!"

6. Cinnamon and Angelica / John Middleton Murry (1920)

An odd little play dedicated to his wife, Katherine Mansfield, it features Cinnamon, Prince of the Peppercorns, and Angelica, Princess of the Cloves (also Miss Vanilla Bean, housekeeper to Cinnamon). Quite melodramatic considering it all begins lightly and the naming is so tongue-in-cheek.

7. Pepper & Salt, or, Seasoning for Young Folk / Howard Pyle (1913)

A collection of folk and fairy tales gathered up by Howard Pyle, for as he says in the preface, "One must have a little pinch of seasoning in this dull, heavy life of ours".

8. The Story of Ginger Cubes / Christopher Morley (1922)

This hilarious epistolary tale begins with an ad man being taken to hospital for "a badly dislocated sense of proportion and exhaustion of the adjective secretions". It continues with letters between a varied cast of characters all focused on their agency's attempt to come up with a new campaign for Ginger Cubes, a form of medicated confectionery (including an idea to dot them with sugar and sell them as 'digestive dice') Great fun, though brief!


  1. Ha! I hadn't seen the spoof yet, that's really well done, and dare I say BETTER than Old Spice guy's version. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Deadly adulteration of spices? does that mean if you combine the wrong things from your cupboard it could have bad results? (besides tasting terrible) I'm curious about that book.

  3. Bronwyn - yes, I love the spoof. So well done!

    Jeane - thanks to the wonders of the Internet Archive I was able to find all these books full text (which the links take you to). I enjoyed making this list, although because of that ability to read them all it did take me a lot longer to finish this list than I'd anticipated ;)

  4. Adulteration of spices came up in the book I just finished, FINNY. I learned that marjoram can be added to oregano and ground nuts to expensive spice mixtures, to save money.

  5. softdrink - lots of deadlier mixes were widely distributed in the early 1900s -- strange things mixed with tea and pepper and so on. Scary. And how odd that the subject just came up in a book you're reading!

  6. I've spent the past far too many minutes perusing Ginger Cubes... I just love the way that 'era' used language. So bitingly clever. And in letters! With real sentences, salutations and sincerelies (no matter how insincere)...

    Thanks for sharing these lovely titles.

  7. Love the "new" spice guy! That was hilarious! And what a great list. I'm definitely going to be checking out the Christopher Morley story.

  8. Matilda - yes to everything you said! I love Morley and I love epistolary novels, so was so happy to find this one.

    Stefanie - wasn't it amazingly well done and so funny - I enjoyed it. Do check out Ginger Cubes, it is wonderfully amusing.


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