Dr. Bob Wilson of Georgia College spends many of his afternoons in the research room of Special Collections, rifling through stacks of folders and pages of books from the archive, as he updates the college’s history. Recently he stopped by to request help in locating a very specific, rather unusual item. He recalls a story he heard from a dinner party thrown by Dr. James C. Bonner several years ago. Somewhere in Bonner’s collection existed an elusive “Dandelion Wine” recipe. Mikaela and I vaguely recalled coming across a wine recipe of sorts, but where it lay within the stacks, we had no idea where to begin. Bonner’s papers house eight shelves in the archive, an entire section of an aisle. We knew finding the recipe would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Dr. Bob first learned of the recipe through Dr. George Kirk, the chair of his graduate program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He invited Dr. Bob to a dinner party where they enjoyed the distinct yellow colored wine. “The idea was cool, but I wasn’t a big fan then. So hopefully now, my tastes have changed.” He remembers it being very potent. Dr. Bob had forgotten about the wine until Dr. Ralph Hemphill, former Vice President and Dean of Faculties of Georgia College from 1968-2002, shared a story with him from a dinner party Bonner held years ago. Hemphill worked with Bonner, who was head of the social studies department at the time.They often saw each other outside of the university. Since his conversation with Hemphill, Dr. Bob has wanted to give the recipe a go himself.
Dr. Bob recounts Bonner’s reputation from other faculty and students and wishes he could have met him. “I met his son and he looked a bit like him.” Dr. Bob tells us Bonner was notorious for jingling the coins in his pocket-a sure sign he was about to tell an entertaining story.
A few days after the recipe request, we were asked by another researcher to locate letters written by a Thomas J. Methvin, dated 1861-1865. They too come from the Bonner collection, as Bonner is well known around Milledgeville and middle Georgia for his extensive research on local topics and figures. Mikaela, Holly, and I began a thorough search of the letters, but to no avail. We began in the series titled “Publications,” moving to sub-series B, called “Research,” and eventually made our way to the sub series “Local History.” The Methvin letters were nowhere to be found. As fate would have it, during that search we came across the wine recipe instead of the transcribed letters we originally set out for. It reminded me of shopping for a specific item of clothing and finding the item you needed a month ago for something else entirely. (We did end up finding the Methvin letters with a second, more acute search and of course, with the help of caffeine).
The lesson I learned here has to do with persistence and patience. And really, it’s a lesson I learn every day in Special Collections. It amazes me how the tiniest requests always turn up. It seems impossible sometimes when a researcher comes in asking for a single sheet of paper, or even a small stack of them. It feels like trying to find a specific feather stuffed in a pillow full of them. Or searching for a single snowflake on your car windshield after a snowfall. It could take days – and sometimes it does. But luckily, when we’re really stuck, we incorporate an “all hands on deck” system and the thing we’ve been looking for eventually reveals itself.
I wish I had a picture to share of the look on Dr. Bob’s face when we showed him the found recipe, which comes from a pamphlet titled “How To Use Your Herter Saccharometer Or Mustimeter” written by George Leonard Herter, HERTER’S INC., Waseca, Minnesota. George Herter was the founder of Herter’s outdoor goods business which originally began as his father’s dry goods store. George turned it into a place that sold hunting and fishing items through a catalog until the company went bankrupt in 1981. It’s believed to have pioneered the outdoor equipment department stores we know today as “Cabela’s” and “Bass Pro Shops.” Herter was also an author, self-publishing and selling his books through his outdoor goods business. The New York Times calls his book, Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, “one of the greatest oddball masterpieces in this or any other language.”
The Herter Saccharometer pamphlet features a lesson on how to use wine in cooking, and different wines to make, such as wild grape, chokecherry or whiskey cherry, apple, and of course dandelion (as well as a German lager beer, and an English and Irish ale from dry crushed malt). The pamphlet also includes information about wine yeasts, wine diseases, and exact increments of how much sugar to add to each recipe dependent upon how potent you want the wine.
How Bonner came to possess the pamphlet, we are unsure. It was found in a miscellaneous folder that Mikaela and I later filed under Research. But we do know, from what Dr. Bob tells us, Bonner put the pamphlet to use. Once we found the pamphlet, you can be sure Dr. Bob didn’t leave Special Collections empty handed. Copies were made so that he too can create his own dandelion wine memories.
Collins, Paul. “George Herter, The Odd Ball Know-It-All.” The New York Times, 5 Dec 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/books/review/Collins-t.html.
Herter, George Leonard. “How To Use Your Saccharometer Or Mustimeter.” HERTER’S INC., Waseca, Minnesota. SINCE 1893.