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Cookbooks and Rolling Pins

Cookbooks and Rolling Pins

Written by Jake Stump
Photographed by Raymond Thompson Jr.

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Roll over and make room, William Shakespeare and Mark Twain. The Rare Books Collection at West Virginia University Libraries is now home to one of the more mouthwatering compilations on a university campus.

The Libraries recently acquired more than 3,000 cookbooks and a variety of rolling pins (Who knew there was more than one type?) from the estate of Lucinda Ebersole, a critic and writer in the Washington, D.C., literary scene who died in 2017.


When Stewart Plein, rare book librarian at WVU Libraries, got a call from the executor of Ebersole’s estate, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Ebersole lived on a 70-acre farm in Shirley, W.Va., and once co-owned Atticus Used Books & Music in Washington, D.C. Ebersole was a cook herself, ran a blog called “Cookbook of the Day” and had been working on her own cookbook at the time of her death.


What WVU received were 11,600 books — and dozens of rolling pins. The older cookbooks, from the early-1900s, contain recipes in a format foreign to those of us familiar with the modern-day recipe.


“A lot of the time, the recipes are in a paragraph format,” Plein said. “It’s not the recipe as we know it today with a list of ingredients and how to do it.”


For example, a recipe for chicken pie with oysters begins with “Boil the chicken — a year old is best — until tender; drain off liquid from a quart of oysters, boil, skim, line the sides of a dish with a rich crust, put in a layer of chicken, then a layer of raw oysters and repeat until dish is filled.” The ingredients aren’t provided in a simple list.


More than 300 cookbooks will go to the Rare Book Collection while another 600 will go to the Evansdale Library in circulation. As for the rolling pins and other kitchen implements, such as wooden boxes for cake baking, those will stay at the Downtown Library with the rare collection.

Not only are there traditional rolling pins, made of maple and used to roll dough for everything from cookies to pizza, there are pins designed for specific types of pasta.


“The spacing of the ridges [on a rolling pin] identifies which type of pasta will be made,” Plein said. “Wide ridges make pappardelle, a wide, flat noodle. One roller has 28 ridges. Its thinner ridges were probably for rolling out spaghetti noodles.”


One rolling pin, made from beech wood, is designed to cut and seal ravioli from a sheet of pasta. Then there are French rolling pins, which have no handles. With these, bakers use their palms to roll the pin in the opposite position, away from the baker, Plein said.


You can get a taste of the Lucinda Ebersole Collection at the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the WVU Libraries’ on the Downtown Morgantown campus. Don’t come on an empty stomach.

NY World Fair Cookbook

Recipe for West Virginia Transparent Pie from "New York World's Fair Cook Book" by Crosby Gaige (1939)

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup butter

Cream the butter and sugar, beat the yolks and stir into the above mixture. Then beat the two whites and add to the mixture. Beat light, season with vanilla, lemon or any flavor you like best. Bake slowly and when done spread on top of the pie the beaten whites of two eggs and add sugar to sweeten. Brown lightly. Whipped cream makes a good substitute for the whipped whites of eggs for top of pie.

Try it out! Share photos of your pie with @WVUMagazine on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.