Spoken Word with Electronics is an audio series delivering to you a two side recording of unusual stories paired with vintage modular electronic sounds
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the show. This week is our first Thanksgiving Episode, and with most of us opting to stay home and not travel this year, I thought I'd share one of my favorite records in my collection. This is a 40 album set from The Minnesota Department of Public Welfare. Specifically this is a part of the "Talking Books for the Blind" – an endeavor that is still very much alive in public education. I have a friend who has read trigonometry into a recorder for use in math courses at the university level for decades, as an example.
Betty Crocker, who some say actually did not exist, wrote the "Good and Easy Cookbook" in 1954. A year or so after, it was recorded, in full, for this series of vinyl. The fidelity is choppy, as these are flexidiscs with a loud noise floor. There's another issue, too: My copy, which might be the only complete surviving set, arrived to my home years back COVERED IN OIL AND BUTTER. I'm completely baking serious, here. This is 50-70 years of sludge from a set that got used. But I had no idea to prepare for this as the seller indicated the set of records as "looks in good condition" – So this episode I'll also discuss how to detoxify and clean up old records with vinegar, alcohol, and distilled water. I used my Vestax Handy Trax to do the recording, as I can easily swap out the needle.
The Good and Easy Cookbook, Services for the Blind Edition, Minnesota Department of Public Welfare, ca. 1956. — An entire cookbook in a small stack of green flexidisc vinyl. Half of the stack are index records, where each recipe is read aloud with a 'page' number. The other discs are the 'pages' – So, a recipe on page 42 would be on the disc marked "P – 42".
The original box art with awesome mid-century design details and a humble typewriter-made label
This is an awesome piece of accessibility history. For the discussion this week, I go through the records and show the futility and difficulty of actually USING them, however. You have to listen to each index for the recipe, which gives you a disc number for the recipe itself. None of the labels are in braille, and a blind cook would need to listen carefully to an index and then find the corresponding vinyl for the actual recipe itself. To demonstrate this, I thought it would be fun to cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner following this method with the vinyl. You can cook along with the show at home.
The 1950s were a fun canned time for food. On top of odd dishes that mixed mayonnaise with pineapple, or 500 different things you can do with brine, there was the boon in CONVENIENCE FOODS, which was canned food, powdered foods, preserved foods, bleached food, etc. The cooking for the blind series relies heavily on this, as "a can of tomatoes" is a unit measurement, and much easier an instruction that an actual, inconsistently sized and seasonally unavailable tomato. And the pudding recipes are great, too. I remember powdered pudding from my 1980s childhood. While canned food is somewhat out of practice for fine dining, powdered spices are still very much alive. This recording set shows you hundreds of different things to do with this pantry, either for a home meal or storage for your bomb shelter.
The introduction for this week also discusses the 16 RPM record format, which was part of the Talking Books for the Blind series, as it allowed up to 40 minutes a side on a single disc. Popular Mechanics reported in 1957 that Chrysler would be offering these 16 RPM turntables in their car's glove compartment, see page 63 of this PDF.
Thanks and have a very good holiday, Ethan