Good Feelings Wrapped Up in Bao

IMG_1288

For second generation Berks Countian, Vi Phan, Berks County Foodways are more than pretzels and pot pie. In addition to local favorites like potato filling and red beet eggs, Vi’s family’s Berks County culinary traditions include a rich inheritance of Vietnamese cuisine.

Banh bao generally isn’t made for a holiday or special time of year. You can buy it on the street any day of the week in Vietnam. However, not many people make it at home because preparing and cooking banh bao is a labor of love! So for Vi’s family, banh bao is a special treat reserved for family gatherings.

“When I was young, we only made banh bao when family from out-of-state would get together (about twice a year). It was too labor intensive otherwise. As time went on and more people left, my mother had less help. She still wanted to make banh bao on her own, so I started getting more involved. As a child, I would help cut the extra ingredients and assemble the buns, but now I’m in charge of making the dough too. I make the dough while my mom mixes the filling. I still have to master the filling part but I’m too busy making the dough! I enjoy making it and cherish the special bonding time I have with my mom when we do. It’s a lot of good feelings wrapped up into such a small bao.”

Banh bao is a sweet and savory Vietnamese bun made with seasoned pork or chicken, onions, eggs, mushrooms and vegetables. Banh bao often has Chinese sausage and a portion of a hard-boiled egg inside. All of the ingredients are prepared and assembled into a sweetened dough. For Vi and her family, chopping the vegetables; mixing and seasoning the meat; boiling, peeling and slicing the eggs; and preparing and proportioning the dough can take up to 8 hours of work. Once all of the ingredients are prepared, the fillings are lined up on a table and carefully assembled into small pockets of dough. The buns are sealed with a special twisting motion that takes some skill and time to master. The artfully-made buns are then steamed for about 15 minutes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Vi recalls that, “every time we make this, my mom and aunts would look to see if any of the baos burst open on top. If they find one, they always say “it’s smiling!” and then they giggle EVERY TIME.”

“I know that I say “This is one of my favorite foods” to just about every Vietnamese dish my mom makes, but a fresh banh bao is really up there on the list. The fluffiness, ever-so-slight sweetness of the dough soaked with the juices from the pork filling makes my mouth water just thinking about it. You happily munch away and suddenly you hit the jackpot, Chinese sausage! It takes the flavor profile to a whole new level. Man, I love banh bao. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a fresh one, you know what I’m talking about.”

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Staycation in Berks with Roadside Attractions

Staycations have become increasingly popular with Americans as the trend to buy and consume locally continues to grow. A quick Google search revealed a number of lists that offered possible local vacation spots in the greater Reading area. While all are open today, many of these spots have been around for quite a while.

Crystal Cave.JPG
Item from BHC Library’s Berks County Collection (LC 32).  

Found in the Berks History Center Library is a series of brochures from the early 1960s. Each brochure gave a short history of and advertised a local attraction that you can still visit today. The first is a 1964 brochure for Crystal Cave in Kutztown celebrating the underground attraction’s 93rd anniversary in 1964.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next pamphlet contains information about one of the more eccentric and unique attractions in the area. Roadside America, in Shartlesville, houses a large collection of miniature models in a large building that opened to the public in 1953. Farms, coal mines, towns, and trains are all painstakingly recreated in miniature inside this local attraction.

If life size trains seem more appealing, then the final brochure in this series is for you. It advertised rides on the WK&S train line in Kempton, Pa. According to the brochure, the track on the line dates from 1871. The train still carries passengers along this section of track today. In addition, the railway occasionally offers themed tours and events during the ride. Why go away when you can experience short vacations near home at these historic Berks County attractions!

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

Sauerkraut History: The Pennsylvania Dutchman

sauer1.jpg

Happy New Year to all of our Berks County History fans! In Berks County (and beyond), pork and sauerkraut have become synonymous with the New Year. Here is Don Yoder’s interpretation of sauerkraut history from the January 1, 1951 edition of The Pennsylvania Dutchman. The photographs may be a little challenging to read, but we think this fascinating food history is well worth the effort!

 sauer3sauer4sauer5sauer6sauer7

Holidays on the Homefront: Reading at Christmastime in 1917

Mon, Dec 17, 1917
Reading Times, December 17, 1917

On December 21, 1917, a Red Cross worker made his way up Penn Street toward the imposing iron gates of the Berks County prison. With him, he carried a service flag and 77 “gifts” to be distributed. Meanwhile, George H. Zellers was delighted serving in an English aviation camp and Sergeant Joseph Eisenbrown sent greetings home from Camp Hancock in Augusta, Georgia. 

The holiday season in Reading and Berks County during the first year of the American involvement in the Great War moved along at a normal pace, despite the additional distractions of war. New recruits were leaving the area for camp on a regular basis, knowing that they would ultimately participate in the war theatre in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the bequest of President Wilson, the Red Cross began a national campaign to raise $100 million to support soldiers and civilians affected by the war. The drive ran from December 16th to December 23rd and aimed to enroll 50,000 new memberships.  Adult memberships ranged from $1.00 to $100.00 and junior memberships were $0.25 each. The Mansion House at 5th and Penn Streets served as the headquarters for the drive. During that time, Penn Square was decorated with trees for Christmas and a large Santa was placed on the balcony of the Mansion House with a candle. Santa’s goal was to make his way to the other side of the balcony to light 50,000-membership candles by the end of the drive. On the first day of the drive, Reading was digging out of its second biggest snow in 5 days and 2 trainloads of coal were delivered to relieve the city of its coal shortage. The snow-covered streets made delivering the coal to city homes difficult, and in some cases, impossible.  Despite these poor conditions, the people of Reading were not deterred from making their way to Penn Street for their Christmas shopping.

20091090004
Mansion House on 5th and Penn. BHC Research Library Postcard Collection

The Red Cross campaign was kicked off on Saturday, December 15, 1917, with the Penn Wheelmen providing inspiration. Riding a sleigh with a piano mounted on its deck, the Penn Wheelmen, led by Joseph M. Eshelman, William G. Rees and Paul E. Glase, sang patriotic songs through megaphones with various slogans of the Red Cross shouted between the songs. “We want 50,000 members! Where is your button? Have a heart and a dollar!” and “You will want a Red Cross emblem to shine in your window Christmas Eve,” were among the slogans shouted. The Boy Scouts contributed as well, raising a large Red Cross flag on the rooftop of the Mansion House. The first day of enrollment was quite successful, with 15,000 enrollees registered.

The drive brought interesting stories to the daily newspaper, like William H. Luden enrolling all 26 residents at the Boys Home on Schuylkill Avenue in the Red Cross. The most surprising participation in the drive was at the Berks County Prison in City Park. The prison raised a service flag because all 77 inmates at the prison enrolled in the Red Cross. Memberships were distributed as gifts to the inmates. At the same time, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Warden C. Herbert Schwartz on the charge of selling dope to inmates in July 1917. The Red Cross achieved its goal both locally and nationally. The amount of money raised in such a brief time was a monumental achievement; the $100 million at the time is equivalent to over $1 billion today.

2010000000200275
Berks Prison in City Park. BHC Research Library Postcard Collection

Just before the Red Cross campaign began, Reading learned of its second casualty of the war on December 13, 1917. Martin Diebert, formerly of the 200 block of Front Street, was officially listed as a British casualty. At the time, Reading was beginning to experience lightless nights, an order of the fuel administrator in a effort to conserve the coal supply. By 9 p.m. only street lights were burning. The “Great White Way” of Penn Street was dark, making citizens well aware that the country was at war. Neighborhoods were also dark and an eerie feeling crept over the entire city.

The city experienced other unusual happenings as the citizens prepared for the first wartime Christmas. On December 18, 1917, a parade was held on Penn Street by the Foresters of America for Charles S. Rissmiller of Reading for his gold star. Rissmiller was a member of the Foresters and the first Reading casualty of the Great War. Also, the first coasting (sledding) casualty was reported December 20, 1917. Luther E. Schaeffer of 1223 Mulberry Street died when he and his brother hit a curb while coasting at the Spring Street Subway. Luther was steering when he and his brother wrecked. Luther complained of back pain but the boys walked home after the accident. The next day, after still complaining of pain, Luther’s father took him to the Reading Hospital. There they learned that he sustained an injury to his spine and he died two days later.

IMG-2636
WWI Red Cross Pin from the BHC Museum Collection

While life at home was somewhat unsettling, soldiers stationed at camp or overseas longed to be back home. Many sent letters, which were published in the newspaper as Christmas day approached. From the trenches, H. L. Rourke, 18th Canadian Reserve Battalion, formerly of Reading, wrote of his willingness to give up his Christmas cheer for the trenches abroad. At the time he wrote to George Kemp, asking him to forward his address to his friend Will Keffer, who he didn’t know had died since he joined the 18th.

After he left Camp Hancock, Joseph Eisenbrown rose to the rank of Lieutenant by September 1918. He sent home war relics, which were displayed in G. O. Glase Carpet store on Penn Square. Eisenbrown later attained the rank of Major by 1939 and served in both World Wars. Lieutenant George H. Zellers of Morgantown wasn’t as fortunate. Engaged in a dogfight with German aircraft, Zellers’ plane was riddled with machine gun fire after he flamed two German fighters on July 30, 1918. Zellers managed to fly back to his own lines only to die after landing his damaged plane. In his December 26, 1917 letter, Zellers noted that he was a quick learner. Zellers excelled in training and became a trusted flier for the British as an American officer. Zellers was a 1911 Reading High School graduate and a biology teacher in Hazelton when he enlisted. The same day Zellers’ letter was published, Second Lieutenant Ralph M. Getz of Reading received a unique distinction – he was the first officer or enlisted man in the entire United States Army to be honorably discharged from the Great War.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I & Berks project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

Make Your Mark on Berks History

 

Make your Mark!_WebBanner

The Berks History Center has joined #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. Berks County is home to countless individuals who have made an impact on our local history. Make your mark on Berks history this year by supporting the Berks History Center on  November 28, 2017 for #GivingTuesday. 

#GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday kicks off the holiday giving season and inspires citizens to collaborate by improving their local communities and giving back in impactful ways.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On November 28, 2017, the Berks History Center invites you to “Make Your Mark” on Berks County’s history by supporting the Berks History Center on #GivingTuesday. Generous patrons and friends are encouraged to give to the Berks History Center throughout the day online at www.berkshistory.org and from 2:00-7:00PM at the Berks History Center Museum located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601, where the Berks History Center will host a free open house.

Visitors are invited to enjoy free tours of the museum, children’s activities, a new museum scavenger hunt and, #UNselfies with the faces of Berks County’s history. The #GivingTuesday open house will run from 2:00-7:00PM and is free of charge as a gesture of appreciation for our friends and supporters.

The Berks History Center’s goal is to raise $10,000 on #GivingTuesday for a number of facilities improvements and operational costs including humidity control improvements, educational materials, preservation supplies and research equipment. All donations will help the Berks History Center continue its mission to preserve and share the historical legacy of Berks County for generations to come through educational programming, museum exhibits and the BHC Research Library. Click here for more information and to “Make Your Mark” on #GivingTuesday.

The Hexerai Letter: Supernatural or Super Strange?

IMG_1283

With Halloween approaching it may be interesting to explore some of the more supernatural beliefs found in Berks County. The manuscript collection at the Berks History Center Research Library holds a remarkable illustrated document from 1816 that fits this theme.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written mostly in Pennsylvania German, the letter prophesied that terrible events were about to occur based on the political news of the day. Called the Hexerai letter, its most striking feature is a myriad of hand drawn pictures inside. The author drew in vivid detail blood red moons, arch angels, demons, a mysterious clock, and a rendition of the day of judgment. One picture, in particular, tells the document’s story. The picture shows a devil with the number 666 written under its eyes and the name Jackson emblazoned across its forehead. That devil is General Andrew Jackson, who the author thought would soon bring doom upon the country. Produced during a time exploding with religious revival and emerging political individuality and expression, this document has much to offer researchers of the early nineteenth century.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

Before Memorial Day was Decoration Day

Decoration Day

This ad for the Reliable Clothing Store, published in The Reading Eagle on May 28, 1920, urged readers to shop for new and appropriate Decoration Day outfits. The store even had Men’s and Boys’ suits on sale for 10-20% off so there would be “no excuse for not being properly appareled when Decoration Day comes around.” The holiday was officially called “Decoration Day” until 1967 when “Memorial Day” became the official name.

(Reproduced with the permission of The Reading Eagle Company)