Monday August 12, 2013
Who is Jerry Newberg?
On May 18th, 2010, someone edited Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream sandwiches, adding a single line of text, “The dessert was invented in 1945 by Jerry Newberg when he was selling ice cream at Forbes field.”
This info didn’t come from a trusted source or an experienced Wikipedia editor, but from an unregistered user whose only other “contribution” was to vandalize the Wikipedia entry for Newberg, Oregon. Even so, this lil’ tidbit has survived over three years and two hundred revisions.
No questions asked.
Never mind that ice cream sandwiches date back to the 19th century, or that the rectangular sort made with sticky chocolate wafers first showed up in the early 1900s. Instead of slapping Jerry Newberg with a “citation needed” tag, the quote was just polished into ever more scholarly language.
Three years later, some little troll’s badly written fan-fic is paraded about as a piece of actual of history on websites large and small, in countless blog posts, small town newspaper articles, and actual cookbooks written by respectable authors.
It may not be the most sinister example of misinformation in the media, but it’s a bummer to watch our culinary heritage get washed away by an urban legend, cos it’s not just ice cream sandwiches. There’s hardly a dessert in America whose history hasn’t been hijacked by apocryphal claims and corporate fairy tales, and that’s why I hope I can write more than just another cookbook.
I’ve been absent these last few months, buried in 19th century newspapers and trade journals, vintage cookbooks, and the United States Patent Gazette. I’ve watched hours of retro tv commercials, and combed ebay for antique biscuit crates, candy tins, and even a Nabisco employee training manual or two. These little bits and pieces tell a very different story about our favorite desserts, surprisingly sweet slices of American history.
I’m in the home stretch of the writing process, and have finished up almost all the recipes too. Your previously scheduled BraveTart will be back soon. Thanks to everyone who’s sent an email or snail mail or a tweet to check on me. In the last two months I’ve had more comments than ever, it’s awesome to know that you’re all still here. The writing process itself is pretty lonely, so those little messages have been a huge encouragement.
I’ll save the real story of ice cream sandwiches for The Book, and I’ll even cite my sources so you’ll know I’m not pulling a Jerry Newberg.
Update: Jerry Newberg has now been exorcised from Wikipedia! Whoever did the deed, I thank you.
47 comments and counting
Aug 13, 2013 · 8:02 AM
This was fascinating. Like, one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for that!
Also, I’m desperately excited about your book, and cannot wait to have it in my buttery fingers…
· movita beaucoup · movitabeaucoup.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 8:34 AM
Great to hear from you Stella! Waiting for your book!
· Radhika · sinsationscakes.wordpress.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 9:32 AM
Wow this is REALLY interesting! I was looking forward to the book already but NOW I really can’t wait!! Good luck and finish up girl!
· silverbreeder · www.stoutsilverlabs.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 11:19 AM
Can we all agree that the “pull a Jerry Newberg” needs to become part of our vernacular? Also, it is quite interesting to consider the lore of food inventions. I’m thinking of Caesar salad on this one and have heard at least two accounts of where Caesar salad found its start and with whom. I love that you, Stella, have played the part of food sleuth, debunking and clearing up these details. In the words of Paul Harvey, I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.
· Annelies · www.thefoodpoet.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 11:28 AM
I can’t wait for your book! I hope you are well & healthy.. And happy, too
· Amy P · somamiko.blogspot.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 12:49 PM
That is all.
· Jenni · www.pastrychefonline.com/blog
Aug 13, 2013 · 12:51 PM
I am AMPED for your book! And kinda peeved about the Jerry Newberg fictionpedia thing. If I had an ice cream sandwich it would totally help.
· fatpiginthemarket · http://fatpiginthemarket.com/
Aug 13, 2013 · 1:36 PM
How exciting to be in the final stages! We are patiently awaiting your hard work ! Yay!
· Suz · www.saltyfig.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 2:21 PM
I can’t wait for the book & to play with the recipes. I’m currently in whoopie pie mode, following a brief relationship with cream scones
· Melissa · nytefalle.com/blog
Aug 13, 2013 · 2:44 PM
Looking forward to the book even though I can’t eat gluten anymore.
· Audra · andalusiancook.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 3:22 PM
Nice rant, lol. My take on all this mis-information is that it is occasionally inevitable but because the information is open sourced, the public will always re-establish integrity fairly quickly. I’d rather not have them at all but meanwhile, trolls keep us on our toes.
I’ve also discovered a few negatives (like facts can be easily eliminated and entries rewritten with heavily predjudiced biases – so fyi – cut and paste any entries or histories you find invaluable because they can be taken down and replaced with crap in no time, as I unhappily discovered while reviewing my wiki references), I am still so grateful for a place where we can actually insert corrections where necessary. Eventually Wiki admins will work out a rating system that eliminates most trolls, while allowing everyone else, I would think.
PS: Re: your research, am sure you know about it already but have you checked out Edible Geography site? The admin there is really nice – she might be an invaluable resource!
Aug 13, 2013 · 3:45 PM
In honor of your pending return and book accomplishment, I’m about to make your cream cheese butter cream to put on some GF carrot cake cupcakes. So looking forward to the book!
· Bonnie · bakecookeatmove.blogspot.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 3:57 PM
I don’t typically buy cookbooks. In fact, I never have. That being said, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the day that yours comes out so I can run to the store and buy a copy. So excited!
· Ilan · www.ironwhisk.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 6:38 PM
I can’t wait for your cookbook to come out – it is definitely coming to this home! I love your site, your insights and your recipes – I’m a one woman custom bakery (no retail store – create and bake to order) in the Midwest and your recipes have been invaluable to me. I KNOW they work. And, they will be delicious! Thank you for your wit, humor and willingness to share your knowledge. I can’t remember how I “stumbled” on your site, but it was a lucky, lucky day for me!
· jayneleni · www.lovebutterbakery.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 8:53 PM
Wikipedia thrives when knowledgeable readers correct mistakes, or at least draw the attention of other editors to them, rather complaining on their own sites. I’m a little disappointed at this post; complaining that cultural heritage is being washed away when you’re in a unique position to prevent is is shameful.
Aug 13, 2013 · 9:08 PM
I am super excited for your book! It will definitely be on my “must have” list.
· Aly · fudgingahead.wordpress.com
Aug 13, 2013 · 9:37 PM
Stella! You’re back! Missed ya sis. :}
I’m with Audra – will there be a GF section in The Book? I’d also luv luv luv a section on how to convert favorite recipes. There are too many opinions on to do it online, who knows which one(s) to trust? But obviously in your awesomeness you have figured out how to do it. GF section or not, I am indeed looking forward to your book.
Aug 14, 2013 · 1:20 AM
@mostly everyone, thanks so much for the high fives and all around excitement!! The book is due Autumn 2014, still quite the wait, I know.
There will be tons of GF recipes and/or GF variations for recipes, and vegan variations too, so hopefully no one will feel left out, though I’m sorry to say I can’t make 100% of the recipes fall into those categories. Doing what I can!
@timothy, I very much appreciate where you’re coming from in this. I am a big supporter of Wikipedia and have made contributions to their fundraising events in the past. I love the collective effort that's gone into building such a huge knowledge base.
My gripe isn’t with Wikipedia, it’s the way in which Jerry Newberg (and other culinary myths) have been uncritically accepted into other forms of media, whether simple blog posts or real ink and paper books.
Taking the easy route has diluted our cultural/culinary heritage, but I’m not just idly complaining and finger pointing. I’ve spend a year of my life researching these topics and trying to piece together the real story, but I’m choosing to publish my findings in a (400+ page) book rather than as a Wikipedia contributor.
I don’t feel comfortable stepping in and making changes to Wikipedia, but even if I did, at this point simply erasing the error isn’t enough. The “fact” of Jerry Newberg has spread pretty far, and I think it’s the exact topic a food blog ought to address.
Aug 14, 2013 · 1:19 PM
Wow. A real life example of this comic: http://xkcd.com/978
Your book is going to be so amazing Keep on setting the record straight!
Aug 14, 2013 · 5:02 PM
Maybe your book can be used as a source to eliminate Newberg in Wikipedia. BONUS
Actually, I can’t wait for this book to be done so that 1) I can read more new posts, 2) I can buy it and bake/ cook the crap out of all the recipes and 3) gift multiple copies to everyone I know.
Best of luck on the final stretch!
Aug 14, 2013 · 5:22 PM
I’m new to your blog, so I didn’t know you were writing a book….but it sounds like it’s going to be MY kind of cookbook. I don’t know if it’s just my poor research skills but I’ve always had a semi-difficult time finding (authentic) retro desserts. Is that the main concept of the book?
Aug 17, 2013 · 8:47 PM
@Lalaith, omg, omg! Thanks for sharing, that was waaaay too spot on.
@isabel, thanks, lady. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to being “back to normal.” I didn’t realize how much I love the interaction that goes on on-line, I can’t wait to be back!
@Spoon, thanks so much for dropping by! The concept of the book is “iconic American” so definitely a ton of retro recipes. In most cases, I’m abandoning the classic recipes themselves, reinterpreting them through a modern perspective.
@sara, I’m not sure how advance ordering, etc, will take place. As soon as I know that sort of info, I will post about it here for sure! If you’re subscribed that info will go straight to your inbox.
And thanks to everyone else, your encouragement means the world to me. xoxo
Aug 19, 2013 · 11:25 AM
“Pull a Jerry Newberg” is a great phrase.
I have been meaning to make your recipe for ice cream sandwiches since, well, since I found it (which is quite a while ago). It’s the only one I’ve ever seen that really attempts to capture what it’s all about. Maybe this weekend …
I look forward to your cookbook. If you’re reinterpreting the classics, will you try and show how you got from “there” to “here”?
Aug 20, 2013 · 6:31 PM
Hi CHN! Thanks for tuning in, I hope you have a chance to give the ice cream sandwiches a try! For the most part, I think the evolution will be left as a summary rather than a play by play, if that makes sense.
Aug 22, 2013 · 12:39 PM
Ah! I absolutely cannot wait for your cookbook. Not only because I am smitten with your blog, but as a food and history junkie, I can’t wait to read the stories behind everything you cook. Hang in there!
· Oysters & Pearls · oystersandpearls.net
Sep 05, 2013 · 4:39 PM
Oh, yes. Agreed. Forget Jerry and write right. Can’t wait.
· Shannon Marie · www.forksknivesandspades.com
Sep 11, 2013 · 11:25 PM
So excited for your book!
Just a PSA as a frequent wikipedia editor. If you feel, like Stella, uncomfortable with editing a page… don’t! It’s meant for ANYONE to edit, and it won’t get better unless knowledgable people contribute. There are pretty much no negative outcomes that could occur. You’re right, your edit remains, you’ve improved the page. You’re right, your edit is removed… well, at least you started the conversation. Someone might check the history and fix it back, with perhaps better support. You’re wrong, and it’s removed… no problem. You’re wrong, and it stays… well, it was wrong in the first place, right? And again, you’ve advanced the conversation. Truth will out.
Wikipedia can become circular, of course. Someone plants a myth and a published book references it. Then the myth can be supported on Wikipedia using a published source. The idea is that a published book will do more due diligence than just looking up Wikipedia, so this shouldn’t happen… but that is not always the case.
Same is true of the Net in general. I recently wanted to cite Lewin’s unfreezing-moving-freezing model of organizational change. Page after page on the web about it… NONE cited the original reference. They all just cited each other, or just told their own version of the theory. Even the Wikipedia page was missing the real reference (yes, I flagged it .
Sep 25, 2013 · 11:30 AM
Thanks to everyone for all the words of encouragement!!
Thanks especially to Katie for taking the time to demystify the Wikipedia process too! I’ve always been scared to death of treading where I didn’t belong. Or where I felt like I didn’t belong. Maybe I’ll put the Brave in BraveTart soon and start editing!
Oct 01, 2013 · 6:40 PM
I think I’m more interested in reading and looking at your book than I am of trying its recipes. I’m pretty sure the recipes will be outstanding! But, I just enjoy the way you write. The recipes will be a gigantic bonus!
· Juliana Walters · www.juliesjazz.com
Oct 11, 2013 · 11:21 AM
Hi Juliana. Actually, that’s great to hear! I’m very much hoping the book will be just as much about the stories and history as it is the recipes, I want it to be a book people will actually read not just one to get batter stained in the kitchen (though I’m all about that too!). Thanks for the encouragement!
Oct 26, 2013 · 2:19 AM
You really should be brave and dive into editing Stella. There’s a real gender imbalance issue with Wikipedia (unfortunately like many tech related activities) with only 1 in 10 wikipedia editors being women.
This is a real issue with crowd sourced content as very slowly and completely unintentionally perspectives on issues slant towards the dominant groups involved in editing the works.