The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


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Inheritance of Story

Just wanted to update you. I am still writing. Still researching, although I have called myself out and realize I could research this book for a lifetime. I am in the process of an office makeover. Juney and Granny Dell would approve — it is designed to be clutter free. I have organized (or rather am organizing) the research I have gathered.  I am also working on another project simultaneously, but these two projects are my focus.

You know (or now you do) that I have my grandmother’s notebooks.  My mother left me my grandma’s notebooks and photo albums. She knew I would need them and had the foresight that mothers do to know I would write this story someday. I do regret not listening to her more acutely when she told me about the Community Kitchen, but the stories are in my bones and I have the letters she wrote Juney to interpret their relationship.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

In this notebook are recipes, notations, conversions, and the magic of history.

I wished I had asked so many more questions, but that is how it turned out.  I was busy with life. Truth be told, my mother and I had a difficult relationship. We were very much alike. But oh, could she make me laugh. I miss her so much. The pain of losing your mother is so acute. I do feel I am moving into the obtuse angle of grief where I can see things more clearly. I like this much better than acute grief, but you can’t have one without the other. Right?

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

This is a photo with my mom and me. I think sometime in my early twenties, about 24 or 25 years old.

My mother also felt her mother’s death with acuteness. She would have moments when I was older (my grandma died when I was 10) that showed this acute grief retracting from the obtuse angle decades allow. I am curious about how my grandma felt about her mom.  They too had a difficult relationship, so I have heard.  I think they were a lot alike as well, both driven by a furious need to achieve. I have that in me to. Perhaps it is a hole I am trying to fill, perhaps it straight up ambition.

Just wanted to write a quick note and update you. I do appreciate you following this blog. I just want you to know I am hard at work on the manuscript. It’s filled with delectable goodies and interesting historic conflict, as well as personal conflict.

Back to the other project I am working on — I am starting my own company and gearing up to self-publish The Original Journal. I have had to move through many phases of fear and insecurity, but what has prevailed is a business instinct I never knew existed in me. I thank my Elizabeths (Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty) — my great-grandmother, grandma, and mom. I am a fourth generation Elizabeth. My middle name is Elizabeth. My mom’s cousin, shares the same middle name. Mary Liz has been a wonderful resource for this book. She is ninety and sharp as a tack. I call her when I want to hear my mom’s voice. They do not have the same voice, but somehow hearing her distinct voice connects me to my mom. Mary Liz and my mom were very close and kept in contact all my mom’s life. Mary Liz has been wonderful answering my questions and she too possesses the same brevity my mom did. What is important is the connection to the story. This is my story to tell and I am going to tell it.

I wonder what insecurities and fears Granny Dell had when she was starting her business in a time when women were not even active outside the home. Joining a women’s club was looked down upon. Thank goodness she was in a great community of progressive women during the Progressive Era. Evanston 1919 was the right place at the right time to start a business.

I am on the hot pursuit of tracking down the film footage done by Pathe News Media of the Community Kitchen in 1920. I thought I had it nailed when I had a lead that Pathe News Media donated their three thousand miles of film footage to the Museum of Modern Art in 1940, but it was de-accesed in 1950. Now onto the next lead. I know that footage exists somewhere. I can’t wait to watch Juney and Granny Dell prepare a luncheon for 3,000 delegates at a national conference. This is also where my grandma developed an allergy to chicken because it was the hottest day on record for the year and they prepared 5,000 gallons of chicken salad! She avoided chicken her whole life after that. But I am also careful and aware of the rabbit hole of research I can fall into.  I will post pictures here of the office when it is finished.

Did you know that the Community Kitchen renovated a house on Chicago Avenue and used that as its headquarters after it moved from the Evanston Woman’s Club basement. I wonder who picked the colors. I had a time of it deciding on a color for my new office. I went with the color suggestion the interior designer who lives across the street in my historic neighborhood (I live in 1880 Victorian we have fixed up and it has been a project!). This interior designer’s name is Charles and he was born the same year as my mother, 1935. I love talking to him about yesteryear.

More to come and I promise more updates.

Updating once a week is a reasonable promise. So hold me to it!  Granny Dell, Juney, and Betty — you too. :)

Grandma and me

Grandma (Juney), Mom (Betty) and me (Megan Elizabeth)

 


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Juney, Mom, and Me (and Shaggy — the Pekingese)

This is a photo of Juney, my grandma holding me. My mom, BA as in Betty Anne is sitting next to her.  Our Pekingese, Shaggy is on my mom’s lap. Shaggy bit me under my nose when I was a young child.  He had a sensitive spot and if touched, he would bite. Otherwise, he was about as Zen as they come. My sister and I would put him on top of our collie (like cowboy in saddle) to provoke him into movement. Shaggy was like a monk — quiet and spiritual.  He was a kind dog.

I wish I could go back in time and ask my grandma all the questions I have for her now.

What was it like to go to Cuba in the 1930s?

Tell me about Speakeasies?  Did you go without telling Granny Dell?

I can hear her answer that one … “Of course, I didn’t tell Mother! I wouldn’t dream of it. Harriet and I used to sneak out. We were very clever like that  Mother was a a member of the WCTM (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).”

I have my little notepad and write her messages to keep a diary and include it ALL. Grandma was a humble woman and very private. She was equally fascinating and is certainly the main character of this memoir.

Grandma and me

Grandma and me

Juney’s story of her past as a gourmet executive chef and business woman didn’t matter at this moment in the photo. What mattered most to her was she was a grandma — she was Grandma. That was the role she loved the most.

The German Shepard there is Penny. Mom got rid of her because she bit us.  There was no reason to it.  Shaggy got the pass because of the Pekingese temperament.  Every Pekingese has a sensitive spot. Mom got rid of Penny when she snapped at us when we were kids. I wish I could call Mom up right now and muse a bit about Penny and get the exact reason.  My mind wanders and wants to know, “Did Penny bite us?  Or did she just snap at us?”

Funny, what we can get stuck on.  I have a deep desire to know every exact truth about my grandma, mom, and great-grandmother, but I can’t really. We are private creatures as humans and most people (besides journalers and writers, don’t share those private moments and thoughts in our heads).

But I am on a quest to find the truth of my Elizabeths — Elizabeth Odell (great-grandmother — Granny “Dell”), Elizabeth Odell Welch (grandma —  “Juney”), Elizabeth Welch Miller (Mom — “BA,” “Betty Anne,”  “Betty”) and me (Megan Elizabeth Miller Oteri, memomuse).


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Ripping Down the Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Comes to Evanston in 1919

Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke to the Woman’s Club of Evanston in 1919. Gilman was one of the first feminists. She was the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, which is a story about postpartum depression that turns into postpartum psychosis. It was first published in 1892 in The New England Magazine.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

The subject of Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s talk at the Woman’s Club of Evanston was “The Waste of Women’s Labor.” It caused quite a stir in the community of Evanston. I wonder what women in the meeting had read The Yellow Wallpaper and how did they feel about it. What prominent Evanston club women had experienced or were experiencing postpartum depression? Were any of the them prescribed a “rest cure” like Gilman and the character in The Yellow Wallpaper?  Was it a subject women could openly talk about? Granny Dell (my great-grandmother) had a difficult birth with my grandmother. It was a breached birth. Juney (my grandmother) was also born 14 months after her older sister, Harriet (Aunt Harriet). Granny Dell was quoted often in national publications about how the Community Kitchen was created to ease women’s responsibilities at home and provide comfort and relief.
This quote from the Kokomo Daily Tribune (1893-1929 from Kokomo, Indiana) illustrates her concern for women in the home with young children: “Evanston has been suffering from a shortage of domestic help. Everywhere women, especially young mothers, are finding it impossible to do all that is required from them, to take care of the babies and the house, and have any leisure for the homecoming of the husband. An increasing number of families are frequenting the hotels and cafes, sacrificing family life and interests to necessity. We felt that by delivering dinners to such homes a service would rendered to those families alone, but to society as well by preventing the disintegration of the family table.”

Postpartum depression is still taboo somewhat today, almost 100 years later. This is a great online exhibition on the U.S. Library of Medicine website, titled The Literature of Prescription – Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman  Photo Source:  Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute,  Harvard University

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Photo Source: Courtesy Schlesinger Library,
Radcliffe Institute,
Harvard University

Gilman was a catalyst for inspiring the Community Kitchen. The three chairwomen of the War Relief Committee and co-founders of the Community Kitchen (Mrs. James Odell – my great-grandmother, Mrs. Homer Kingsley, and Mrs. Rufas Dawes — and I refer to them by their married names because that is how they were referred to publicly by society, but you should know them as Elizabeth Odell, Nellie Kingsley, and Helen Dawes) traveled to the East Coast after Gilman’s talk to visit successful established cooperative kitchens. The women were inspired, encouraged, and excited after hearing Charlotte talk. Who wouldn’t be?

Life is a verb.

Life is a verb.

This is going to be a juicy chapter to write for the Community Kitchen book!  I love researching Charlotte Perkins Gilman. What a woman! I had postpartum depression after the birth of my son. I didn’t experience postpartum psychosis which the character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffered from, but I did have intrusive thoughts for the first three months after his birth. I remember going to Virginia Beach on vacation when my son was three months old. I couldn’t stand anywhere near the balcony for fear of him falling. And we had a nice balcony view of the beach, but I stayed far from the balcony. I treated myself to a cranial sacral massage at the Edgar Cayce Center.  I met a kind woman there named Annie, who is a very close friend now. Annie was my masseuse and did the cranial sacral massage. Our conversation during my treatment revolved around motherhood and our own mothers. At the time, I was dealing with the anticipation of losing my mother (at the time my mother was in a nursing home and very ill) and it weighed heavy on my heart. Annie’s mother died in childbirth giving birth to her.

“The glory of our race is its power of communication. We share our strength and knowledge and rise as one; we share our failure and weakness and help each other bear it.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
“Our Place Today,” 1891

Women hold their hearts in the womb, whether is be physically present or not. Women give birth, even when they do not.

The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society is calling for papers for:

The Sixth International Charlotte Perkins Gilman Conference

Gilman and the Archive

June 12-14, 2015

Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, MA

You can find more information on the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society here. I am hoping to find a copy of her speech, The Waste of Women’s Labor for my book. Better yet, I’d love to find her journals and specific reflections from her visit to Evanston in 1919.

 This is an interesting slideshare on The Yellow Wallpaper. I found the slide about early hysteria treatment quite shocking, as well as intriguing.
hysteria treatment

hysteria treatment

 


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Frango Mints, Marshall Fields, and Thanksgiving Memories

I wish I could get some Frango Mints from Marshall Fields for dessert. Grandma always came for holiday visits with Frango Mints packed in her suitcase.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

 

Juney (Grandma) used to work at Marshall Fields (after the Community Kitchen closed in 1951). She ran the Health Food Counter.  Mom took us to visit Marshall Fields every year.  I remember the magic of the Christmas windows and walking down State Street and Michigan Avenue bundled up — Mom in her fur coat.

Marshall Fields clock

Marshall Fields clock

The day after Thanksgiving, we would take the train into Chicago with my mom and grandma and go window shopping, stopping to marvel at the beautiful window displays at Marshall Fields. Marshall Fields always had the best window displays. we then off course would go inside and look around Marshall Fields.  Window shopping and watching the beautiful displays with all their mechanical genius was great fun. I’d snuggle up to my mom and we’d marvel at the beauty of it all. Here is a great article, “Christmas Holiday Windows on State Street: A Chicago Tradition.” It has wonderful photos of Chicago holiday windows.

Marshall Fields

Marshall Fields


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The Bones Know (how to cook, that is)

As I was making chocolate chip cookies with my son today, I thought of something so profound and deep — it barely surfaced.

At that precise moment when my three and three-quarters year old poured the baking powder into the blue bowl, I should have honored and listened to the Montessori urge to go write it down right then and there.

But I didn’t. I kept mixing, baking, and preparing our cookie dough.

I had spent the hour prior to this trying to engage my sick, moody, snow day cabin fevered son to bake with me. He was mad at me because I would not let him watch Phinius and Ferb — his current favorite cartoon (I really like it too). We (or rather I specifically) are trying to limit his TV watching to two hours a day. And two hours a day seems like too much as it is.

Back to my profound deep thought — it was right there ready to be  measured out in perfectly proportioned words.

1 cup of prose

1/2 tsp of poetic phrasing

1/4 tsp truthful juice

1/8 tsp of heart based memory

1 stick of beauty

The words were perfect — so perfect I thought I’d remember them exactly for sure.

But I didn’t; I don’t.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I know what my one truth was — geez it was the first line of this darn book my ancestors have placed on my insecure shoulders and it was perfect.

Here’s the understudy’s attempt (the lead actress took another gig apparently): my grandmother taught me to cook when I was four. I don’t remember, but my bones do. When I cook with my son, I remember.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me (and Shaggy and Penny. Shaggy is the the Pekingese and Penny is the German Shepard)

***

I don’t think there is a perfect way to write this story. It just has to be written. I have got lost in the research. There is just so much to say. I want to ask my grandmother so many questions that a thirty-nine year old would ask — an almost forty year old would ask. The thing is — I know one thing for sure, well actually two, maybe three:

1. My grandma loved me and I loved her.

2. You don’t get to ask your loved ones all the questions you will have.

3. You are left to wonder. And sometimes wonder is better than knowing.

I could hem and haw and stop right there. But the story wants to be told, so I will tell it best I can. I am telling it right now.

That is enough for today. The bones know. I am lucky to have had her in my life for the ten years I did. This love is baked into me. I may not remember our conversations, but I remember her perfume. I can still smell it. I remember her pajamas; I can feel them — she always wore silk. I remember her glasses; I touch them — they were pointy. I remember her legs; they were muscular — even for an old lady. She never crossed them at the knee, only the ankles — lady like.

Juney, you are my Valentine. I love you.

A valentine from my grandma

A valentine from my grandma

Inside of Grandma's card

Inside of Grandma’s card

Recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies from Community Kitchen recipe notebook

From Juney's (Grandma's) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

From Juney’s (Grandma’s) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen


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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.


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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.

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