The Evanston Community Kitchen

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

The Community Kitchen

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Thank you for stopping by my little cyber kitchen.  I am a writer and have recently come upon a story that has to be told.

It is the story of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hawley Odell (Mrs. James Odell).  I never met her, but her legacy inspires me.  She was a business woman ahead of her time.

“Mrs. Odell and her associates in the Woman’s club started the project from which the Community Kitchen developed when, in the summer of 1918, they formed a community kitchen committee to conserve war-scarce food by canning fruit and vegetables, particularly vegetables from local wartime gardens.” — From The Evanston Review (May 31, 1951)

In 1918, my great-grandmother, nicknamed by family — Granny Dell, was about to embark on her legacy.  This conservation food project was the seed of an invaluable part of American Women’s History.  Granny Dell and her  Evanston Woman’s Club associates banded together in 1918 to can 7,000 jars of fruits and vegetables during World War I.

It was the summer of 1918 and the Evanston Woman’s Club, along with other organizations throughout the nation, were concerned about conserving food for the war effort.  As part of their contribution, the club’s members canned 7,000 jars of fruits and vegetables, from local wartime gardens.  3,500 jars were donated to various charitable organizations in the Chicago area.  The other 3,500 jars were sold, resulting in a net profit of $250 for the Evanston Woman’s Club War Emergency Fund.

This food conservation project was famous throughout the nation. The Evanston Woman’s Club effort was recognized as the most efficient conservation kitchen in the nation by the Federal Government.


Poster from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Source: usagov

World War I poster from the U.S. Food Administration encourages the public to conserve food.  We can certainly apply this to our 21st century lives as well.

This food conservation project, which took place in the Evanston Woman’s Club basement was the beginning of The Community Kitchen in Evanston, Illinois.  I am going to tell this historical story, which spans 1918 – 1951.  My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch, whom I knew and loved, was also a business woman before her time.  She was the co-manager of The Community Kitchen, which her mother established as a business in 1919.  Mind you, many people said this centralized kitchen designed to meet the needs of the servant problem would be a failure.

Photo Source: dpvintageposters.com

In October of 1918, the Spanish Influenza Epidemic reached Northern Illinois.  These same women banded together once more, led by my great-grandmother and other Evanstonians, and prepared homemade soups, which they delivered to flu victims too weak and sick to prepare nutritious meals. The women used the club basement kitchen to prepare the soups.

These two projects, designed to meet the needs of the community were the seeds to a successful female run business, which spanned 1918 – 1951.

My grandmother was a business woman before her time as well. She worked as an executive chef in New York for Alice Foote MacDougall, Birds Eye, and General Foods.  My grandmother, nicknamed Juney, worked for Birds Eye, as she was the chef who prepared and photographed the frozen vegetables when they were first introduced to the public.  Juney, was a spitfire: tall and elegant.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch — “Juney”

I remember she was even elegant in her pajamas.  She wore silk leopard print pajamas.  She didn’t have a wrinkle on her face and she attributed her wrinkle free skin to cold cream and staying out of the sun.

You can follow The Community Kitchen on Twitter at @600DavisSt and here on this blog.

The best thing about this project is I have discovered my grandmother’s notebooks, which have original recipes from The Community Kitchen.  There are recipes which call for 32 eggs!  I am not a very great cook, but I believe my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother passed down their culinary skills in the form of stories and writing.  I am a chef with words.  This book is my bakery!

Thank you for stopping by The Community Kitchen.  There are many delicious stories being prepared, mixing the flour of history, the sugar of memory, and the baking powder of research.

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Author: memomuse

I am an arts educator, writer, poet, photographer, and mama. United Arts Council Artist in the Schools and Writer-in-Residence -- I am available to conduct workshops and residencies: Memoir, Writing, Poetry, Spoken Word, Poetry Slams. Contact me for more information. Also available for freelance writing and photography. I am also working on a historic food memoir: http://evanstoncommmunitykitchen.wordpress.com

2 thoughts on “The Community Kitchen

  1. I think it is wonderful you’ve begun this research. You’ve already found so much. I know what it was like to research my grandfather’s world in the 1920s. I plan to write a second book at the dawn of the Great Depression. I love what you’ve found. Keep up the great work!

    • Rebecca,
      The 1920’s are a fascinating time period. The more I read and research, the more I want to time travel. It must have been so exciting. History is a wonderful thing. I feel like I am right there when I read about my grandma and great-grandmother. Thank you for following along.