The Evanston Community Kitchen

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

About the Author

Megan Oteri — Author of The Community Kitchen Historical Food Memoir

My name is Megan Oteri and I am the chef of this story.  I am a writer, poet, and photographer.  I was a teacher for thirteen years, and I left my profession to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, as well as pursue my writing career.  I am connected to The Community Kitchen is so many ways — through food, family, and story.

My mother gave me a genealogical memoir my great-aunt, Harriet Odell Price wrote years ago; I tucked it away in a file labeled “Odell Family History.”  Aunt Harriet (as I called her) was a long time Evanston resident.  We visited her often when I was a child.  She lived at the Presbyterian Retrement Home .  I have recently unearthed her manuscript, which she published for family members in 1981.  I was only seven years old when she gave this document to my mother and her family members as a Christmas present.

In this manuscript, she traces our family, back to William the Conqueror.  Within these pages are stories  rich in texture, history, and voice.  Harriet wrote about her experience working for her mother (Elizabeth Hawley Odell — co-founder of The Community Kitchen) as her secretary. Aunt Harriet traveled around the country with her mother as Elizabeth Odell spoke about her successful business. This centralized kitchen was the model for the nation, drawing national attention to the city of Evanston.

It was written about extensively in national newspapers and magazines, including The Chautauquan, American Cookery (1920), Munsey’s Magazine (1921), The Journal of Home Economics (1921), The Independent (1920) and Ladies Home Companion (1919). Then I found my grandmother’s notebooks, filled with index cards of recipes from her work in the food industry. My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch, was the co-manager for the Community Kitchen, before she left for New York in 1926 to pursue her own career in the food industry.

My grandmother’s connection with the Community Kitchen began when it was a wartime project using the facility of the Evanston Woman’s Club.  She became assistant manager when her mother became the owner of the Community Kitchen, and she continued with it until shortly after it moved to Davis Street. In 1926 “Juney” (my grandma) joined the staff of Alice Foote MacDougall in the tea shop business in New York. Later she did experimental recipe work for Schrafft’s and before she returned to Evanston in 1947, she was on staff of General Foods preparing foods for advertising photography.

One of my grandmother’s notebooks — filled with recipes, notations, recipe conversions, and her beautiful cursive handwriting.

There are also recipes specifically from The Community Kitchen.  Some recipes call for 32 eggs!  Bakery size proportions.  My favorite recipe so far is a chocolate sauce that yields 100 servings! What a treasure it is to bring these tangible pieces of my own personal history together with the concept for this book.  As a writer, I know a story when I smell it.  And the scent of the gingerbread, braised tongue, carmeled potatoes, and lemon mousse tarts permeate my brain.  I dug a bit deeper, searching on the internet and found a slew of articles written about this famous landmark.

I am the daughter of Elizabeth Welch Miller, who was a long time Evanston resident and the activities director for the Evanston King Home.  Most people called my mom, Betty Ann or B.A.  My mother was born and raised for part of her life in Manhattan.  She attended Dalton, Tuxedo Park, and Evanston Township High School.  If you recognize the name or face, please contact me.  I am seeking stories connected to all the women in my family.

My mother worked at the Evanston King Home. That’s her with the beautiful flaming red hair.

My mother, Elizabeth Welch Miller, is on the far right.  Her friends called her Betty Anne or B.A.

My mother and a man from The King Home (I think)

I am the granddaughter of Elizabeth Odell Welch, who was an Evanston resident from 1901 – 1926 and then from 1947-1984.  She also lived in New York City from 1926 – 1947, while she worked for Alice Foote MacDougall, Schrafft’s, Birdseye, and General Foods as an executive chef.  Most people called her “Juney.”

My mom (Elizabeth Welch Miller) and grandma (Elizabeth Odell Welch)

Grandma (“juney”) was an avid Cubs fan.  She went to Evanston Township High School. She was also a house mom for a fraternity at the University of Wisconsin at one point.  My grandmother was the chef who prepared and photographed Birdseye vegetables when they were first introduced to the public.  She was very athletic, and played football as the quarterback, according to family stories.  I am still trying to find out more about her. She passed away when I was ten. She was a long time resident of the Evanston Mather Home.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch (“Juney”)

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch (Juney)

I am the great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Hawley Odell.   She was born in Ohio and moved to Evanston after she got married to my great-grandfather, James A. Odell, in Spokane, Washington.  She was a teacher in Spokane and beloved by her students.  My grandmother, Juney and her sister, Harriet Odell Price were both born in Spokane.  The Odells lived in New York for a short time and then settled in Evanston.  They lived on Church Street, which is pictured below.

The Odells lived at 1302 Church Street, Evanston, Illinois

If you have any connection to The Evanston Community Kitchen, please contact me.  I am seeking stories, big and small, to weave into this fascinating slice of American Women’s History.  It can be a journal entry that a family member may have left you, detailing one of the delicious treats found at The Community Kitchen or perhaps it is a story about one of my relatives.  I wish I had started this story earlier, but I was too busy.

Now, I am gathering the ingredients: the flour of history, the sugar of  memory, and the baking powder of research. Food equals story. I am busy in the kitchen of my computer — making time to write this wonderful story.  My mother told me so many stories about the men she worked with at the King Home, my grandmother’s innovative work in the food industry, and of course, my great-grandmother’s business, The Community Kitchen. Food = Story and what a story this is!

Thank you for visiting my little cyber kitchen.  I hope to create a menu of stories filled with history, memoir, anecdotes, photographs, and recipes.  Please contact me about any question, curiosity, or comment you wish to share.  I can be reached by email at memomuse@gmail.com.  You can also reach me on Twitter at @600DavisSt, @memomuse1 and by leaving a comment.  I will get back to you right away.  I hope you find this project as exciting as I do!

Thank you for your time.

Megan Oteri

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7 thoughts on “About the Author

  1. You look like your mother. I am so sorry that you pine for the west. I like having you here! A southern perspective isn’t so bad if you’re not a narrow minded southerner! (We all aren’t!) Love you! Marsha 🙂

    • Marsha,
      Thank you. I am an American. I pine for Chicago too, but I do love the land out in Wyoming. Wherever there is a hot meal or a cool drink and a porch to fan myself on — I am home. 🙂

  2. I do look forward to reading more stories about your grandma and great-grandma. They sound like amazing women!

    • Claudine,
      Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. I do wish I could have met my great-grandmother. I do feel this project is bigger than just my family connection. The more I read and research, the more I find out about amazing women that paved the way for my great-grandmother and grandmother, and ultimately my mother and me.
      I will be posting a story soon about one of the notebooks. Stay tuned — most likely going up tomorrow. I will post the link on Twitter (@600DavisSt) and Facebook page.

  3. Somehow I lost your comments, but found you through Goggle. Glad you have found Gilman. her papers are at Harvard/Radcliff. They have a good finding guide online and you may be able to find Gilman’s speech there, or at least a speech that she gave at other community kitchens. Hayden is at Yale. Her more recent books are not about domestic architecture and practice, but she may be able to help.
    I am excited about your project. Do keep me posted on it. And let me know if I can help in any way.

  4. Pingback: Archival Research: Jaunts and Voyages — A Ticket to a Mansion, the Titanic and Charlotte Russe | The Evanston Community Kitchen

  5. I’ve decided to use a friend’s suggestion to organize all the research — Powerpoint. I was feeling overwhelmed on how to physically organize the story since I have so much material I have been researching. I really like it. Then I showed a friend today my Powerpoint and she told me about a book I should read — “An Organized Mind.” My great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all amazing women. I really miss my mom and so much of the narrative drive of this story is fueled by the fact I can’t ask her. I wish I could grill her with questions. Thanks for your support.

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