The Evanston Community Kitchen

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


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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2 Comments

The Community Kitchen

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.