The Evanston Community Kitchen

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

Questions I’d Ask My Grandmother Now

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Questions I'd Ask My Grandmother Now

I wish I could go back in time and ask my grandmother a million questions.

I do remember asking her when I was nine years old, as she sat with her legs crossed like she has in the photo, on the tan plaid couch in our living room with brown thread stitching, “Why do your boobs sag, Grandma?” I remember being very curious why they hung so low.

She was so kind. She laughed a little at my blunt nature and smiled, as if she understood my bluntness from her own experience. She was a straight shooter. I loved that about her.

My dear Megan, “We had to wear corsets when I was young.”

“What are corsets?” I asked curiously.

“They were uncomfortable, but squeezed everything in. You should be happy you will never have to wear one.”

I miss my grandma, but I feel closer to her as I research her life and her mother’s life through The Community Kitchen. My mother recently passed away. She was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery July 1. Her inurnment ceremony was beautiful. Her ashes were joined with my father’s who passed in 2003.

I will be going to Evanston this week to conduct on-site research at the Evanston History Center. I received a Regional Artist Project Grant funded through the North Carolina Arts Council, Pitt Council Arts Council, and the Wilson Arts Council for travel expenses. I am very excited to be able to go to Evanston and all the places my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother stepped before me.

This article is a great link (The History of Meatless Mondays) by Katherine Spiers about the history of food conservation during WWI. As you know, if you follow this blog — the Evanston Community Kitchen sprang from a Evanston Woman’s Club food conservation project (the Food Conservation Committee of the Woman’s Club). My great-grandmother (Elizabeth Hawley Odell, also referred to below as Mrs. James Odell) was one of the three committee chairwomen, along with Mrs. Dawes and Mrs. Kingsley. At the time, my grandmother was 19 years old and living in Evanston.

If I could travel back in time, I would shadow both my grandmother and great-grandmother during this time period. I would love to watch my grandmother’s hands as she helped prepare canned fruits and vegetables from local victory gardens.  These historical moments are what I will be researching when I travel to Evanston this summer.

“During World War I (1917/8), through the Food Conservation Committee of the Woman’s Club, she helped to found (with Mrs. James Odell and Mrs. Homer Kingsley) and manage a community canning kitchen, which produced almost 7000 jars of food over a summer. This Conservation Committee further put on food demonstrations for women at Schools of Domestic Sciences all over the city and trained volunteers to teach others; they also wrote to merchants about complying with the conservation order of the United States, especially to find substitutes for wheat, meat, fat, and sugar.” — Evanston Women’s History Project Database (Helen Palmer Dawes), Evanston History Center

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Four Generations of Elizabeth

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/evanstoncommunitykitchen This is the link to my Tumblr blog for The Community Kitchen. Posts are period photos and things I have been researching. It’s a light and easy reading or viewing, as most posts are photos and images.

I have been working on some blog posts for this wordpress website.  They always end up turning into deep research, which is why this project is so much fun and so much work. I have gathered so much research in nine months.  It is very exciting.  I have been away for awhile as my mother passed away Christmas Eve, 2012. I remember her telling me about The Community Kitchen when I was younger. I wish I had paid attention more, as I long to ask my mother so many questions about my grandmother and great-grandmother.

This is a photo of my mother. Isn’t she beautiful? We all have Elizabeth in common. My great-grandmother’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s name was Elizabeth. My middle name is Elizabeth. This thread of history is fueling my passion for writing the Community Kitchen book and spanning four generations of Elizabeths!

My mom Elizabeth Welch Miller -- daughter if Elizabeth Odell Welch and granddaughter of Elizabeth Hawley Odell

My mom Elizabeth Welch Miller — daughter of Elizabeth Odell Welch and granddaughter of Elizabeth Hawley Odell

“The generations of living things pass in a short time, and like runners hand on the torch of life.” – Lucretius

I have been posting research treats via my Tumblr blog.  If you are interested in the time period of 1918-1951, in particular the 1920’s, you would enjoy the Tumblr blog.

Post coming soon on the wordpress blog: Questions I Would Ask My Grandma Now. I will be posting this in the next couple days, most likely over the weekend.

You can also follow The Community Kitchen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/600DavisSt (@600DavisSt). You can also follow The Community Kitchen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/600DavisSt.


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Hooverizing: Food Will Win the War

National Canning Day was October 23.

In the summer of 1918, the women of the Evanston Woman’s Club canned 7,000 jars of fruits and vegetables from local wartime gardens in an effort to aid their community and the war effort.  Food conservation was a growing concern in 1918.  Armistice Day was months away.  Posters were displayed in public areas to conserve food.

Tacking up U.S. Food Administration posters at Mobile, Alabama, Ca. 1918.
COPYRIGHT: American Photo Archive

The women of Evanston, who still did not have the right to vote — organized, facilitated, gathered, cooked, canned and prepared 7,000 jars of fruits and vegetables from local wartime gardens to feed community members and raise money for club’s War Emergency Fund. The three committee chairwomen of the food conservation committee were Mrs. Helen Dawes, Mrs. Elizabeth Odell (my great-grandmother), and Mrs. Nellie Kingsley. These three women were also the co-founders of The Community Kitchen.

Image Source: Evanston History Center Community Kitchen Co-Founders and Evanston Woman’s Club Food Conservation Committee Chairwomen
Left to Right: Mrs. James Odell, Mrs. Homer Kingsley, and Mrs. Helen Dawes

The club’s food conservation kitchen and canning event was in the Evanston Woman’s Club basement.  They raised a total of $250 for the club’s War Emergency Fund.  Woodrow Wilson referred to this successful conservation effort often, as well as rating it the most efficient conservation kitchen in the nation.

Artist: Charles E. Chambers
Issued by: The United States Food Administration to encourage voluntary food conservation

Image Source: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Related links:

Herbert Hoover, United States Food Administrator, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, started a voluntary food conservation program in 1917, when America entered the Great War, to reduce domestic food consumption by 15%.  “Food will win the war” was the name of the food conservation campaign.

Envelope with slogan, “Food will win the war,” postmarked January 29, 1918
Image Source: ebay

Food conservation was also referred to as “Hooverizing.”

Valentine from 1918
Image Source: National Archives

It’s makes you realize how long women have been working behind the scenes to get things done.  Every time I go to write a post on a subject related to The Community Kitchen, I get lost in research and overwhelmed with what to fit into a short blog post.  This canning event was one of the seeds that grew into The Community Kitchen.  The other seed was a successful emergency kitchen, established during the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918.  Guess where this emergency kitchen was set up? Yes, the Evanston Woman’s Club basement.

Food equals story.

Food Conservation Poster 1917
Image Source: http://www.archives.gov

Did you can any food this fall?  If so, please share in the comments. If not, what would you like most to have on your shelf for the winter? My bounty this summer was fresh basal, which I plan on making pesto sauce with.