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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1926: Juney goes to the Big Apple to Work for Alice Foote MacDougall — Takes a Big Bite

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My grandmother left Evanston, Illinois in 1926 for the Big Apple.  She left her job as the assistant manager of the Community Kitchen to go to New York City.  Juney (my grandmother) was single. Why not? She was an independent woman and had secured a great job working as Alice Foote MacDougall‘s manager.

I am sure Granny Dell was not very happy about her youngest daughter going to New York by herself. But Juney did.

Granny Dell must have appreciated it a little. I wish I could ask her. “Granny Dell, how did you feel when Juney left Evanston for the Big Apple?”

For more historic images of New York City, see this article in The Atlantic.

Perhaps Granny Dell would answer something like this, “Well, I went to Spokane in 1880 all by myself from Ohio. I didn’t know anyone in Spokane and I had secured a great job as a teacher, so I understood. Deep down I understood. Freedom is a beautiful thing.”

My grandmother wrote down quotes on little scraps of paper and cut out newspaper cartoons and clippings that were inspiring. I have some of them.

One of my favorites that Juney wrote down is: “Wear your learning like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out, and strike it, merely to show that you have one.” –
Lord Chesterfield

This certainly was true for Juney. She never bragged about her experiences or career. I sure wish she would have when I was a child. But she sure did brag about her grandchildren and her daughter.  Mary Liz, Juney’s niece did not even know that Juney had been to Europe twice. My mom told me last year about her two trips to Europe. Juney went to Cuba in the 30’s too.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch -- "Juney"

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch — “Juney”

Juney was so elegant.  I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful she was.  Well, actually I can and I will — in the book, which I have to get back to writing.


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Geeking Out Foodie Style

I geeked out last night organizing my Trapper Keepers (I am an 80’s child so they will always be Trapper Keepers to me). I bought three binders, the largest I could find. I bought divider tabs, folder divider tabs, plastic protective sleeves, index cards, and just about every organization tool I could get my hands on. I do have a lot of information to process and synthesize. At times, I have been frustrated that this project is taking so long, but I always have to come back to the fact that the story has to simmer. It takes time. This is brown rice people. It is worth the hour on the stove.

But when it flows, it flows. I have surges (and because I am a mom to young child, these surges usually take place at night). And last night, I only meant to clean off my desk that had open binders, sticky notes, index cards, pencil shavings, books, and a sea of other historic time period items.  I have a book that contains material from 1921 and it is so delicate that when I open the book, scraps of paper flurry onto my desk. I received it through an inter-library loan. I have a helper I have enlisted at the local library. His name is David and he has helped me gather many newspaper articles and books through inter-library loan requests. He has been so helpful that he will surely make the acknowledgement page.

“I had already done a lot of research for Rough Riders, keeping notebooks and old photographs. Some of the books were antiques for that time period, with the covers falling off.” – Tom Berenger 

It feels like I am living in the early 20th century as I am so deep in the research as my focus (and obsession) has been the Community Kitchen.

My husband said the other day, “I appreciate your passion and enthusiasm, but I am Community Kitchened out.”  Oh my, I thought, even my husband has had enough of this story. But you see, I will never have enough of it until it is written and bound in a book. It fascinates me. It takes me on jaunts and journeys to 1880 Spokane, where my great-grandmother was a teacher. Then I hop on a steam train with my great-grandfather heading West to Spokane from C armargo, Illinois. It take me to 1906 Texas where my great-aunt Harriet and grandma are dressed in Mother Hubbards — a red one for Juney and a blue one for Harriet, where they help their grandmother churn the butter.

Image Source: http://www.mamalisa.com

Image Source: www.mamalisa.com

It takes me to 1926 New York City where my grandmother is the manager at one of Alice Foote MacDougall’s tea rooms. It takes me to 1943 Smith College where Mary Liz can’t come home for her Granny Dell’s funeral because of the war. You see, The Community Kitchen is my stage coach back in time. My 1920 Ford. It is my ticket to see my family’s shows and acts. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.

The story of the Community Kitchen, which evolved from an Evanston Woman’s Club food conservation committee in 1918, has so many other stories embedded in the tapestry of American history and family history. There are recipes, stories, and love surrounding this tale. And I am a happy chef in my kitchen of words, memories and translations of text my ancestors wrote, leaving me clues to tie a bigger story together.

Sometimes (OK, a lot) I take out my index cards, which are filled with dates, facts, and anecdotes, and look them over. This gives me great comfort and joy as I have chronicled 1880 well past 1951. I have three binders full of research, which I have organized. The story is taking on a good shape – a shape of its own. The bread is rising and the scent is sweet.

Being alone, while everyone sleeps, gives me great joy. I would rather research and write than go out on the town. I become entranced at night, usually staying up until well past midnight. My son starts pre-school this week so I will have to start going to bed earlier. I will do my writing during the day. But I have to admit that the night is much more alluring as I feel it provides a more daring environment and less distractions.

On that note — good night. I am up well past midnight again.

Today’s treat and tea — I transcribed (retyped) a letter written on my great-grandfather’s business letterhead to my great-grandmother’s (Granny Dell) sister in Connecticut dated May 1896.  I wrote 6,000 words as well. I also had ice cream for dinner.

Sneak peek for this week’s post about the excitement of  coming upstairs from the basement research room when the Dawes House (Evanston History Center) was empty. It was like stepping back in time. This week’s post will focus on the kitchen at the Dawes House. If you are enjoying Downton Abbey like me, then you will enjoy this week’s post.

Kitchen at the Charles Dawes house (Evanston History Center)

Kitchen at the Charles Dawes house (Evanston History Center)


Mozart Cafe is Now Current Location of The Community Kitchen

I am very excited to have coffee at 600 Davis Street this morning. The Mozart Cafe is located there now. I will be having coffee with both granddaughters of Elizabeth Odell. Ginny and Mary Liz are the daughters of Harriet Odell Price, whom wrote the Odell family history I mention in “About the Author” page on this website (see “About the Author” tab at the top of the page on this website for more info.
“Aunt Harriet” as we referred to her was my grandma’s sister. I was nine years old when Aunt Harriet passed away. My memories of her are deep within my mind, made up of regular trips to the North Shore area and Evanston, as I grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton.

I remember vividly sitting with Aunt Harriet eating ginger snaps.

Watching my grandma and Aunt Harriet as a child I had no idea, of course, of their connection to the Community Kitchen. If so, I certainly would have my notebook out and say, “Let’s start at the beginning ladies.”

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Photo by Megan Oteri: July 23, 2013 at The Charles Dawes House — The Evanston History Center

I am thankful to Aunt Harriet for writing and researching the Odell family.  Her words and spirit spill over with great light and inspiration as I embark on the great task of writing the story of The Evanston Community Kitchen, a historic slice of Evanston and American Women’s History.

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Photo by Megan Oteri: Evanston History Center Sign

I leave you with photos I took yesterday with my phone. When I return to North Carolina next week, I will post more photos I took with my digital camera. I am mostly writing posts here from my phone.

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That’s me.

Right across the street from the Evanston History Center is beautiful Lake Michigan.

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Park bench at Charles Dawes Park, across from Evanston History Center

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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


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.

Domestic Revolution: Preserving the Family Meal

Women’s co-op: The Community Kitchen (Link to article in Evanston Now newspaper about a history talk on the Evanston Community Kitchen. See link for details).

Click on link for details of event: http://evanstonnow.com/event/education/bill-smith/2013-03-04/55018/womens-co-op-the-community-kitchen

The Community Kitchen Photo Credit: Evanston Woman's Club

“This Thursday (April 4, 2013) is “Preserving the Family Table,” a presentation covering the fascinating but mostly unknown story of the Community Kitchen.” — Evanston History Center Facebook page

“Women’s history month is year-round at EHC! Join them tonight at 7 pm to learn about the Evanston Community Kitchen, a woman-run cooperative housekeeping venture that sought to revolutionize women’s lives. Presented by Erin Hvizdak.” — Evanston History Center Facebook Page

A wine and appetizer reception catered by Whole Foods Market, Evanston South takes place at 6:30 p.m.

Admission is $10 to the event at the Evanston History Center, located at 225 Greenwood St., Evanston, Illinois 60201, inside the beautiful Dawes House. Event is free for EHC members.

Photo Credit: Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center. The event on The Community Kitchen is tonight (April 4) at 7 pm at the Evanston History Center (Dawes House).

The Evanston History Center (Dawes House) ~ Photo Credit: Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center. The event on The Community Kitchen is tonight (April 4) at 7 pm at the this beautiful house. Step back in time and attend this wonderful event.

“April Under the Buffalo

A reception catered by Whole Foods Market, Evanston South, kicks off each event at 6:30pm.
Presentations begin at 7pm.
Admission: $10 per event (Payable at the door) EHC Members Free.
Reservations Recommended: jthompson@evanstonhistorycenter.org

“Preserving the Family Table: The Founding of Evanston’s Community Kitchen After WWI”
Presentation by: Erin Hvizdak
Thursday, April 4, 2013 7pm

Learn about the woman-run cooperative housekeeping venture, the Evanston Community Kitchen, founded as a canning kitchen during WWI. At its peak, the kitchen produced hot dinners in state-of-the-art facilities and delivered up to 500 meals per week. Billed as a service of “convenience” for housewives and young single businesswomen, the Evanston Community Kitchen can also be seen as a response to the anxieties felt from shifting gender roles and class relations after WWI.” — Evanston History Center website (http://evanstonhistorycenter.org/events-programs)