The Evanston Community Kitchen

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


2 Comments

Research Treat and Tea: Schrafft’s

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch (Elizabeth Hawley Odell’s youngest daughter) was the assistant manager for The Community Kitchen.  “Juney,” nicknamed by family, was also the manager for Alice Foote MacDougall in New York.  At the age of 28, she left Evanston and headed for the Big Apple to pursue her own career in the food industry.

Downtown New York from the Woolworth Building
New York: March 2, 1926
Photo Source: http://www.georgeglazer.com

Mrs. Welch’s connection with the business 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 she 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 the staff of General Foods preparing foods for advertising photography.

Source: The Evanston Review Newspaper (May 31, 1951)

My grandmother’s notebook

Inside the notebook pictured above, are index cards with recipes, notations, food conversions, and my grandmother’s beautiful cursive handwriting.  I also found a list of fish entrees.  She must have created the list during her work at Schrafft’s.  How do I know this you say? Well, at first it was a mystery to me as well.

I looked on the back of the paper, wrinkled from time and tinted with age.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Fish items Schraffts” was written in cursive.  “Fish,” underlined and written in thick black colored pencil, was my first clue.  A long double dash, then “– items Schraffts” was written in pencil below the black colored pencil.

Photo Source: Shalat Architects

I obtained the 1951 Evanston Review article from my mother’s cousin, Mary Liz Hunt.  I solved the mystery when I read the article. I soon discovered what Schrafft’s was after reading articles about it in The New York Times.

The more research I do, the more I unearth.  This giant puzzle of American women’s history is slowly being put together, recipe by recipe.  I fear writing a blog post that is not up to the standards of Elizabeth Hawley Odell and Elizabeth Odell Welch — two women who were extraordinary women in their time, as well as chefs and business women before their time.  I do believe it would be safe to say they were perfectionists as well.

Some of the examples of fish entrees from my grandmother’s notebook, with Schrafft’s written on the back, including the price from the typed list include:

  • Soft Shell Crabs on Toast a la Schrafft                            Varies
  • Creamed Halibut on Toast (Fresh Halibut)                     .60
  • Grilled Sardines on Toast w. Parsley Butter Sauce        .65
  • Seafood a la Newburg with French Fried Potatoes        .85
  • Fresh Lobster Fricassee w. Biscuits                                  Varies

I imagine my grandmother, in New York, preparing these items in the executive kitchen at Schrafft’s headquarters or perhaps at one of their restaurants.  She is dressed in a white chef coat, her hair perfectly styled, as it always was — not a hair out of place.  Her classic white streak in her hair, which I inherited, showing on the left side of her beautiful thick hair. Her pearls are around her neck; in stockings and heels, dressed glamorously.

Schrafft’s Dining Room — Photo Source: Shalat Architects

Juney’s last words to me were, “Comb your hair, Megan.”  She had a stroke prior to this, and we visited her at the Mather Home in Evanston before she passed away. I was only ten years old when she died.  Her spirit has been with me since I was born.  Juney was strong and elegant.  She was confident in a way I wanted to be, even as a young child.  Her presence was calming and reassuring.  I can only imagine how graceful she was in a kitchen and how elegant she must have been walking on the busy streets of Manhattan in the late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

Experimental recipes sounds fitting, as she was a trailblazer and was never afraid of the unknown.

As I begin the journey of writing this powerful piece of American women’s history, I am channeling her spirit.  I realize I too, am preparing an experimental recipe.

This is an article about Schrafft’s from The New York Times.  

In the kitchen: I am working on a post about contacting the great-grandson of Frank Shatuff — the man who started Schrafft’s.

Advertisements


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.