The Evanston Community Kitchen

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

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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:

Image Source:

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)

Grandma’s Love: Juney’s Cards

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Juney's Cards

To be loved by your grandma, what a special gift indeed.

My grandma, Juney, always sent birthday cards and holiday cards when I was a child. She never missed a birthday and she was always punctual with her mail — never did a birthday card arrive a day after my birthday. She adored her grandchildren. She was the only grandparent I ever knew. And she was enough — she was a gift. A supersize grandma who made up for the other three who had passed away before both my sister and I were born.

My grandma was lovely and modest. I had no idea, of course as I was just a child, of her accomplishments. To think she was involved in food photography and advertising when it was just being introduced. She was the executive chef who prepared the cooked foods when Birdseye first introduced frozen vegetables. Juney moved to New York when she was 28. She loved New York. My grandma had panache. I remember thinking how elegant she looked even in her pajamas when she would spend the night at our house in Wheaton. She would take the train from Evanston. Mary Liz’s son, Lewis would drive her to the station at Davis Street in Evanston.  Lewis is Mary Liz’s son. Mary Liz is Juney’s niece and my mom’s cousin, and also Aunt Harriet’s daughter.  Lewis told me that Juney was always so excited to come and visit us.  My grandma always looked so put together, even in her PJs  — one pair I remember vividly was leopard print silk matching bottom and top.

The inside of the Valentine's Day card Grandma sent me as a child. I am grateful my mom kept these things for me.

The inside of the Valentine’s Day card Grandma sent me as a child. I am grateful my mom kept these things for me.

This is a Valentine’s Day card she sent. How important it is to me now, more valuable than anything. And of course, it arrived promptly on or before Valentine’s Day. And she always tucked in dollar bills. And this is important as she was on a fixed income. She had a generous heart.

My advice for anyone who is lucky to still have both their parents, or one of their parents alive, and/or their grandparents, is to write down and record all the stories they tell.  Once they are gone, you realize how truly important these stories are. They are history.

Part of the inspiration for this book and what is providing me the passion to write it is that I regret not writing down my mother’s stories.  I did write down a few and of course I have a lot of memories, but I am missing her so much. I just wish I could talk to her.

My mom did meet my son, Benjamin.  He was six months old. I will always have that.  But it is special to have a grandma and/or grandpa you can grow up with. It must be even more special to know your grandparents when you become a young adult and an adult.

Here’s to Juney. Here’s to grandparents and here’s to grandmas.

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.