The Evanston Community Kitchen

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


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The Bones Know (how to cook, that is)

As I was making chocolate chip cookies with my son today, I thought of something so profound and deep — it barely surfaced.

At that precise moment when my three and three-quarters year old poured the baking powder into the blue bowl, I should have honored and listened to the Montessori urge to go write it down right then and there.

But I didn’t. I kept mixing, baking, and preparing our cookie dough.

I had spent the hour prior to this trying to engage my sick, moody, snow day cabin fevered son to bake with me. He was mad at me because I would not let him watch Phinius and Ferb — his current favorite cartoon (I really like it too). We (or rather I specifically) are trying to limit his TV watching to two hours a day. And two hours a day seems like too much as it is.

Back to my profound deep thought — it was right there ready to be  measured out in perfectly proportioned words.

1 cup of prose

1/2 tsp of poetic phrasing

1/4 tsp truthful juice

1/8 tsp of heart based memory

1 stick of beauty

The words were perfect — so perfect I thought I’d remember them exactly for sure.

But I didn’t; I don’t.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I know what my one truth was — geez it was the first line of this darn book my ancestors have placed on my insecure shoulders and it was perfect.

Here’s the understudy’s attempt (the lead actress took another gig apparently): my grandmother taught me to cook when I was four. I don’t remember, but my bones do. When I cook with my son, I remember.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me (and Shaggy and Penny. Shaggy is the the Pekingese and Penny is the German Shepard)

***

I don’t think there is a perfect way to write this story. It just has to be written. I have got lost in the research. There is just so much to say. I want to ask my grandmother so many questions that a thirty-nine year old would ask — an almost forty year old would ask. The thing is — I know one thing for sure, well actually two, maybe three:

1. My grandma loved me and I loved her.

2. You don’t get to ask your loved ones all the questions you will have.

3. You are left to wonder. And sometimes wonder is better than knowing.

I could hem and haw and stop right there. But the story wants to be told, so I will tell it best I can. I am telling it right now.

That is enough for today. The bones know. I am lucky to have had her in my life for the ten years I did. This love is baked into me. I may not remember our conversations, but I remember her perfume. I can still smell it. I remember her pajamas; I can feel them — she always wore silk. I remember her glasses; I touch them — they were pointy. I remember her legs; they were muscular — even for an old lady. She never crossed them at the knee, only the ankles — lady like.

Juney, you are my Valentine. I love you.

A valentine from my grandma

A valentine from my grandma

Inside of Grandma's card

Inside of Grandma’s card

Recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies from Community Kitchen recipe notebook

From Juney's (Grandma's) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

From Juney’s (Grandma’s) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

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It Takes a Village … to Raise (and Maintain) a Building

It Takes a Village … to Raise (and Maintain) a Building.

via It Takes a Village … to Raise (and Maintain) a Building. Click on the link to read about the history of the Woman’s Club of Evanston.

“In 2013, the Woman’s Club of Evanston will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of their clubhouse, so prominently featured at 1702 Chicago Avenue in Evanston.” — From the Evanston History Center Blog.

The Community Kitchen started in the basement of the Evanston Woman’s Club (now called the Woman’s Club of Evanston) in 1918.

Women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


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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.


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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.