Back to School: 31 Photographs of 20th Century Cooking Classes

Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe – April 1st, 1894

The first cooking school in America opened its doors to students in 1879. That was the Boston Cooking School, founded by the Women’s Education Association. The school’s chairman was Sarah E. Hooper, who after traveling abroad during the 1850s, was so impressed with the vocational training provided at industrial schools for domestic workers in England and Scotland, that she opened her own school in Australia where she was living at the time. There, a much-needed type of education, Sarah’s school became a big success giving her the confidence and expertise to try such an endeavor when she moved back to America. Since then, cooking and education have gone hand in hand. In today’s post, you’ll find 26 vintage photographs that highlight the relationship between food and teaching as seen in classrooms around the globe. It’s a fun look at history via the kitchen lens. Each of these photos tells its own unique story, from the equipment used to the clothing worn to the expressions on the faces of the teachers and students themselves. Let’s take a look…

The Naval Cooking School, New York City circa 1915-1920
Cake Making at the Boston Cooking School, Boston, MA, 1908
Cooking class at Stanthorpe State School, Australia, 1933
The Edison Cooking School, Seattle, 1955
Students preparing lunch at the Boston Cooking School, Boston, MA, 1908
Cooking Students at the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, Montgomery, Alabama, 1910
Welfare Hall cooking class, Boston, MA, 1905
Cooking School for Working Mothers, Berlin, Germany, 1913
Sherman Indian High School Cooking Class, Riverside, California, 1910
Teachers and Students at The Hotel and Culinary School of Finland, Helsinki, 1956
High school cooking class, Washington DC, 1899
Cooking class at Grafton Public School, Australia, 1926
Cooking Class for Boys, Norway, 1963
Cooking class at the Carlisle Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1901
Elementary school cooking laboratory, New York circa 1908-1915
Chevy Chase High School cooking class, Bethesda, Maryland, 1935
The Frigidaire Cooking School, Clarkesville, Georgia, 1950
High school cooking class, Watertown, New York, 1909
Montgomery Blair High School cooking class, Silver Spring Maryland, 1935
Cooking class at a school for girls, Jerusalem 1936
Cooking class at Banneker Junior High School, Washington DC 1942
Forst Street Public School cookery class, New South Wales, 1910
Home Economics class, Ontario, Canada, 1959
The Star Bulletin Cooking School, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1934
Y.W.C.A. Cooking class, Canada 1939
Salem Boys Club cooking class Salem, Oregon, 1976. Photo courtesy of the Statesman Journal

African American Cooking Class circa 1910-1940
Teacher’s College Domestic Science Class & Cooking Laboratory, Oxford Ohio, 1915
Housekeeping and cooking students, Germany, 1905
Ohio State Normal College Cooking Laboratory, 1910
Wood Stove Cooking Class circa 1899

As we welcome this studious month of September, we wanted to say a special cheers to all the teachers out there who have kept our minds fed and our bellies full throughout history. Hope you have enjoyed this unique glimpse into the past. Happy Labor Day!

Grilling with Friends: A 1955 Recipe for Savoy Potatoes

I wish there was a way to tally friendship in the kitchen. How many recipes were inspired throughout history by friends or for friends? How many meals were shared in convivial collaboration between one cook and another? How many dishes were dissected? Techniques taught? Secrets traded? How many hours were spent by friends, with friends, for friends tasting, touching, and talking about food?

I bet the number is in the billions. A billion hours. A billion recipes. A billion friends. I bet it is a safe assumption to say that friendship in the kitchen has been a major influence on the culinary world since the caveman days when everybody cooked, and then subsequently ate, together, around an open fire. Aside from health, friendship must surely be the foundation of food. The building block of life.

This weekend we are featuring a recipe that is friend friendly. It was created by two best pals – James Beard and Helen Evans Brown in 1955 and highlights the diverse possibilities of the outdoor grill. On the menu today, it’s Savoy Potatoes, a tipple topple stack of thinly sliced potatoes tucked between layers of cheese and dotted with herbs and butter. The recipe was part of the Frills for the Grill chapter from Helen and James’ Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery.

Frills for the grill indeed. The fun of this recipe, aside from its delectable composition and fancy presentation, is that it can be made entirely out of doors from start to finish. All you need is a prep table, a cutting board, a cast iron pan, a cheese grater, a bowl and a sharp knife. Grab a friend or two to help prepare everything, and the joy begins.

Of all the vegetables to be cooked on the grill, the noble potato oftentimes gets left behind. Understandably so. They are dense and big and take a long time to cook if left whole. If they do make it to the wire racks, most recipes are not that imaginative. There’s the baked potato wrapped in tin foil, the quartered potato steamed in paper, and the mini oval-shaped potatoes par-boiled and skewered for kebabs. But this recipe presents a whole new way to look at serving potatoes hot off the grill with an elegant twist.

Presentation-wise Savoy Potatoes is lovely, with thin layers of stacked slices browned by butter and melted cheese. Caramelization leaves the potatoes on the bottom layer crispy and golden while the top layer is tender like a casserole. Most similar to Scalloped Potatoes (a.k.a. Potatoes Gratin) minus the cream, it has a hearty consistency and flavorful yet subtle depth thanks to the two cheeses and the herbs. This recipe can be made in one large round cast iron pan or many mini cast irons, depending on your preference and your available pan options. Either way, it will be delicious.

When James and Helen finally got together to create a cookbook, it was a long-time dream come true. Both were busy, well-respected cooks and authors in their own right. Helen on the West Coast, and James on the East Coast.

A sampling of Helen’s cookbooks published between the 1950s and 1960s.

Supportive and encouraging of each other’s work, they each had their own unique way with food and writing, which meant there was no room for competition between them, just a sense of mutual respect, camaraderie and curiosity regarding the culinary industry they both loved.

A sampling of James Beard’s cookbooks

Enamored with each other as most best friends are, their relationship was strictly platonic (Helen was married and James was gay) but they showered each other with affection and attention every chance they got. For years, they maintained an epistolary relationship where letters flew between coasts at a rapid-fire pace. In these letters, Helen and James exchanged recipes, cooking questions, industry gossip, travel adventures, menus, food samples, diets, and stories surrounding what they ate and with whom. A consistent topic of the letters were ideas bounced around about projects they could collaborate on together… a restaurant in the Hamptons, a snack shop in New York City, a kitchen store filled with books and antiques, a magazine for gourmands, a cooking school, a newspaper column. Time, distance, and scheduling made many of these ideas difficult to undertake when it came to reality, but of all the possibilities they dreamed up, a cookbook turned out to be the one idea that took shape. To their mutual excitement, in May of 1955, The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery was published by Doubleday & Company.

Helen and James’ mission for the book was to cover recipes that included all methods of outdoor cooking equipment in one place. Grills, campfires, hibachis, spit-roasts, cooking on a boat, cooking from a trailer, cooking at the beach, along with defined roles for men and women in the art of creating a jovial outdoor dining experience. Helen and James suggested that women be in charge of menu planning, market shopping, and presentation, while the guys were in charge of the actual cooking. Helen called it a night off for the ladies (grab a cocktail and a lounge chair, she suggested) while James referred to the actual task of grilling as a man’s sport and the ultimate culinary proving ground. Both viewpoints may seem a bit boxed in today, but in the 1950s when almost every homecooked family meal in households across the country was made indoors by women, this idea of getting guys involved in the meal-making process was both novel and exciting. Cookbooks began springing up on shelves across the country about this adventurous way to prepare a meal.

1950s Barbeque books like this one – Better Homes and Gardens Barbeque Book – illustrated the sheer joy of outdoor cooking especially when it came to domestic family life.

Gender roles aside, Savoy Potatoes is best prepared by two people, if not more. There are herbs to gather from the garden, potatoes to chop, cheese to grate, and the grill to tend to, so multiple hands are encouraged not only for practicality but for fun too.

Note: We used a charcoal grill for this recipe. Cooking times and temps may vary if you are using a gas grill.

Savoy Potatoes

Serves 8

1/4 cup butter

6 medium potatoes

1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 handful of fresh thyme, chopped (optional)

Butter cast iron skillet(s) generously to prevent the potatoes from sticking during the cooking process. Combine the two cheeses together into a medium-sized bowl. Leaving the skins on, thinly slice the potatoes into rounds. Arrange a layer of potatoes inside the bottom of the buttered pan, then add a layer of cheese. Season with salt and pepper and a dab of butter. Repeat the layers of potatoes, cheese, butter, and salt and pepper again. Top with a sprinkle of fresh thyme.

Cover skillet with foil and cook on the grill over medium heat (between 280-300 degrees) until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and the cheese is thoroughly melted (about 25-30 minutes).

Remove from the grill, let cool for a few minutes and then flip the potatoes over onto a plate and serve.

At this point, the potatoes should come out of the pan in one solid piece. You don’t have to flip the potatoes over before serving them. They look appetizing on both ends, but the bottom has such a nice golden brown color and a crispy texture, it makes for a delicious first-bite introduction to this vintage recipe. The slightly smoky flavor from the grill mingles with the nuttiness of the cheese and the soft potatoes in the most tasty and aromatic of ways.

Helen and James recommended that Savoy Potatoes be served with roast beef, grilled fish, or poultry. During the hot days of summer, we liked it best as a vegetarian dinner served alongside a simple garden salad and a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc. In the cooler months when you crave something heartier, in addition to James and Helen’s suggestions we would recommend adding a fried egg on top and a sprinkle of chopped bacon, ham, or pancetta. A drizzle of maple syrup would add another level of interesting flavor.

Like good friends, this is a relaxed recipe. Not hard to make, it’s very accommodating when it comes to your own cooking creativity. Play around with different cheeses, and different toppings, or make it the foundation of a build-your-own-food bar and invite your friends to add their own custom toppings. Sour cream, chives, dill, smoked salmon, a variety of spices, sauteed spinach and onions, diced peppers and tomatoes, hot sauce… there are so many options that would pair equally as well with this dish.

When I asked my sister, who is one of James Beard’s biggest fans and one of my favorite people to exchange recipes with, what she liked most about his style of cooking, she shared that it was all about his universal love of food and friendship. “He felt that people could be unified through the experience of a meal no matter their country or culture.” In other words, he recognized food as the foundation of friendship. Cheers to that! Hope this recipe instigates an impromptu dinner party with your friends and family and that you love the whole experience of making it just as much as we did.

Cheers to James and Helen for this gorgeous recipe and the friendship that made it. I hope it inspires many more. If you’d like to learn more about these two culinary icons and their impact on American cooking, stop by the shop and peruse the cookbook shelf.

Update on the 1750 House: Old Siding, A New Shed and Artifacts Found in the Garden

We are getting closer. Little by little, snippet by snippet, the history of the 1750 house is slowly unfolding. Between three trips to City Hall, one trip to the local historical society, one email to a state senator, and two emails to a special collections archivist, headway is being made in figuring out the timeline of previous owners and past events. So far we have learned that the 1750 House was once owned by a US Senator and also by a university. It once housed a woman-owned sewing business called The Cotton Company, and we’ve learned that the time period between the 1920s and the 1940s played a pivotal role in both the maintenance and the modernization of our Early American colonial.

At this point, tracing the history of the house has only led us back to the mid-20th century – a mere sliver of time in its 272-year-old life. Next week, I’m hoping an appointment with the university archivist will yield some new details and preferably get us over our current research roadblock so that we can dive into stories of life spent here in the 1800s and then the 1700s. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, the house itself is still our most obliging storyteller.

This post features our latest batch of historical finds found in the backyard. It also features our first construction project and the story of how Canada plays a part, literally, in the longstanding history of both the house and the garage.

Let’s start with the found objects. Each of these pieces helps us date things that occurred on, in, or around the property a little more accurately and provides a better understanding of who might have lived here and when. Some of these objects have been found while digging up stones for our rock wall garden beds. Other times, they just magically appeared as we went about our daily activities. On rainy days especially, the earth, when it is soft and soggy has a tendency to reveal a token or two. Poking out of the dirt like presents, they are the ultimate gift of history from the ground up.

Half of an Antique Griswold Stove Damper (circa 1910)

When I pulled this out of the soon-to-be sunflower patch, I thought it was a fragment of some sort of religious garden art because of the cross. As it turns out, it’s half of an antique stove pipe damper that was made around 1910. Patented in 1889 by Matthew Griswold of the Griswold Manufacturing Company, it was used in regulating airflow for a wood-burning stove and was imperative in keeping coals hot and a room warm. Even though the house still retains its original, working fireplace, this damper might be a clue as to how it was heated in the winter months. Incidentally, Griswold manufactured many products for the domestic market, not just stoves. One of their most popular items were cast iron skillets for cooking. Imagine if we found one of those underground!

Vicks Drops Pharmaceutical Sample Bottle (circa 1930s)

This find was one of those that just appeared plain as day, the morning after a thunderstorm night. Measuring just 1.75″ inches tall, it’s a miniature glass bottle that once held sample sizes of Vicks medicine intended to relieve colds and congestion. Available at local pharmacies in the 1920s/1930s, this was like the travel-size version of toiletries that we are accustomed to today. On the bottle, it says Vicks on one side and Drops on the other.

This blue bottle joins another 1930s-era find from the yard – a metal bakery truck toy that we found in the dirt at the base of a tree just off the patio the day after we moved in.

Given the next youthful find below, I suspect that some kids made the backyard a playground paradise during the 1930s/1940s. When we lived in a very old, historic town in Georgia, half a decade ago, we learned all about treasures that can be found around the base of trees. Kids’ toys, teacups, jewelry, and other charms were sometimes forgotten about left-behinds after a leisurely day spent under the shade trees. Left untouched, these objects were overtaken by nature, eventually becoming buried deep in the ground. Decades or even a century or two later they can resurface due to soil erosion, flooding or heavy rains, bringing with them intimate glimpses of the past. So while it is not unusual to find old items near the base of a tree in a yard, what is discovered is very unique and personal to each location.

Marbles (exact age unknown)

Between two very tall cedar trees, these two marbles were found in the mud on two different days. Marbles were no stranger to kids’ play throughout the 20th century but they were most popular between the 1870s and the 1930s. The largest manufacturer of marbles in the world was Akro Agates founded in 1911 in Akron, Ohio.

In trying to date the two that we found, I never realized what an artistic world marble-making was and how varied the types and patterns actually are. Arko specialized in a wide range of beautiful designs, but research any type of marble and you’ll see they all have unique characteristics. Some have thin veins of color, others fat ribbons. They come in crystal clear and also milky opaque shades. Some catch the light like crystal, radiating a rainbow of colors while others are dense and made of solid hues.

The ones we found in the garden are of the variegated-stream variety with a milky base. These two showcase ribbons of one singular color (red and yellow in this case) around the entire marble.

It’s tricky to date these two since they are of a pretty classic design. They could have been made as early as the 1900s or as late as the 1960s. I’m hoping we will find some others to give us a better idea of when they may have been played with here in the yard.

Our next find was a breeze to date, as it belonged to one of the most popular items of the 20th century…

Ignition Key for a Ford Model T (circa 1918-1927)

We found this Ford Model T key, stuck in the dirt at the far edge of our property which borders 32 acres of wild woodlands. Made between 1908-1927, the Model T transformed transportation in the 20th century.

As America’s first car, over 15 million were made in its 19-year run and in that time period, only 18 different styles of Ford ignition keys emerged. The two styles of ignition keys that date from 1908-1918 look more like a cross between a skeleton key and a padlock key…

The first Model-T key. Image courtesy of the Henry Ford Museum

After 1918, Ford Model T keys were made of brass and each key contained a two-digit number on the backside ranging from #51-#74. The key we found is imprinted with the number 68…

Ford Model T key #68

That means it was made sometime between 1918-1927. If the key was fully intact instead of just partially it would have looked like this (minus the “b” underneath the Ford logo) …

In that same area at the edge of the woods, we also found a bumper jack stand and a big swatch of rusty metal seat spring webbing…

We aren’t quite sure if this is all connected to the Model-T key, but we plan on building a fire pit in that area so there will be more excavating to do over there later this summer. Perhaps one day we might discover a whole car!

Pottery Pieces (antique to modern)

Pottery pieces are pretty much an hourly find these days. I think we have pulled enough glass and ceramic shards out of the soil to practically make an entire kitchen full of dish and drinkware. They all range in age from antique patterns to brightly colored midcentury solids. One day we even found a dollhouse-sized mug with the name Sarah printed on it. Although the mug itself is not old (you can find them online here) it might offer a clue as to the name of a little girl who once lived here.

On the kitchen front, the building inspector was delayed by many weeks in getting all of his permit inspections done. So we had to wait patiently for him to catch up before he could come to look at our plans and issue our permits. Luckily, once on-site, he approved all of our already executed electrical work and gave us the green light to officially start framing in the kitchen. In starting that project, we found another architectural marvel – an original peg – from when the house was built in 1750.

This round peg is just one of many that have continued to hold up the framework of our house for over three centuries. It was only when the 1800s-era addition was added in back that nails were used anywhere in the house, otherwise, it was the peg plan from day one. If you remember from our last kitchen update, we saw a few of these during the insulation clean-up project poking through some of the beams in the kitchen. This one was a part of a section of wood that had to be removed so we got to see it up close and free from its wooden surrounds. Measuring in at 2.5″ inches long with a diameter of 1″ inch around, it is lightweight (only 0.5 oz), rough to the touch, contains absolutely no odor, and is super strong when pinched between two fingers.

While we waited for the permit appointment, a new project emerged. In need of more storage space, we added a small shed on the side of the garage to hold all the garden equipment. It is petite in size, but big enough to double as a potting place as well. It also adds some nice dimension to the yard.

In keeping with the house and the garage, we are siding it with the original leftover red cedar shakes and painting the trim a creamy white for now to match the color scheme already in place. Eventually, the whole house, garage and shed will get repainted (a different historical color) but that won’t be until sometime next year.

While framing up the new shed, we found another clue to the house’s history on the backside of one of the shingles…

Bloedel Stewart & Welch Cedar Shingles (circa 1931-1951)

There was just enough legible info on the paper label to do a little research on where these shingles came from. Based in Seattle, Bloedel Stewart & Welch owned and operated a handful of tree farms in Canada during the early to mid- 20th century. This is a photo of one of their mills in British Columbia…

Aerial view of the Bloedel Stewart & Welch mill on Vancouver Island circa 1933-1951. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

The shakes for their Red Band series were harvested from enormous cedar trees at their mill in Vancouver between 1933 and 1951. Below is a photograph from the Bloedel Stewart & Welch archives at the University of British Columbia featuring one of their photographers posing with a giant red cedar in 1942. Giant indeed.

Photo by F.A. Fraser. Courtesy of the University of British Columbia.

The company was active between 1911 and 1951, but the Red Band series was in circulation from the early 1930s to 1951. This is a photo of the label completely intact…

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington Special Collections.

From what we can tell, the shingles have far exceeded their lifetime expectation of 40 years, as the ones on the house are still so strong and sturdy. Product reviews aside, finding this hidden paper label was really exciting. Now it tells us that the house and garage were clad in shingles sometime between 1933-1951. We always suspected that shingles were not the original siding but until this discovery, we had no way of knowing when they were added. Right after we found the Bloedel Stewart & Welch label on the garage shingle we found another exciting surprise underneath a series of shingles on the house…

Clapboard siding! That means that back in the 1750s, this clapboard was most likely the original siding. And by the looks of it, the house was painted white. So now we know its original color. Not all houses were painted in the 1750s. Some were left natural. For the ones that were painted, there was only a handful of colors to choose from including (but not pictured here) white, red and burnt red (which is the color of our house).

Photo courtesy of Yankee magazine .https://newengland.com/yankee-magazine/living/homes/history-new-england-house-colors/

The garage on the other hand was originally sided in rough-cut timber underneath the shake shingles, which now makes us wonder if it was even a garage to begin with. Perhaps it was a small barn for animals or an outbuilding for storage or maybe it was where the Model-T was housed.

All this proposes new siding conversations for future deliberation. When we paint the house we may decide to go back to the original clapboard style to keep it as architecturally authentic as possible. And we’d like to keep it inside the historically accurate color palette. So there is a lot to think about between now and then.

Almost finished, the shed just needs the cedar siding attached, the trim along the vintage windows and a back door which will either be a sliding barn door or a set of antique french doors that open out into the yard. Whichever we can source, in that department will make the doorways fate.

More photos to come, once the shed is completely finished. Hopefully, by that point, we will have learned some new history about this old house during our special archives fact-finding appointment. Until next time, cheers to cooler weather, happy gardens and stories from the dirt.

The Curious Story of the Sponge & Egg Machine

From gooey butter cakes to doughnuts, from deep-dish pie to frozen custard, Missouri has quite a few signature sweets that are the pride of the state. If you do a quick Google search for the best-loved bakeries in St Louis today, you’ll find a list that pretty much all of the internet agrees with… Nathaniel Reid, Whisk, La Patisserie Chouquette, Piccione Pastry, Pint-Size Bakery and The Missouri Baking Company to name just a few. But 140 years ago, there was another St. Louis bakery that topped the list. A confectionary, that specialized in beautiful cakes (of the wedding kind) and handmade European chocolates, and 25 different flavors of homemade ice cream. It might still be a fan favorite today had a tragic turn of events not occurred.

Last week, an inquiry came into the Vintage Kitchen via email regarding an antique metal box. Included with the inquiry were a few photos and a hope that the Vintage Kitchen might be able to provide more information on what exactly this strange little box was. As long-time readers of the blog will know, this is just the type of sleuthing escapade we love to explore, not only for the adventures in research but also for the stories they may reveal. Not all inquiries turn out to be exciting, but this one unveiled such a unique glimpse into the lives of one American family that I couldn’t wait to share it here on the blog. These are photographs of the antique metal box provided by the inquirer that start the story…

With its table-top size, hand crank on one side, a removable lid, and an interior metal grate-style paddle, the subject of the inquiry was indeed an interesting curiosity.

The mark stamped on the front made it even more so…

As stated, there in the football-shaped gold medallion a purpose is revealed. A sponge and egg machine. Followed by L. Mohr. PAT March 13 -1894. St Louis. MO. USA

A sponge and egg machine. Sponges and eggs. What an unusual combination of words. At first literally, I thought of sponges (the cleaning kind) and then eggs (of the chicken-laying kind) and wondered if this was some sort of agricultural tool for breeding poultry. An egg cleaning machine, perhaps? Or some sort of incubator? But those ideas didn’t really make much sense considering the hand crank and the interior paddle.

After a bit of research, a few word associations, and several wormhole travels of similar (but not exact) examples, I came to realize that this box had nothing to do with live chickens or cleaning sponges. It had to do with cake.

As it turned out, this grey metal box with its outer hand crank and inner flipper flapper paddle was an antique egg whipping machine made for mixing sponge cakes. Such a specific machine for such a specific type of cake. It’s not altogether surprising though. The Victorians loved specificity. There were so many single-purpose items in their kitchens and on their dining tables (mustard jars, fish forks, baking cabinets, oyster plates, bone dishes, salt boxes, potato bins, butter pats, etc.) that having a specific machine to whip up a specific cake wasn’t so odd given the time period. But how much cake could one household be consuming in 1800s America to warrant such a convenience? There had to be more to the story. Another deep dive into commercial baking equipment of the Victorian era eventually led me to this guy who made sense of the whole situation…

Portrait of Leopold Mohr, 19th century St. Louis Jewish baker and caterer.

Meet Leopold Mohr of St. Louis, MO. As the city’s preeminent baker, caterer, and confectionary shop owner during the late 19th century, Leopold was a German immigrant, a Jewish baker and a successful entrepreneur, all in that order. Around St. Louis, he was beloved for his cakes, and was consistently sought after for weddings and special social events.

Born in Germany in 1848, Leopold immigrated to the United States sometime before the late 1860s. Standing 5′ 3″ inches tall with brown curly hair and brown eyes, he was described as having a kind face and a friendly demeanor, two characteristics that would help win the favor of future customers. Once he arrived on American soil, Leopold went straight to work making cakes, puddings, ice cream and candies that he hoped would turn out to be the best sweets St. Louis had ever known. With a city population of 351,000 residents and a plethora of bakeries, this was not a small dream. Competition among ” the bread men,” as bakers were referred to in those days, was fierce.

Map of the City of St. Louis in 1876.

Undaunted, Leopold set out to make his mark. During the 1870s, he built up his career and established a solid reputation. News zipping around the city of his baking style and offerings produced jubilant accolades. “A delicious treat,” announced one newspaper. “The best confection that we’ve ever had,” said another.

It was the “push and energy” of the 1870s that brought Leopold acclaim in the community the following decade when this article was written in 1886.

Like his business, his personal life bloomed in America too. In the summer of 1877, he married Clara, a fellow St. Louisan who shared his German heritage. A year later they welcomed a baby girl named Blanche.

The decade following his marriage, the 1880s, was filled with highs and lows. On the homefront, family raising and babymaking proved to be difficult reminders of how fragile life was. After Blanche was born, Clara became pregnant again but the baby died at birth. Right away, a son followed. Relieved that he was born healthy, Clara and Leopold named him Irwin and then tried again for another baby. But further attempts to grow their family beyond Blanche and Irwin proved futile. Twice more, Clara delivered stillborn babies. After that they stopped trying. It was decided. The Mohrs of St. Louis would be a family of four.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – November 25, 1882

Despite the tragedies at home, Leopold’s bakery business grew bigger and better with each passing year. Eventually owning and operating a baking facility, two retail storefronts, and a multiple-story building that included commercial spaces for lease above, Leopold and the L. Mohr Confectionary Company had hit their stride.

The Jewish Free Press – November 12, 1886

Not only offering desserts, Leopold also made homemade bread, sandwiches, salads and coffee. Delivering freshly prepared food for parties around town, he was a catering hit with the ladies’ luncheon crowd, the newly engaged, the socialites, and the city club members, ultimately earning the reputation of preferred caterer for events big and small. By adding free drop-offs, free packing, party games, and decorating supplies Leopold made it easy and fun to organize an event.

1889 advertisement in the Jewish Voice.

In his retail storefronts, Leopold stocked the shelves with freshly made cakes and desserts alongside imported European delicacies, baking supplies and equipment. During the holiday season, he was the only confectionary shop in all of St. Louis to offer imported Fruit Glace from Europe as well as a collection of French caramels and German fruitcakes.

The sponge and egg machine made its debut in 1894 as a co-invention by Leopold and the H. Perk Manufacturing Company of St. Louis. A time-saving device, Leopold most likely invented this machine for use in his busy bakery. But the overall intention for both Leopold and H. Perk was to patent their design. Then they would manufacture replicas for retail sale for anyone who needed quick whip-ups, whether it be for professional or personal cake baking needs.

1893 World’s Fair held in Chicago, IL . Photo courtesy of census.gov

In the 1890s, Leopold enjoyed the rewards of his hard work and indulged both whimsies and practicalities. He took Blanche and Irwin on a three-week trip to Chicago to see the World’s Fair. He purchased a grand house in the upscale West End side of town. He hosted parties at his home, entertaining friends and relatives. And he generously gave back to the community by becoming a financial supporter of area organizations and charities including the Home for the Aged and Infirm Israelites of St. Louis.

But for all the joy Leopold’s confectionary career brought, there were many disappointments to contend with too. Throughout the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, he weathered the highs and lows of running a commercial enterprise that others in the St. Louis business community were envious of. He was once assaulted in the face, by a fellow bakery competitor. Another time, a commercial tenant in Leopold’s building tried to sue him for $25,000 (an equivalent of $716,000 today) for claims of lost work due to an inefficient elevator and pungent bakery odors. Another year, a train hit one of his bakery delivery wagons smashing it to pieces. The Sponge and Egg Machine even got caught up in a legal battle when Leopold was forced to sue H. Perk over royalties due.

Throughout all these trials and tribulations, Leopold remained courteous and professional, handling each public outcry with the decorum and grace he had become known for. St Louis was expanding so quickly in those final decades of the 1800s, that the city became the 4th largest in the country practically overnight. Reading through the old newspapers published during that time period, there was a sense of the Wild West when it came to conducting business and every man was in it for himself. For someone like Leopold, who built his business from the ground up, his success combined with his good nature made him a target for others to take advantage of. Fortunately for Leopold though, his customers remained loyal and the nefarious encounters didn’t harm his good reputation…

But there was one tragedy that Leopold could never recover from. And, sadly it ultimately became the downfall of the L. Mohr Confectionary Company. In January 1899, Leopold came down with a bout of influenza which then progressed into pneumonia. A week later on a cold winter morning, to the shock of everyone, Leopold died. He was just 51 years old. He left behind his wife Clara, to whom he’d been married for 22 years, his 17-year-old daughter Blanche and his 15-year-old son Irwin. The funeral was held at his West End home for all who wanted to attend. On January 27th, 1899, the Jewish Voice reported on the crowd present at the sad event… “an immense concourse of friends, both Jews and non-Jews, among whom a very large number of representative citizens, testified to the high esteem in which the deceased was held by them.”

Strangely enough, as if the spark had extinguished more than just Leopold’s life, that of his family’s continued to dim from that point on as well. A year after his death, his daughter Blanche married Max Schulz, the founder of St. Louis’ first department store. It was a quiet wedding. The society section remarked on the absence of Leopold.

Eight years into their marriage, Max died at the age of 44, and eight years after that Blanche died, from an unspecified illness at the age of 37. The year following the death of Blanche, Leopold’s wife, Clara died at the age of 63. Irwin, who had inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, started his own skirt manufacturing company in St. Louis, but unlike Leopold, Irwin wasn’t granted a decades-long career. Irwin died in a hotel room in St. Louis in 1934 from natural causes. He was just 48.

Photo of Irwin Mohr and possibly his sister, Blanche.

If you were to visit St. Louis today, you’d see no signs of Leopold or his bakery on the downtown city streets. You wouldn’t see the presence of the Mohr name on Broadway, on Chestnut Street, on Chouteau Avenue. You wouldn’t see any catering and cake advertisements for the L. Mohr Confectionary Company in the Jewish newspapers or the city dailies. And no one would be talking about the most delicious cake they’d ever eaten from this bakery that had been around since the 1860s. The only thing left of Leopold in St Louis now is his grand house in the West End district. Even that has been changed over time though. Currently, the house is broken up into multiple apartment units…

4520 McPherson Avenue

Just when it seemed that all the world had forgotten about the life and times of Leopold Mohr, Victorian baker, and he’d sunk far into the depths of obscure history, his invention The Sponge & Egg Machine resurfaced. 129 years later. The antique metal box with the outer hand-crank and interior paddle. The mixer used to whip up eggs for cakes. The object that just a week ago seemed so foreign, so unusual, so unknown has now turned into an intimate artifact – a storybook- detailing the unique life of a 5’3″ German-American Jewish baker with brown hair and brown eyes and a friendly, kind demeanor.

I’m so grateful for all the inquiries that come into the shop with questions that spurn curiosity and stories like this. It’s interesting that Leopold’s family never carried on with the business that Leopold built. Blanche married a merchant, and Irwin was a merchant himself, so it seemed like between the three it would have been a natural fit to carry on the bustling business of the L. Mohr Confectionary brand. Perhaps though, that was the immigrant’s dream and his alone. If I met Leopold today, I’d have a dozen questions to ask him about what it was like to build a successful business in a foreign country, about his baking heritage, about his favorite recipes and his curious machine, and about how he managed to balance the energetic joys and tragic sorrows of his work and home life. And most definitely I’d ask him to share his sponge cake recipe – the one he made for the weddings and the machine.

When the initial inquiry about the Sponge & Egg Machine came into the shop, the owner of it asked about a ballpark value for this rare piece of American baking history. I offered details of pricing, specifically what we might list it for in the shop, but I also offered recommendations for donating it to a museum that might be interested in acquiring it for their permanent collection. One was the new Capital Jewish Museum coming to Washington DC which details the Jewish experience in America and the other was the State Historical Society of Missouri which specializes in local history.

As of this writing, I’m not sure what the owner of the Sponge & Egg machine plans to do with it. Will it be sold in the antique marketplace or will it become part of a permanent collection in a public institution that might inspire the next generation of our country’s great bakers or inventors or biographers? Since there are no other L. Mohr machines available on the market today, my fingers are crossed for the museums, where Leopold’s life and his invention would be connected to a bigger narrative and reach a larger audience. As I explained to the lovely owner of the machine, it may take some determination, dedication, and a little bit of extra work to place the Sponge & Egg in a permanent collection, but I think it would be worth it. From the perspectives of his Jewish faith, his German immigration, his inventive mind and his successful Victorian-era small business, this seems like the best time to tell good stories about good people who made good impacts on their communities. St. Louis has been known for their baked goods for over a hundred years. Who knows how many other bakeries or businesses Leopold’s Confectionary might have unknowingly inspired in the past century. Hopefully, with a little bit of luck, his story will continue to be told.

Cheers to curious minds, to the lovely inquirer who shared the photos of the Sponge & Egg Machine, and to Leopold for offering us a fascinating new glimpse on an old life.

Leopold Mohr (1848-1899)

H is for Witchcraft: Kitchen Signs, Symbols & Artifacts Found So Far in the 1750 House

Little stories are popping up everywhere these days. Renovations on the kitchen are underway, but there is nothing flashy and exciting to show quite yet since it’s mostly been electrical work, beam support, plumbing upgrades, and insulation clean-up. Once the kitchen gets framed out and the walls go up, the tiles go on, and the appliances get installed then we’ll be ready for more exciting room photos.

In the meantime, during all this cleaning up, clearing out and repair work the kitchen is beginning to share some secrets. I haven’t had a chance to research the origin story of the house yet, but the following items and information we have discovered during the renovation of this room over the last couple of weeks definitely gives us some insight into the lives of previous owners.

Trapped in between layers of blown insulation in a west-facing kitchen wall we found these three objects on the same day in the same area…

a spoon, a bullet, and the shearing half of a pair of scissors. All from different eras of history, they each offer a glimpse into the domestic atmosphere of life lived centuries ago.

The Antique Teaspoon {exact age unknown}

This antique silverplate teaspoon has a really detailed pattern with wheat sprigs, a scroll (most likely where a monogram would have been placed) and a fleur-de-lis type embellishment. Well weathered, but in one whole piece, this spoon is really quite a work of art…

No easy teller of time and talent, it is, unfortunately, unmarked as to maker and manufacturer. After many hours pouring over antique silverplate patterns, I can’t seem to find any exact matches, but I suspect that it dates to somewhere around the late 1800s. It seems like quite a fancy spoon for a simple style house so it has piqued my interest as to who it belonged to and how it wound up stuffed inside the kitchen wall. I’ll keep researching it, but if any of you lovely readers recognize the pattern design please share your thoughts in the comment section.

The Bullet {pre-1936}

Never having researched guns or ammunition before, this was a real deep dive into the world of historic firearms. This bullet, officially referred to as an ammunition cartridge, was made by The United States Cartridge Company. Located in Lowell, MA from 1869-1927, USCC was one of the largest suppliers of ammunition during WWI, and produced ammunition for both the military and civilian use. This type of ammunition in particular is called a rimfire cartridge, with gunpowder located in the middle section and the bullet located at the tip. The design is known as a pineapple (vintage kitchen theme approved!) because it explodes in multiple directions once it hits its intended target.

Rimfire was used in rifles and pistols mostly for small game-hunting, and marksmanship. A very popular style of ammunition during the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was even used by the Boy Scouts to garner merit badges in shooting.

After The United States Cartridge Company was purchased by Winchester Repeating Arms in 1927, production moved to New Haven, CT which is just 30 minutes down the road from the house. Geographically, it is fitting that a locally produced bullet would be found here, but there is no way to tell if this particular bullet was made in Massachusetts pre-1927 or in Connecticut. Either way, Winchester stopped making USCC branded ammunition in Connecticut in 1936.

Poster image courtesy of Historic New England

Perhaps this was part of someone’s military memorabilia or maybe this one was part of a pack of similar cartridges that were used in hunting the land around here. So far in the yard, we have spotted one deer, five turkeys, several doves and a family of rabbits so I can only imagine what a diverse food source this area would have offered for hunters and gatherers.

The Scissors {exact age unknown}

Although quite rusty, these primitive scissors look to be hand-forged and pretty old. Like the spoon, there are no marks or labels to help identify a maker or a year of manufacture but they are intact enough to see that they are short scissors, measuring just 4.5″ inches from the tip to the first turn of the handle. Here you can see them next to a pair of standard fabric sewing scissors to get an idea of size and shape.

Long considered a domestic industry, scissor-making encapsulates the design of over 150 different styles of scissors that run the gamut from small and delicate to large and mighty depending on the task at hand. Given the smaller, more fragile shape of these, I suspect they were made for more delicate tasks like sewing, bookbinding or papercrafts.

The Handforged Nails {circa 1800s} and The Wooden Pegs {circa 1750s}

Before nails held houses together there were wooden pegs that did the job. In the kitchen, we uncovered several areas in the rafters where you can see these wooden pegs. They date to 1750, the year the house was built.

If you recall from the previous post, we think the kitchen was added onto the back of the house sometime in the 1800s. That would explain the presence of antique nails in place of pegs found in the rest of the room. These three antique nails are square-cut box nails in 3″ inch and 1.25″ inch lengths. Known as a general, multi-purpose nail, square cuts were used for a variety of projects including flooring, framing and even box making.

We see them mostly in wall supports in the kitchen and plan on saving all of them for some future project. While doing all this cleaning and clearing it’s been fun thinking about who built this house and this kitchen addition. Was it a master carpenter? The original owner? A team of people or one family over many generations? I can’t wait to find out!

The H-Hinges {circa 1750}

All over the house, including the kitchen, original wrought iron hardware is fastened to original doors and cupboards. The type of hardware that holds it all together is called an H-Hinge. An incredibly popular style of hinged bracket used during colonial times, there is a bit of superstition wrapped up in its form and function that suggests why it was a favored domestic carpentry detail. According to legend, the H stood for holy and acted as a symbol of protection. Against witchcraft.

Don’t be nervous about all those paint splatters on the hinges – they haven’t been cleaned up in decades but we are up for the task!

Oh my. Once learning this info, I immediately refamiliarized myself with the Salem Witch Trials. They occurred in Salem, MA sixty years before our house was built but Connecticut also had their own similar witch trials that were held in Hartford from 1647 to 1663 and in Fairfield in 1692. The last recorded witch trial in Connecticut was conducted in 1697 – fifty-three years before the wooden pegs were hammered into place in our place. Hopefully, by now, any and all nefarious spirits have long been put to rest, but I’m glad to know the kitchen (and all the other rooms of the house!) will be safeguarded just in case the “possessed” happen to return:)

In addition to these items found inside, we have also found quite a few treasures out in the yard and garden too (more coming on that in a future post) that offer equally compelling glimpses into life once lived around here. It’s not enough to put a complete story together yet just based on what we have found so far, but it’s a start. With a little bit of luck and some dedicated research, more of a narrative will unfold. Cheers to history and to long-form storytelling!

A little preview at one of our outside discoveries – a rock named Hilda.

Further reading for Colonial home enthusiasts: Colonial Style by Treena Crochet

The Lost Art of Paula Peck: Egg & Mashed Potato Pizza circa 1966

In 1966, these words described her cooking… creative, imaginative, inventive, eclectic, beautifully presented, and internationally inspired. Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor and a beloved favorite here in the Vintage Kitchen, said “anyone who truly cares about cooking is fortunate indeed that such a talent as hers can be shared on the printed page.” James Beard called her “the finest cook I know.” Newspaper columnist Elizabeth de Sylva deemed her the “free spirit of cooking,” and food writer Gaynor Maddox labeled her “one of the most exciting, competent, and delightful guides to better dining.”

Today, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are featuring a thoroughly modern-minded yet vintage recipe from the culinary repertoire of Paula Peck (1927-1972), who was a phenomenal but now forgotten cook popular during the mid-20th century. I use the word forgotten carefully. Since professional chefs today consider her cookbooks classics and since she still has a quiet army of devoted fans, she’s not lost to a select group, but Paula is definitely, surprisingly not part of mainstream cooking conversations like other famous names that traveled in her circle. Why is that? Was she overshadowed by bigger personalities like Julia Child or James Beard? Did her culinary prowess get dismissed over time? Her recipes simply forgotten?

In order to try to figure out why Paula Peck is not a household name today, we need to start at the beginning and explore the details of how she came to be the topic of conversation in mid-20th century kitchens.

It all started with her spouse.

Among the many causes he supported, James Peck participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961, which protested the segregation of African Americans on public transportation. He was attacked and badly beaten for his involvement, but continued to defend the civil rights of African Americans. He is pictured here, fourth from left. Learn more about this experience in a 1979 interview here.

Paula’s husband, James Peck, known as Jim, was a newsworthy civil rights activist who worked his entire life trying to bring people together for noble and decent causes. Involved with the War Resistance League, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Congress of Racial Equality among others, it was Jim who first inspired Paula to dive into the world of cooking after they were married in 1950. Up until that point, Paula knew little about how to create a meal. This was a bit of a tricky situation since she married a foodie. Unless she wanted to lose her husband to the local eateries of New York City night after night, she knew she was going to need to learn to cook. So as a young bride of 23, she set out on a mission to tempt her husband and his adventurous gourmet palate away from the restaurant scene, which he adored, and into the kitchen of his own home.

Paula Peck in her kitchen in December 1966. Photo: Newsday

As Paula started experimenting with food, she fell more and more and more in love with cooking. In trying to appeal to her husband’s enjoyment of international cuisine, in particular, she studied foods from all around the globe. She began collecting cookbooks, keeping track of recipes in a file box and gathering ideas about food preparation with friends. With every passing bite, Jim encouraged her explorations. Eventually, she gathered enough courage to take a cooking class with one of the country’s most celebrated gourmands, James Beard. From there, her culinary star rose bright and shiny, as the two struck up a friendship. One opportunity led to another. Paula became James’ apprentice and then his teaching partner. And then she went on to teach her own cooking classes.

Eleven years into her culinary journey, she published her first cookbook The Art of Fine Baking in 1961. After that, she was hired to work on the baking portion of the mega Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series along with a host of respected chefs, food writers, and culinary experts. In 1966, she published a second cookbook, The Art of Good Cooking, in which she espoused the physical beauty of the kitchen, of quality ingredients, of simple equipment, of the breath-of-fresh-air joy that became her signature cooking style.

Her recipes began to appear with frequency in newspaper columns nationwide. She did live in-person cooking demonstrations for various events. She conducted interviews. The industry was achatter with news about Paula, about her recipes, about her unique approach to food. By 1970, Paula, the twenty-something girl who was not so skilled in cooking two decades earlier, arrived in the form of an accomplished, confident culinary teacher. Swathed in accolades, with nothing but a field of potential and possibility in front of her, surrounded by skilled peers and influential connections, Paula’s trajectory was on course for iconic status. And then something terrible happened. Paula died. Sadly, she was just 45.

In the 1960s, Paula circulated in the culinary world a bit differently than her comrades. Unlike most well-known cooks of her day, she wasn’t necessarily focused on age-old techniques. She questioned things. She wondered about established facts of cooking, curious if there were other ways or reasons to approach techniques beyond the traditional. She wasn’t concerned as much with how things were done, had been done, or should be done. Instead, she gave herself, and then her students, permission to experiment with food intuitively and to play around with taste, texture, and time.

Taking little bits and pieces from other cuisines, from other places and adapting them in ways that were unique and interesting, Paula worked with food from the foundation up, building a recipe like an artist builds up a scene in a painting. Taking into account, color, subject matter, texture, time, origin, flavor, and the relationship between one ingredient to another, her food was dotted with elements of surprise and flourish. It was those bits of unexpected detail that wound up setting her apart from all the gastronomes of her day. And I think it was those bits of detail that make her food still very relevant today.

Take pizza for example. Everybody knows the age-old basic pie with its flour crust, tomato sauce, a sprinkling of cheese, and perhaps a topping or two. But in Paula’s midcentury mind, the word pizza could mean something else entirely too. It could look something like this…

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

As a prime example of Paula’s creativity in the kitchen, it is her recipe for Egg & Potato Pizza from her 1966 book, The Art of Good Cooking, that is being featured here today. Using mashed potatoes as a base, sauteed onions, peppers, garlic, and mushrooms in place of a tomato sauce, and sausage and two kinds of cheese as toppers, this entire dish is polka-dotted with raw eggs and then popped into the oven for a brief bake. Surprise, whimsy, and a delicious combination of flavors are the result.

In a decade when casseroles were king of the dining table, the presentation alone of this recipe most definitely must have felt like a delightful break from the ordinary in 1960s America. More like a popular modern-day sheet pan meal than a traditional pizza, this fun-to-make any-time-of-day appropriate dish has contemporary comfort food written all over it. Made with simple ingredients and easily prepared, it feeds six people, is satisfyingly filling, and is fun to present table-side. In other words, it contains all the hallmarks of a perfect Paula dining experience.

I made this recipe as-is except I substituted chicken sausage for Italian sausage. And one thing to note before you begin… this recipe is best served immediately when it comes out of the oven. If you leave it to sit for a minute or two the eggs will continue to cook to a hard-boiled consistency and will eventually turn rubbery, if you wait to serve it much longer after that. If you like your eggs runny, cook the potatoes and toppings minus the eggs just until the cheese begins to melt (about 17 minutes) and then crack your eggs in their allotted divots and stick the whole tray back in the oven for about 3 minutes.

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

Serves 6

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cups well seasoned mashed potatoes

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups mushrooms

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

4 cooked sweet or hot Italian sausages (I used maple-glazed chicken sausage)

6 eggs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup diced mozzarella cheese

Freshly chopped spinach for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large flat baking tray generously with olive oil. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly covering the entire pan. With the back of a spoon, make six indentions in the potatoes for the eggs which will be added later.

Bake the potato-lined pan in an oven for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes seem slightly crisp on the bottom. Remove from oven.

While the potatoes are baking, slice sausages 1/4 inch thick and brown them in a pan on the stovetop. Set aside. Next, saute onion, garlic, mushrooms, and green pepper in remaining olive oil until soft.

After the potatoes have been removed from the oven, spread top of it with the sauteed mixture and sliced sausage, leaving indentations clear.

Break eggs into each of the indentations. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with pieces of mozzarella cheese.

Return to oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until eggs are set and the cheese is bubbly.

Cut the pizza up into squares or wedges and serve immediately. Paula recommended a green salad as a side dish which is a great choice if you are making this for brunch or dinner especially.

Ideal for upcoming spring holiday breakfasts like St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or Mother’s Day, when onions and spinach are in season, this egg and potato pizza is a blank slate for your creative interpretations too. Add purple onions in place of yellow onions for additional color. Garnish with fresh herbs or scallions on top in place of spinach. Replace Italian sausage with prosciutto or smoked salmon. Serve it for breakfast, for brunch, for lunch, for dinner. Call it a pizza or a sheet pan meal or a one-dish wonder. Paula would be the first one to tell you to take this recipe and run with it till your heart is content. Interpret it as you like. That’s what cooking was all about in the Peck family kitchen.

“My belief is that tradition should not hamper us if we find a better way of doing things,” Paula wrote in 1966. Perhaps that very attitude is what has kept Paula’s recipes out of the widely circulated limelight of modern-day kitchen conversations. Instead of being stubborn, restrictive, and definitive about only one be-all-end-all way to approach food preparation, Paula encouraged exploration. She encouraged hands-on learning. And she encouraged continual education.

That type of exploration and freedom tends to breed a sense of confidence that builds over time through experience. A new cook might start out making one of Paula’s recipes exactly as she described, but then over time, feeling secure at the eventual mastery would adopt Paula’s methods of questioning and discovering. The recipe would get tweaked, augmented, adapted, enhanced. As it evolved, it would take on new forms, new ingredients, new flavors, a new identity. Attribution back to its original source, over time, would get muddied, fuzzy, forgotten, and then lost to history completely. I think that’s what happened to Paula and her creative approach.

In modern-day multi-cultural fusion cooking, in outside-of-the-box presentation, and in the pairing of unusual yet complementary flavors, I think today signs of Paula’s style of cooking are all over our culinary landscape. We just don’t realize that she was the source from which it all began. Paula Peck by name might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, but her inspiring style of cooking still is.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did. If you decide to add your own flourish to this dish please send us a message or a photo of your finished affair. We’d love to learn how Paula inspired you!

Cheers to creativity in the kitchen! And to Paula for showing us what fun cooking can be when you add a little splash of imagination.

Comfort Cooking from the Family Archives: A Midcentury Recipe for Baked Macaroni & Cheese

The San Francisco Bay area may be most well known for its sourdough bread, Ghiradelli chocolate, and all things aquatic found at Fisherman’s Wharf, but in my family, we have another favorite to add to the list too. It’s an heirloom recipe that comes from the kitchen of my adventurous epicurean aunt, Patti, who lived thirty miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge in a foggy seaside utopia called Half Moon Bay.

Always known as an agricultural town, Half Moon Bay, was first settled by the Ohlone Indians and then by Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish transplants in the mid-1800s. Since its early days, this hamlet has been home to commercial tree farms, flower fields, nurseries, and vegetable farms that serve the local, regional and national communities.

There, in her light-filled kitchen decorated with antique blue and white dishware, Aunt Patti experimented with all sorts of wonderful recipes over the course of the latter half of the 20th century. Many meals were inspired by her backyard garden and all the things that she could grow in this cool California climate, but she was also interested in just making good food that prompted smiles and a fun dining experience. Hand-tossed pizza, homemade layer cakes, marshmallow frosting, from-scratch waffles, grilled hamburgers stuffed with all sorts of pizazz – those are just a few highlights of mealtimes at Aunt Patti’s table.

Happy New Year vintage kitcheners! Since the world is still struggling through the pandemic and a multitude of other crises, I thought it would be fun to start 2022 off with a fun food from the family archives that has universal comfort appeal. Today, we are making Aunt Patti’s baked macaroni and cheese recipe that was passed down from her mom, Dorothy sometime during the 1960s.

Aunt Patti was the best kind of gourmet cook – curious, generous and always willing to try new things. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember her handwritten recipe for Citrus Chicken that was featured here in 2018.

Just like the popular comfort foods of bread and chocolate that are embedded in San Francisco’s culinary landscape, this recipe that has danced around Aunt Patti’s kitchen for more than six decades is a reliable crowd-pleaser that’s been known to bring enjoyment even on the lousiest of days. And it’s no wonder – this classic food has been a salve for bad days and good appetites for centuries.

The idea of macaroni and cheese – a pasta baked in a saucy bath of melted dairy proteins – has been recorded in cookbooks since the 1700s. Elizabeth Raffald was the first to print it in book format in 1769. She made hers on the stovetop using macaroni, cream, flour, and parmesan cheese.

Elizabeth Raffald, an 18th-century English domestic worker, cooking instructor and author was the first to bring macaroni and cheese to the printed page in 1769.

Even though the recipe’s origins lay in the cuisines of England, Italy and France, macaroni and cheese nowadays, surprisingly, is most often associated with American cooking. We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that. In the early 1800s, he was so fascinated by this dish after first trying it abroad, that he recreated it at Monticello and proudly served it at dinner parties. That helped to propel its popularity and expand its reach to other areas of the country. He even went so far as to work out the mechanical properties required to make, cut and dry the pasta just like he had seen it done in Italy.

Fun facts of culinary history aside, once baked macaroni and cheese tantalized the American palate it became a mainstay on the menu of popularity forevermore.

From Aunt Patti with love – Macaroni and Cheese – an heirloom family favorite.

Aunt Patti passed away in the late 1990s, so we don’t have her as a hands-on cooking consultant anymore but thankfully, my family still has all of her handwritten recipes, which makes it feel like she hasn’t altogether left us. When her recipe for macaroni and cheese resurfaced via my cousin this past Christmas season, it was a wonderful reacquaintance with her cooking style, her spirit and her son. And it sparked many discussions. More on that below, but first I wanted to point out the beauty of the actual recipe itself.

I love several things about its physical appearance in particular. 1) That the recipe is written in my Aunt’s hand. 2) That it is splattered and stained with over sixty years of use. 3) That it has the no-frills title of Macaroni Cheese and contains a few humbling spelling errors. 4) That it references my grandmother, Dorothy, in the top-right corner.

Grandma Dorothy, who lived between the years 1914-2012, was a great cook in her own right, but she was shyer than my aunt when it came to talking about food and how she prepared it. Luckily, Aunt Patti was a great recorder and when she fell in love with a recipe she liked, she wrote it down and filed it away in her recipe box. Did Grandma Dorothy invent this recipe, using her thrifty Depression-era cooking skills and staples she had on hand? Did Aunt Patti tweak it a little bit in the 1960s to make it her own? We’ll never know. But the fact that it has been made again and again in the same California kitchen for the past 60 years is proof enough that’s it’s a good one to keep hold of.

There are a bevy of different ways to approach baked macaroni and cheese … from the basic (cheese, milk, butter, flour, pasta) to the fancy (gourmet cheeses, spicy aromatics, infused butter, thick cream, specialty pasta). Aunt Patti’s recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t contain any pricey ingredients or hard-to-find flavors but it does combine two more unusual components not often associated with a cheesy casserole.

The inclusion of sour cream and cottage cheese gives this recipe a rich, tangy flavor and fluffy consistency. It’s cheesy without being greasy and filling without being dense. It reheats beautifully and freezes even better, so if you wanted to make a big batch, double the ingredients and you’ll have a comforting casserole (or two!) for many winter meals to come. And since this recipe is connected to both my aunt and my grandmother, I’m taking the liberty to retitle it to include my grandmother’s last name and my aunt’s maiden name so that they will both be credited. This way, from here on out, the recipe will act as a tribute to two 20th century women who inspired each other in the kitchen. In turn, I hope their recipe inspires you too.

Macaroni Cheese of the Ladies’ Race

Serves 6-8

7 oz (1 3/4 cup) elbow macaroni or ditalini pasta

2 cups small curd cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

8 oz (two cups) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook macaroni on the stovetop in boiling salted water for 12 minutes. While the macaroni is cooking, mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

Fold in cooked pasta. Spread mixture evenly in a casserole dish. Top with paprika or cracked black pepper or neither – whichever you prefer.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the top of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Let it rest on a cooling rack for just a few minutes before serving.

Aunt Patti would have suggested pairing this casserole with a simple side salad of home-grown lettuces, but it’s really delightful just enjoyed on its own too. The sharpness of the sour cream in combination with the creaminess of the two cheeses offers a silky flavor profile that is a dynamic, satisfying meal unto itself.

Since this recipe festively made the rounds in the kitchens of almost every single one of my family members and then their friends and their family this Christmas, it has sparked quite a few discussions.

I’ve learned that macaroni and cheese means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve learned that there are two camps – those who prefer a homemade recipe like this one and those who prefer a boxed stove-top kind. I’ve learned that some people like extra cheesy, extra creamy macaroni swimming in sauce, and I’ve learned that some people prefer a lighter more souffle-like texture. I’ve learned that some people like to add a bunch of flavor enticing extras like bacon, chives, jalapenos, buttermilk, herbs and even apples to the mix. And I’ve learned that some people are purists and prefer nothing more than the likes of the original four ingredients first prescribed by Elizabeth Raffald’s 18th-century recipe. Like, pizza and all the zillion different ways you can top it, I’ve learned that strong opinions swirl around the kitchen when it comes to this type of comfort food.

I’ve also learned things about my own preferences and how I like to approach food these days. I love that this recipe is connected to a particular place and a particular set of women. I love that an old piece of paper with its compilation of interesting ingredients still continues to connect family and now you, here on the blog, sixty years after it was written. And I love that this recipe acts as an impetus to storytelling for the cooks who came before us. That to me is the real comfort of this comfort food.

If you try this recipe, I encourage you to comment below with your thoughts on this whole matter of macaroni and the cheese it swims with. Both Aunt Patti and Grandma Dorothy would have been pleased as punch to hear your thoughts, just as I am now. Passions and opinions are most welcome here!

Cheers to favorite family recipes, to the kitchens that keep them, and to the conversations that continue to float around them. And cheers to 2022. I hope your kitchen greets you with joy every day of this brand new year.

The Adventure Begins!

Last weekend, we packed up the Vintage Kitchen, said bon voyage to Nashville and headed north on a big, new adventure. Replacing the city skyscrapers that have been our tour guides around town for the past five years, the tall highway trees fat and billowy with autumn color, escorted us north as we ventured 885 miles towards an exciting new future.

Four states and 15 hours later, we arrived! The destination…camp country. Also known as Phase 1 of a two-part plan, our temporary resting spot for the next two months is a 1940s-era waterside cottage in Pennsylvania. Here, some big little details will get sorted out that will eventually carry us onto Phase 2 – our final destination where a big surprise that has been brewing over the past couple of years will finally be revealed.

In the meantime, the cottage and the lake it sits on, is packed full of interesting things. There are kayaks in the shed, a fire pit in the yard, and plenty of wildlife to keep the binoculars busy. The lake is home to deer, ducks, geese, turtles, herons and a wide variety of songbirds. So far I’ve spotted chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, tufted titmice, woodpeckers and an unidentified grey and black-hatted bird that I suspect might be a nuthatch fluttering amongst the trees. At night, we can see the stars, clear and bright, for the first time in half a decade. The cottage comes with a dock too, which is endlessly fascinating for Indie who hasn’t stopped smiling at the lake since we arrived.

Not alone in her unabashed joy, as it turns out, this area of Pennsylvania is best known for its plethora (literally dozens) of summer sleepaway camps that have been attracting kids from surrounding metropolitan areas like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for the past one hundred years. These vintage postcards from the 1930s and 1940s hint at some of the fun that happens here…

I can totally understand the appeal. The rolling hills, the dense pockets of trees and the waterways that wind and weave their way practically around every corner are a paradise for nature lovers of all ages. Even in the off-season on a November day like yesterday, when it was 42 degrees and raining, there was a sense of refreshing exhilaration in the landscape. It might have been the exciting news that snow flurries were in the forecast for part of the day or the fact that its been half a dozen years since I’ve been surrounded by so much nature, but whatever the joy that has buoyed our spirits these days, this part of the state has turned out to be quite unexpectedly enchanting.

The cottage kitchen is a tiny one, but there is room enough to make and share a few vintage recipes while we are here in this pending place between past life and future dreams. So stayed tuned. Even though the shop is on a temporary break while we transition, the blog will be here sharing stories and snippets throughout the season.

Cheers to holiday cooking, cozy cottages and camp country!

Exciting News! Big Changes Are Coming!

Just as we are about to turn the corner into November, and ready ourselves to say goodbye to the entire climatic year of 2021, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are also getting ready to wholeheartedly say hello to something entirely brand new.

If you follow us on social media this may be old info, as we announced our new adventure there yesterday, but I always feel like the blog deserves its own special day and time for such significant sharings. After all, this is where the whole love affair with storytelling began almost ten years ago. Since then, the blog has acted like a diving board launching us into history and the discovery of it from all angles and depths. It’s been habit over the course of the decade to save the best, most interesting stories for the blog, and this one falls right in line. After years of dreaming and planning, it is with complete joy, that I share our biggest (and best!) news yet. The Vintage Kitchen is relocating! Thanks to you and this wonderful vintage community, we have grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years and are now looking forward to expanding into a new (really old!) space that allows for more intricate layers of stories to be told.

Where are we headed? What does it look like? Over the next two months, I can’t wait to share all the details with you as we gleefully embrace this long-awaited and long-anticipated dream.

While we begin this new chapter in the life and times of the Vintage Kitchen, the shop will be taking a small break during November and December but will be back up and running in early 2022. We will truly miss not being a part of the hustle-bustle festivities of the holiday shopping season, but I am happy to say the blog will still be actively posting stories and recipes from history over the course of the next two months – not to mention sneak peeks of our new beginnings. I hope you’ll stop by to read about all things fun and delicious.

In the meantime, cheers to new adventures, to a holiday season that is full of love and life, and to being drunk in the best Baudelaire way…

“One should always be drunk, that’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue. You choose. But get drunk. – Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

And P.S. If anything has caught your eye in the shop, the last day to place holiday orders for 2021 is Tuesday, November 2nd. Happy shopping and thank you so much for helping grow the Vintage Kitchen.

Corn Pudding and A Virtual Visit – Colonial Williamsburg Style!

The groaning board. It sounds like a little bit of a fairy tale word, doesn’t it? Like some sort of subject the Brothers Grimm would have written about? Or maybe something along the lines of an object come to life – Disney style – just like Lumiere, the candelabra, and Sultan, the footstool in Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps at one point in time, tucked inside a book of Mother Goose rhymes there was a sing-song story about a grumpy kid and a clever drawing to match titled simply The Groaning Board.

Illustration by Blanche Fisher Wright from The Real Mother Goose circa 1916

Fanciful speculation aside, the groaning board is no flight of fancy. It’s a real term dating back to the medieval ages that describes a table (or in some cases a board balanced between sawhorses) that was filled to capacity with foods about to be consumed. The groaning part is in reference to the table itself and the noise it might make under the weight of all that hefty pewter and ironstone dishware that was popular in the 1600s and 1700s. Today, we’d think of this type of food presentation more like a buffet, where diners are given an array of delectable options all at once and encouraged to help themselves.

The timeless appeal of a table full of food;) Photo by Luisa Brimble.

Even though centuries have passed, and the way we describe such a style of eating has changed, both situations would be accurate in defining overall sentiment. Whether it is modern-day, colonial times, or medieval traditions, a table full of a bevy of dishes has always represented abundance, decadence, and a carefree spirit of unbridled eating. Cheers to that!

Throughout colonial times, special groaning board dinners were a tradition enjoyed every year during the holiday season. After all the hard work of harvesting had been completed, a groaning board dinner satisfied hearty appetites and celebrated a much-needed break in the yearly schedule.

Acting as a blank slate and a muse, the essential component of preparing any groaning board dinner is a big, empty table.

One of the few remaining places in America where groaning board dinners are still a part of the regular vernacular is in the historic Virginian city of Williamsburg. Each year a traditional groaning board dinner is still hosted in one of the hospitality venues within the historic district known as Colonial Williamsburg.

Giving visitors from all over the world a chance to experience a colonial feast of plentiful proportions just as their ancestors may have enjoyed centuries ago, is just one way the living history museum helps connect people to the past through food.

The start of a feast – groaning board style. Photo by Taylor Biggs Lewis Jr.

Fried chicken, prime rib, filet of fish, oyster soup, cherry trifle, Sally Lunn cake and an assortment of vegetables, puddings and casseroles were typical feasting fare when it came to groaning board menus. And Williamsburg never disappointed in that department. 

Shields Taven. Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

A foodie town from the start in 1699, hospitality has always been a big part of this small town’s spirit. Some would even say it is the birthplace. In 1705, an Act Concerning the Entertainment of Strangers was in effect throughout the colony that extended courtesy, kindness, and hospitality to all visitors and travelers. This act was created in order to discourage greed and malicious intent from growing within the colony and to protect the colonists themselves from being taken advantage of by outside entities.

Back then, there was no kinder way to offer a warm welcome than to spoil a stranger with a hot meal, a comfortable place to rest, or a restorative beverage. This obliging, open-door concept and willingness to trust the goodness of people before suspecting the worst created a playground for food enthusiasts determined to offer others a gracious dining experience.

As Williamsburg grew and became an elegant epi-center for politics and progressive ideas, the colonists were very proud of the city they created and were anxious to show it off. It was reported by the mid-1700s that visitors were fought over and fawned over by Virginians from all corners of the city. Pleasantries and invitations were extended around every bend, a continual sense of hospitality floated in the air, and a convivial atmosphere especially surrounding food and the act of eating was present at each and every meal. “And this is the constant life they lead and to this fare every comer is welcome,” wrote a visitor to Virginia in 1746.

The St. George Tucker House circa 1718.

With an eye always focused on the spirit of those founding years, restaurant owners, tavern managers, and innkeepers throughout the past three centuries have strived to present and recreate a collection of authentic meals that represent America’s culinary roots.  The first cookbook surrounding the cuisine of Colonial Williamsburg was Helen Bullock’s The Art of Williamsburg Cookery, published in 1938.

Helen Bullock’s Williamsburg Art of Cookery, first published in 1938. It was reprinted many times over the course of the 20th century with a variety of covers from plain brown to colorful patterns like this one. The contents have always remained the same including Helen’s choice to write the entire book in Colonial vernacular.

Since then, the staff of Colonial Williamsburg has continued to encourage home cooks to try their hand at making conventional colonial fare with a variety of publications, tutorials and a growing online recipe archive.

The Williamsburg Cookbook – 1981 edition

Because many of the foods featured in the Williamsburg cookbooks are traditional staples, especially in the southern United States (recipes include pot roasts, pies, stews, gumbos, stuffings, puddings, bread, casseroles, and more) they have traveled time flawlessly. Appealing to generation after generation of cooks and eaters, these long-lived regional dishes have become beloved mainstays in the hearts and homes of food aficionados around the country.

Dishes like this roast duck with fruit stuffing still grace holiday menus today. This photo is from the 1981 edition of The Williamsburg Cookbook.

Such is the case with one of our blog readers, Roberta, who recently mentioned a favorite recipe from a 1970s era Williamsburg cookbook that her family has made (and loved!) for decades. ”The Williamsburg Cookbook belonged to my mother and then was passed on to my sister, who frequently makes the corn pudding recipe during the holidays and for parties. It was a hit, the first time my mom made it in the 1970s and continues to be a party-pleaser to this day,” Roberta shared. This is exactly the kind of heirloom recipe that we love to feature here in the Vintage Kitchen – one that is trusted, adored, and anticipated year after year after year. So it is my pleasure in this post to present Roberta’s family’s treasured corn pudding recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook, first published in 1971. It is definitely groaning board approved not necessarily in weight but because you’ll want to make a big dish of it and then share it with all your friends and family.

There are many different ways to make corn pudding. Some recipes call for more sugar, less eggs, more milk, less cream, or the inclusion of flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent. Some recipes call for creamed corn instead of fresh, sour cream instead of milk, creamed cheese to make it extra velvety or baking soda to make it extra fluffy. But all recipes contain the same basic ingredients of corn, eggs, milk, butter and sugar. And all produce a similar custard-style pudding in the end.

Helen’s 1937-1938 recipe!

This late 20th-century recipe is a slight modification from the original Virginia family recipe that was first printed in Helen’s cookbook circa 1938. The difference between the two is just an exchange of flour to bread crumbs but all the other ingredients remain the same.

So simple to make, it requires just a handful of pantry ingredients and is a little on the lighter side in comparison to other corn pudding recipes thanks to the use of light cream instead of heavy cream and just a smidge of sugar instead of several. Bake it in a casserole dish and easily tote it along to your next party, potluck, or buffet-style dinner, as Roberta’s family is apt to do, and we guarantee your dinner mates will love it too.

Corn Pudding (serves 6)

3 eggs

2 cups whole kernel corn (If using frozen corn, allow to thaw before incorporating with other ingredients)

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dry bread crumbs ( I used panko-style bread crumbs.)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups milk

1/2 cup light cream * (see note below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish. Beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the corn, sugar, salt, bread crumbs and butter.

Add the milk and cream (*Note: If you can’t find light cream at your grocery store, you can make it yourself using whole milk and heavy cream in a 1/3 milk to 2/3 heavy cream ratio. Always use milk to substitute. Do not mix heavy cream with water, as it will break down the fats and make your pudding runny).

Pour corn mixture into the prepared casserole and place dish in a pan of boiling water.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until custard is set. Serve hot.

With a flavor like sweet cornbread and a consistency like fluffy scrambled eggs, it is no wonder this pudding/custard/casserole is one of Roberta’s favorites. Savory and delicate, it is comforting like macaroni and cheese, light and airy in texture like a souffle, and thanks to the whole corn kernels satisfyingly substantial without being heavy.

(Special note: For all those efficient holiday cooks out there , it is not recommended that you make this dish hours or even a day ahead of time with the intention of popping it into the oven just an hour before serving. The bread crumbs will soak up most of the liquid in that case and the finished effect will be much more firm than pudding consistency. The beauty of this recipe is its soft, pillowy composition so we recommend that you make it fresh right before you bake it).

Intended as a side dish, it is a perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving turkey, roast chicken, or baked ham making it a dependable holiday favorite. Or serve it alongside roasted vegetables, carrot fritters, or stuffed squash for a meatless meal that is full of fall color. Adventurous cooks might also try adding chopped jalapeno for a little spice, bacon for a bit of smokey flavor, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage for a bit of color. But really, this historic dish needs no special enhancements to make it any more delicious than it already is. There is a reason why this pudding has been a Williamsburg favorite for almost a century. We bet it will be a favorite for centuries more to come too.

Cheers to Roberta for recommending this wonderful new favorite and cheers to Williamsburg for not only paving the road of hospitality but also continuing to cultivate the good and gracious and delicious traditions of our ancestors!

For further fun, and an engaging historical experience, visit Colonial Williamsburg without ever leaving your kitchen by taking one of their beautiful virtual house tours and discover an array of unique sights and stories that made the first colony in America a place called home.

The Governor’s Palace is one of the historic houses available to tour virtually. One of the unique aspects of this tour imparticular is that visitors arrive by nightfall to the sounds of clip-cloppy horses hooves and torches illuminating the walkway. Don’t miss it – it’s quite spectacular!

Read more about the Williamsburg Cookbook in the shop here. Explore similar American historical villages and their recipes here. And bake the day away with two other 18th century recipes featured on the blog… election cake and Sally Lunn cake.

If you have any favorite family recipes that you’d like to share please send us a message for a possible feature on the blog. We can’t wait to hear all about the dishes that make your holiday table groan with delight!

Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org