Anna Clellan and the Love Apple Soup circa 1928

Tomato Soup circa 1928
Tomato Soup circa 1928

There has been a lot of talk about recipes here on the blog as of late but so many interesting food-related topics have been popping up recently in the historic land of Ms. Jeannie, it seems a shame not to share them. So here we are back in the vintage kitchen with a newly discovered almost 100 year old recipe that came from Ms. Jeannie’s great -great Aunt.   This week’s post takes us to the heartland of America – a middle state where young newlyweds ventured via covered wagon in the the 1860’s and set up life, spreading their roots so deep in the soil they practically built up the foundation of a small township.

Albert, Martha, their children and grandchildren
Albert and Martha (pictured on each side of the flower arrangement)  in Vinton, Iowa surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

We have talked about the Edwards’ family a few times previously on the blog so if you are a regular reader you’ll remember the adventurous Albert and his wife Martha who married in Johnson County, Indiana in 1865 and then immediately (the very next day in fact!) got into a covered wagon and headed west towards a new frontier. Three months later, Albert and Martha settled in Benton County, Iowa in a small town east of Cedar Rapids.

If you are familiar with Little House on the Prairie and are up on your John Travolta movies you’ll know Vinton, Iowa for two reasons. It is where Mary Ingalls  attended the Iowa School for the Blind (also known as the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School) between 1881-1889 and it is where they filmed many scenes of the movie, Michael, (including the final courthouse scene) starring John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt and Oliver Platt.

Vinton, Iowa is faomus for these faces and places.
Vinton, Iowa is faomus for these faces and places.

Known primarily for its burgeoning agricultural opportunities in the mid-1800’s, Martha and Albert had two goals when they moved to Vinton – farming and family. In true pioneer spirit they  got down to business right away working out their farmplace and starting a family dynasty that would eventually produce 11 children and 45 grandchildren.  Their first baby, Anna was born during the crispy days of October 1866 just 19 months after their arrival in Iowa.

As the oldest of her 10 brothers and sisters, Anna learned a  lot about farm life, babies and family relationships. By the time she was 4 she saw the birth of two brothers  and then the sad death of one those brothers who was in her life for just 7 short months. The next five years brought three new sisters and then the death of her remaining brother Cornelius. So by the time Anna was nine years old she had already witnessed the death of two of her siblings.

When Anna turned 18 in 1885 and married Selmon T. Whipple she had six sisters in total ranging in age from 2-14. Immediately following their wedding Anna and Selmon set up their own farm in Benton County and got to work on their own family. At this point  in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, babies were coming into the family from all directions.

Anna’s mom, Martha was still having her own kids and Anna was just starting to have hers, which means mom and daughter were preganant and giving birth at the same time.  So the the first few years of Anna’s marriage went something like this… a baby boy for Anna, and then a baby brother for Anna, a baby girl for Anna and then a baby sister for Anna. It’s a whirlwind of confusion and name sharing where all the aunts and uncles are close in infantile age to their nieces and nephews but brothers and sisters have almost two decades between them. And then add in the fact that Anna’s six sisters were starting to marry and have their own families and it was just kids everywhere.



Selmon and Anna's house in Vinton Iowa, built in 1906
Selmon and Anna’s house in Vinton, Iowa.

Basically for the first twenty years of Anna’s marriage she was pregnant and raising babies. Her fifth son Frankie died the day he was born but all the other little ones made it through to adulthood.  A year and a half  after her last baby, a little girl named Nellie, was born, Anna’s husband Selmon fell off a shed and became paralyzed.  For three long months he lay immobile at home before he died  leaving Anna, aged 45, the entire responsibility of managing the farm, twelve kids and her large house.

Death notice printed in the Vinton Eagle, 1912
Selmon’s death notice printed in the Vinton Eagle, 1912

But Anna was a strong woman and she came through this tragic circumstance with courage and a loving heart still intact. In addition to all this newly placed responsibility she even managed to take on the  care and raising of her infant grandson, whose mother (Anna’s daughter-in-law) died from tuberculosis.

As the wife of a farmer with over a hundred acres in crop production and the mother of thirteen children Anna knew her way around the vegetable garden and the kitchen. In 1928 she submitted a recipe to the Vinton Cook Book which was compiled by the First Division Pastor’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. With a little help from the ladies at the Vinton Historical Society, Ms. Jeannie was able to acquire a copy of the recipe that Anna submitted.




The recipe is for tomato soup. It is a very simple one with few components but it does contain one unusual ingredient – baking soda. Today in the vintage kitchen we are recreating this 89 year old recipe to see what cooking in the 1920’s tastes like and to see if it still appeals to our modern palettes.

Tomato Soup circa 1928
Tomato Soup circa 1928

Most likely Anna would have used previously canned summer tomatoes from her garden in this recipe or she would have made it fresh during the summer months and possibly canned the soup for winter consumption. Either way, it is February and Ms. Jeannie does not have any leftover summer tomatoes on hand nor does she have any fresh in the garden. So instead we are relying on fresh hot house tomatoes that were grown in Chile. Ms. Jeannie did not have high hopes for flavor with these guys even though they looked absolutely beautiful in the grocery store.


But she was very pleasantly surprised at both the sweetness and firm fleshiness of these traveling love apples. Anna served her soup topped with a sprinkle of crushed crackers, which most likely would have been soda crackers or saltines. But Ms. Jeannie wanted to pair her soup with something a little more exciting so she made rustic Caprese-style toast to partner. Look for that recipe following the soup. She also added 1/3 cup tomato paste at the end, which is not in Anna’s original recipe (as you’ll notice from the picture above) –  an explanation for that addition follows the final step. Other than that, the recipe was made as-is.

Anna’s Tomato Soup (circa 1928)

1 quart tomatoes (about 4 -5 cups)

1 pint milk (about 2 cups)

1 pint water (about 2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 pint beef broth (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup tomato paste

4 crackers (optional- see second recipe)

Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Remove seeds from tomato (Note: there is no mention as to whether the skins of the tomato should be on or off – most likely they would be skinless, but Ms. Jeannie left them on and they rolled themselves into thin toothpicks which added a little bit of texture to the overall soup in the end. Next time she will try making it with the skins removed. So it is your preference on this aspect.)
  2. Add the tomatoes and water to a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the baking soda and stir – like those lava volcanoes you used to make in third grade science class, this tomato /baking soda combo does foam up quite a bit, so keep stirring it until it comes to a boil. Then add the milk, butter and beef broth and bring to a boil again.

At this point, Anna mixed in some salt and pepper, called it done and ladled the soup into bowls, topping each with some crushed crackers. But the soup at this stage was very thin and tasted rather plain and uneventful so Ms. Jeannie added 1/3 cup tomato paste and let it simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. By adding the paste it gave the soup a much more tomato-y flavor and thickened it up a bit. The purpose of adding the baking soda was to neutralize the acid in the tomatoes, which it did beautifully. By the time it was ready to serve this soup had a gorgeous, silky consistency, bright flavor and a rusty orange hue.


Garlic, Basil Cheese Toast (makes two slices of toast)

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 mini mozzarella balls, sliced thin

2 slices of multi-grain braed

2 teaspoons olive oil

dash of red pepper flakes

  1. Slice bread and smother each slice with one teaspoon of olive oil.  Add the cheese  in a polka dot style fashion and intersperse the garlic. Sprinkle the basil leaves, red pepper flakes and a dash of salt on top.
  2. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes and then broil for  1-2 minutes until edges of crust start to brown slightly.


Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century farm meals were big because family members and workers needed sustenance to get them through their chores. Apple pie was often served at breakfast alongside eggs and bacon and fried chicken and casseroles and  fresh bread. Most likely this soup would have accompanied many other dishes on the table, which is why it is not made of heartier stock. In our modern world, this makes a lovely light lunch or quick snack if you are pressed for time. And like any good foundation recipe it can be augmented with lots of other elements including onions and fresh basil, garlic, sour cream, Parmesan cheese… you get the idea. It is quite lovely on its own but Anna wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to add your own creativity to the mix.

After Anna’s husband died in 1912, she managed the farm for another 9 years growing corn and oats and reporting regularly in the newspaper as to their qualities and quantities. She raised her kids and grandkids and kept her house bustling with love and care. Eventually she said goodbye to farm life and moved into town to live with one of her daughters.  Active in various community organizations and  her local church  she was referred to as being noble, generous and kind. When she passed away in the 1940’s at the age of 81, she left behind a family dynasty that included 10 children, 31 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and one great recipe.

Unfortunately this tiny photograph is the only identifiable image of Anna. Pictured on the far left, she is posing with her sisters in front her farmhouse when she was in her 70’s. Anna also appears in the family portrait at the top of this post but she is unidentifiable along with all the other women. One day soon hopefully we can place a name with a face!

Cheers to family cooks, the recipes they make and the love they pass on!

*** UPDATE 2/24/2017 *** One of our readers sent a question regarding measurements of pints and quarts and how many tomatoes actually made up one pint. Ms. Jeannie used all the vine-ripened tomatoes you see in the photos (12 in total) which were each roughly the size of a plum. If fresh tomatoes aren’t an option in your neck of the woods, substitute them with 4-5 cups of canned tomatoes (make sure the seeds have been removed).

Also to make things simpler, ingredients calling for pints and quarts have been measured out into cups as well (see ingredient list), since that is a more common unit of measurement in today’s world of cooking. These new updates will take out all the mathematical guess work making this recipe even easier and faster to make!


Dinner with Downton Abbey

Camembert, Sweet Onion & Spinach Tart

It’s not every day that a woman receives a castle for Christmas, but indeed that is just exactly what happened to Ms. Jeannie last December. That’s right dear readers, a castle! It might as well have been a box full of magic that’s how excited Ms. Jeannie was with her gift!

Downton Abbey Christmas Ornament

Gold, glittery and delicate, Ms. Jeannie hung her magical manor house on a nail above her kitchen doorframe, where it remains year–round as a symbol for whimsy, wonder and unexpected surprises. Passing underneath it every day, she is inspired by the stories it symbolizes and by the possibilities of passion. Without Julian Fellowes interest in history and his love of storytelling we would have never known Downton Abbey and in turn we would have never known this blog post.

the cast of downton abbey

This week Ms. Jeannie is featuring a twist on a recipe from the 2014 coffee table book, A Year In the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (Julian’s niece!). This is one of several Downton Abbey coffee table books that has been released throughout the series, but by far this is Ms. Jeannie’s favorite. It breaks down Season 5 specifically month by month as far as story lines and contains a lot of behind the scenes info on costumes, hair and makeup and cast/crew interviews. It also contains recipes of the types of fare that the Crawley family would have enjoyed with each passing season.

A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

On page 132 in the middle of the month of May, you’ll find this elegant recipe…

Asparagus Tart - Downton Abbey style!

tucked amidst the stories swirling around Rose’s coming out season. Her presentation at Court signifies her debutante status for the season, and the chapter is filled with the proper attire, mannerisms and preoccupations that such a lady would have experienced during this exciting time in the mid-1920’s. In all its behind-the-scenes glory, the chapter is also filled with the challenges the crew faced in filming the stand-in location for Buckingham Palace (which was actually Lancaster House in London) and the massive undertaking of outfitting and making up the large ensemble cast of extras at the debutante ball.

Rose as a debutante!

While the scenes in the book (and on film!) were quite elaborate for the month of May, the recipe was quite simple… Asparagus Tart. Ideal in the eating seasonably chart, asparagus is at its peek of flavor in late Spring and can be enjoyed in any dish ranging from breakfast to dinner. It is also party perfect because of its straight-lined style and a lovely way of being quite adaptable to artistic displays of culinary wonder.

There was only one slight problem with all this.  After discovering the recipe,  Ms. Jeannie had just returned from market with a basketful of two other shooting stars of the spring season – sweet onions and spinach and sadly, no asparagus. So she improvised, playing a little game of surprise with Mrs. Patmore. By switching out some ingredients for others but retaining the same tart crust and the same measurements of additional ingredients, Ms. Jeannie made a similar tart that would have served all party-goers just as well during the season. This is what she made…

Simple Ingrediants for a simple spring tart

Spinach, Sweet Onion & Camembert Tart

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

Salt and Pepper to taste

5 tablespoons butter

1/4th cup ice water

A handful of fresh spinach

½ of a large sweet onion, very thinly sliced

4 eggs

1 1/4th cups organic vanilla soy milk (or light cream if you prefer)

4 tablespoons of chopped Camembert cheese

One pinch of nutmeg

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour in a mixing bowl with a large pinch of salt. Cut up the butter in small chunks and incorporate it into the flour until you get a crumb-like texture. Add the ice water and mix together with your hands until you can form a ball of dough.
  3. Dust your workspace with flour and roll dough out in all directions so that it becomes large enough to fill an 8”inch tart pan. Place the dough in the pan, trim the extra edges with a knife and prick the dough all over with a fork. Insert baking beans into the tart shell and place in oven for 20 minutes. If you don’t have baking beans, which help weight down the dough and keep it from puffing up, you can place a pan on top of the dough – just make sure that the pan is oven friendly and fits the entire inside dimension of the tart.
  4. While the crust is baking, rinse the spinach and thinly slice the onions (so thin that they are almost transparent!). Set both ingredients aside.
  5. In a bowl beat together the eggs, milk and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  6. Remove the tart crust from the oven. Remove the baking beans or the weighted pan and return the tart crust back to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  7. Remove the tart crust from the oven and fill it with the egg mixture until it is about ¾ full. You might have extra egg left over. Evenly sprinkle the cheese in the egg mixture. Gently float the onions in a circular pattern on top of the eggs and cheese. Then add the spinach on top of the onions in the same circular fashion. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes checking often to make sure that the tart is not bubbling over or browning too quickly. Serve immediately right out of the oven!

Camembert, Sweet Onion and Spinach Tart

Depending on the time of day that you enjoy this tart, additional accompaniments that would work great alongside it include:  a mixed fruit/berry sampler or a vegetable salad, potato pancakes, buttered rolls with jam compote, a juice smoothie or sliced chicken for a more protein packed affair. Or just embrace your inner purist and serve it as is!

Just like the pretty presentation of Rose’s debut, this tart also makes perfectly wonderful party food for modern day May. Whether you are surprising Mom with brunch on Mother’s Day, hosting a bridal shower for your best friend or just getting together for an informal event, this recipe promises easy and effortless entertaining.

Camembert, Sweet Onion and Spinach Tart

*If you’d like to make the asparagus version simply omit the spinach, onion and camembert and replace them with 8-10 stalks of asparagus, 4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Cheers and happy Downton daydreaming!

Downton Abbey Christmas ornament

And as a final side note: new items were added to the shop last week all with an “F’ theme: french books, fire hoses and florals! Stop by for a peek!

Clockwise from top left:
Clockwise from top left: Vintage rubber lined fire hose fabric, 1960s French mystery novel, Le Juane Chien by Georges Simenon, Vintage fire hose coupling, Vintage 1970′ s French theater book, L’Avant-Grde Theatrale, Collection of six vintage fire hose couplings, Vintage Fire hose fabric, 1950s botanical Azalea flower bookplate, 1960’s French phrase book