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!

Fall Preview: Autumn and the Vintage Kitchen Shop

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the feel of the air (Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall). Albert Camus describes beauty in the leaves (Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower) and Jane Austen describes the sentimental atmosphere that envelops September through December (Autumn.. that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness). Isn’t it wonderful how one season can inspire so much?

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been slowly transitioning from August to autumn over in the Vintage Kitchen shop. Excited to celebrate the cool, cozy cooking season ahead, we have been collecting vintage and antique heirlooms for the shop all summer that highlight the beauty of a season spent with food, friends, and festivity.

Above, is just a glimpse of a few fall-themed items that have recently been added to the shop. Below is a sneak peek of more cozy comforts that will be added shortly…

A sneak peek of just some of the new old heirlooms coming to the shop soon.

As summer winds down, and we gear up for our busiest months of the year, we just wanted to send out a quick reminder to let you know that the Vintage Kitchen shop sends out a weekly email highlighting new arrivals, seasonal inspiration, vintage recipes, and ITVK updates.

We send one email a week, and each week it’s a different theme or topic, so if you haven’t signed up yet please head to the shop and click on the weekly update button on the home page here. If you prefer to receive the weekly update via your mobile device, please text +1 (833) 244-2272 and include the keyword: JOIN to be automatically signed up. Mobile updates tend to be delivered faster, so if you are a “hot off the press” kind of reader you might prefer mobile vs. email.

Researching this antique vegetable dish led to uncovering a story about child labor during the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England. Read more about it here.

For those of you who are new to the blog and the shop, you might not know yet how crazy we are for history. Just like the blog posts, a lot of research (hours, days, sometimes weeks) goes into telling the story of each item in the shop, which basically turns each listing into a little mini blog post in and of itself. That means if you are a fan of the longer-form storytelling found here on the blog, then chances are you might enjoy perusing the shop and the weekly email for quick bursts of interesting historical insights as well.

We never want anyone to miss out on all the fun we have around here. We hope you’ll join us for a festive and fascinating time this fall over in the shop.

Hope your last few days of summer are magical ones. Cheers to new beginnings and happy endings.

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)

The Colonial Kitchen Garden Then and Now

The gardens of Historic Williamsburg Virginia.

Time, nostalgia, and then necessity. In that order. Those were the key factors that determined how gardens in America were grown in the mid-1700s. By that point, the pilgrims had long landed, settlers were four generations into life in the New World, and creating an independent society was on everyone’s minds.

An 18th century painting of New Milford, CT.

Despite the idea of pastoral food plots, of self-sufficiency, of larders full of carefully tended, joyfully grown vegetables, the reality, surprisingly was that many working-class 18th-century families did not have time to waste cultivating the land into mounds of gorgeous gardens.

Even though garden pests were much fewer in those days than they are today, gardening was still a risky endeavor in the mid-18th century. One bug or one beetle or one dry spell could wipe out an entire season or two of manual labor. Time lost during a century when almost everything was handmade and hand-touched could result in cataclysmic results not only for individuals but also for families, communities, and even the burgeoning nation.

In the centuries before Miracle-Gro and sprinkler systems and lawn mowers, before electric clippers and garden hoses, soil amendments, and genetically modified seeds that were practically guaranteed to grow, gardening was a risky business. And not all were willing to gamble. Since the colonial mindset valued efficiencies and effectiveness, one’s time was much better spent building a building, or a family, or the constitution instead of raising food gardens that may or may not result in something edible. And that really wasn’t the point of gardening back then anyway.

Painting by Edward Hicks titled the Home of David Twining, 1787

The mid-18th century diet, most accurately studied by researchers at Colonial Williamsburg, was almost entirely made up of animal proteins. Surprisingly, just 10% of the foods they consumed came from vegetables. When colonists abandoned the idea of growing their own food because of time, space, or temerity, they turned to local farms to purchase what little plant roughage they consumed.

The vegetable gardens at Moniticello.
Photo of the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello by Billy Hathorn

Those farms, with the ability, the space, the manpower, and the elite lifestyle to afford a garden in all its splendors and failures were generally ones of upper-class wealth. For this affluent sector, gardening was a matter of refinement and intellectual interest. They could absorb the costs of failed planting endeavors or reap the financial rewards of a fruitful season either way. They also had access to education for leisurely study and experimentation, something not often afforded to the working class.

One of the best examples of early American gardening on a large-scale level is Thomas Jefferson’s Virginian home, Monticello. With an avid interest in horticulture, 5,000 acres to play with and a net worth equal to $284 million dollars today, Jefferson was able to explore the world of gardening from all angles. He made copious amounts of notes and drawings regarding what, where, why and how his gardens were growing…

While it’s fascinating to go through Thomas Jefferson’s notes in order to understand his thought process, methodology, and relationship to innovations we take for granted today, one of the facts that I found most fascinating while researching colonial gardens is not something that can be linked to a specific concept or a system or even a person. It’s much more individualistic. What I learned is that stylistically, all gardens in America from the very beginning were driven by and inspired by nostalgia. And many people’s nostalgia at that.

Painting of forget-me-nots with goblet by Leon Bonvin, 1863

As new settlers immigrated from other countries and other continents throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them memories of their parent’s garden, their grandparent’s garden, and perhaps even their own garden that they left behind. A desire to replicate this specific sense of familiarity meant that gardens were not created in America but in fact, recreated, from replicas of what these settlers once knew before in their home countries. Memories of ancestral orchards, ancient hedgerows, favorite flowers, fruiting vines, and heritage foods all acted as springboards for the first wave of garden preferences when it came to shapes, designs, content, color palettes, and layouts for gardeners in the New World. Those longings for other familiar places and spaces were what founded the very ideas of what a garden should and could look like here in America.

Since maintaining a garden was both a status symbol and a sign of wealth, gardens of the 18th century came in two basic styles… cottage gardens and farm gardens. Cottage gardens were small patches of land grown specifically for vegetables, herbs, and flowers with a purpose. Ornamental flowers were not often grown in these petite patches as they were considered frivolous time wasters.

Farm gardens, on the other hand, were the ones cultivated on bigger stretches of land adorned with numerous outbuildings, an ample number of workers, and dedicated areas for kitchen work, pleasure gardening, dairy operations, and large-scale croplands. Organized, efficient, and tidy, farm gardens leaned towards formal decorative designs inspired by European gardening techniques and aesthetics. Most often they were dotted with topiary tree, ornamental flowers, exotic plants, manicured bushes, and lined with brick or crushed sea shell pathways. Attractive garden structures in all shapes and sizes added the finishing touch to ensure picturesque vantage points. Even in the new days of the New World, history bloomed in the garden from other centuries, other places, other pasts. And from those two garden styles forward we never really varied in what we decided constituted an American garden.

The colonial garden that is beginning to emerge in the front and back yard of our 1750s-era house is one of both history and purpose. In an effort to be as self-sustainable as possible we are growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs for cooking, and flowers for fun. While we are not following the formality of hedged colonial gardens, but instead opting for a more cottage garden approach, I am intent on only growing heirloom varieties for an old-fashioned aesthetic and a pretty dose of historic storytelling from the ground up. Here are a few ways we are incorporating history from three centuries into the garden of our 272-year old house…

Heirloom Seeds

With the exception of one newly invented pepper plant developed by the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, and two flats of marigolds and nasturtiums purchased from our local nursery, in this year’s garden, we are growing everything from seed, using only heirloom varietals of fruit, flowers, and vegetables.

Okra, brandywine tomatoes and bush beans growing up and out!

We were a bit late in seed starting since we didn’t move into our house until April, but so far we have tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, carrots, herbs, okra and lettuce growing up in the garden. As of today, the showiest plantings so far are the nasturtiums from the local nursery…

Nasturtiums made a regular appearance in American colonial gardens too by way of seeds carried from England and Holland. Prized then and still now, they were eaten like salad greens… leaves stalks, flowers, and all thanks to their sweet but peppery taste. If you like arugula mixed in with your lettuce, you’ll like nasturtiums too. They also happen to be fantastic pest repellants for squash bugs, aphids, beetles and our daily invader – the pesky slug.

Raised Beds

Colonial gardens in the 18th century were laid out in symmetrical grid styles using raised beds and walkways of crushed seashells in between. Based on the layout of our yard, the lush tree canopy, and the pattern of the sun throughout the day, we also are doing raised beds but not in the same traditional colonial grid format since we have fewer pockets of consistent, direct sunlight throughout the day. Instead, we have built one long raised garden bed that measures 25′ feet (length) x 5.5′ feet (width) x 2.5″ feet (height) in the front yard using rocks gathered from around the property. The rockery aesthetic matches the stone walkway and steps of the front porch.

Newly built and just before we filled it in with all the dirt and compost materials.
Flowers, seedlings and seeds get planted this week, but this is a little sneak peek as to where more nasturiums will be headed.
The tree canopy changes color throughout the day and makes the prettiest shadows in the yard. Two sugar maples live in the front yard. We cant wait to tap this fall for our own maple syrup.

In the backyard, just off the porch, we built a smaller raised bed out of wood that measures 10′ feet (length) x 5.5′ feet by 3′ feet (height). Instead of using just plain untreated boards, my husband experimented wth the Yakisugi method and charred the wood with a propane torch. Yakisugi is an ancient Japanese art form that naturally preserves the wood and gives it a pretty, dark walnut-hued finish.

To add a little softness to the rectangular shape, we built another curved rock wall garden bed on one end where the okra, zinnias, coreopsis, Brussels sprouts, and marigolds are happily growing away.

Rock walls have been a part of the natural historic landscape of New England since the 1800s, and were used as land dividers and fencing following the split rail style fencing that was popular during colonial days. In Connecticut in the 1700s, most of the landscape was covered in trees so everything in that century was made out of wood since it was the most abundant building material. We haven’t yet decided on what kind of fencing we will add to the front yard. It’s a big decision with many possibilities ranging between a picket fence, a rock wall, a split rail fence, or a series of decorative shrubs and grasses.

The greenhouse is only six weeks old but already it’s got quite the little personality.

The Greenhouse

The first greenhouses were built in Europe and the UK in the 1600s, so they’ve been an important garden feature for quite some time. Our greenhouse was found locally on craigslist, just a couple of weeks after we moved in. Still in its original box, it just needed one day of assembly and then it was ready to start growing things.

First day!

So far we are off to a good start. This has been the birthplace of our tomatoes, basil, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, parsley, dill, lettuces, French marigolds, and okra.

It’s also the permanent new home of our three-year-old Southern papaya tree, Pappy, who did not love our move to the Northeast as much as we did and responded to the 9-degree temperatures experienced during our temporary stay in Pennsylvania this past winter by promptly losing all his leaves. Every day from November to April, no matter how much coddling I gave him, Pappy threatened to shrivel up and call it quits. Luckily, the warmth of the greenhouse has him happy once again and back on the road to recovery.

Pappy! Two new leaves grown, a million more to go!

It’s our plan to keep the greenhouse in constant use all year long. With the help of a heater and some neighboring cold frames, I look forward to growing kale, chard, cabbages, and other cool-weather vegetables there this winter.

Rain Barrel

To complete the start of our self-sufficiency model we added a colonial-style rainwater collection barrel to the side of the garage. So far we’ve pumped an entire barrel full of water into the garden as well as accidentally grown a vat of sulfur-smelling bacteria. As it turns out, there’s an art (and a science!) to storing rainwater in a barrel, and there is still so much for us to learn. In an upcoming post, I’ll share the system my husband custom-built to pump the water from the barrel to the garden, which I hope might be helpful for anyone else learning the ropes of the rain barrel watering system.

Future plans for the garden include bee boxes, landscaped garden beds, lighting, and a fire pit, but for now, this is the start of our new yet old colonial-inspired garden. More photos will come as the garden grows up!

In the meantime, while the kitchen is under renovation and we wait for the vegetables to flower and fruit, the grill has been a beehive of action and adventure as we discover and explore some vintage recipes meant for the barbecue days of summer. One of my favorites so far is this grilled potato recipe from 1955. Coming next to the blog, this recipe will add an extra delicious dose of fancy food to your summer soirees. Can’t wait to share it!

Cheers to summer foods, sentimental gardening, and horticultural history! Hope this season is your most beautiful one yet.

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

A New Home for the Vintage Kitchen!

Cheers to new beginnings and big news. I’m so excited to share that the Vintage Kitchen has a new home! After two years of online real estate hunting and six months on the road in search of just the right house, just the right city, and just the right amount of green space to launch a new chapter in the life of the Vintage Kitchen, we have finally landed in the beautiful state of Connecticut. Located on a tree-lined street, in a historic river town that was once one of New England’s busiest trading and sailing ports, stands this almost 300-year old-charmer…

Built in 1750, this early American colonial contains a wonderland of history that spans over 270 years. It is dizzying to think about all the culinary conversations that have bounced around these plaster walls from then til now. But to give you a little perspective, it was built twenty-six years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, nine years before Guinness brewed their first batch of beer, and forty-six years before the first American cookbook (American Cookery, Amelia Simmons, 1796) was published.

Representative of traditional Georgian architecture, it was built using a symmetrical two over two layout containing two rooms on the bottom floor and two rooms on the top floor with a center staircase running up the middle. A fireplace on one side that was used for cooking and heating purposes, and a stone foundation basement with exterior cellar doors completed the architectural footprint.

Each century afterward brought new features and new additions. In the 1800s, a bathroom was added upstairs and a kitchen was added off the back of the house. Sometime around the 1940s, electricity came to town and outlets were carved into support beams both upstairs and down. In the late 1990s, another bathroom was added on the ground floor at the back of the house along with a mudroom. I love all the angles of the graduated rooflines, especially on the sides.

In the next coming weeks, I’m hoping to find out some of the house’s early history so that a date plaque can be added to the shake siding in front with attribution to the original owner, builder or the known name of the homestead itself. We see these plaques on old houses all over Connecticut. I think they are such remarkable reminders of all the people that settled in this landscape long before us. I’m hoping with the help of the local library and historical society that there will be a bevy of interesting information discovered (more on that topic coming soon).

In the meantime, the house itself offers up its own stories in little ways every day. Many of the original 1700s features have been retained including the entire structural support system, the stairs, the fireplace, almost all the interior doors and hardware, the upstairs flooring, the exterior front door and porch, and the interior trim on all doorways. Evidence of adjustments and modifications made along the way by former occupants in the 1800s can be seen in the downstairs flooring and in the detached garage, as well as the 20th-century replacements windows, entry hall flooring, exterior doors, and the two room additions at the back that made the house a bit more convenient for modern living.

While the whole house is a marvelous example of domestic progress as American homes evolved over the course of three centuries, and structurally it is in great shape, as is the case with most historic homesteads, it does need a bit of extra care, love and attention these days. Luckily, all the previous occupants who have spent time within these walls have kept their improvements relatively simple and in keeping with the house’s history, so there is nothing that needs to be demolished or taken down. Some cosmetic changes, electrical updates, and renovation work will freshen things up a bit and ensure that this piece of history will be enjoyed for another three hundred years.

The most dramatic changes will come in the kitchen and the garden, as there are BIG plans for both. In a funny twist of irony, as my husband and I searched all over New England, Pennsylvania and New York for the ideal house for the Vintage Kitchen, we wound up falling in love with a home that had no kitchen. Technically there is a kitchen (two, actually if you count the fireplace – also known as the original kitchen!) but the room that was added onto for cooking in the 1800s is currently not operating as such at the moment. Taken down to the studs by the previous owner, this gutted room now offers a playground of design possibilities.

We are really excited for the challenge of making it functional for modern-day cooking while also keeping the house’s historical footprint and charm intact. Before we tackle that renovation project, in today’s post, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite architectural details both inside and out that make this house a unique time capsule. One of the most visually impactful aspects can be seen in the kitchen in the very last image.

Front door mailbox
Cellar doors… how many canned goods and food bushels have passed through there in 272 years?
Original interior doors and hardware circa 1750
Ultra-wide original 1750 floorboards
A property boundary marker from 1904
Original 18th century front door and hardware
Original 1750 staircase
The weathervane needs a little repair but it’s still a beauty no matter what direction it points.
Original 1800s era kitchen flooring

One of my most favorite parts of this old house is being able to see (and touch!) the transition of wood that has held up the entire structure over the past 272 years. Had the kitchen already been renovated before we bought the house, we would have never been able to get a glimpse of the inner structural workings of three different centuries.

As each room in the house gets painted, renovated and refreshed there will be many blog updates about our progress along the way with all sorts of before and after photos. Also, if you keep up with the Vintage Kitchen on Instagram, you’ll find occasional videos posted there as well.

While there still will be a few more weeks to go until we are up and running in the cooking department and able to share new batches of vintage recipes, I am happy to announce that the kitchen shop is now back up and running. A new collection of vintage and antique items will be available beginning this week including cookbooks, coffee pots, storage containers and the cutest 1930s era cast iron doorstop, so if you haven’t visited the shop in a while perhaps you’ll find something new yet old that captures your heart.

Also, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who stuck with us while we transitioned from our old Southern city to our new New England home. This migration took a lot longer than anticipated and presented a multitude of obstacles, but now that we are settled in our new spot that we absolutely love, the Vintage Kitchen is ready to explore and share all sorts of new and exciting culinary history. I have a feeling there will be many colonial-inspired stories to come.

If you have any helpful design ideas or advice pertaining to old house renovations please share it with us in the comments section. We welcome all information around here.

Cheers to new adventures in the 1750 house!

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.

Hello World! The Blog Turns 10 Today

Today we are celebrating a milestone. It’s February 27th, 2022 and that means… (cue the drumrolls and kazoo horns, please)… the blog turns 10 today!

There was lots of discussion about how to celebrate. A cake? Champagne? A bouquet of balloons? And also lots of discussion about how to photograph the big day. How do you sum up ten years of writing, cooking, research, field trips, interviews, and daydreaming in one image or one post?

For the entire month of February, I thought about these questions. Yesterday, I decided on a compilation of items that would form the number we were celebrating today. If this ten-year chunk of time has taught me anything, it’s that creativity is a faithful partner and will always show up when and where you need it.

Each small element laid out to form the shape of the number 10 in the photo above offers a bit of symbolic significance of how things have played a part in this writing life from 2012 to 2022. There is a shamrock for luck, an owl for knowledge, spices for surprise. Mushrooms represent organic growth both during light and dark days. Brussels sprouts signify compact clusters of thought that grow on a single stem. Flowers call attention to the beautiful parts of history. And peas and beans represent the power of food. Berries are there for sweetness, wine and champagne corks for good cheer, eggs because they represent stories inside stories. And finally, there are hearts which represent love. It was love that started the blog and love that will continue to see it through another 10 years.

Atlanta,GA skyline. Photo: Mariana Smiley

The very first blog post was written in a hotel room in Atlanta on February 27th, 2012 during the first vacation getaway I had had in more than a handful of years. I had just opened an Etsy shop the month before, selling vintage homewares for all rooms of the house and I thought a blog would be a fun way to talk about history via the items I was selling in my shop. You might not think that blogging and vacation are two words that go together but the purpose of that long weekend in Atlanta during a frenzied start to the year, was to take some time to recognize the things I loved. And writing was one of those things.

When you first start a blog, WordPress automatically suggests the title – Hello World – for the first post as a way to not only introduce yourself to the blogging community but also as a way to launch yourself easily into a familiar and personal style of writing. The title isn’t mandatory, you can choose to keep it or change it. As I wrote my first post in February of 2012, I had intentions of keeping it. I loved the enthusiasm and the optimism of those two words – hello world. But just before I pressed the publish button on completed blog post #1, I changed the title to reflect the subject matter I was writing about.

That post was about a 1950s fiction book called Rachel Cade. In it, I shared information about the storyline of the book and the Hollywood movie that followed. Hello World got replaced with Featured Shop Item: Rachel Cade – A Glimpse into Vintage Africa and I included vintage items from other Etsy shops to paint a visual story of Africa in the 1930s, the decade in which the story was set. Even though I changed the title at the last minute on that very first blog post, my mind has not strayed far in these past ten years from that initial sense of excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of those two suggested words – hello world. Although I wound up not using them, they set the tone unknowingly for what was about to unfold over the next decade. In the 364 posts that have been written since, each time I click publish on a finished piece there is still a wave of excitement and energy, a flutter of joy, a silent shout that sends out a big hello to the world.

Initially, I thought it would be fun in this milestone post to feature a “best of” list along the lines of most-read post, most cooked recipe, most commented story, etc. But that would break the blog down into analytical data. And there is nothing more unromantic than a series of performance metrics. This blog isn’t about numbers. It’s about love and adventure and passion all discovered and coddled and curated over the course of a decade. From day one it never set out to break records or be the best or become a job. Since 2012, it’s been a playground to learn more about life, past and present. And what a playground it has turned out to be.

Over the course of ten years, the blog has twisted and turned, narrowed and bulged, refined itself and redefined itself. It’s stayed with me through moves, deaths, excitement, bordeom, joys and tragedies. And in a world that is constantly changing it has been a reliable throughline that has kept me connected to things I love.

Originally it started with a different name, Ms.Jeannie Ology and I wrote in the voice of a muse named Ms. Jeannie who was a history detective bent on uncovering forgotten stories of the past. Five years in, Ms. Jeannie set sail on a faraway sleuthing adventure and the blog re-launched with a definitive passion. Instead of focusing on stories surrounding all rooms in the house, one was picked, the favorite one, the heart of the home where meals and love and conversation are served up each and every day. The blog was renamed In The Vintage Kitchen in 2017 and from that day forward, an inherent love of all things culinary have come to take center stage. A shop component was added shortly after – not one that was connected with Etsy like back in 2012, this shop is its own completely independent entity, but that same symbiotic relationship first explored in the early years between blog and shop and the inspiration they both offer each other continues today.

In 2012, the blog was like a wiggly puppy full of excitement, energy and a wild desire to gain a sense of solid footing in the world. There was a lot to learn about writing, photography, storytelling. It’s humbling now to look back and see how the blog has grown naturally, at its own pace and improved with each passing of a February. It would be easy to run away from those early years, to delete them and never look back, but then the entire point of stretching and trying and playing and growing would be missed completely. A blog gives you room to grow.

It is often said that writers live lonely or solitary lives. While it is true that most, myself included, need peace and quiet to gather and produce a string of sensible words and coherent thoughts, I have found in these past ten years that blogging has not singled me out or separated me from others, it has only done the opposite. It has connected me with more people, more places, more ideas and more understanding than I ever thought possible. In 2012, I said hello to the world and miraculously over the course of ten years, the world has continued to say hello right back.

What follows are links to some of my favorite posts from the past decade. In no particular order, they are ones that continue to stand out most in my mind or hold a sentimental place in my heart. Whether they were written in the voice of my original muse, Ms. Jeannie Ology or my own, they are representative of the vibrant type of content I have endeavored to share about the people, places and objects that have inspired this corner of the world thus far.

It is with big heart-felt cheers and an enormous amount of gratitude that I say thank you to each and every person who has read, engaged, encouraged, participated, promoted, cooked, commented and/or been a part of the blog in one way or the other over the past 10 years. It has been such a journey of discovery and I hope the next ten years is just as exhilerating.

Cheers to ten and to another ten more! And cheers to Emily Dickinson who said… That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.