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!

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.

Corn Pudding and A Virtual Visit – Colonial Williamsburg Style!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shields Taven. Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

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

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

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

The St. George Tucker House circa 1718.

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

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

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

The Williamsburg Cookbook – 1981 edition

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

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

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

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

Helen’s 1937-1938 recipe!

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

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

Corn Pudding (serves 6)

3 eggs

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

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

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

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 3 – The Time Period

{Spoiler Alert: This is a series of blog posts detailing the real-life story of a 100-year-old item that was lost 13 years ago and how it found its way home in 2021. Follow along from the beginning of this story at Chapter 1: It Arrives and Chapter 2: Meet Angela}

Juice joints, flapjacks, Model T’s, Kelvinators and Radiolas. Mass culture, Sinclair Lewis, giggle water and Gloria Swanson. The Harlem Rennaisance, votes for women and the woman – Edith Bolling Galt. Jazzy foxtrots, upside-down cakes, and the Great Depression. This week we are back with another installment regarding the story of the lost one-hundred-year-old item and how it is finding its way back home after a 13-year quest for answers and owners.

Welcome to Chapter Three of a Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts. If you are a new reader to the blog, you’ll want to start at the beginning with chapters 1 and 2. If you have been following along since the mystery package arrived, let’s do a little recap to catch up.

It’s been just over a month since the second installment was shared. This is what we know so far…

  1. The lost item is 100 years old.
  2. It was found by a random stranger named Angela, in an office supply store in a suburb of Atlanta, GA thirteen years ago.
  3. Over the course of the following thirteen years, Angela searched for the original owner of the item, but to no avail.
  4. In 2021, a Facebook group helped Angela eventually uncover some clues about the item.
  5. In July 2021, Angela read an archived blog post that connected the item to the Vintage Kitchen.
  6. A few weeks later the item arrived in the Vintage Kitchen via UPS in a cardboard mailer of medium thickness.
  7. The lost item is valuable, important and definietly something that someone would miss.
  8. The lost item is now in the care of the Vintage Kitchen where it will be couriered on to its final destination in the coming months.

The time period connected to the mystery item is the 1920s, so today I thought it would be fun to take a look at what life was like in that decade of American history to help give this piece of the past some context. Perhaps it will help all the armchair sleuths out there figure out some more clues as to what the lost item could actually be.

Known as one of the most dramatically diverse decades, the 1920s saw carefree decadence and life-altering depression. It was a dry decade due to Prohibition which lasted from 1920-1933. And it was the dawning of a new age for women as they fought for their independence thanks to the right to vote amendment passed on August 18th, 1920.

Clockwise from top left: First Lady Edith Boling Galt Wilson; 1920s fashion; Votes for Women badge; hairstyles of the 1920s; the awakening of feminism; actress Gloria Swanson.

The 1920s was the first time that a woman carried influential political power in the White House as Edith Bolling Galt assisted her husband, the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson after he suffered a stroke during the last year and half of his presidency. Edith not only cared for him physically but also became his social secretary, his press liaison, and his political interpreter shuttling information to him about problems affecting the world. In short, Edith became a critical component in his decision-making process regarding matters of the country.

During the Roaring ’20s, hairstyles were bobbed, waistlines were dropped and the more fun and carefree your attitude, the closer you were to being called a flapper. On the big screen, Gloria Swanson was dazzling movie-goers in the silent movie Something to Think About. Released in 1920, it became the top-grossing film of the decade, earning $9.16 million dollars at the box office. Book worms were buried in the pages of anything and everything written by Sinclair Lewis – who authored not one, not two, but five bestselling books in the years between 1920-1930. Can you name which five those were? If you guessed Main Street, Dodsworth, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry then you get a gold star for your vintage fiction knowledge!

Clockwise from top left: bestselling author Sinclair Lewis; top song of 1920 goes to Dardanella; Prohibition signs posted at all bars and restaurants; black culture blooms during the Harlem Rennaisance; and everybody’s favorite automobile, the Model T.

The foxtrot song Dardanella, written in 1919 became the runaway hit of the 1920s just as the first radio stations were forming, bringing music, news, and special programming into homes across the country. Black culture was celebrated in art, literature, and jazz music, giving African Americans their first real opportunity for creative expression and social prominence during the Harlem Rennaisance. For thirteen years from 1920-1933, prohibition made it illegal to get a drink at a bar or a restaurant, but creativity reigned supreme when it came to cocktails disguised in teacups in speakeasies, juice joints, and underground nightclubs.

On the kitchen front, food favorites of the 1920s came in the form of flapjacks, pineapple upside-down cake, cod cakes, and anything served with wiggly, jiggly Jell-O. In the absence of legitimate cocktails due to Prohibition, restaurants got creative and served diced fruit in cocktail glasses, instantly coining the term “fruit cocktail” and making it a popular mainstay on menus for the next forty years. The vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and the in-home refrigerator were all introduced as modern necessities on the domestic front and the kitchen sink and all kitchen countertops were standardized to a height of 36″ inches (which is still the standard height today too!).

1926 ad for Kelvinator refrigerators that appeared in the Home Builders Catalog.

In the 1920s, urban lifestyles were on the rise as more people fled the countryside and rural sections of America to live in fast-growing cities. Urbanization offered more opportunities in the way of advancement, both financially and career-wise. 50% of the American population traded in rural life for a city setting during this decade. As a result, a sophisticated and stylized cosmopolitan life emerged giving birth to streamlined design favored in the elegant Art Deco movement that mirrored the glitz and glam of affluent city dwellers and their cityscapes.

Throughout the 1920s, westward expansion offered new travel opportunities via railroad to parts of the country that seemed not easily accessible. It also allowed for products, produce, and consumer goods to move about the country at breakneck speeds introducing regional items to a new broader audience. And car travel, thanks to the affordable Model T, and the burgeoning automobile industry that followed, cars made road trips a new possibility, giving birth to an entirely new tourism-based marketplace that included roadside motels, diners, gas stations and repair shops. For less than $300 in 1924, you could buy a brand-new Model T (exact price: $265.00, which is equivalent to about $4,000.00 today), enjoy a turkey dinner at a nice restaurant ($1.25) and stay in a hotel for as long as you liked at $2.00 a night.

Even though the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression would close out the 1920s, overall the decade was viewed on a whole as being optimistic, creative, and progressive. With a focus on innovation and development as well as the arts, feminism, expansion, and a newfound bohemian spirit, the essence of the mystery item is wrapped up in several layers of 1920s pop culture mentioned here, especially surrounding new opportunities and new ways of looking at life. Several clues directly leading to the mystery item are hidden in this post, so keep your eyes peeled!

As discussed in Chapters One and Two, this item involves many more people than just Angela and the Vintage Kitchen. While the story continues to unfold, we will keep revealing new details about the mystery item as we get closer to reuniting it with the people and place where it belongs. In the meantime, If you would like to take a guess as to what the mystery item might be, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us next time for Chapter 4 as we talk travel, and set the wheels in motion for transporting the item to its final destination.

A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 1 – It Arrives

The mystery item arrives! Personal information has been covered to respect privacy:)

In a cardboard envelope of medium thickness, a surprise arrived yesterday via UPS. This was the end result of a two week conversation that started with an inquiry into the Vintage Kitchen from a brand-new visitor to the blog. The visitor, who turned out to be a delightful woman, submitted an inquiry about an item that she had found thirteen years ago, and had hung onto ever since in the hopes of one day being able to track down its original owner. Over the years, despite many attempts she didn’t have much luck in connecting this one found object to any one person. Until recently, when a discovery altered her decade’s worth of searching.

As they say, timing is everything, and so is the case here, when one day, as if by magic or perhaps a little nudge from fate, the woman stumbled upon an old Vintage Kitchen blog post that had been roaming around the internet for several years now. Inside that blog post, she found a clue that matched some specific information regarding the item she had found so long ago. In early July, it took less than two emails back and forth between the woman and I for thirteen years of searching to come to a close. Her inquiry was validated. The information was correct. The Vintage Kitchen was indeed, strangely and uniquely connected to the object that had captured time and attention for this woman for so long.

What now unfolds is a tale so serendipitous, I can hardly wait to share the whole entire story. The woman lives in a different state unconnected to the provenance of the item. The item itself is 100 years old. The blog post is the only thing that connected us to each other. Doesn’t this sound like the start to a good movie or an even better book?

Clockwise from top left: The Hunt for the Date Accordions recipe; Charles Lindbergh; the search for the doughnut shop at Pike Place Market; the 1967 take-out window; the rare Chinese mug; the White House letter.

For anyone who has been a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that we do love solving mysteries from history around here. Our most recent one came last Christmas when it became a community effort to hunt down an obscure Christmas cookie recipe long ago lost to a home baker and her family. But there have been other intriguing stories over the years to figure out too. Curiosity and the search for true origin stories to share on the blog has led to many fascinating discoveries… the decoding of letters written on a rare chinese mug… a west coast search for a doughnut shop… thoughtful speculation regarding civil rights and a 1967 take-out restaurant portrait… expert confirmation that proved a candid 1927 aeronautical photograph was actually Charles Lindbergh flying over Texas in the Spirit of St Louis… and the one that still captures my imagination – the mystery government staffer behind a letter written on vintage White House stationary that was found tucked inside an art book. Not everyone of these mysteries was solved (we are still searching for more info on the restaurant, the doughnut shop and the White House) but as proven in this most recent conversation sometimes it can take years (or decades!) for questions to find their way to the appropriate answer.

Because this tale of events involves more people than just the stranger and the Vintage Kitchen, and because it represents a swatch of history that occured a century ago, this is a story that will evolve over many months as more people become connected to it, and the item eventually finds its way home where it belongs. Like a good book that keeps you reading until the very end, this story takes time to be told properly, so I hope you’ll stay tuned as each new chapter unfolds.

As for the contents of the envelope… what’s inside? You’ll just have to wait and see! But please feel free to submit some guesses in the comment section if you like. We welcome all possibilities!

A Mother’s Day Story: The Maven of Minnesota & the Gifts She Passed Down

One of the biggest travesties in discovering a vintage embroidered linen at an antique shop or an estate sale or an auction house is not knowing anything about the sewer who made it. The sewer who so beautifully executed a specific stitch or a scene. The sewer who skillfully transformed a plain piece of fabric into a stunning work of art. Who spent hours or days working towards a piece of self-expression in the same way a painter paints a canvas or a sculptor builds a statue. With the exception of antique samplers and quilts, which often carry the names of the artist who made them, embroidered linens of the past are history’s most uncredited works of art. 

“These small bits of embroidered cloth are often all that remains to testify to the otherwise unrecorded lives of their makers,” wrote Amelia Peck in a 2003 article highlighting the embroidery collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It could be easy to dismiss some old pieces of fabric until you read a statement like that.

Needless to say, Amelia’s remark has stuck with me for a long time. Whenever a new batch of vintage or antique linens comes into the shop, I always think about the woman behind the fabric, the sewer behind the stitchwork, and the circumstances in history that might have surrounded them both. In collecting and curating these items for the shop, I’m not often afforded any real-life stories that can be attached and retold about a specific linen or the life that made it. But today I’m very pleased to introduce you to a woman in Minnesota who has some stories to share about sewing. 

At this point, you might be nonchalant and think how much can I learn from an 8” inch x 8” inch piece of fabric? A napkin is a napkin afterall. But here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen a napkin, as you’ll discover in this post is much more. It’s a gateway… to stories of the past.  

When I first met DeDe, who is in her 70’s, it was over email in the beginning of February. She was looking to rehome her vintage linen collection, and in her initial inquiry as to whether or not I might be interested in it for the shop, she mentioned the fact that her mom had sewn some of the pieces. The slice of vintage life that poured out over the next several months and many emails was so interesting I knew hers was a story destined for the blog. Touching on Italian immigration, women’s history, cooking, Minnesota, entrepreneurism, family heirlooms and her mother’s zesty love of life, this interview turned out to be the perfect heartwarming story for Mother’s Day weekend. So yes, a napkin is a napkin. But it’s also a life, and a family, and a passion. 

Let’s meet DeDe, her mom Teresa, and their family…

Teresa as a baby with her parents Carmina and Salvatore.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your mom’s parents. What brought them to America? Where were they from in Italy and how did they wind up living in Minnesota? Did they assimilate well?

 Dede: My grandparents, Carmina and Salvatore, were both from Boiano, Campobasso, Molise, Italy.

Located in central Italy, the town of Boiano in the province of Campobasso in Molise, Italy was first founded in the 7th century. It is home to the oldest chestnut trees in Italy and most well known for its mozzerella cheese produced using milk from cows that have grazed the surrounding mountainsides.

My grandparents were married in 1906 and in 1909 they came to Minnesota. Grandpa worked in the mines in Chisholm, Calumet, Stevenson and St. Paul. He was employed by the Pickands Mater Co. for over 40 years. There were many different nationalities on the Iron Range and I imagine like all immigrants today they left Italy and were looking for a better life. I never heard of anyone in the family having difficulty assimilating into the community as they were fortunate to have siblings and many Italians in their community. A sister of my Grandmother’s and a cousin and brother of my Grandfather also immigrated to Keewatin.

My mother Mary Teresa Rico was born on February 25, 1911 and was the oldest of six children. She was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and the town they lived in was Keewatin. A population of less than 2,000.

Main Street in Keewatin circa 1921. To learn more history about this midwestern mining town visit here. Photo courtesy of lakesnwoods.com

EDITORIAL NOTE: During her childhood throughout the 1920s, starting at the age of 10, Teresa was involved in 4-H, a youth development program whose mission was (and still is!) “to encourage kids to reach their fullest potential while also creating positive change within their community.” This experience turned out to be a gateway for Teresa – one in which she could showcase her natural talents and abilities. While naturally gifted in a range of extra-curricular activities including basketball, tennis and dramatics, two of Teresa’s most prized talents were baking and sewing. A consistent winner at state and county fairs, between the years 1921 and 1931, Teresa baked more than 1,000 cakes and 2,000 loaves of bread which she sold to local residents in an effort to raise money for her college tuition. Triumphantly, through those entrepreneurial endeavors, Teresa managed to raise $3000.00, which provided enough for her to enroll in the University of Minnesota.

Teresa (age 17) in 1929 – the State Champion at her baking table.

In 1931, at the age of 20, the last year she was eligible to participate in 4-H due to age caps, Teresa won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, competing against 490,000 other girls. This was an honor awarded by Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea fame) that signified overall achievement and was given to the top boy and top girl in 4-H. In addition to a trophy and significant media attention, the award also came with a scholarship, ensuring that Teresa would financially be able to put herself through college, assistance free, all on her own accord.

This local Minnesota newspaper article proudly called Teresa the “Queen of Accomplishment” and reiterated her goal of putting herself through college without any finanncial assistence.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Your mom must have felt really proud of that moment, especially winning out over so many other 4-H’ers (490,000 female candidates!). Also, this happened in 1931, during the Great Depression. The fact that she was able to pay her way through college with her baking is fantastic. That must have been a really big deal. Were her parents really proud of her too? 

Teresa and her fellow prize winner, Charles L. Brown posed for photos with their Lipton trophies in 1931. The Associated Press

DeDe: I am sure that my Grandparents were very proud of her winning the Sir Lipton Cup and also all the other accomplishments in her life, of which I refer to in the following questions. One of the newspaper clippings mentioned winning over 850,000 young women, quite a discrepancy. 

 

My mother did not really talk about her accomplishments and honestly, I really did not learn about how much she really did until my parents downsized into an apartment. My mother had kept newspaper clippings, pictures, ribbons from the State Fair, etc. But my father did not keep much so he was tossing much of this into the trash barrel. I was able to rescue some of it and put it into a scrapbook for her. After that, we really did start to talk about her accomplishments in detail. 

 

Teresa with her girls explaining all about her State Fair ribbons.

Sadly, as children we are absorbed in our own lives. This is not to say that I was not aware of the bolts of fabric and the sewing she was doing when I was a young child as well as the entertaining and fabulous cooking and baking that she was always doing. When I was in junior high school my mother was no longer sewing for others and instead went to work in retail. She had an incredible style knowledge for clothing and furnishings and an eye for fashion. The perk for me were the wonderful fashionable outfits I owned. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: The Lipton Trophy newspaper article mentions that she was “boss of her household” both in the kitchen and otherwise. Can you tell us a little bit more about her family life growing up?

DeDe: My mother and her siblings all enjoyed sports and her brothers all played football in high school and the girls played whatever sports were offered for them but it sounded like choir and drama were offered to women. At home, my grandparents listened to records which were mostly opera. They all enjoyed dancing and playing cards with friends and family. Neighbors would get together and socialize. Food was always involved. The siblings all enjoyed one another which continued on for them as adults. My uncles loved to play jokes and there was always a lot of laughter and singing. Perhaps they all thought they were Enrico Caruso. 

As far as my mother’s role at home, she shared that she would often make meals for her family and certainly she made all the bread. She was also sewing her own clothes as well as making dresses for her sisters and mother. Often her family pictures indicated that she had sewn the clothing her mother or siblings were wearing. Again, my mother was the oldest and she was a very strong determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted. Not a bad trait to have.

Teresa in the center with her sisters all sporting dresses that Teresa made for a special family celebration.

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did her parents speak English?

DeDe: Yes, my Grandparents spoke English very well but when my aunts and uncles would come over to our house on weekends to see Grandma and Grandpa, they all spoke Italian. We had many family Sunday dinners at home as everyone wanted to see Grandma and Grandpa.  It was frustrating to not know what they were saying because I nor my siblings and cousins did not speak any Italian other than a few words.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Were her brothers and sisters equally as industrious?

DeDe: My uncle Pat was a chef and the others all made a decent living but no one was as driven or creative as my mother.  

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your dad. What was he studying at the University of Minnesota? 

DeDe: My father’s heritage was English and Irish not Italian. His grandfather Ward immigrated to America from Ireland as a young boy with his widowed mother and siblings. His mother’s family originated from Colonial New England.  He was a very patient and darling man with a very big heart and a great sense of humor. I always thought he was very handsome and debonair. He grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. As far as my father’s culinary talents he loved to make chili and simple meals. However, he loved his desserts and there were always homemade cookies, pies, and cakes in our home.  He studied engineering at the University of Minnesota. 

Teresa and George

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did your mom study?

DeDe: She studied Home Economics. My motherwas not only an accomplished baker and chef, she was also an accomplished seamstress and had her own cottage industry, Teresina. Neighborhood women sewed for my Mother and at that time she was paying them $5.00 an hour. She sewed beautiful women’s clothing, draperies, anything else you could imagine.

As a child we always went to Amluxson’s where I was able to pick out fabric for my first day of school. She made many of my clothes as well for my brother and sister. She reupholstered furniture as well and made men’s clothing too. Her industrial Singer was in our basement and I have beautiful memories of her singing while she sewed. A favorite was the Maurice Chevalier song Louise.

She also  wrote articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune called Sewing is Simple. Over the years my mother was someone who often was featured for her sewing or entertaining. 

Teresa was featured in a magazine ad for Folgers – – It was no surprise to the neighbors of Mrs. George D. Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota when her Orange Delight Cupcakes won First Prize at the State Fair. She’s famous for’em! Have them for dinner along with another “Famous Flavor” — Mountain Grown Folgers Coffee. Copies of this ad now hang in DeDe’s home as well as the homes of her kids.

 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your dad encourage and support your mom as she started her Teresina sewing business? 

DeDe: Definitely. My father was very supportive of whatever my mother wanted to do. And honestly if my mother wanted to do something nothing would stop her. She was a force to be reckoned with but as generous as could be.

Teresa’s Teresina ribbon labels.

My mother was color blind. Thread as you know used to be on wooden spools. My dad would write the colors of the thread on the spools for her.

In The Vintage Kitchen: We hear so much about gender discrimination regarding women in the 20th century, but it seems like your mom really defied a lot of those stereotypes (working, going to college, having her own business, etc.). Can you tell us a little bit about her motivations and about how her ideas were received within her family and her community? 

DeDe: My mother had a strong desire and a dream to make things happen. She never spoke of any obstacles being in her way that I recall.  She did mention that as a child in school they were not allowed to speak Italian, only English. There were so many nationalities on the range, that it would have been difficult for a teacher to deal with so many languages in a classroom.

Her family appreciated her and at any given time we had a relative living with us. Multigenerational homes were very common. My mother was very generous and shared whatever she had with others. She was also very involved with the Italian Community in Minneapolis. When she had her Teresina company in our home, she employed neighborhood women who she paid quite generously for that time. 

Community-wise, looking at old newspaper clippings my mother was involved with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and one year put on an Italian Feast as a Fund Raiser. There were three children in my family and my mother was involved in all our school activities from PTA and being a Scout Leader or a Den Mother to sewing costumes and lending her living room furniture for high school drama productions. 

DeDe with her brother and sister and her parents, Teresa and George.

One of the greatest tributes to my mother and the impression she made on others became evident at her funeral. When she passed away and her obituary was in the newspaper, I received a call from a young woman who said she would like to come to my home and meet me.  When my mother lived in her Minneapolis apartment building, she befriended this young woman whose parents were divorced. With this young women’s birthday coming up she made her a German Chocolate Birthday Cake and gave her pearl earrings from her days at the U of M. She was truly touched by my mother’s friendship and she wanted to speak at her upcoming funeral. I took a leap of faith and said okay to this request. She did speak that day and it turns out that she was a speaker for Billy Graham and she was incredible. What a gift she gave us. I regret that I did not stay in contact with her and what a treasure that tribute would be too own today. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did she like about sewing?

I am sure it was the creativity of it all and the fact that she could make something beautiful and functional. 

Vintage 1940s/1950s era applique sailboat kitchen linens made by Teresa.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did she gather inspiration from in regards to her sewing projects?

DeDe: My mother had an ability to see how to improve things. It did not matter if it was a food item, a piece of furniture or a piece of fabric. She would have a vision and would make it happen. She loved to repurpose as evident in her Sewing is Simple articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I had mentioned to you in earlier emails that she made clothing, drapes, upholstered furniture and wrote for the newspaper but there is more. My mother also came up with an idea for an adjustable elastic waistband for women’s skirts that she made from fabrics such as drapery material and chintz. She created a patent for it but unfortunately, someone else managed to maneuver it away from her. I have one of the skirts left that I use for a Christmas Tree Skirt.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I was thrilled to welcome Teresa’s vintage linen collection into the shop. These next few questions and accompanying photographs highlight some specific pieces from her carefully curated linen collection amassed throughout her life.

 In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she sew all the linens that you sent? 

DeDe: I do not believe that she sewed all of them. I know the applique ones with boats on them and definitely the items that have lace. Honestly, they have been in a cupboard for years either with my mother or myself and my mother passed away many years ago.

In The Vintage Kitchen: In the package that you sent, there are 4 tablecloths which I think you referred to as bridge cloths. Did your mom sew those? 

DeDe: I always referred to them as bridge table cloths but others might call them a luncheon cloth. No, I believe those were purchased.

In The Vintage Kitchen: One of them, along with several other linens you sent, looks like they are made with antique fabric. Could they have belonged to your grandmother?

DeDe: Probably not. My mother also loved house sales and again had an eye for finding wonderful things to furnish a home. 

A set of colorful vintage tea towels joyfully collected by Teresa. This is just one example of her carefully curated linen collection amassed during the 20th century.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your grandmother, Carmina, a sewer too?

DeDe: Not that I am aware of.  I recall my grandmother having cataracts and her sight was compromised. My mother told me she had taught herself to sew as a young girl. She started off with making clothes for her dolls and as she grew older, she started to sew for herself and her sisters. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: How long did your mother maintain Teresina? 

DeDe: I believe she kept it going through the 1950s. She sewed her entire life. She would make outfits and Halloween costumes for the grandchildren. In the 1970s, she was still sewing some beautiful outfits for me

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did you grow up? 

DeDe: I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota on one of the city lakes. It was an ideal time to live there. 

A view of Minneapolis taken during the 1950s. Photo via pinterest.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your mom expect you to be as industrious as she was during her childhood?

DeDe: My mother accepted us for who we were. Keewatin is a small community and Minneapolis is not, so opportunities for me were vastly different than what was available for her.  I honestly did not feel pressured to be anyone other than myself. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she teach you how to cook and sew?

DeDe: Yes, my mother taught me to bake and cook. It was wonderful to be in her kitchen with all of the wonderful smells and tastes. I love to cook and entertain in our home much as my mother always did. Baking and cooking for others brings me great joy. Sewing is another story. I can sew out of desperation, but I only enjoy small projects and the older I get the less I attempt. I am not a seamstress and sewing stresses me out although I always kept trying. I expected it to be as easy for me as it was for her. Fortunately, I did inherit her love of cooking.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Thank you so much for including your mom’s sauce recipe. Was this a recipe that was handed down to her or did she make it up on her own? 

DeDe: It was probably a recipe that was given to her by Grandma Rico. It is a pretty traditional sauce. I have shared that recipe with so many friends along with my mother’s wisdom of you can always add more herbs so start off with less. Of course, when you add a meat to the sauce it definitely helps to flavor it. I adore my mother’s red sauce and often tried to make it just like hers. The last Christmas she was alive she stayed with us for a few days and we had a blast. We looked at her old slides of her travels to Italy with my dad, baked traditional foods, and just laughed a lot. I had started a red sauce and ran to the store for a few items that I needed. Later when I was stirring the sauce and tasting it, I was overjoyed at how wonderful it was. I exclaimed to my mother that I was thrilled that I could make it like hers. She just smiled and later admitted that while I was gone, she had doctored it

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your mom’s love of sewing and cooking passed down to any of your kids? 

DeDe: Actually, all the kids are very good cooks and will try out new recipes. My oldest niece does fun sewing projects and is very creative and like my mother is great at repurposing. She also enjoys baking and shares recipes with me. My daughter will try new recipes and make lighter fare than I do. I tend to cook more old school than my kids do. My boys love to make pizza with a homemade crust. Sometimes my oldest and his wife will make pasta when time allows. Everything comes down to when time allows. The grandkids are all interested in cooking and baking which I just adore. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where do you draw inspiration from for your own cooking? 

DeDe: A favorite for me is to eat something out and then try to duplicate it at home. I have come up with some interesting dinners that way. I see something that looks tempting in a magazine or the newspaper and I will try it although I will often massage the recipe. My husband loves to tell me that I use them like a road map and then veer off course. I enjoy making Italian dishes for friends and family but I adored Splendid Table when Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosted it. She had a segment of what to make with a few ingredients in your refrigerator. I am a great one to try that method.

If you are unfamiliar with the engaging Lynne or The Splendid Table radio program that she co-created and hosted for 20 years here’s a quick recap. DeDe and I are both BIG fans of Lynne and the show!

Lynne came to our home for a fund-raising dinner and I along with a friend were the ones that were cooking. Cooking for a professional cook and author was very intimidating. It turned out to be a fabulous evening. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Wow, DeDe! That’s amazing that you got to not only meet but also cook for Lynne! I’m a BIG fan of hers! What was that experience like?

DeDe: The dinner was very simple with a simple antipasto tray, roasted chicken, and delicious roasted root vegetables along with a tossed salad. I do not recall if I made homemade bread for this or purchased store-bought. My dessert was a fried Italian pastry that we called curly cues. They are fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey. My mother always made these at Christmas and often I will too. I probably served the lemon sherbet with crème de menthe. There were six guests and Lynne that night. One was a surgeon who was kind enough to slice the chicken and arrange it on the platter and another was a woman who owns a cooking school and I believe leads trips to Italy or did back then. I consider myself a decent cook but felt a little out of my league that evening. Unfortunately, we did not take pictures of that fabulous evening but my Lynne Rossetto Kasper cookbook is signed by Lynne. This was years ago.

In 2017, Lynne retired, but thankfully, that was not the end of the program. The Splendid Table continues each week with fresh and dynamic culinary content thanks a new, equally charming host, Francis Lam. If you haven’t listened to the show before I highly recommend it. Visit the link here to learn more.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Do you have any particular favorite chefs or cookbooks that you love?

DeDe: I have many of my mother’s old cookbooks and my comfort food choice of my childhood go-to is the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1950s. Chicken A La King, Meatloaf, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Jelly Roll Cake, and all the basics are there. 

The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book – First Edition, 1950

With my mom’s recipes, many are from worn cookbooks, notes scribbled inside a cookbook, note cards or from what I recall her making. Many of my recipes are handed down from mom, relatives and friends and have been doctored to suit my tastes. Italian favorites are The Talisman Italian Cookbook by Ada Boni, The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich and Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone. I love Gourmet magazine and cooking shows on PBS but I really do not have a favorite chef.

DeDe’s favorite vintage Italian recipe resources!

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your trip to Italy? Did you feel a natural connection to the country?

DeDe: Our oldest son was studying in Florence, Italy for a semester at the same time as his friend so we traveled to see him with his parents in March.  My parents had been to Italy twice to see the sights and my mother’s family. My mother was so excited that our son was traveling there and that we were going to as well. It was our first trip to Europe and it was magical. It was so fun to see people that looked like my mother’s family and to hear all that Italian. So much history and beautiful architecture, museums and people. I soon learned why I appreciate gold, glitz, and all the pizzazz. 

Two trips to Trevi Fountain: Teresa and George (above) in Italy many decades ago and Dede and her husband Tom (below) on a more recent excursion.

Travel is all about the experiences. One such experience for me was to see two over the road drivers enjoying their lunch at a rest stop. They had a beautifully set table complete with linens and glassware. Their food looked scrumptious and I asked if I might take a picture of them. They agreed only if I would be in the picture and share their vino. I treasure that moment and the picture. The one Italian reminded me of my grandfather. 

DeDe with her “over the road drivers” in Italy!

Another story that related to my mother is the time we had to wait for a very long time for a table for our dinner. The uncle who was seating us was very friendly and attentive to our dinner choices. When we finished, he said that he had a treat for us because we had been so patient. When he brought us our dessert it was lemon sherbet drizzled with creme de menthe. Oh, how I laughed as that was a favorite of my mother’s to serve after a heavy dinner along with the traditional Carnevale Italian bow tie cookies. 

My mother passed away that May. She was so excited that we were going on this trip and I believe she stayed alive until we could share our stories with her. 

Filled with light and love and so fitting for this post, this street art was spotted on a Florentine wall. Photo: Nick Fewings

In The Vintage Kitchen: And what was it like visiting some of the places where your grandparents lived?

DeDe: My Grandparents lived in a town outside of Naples and we did not get to Naples but we did see Milan, Rome, Venice, and Florence. I hope to one day get to Naples. 

 

The sights that inspire DeDe in and around Minneapolis. Clockwise from top left: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes; The Basilica of St. Mary (switchroyale); The Gutherie Theater (Mark Vandeve); The Minneapolis Institute of Art (McGhiever); The Stone Bridge Arch (Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board).

In The Vintage Kitchen: Name five places that inspire you in your city…

DeDe: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and our incredible parks system. The Guthrie Theater that offers classical and contemporary productions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is an art museum that is home to more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. The Basilica of St. Mary as It was the first basilica established in the United States. The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River.

In The Vintage Kitchen: If there is one thing that you wish could never be forgotten about your heritage, what would it be?

DeDe: The belief in the importance of family and nurturing with food and compassion. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: If you could invite six people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and why?

Clockwise from top left: DeDe’s Parents Teresa & George; Pope Francis; Geraldine Ferraro, Margaret Meade, Eleanor Roosevelt

DeDe: My parents. Since I have been working on Ancestry there are so many unanswered questions that I have. Geraldine A. Ferraro, so I could ask her this question…. Would you have changed how you ran your campaign for Vice President with Walter Mondale? Margaret Meade because I have been fascinated with her since I took my first anthropology class in college. Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the woman behind the man and she is the longest-serving First Lady. Pope Francis, so that I could ask him about what changes he wants to see within the Catholic Church.

In The Vintage Kitchen: And because it’s Mother’s Day, we’ll end with a question about Teresa. What is the greatest lesson your mother taught you?

DeDe: Definitely the love of entertaining, the comfort of food and the sharing of her talents. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you!!

In addition to sharing these lovely stories about Teresa, DeDe also graciously shared her mom’s “red sauce,” the recipe, she referred to her in her interview that was most likely passed down by Teresa’s mother, Carmina. I made two batches of this sauce (one using pork chops, the other using chicken legs). Both were incredible.

Teresa’s Basic Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 small can tomato paste

3-28oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes ( or 5.25lbs of fresh tomatoes, skins on, roughly chopped)

16 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt & Freshly ground pepper

 

1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 ta6 Fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (or dried herbs*)
  • 1 3 fresh oregano sprigs, torn into pieces (or dried herbs*)

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 veal chops or pork chops

*If using dried herbs, start off with 1 teaspoon each and amend from there to suit your taste.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Pat the pork/veal dry and put in the pot. Cook turning occasionally for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer the chops to a plate.

Drain off most of the fat from the pot.  Add the garlic and onion, cook until golden brown. Add the green pepper and cook for two minutes until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to the pot, including the liquid. Add tomato sauce, water, sugar, parsley, basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chops and bring sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water. 

Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. The chops are great reheated with a bit of the sauce. If you used fresh tomatoes, puree the sauce at this stage with a hand blender for a smooth consistency. Makes about 8 cups. 

I keep salt pork and chicken fat in the freezer to use for flavoring if I do not have pork chops on hand. My Mother would also add chicken legs or wings to the sauce if she had that on hand.

Teresa’s Spaghetti Sauce

I couldnt think of a better way to wrap up a Mother’s Day post than with this delicious heritage recipe passed down through the family kitchen of three generations of Italian women. A foundation for all sorts of culinary inspiration from spaghetti to pizza, eggplant parmigiana to stuffed peppers, meatballs to casseroles, this is the recipe you’ll want to keep on hand year after year for merry memory-making in your own kitchen. Just like Teresa would have encouraged!

When we were exchanging emails back and forth, DeDe shared one of her favorite quotes by memoirist Molly Wizenberg… “When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.” Well said, Molly!

Meeting DeDe and learning about her family and their lovely linen collection was such a pleasure. Had I encountered one of Teresa’s exquisite embroidered cloths in an antique shop, I would have admired its beauty but I would have never known about the full and magnanimous life that had been woven into it. I would have never known that behind those linens was a star baker with a go-getter attitude, a color-blind seamstress who clothed her community, a second-generation Italian woman from a family newly immigrated to the US. I would have never known about the husband who loyally and affectionately encouraged his wife, nor about the independent dreamer who raised money for her own education, nor about the delicious tomato sauce passed down by generations of her family. DeDe gave a voice and a spirit and a context to her mom’s linens, and in doing so, made them all the more special, all the more valuable for the love and for the life they represent. So yes, a vintage napkin is a napkin, but it is also so much more.

Cheers and a big thank you to DeDe for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your vivacious mom and all her talents with us. Cheers to vintage linens who light the halls of history one story at a time. And cheers to all the mom’s out there who inspire us each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day!

Find more of Teresa’s linens in the shop here with new additions being added each week..

40% Off Shop Sale Ends Tonight!

Hello vintage kitcheners! Just wanted to pop in to remind you that the 40% off shop sale is underway and ends at midnight tonight. 

 There are lots of fun ways to poke around the land of vintage kitchenwares, so if you haven’t already, I hope you get a chance to go exploring. The newest items listed in the shop appear first in each category, but by using the search bar you can also find heirloom pieces in more precise and creative ways. For example, you can search by aesthetic…

by color…

by holiday…

by country… 

by subject…

by specific flower…

 by decade…

Those are just a few suggestions and some examples of what you’ll find if you are new to the kitchen shop. Whether you are looking for something very specific or just want to meander about, I hope you find the perfect item that speaks to your spirit. Happy shopping! And cheers – it’s All Souls Day!