Historic Food Memoir Project
Written by
Megan Oteri
December 2012
Written by
Megan Oteri
December 2012

I am working on a historic food memoir about my great-grandmother's bakery and food delivery service, which started in the summer of 1918 as a WWI food conservation project at the Woman's Club of Evanston.  

The same year in October of 1918, when the Spanish Influenza reached Northern Illinois, the same women on the food conservation committee and the women in the Evanston Woman's Club created an emergency kitchen, where they made homemade soups and breads for Evanstonian families, delivering hot meals -- two to three times daily to over 200 homes for two weeks.

Photo courtesy of the Woman's Club of Evanston

Postcard of the Woman's Club of Evanston.

The Community Kitchen started as a food conservation project and continued to serve the Evanston community until 1951 as one of the first successful centralized kitchens.  In fact, it was the model for the nation and brought national attention to the city of Evanston.

Photo Source: Courtesy of the Evanston History Center

I am having so much fun researching this time period. There is a wealth of research and archived documents as the Community Kitchen was written about in national magazines, such as Munsey's, Ladies Home Journal, American Cookery, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other magazines, journals, newspapers, and books.

I recently received a Regional Artist Project grant from the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge to go to Evanston to conduct on-site research at the Evanston History Center, Northwestern, and the Evanston Public Library.  Lori Osborn, archivist at the Evanston History Center and the Woman's Club of Evanston has been a great resource. Lori is also the project director of the Evanston Women's History Project, which is a fantastic collection of women in history. I have been having a lot of fun exploring this wonderful resource. 

I am also very lucky because my grandmother was also a trail blazer in the food industry. I have inherited her food notebooks marbled with time, revealing recipes drafted in shorthand in her elegant cursive handwriting with recipe conversions translated on the fragile pages of time.

Photo: My grandmother's "Cooked Food" notebook.

Juney (her nickname) moved to New York City in 1926 to pursue her own career as an executive chef and manager. She worked for Alice Foote MacDougall as a manager of one of her restaurants.  She also did experimental recipe work for Schrafft's and was a recipe writer and worked in food advertisement for General Foods. My grandmother returned to Evanston in 1947 and ran the Community Kitchen until 1951. You can read more about Juney here.

My grandmother was the only grandparent I knew. She passed away when I was ten years old.  Her last words to me were, "Megan, remember to comb your hair," and she gently ran her storied fingers through my hair.  It is a moment I will always remember. I not only inherited her notebooks, but also her athleticism (I played Division I soccer in college).  I also have my grandmother's thick hair and premature grey streaks. 

She was an elegant women and even her pajamas were fancy.  She had silk leopard print pajamas. She had panache. She was an avid sports fan and was the quarterback of her junior high school football team. She knew more about the Chicago Cubs than most men at the Evanston King Home (a men's retirement home in Evanston).  I loved visiting her at the Mather Home (a retirement home in Evanston for women).  

She was bone honest and beautiful, never a hair out of place, even in her pajamas.

This photo is of Juney, around Christmas time.  Isn't she fabulous!

My tagline for the project or rather subtitle for the book is Women in the Kitchen and History in the Making. Food = Story.

If you are interested in this historic food memoir, you can follow it on my blog, The Evanston Communtiy KitchenTwitter (@600DavisSt) and Facebook.

Women in the Kitchen and History in the Making: Food Equals Story

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