Note to readers: Barry Schraders DeKalb
County Life column will appear every other Tuesday.
Not being very domestic (only making pancakes or scrambled
eggs on Saturday mornings during my lifetime) I really had not
given a lot of thought to the value of cookbooks and recipes
in everyday life.
But all that changed for me last week when Danielle Spalenka,
curator at the Northern Illinois University Regional History
Center, gave me a preview of their new exhibit, You Are
What You Eat: Cookbooks as ingredients to shape identity and
Of course, almost everyone can remember those holiday meals
at grandmas house or family reunions when mothers and aunts
provided fabulous dishes from the homeland, or their
familys best-known recipes from generations back. My favorites
happen to be my Aunt Lila Schmidts fudge brownies and my
Grandma Ethel Schraders homemade noodles. I even got to
help knead the dough, then roll it flat and cut it into strips
before being boiled on the stove with the beef bone added. She
also baked Kuchen (coffeecake) handed down from her German ancestors
that melted in your mouth. We didnt know about calories
All these memories and sweet aromas from childhood came
rushing back as Danielle showed me the scores of cookbooks and
recipes they have collected for the exhibit that fill four cases
on Founders Memorial Librarys main floor.
She explained that northern Illinois, like any other place
in the nation, has many immigrant families that came here in
the 1800s through the present day and brought with them their
traditions and ethnic identities. In many cases, traditional
dishes help them keep in touch with their native countries
cultures. It could be compared with passing down
Regional History Center curator Danielle Spalenka
holds two cookbooks, one from the Wurlitzer Company, at left,
published for its centennial in 1956, and the other from Oak
Crest Retirement Center produced by its residents around 1985.
She stands beside one of four display cases of cookbooks and
related culinary artifacts on display through Nov. 15 at Founders
Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University. (Schrader photo)Front cover of 1920 DeKalb Woman's Club recipe book
your native tongue to the next generation to remind them of their
They even have a case full of NIU cookbooks and photos from the
1950s showing home ec (domestic arts and household management)
students preparing meals and some of their utensils. For a final
exam, the women (seldom men) had to prepare a sumptuous meal,
display their table-setting skills and knowledge of etiquette.
In 1973, the University Womens Club produced a cookbook,
probably as a fundraiser, and others in the exhibit come from
the Lowden Hall staff and the University Library, both dated
Two that caught my attention were the centennial cookbook from
the Wurlitzer Company in 1956 and the DeKalb Womans Club
book of recipes from 1920. Rudolph Wurlitzer emigrated from Germany,
and many of the recipes reflect his familys traditions
as well as those of many employees and their wives from around
the DeKalb area.
When we opened the fragile copy of the Womans Club
recipe book, I spotted several names many people will remember:
Mrs. Clifford E. Smith; Mrs. Seymour Hunt; Mrs. F. M. Tilton;
Mrs. William Van Arsdale and Mrs. William Schafer, both of Malta;
Mrs. Samuel E. Bradt; Mrs. B.C. Knodle; Mrs. Joseph Willrett;
and three from Genoa Mrs. Ed Listy, Mrs. Roberta Rosenfeld
and Mrs. Will Duval.
There also were recipes for a Never Fail Devils Cake from
Mrs. Harry Mosher, a Potato Chocolate Cake from Mrs. Ole Benson,
and a Sour Cream Cake from Mrs. C. Boekenhauer. I wish I had
been around to visit those ladies homes.
For the grand opening reception Thursday (4:30 to 6:30
p.m. in the Regional History Center on the fourth floor of the
main library), the staff plans to prepare some cookies and sweets
from the cookbooks so attendees can get a taste of the offerings
from a few local recipes. The public is invited, if you can find
a parking space.
But please dont boil any Swedish lutefisk like my
dearly departed mother-in-law Gladys (Hegberg) Wirsing did at
Christmastime. That could stink up all four floors of Founders
Library and send students fleeing for the exits!