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The Rest of Cities and City Politics (1922-1937)

The embarassing truth is, I sent in the wrong computer file, and by the time I noticed, had to publish a chapter with only three recipes instead of the longer exploration of the shift of American culture to cities I had intended, including a portrait of the contending factions in Chicago through their published recipes. Print out this page, and tuck it into your book at page 375.


The rise of an urban American accelerated a trend to divide families by age. The 1890s had seen the first cookbooks “for two.” The Busy Woman’s Cook Book, by Mabel Claire was “meant to show The Busy Woman how she may come home, purchase materials for a meal, and in a short time sit down to an appetizing dinner that has not taken hours to make ready.” The implication was that the busy woman had a full-time job outside the home, no access to a garden or substantial food storage, and was not expected to be home tending children. This recipe requires her to be very, very Busy if it is to be done in ten minutes. It would take most of us about 30 minutes. “For chocolate pudding, substitute 1/3 of a measuring cupful of cocoa instead of 1 tablespoonful of the flour.”

Yield: “The quantities given are meant to serve two rather hungry people.”

1 cup chopped dates

1 “large tablespoon” butter, plus a teaspoon

2 “large tablespoonfuls” flour

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

heavy cream for serving

Equipment: Double boiler, wire whisk.

1. Bring water to a boil in the bottom of the double boiler.

2. In the top of the double boiler, used as a saucepan, melt the large tablespoon of butter, stir in the flour to make a paste, and stir in the milk.

3. When the milk mixture thickens, add the sugar.

4. Separate the eggs by pouring the yolk from shell to shell over a cup. Beat the yolks until light. (Reserve the whites for another recipe.)

5. Put the top of the double boiler into the bottom. Stir the yolks into the hot milk mixture. Add the vanilla and cook five minutes, stirring to cook all parts of the custard.

6. “As it is nearing completion, stir in one teaspoonful of butter to make it smooth.”

7. Put the dates in the bottom of a dish (Mabel Claire had to pit the dates and chop them while stirring the custard with her other hand.)

8. Pour the custard over the dates. “The pudding may be served in sherbet glasses by placing a portion of dates in each and pouring the custard over.”

Serve “either hot or cold, with cream.”


This recipe was submitted by Emily Kerner to the Lawndale Chapter Book of Recipes, 1931 edition, compiled by Marie Paidar and Blanche Kemmerer. This was chapter No. 749 of the Order of the Eastern Star, a women’s organization related to Masons. Lawndale was a Bohemian neighborhood in Chicago, settled by immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic. Many of the recipes in the book are ethnic recipes, however Miss Kerner represented the younger, Americanized generation of a highly political family. Her father, Otto Kerner Sr. was circuit court judge who went on to become attorney general of the state of Illinois. Her brother, Otto Kerner Jr., who would eventually become governor, was married to the daughter of Anton Cermak, who would soon oust Mayor Thompson. These Bohemian-American politicians were able to link up with larger Slavic-American and German-American ethnic voting blocks, and to work among far larger ethnic blocks and party factions in Chicago, while retaining a solid base in their own community. Miss Kerner’s recipe is for a clearly urban dessert, one which had no immediate relationship to farm produce or seasons. As compared to present-day chocolate cream pies, hers are flatter and more bitter, like European tortes. The four pie crusts in the Lawndale book are lard crusts of varying richness, but since Miss Kerner did not consider the crust important enough to describe, we can assume that a frozen supermarket crust of today is close enough.

Yield: two pies, serve 12-16

5 tablespoons bitter chocolate (1-1/4 1-ounce squares)

4 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups whole milk

1 large egg

1/2 cup whipping cream (or aerosol whipped cream)

2 prepared pie crusts

1 pound bag dried beans

Equipment: Box grater or food processor with grating disk, large saucepan, whisk, hand-held electric mixer (optional), aluminum foil, wire cooling racks, rubber spatula.

1. Prick pie crusts with a fork and cover with aluminum foil. Fill foil with dried beans. Bake according to package directions for unfilled shells, or 8 minutes at 450 degrees.

2. Heat milk in a large saucepan over medium heat.

3. Grate chocolate and mix with flour, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

4. When pie crusts are ready, remove the dried beans and aluminum foil. If the edges of the pie are browning too rapidly, cover with strips of aluminum foil. Finish browning empty pie crust another 2-4 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. (The dried beans can be used in any recipe for dried beans.)

5. When milk is nearly boiling, whisk in dry ingredients.

6. Simmer chocolate mixture fifteen minutes, stirring often so that it does not stick and burn to the bottom of the pot.

7. Beat egg well, and whisk into hot chocolate mixture.

8. Cook another two minutes, whisking to thicken, and pour mixture evenly into the two pie shells. Use the spatula to get most of the mixture into the pie shells no matter how much you would prefer to eat it right out of the pan.

9. Whip cream to soft peaks. Miss Kerner did not have an electric mixer or aerosol whipped cream, or she might have been able to run for office herself.

10. When chocolate pies are cool, spread whipped cream on top.

Serve with coffee to political visitors or precinct workers.


This modest cheese cake was submitted by Mrs. Frank J. Loesch for the 1932 Distinguished Hostesses, compiled by the Women’s National Republican Club of Chicago. Mr. Loesch was head of the Chicago Crime Commission, which had just issued the famous “public enemy” list that ended the popularity of Chicago Gangster Al Capone. Loesch had led reform-minded Republicans away from Mayor Thompson and into an alliance with the Kerner family and other reform Democrats to elect Anton Cermak mayor of Chicago. This cookbook was a product almost entirely of Loesch’s faction, and featured modest recipes like this as the national party attempted to reelect President Hoover in the deepening Great Depression. There were some expensive dishes from wealthy people like Mrs. Julius Rosenwald, the wife of the head of Sears Roebuck. Mr. Rosenwald was a Republican stalwart who also served on the Crime Commission, and was a founder of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama, an important symbol for Chicago’s large African-American community, which had always voted Republican. Neither Mrs. Loesch nor the other Republican hostesses specified pie crusts, so again, the frozen supermarket variety of today will do.

<Y>Yield: one pie, serves 6-8.


1 cup cottage cheese

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 lemon

“small piece” butter (1 tablespoon)

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 prepared pie shell

Equipment: lemon zester or box grater, lemon juicer, two mixing bowls.

1. An hour before starting, remove butter from refrigerator to soften.

2. Zest the lemon or grate off the yellow part of the rind, forming fine shreds. Juice the lemon and reserve the juice.

3. Break the eggs and beat until “very light.”

4. Mix cheese and milk thoroughly.

5. Mix cornstarch and sugar.

6. Stir cheese mixture into sugar mixture.

7. Stir the eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest into the mixture, as well as the soft pat of butter.

8. Put into unbaked pie crust and bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

9. Pie is done when firm near the center, or when a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Serve with coffee to political visitors, FBI agents, and wealthy industrialists.


Completing the urban fragmentation of the American family was the single working woman. By 1935, Marjorie Hiller had a best-seller with Live Alone and Like It, which proclaimed the urban lifestyle of single women. This two-can soup is from her follow-up cookbook, Corned Beef and Caviar for the Live-Aloner, co-authored with Bertina Foltz. There is nothing Mongolian about the recipe, but it does show another way that urban living was beginning to influence food: the name and the idea came from an elaborate soup served at the New York Ritz Hotel. Big-city restaurants brought the creations of trained chefs to a middle-class clientele, which copied the dishes the way department stores sold mass-produced copies of Paris fashions. In recent years we have seen nationwide food fashions like fajitas, wraps, Cajun chicken, or pizza with pineapple on top. These fads come and go over a few years. But in the 1920s and 30s, both food fashions and clothing fashions were on a slower cycle. The American Century Cookbook by Jean Anderson, which traces two-can Purée Mongole back only to 1939, actually gives the recipe for a 1966 version gussied up with sherry and Worcestershire sauce.

Do you think we’ll still be eating pizza with pineapple topping in 25 years?

“Combine equal parts of the two and add bread crumbs sautéed in butter to each plate.”

Yield: serves 4

1 can cream of tomato soup

1 can cream of green pea soup

1/4 cup bread crumbs

4 tablespoons butter

Equipment: Whisk, saucepan or microwave-safe casserole, frying pan.

1. If your canned-soup directions require adding milk, you will have to double the recipe and add two cups of whole milk, or use only half the cans and add a cup of whole milk. (Serious canned-soup chefs would use canned evaporated milk for more richness.) Whisk together soups in the saucepan or a microwave-safe casserole.

2. Heat up combined soups over low-medium heat (or microwave on high 3-4 minutes, leaving covered for another few minutes so it all heats up).

3. Meanwhile melt butter over medium heat in the frying pan.

4. When butter stops foaming, add crumbs and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Serve topped with a few spoonfuls of crumbs, as the opening course of an “Easy Dinner for Two.”

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Mark H. Zanger. Remember, there is no copyright on recipes or other common household formulae, but copyright and fair use laws do apply to selection of recipes and cultural-historical commentary.