Slices of Pioneer Life
When I stumbled upon a 1905 cookbook at an antique flea market, I researched the lifestyle and historic background of the Edmond ‘89er and pioneer families who had contributed the recipes. Including display ads of the local merchants, this piece of memorabilia, compiled by the ladies of the Edmond Christian Church, provided a juicy slice of pioneer life. Here’s a peek into their lives in 1905:
“Please, ladies . . . the Ladies Aid Society has been called to order,” said fiery Jennie Forster as she pounded the gavel. “Let’s get this business out of our way so we can enjoy the potluck lunch that’s wooing me with its delightful fragrance.”
Jenny and her husband, George came in the 1889 Land Run from Hope, Kansas, where they had married the year before. Jenny and George set up housekeeping in the railroad station, shared with the bachelor station manager. Two months later she moved their home to the second floor of their Forster’s Pioneer Grocery Store, which they opened under a tent the day after the Run. As soon as they got a building up and going for their successful venture, Jennie immediately opened a millenary shop and woman’s furnishing department. In 1889, this busy entrepreneur also established the first library in Oklahoma Territory and Ladies Aid and School Aid Society. She raised the money almost single-handedly to build the first school, early roads, the first parks and churches.
Shortly after that, Jenny founded the Edmond Library, also in their store, and she became the first librarian. In 1889, she was also the first president of the Ladies Aid and School Aid Society, and the president of that group in 1904.
“First on the agenda is our community Thanksgiving Dinner,” Jenny announced. “Do I have a motion that we continue the tradition started in 1889?”
Jenny hoped the ticket sales for the “Game Supper and Ball,” as it was called, would earn enough to pay the schoolteachers’ monthly salaries of seventy-five dollars each as it had in the past. Emma and Frank Dawson had hosted that first community dinner in their unfinished livery stable on Second and Broadway.
“All those in favor say aye,” Jenny said as she quickly counted. “Great. Do we want to have the ball afterwards at the schoolhouse like we’ve done before?
“I’ll send around a sign-up sheet for slaws, pickles, salads, hot rolls, cake and pumpkin pies. As always, we’ll depend on the men to supply the wild turkeys, squirrels, quail, prairie chickens and rabbits. The men love to prove their prowess by bagging all the wildlife in the IndianTerritory.”
She then asked her friend Catherine Rodkey to oversee the dressing and cooking of the various meats again in the Rodkey Flour Mill test kitchen. Catherine told the assembled ladies, “And we need every able body to help with the serving and clean-up detail. They don’t call us Willing Worker’s Society for nothing.”
From there, Jenny went on to nudge the ladies toward a fund-raiser for their overcrowded schools. She asked if anyone had any ideas.
“You’re asking us?” replied an incredulous Emma Burks, “You raised the money almost single-handedly to build the first school, roads, parks, churches and library in Edmond.”
“With lots of help from ya’ll,” Jennie replied, “but now all the businessmen run out the back door when they see me coming. We’ve got to come up with some new ideas.”
“Maybe those of us with looms can weave rag carpets like we did in 1889 to pay off the school debt,” Adeline Howard said.
“Since we’re all consumed with eating, why not get the ladies of Edmond to contribute recipes for a cookbook,” suggested Cora Steen. “We could even include helpful household hints.”
“Great idea!” Bertha Beamguard agreed. “You’re just the one to head that up since your great cooking is known throughout the country. Nobody can ever have enough cookbooks.”
Cora and her husband John, along with baby Charles, were the first white settlers in Edmond. They came in 1887 to live in the Santa Fe Railroad pump house, sleeping outdoors, under the stars, in the summer surrounded by nothing on any side but barren wilderness. They were all alone out on that prairie until the Land Run.
Cora provided the only hot meal along the railroad for passengers and crews between Texas and Kansas. On April 22, 1889, Cora anxiously prepared for the opening of unassigned Indian Territory by cooking twelve hams and several dozen loaves of bread. At 11:00 a.m. the train pulled in so crowded that half its passengers rode on tops of the cars, engine and steps. All day hopeful settlers raced across the buffalo wallows and prairie to stake claims. That night hundreds of campfires burned with the smell of coffee and bacon cooking, ending Cora’s lonely vigil. Cora’s pickles, peppers and rolls were the hit at that first Thanksgiving Dinner.
Everyone agreed that Cora was the perfect person to head the cookbook fund-raiser. They were even hopeful that Blanche Quein would divulge her secret Oklahoma’s Delight Cake recipe they’d been dying to weasel out of her.
“ I’ll bet all the local businesses would pay for ads in our cookbook too,” Rosabel Stewart suggested.