Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 3, 2013

Kooks to cookies

I invited friend and Kansas State University colleague Jane Marshall to speak last Saturday at the Kansas Professional Communicators conference in Manhattan. Jane is a food writing instructor and communications coordinator for the K-State College of Human Ecology.

Since everyone at the conference was a professional writer as well as an amateur eater, I thought it would be fun to have her speak about her soon-to-be-released book, "Tea Time to Tailgates: 150 Years at the K-State Table."

"Every recipe will have a story, but not every story will have a recipe," Jane told the group.

Most stories involved some noted person such as David Fairchild. He was a botanist who was responsible for the introduction of many exotic plants into the United States. These included soybeans, pistachios, mangos, dates, bamboo and flowering cherries. His 1938 book was "The World is My Garden: Travels of a Plant Explorer."

Other stories were humorous. The "Kansas Kook Book for Kansas Kooks" was a 1900 Domestic Science student cookbook. To test the temperature of an oven, it suggested: "Tear off unprinted corner of newspaper and place in small pan in oven. When it browns in 7 minutes it is the right temperature for sponge loaf cake, in 5 m. for butter loaf cake, in 4 m. for layer cake."

But one story in particular caught my attention. It involved Nellie Sawyer, who moved with her family from Maine to Kansas. She received her degree in domestic economy in 1876, from then-Kansas State Agricultural College. She taught for about five years before marrying Robert F. Kedzie, a chemistry professor. Her husband accepted a position at Mississippi State University, but she soon returned to Manhattan for he died suddenly only seven weeks later. Her story intrigued me because it is her name on the K-State building where I work.

The newly-widowed Kedzie was not absent from the classroom long, for after KSAC President George Fairchild sampled her biscuits, he made a personal plea for her to teach domestic economy.

It made me wonder if her biscuits were that good or if something else was at work. I grew up on a Kansas farm and we didn't have fancy meals. But they were satisfying and tasty! In my opinion, you just can't beat fried chicken and fresh vegetables. And when I see corn on the cob, tomatoes, new potatoes and green beans at local farmers' markets, I recall those summer days working alongside my parents, brother and sister in our garden, or watching Grandma Ethel Freeland snap beans with her Aunt Hattie, both women wearing aprons and talking all the while.

These foods are not "haute cuisine," but they certainly are satisfying and partly that may be because of the associations they invoke.

Kedzie's later life seemed to reveal a capacity to choose what was needed more than what was the best.

She received her master's degree in 1883. Her thesis was titled "Science in Woman's Life." In 1887, she became the first woman KSAC graduate to hold professor rank and to become head of a department. Funding for Domestic Science Hall, the first building in the U.S. to be constructed for the sole purpose of teaching home economics, was approved in 1897.

But 1897 was the same year the Populist Party gained power in the Kansas Board of Regents and fired the entire KSAC staff. Kedzie was asked to return, but declined. Five years later, Domestic Science Hall was renamed in her honor.

She taught at three more schools, remarried, and became the extension leader at the University of Wisconsin. She wrote a column for women in, of all things, "The Country Gentleman," a magazine for men.

In all those efforts, she remained focused not on how a woman could create the most beautiful house, but on how she could make it a comforting home.

Yet while stories in Jane's book such as these are interesting, one recipe she included was a recent hit. Lemon Icebox Cookies were served at a K-State 150th birthday celebration earlier in the spring and Jane reported, "It was a really good cookie."

Lemon Icebox Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nuts, chopped

Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add egg, juice and rind. Mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into butter mixture. Stir in nuts. The dough will be stiff.

Divide dough into two equal pieces. Place each on wax paper and shape into neat rolls about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap paper tightly around dough and pat until roll is smooth and even. Chill.

To bake, preheat oven at 400 degrees. Unroll chilled dough and cut into 1/8-inch slices using a sharp knife and a sawing motion. Place slices on un-oiled baking sheet and bake for 4 to 6 minutes.

Yield: 80 cookies

"Practical Cookery", 1st edition: 1912, recipe: 1962 edition

Left: Marshall discussing the K-State Crown, a university specialty; right: A circa 1890 cooking class in the basement of Anderson Hall, now the university's main administration building. Nellie Kedzie is seated to the left of the pole. (Photo: Morse Department of Special Collections, K-State Libraries)

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