127-year-old cook­ing club shar­ing recipes in new cook­book

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Arts & Culture - BY DENISE NEIL

Three years ago, Wi­chita’s Thurs­day Af­ter­noon Cook­ing Club — a group of lo­cal epi­cure­ans whose roots stretch back 127 years — caught the at­ten­tion of The New York Times.

The pa­per, en­chanted by the charm, his­tory and stay­ing power of the group, came to Wi­chita to re­port on the club and pub­lished a story about it on the front page of its food sec­tion. Not long af­ter, the re­porter pro­posed a cook­book, and the ladies got pretty deep into plan­ning it be­fore the fine print about some­one else tak­ing own­er­ship of their his­toric club doc­u­ments and club min­utes scared them off.

Many of the mem­bers were dis­ap­pointed. One of them was a friend of lo­cal au­thor Son­dra Lan­gel. “I thought about it for a year or so, and I thought, ‘I could do a book. Why don’t I do their book?’” she said.

So she did, with the help of re­spected lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher and Wi­chita State Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor Larry Sch­warm. The re­sults, a full-color, hard-back, 236page book full of decades’ worth of recipes, is about to be re­leased. It’s called “Thurs­day Af­ter­noon Cook­ing Club,” and it will

go on sale in early De­cem­ber. (Just in time, the au­thors hope, for the gift­giv­ing sea­son.)

The club orig­i­nally formed in Wi­chita in 1891 af­ter its founder, Mrs. E.R. Span­gler, de­cided that young women in Wi­chita needed some help in the en­ter­tain­ing depart­ment. Mem­bers paid a 25-cent ini­ti­a­tion fee and 10 cents each time they at­tended a lunch.

To­day, the club is made up mostly of re­tire­men­t­age women, and be­com­ing a mem­ber re­quires a nom­i­na­tion and a vote. Each month, three of the mem­bers host and cook a lun­cheon that’s served fol­low­ing age-old eti­quette rules.

Lan­gel and Sch­warm knew they would make a good team. They’d worked to­gether be­fore, pro­duc­ing the pop­u­lar 2016 book “Wi­chita

Artists In Their Stu­dios.” The col­or­ful book paid trib­ute to well-known Wi­chita pain­ters, sculp­tors and pot­ters, and Sch­warm cap­tured por­traits of them in their work spa­ces.

“We en­joyed do­ing that,” Lon­gel said. “We re­ally en­joyed work­ing to­gether. We’ve done it twice now. It just seems to work for us.”

The pair started their cook­book work in May 2017. Lan­gel would in­vite small groups of two or three club mem­bers to her home to tell sto­ries about the club. She asked each to pro­vide recipes they’d like to see in the book.

She then turned her home kitchen into a test kitchen, pre­par­ing all the recipes and them par­ing them down. For six months fol­low­ing, Lan­gel, Sch­warm and lo­cal food stylist (and Wi­chita Ea­gle food colum­nist) Adriene Rath­bun would get to­gether in Lan­gel’s kitchen to take pho­tos of the com­pleted dishes.

But the book isn’t all recipes. It’s par­tially a his­tory of the club, and Lan­gel said she care­fully re­searched cook­ing meth­ods of clubs from the dif­fer­ent decades, what was go­ing on in the world dur­ing the time they were cook­ing, what tools they were us­ing, and how all of that af­fected what they made. The book is filled with old pho­tos of club mem­bers, from the late 1800s, 1920s, even 1980s. It also has per­sonal sto­ries from cur­rent club mem­bers.

“When they started out, they were very se­ri­ous about learn­ing how to do things, how to do cook­ing,” Lan­gel said. “They did this every every month, and they’d have a demon­stra­tion on some­thing — a recipe or a tool or some­thing. That was prob­a­bly the part of the book I found most in­ter­est­ing. There was so much to dis­cover.”

Among the recipes in the book, Lan­gel has a few fa­vorites, she said. One of them is for bram­bles, which are fruit-filled, baked hand pies, and the recipe is at­trib­uted to Mrs. B.H. Camp­bell, the one­time res­i­dent of the fa­mous Camp­bell Cas­tle and the pres­i­dent of the club from 1896 to 1907.

The book in­cludes recipes for an­gel food cake, which was the first recipe ever demon­strated at a meet­ing in De­cem­ber 1891, and one for Wi­chita Cake, a raisin bundt spiced with cloves, cin­na­mon and nut­meg. It was an­other recipe from Mrs. Camp­bell, and when it was served to the club in April 1892, it was deter­mined to be so good that “a de­ci­sion was made to In stores: Book sign­ing: Price: send a piece to the ed­i­tor of The Wi­chita Ea­gle.”

The book also has recipes laid out as full menus that the cur­rent club mem­bers came up with.

Lan­gel said she al­ready has sev­eral pre-or­ders for the book, and mem­bers of the club who have seen it are ex­cited. Lan­gel is just happy that she was able to doc­u­ment such a de­li­cious and in­trigu­ing part of Wi­chita’s culi­nary his­tory.

“I think its’ worth pre­serv­ing,” she said. “It was in dan­ger of go­ing away.”

“Thurs­day Af­ter­noon Cook­ing Club” is full of decades’ worth of recipes and club his­tory.

Son­dra Lan­gel

COUR­TESY

An early group of Thurs­day Af­ter­noon Cook­ing Club mem­bers get ready to teach a cook­ing class.

Larry Sch­warm

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