127-year-old cooking club sharing recipes in new cookbook
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.
An early group of Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club members get ready to teach a cooking class.