Last Monday the New York Times featured an article in its food section about a cooking club that’s 124 years old and still hosting monthly luncheons for its members. The New York Times’ Food section is known for covering the latest, hottest trends in cooking, so this club must be something, I thought to myself, but where is it? Where do these venerable ladies reside?
I’ll give you a hint: their home town is the birthplace of Pizza Hut, which was founded in 1958 by two college students at…Wichita State University! You read that right — Wichita, Kansas — home to both the original Pizza Hut and one of the oldest community cooking clubs in the country. Leave it to the New York Times to publish “all the news that’s fit to print.” They even sent a reporter to Wichita for two days.
In the 1860’s Wichita was known as “Cowtown” because it was a center for cattle drives traveling north from Texas. But by the 1920’s and 1930’s, the city was emerging as a national hub of the aeronautical industry and its nickname changed to “The Air Capitol of the World.”
Many wealthy residents were eager to rid the city of its hick Cowtown reputation. The fine art of socializing became vital to the ladies of Wichita; they took it upon themselves to teach younger women how to set a proper table and cook delicious food. These were the roots of the Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club.
The club published a cookbook in 1922. You can find a recipe for date cake from that book here. While recipes have always been an important part of the club’s monthly discussions, there’s a lot more to this group of women. They’ve been through wars together, knitting sweaters for World War I soldiers and rolling bandages during World War II. Over the years they have witnessed many births and deaths. By gathering monthly despite their hardships, they have helped each other not only to survive but to thrive.
Early on, the club sponsored essay contests to enrich the minds of the young women. One subject was, “Can systematical and economical housekeeping be carried on in conjunction with keeping up your intellectual pursuits?” That’s a pretty lofty subject. I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed.
Thank you, New York Times, for reminding us that you can find fascinating people anywhere, even on the prairie.