Cheryl St.John: Church Ladies, Drug Dealers & Tornado Insurance

stjohn.jpgYears ago a friend from a writer’s listserv sent me a copy of a cookbook her grandmother had given her. Little did she know that all these years and books later, I would still be gleaning helpful tidbits from a booklet titled COOK BOOK compiled by THE LADIES of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Eureka Kansas, 1896.


From this little gem, I have used names, recipes and tips, and created businesses for the fictional towns in my stories. Cookbooks are pieces of history, especially those put together by the women of those early towns and cities. The advertisers who paid for space and thereby funded the ladies’ project were a diverse group. Leedy’s Dry Goods and Clothing House for example boasts the lowest prices guaranteed and quality unexcelled. Their tag line: Good cooking is most appetizing on neat linens. We have them. Chas. A. Leedy sold dry goods, boots and shoes, fancy goods, clothing, and men’s furnishing goods. I have no idea what a men’s furnishing good was, but I am confident Mr. Leedy sold only quality in that line.


Interesting that listed among the directors of the First National Bank was none other than C.A. Leedy. Seems men’s furnishings were making him a tidy profit.


1_1241462477740H. C. Hendrick called himself a dealer in pure drugs—my how the times have changed. No one admits to being a drug dealer nowadays. H.C. sold medicines, chemicals, oils, varnishes, glass, putty, fine brushes (my husband swears a little putty and a fine brush can conceal anything; he must have descended from the Kendricks). They also sold a full and complete line of fancy toilet articles, fine stationary, choice perfumes, books, dye stuffs and all other articles usually kept in a first class Drug Store. Prescriptions were accurately compounded.


Then there was H.C. Zilley, dealer in hardware, stoves and tinware who sold agricultural implements and wagons, with sidelines of furniture and undertaking. Why not get into the undertaking business? He already had the shovel and wagon.


Lewis’ Art Studio did photography in all its branches; proofs are shown and all work guaranteed. VIEWING A SPECIALTY. I don’t know what that means either, I’m just telling you how their ad reads. YOUR PATRONAGE SOLICITED. Those printers liked their capitals, and they had all kinds of fancy fonts. This place was opposite the courthouse, FYI.


1874Now, Frank B. Gregg, he sold Fire,…Lightning and Tornado… Insurance – and he liked effusive punctuation. Okay, this was Kansas, so that tornado insurance probably came in handy. Suppose Aunty Em took out a policy with Frank?


A.Frazer’s Transfer and Bus Line: Meets all Trains, All Calls Carefully Attended

Your guess is as good as mine here.


Miss Nellie Smith was pianist, teacher of piano and organ and a pupil of Rudolf King, Kansas City. Her terms were moderate.


W.W. Morris was another dealer in pure drugs and medicines. Also advertised were paints, oils, varnishes school and  miscellaneous books, stationary, window shades, wall paper, musical merchandise, jewelry, fancy and toilet articles. “We manufacture the following specialties and guarantee them to be the BEST articles for the purposes recommended: Calla Cream, Castole, Excelsior Compound.” They were located NO. 23 OPERA BLOCK


The church ladies who contributed to this publication had wonderful names like Madella Smith, Eva Downard, Katie Addison, Olive Sample, Hattie Kelley, Lydia Thrall, Cornelia Newman, Mabel Mueller, Lulu Kendrick and Lizzie Bell.


eurekaA big percent of the recipes contain lard, and many of them, like biscuits and Boston brown bread, ginger cake and ginger snaps  are items we could whip up in our kitchens today, with the exact ingredients and directions. Others—not so much. Like suet as an ingredient. I’ve only fed suet to the birds. And what is black mustard? It’d required to make cucumber catsup. Another example:


Scrapple: Scrape and clean well a pig’s head as directed in pig’s head cheese, put on to boil in plenty of water, cook 4 or 5 hours, until the bones will slip readily from the meat :::are you shuddering yet?:::  take out, remove meat, skim off the grease from the liquor in pot and return the chopped meat to it, season highly with salt and pepper and a little powdered sage if liked, and add corn meal till of the consistency of soft mush; cook slowly 1 hour or more, pour in pans and set in a cool place. This is nice sliced and fried for breakfast in winter and will answer in the place of meat on many occasions.


As you can see the Methodist Episcopal Church Ladies have given me plenty of material for my stories. Since receiving this book, I’ve lost touch with Karen McKee, but Karen, if you get a google alert for your name: THANK YOU!


Tonight I’ll draw names from the comments for THREE advance copies of my December book HER COLORADO MAN – so leave me a comment!

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54 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Church Ladies, Drug Dealers & Tornado Insurance”

  1. I have always loved your stories especially the western aspect.
    I also love cookbooks and find it amazing this cookbook has blessed you with so much inspiration throughout the years. What an amazing story to share with your readers, some of us may even be inspired by this to find our own writing inspirations 🙂

  2. I love to collect old cookbooks. I have several that I have picked up at church sales and garage sales that are church or school fundraising projects. It’s amazing some of the receipes you can discover.

  3. I have several cookbooks from churches. I have a few that were my grandmothers. I still use them. I love all your books and would love to win a copy of Her Colorado Man.

  4. Thanks, Katy, and thanks for sharing the link. The more the merrier!

    happy birthday to youuuuuuuuuuuu!

    Linda, Katy and Cathy, it’s amazing how many people collect cookbooks. I do, too, and had to thin them out when I got shelves built to hold them.

    Hi Minna!

  5. I have an addiction to buying cookbooks. Unfortunately, I rarely get a chance to look through them and actually try something new.

    I have an old Mirro cookbook that belonged to my Grandma Rose.

    I love the church related cookbooks because you find so many family treasures!

  6. Thanks for the Bday cake card 🙂 I’m craving cake but have to wait until this evening to eat it – hubby used my scratch mix in freezer and made it himself 🙂
    I go through my cookbooks when i do menu’s for the month and if there isn’t anything in them that appeal I toss ’em …..
    I much prefer the church type cook books or the Gooseberry’s…..I must admit some of the Rachel Ray stuff seems too out there for my families tastes.

  7. I love your books, Cheryl, and I too love cookbooks. We have a couple of old Watkins Cookbooks which are so interesting to look through. I think the best items we have though are the recipe boxes that belonged to both of my husband’s grandmothers and I have one from my maternal grandmother. Mixed in with the recipes are clippings from newspapers with either household or cooking tips and little articles they must have liked really well, not to mention birth/death notices and so on. My husband’s maternal grandmother had an old scribbler she kept handwritten recipes in and I was fascinated to see not only recipes for yummy sounding baked beans but recipes for homemade weed killer and other household necessities.

  8. Hi Cheryl,
    Aren’t old cookbooks wonderful? I have one of Nova Scotia settlers’ recipes. There’s one called Anadama bread, with a delicious story attached. An old fisherman came in off the water every day to find his lazy wife, Anna, asleep, with nothing ready for him to eat but cornmeal mush in a pot over the fire. One day he got desperate, mixed flour, yeast and molasses into the mush and started stirring, muttering “Anna, damn ‘er.” Ive made this bread and it’s really quite good. Old recipes are a great window into history.

  9. I love old cookbooks.I buy a lot of cookbooks from churchs & places we visit. Great post.

  10. I love the church cookbooks, too, Laurie. They’re all tried and true winners.

    Patricia, your treasure trove of grandmothers’s recipes boxes sound wonderful. I always look for gems like that at flea markets and garage sales.

  11. What a fun resource. I’d always wondered exactly what kind of offerings were in those old drug stores. When I look at 19th century maps of towns, there seem to be drug stores in nearly every block. Sometimes they even outnumber the saloons and billiard halls. I guess folks really liked their patent medicines. *smile*

  12. Hey Cheryl. I love your books. I must admit I have been slacking a bit, but want to get back into reading. You could get me back on track! I too love and collect cookbooks. Some of them have alot of history and interesting facts. I am still not a good cook, even with all of the books I have. I am driving Tim crazy with all of them. That’s just a benefit. lol
    PS…Laura is getting married Saturday. We are so excited!

  13. One great thing about “church lady cookbooks” is that they don’t call for exotic ingredients. However they may call for some store bought ingredients that are no longer available.
    Some recipes in current magazines call for things I have never heard of.

  14. Cheryl,

    I love your books. I too indeed love old cookbooks they seemed to be filled with love and great recipes.

    I had never thought about using old cookbooks for names and settings. Interesting blog and it sure has helped me out

    Thanks Cheryl

    Walk in peace and harmony,


  15. Cheryl, what a treasure trove! I’d love to get my hands on that cookbook. Lots of wonderful information. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for those old cookbooks. Thanks for pointing out their usefulness even beyond cooking. 🙂

  16. Oh ages ago we took a trip to England and they had this old time feast in the cellar of a castle – wooden plates and dressed to the hilt – and I remember head cheese being one of the foods I ate, that and mead – needlesstosay I was ill that night lol.

    As to the cookbooks – my daughter just got married and wants me and my mother to write down recipes. We don’t seem to be able to do it because my mother never wrote anything down and neither have I. You know, some of this and that. I wish my grandmother had written things down because now a lot of the recipes are lost.

  17. Hi Cheryl,
    Loved your cookbook blog. How wonderful that you’ve used that book to develop and create so many wonderful stories!! I’m not a collector of old books, but I’d love to have an old cookbook in my hot little hands, just for the research value alone! Little bits of history!! What’s suet? Should I know?

  18. Hi Cher, I’m not much of a cook (I can do it and do it well but hubby loves it and does it better 🙂 but I love old cookboks, and anything that reminds me of the legacy of the past.

    I’d love to find out more about the black mustard. And yes, bird suet looks gross…but I guess in those days, you didn’t waste anything. I have heard of scrapple…gag.

    Hugs oxoxoxoxoxox

  19. Hi Cheryl ~

    I must say, I’m not overly fond of cooking…I’d rather be reading! Yay! I do have a few cookbooks, but I prefer getting my Mom’s or Grandma’s recipes and using those. They are such wonderful cooks!

    I’m a very “picky” eater, so I usually have to change any/all recipes to fit my tastes ~ that gets annoying, so I usually stick to the same recipes over and over (which can also get annoying!).

    Cheryl, your books are awesome and I would love to win Her Colorado Man!

    Thank you for sharing,
    ~ Lori

  20. I would love to win and advanced copy of this book or any copy for that matter, I just love books.


  21. It is amazing what you can find in an old cookbook. My grandmother passed down hers along with her recipe box… also a friend of mine gave me a copy of a cookbook with all Amish recipes… I am not big on cooking , but there are a bunch of recipes that have caught my eye… one day I will try them out! 😀

  22. Those old recipes make me shudder. blech. It always reminds me of reading Little House on the Prairie books…I can remember in one of them Pa would blow up the bladder of the pig and tie it with a string so that the girls could play “ball” with it. Ewww! And they cut off the curly tail and put it on a skewer…they would roast it over the fire and eat it. Blugh! They also did the head (just like you posted) to make head cheese. Gag! Waste not, want not. I guess. (urp.)

    Love your postings as always. 🙂

  23. Enjoyed reading the comments. I love to browse through old books and have a couple of old cookbooks from relatives.
    In the book you have, which recipe seems to be the most used as judging from the worn-out page?

  24. Minna! You’ve never heard of church cookbooks? Maybe it’s a western hemisphere thing. All the ladies of a church get together to do a fundraiser by making a cookbook. In the old days, many of them were typewritten and then copied and put together with a spiral binding.

    Now, there are companies that collect the info for you, format and print, and you get it ready with a special software that puts the reipes into a format for the publisher. Small businesses, like Goodwill Industries make them as well. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a couple. All the recipes are tried and true by real women.

  25. Joye, mine is a copy of the original cookbook, so I can’t tell which pages are worn, but there are handwritten notes beside some of the recipes, and it looks as though the ginger cookies were considered a favorite.

  26. Rec’d this post from my website guestbook just now:

    What a treat your Church Ladies contribution is! I am an old Eureka boy – born and raised there until high school graduation in 1954. I caught the first thing smoking the day after commencement and went to the Navy.

    I didn’t completely abandon Eureka, however. Even today I do a lot of free work for the Greenwood County HIstorical Society. I am in daily communication with a number of Eureka ex-pats. We have a group called “The Lost Boys and Girls of Greenwood County”.

    The name A. Frazer struck me as I read at you article. I do believe that he, or his son, still ran a taxi service in Eureka un into the 1940 decade. He had an old Dodge Car – very well maintained – and he offered a taxi service. He also rented out his car. A local Eureka lawyer rented Mr. Frazer’s car to drive to Quincy, Kansas to seek affidavit signature to prove my maternal grandfather’s birth date for Social Security purposes.

  27. Hey Cheryl! Very good post today! I love the idea of cooking old recipes. My Mom loves to buy old cookbooks from churches and yard sales…we always have a mystery Sunday dinner every so often. Kinda fun 🙂

    In college, I did a research paper on people who sold “medicines” back in the old west. It was insane what some of them would sell and get away with! Whew!

    Very cool post Cheryl!

  28. Hey western ladies!

    Fun post today, I found the parts about the medicine “drug” men very interesting.

    Looking forward to your new western. You never disappoint!

  29. Hi Cheryl, what a great post! My younger sister collects cook books. I have a few myself. I like the cook books that communities put together. I have one from the small community that I grew up in. My older sister has a very old Better homeand Garden cook book that was my mothers and its falling apart its been used so much and the recipes where a lot better back then.

  30. What a fun blog! I’m with Jackie about reading rather than cooking, but cookbooks are always fun to look through.

  31. Hi Cheryl,

    I have an old cookbook from a ladies church group in Minnesota, but mine doesn’t have any of that cool advertising yours has. Still love reading it though.

  32. Hi, Cheryl. This blog made me think about the many cookbooks my grandmothers owned. I wish I had some of them! I do have, and use, many of their recipes.

  33. What a wonderful post. I love old cookbooks and housekeeping books. I pick them up whenever I can. As you have found, they are interesting reading. My first old book was one I got from an old farmhouse attic. It is a 1960’s book on how to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker. My how times have changed. I have some old recipe cards I’ve gotten at auctions, yard sales and my grandmother. Measurements are iffy. One of my grandmother’s is for pumpkin cookies. Sounds good. It calls for “lard the size of an egg” among other specific directions. I made them and they were terrible. I missed something somewhere and Grandma wasn’t around to tell me what.
    Have read most of your books and enjoyed them all.

  34. I collect old cookbooks, but none are as old as
    that of the ME ladies. My children think it’s so
    strange that I enjoy sitting and reading these old
    recipes. They do not realize what jewels one can
    come across in these books! LOL.

    Pat Cochran

  35. Patricia, many of the recipes in these old books don’t have degrees or length of time for baking. Only the ingredients are listed, as though everyone automatically knew what to do with them.

  36. Cheryl sorry I am late you probably have drawn for your book already but I still wanted to post. I have been working really long hours.
    I love cookbooks I have way to many and don’t to buy another ever but I will and just did the other day. My mom calls me when her work had the book sale.
    I love the church books too I have few of them, I have a cook book from Alabama and there are some really neat recipes in there from the South family is from there so it had been neat to make some of the stuff for girls and hubby.
    I was wondering do you have your ginger cookie recipe handy I probably have it but not sure where and hubby loves them.
    Thanks for the great blog.

  37. I love cookbooks and have many; Company’s Coming are great books. I have from several Women’s Groups(church)and ones like Robin Hood, Purity flour, etc.
    My dh and I compiled a cookbook for my Mom’s side of the family; anyone could contribute/even the men. I typed it, dh ran it off and with my sister’s help we collated it and bound it. We called it Tastebud Temptations and it contains many wonderful ‘family’ recipes.


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