Even today most of us are omnivores, consuming both meats and vegetables. And back in the early part of the last century, vegetarianism was rare. But it was practiced in Southwest Michigan which starting from 1908 had several vegetarian restaurants that thrived until the mid 1970s. The premise, like the current focus on sustainable local agriculture – eating what is grown near home, contributed to the popularity of these restaurants which included the Eden Springs Park Restaurant (opened in 1908 and closed in 1932), Mary’s Vegetarian Restaurant which opened in 1932 and closed 34 years later and Mary’s Café, in business from 1931 to 1975 in downtown Benton Harbor.
Produce served in these establishments was grown on the grounds of the Israelite House of David in Benton Harbor, founded in 1903 and reorganized by Mary Purnell in 1930 as Mary’s City of David.
According to Ron Taylor, of Mary’s City of David, one of the nation’s oldest continuing communes, the freshness of the ingredients used was one of the reasons for the long time popularity of the restaurants. Taylor, who worked at Mary’s Café for the last four years of its existence, has long been an archivist of the colony’s history. Several years ago he reprinted a limited edition of the 1912 cookbook titled “Vegetarian Cookbook” with recipes from the Eden Springs Restaurant.
Now, Taylor has put together the “Vegetarian Cook Book” that includes not only the recipes from the 1934 cookbook but also photos and historic anecdotes from the years when Mary’s City of David had their own bakery, dairy, cannery, chickens (for eggs) and orchards.
“We had a green house for growing vegetables in the winter,” says Taylor, an avid historian dedicated to preserving the unique history of the community.
Mary’s City of David also attracted a large clientele of visitors who spent the summer in the numerous cottages on the property.
“The cottages didn’t have cooking facilities,” says Taylor, “and so people ate at the restaurant.”
Interestingly, one of the largest groups of returning summer residents were Romanian Jews from Chicago.
“They were attracted to coming here because vegetarian is Kosher,” says Taylor.
The colony’s commitment to vegetarianism came from the Gospels, as Taylor points out in the book by quoting Biblical passages including ‘Meats of the belly and the belly for meats and both shall be destroyed (1 Cor. 6-13).
The book also includes old menus from Mary’s Restaurant which was located on Britain Avenue. Like most old menus, it’s always amazing to see how cheap prices used to be. The 1947-48 menu lists such items as a pimento cheese sandwich costing 20 cents and homemade pie or cake ten cents and spaghetti in tomato and cheese sauce going for 35 cents. For those who often splurge on lattes or cappuccinos, take note, a cup of coffee with extra cream cost 15 cents while something called Boston coffee sold for 15 cents as well.
“This is a book of recipes,” Taylor writes in his introduction. “It continues authentic and unique tastes of a history, from a community of that generation. It was designed to serve a healthy and nutritious meal for a working class. Convenience to a fresh market of local produce precluded the use of exotic ingredients and thus retained the colony’s desire of making an affordable and family friendly menu. It remains a book of ingredients that saw its popularity within the era of one of America’s greatest generations.”
The cookbook is for sale at Mary’s City of David at 1158 Britain Avenue in Benton Harbor. The cost is $24.95. For more information or to order, call 269-925-1601, order online at www.maryscityofdavid.org or stop by in the afternoons when the office is open. For those who’d like to visit and have a meal from the cookbook, the annual, "Welcome Back To 1934" Vegetarian Lunch will be served at noon on September 29th at Mary’s City of David, 1158 E Britain Avenue, Benton Harbor.
Note: These are old fashioned recipes where the directions are often more vague than what we’re used to in modern recipes. Often, there are no temperature settings for oven and instead terms like slow oven and hot oven are used. Also, the cookbook uses the term tablespoonfuls, cupfuls, etc. rather than the current terminology of cups, teaspoons and the like.
2 cups brown sugar
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 heaping tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat the yolks of eggs until light; add flour, sugar, milk and butter; cook in double boiled until thickened. Remove from fire and add vanilla. Have ready two undercrusts baked and fill with the butter-scotch. Whip the whites of eggs to a stiff froth and add two tablespoons sugar. Spread lightly over the top of the pies and set in a slow oven to color a golden brown.
Sidebar: Mary’s City of David Bakery
Within their first year of business, the bakers at Mary’s City of David Bakery were working seven days a week providing food for the more than 300 members of the colony as well as for the baked goods shop in the downtown Benton harbor hotel and the resort restaurant. Baked good as well as milk, butter, cream and eggs, all grown on the colony’s grounds, were also sold at the bakery. Here are several baked goods recipes from the cookbook that were made at the bakery.
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup bran
1 egg, beaten light
1 ¼ cups milk
3 tablespoons melted shortening
Sift the first four ingredients together twice; add the bran, the egg, milk and shortening. Mix together thoroughly. Bake in hot, well greased muffin pans about 25 minutes.
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1 cup flour
½ cup cheese
1 tablespoon oil
Mix and sift dry ingredients. Work in oil lightly with tips of fingers. Add liquid gradually and then sprinkle in the cheese which has been grated. Toss on floured board and roll out one quarter inch in thickness ad cut with small cutter. Bake in hot oven ten minutes and serve hot with salad course.
Sidebar: Ingredients Out of the Past
As befitting an agricultural community, almost anything that could be cooked and eaten was used. That included young beets with their tops, Swiss chard, turnips and their tops and salsify. Common vegetables were cooked in unusual ways and recipes in the 1934 cookbook include those for fried cucumbers, mint glazed carrots with peas and fried carrots. Here are two unique recipes using everyday ingredients that most of us never consider using in cooking today.
1 pint chipped dandelion
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup French dressing
1 hard boiled egg
Choose dandelions that are small and tender, cut off the root, wash carefully, drain and shake out the water. Chop and mix with the onion and chopped hard boiled egg. Toss lightly together with the dressing. Add salt and pepper and serve. A handful of chopped watercress may be added if desired.