Monday, April 29, 2019

Advice from the creator of Kentucky Derby Benedictine sandwiches - Jennie C. Benedict

Virginia "Jennie" Carter Benedict (1860-1928) created Benedictines - the green cucumber sandwich common at Kentucky Derby parties.  In the late 1890s she was forced to earn a living and rapidly developed her cooking business.  She wrote two cookbooks, both contained advice for women wanting to enter the cooking profession.

For others in my American Women Cookbook Authors series - HERE

The Kentucky Derby, first held in 1875 has been held every year. Mint juleps HERE are closely associated with the Derby, but there are other foods HERE including including Benedictines.

Jennie Benedict -
When in September, 1893, I found myself face to face with the fact that I must fall into ranks with the great army of working women…” was her introduction in her first book.  But in her second book she worded it that in 1893 she began “to examine myself for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not I possessed a God-given talent…and soon developed a very decided taste for cooking… and now I know that my real knowledge of the art (for cooking is an art) was very limited.”

Knowing that I could make fruit cakes, [see recipe below] I began by taking orders from them among my friends, and made them in my mother’s kitchen.”  Soon she had to enlarge her “workshop” into the yard but “hadn’t a cent of capital.”  The carpenter completed it before Thanksgiving of that year, and was paid afterwards from the increased sales.  Benedict “sent my circulars all over the city, stating that I would take orders from a cup of chocolate to a large reception.”

At this point (and in the 1900 Census) Virginia C. 40 "confectionary," was living with her parents  John J. [or Carter] Benedict 63 (1837-1918), a "comm. merchant" and Mary Clelland Richards Benedict 61 (1838-1911, m1859), as well as a younger brother William R. [Richards] Benedict 36 (1863-1905), "salesman."
Also on the 1900 census were two boarders - Elize Nobel 59 and Salome E. Kerr 31.  Benedict mentioned Miss S. E. Kerr in her second book The Blue Ribbon Cook Book first published in 1902 (also the source of the two ads) as her partner in the new cafe and catering business on Fourth Avenue.  The 1910 and 1920 census listed them sharing a residence without the other Benedicts.

Principals from two Louisville schools hired her to provide the school lunches, which she did for four years.  During those years I had worked early and late, giving up everything absolutely, and devoting my entire time to my art.”  She edited the Household department for the Courier-Journal newspaper and gave classes on the chafing dish.  

When Mrs. Dearborn, the Principal of the Boston Cooking School could not give her demonstrations at the Pure Food Exhibition in Louisville, Benedict filled in.  This opened the doors and hearts of the Boston Cooking School to me, and I entered the school the following winter, under the most favorable circumstances, and took a special course.  She returned inspired to expand and also teach classes at her home and around the state.  Once she had enough subscriptions to pay for the printing, Benedict published her first cookbook One Hundred Tested Receipts in 1897.

She was forced to give up her work in 1899, but later that year she was put in charge of the Business Woman’s Club lunch room for a year.  At that point she opened a 'cafe' and catering business on Fourth Street with a partner, Miss S. E. Kerr.  
The 'cafe' was mentioned in The Little Colonel book series

Advice to future cooking professionals -

“…I do mean to show that the avenue of cooking, as an industry, is open to those earnestly looking for a means of livelihood, and who still have a womanly love for the homely art of cooking.
But “it is not by any means smooth sailing; that there are many snags which might be emphasized.  First of all, we must make sacrifices at every point, and social duties must be wholly abandoned.  No business requires more tact, patience, or originality, and surely none requires closer attention or more constant study… carry out unique ideas in forms of entertainment, being ready with attractive souvenirs, keeping abreast and often ahead of the times.

She can not depend upon other people’s books or ideas for new dishes or garnishes, but must be able to think them out for herself.  Never be satisfied with anything by the purest and best material and the most skilled workmen.  Without these two essentials we can not expect to make a success of the undertaking.  

We have found that cooking possesses the dignity of an art, of a science, and of a philosophy, and in its place in this age it is one of the still unseen powers that uplifts and enables our great people to progress.”  

Benedict's fruit cake recipe


Benedict, Jennie C., A Choice Collection of Tested Receipts, with a chapter on … food for the sick. Louisville: 1897 HERE
Benedict, Jennie C., The Blue Ribbon Cook Book. Louisville: 1904 [first published in 1902] HERE
Benedict, Jennie C., Road to Dream acre. 1928

More Kentucky dishes HERE.

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

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