Home Work: A new home + Kindle sale

Hello all! I am sending out this quick update to share some exciting news, in four parts:

  1. The Secret History of Home Economics Kindle edition is on mega-sale! Only $2.99, the same as a large-ish pack of Twizzlers. Get it here.

    1a. I have been mega into Twizzlers lately and I don’t have the slightest idea why, given that all last year I was into very strong black licorice, even the salty kind.

    1b. If you’ve read and liked the book, I’d love if you’d rate and review it on Amazon or Goodreads (same company) or anywhere else!

  2. The Boston Book Festival has pivoted to virtual, which is sad for me but great for y’all because now you can watch my Oct. 16 panel discussion on women’s work from anywhere.

  3. I have new work! I’m North Carolina storytelling reporter for Gannett/USA Today Network, writing sometimes about home economics and often about history, change, people left behind and the way we live. Which means …

  4. I am about to have a new home! In Durham, N.C., where 83 degrees the first week of October is considered unseasonably warm. Pinch me.

More substance later this month!

I’m justifying my failure to include a recipe on the fact that the cats and I are currently in an Airbnb, where I am dining on bagged salads and other inadequate-kitchenettestuffs. If you have any Twizzler insight, love or hatred, email me. You can order my book The Secret History of Home Economics in hardcover, e-book or audiobook. If someone forwarded this email to you, consider subscribing to it here.

Copyright 2021 Danielle Dreilinger/DreiGoods LLC

Home Work: The murder of a home economist

The history of home economics has drama. It has heroes. It has injustice—a lot. It even has a murder.

But first: Thanks for your concern over my well-being during Hurricane Ida. I actually moved away from New Orleans earlier this summer and am starting to get settled in Durham, North Carolina. If you’re looking for a place to donate, I like Imagine Waterworks. I hope you and yours are OK too after this storm wreaked havoc across the Gulf and east.

And now on to our true-crime story.

The teenage girls must have been so worried. Their chaperone, the teacher in her 20s who had just so proudly received her graduate teaching certificate, had disappeared.

The group had come to the New Homemakers sectional meeting in Tallahassee, the state capital. For some, it might have been the farthest they’d ever gone from their homes in Marianna, Florida, near the Alabama-Georgia line. At Florida A&M University, wearing official NHA blue and white, they would recite the NHA pledge promoting justice in the nation and peace in the world; present their long-worked-on projects for their badges: talked about the national service project, equip a room at the Tuskegee hospital for polio patients; and discuss final preparations for National NHA Week, starting April 10, 1949. Perhaps they’d seen the capitol. All under the eyes of Miss Mary Frances Spears, their first-year, assistant home economics teacher at the Jackson County Training School, who’d helped them all along the way.

But partway through the conference, on a Monday night, Miss Spears went missing. As did their other chaperone, Mr. Edward Rutledge, supervisor of Black schools for the county.

Soon enough, the students didn’t have to wonder about their teacher’s whereabouts anymore. On Tuesday, April 5, the authorities found Spears, dragged to under a turpentine still off Bellaire road, dead from multiple pistol shots to the head. Mr. Rutledge was nowhere to be found. The girls said their two chaperones had gone for a drive in his 1940 Chevrolet.

The entire conference was shocked, as were the FAMU faculty and students. It made no sense. Spears had grown up in Long Branch, also in the Panhandle, one of 13 children born to Joshua Spears and his wife. At a time when only about 15 percent of Black women graduated from high school and less than 5 percent from college, off Spears had gone proudly to Bethune-Cookman College, which the great educator and founder Mary McLeod Bethune herself still led. She’d graduated with a B.S. in home economics just the year before.

“The slain teacher had an active campus record in college, was a good student and was credited with having a high standard of morals,” the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black paper, reported. Spears belonged to the H.E.M.I. Club and the Zeniths. In her senior yearbook portrait, she has wide-set eyes; she looks away from the camera and wears a string of small pearls, with her hair in a pompadour bob, one of 55 graduates. Spears’ murder would have been devastating to the class, W. E. B. Du Bois’ talented tenth.

The white police were grilling Spears’ suitors, but her community might well have feared the very worst. After all, three years earlier, a group of 20 white men in Walton County, Georgia, had dragged two Black couples from a car and murdered them. Just three months later, four young Black men in Groveland, Florida would be falsely accused of kidnapping and rape; two were murdered, two were sentenced to life in prison.

Rutledge was a married father, a pillar of the community: He co-chaired a Red Cross drive and spoke at small local conferences, the Dothan Eagle reported. He had taught for years before returning to earn his bachelor’s degree. Two weeks later his car turned up 160 miles away in Union Springs, Alabama. Despite a two-state hunt, the trail ran cold.

One year later, a hayseed named J.C. Brown arrived in Erin, Tennessee, a small town in the north of the state, looking for farm work. He seemed pretty stupid. The police arrested him on a vagrancy charge, though they released him without prosecution. He also seemed troubled. In the summer of 1951, someone told the sheriff that Brown had been talking about hanging himself.

The sheriff arrived just in time. Brown was unconscious, but alive. In his pocket was a note saying that he was in fact Edward Rutledge, Florida teacher. He’d killed a woman, another teacher. “The note outlined the facts of the slaying in complete detail,” the Nashville Banner reported on July 28, 1951.

The locals couldn’t get over it. “Brown” had “acted kind of dumb and ignorant,” the Houston County sheriff told the Panama City News-Herald on Aug. 1, 1951. “Nobody around here had an idea he was an educated man.”

When “Brown” came to, he first denied knowing anything, then confessed.

Rutledge described a tragic scene. The two had “accumulated many debts and feared losing their jobs,” the Panama City News-Herald wrote. The clear implication is that they were having an affair. Desperate, they agreed to a suicide pact. After Rutledge shot Spears, he chickened out. But haunted by the fear that police would eventually track him down, he had decided to complete the pact.

“He is sick or something mentally wrong,” the Tennessee sheriff said. The Florida authorities indicted Rutledge on a charge of first-degree murder, and the case disappeared from the papers.

That’s Rutledge’s story, and the white police of 1949 evidently bought it. Knowing what we know now about both racist assumptions and domestic violence, I’m not so sure. Perhaps Spears feared disappointing her family, especially in light of her status as a college graduate. Perhaps she was pregnant. But she was just one year out of college, with her whole life ahead of her. She had a job, and with her bachelor’s degree, greater earning potential than most Black women. How many debts could she have accumulated with Rutledge? How could she have accumulated them? The students said she’d been in her usual good spirits at the conference. Isn’t it at least as likely that she’d spurned Rutledge, whether or not they’d ever had an affair, and he killed her in anger, then fled?

We shall never know.

Book News

Labor Day reading alert: My book, and many others, is half off at Barnes & Noble through Monday. This may well be the cheapest option for a physical book until the paperback comes out next spring. So if you read the library book and now want a copy to keep, or to gift, click on over.

Recipe of the Month

Monday is not only Labor Day but the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Apples and honey are among the holiday’s symbolic foods, promising a good and sweet year. That said, I never, over many years, made an apple honey cake that was worth its salt. Until last year, when I Frankensteined two recipes together, we all declared the resulting cake worth eating at any season—dark, dank and spicy—and then I forgot to write down what I did. (Or if I did write it down, I can’t find the notes.) Fortunately, I am still me, despite having really quite the year, and I took one look at the recipes and presumably made the same adjustments I made in 2020.

You’ll be shocked to hear that as usual, this is one of my slapdash affairs.

A note on the apple butter. Really it’s just long-cooked applesauce with some brown sugar. We had gone apple-picking, so I made it from scratch. You don’t have to.

Joan Nathan’s Apple Honey Cake à la DJD

3 c. apple butter or cooked-down applesauce
3/4 c. neutral vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3/4 c. honey, prepared as in step 3 of Samin Nosrat’s Russian Honey Cake recipe
1/4 c. whiskey
2-1/2 c. | 310 g whole-wheat flour
1 t. salt
1-1/2 t. baking soda
3-1/2 t. baking powder
2 t. ground cinnamon
2 t. ground ginger (the pantry spice, not the fresh root)
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cardamom
[all spices are to taste]
Confectioner’s sugar for presentation

Prepare the Bundt pan by either spraying with flour baker’s spray or buttering (margarine for kosher) thickly, then coating with whole-wheat flour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In one bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, vigorously whisk together eggs, applesauce, honey, oil and whiskey. Whisk in the dry ingredients until smooth. Scrape into prepared pan and bake for 50 to 70 minutes or until the cake is firm to the touch and a tester comes out clean. Cool for 30 minutes, then unmold. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Optional extra applesauce on the side.

If you’re a lazy bun like me you can skip the separate bowl and simply pile the dry ingredients on top of the mixed wet ingredients, then gently stri the dry together with a fork before you mix together the whole megillah. If you have problems with this approach, email me. You can order my book The Secret History of Home Economics in hardcover, e-book or audiobook. If someone forwarded this email to you, consider subscribing to it here.

Copyright 2021 Danielle Dreilinger/DreiGoods LLC

Home Work: Quit Dissing the Jell-O Salad

When I began promoting The Secret History of Home Economics, I knew that everyone would ask me about practice babies. (And they have.) But I wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction to the Jell-O salad. Some interviewers referred to the genre with disdain and horror. I’ll admit I started it, by mocking a lemon Jell-O “salad pie” chilled in a shell. In fact, I described that dish as a “terrifying and time-consuming monstrosity” in this very newsletter. And I regret that. Because I have come to be bothered by the food media world’s widespread disrespect for Jell-O salad. Even a salad email newsletter I read last month dissed Jell-O salad.

With their interest in nutrition and efficiency, home economics embraced gelatin salad and desserts from the start. Aspic used to be difficult; you had to boil down hooves, and only the wealthy had the staff time to bother. But powdered gelatin—Knox granulated gelatin dates to 1889, and Jell-O sweetened, granulated gelatin to 1897—made that luxury accessible. The ca. 1900 Nampa, Idaho, Century Club’s domestic science cookbook included Jell-O recipes, clearly straight from the Genesee Pure Food Co.— the giveaway being the lack of a contributor name and the line, “Be sure to use Jell-O, with the name Jell-O in big, red letters on the package.”

A 1903 issue of Home Science magazine advertised the trembling concoction cati-corner to the ad for Murray’s Charcoal Tablets (“Don’t Temporize with Drugs — Use Nature Methods”). Two years later, gelatin salad went viral with the Knox contest-winning Perfection Salad, which included cabbage, shredded onions and bell pepper. Laura Shapiro named an entire book about early home economics food after it.

"While in chemical composition gelatin is similar to proteins, it cannot replace them, and it acts merely as 'energy food' and not at all as a building food," the 1915 textbook The Science of Home Making noted. I do not know whether this nutrition fact has held up, but the lightly modified Perfection Salad recipe later in the book has.

This went on. Especially after food companies began hiring home economists to create recipes that promoted their products, but even beyond that. The 1949 textbook Food for Better Living analyzed gelatin’s protein content (2.5 grams per 2 heaping tablespoons) and gave recipes for gelatin dishes both sweet and savory. In the 1950s, Jell-O came in celery flavor. (I wish they’d bring that back: Imagine the chilled Bloody Mary.) Connie Cahill, a “Betty Newton” who worked for Columbia Gas, offhandedly mentioned Jell-O salad when I asked her, a working mom, about her customers: “Mrs. Homemaker wanted to be home. She wanted to make that terrific gelatin salad.”

Sometimes such salads included mayo, sometimes whipped cream as in this Betty Newton potato salad, sometimes Cool Whip … OK, this sentence exists purely to jam in this video:

Why the hate? Some have analyzed: "The Jell-O mold itself was symbolic of the '50s, molding women into what they were supposed to be, after moving them from wartime jobs," a women's studies professor told Judith Weinraub in a 1997 Washington Post article. Moving from sociology to psychology, humans are invariably embarrassed at past efforts to seem sophisticated, caught out for trying too hard.

But mostly I think it’s a class thing, especially a sneering-from-the-coasts thing. And that’s rude. Jell-O salad is not artisanally produced or plucked fresh that morning. It is Southern and midwestern. Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently praised Jell-O in Deseret Magazine, calling it “a symbol of the state’s peculiar exceptionalism: family, faith and social cohesion. It’s a talisman of the granular norms that provide people with purpose, that make life better.”

Really, what’s not to like? We love sweet flavors mixed with savory, whether that be strawberries with balsamic vinegar/black pepper, pears and endive, peanut butter and jelly, salted caramels, General Tso’s chicken or Chubby Hubby ice cream. Texture-wise, jellied products are popular all over the world—think of Filipino buko pandan, coffee jelly, boba tea. Jell-O salads combine that texture with creaminess and crunch, which is even more appealing.

Food writer Judy Walker told me: Jell-O salads tasted great, they were fancy and companies marketed the heck out of them.

I predict the snobbish scorn may soon reverse. After all, everything comes back in time. Jell-O shots have become chic: Solid Wiggles in NYC is cleaning up via Instagram with concoctions that look like flowers or eyeballs or solar systems, most with booze, $85 for a six-inch cake. I had a bite of one at a birthday party, and it tasted like, emmm, a slightly less sweet Jell-O. Can the Jell-O salad revival be far behind?

Book News

I have two particularly fun book events coming up. On Tuesday, Friendly City Books is hosting a virtual event with the Mississippi University for Women. Archivist Vic Jones is poring through the files for photos to share at the event. Sign up. And on Sunday August 9, I’m appearing on site! at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival. You can buy a day pass … or stay home and watch the livestream.  

And if you want a personalized conversation, invite me! I’m setting up appearances at colleges and conferences for the coming year. I also make free virtual visits to private book groups.

Recipe of the Month

Growing up in the ‘80s in metro NYC, I knew but one Jell-O salad, my maternal grandmother’s, made in a special copper mold for Thanksgiving. Here it is, in Nani’s handwriting, with a few annotations by my mom.

1 small-size pkg. strawberry jello
1-1/4 c. hot water
1/2 c. red wine
1 T lemon juice
1 c. sugar
Dash salt
2 c. raw cranberries, ground
1 c. minced celery
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
Vegetable oil for mold
Salad greens for presentation

Dissolve jello in hot water — add sugar, wine, lemon juice and salt. Stir to dissolve. Cool — then chill. When mixture thickens fold in berries, celery and nuts. Pour into oiled 1 qt. mold and chill until firm. Unmold on crisp salad greens and serve with mayo (optional).

I last made it for Thanksgiving in 2019. Friends tasted with suspicion … then ate with pleasure.

Advance to 5:36 in that Graham Norton clip to hear Seth MacFarlane doing Kermit the Frog doing the speech from Taken. Interested in the cross-stitch pattern I’m designing that says “she wanted to make that terrific gelatin salad”? Email me. You can order my book The Secret History of Home Economics, out now for summer reading! If someone forwarded this email to you, you can subscribe to it here.

Copyright 2021 Danielle Dreilinger/DreiGoods LLC

Home Work: Time for a micro-vacation?

I have once again failed to schedule a vacation for after I’ve finished a lot of work. Last summer, after submitting my 96,000-word manuscript, I turned to all the freelance assignments I’d put on ice. Now I’m writing freelance assignments and moving. (Anyone want to buy a double shotgun in New Orleans, let me know.) So after my book release, I took a breather, not a break.

Lest you think this stunningly modern, the influential magazine Illinois Teacher of Home Economics got there in 1966, when they covered “THE MINI (OR, IF YOU PREFER, PETITE OR MICRO) VACATION.”

“There are mini-skirts, mini-blouses and, according to a recent fashion magazine, even mini-parties. Why not the mini-vacation for those too pressured and dead-line bound for a full-blown vacation?” the journal suggests. The editor proceeded to interview various University of Illinois staffers about their favorite mini-vacations. The list is an inspiration for us all.

One of the hosts of the Comfort Food podcast keeps a list of quick little things she likes to do—really likes, not ought to like—because otherwise when she has 15 minutes she’s too brain-dead even to come up with an idea. (Comfort Food, which I adore, is on hiatus because the hosts are … too busy with paid work and pandemic childcare.)

Some respondents suggested worthy activities such as restoring furniture, gardening, reading and playing a musical instrument—activities we all ought to do. However, my favorites, listed below, are totally and wonderfully useless, and thus ones we might really want to do in our micro-moments. Perhaps one will join your list.

Mary Mather, associate professor
- Observe selection of groceries in baskets at the supermarket and speculate about the situations in which they might be used.

Hazel Taylor Spitze, assistant professor
- Go to a new hairdresser.
- Arrange to be alone in absolute silence for an hour.

Sharron Moody, typist
- Slide down the banister (3 flights).

Joe Burnett, associate professor
- Wish my mini-vacation were not so mini or that I had many more mini-vacations.
- Wonder what I have forgotten to do in order to feel free to take a mini vacation.

Stewart Jones, educational psychology chair
- Daydream about the me that could have been.

Joan Lorenz, clerk-typist and receptionist
- Walk barefoot in fresh-cut grass.
- Look at my old snapshots and cringe.
- Drive without a particular destination.

Pat Esworthy, clerk-typist
- Sit and watch my new dishwasher madly scrubbing my dirty dishes.

J. Myron Atkin, associate dean
- Nostalgic for an accent from another part of the country, I call “information” in that area.

Betty Richards, secretary
- Browse through the latest “Antique Trader” to see what “antiques” I would love to have but couldn’t possibly afford.

Robert D. Cottingham, assistant
- Put on a record by Johnny Rivers and do the twist with only closest friends looking on.

I myself lay in bed for a day and binge-watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, too tired even to read. I feel certain that the university staff would have approved.

Book News

I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reactions to and reviews of The Secret History of Home Economics. If you want to read it in a group, perhaps you’d like Norton’s downloadable book group guide? If you’re driving to the beach for a real vacation, you can now get the audiobook. And I have an event coming up in early June, via Zoom:

Wednesday, June 9
6:30 p.m. Eastern
Ferguson Library — sign up
Stamford, CT
Conversation with Carol Werhan, home economics professor and smart cookie

Recipe of the Month

When I got my copies of the book, I quickly sent some out to various people I’d interviewed. But with Evelyn Birkby, a 101-year-old “radio homemaker,” I waited. As I discuss in the book, radio homemakers were a media mainstay from the 1920s through the ‘60s, at minimum; like today’s shelter bloggers, they were professionals who posed as just-folks housewives. Birkby also wrote a newspaper column, which ran for 70 years. She lost her vision a couple years ago, and I planned to send her the audiobook so she could read unassisted. Tuesday morning, as I wrote that excited email with the audiobook link, I learned that she passed away in February.

It’s Birkby who told me (and everyone), “always include a recipe.” Ironically, she was a pretty crummy cook when she began writing newspaper vignettes in the 1940s. She admitted it, and asked readers and listeners to send their favorites, which they did.

From Birkby’s obituary: Evelyn's son Craig remembers that when his mother was testing recipes, the family never saw the same dish twice. "If it was good, she put it in her column and moved on," he said. "If it was a disaster, you could go get a bowl of breakfast food out of the cupboard."

Alas, her obituary did not include a recipe. So here’s one of Birkby’s late husband’s favorites, taken from her website. I made an ice cream parfait sort of thing from the remnants of my Old Buggaz Martini Club book party cake, so this speaks to me.

Crispy Ice Cream Bar

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
4 cups crisp rice cereal
Vanilla ice cream

Melt butter or margarine. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Turn off heat. Add nuts and rice cereal and stir to coat. Spoon half the mixture into a 9-by 13-inch pan. Slice squares of vanilla ice cream and make a layer of the squares over the rice crispy mix. Sprinkle remaining mixture over top of ice cream layer. Freeze. Cover top with aluminum foil to store for any length of time in the freezer. When ready to serve, cut into squares.

Alternatively, you’re taking a micro-vacation. Get takeout! Ellen Swallow Richards, a founding mother of home economics, would approve. She opened a proto–Boston Market in the 1890s so that working people didn’t have to cook at night.

When my birthday fell during Passover as a kid, I had a Carvel cake (I guess we ignored the cookie crumbs?), and I still love them the best. Ice cream cake competitors? Memories of radio homemakers? Email me. You can order my book The Secret History of Home Economics, out now for summer reading! If someone forwarded this email to you, you can subscribe to it here.

Copyright 2021 Danielle Dreilinger/DreiGoods LLC

Home Work: My book is here!

at last at last at last

Just a brief note because … it’s May 4. Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! And happy pub date for The Secret History of Home Economics!

I am so thrilled by the amazing press it’s received so far, and so excited for you all to read the book at last. Such unexpectedly fortuitous timing to kick up a conversation about home ec.

I hope you’ll join me and some very smart women for a virtual book tour this week. Your options, with signup links, are …

We’ll cover such hot topics as why it’s fine that you let your early-pandemic sourdough starter die and the ever-boggling practice baby, plus whatever questions you submit. We’re also raffling off cross-stitch kits, designed by me and assembled by publicist Erin. Yes, while procrastinating on the book, I made several cheeky (and totally unproductive) home ec–themed cross-stitch patterns.

Some of you have asked about getting a signed copy. The fastest way is to order a book through one of these stores, or the stores hosting my events in June. Or if you can wait a while, I am happily fully vaccinated and will soon be opening my calendar for in-person fall speaking engagements.

Before I forget, I’d love it if you would recommend that your library buy a copy, either physical or digital.

Happy reading!

p.s. It’s also GiveNOLA Day — our area code is 504, get it? If you have not already cleared out your May charitable gifts quota donating to India COVID support and teachers, there are many worthy New Orleans causes that would appreciate your support. New Orleans was a tough place to live for a lot of people even before the pandemic destroyed the hospitality industry.

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