Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Hostess with the Mostest: Harriet Shepardson’s Pink and Silver Evening Gown

By Jack Kabrud, Hennepin History Museum curator

This dress, a classic 1920s fantasy of white and pink chiffon heavily embellished with sparkling silver metallic embroidery, silver tissue leaves, and silver bead flowers with a pink and silver nosegay at the shoulder, was owned and worn by Harriet Shepardson.

Ms. Shepardson was the wife of Professor George Shepardson who organized and served as head of the electrical engineering department at the University of Minnesota. She attended many university events on her husband’s arm, and her role as hostess was officially recognized and codified when University President Cyrus Northrop asked her to serve as official hostess at university events.

President Northrop specifically mentioned that she would be a wonderful asset because of the beautiful gowns that she frequently appeared in. Harriet Shepardson continued in her role as hostess long after President Northrop’s 1911 retirement. She wore this gown in 1923.

The gown was donated to Hennepin History Museum in 1963 by Mary K. Shepardson.

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Hungry for History: Pie Edition

Did you know that Hennepin History Museum is home to an extensive historic cookbook collection? The collection includes dozens of community cookbooks created by local churches, hospitals, schools, businesses, and other organizations, as well as cookbooks  by local authors or featuring local restaurants and advertising cookbooks or recipe booklets distributed by Hennepin County companies.

Betty Crocker Pie & Pastry book 1968

Included in this cookbook collection is an extensive run of General Mills and Pillsbury cookbooks, including this first edition of Betty Crocker’s Pie and Pastry Cookbook. Cookbooks like this had a national appeal; you were as likely to find it on the shelf of a resident in Texas, New York, or Montana as you were Minneapolis, Minnetrista, or Maple Grove. But residents here, unlike those of those farther-flung locations, were able to call General Mills their hometown company.

Cookbooks like this – in addition to being a font of inspiration for your next dinner party – provide insights into daily life and changing American culture. Betty Crocker’s Pie and Pastry Cookbook was first published in 1968, joining 11 other cookbooks on the General Mills cookbook shelf. The company had observed many changes since the first Betty Crocker cookbook was published in 1950. According to an interview in the 1968 Minneapolis Journal, some of these highlights included:

  • More women worked outside of the home
  • More Americans traveled, both domestically and internationally
  • Americans were increasingly interested in outdoor life, including camping and  barbeques
  • People had more free time, as well as a greater interest in trying new foods
  • More Americans were increasingly cooking with wine

Betty Crocker’s Pie & Pastry Cookbook retailed for $2.95. Contents included holiday staples such as the “Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie” shown above, as well as a cheeseburger pie, grasshopper pie, jam tartlets, and a wide variety of other sweet and savory pies and pastries. The recipes in this and other Betty Crocker cookbooks were tested and developed in the General Mills company kitchens in Golden Valley.

What about you? Do you have Betty Crocker memories? Favorite pie recipes, past or present? Please share your memories in the comment section below.

Did you know that we depend on individuals like you to fund our operations, including maintaining our library and archives? Please consider making a gift today to support local history. Every dollar makes a difference. Click here to support Hennepin History Museum 

Sweet Treats and Baklava: A Brief History of the J.G. Villas Confectionary Shop

By Jack Kabrud, Hennepin History Museum curator

Demetrios Giorgos Villas was born in Niata Greece in 1883. He immigrated to the United States, alone, at the age of twelve, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1895. During the cold of his first winter in America he slept in doorways, sometimes waking to find his hair frozen to the pavement. In the spring he began to sell fruit on the streets, saving what he could, until he earned enough for passage to Minneapolis. He spoke no English and travelled on the train with his destination and name pinned to his jacket.

Upon his arrival in Minneapolis he began working for, and learned his trade, at the Boosalis fruit brokerage firm. By 1910 he, along with his wife Caroline, had established their own business, the J.G Villas confectionary store, at 135 South 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.

The store became a destination point for downtown shoppers, including future Minneapolis Star columnist Cedric Adams. Adams was so impressed by the store that nearly half a century later, in 1958, he wrote in his regular column

“On the site of the present Baker Building there was a Greek candy store and ice cream parlor with its huge electric fans hanging from the ceiling, its windows filled with fresh chocolates and bon bons, and its white-aproned Greek proprietor behind the soda fountain. Grandpa Adams and I made it over there two or three times during my visits for a chocolate soda. I haven’t tasted chocolate like that since.”

The stock market crash in 1929 hit the business hard. By the mid-1930s J.G Villas was forced out of business. Villas then went to work for the Phil Malay company as a produce broker.

These four confectionary jars were used in the J.G Villas confectionary store from 1910 to the mid-1930s. The jars were made purely for function and not decoration. They are made of thick, clear, unfrosted, and un-embellished glass, with the intention of showing off their tasty, and often beautiful, contents.

The jars were given to Villas’ daughter, Jeanne Villas Dorsey, (incidentally, the best Spanakopita maker I ever knew) and from her, to his three granddaughters, Caroline Dorsey Truth, Patricia Dorsey Nanoff, and Mary Jeanne Dorsey, who gave them to Hennepin History Museum in 2008

 

From Stove to Pieces and Back Again: Reuniting a Dismembered Stove at HHM

Sometimes the most interesting part of an object is the mystery surround it.

We don’t know much about the origins or history of the caboose stove that is today’s Object Lesson, but up until very recently, we didn’t know that it even was a caboose stove!

Chimney with Agitator

Part of the caboose stove as we found it in the garage.

While cataloging the garage at HHM, we encountered several pieces of cast iron, each weighing over a hundred pounds and barely moveable. While we could see that the pieces clearly went together somehow, we couldn’t assemble the pieces in any coherent way because of their size and weight—and because they were impossible to make heads or tails of!

The domed chimney with a door clearly suggested oven, but the bottom of that piece was open which didn’t seem right. The disc piece could have covered the bottom of the domed piece, but it didn’t sit snuggly on the bottom, so that wasn’t right. The other three pieces, though they had the same heft and color as the dome and disc, but didn’t seem to neatly make any logical whole.

In my work at HHM (and in life more generally), I have learned that the smartest move you can make when you aren’t sure about something is to surround yourself with smart and/or creative people then shut up and listen. Our breakthrough on the caboose stove came when our very clever intern, Floris, theorized it was indeed a stove and, since one piece was stamped with Central Railway, tried googling “train” and “stove.”

A few minutes later, she had a picture of a similar-looking artifact on her phone. From there, puzzling out how the stove fit together was a piece of cake and suddenly a mystery of the collection was solved!

This caboose stove was once used in a caboose that traveled the Iowa Central Railway, probably around the turn of the 20th century, judging by images of similar caboose stoves.

Caboose Stove in Use

These stoves were bolted directly to the train floor and featured other design features that make them specially adapted to use on a moving train. A lip on the top to kept pots and pans from sliding off the stove, and a double-latching door prevented an accident involving the coals that would move as the caboose rocked back and forth on the rails.

Author Bio

Heather Hoagland is the Collections Manager at Hennepin History Museum. She has a Masters in Museum Studies from George Washington University. Before joining the staff at HHM, she worked at Ford’s Theatre and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.