The Benevolent Women of Worthington in the Kitchen

By Kate Bavelock

Preparing meals each night in a kitchen where others have cooked for over 200 years, I sometimes wonder about their lives, and their dinners.

In the Worthington Historical Society collection is the Worthington Cook Book, published by the Women’s Benevolent Society around 1911. (To download the entire book in a keyword-searchable PDF, follow this link and click the book image; for an index to the cookbook’s contributors, follow this link the click the image.) It is an interesting peek into what foods were available and how they were prepared at a time when almost every meal was made from scratch. For this mundane task, they may have felt the need for fresh ideas and positive thoughts as they fed their families day in and day out.



Here are the book’s closing words:



This verse can be found in newspaper advertisements around the country starting in 1894, with the final line “She uses Cleveland’s Baking Powder” (and “broil” instead of “boil”). The verse was adapted to sell other products, including cooking stoves.


Newspaper advertisement, Brooklyn Life, November 17, 1894.

While neatness and sweetness of temper are out of fashion as character virtues, the quote is interesting in the context of women supporting and uplifting one another’s daily work.

The Women’s Benevolent Society was a committee of the Worthington Congregational Church and operated from 1894 until their final meeting on June 16, 1992. Their stated purpose was to “assist in the maintenance of public worship of the Worthington Congregational Church and aid in general advancement of the interests of the parish.” They raised funds for the church, ran the church fair, and owned and managed the church’s parsonage for over 50 years.


Quilting session for the Women’s Benevolent Society of Worthington, 1939.

The surnames of the women submitting recipes will be familiar to many locals – Osgood, Porter, Rice, Pease, Bates, Ames, Cole and Prentice among them. Readers today can search the book for bylines of family members or women linked to a certain property.


Helen Magargal, who taught at the Conwell elementary school, in her kitchen.

The women of Worthington mostly kept things simple with biscuits, soups and cakes in abundance. Chicken, eggs, pork and beef were typical meals, as well as venison and rabbit. Most of the chicken recipes included what to do with the feet (which added flavor and gelling properties to broth), indicating that home cooks were working with whole chickens instead of the trimmed parts used these days. They had access to fresh fish such as cod and halibut, in addition to local brook trout. However, salmon and oysters all seemed to be from a can, as were tropical ingredients such as coconut and pineapple.

They had their frugal moments, such as these:



By contrast, Mrs. Florence Day Stevenson was a more advanced cook whose repertoire included Vienna Bread and Blanc Mange, and Mrs. Horace Bartlett was whipping up Meat Croquettes with a Cream Sauce. Mrs. Bartlett’s culinary expertise came from her years in the hospitality business as an innkeeper and later as head cook at the Worthington Inn/Lafayette Lodge.


Mrs. Horace Bartlett (née Caroline Graves, d. 1925) at “The Spruces” at Worthington Corners.

Some other recipes may surprise us today. In this unsigned recipe for walnut sandwiches, “graham bread” refers to whole wheat bread inspired by the teachings of 19th-century health reformer Sylvester Graham:



The following Pork Cake recipe was found in the cake chapter, not the meat chapter:



This last one caught my eye, as the term “mountain dew” was slang for moonshine at the time, and the lemon-lime soft drink had not been invented. If you know how this pudding was named – or have an educated guess – enter your comment below.

The Worthington Cook Book also has a chapter for homemade wines, including dandelion, elder flower and blackberry. Fermenting fruit juice, especially apples into hard cider, was a deeply entrenched part of food preservation in early New England and persisted into the 20th century.


A summer kitchen in Worthington, date unknown.

As you may notice, the recipes are written conversationally, with fewer specifics than recipes today. For example, oven temperatures and which pan to use are left to the cook’s own experience and judgment.

The final chapter of household “Suggestions” is odd and interesting. Heating carbolic acid extracted from coal tar or burning pyrethrum to rid your house of flies are tips probably best left in the past. But “clean your kettles with small pebbles instead of shot” might be worth a try.



And what was cooking in my old farmhouse in West Worthington? The above-mentioned Bean Patties must have made an appearance. Alice Cross, a neighbor and granddaughter of the residents, submitted a recipe for Spiced Green Tomato. Some things never change. Lots of green tomatoes are always left at the end of the growing season, and I plan to try Alice’s recipe in fall.




Kate Bavelock is a member of the Historical Society board and has lived in Worthington for six years. She is recently retired from a career in non-profit management and enjoys vegetable and fruit growing, as well as sharing her homestead with a motley crew of chickens, ducks, cats and a hound dog.

Posted on February 15, 2024.

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