For this week’s cooking, we venture to historic Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg’s, Post, Ralston-Purina, the dry flaked breakfast cereal, and the famed Battle Creek Sanitorium (immortalized in T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville). Peacock Pie and Other Perfections was published by the Junior League of Battle Creek in 1965, and is every bit as colorful as its city’s history, if a tad less eccentric.
Though the cookbook contains a variety of traditional 1960s fare, including more aspics than you can shake a stick at, it also has a section devoted to recipes distributed by the Post, Kellogg, and Ralston-Purina companies, meals served at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and recipes created by Edith and Mary Barber and Ida Jean Kain, all former Sanitarium or Kellogg Company dieticians who cultivated a national audience for their ideas on healthful eating.
So, in the interest of capturing the historical spirit of things, those are the recipes I’ll be preparing this week. After all, the Progressive Era was a time when home cooks brushed aside their grandmother’s recipes in favor of “scientific cooking,” tried in laboratory kitchens and vetted for their general nutritiousness and absence of all toxins likely to angry up the blood.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s take a moment to talk about about the Kellogg brothers and their wonderful Sanitarium (called “the San” by those in the know).
The Battle Creek Sanitarium first opened in the 1860s, with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg coming aboard in 1876 as a Superintendent with star power and a freshly minted medical degree to boot. He was a Seventh-Day Adventist who promoted a strict regimen of vegetarianism, exercise, abstention from tobacco, strong drink, and self-abuse, enemas administered several times daily, and large quantities of yogurt (sometimes administered as enemas). Though he and his wife, Ella, would raise over 40 adopted children, it is fairly likely that the two never actually consumated their marriage due to Kellogg’s strong views on the general harmfulness of intercourse.
His brother, William Keith Kellogg, would later join him at the San as business manager. Along the way, the two discovered quite by accident the method for making dry, flaked grain cereal, a process that quickly spawned a hoard of unscrupulous imitators, possibly including C.W. Post, a former Sanitarium patient. By the turn of the century, approximately 42 cereal start-ups had landed in Battle Creek, although in Peacock Pie and Other Perfections, Mrs. Stanley T. Lowe tells us that “most of their founders were hustlers with little to sell and their careers were brief.”
Post may have been a rip-off artist, or a geniunely inspired and grateful former patient, but there’s no denying the staying power of his delicious Grape-Nuts (although other early flagship products, Postum and Post Toasties were recently discontinued).
If you’d like to learn more about the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Boyle’s The Road to Wellville is well-researched and immensely entertaining, though it’s hard to compete with the real thing. A digitized copy of John Harvey Kellogg’s The Battle Creek Sanitarium System: History, Organization, Methods (1908) is available for your viewing pleasure through Google Books, and it’s quite the read.
So, bravely forward for a week of Fletcherizing, hydrotherapy, phototherapy, and medical gymnastics, yogurt enemas strictly optional.