By all that is sacred in our hopes for the human race, I conjure those who love happiness and truth to give a fair trial to the vegetable system- Percy Bysshe Shelley.
When I asked our culinary specialist, Alison Kelly, for advice for a Thanksgiving blog post she eagerly shared with me The Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner from one of her favorite community cookbooks, the Raisin Center Cook Book (1904). This cookbook is listed in her reference guide: American Church, Club, and Community Cookbooks, which highlights the Library’s digitized versions of these publications. They date back to the Civil War era and became a popular means of raising funds for church and women’s groups.
The Raisin Center Cook Book was compiled by the Fowler Improvement Association (FIA), a women’s club that was founded in 1890. Incorporated in 1908, Fowler is a city located in the rich agricultural San Joaquin Valley of Central California-near the city of Fresno. The FIA published this cookbook in order to advance their causes of raising money for a club house and library in Fowler.
According to the cook book’s preface
The Fowler Improvement Association present this book to their friends with the hope that their effort to build a club house and extend their library may be looked upon with favor. Special attention has been given to the meatless department and to fruits and raisins, the products of the raisin center. It is hoped that it may prove a valuable assistant to many.
The vegetarian Thanksgiving menu appears in the Meals without Meat section written by Mrs. Antoinette “Nettie” Harris. Mrs. Harris, who became known as the ‘First Lady’ of Fowler, planted 700 trees in Fowler and created its first park. Her husband, Amos Harris was the first farmer in Fowler and planted raisin grapes and other fruit orchards.
Not only does Mrs. Harris include recipes for meals without meat, but she also writes an essay about the nutritional theory and philosophy of a vegetarian diet, citing the work of Professor Wilbur Olin Atwater. If you are not familiar with Professor Atwater’s work, he was an agricultural chemist who helped establish the first agricultural experimentation station in the United States. His efforts were instrumental to Congress establishing the Hatch Act of 1887, which provides federal funding for every state to have one agricultural experimentation station. Early in his career he studied fertilizers, but then moved on to the study of the calorific value of food (calorimeter) and the science of nutrition.
Although Mrs. Harris didn’t feature a recipe for tofurkey, she included two recipes for a vegetable turkey using mashed chestnuts or eggplant
with baked in a buttered dish.
Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!