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Jennie Benedict and The Blue Ribbon Cookbook

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The joys of historical research include unexpected discoveries that pop up as you pursue a topic. You may begin looking up one thing and end up at a completely new destination, all the while learning new things and having a great deal of fun doing it.

One such detour began when I was working on a story about the Kentucky Derby. I read about the famous Benedictine Sandwich, served on Derby day in Kentucky, that was created by Jennie Benedict. Because of that I bought her wonderful Blue Ribbon Cookbook, originally written in 1902 and re-done in 1922.

Jennie Benedict was born in 1860. After attending Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School, she built a 256-square-foot kitchen with a 48-square-foot pantry in her backyard in 1893 (with no running water!) for what she thought was an excessive $316.85 so she could better serve her catering clientele.

She was so good at making her cakes (especially her famous fruit cake), candies and fancy sandwiches that she moved to a posh downtown Louisville address in 1900 and opened a tearoom that flourished and became much loved. “Miss Jennie” was so successful that she was the first woman to hold a membership on the Louisville Board of Trade and was an active humanitarian until her death in 1928. She had retired three years before to her house, Dream Acre, where she wrote her autobiography, The Road to Dream Acre.

She never married and yet was said to love children; she started selling the first school lunches in Louisville from a pushcart filled with her famous chicken salad sandwiches. Her unusual mayonnaise (made with cooked, grated egg yolk and raw egg and sold by the jar at her shop) and equal proportions of celery and cooked chicken were the secret. It was simple and delicious and popular. Generations of Louisville children remember them.

Her book is rich with recipes with no folderol, just clean concise recipes and advice on menus for small to large parties, luncheons, dainty menus, and simple dishes for the sick.

So many of these have become classics today, like her fruit cake, cheese and nut sandwiches, tomato jelly, and a simple stuffed eggplant. There are some like Cocoa Cordial (originally a restorative for invalids) that are buried treasures.

Chicken Salad Sandwich
Cut up equal portions of chicken and celery fine. Mix with mayonnaise and spread between bread.

Cheese and Nut Sandwich
Spread bread with mayonnaise, mix Neufchatel and nuts together and spread between the bread.

Yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg

Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 small bottle of olive oil (1/2 cup?)
1 t. mustard
yolk of raw egg well beaten
vinegar to taste
white of one egg beaten stiffly

Rub yolk through a sieve. Add mustard, salt and pepper, and raw yolk. Add the oil and the vinegar slowly and lastly the egg white

Cocoa Cordial (non-invalid version)
3 t. cocoa
3 t. sugar
½ c. boiling water
3 T port wine
Mix cocoa and sugar and add enough water to make a paste, stir in the rest of the water and heat, then add wine.

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  • Deana…Wow, I had no idea you had gone through the process. Congrats on an amazing first article and being chosen Editor’s pick. Beautifully written, in your unique style. I could go for a cocoa cordial right about now.


  • denise fletcher

    It is a strange yet frequent occurence how we set out in search of one thing and end up with different, unexpected treasures in our hands!

    I loved this wonderful, warmly written article that I feel captures the spirit of it’s subject beautifully! And, I am completely intrigued by the Cocoa Cordial – something Ive never heard of before today.

    Congratulations on being Editor’s Pick! Well deserved indeed.

  • Hey Deana, I’m with Denise on this one. What a beautifully written post, and I am very interested in seeing this cookbook by Ms. Jennie Benedict. She certainly led an interesting life…
    By the way, how much vinegar did you use when you made this mayo? I’ve never made homemade mayo, so I’m a bit timid to try it with no measurement. I’d like to though…

  • Thanks for visiting everyone…. Stella, I would say 1-2 T. I was thrown by small bottle myself. Normally it is 2 yolk to 1 cup oil and 2-3 vinegar or lemon. People used to smuggle this stuff it was so good! Her recipe is very unusual with the cooked yolk and beaten white… that’s what makes it special! Love to hear how you like it… i did think she was a sweet lady, she reminded me of Auntie Em!

  • Gary Shelton

    Such a well written article; it had me glued in from start to finish. Definitely worthy of an Editor’s Pick.

    Well done.