It seems everyone handled the shelter-in-place order a little differently. Some used the time to complete some long overdue home projects, others used the time to exercise or learn languages. Many in the library and archives profession got crafty. Sadly for me, I never managed to learn knitting or crocheting and my artistic skills never seemed to develop. But I did manage to exit lockdown with a stronger set of culinary skills.
Inspired by the countless women on cooking shows and women who authored cookbooks, I spent my time at home learning basic skills like how to poach an egg to more advanced skills like how to spatchcock a turkey. I baked cookies, cakes, and pies, and cooked everything from Korean beef tacos to a lobster linguine. What I really enjoyed though, was seeing trending stories on social media of historical societies, and libraries posting old recipes, such as the depression era peanut butter bread online.
Upon returning to work, and knowing that the Archives of Women of the Southwest was chock-full of talented culinary women, I was excited to see what I might stumble across in the stacks that might lead to my next kitchen adventure.
Lucille Elizabeth Bishop Smith (1892–1985) was an African American entrepreneur, chef, and inventor of the first hot biscuit mix. She worked as a caterer, a food demonstrator, a pastry chef, and a dietician. In 1927, the Fort Worth school system hired Smith as a teacher-coordinator for a vocational education program designed to prepare African-American students for domestic service jobs.
Ten years later, Prairie View State College hired Smith as the teacher trainer of industrial education. During that time she wrote and compiled several service manuals which were later approved by the University of Texas system and adopted throughout the state.
In 1941 Smith published her first recipes as a boxed set of cards called Lucille’s Treasure Chest of Fine Foods. The preface of the 1945 edition of her recipe cards states that the recipes “were once private records for personal gain” but now published “with the hope that they will aid persons interesting in lifting culinary art from the commonplace.” It was during the 1940s that Smith invented her All Purpose Hot Roll Mix as a fundraiser for her local church.
During the Vietnam War, Smith baked more than 300 fruit cakes to send to each of the enlisted personnel serving in the war from Tarrant County. She completed the baking project in one week as part of the “gift lift”. The next year the city honored her and proclaimed a “Lucille B. Smith Day.”
Despite living and working in the Jim Crow era, Smith carved out a space for herself. She was the first African-American woman to join the Fort Worth Chamber of Congress, she was named to the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1969, and she founded the Lucille B. Smith’s Fine Foods Corporation in 1974 at the age of 82. A celebrated woman entrepreneur, and chef, Lucille B. Smith passed away in 1985 at the age of 92.
Established in 1993, the Archives of Women of the Southwest is one of the special collections of DeGolyer Library. The primary mission of the Archives of Women of the Southwest is to document the historical experience of women in the Southwest, with special emphasis on Dallas and North Texas, as well as a regional focus.
For access to these collections, to learn more about the women of the southwest, or to try your hand at recipe from one of the many pioneering women chefs in history, be sure to Contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information or assistance.