Herman B Wells’s Gastronomical Exploits

This post was researched by Emma McCall, distance education student at Simmons College. This semester she is spending time at the University Archives to fulfill her practicum requirements – many thanks to her for her work on this post!

Students! Are you feeling a little homesick? Missing your favorite home cooked meal? The IU Archives has the solution.

It’s well known that Herman B Wells (Indiana University President, 1937-1962; University Chancellor, 1962-2000) left a lasting impression on the faculty, staff, and students of Indiana University. His contributions were many, including his immense involvement with campus organizations, fundraising, promotion of fine arts, and the cultivation of many personal acquaintances. What’s often at the heart of all these connections? FOOD.

Recipe box and cards
Wells House recipe box and cards; Photo by Michelle Crowe, IU Libraries.

Each First Thursday event this year, the IU Libraries is sharing a recipe card reproduced from the Herman B Wells House recipe collection at the University Archives. This fantastic collection of recipes were collected over the years by Herman B Wells and his housekeeping/cooking staff, including Matilda “Tillie” Hopkins, Mary Jo Chandler, and others. One thing that is immediately apparent from the collection is that Wells loved his sweets, especially sugar cream pie and persimmon pudding, for which there are several recipes. A recipe for “Old-Fashioned Apple Dumplings”, clipped from a newspaper, includes the handwritten note “HBW wants this!” Another recipe for “Fresh Peach Cobbler with Hard Sauce” simply says “Keep always.”

While the collection contains timeless comfort foods such as baked chicken, potato salad, apple crisps and chocolate syrup, there are a few recipes that stand out as…let’s say “vintage”… to a 21st century observer, such as Eggs Huntington (casserole made with hard boiled eggs), cheese dainties (a savory Rice Krispie treat), and snow peas stuffed with herb cheese (you can use your leftover cream cheese for…just kidding, there is no leftover cream cheese!). And let’s not overlook the ever-so popular JELL-O mold craze that swept the nation in the late 1940s, either. Wells’s kitchen staff served Molded Fresh Seafood Salad, Molded Fruit Salad, and Chambo (Tilapia) Mousse, to name a few!

Thanks to event calendars (1938-1961) found within Wells’s personal papers at the University Archives, we know that the foods represented in the recipes collection were shared with a wide range of visitors to IU over the years. Throughout the 20+ years covered by the event calendars, Wells hosted lunch buffets, suppers, breakfasts and teas at about an average of fifteen times each year! They ranged from receptions for IU faculty, staff, and students, commencement receptions, and military appreciations to serving presidents and chairpersons of local and national organizations, representatives from other universities, and dignitaries from around the world. He also hosted international student dinners when traveling home during winter break wasn’t an option for them.

Anita Jackson at the home of Herman B Wells, circa 1980. IU Archives P0083094

Within the event calendars, Wells’s secretary meticulously documented the names of events, locations, dates and times, and the menus. Some of the events where we spotted Wells’s recipes include:

Supper in honor of the Sevitskys and Francescatti of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 1941: Egg Huntington, Coleslaw, Chocolate Cake, and Creamed Sweetbreads with Vinegar and Herbs in a Patty Shell

Sigma Nu Buffet of 1943: Baked Chicken and Potato Salad.

Boy Scouts Executive Luncheon of 1947: Baked Corn

Student Conflict Council Buffet of 1949 were served: Nuts (yes, there is a recipe for this!)

NEA Group Buffet Supper of 1950: Small Cornbread Muffins and Chicken Breast

The Herman B Wells House recipe collection and Wells’s event calendars are available to view at the University Archives – reach out to schedule a time to take a look!

We leave you with a gingersnaps recipe and hope you will also join the IU Libraries for our next First Thursday event on November 4. Stop by the Libraries booth to pick up a recipe for Baked Squash Casserole, which just might be perfect for your holiday table!

INDIANA UNIVERSITY INTERDEPARTMENTAL COMMUNICATION

TO: Herman B Wells

DEPT. University Chancellor

FROM: Harry Gonso.

DEPT. University Chancellor

SUBJ. Ginger-snap cookie recipe

DATE. June 5, 1973

To let you know what you have been eating and how they are made, Jonni sends

you her famous ginger-snap cookie recipe.

4 cups flour

2 tea. baking soda

2 tea. cinnamon

2 tea. ground cloves

2 tea. ginger

3/4 cup butter

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

2 3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup molasses

2 eggs

1.grease sheet; preheat oven at 350°

2. sift flour and spices together and set aside in a separate bowl

3. cream butter and shortening; gradually add 2 cups sugar and beat vigorously

4. thoroughly beat in eggs and molasses

5. stir in gradually the flour mixture

6. take dough, roll into balls in palm of hand and coat with the remaining sugar

7. bake approximately 10-11 minutes or until done at 350°.