Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita’s oldest cooking club celebrates 125 years

Wichita’s Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club celebrated its 125th anniversary this past week by poring over pictures of meetings from the past, including this snapshot from 1957.
Wichita’s Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club celebrated its 125th anniversary this past week by poring over pictures of meetings from the past, including this snapshot from 1957. Courtesy photo

They discussed the merits of real mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip, the untimely demise of Wichita’s Fresh Market grocery store and which stores might still carry puff pastry cups.

They congratulated each other on soon-to-arrive grandchildren, shared news of friends on exotic vacations and tried to remember which one of them had the best lemon pie recipe.

It was another Thursday afternoon at the Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club – an exclusive group of Wichita women famous for their monthly gatherings and culinary prowess. But this Thursday afternoon was special – they were celebrating the club’s 125th anniversary with a formal luncheon that included a professional group photo, champagne punch and – for once – food they didn’t prepare themselves.

The Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club, a group originally formed in Wichita in 1891, had 28 people at its anniversary luncheon on Thursday at Crestview Country Club, including all of the 24 current members who weren’t off on exotic vacations, plus several past members.

The club is made up mostly of retirement-age women, and becoming a member requires a nomination and a vote. Membership is limited to 24 people, and new members are only brought in when someone drops out. A new member hasn’t been added in years.

Each month, three of the members host and cook a luncheon that’s served following age-old etiquette rules, a practice so rare and fascinating in the modern day that the club caught the attention of the New York Times, who last year featured it in a full-page color spread in the newspaper.

“Everyone enjoys being in someone else’s home, and there’s so little of that being done today,” said club president Penny Moss. “It does take time and effort.”

On Thursday, the ladies gathered at formally decorated tables, complete with hydrangea centerpieces and ribbon-wrapped napkins. They were served a menu of club favorites, including a cold cucumber soup, a strawberry and Romaine salad and a three-cheese spinach quiche.

As they dined, they passed around menus listing meals served at club meetings over the decades. Creamed asparagus on toast at Mrs. Black’s house in 1910. Cheese pimento salad enjoyed at Mrs. Garst’s house in 1924. Cream of celery soup in the 1930s. Breaded pork chops in the 1960s. Tomato pudding in the 1980s.

They pored over scrapbooks filled with black-and-white group photos of members from the past. They calculated how old they’d be at the club’s 150th anniversary luncheon, and they joked that the group photo they were posing for would be discussed by future members, who would likely laugh at their 2016 clothes and hair.

Becky Ritchey, who’s been in the club for 20 years, said that being part of a group with such a long history has been an important part of her life.

When she joined, she was in her 50s, and she met and befriended women who were younger and older.

“I really like that about the club,” she said. “And I also love just the fun of learning about food and recipes.”

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

Current members of the Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club

Anne Allen, Gretchen Andeel, Nancy Brammer, Marla Chandler, Ruthie Gillespie, Nancy Gustavson, Trudy Haag, Margaret Houston, Chris Kubik, Jane Kuhlmann, Pam Lester, Jodie Louis, Fawn McDonough, Barbara Mohney, Melody Moore, Penny Moss, Mary Ellen Randall, Jan Randle, Becky Ritchey, Lou Ann Ritchie, Sondra Robison, Mary Schurman, Candace Stultz, Marilyn Wells