The cover of Belle McDonald’s 1913 cookbook. Courtesy of MSU Special Collections
Exploring Bozeman’s Past Through Cooking
In 2018, I looked through a window into history I’d never considered: cookbooks. Specifi cally, two Bozeman-area cookbooks— Emma Willson’s cookbook from 1916, and Belle McDonald’s from 1913. While researching Bozeman’s food history for my undergraduate thesis at MSU, I had found something better than volumes of text about these women. Through lists of ingredients and step-by-step instructions, I was given an intimate look into the lives of two area women living more than a century ago.
Want to know someone really well? Make one of their recipes. Food is intimate. We use it to nurture and show our closeness to others. Just like when you take a bite of your grandmother’s gingerbread recipe and the memories of Christmas at her house come flooding back, food can reach across time and space, a delicious way to connect us to the past.
Mrs. Wilson’s Maple Pudding
Picture this: You’re a 28-year-old classically trained opera singer, newly married, and your husband, Lester Willson, has just brought you to the tent camp of Bozeman in the Montana Territory.
Mrs. Koch’s Sponge Cake
If you’re looking for something sweet but a bit lighter than maple pudding, Mrs. Koch’s Sponge Cake might be just the treat for you.
Belle and her two sisters helped form Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Study Club, a local chapter of the Montana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs (MFCWC). Their club encouraged women’s suffrage, raised community funds, provided books to the local library, and actively spoke out against discriminatory racial laws.