What’s Cooking at Columbia: A Recipe Book

What’s Cooking at Columbia, A Recipe Book, 1948. University Archives.

In 1942, the Columbia University Committee for War Relief published a recipe book containing the favorite dishes of Columbia’s faculty, entitled What’s Cooking at Columbia. The book sold for one dollar at the campus bookstore and according to the student newspaper, The Daily Spectator, all proceeds from the book went “to help cook Hitler’s goose.” The very first recipe in the volume, with the author’s handwritten note (“This is my favorite recipe.”) and signature, was President Nicholas Murray Butler’s Jamaica Pepper Pot Soup. So just how spicy was his Jamaican soup? While Butler calls for both “red (cayenne) pepper” and white pepper, he does not specify amounts. The cookbook also includes recipes from such campus icons as Harry J. Carman and Jacques Barzun but most were contributed by the faculty wives and, in one notable exception, by Marie, housekeeper for Irwin Edman. She did not have her last name included but, at least, the New York Times highlighted Marie’s recipe for a light-as-a-dream chicken soufflé.

In October 1948 a new edition of What’s Cooking at Columbia was published. Under the direction of the Columbia Committee for Community Service, proceeds from the sale of this later edition were distributed to various projects including the War Relief Fund and the Manhattanville Community Center. The first recipe in this collection is for a Vegetable Soup from the new University President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His is a rather unconventional recipe: there is no list of ingredients or amounts, the text takes up two pages and, perhaps fittingly, the recipe takes two days. Eisenhower narrates the steps as in a conversation and offers advice along the way. He gives shopping tips about the ingredients (a good beef soup bone—the bigger the better) and even about the pot (a big kettle made out of heavy aluminum, but a good iron pot will do, too). He starts the broth in the morning, boils it all day long, and then sets it to cool overnight. The next day, the soup comes together by adding the vegetables and barley (cooked separately) to the flavorful broth. The former supreme commander of the Allied forces certainly shows off his flair for logistics and planning.

Soon after the publication of the 1948 edition of What’s Cooking at Columbia, the Vegetable Soup recipe was featured at the Alexander Hamilton Dinner. During this annual dinner, Columbia College recognizes the “distinguished service and accomplishment in some field of human endeavor by an alumnus or faculty member of the College.” In 1948, the recipient of the third ever Hamilton medal was Chinese Ambassador to the United States V. K. Wellington Koo, Columbia College Class of 1908, PhD 1912, LLD 1917. On this very special occasion, sixty gallons of “Vegetable Soup Eisenhower” were served and, according to the guests, the broth was “the high spot on the menu.”

The New York Times published the entire text of Eisenhower’s Vegetable Soup recipe on December 2, 1948, on page 31. You can also access the full text of the 1948 edition of this Columbia recipe book online.