Monday, December 23, 2013

A Recipe for a 139th Birthday

It’s the 139th anniversary of my great-grandmother Islea’s birth! In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d post some photos of her as a child and a young woman.
This is young Islea in an undated photo
Islea Graham was born Dec. 23, 1874 in Aledo, Illinois. Her father, William N. Graham, had five children from a previous marriage; after his first wife, Sarah, died, he married Flora Bassett. He and Flora had two daughters together, Islea and Ethel.

Ethel, left, and Islea
Islea pursued music from an early age, and by the time she reached high school she already was an accomplished pianist.

Islea, left, and Ethel
Islea graduated as the valedictorian of her class at Aledo High School in 1892 and then studied piano in Chicago under Emil Liebling, a pupil of the great Franz Liszt. This was during the World’s Columbian Exposition, which must have been an exciting time to be in Chicago. She attended many concerts while in the city, and later pasted the programs into her scrapbook.

Islea and G. Oliver Riggs started dating in the mid-1890s, when G. Oliver was teaching at the Iowa Wesleyan University’s Conservatory of Music in Mt. Pleasant. During school breaks and during the summers he stayed with his parents, who by that time had moved to Joy, Illinois, near Aledo.

Miss Graham and Prof. Riggs performed together for concerts and musicales, and G. Oliver directed the Aledo Cornet Band. I’m not sure how long they dated before he proposed. They were married Dec. 22, 1898, the day before Islea’s 24th birthday. G. Oliver had turned 28 the previous month. The wedding was held at the home of Islea’s parents in Aledo.

Islea’s parents, Flora Bassett Graham and William Niblock Graham
The newspaper accounts of the wedding note that about 80 guests attended. Islea’s sister Ethel was the bridesmaid, and G. Oliver’s friend from Iowa Wesleyan, Ed Roth, was the best man. Dr. Alexander Rommel, head of the Iowa Wesleyan Conservatory, played the wedding march. After the ceremony, Islea’s former piano instructor, Professor Richards of Burlington, Iowa, played a few piano solos, and three of her female relatives performed vocal solos. A “bounteous supper” was then served in the dining room.

The newspapers don’t mention what type of food was served. However, I have some idea, based on a cookbook I recently found online. It was initially published in 1896 by the ladies of the First Presbyterian Church of Aledo, the church Islea and her family attended. It was revised and enlarged in 1907, and printed a third time in 1911.

The cookbook doesn’t contain any recipes by Islea (perhaps she was too busy with her piano studies) but it does contain a recipe from her sister Ethel for popovers, several recipes from her cousin Bess Bassett, including one for sour cream raisin pie and one for mocha frosting, and a recipe from a Mrs. Eliza Smith of Monmouth, Ill., for serving 100 persons.

It made me laugh, so I thought I would include it here. If you happen to be hosting 100 people for your Christmas or New Year’s gatherings, or if you’re hosting a big birthday bash for someone turning 139, you might find it helpful.

To Serve 100 Persons:
Ham, 16 pounds
Chickens, six
Turkeys, two
Oysters, 10 cans
Coffee, two pounds
Bread, eight loaves
Saratoga potatoes, eight quarts
Layer cakes, five
Angel food cakes, five
Ice cream, four gallons

Happy Birthday, Islea!


  1. Wonderful story about your ggm! Thanks for sharing!