“Dishing it Up” with May Irwin— New Dish Discoveries!

By: Emily St. Marie with Karen Killian

Volume 18, Issue 10, October 2023

We are pleased to announce that discoveries on the May Irwin project have led to an expansion of the book, “Dishing it Up!"—With May Irwin. Read on, to know more about this book that has been a hundred years in the making. Thanks to May Irwin, it is a trove of information about how people lived, ate, and cooked in the year 1922.

To explain how this book began, we must go back in time to the 1990s, when the internet was in its early days and people used fax machines instead of email. In 1995 the Thousand Island Museum was housed on Riverside Drive, where the Clayton Opera House is today. Karen Killian had answered the call for community volunteers to clean up the basement. While tidying up, she came across a box of torn, dirty, and musty old newspapers from NYC. Upon closer inspection, she found that they contained writings by May Irwin on housekeeping, life, and cooking from the year 1922 published in the New York Evening Journal.

Karen was delighted with her discovery and set about making copies for the museum and herself, ensuring the originals stayed with the museum.

“The Cardboard Box,” Illustrated Emily St. Marie ©2022.

This was not the first time Karen had encountered May Irwin’s recipes and humor. Only a year before in 1994, Karen and the head artist (Norma Lee Sydnor) at Louisville Stoneware Co., had created a stoneware collection featuring the recipes, jokes, and poems of Vaudeville, to commemorate May Irwin’s life from her 1904 cookbook and presence in the Thousand Islands.

May Irwin Stoneware Collection logo with the stamp that went on the bottom of each piece.

But until this find of ratty newspaper pages in 1995, Karen had no idea May was still publishing her recipes and advice into the 1920s. As she went through the articles, Karen recognized some of the recipes from May’s 1904 cookbook.

(Upper) Art by Colleen Gipson (LS Co.) created in 1997 with Karen Killian. This was an 11-inch dinner plate added to the collection. (Lower) A photo of May Irwin’s Island estate in the Thousand Islands on a commemorative postcard.

Even at 60 years old with her busy life, May Irwin was sharing her recipes and wisdom with the world through her column, with her jovial sense of humor.

The May Irwin Recipes Stoneware Collection showcased recipes from May Irwin’s 1904 cookbook, turned into artwork by Norma Sydnor (head artists at the Louisville Stoneware Co.).

It must have been as exciting for Karen to find the old cooking columns in the musty old box as it was unpacking her May Irwin Recipes Louisville Stoneware collection pieces in their new boxes (depicted here in this comic by Norma).

A cartoon by Norma L. Sydnor (head artist at Louisville Stoneware Co.) of Karen Killian unpacking the May Irwin Stoneware Collection. Karen and Norma Called it "May Day."

But excitement alone does not make a book. Fast forward to 2022; the twenty-two cooking columns were now one hundred years old and still sitting in Karen’s office waiting for publication. She had intended to get them published, but life was busy, and it had not yet happened.

While looking at posts on Facebook she saw a former middle school student, Erika, was about to publish a memoir and had posted a picture of the book cover.  The art on the front of the book looked exactly like Erika, so Karen felt confident reaching out. She contacted the artist and was joined in the creation of this book with Emily St. Marie. The book was back in motion.

Emily was excited to be part of a hundred-year-old project. Yes, she would be happy to add color to the artwork that accompanied May Irwin’s cooking columns! She was sure that would showcase them well and appeal to modern audiences, and so Emily St. Marie restored the musty images to clarity, edited them digitally, and then used the traditional art of watercolors to bring them to life.

Karen was overjoyed that the book was finally back on track, this time with modern computing software and design programs to assist. Perhaps the columns had been waiting for this moment for it all to come together the way it did.

With the artwork done, Emily and Karen drafted the book in painstaking detail, created menus from the recipes, put them in the best order for the reader, and added supplemental graphics from 1922, to match May Irwin’s lively style of wit and advice. The finish line was in sight.

And then . . . one cold night on December 4, 2022, scrolling through online archives, Emily came upon a lost article by May Irwin in the section of the Star Tribune. The date it was published, December 10, 1922, almost exactly a hundred years in the past. There on the screen, in black and white, the letters “By May Irwin” jumped out. Emily immediately emailed Karen.

“I just stumbled upon a new May Irwin article from 1922!!!!!!” wrote Emily. (With that many exclamation points.)

Despite searching high and low for more May Irwin articles, Karen had never seen the column. It was called “Chop Suey and Other Adopted Dishes—by May Irwin.”

“I am in shock but thrilled beyond belief that you found this newest article. This woman did not sleep—her mind was constantly busy with recipes and life.” Karen replied.
“Chop Suey and Other Adopted Dishes by May Irwin, The Star Tribune, Dec. 10, 1922.

With the new information that May Irwin also wrote for The Star Tribune, Emily searched the newspaper archives backwards and forwards, determined to find any other columns that May might have written during this period of her life.

By the end, Emily found seven new cooking columns from 1922 and a few from early 1923. Karen was ecstatic. As an avid collector of May Irwin memorabilia, Karen had always felt that May must have written more.

Clippings of all nine May Irwin column headlines as they appeared to readers in 1922 and 1923, shown here in order of publication.

And, how many of May Irwin’s writings are still lost to time? Who knows?

“I love the titles that she gives to her articles! They are spectacular and need to be emphasized, as something clever and unique,” said Karen.

So, along with the sum of all the discoveries in the past 28 years since that box was opened in 1995, these new cooking columns will be added into the collection and published in “Dishing it Up! With May Irwin” featuring a total of 31 columns written by May Irwin.

A piece of artwork by Hal Coffman as it appeared accompanying May Irwin’s cooking. (See Mystery Artist Found, September, 2023)

A Special Sneak Peak of one of the Newfound Articles:

In honor of Thanksgiving as a treat to our loyal readers, this November Thousand Island Life Magazine will be the first in 101 years to publish the Thanksgiving recipes of May Irwin.

Are you curious to find out May Irwin’s recipe for Pumpkin Pie? Stay tuned for next month’s article “Dishing It Up - with May Irwin” – “How to Have a Real Thanksgiving” in the November issue of the TI Life!


Enjoy these previous articles published in TI Life Magazine about May Irwin’s Lost 1922 Cooking Columns:

Mystery Artist Found! September 2023

“Dishing It Up”; with May Irwin— Her Lost Cooking Columns, June 2022.

“Dishing It Up” with May Irwin: Now for Canning & Pickling, September 2022.

By Emily St. Marie and Karen Killian

Emily St. Marie is an artist and author in the Pacific Northwest. She has a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Alberta. Her latest artwork and writing can be found in a sampler of short stories and poems called “Ourania's Orrery of Imagination”, now available on Amazon. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook, or visit her website at www.emilystmarie.com to see her latest work.

Karen Killian is a retired home economics teacher with a B.A. in Elementary Education and a minor in Home Economics from San Jose State College. She moved to Upstate New York from California in 1968. In 1983, Karen became involved in the startup of Captain Spicer’s Gallery, which she managed for the next thirty years. During her time at Captain Spicer’s Gallery she co-created custom 1000 Island products, along with an extensive line of beautiful stoneware by Louisville Stoneware Company.

[Editor's note: A special thanks to Emily and Karen for sharing these wonderful stories with our readers. Now more than ever, we need to appreciate our past and remember those special individuals who made up our communities. We are lucky that you two keep working away!]

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 10, October 2023, People, Places, History, News article

Please click here if you are unable to post your comment.

Submit an Article

Do you have an article you would like to submit? Click here to participate.