The Last Page

Cornaro Cuisine

By Francine Lipton Lasky '90

The crowd in Avery in September 1986 applauded wildly after the final member of the panel answered President Frances Fergusson’s request to state the defining issue of her era at Vassar. Younger panel members (one from each decade) had covered wars, coeducation, and the preeminent issue of the day, AIDS. What did panel member Katharine Forbes Erskine ’11 proudly declare was the issue of her day? “The woman’s vote.”

On that picture-perfect fall afternoon of Fergusson’s inauguration, the history of the last century played out with people who had slept in my Cushing dorm room, studied in the same library cubicle, and escaped to the same booth at Alumnae House to eat the same Vassar Devil. As an awestruck freshman I was profoundly moved by this connection of the college to history and to alumnae/i from every decade. This connection would flavor my ongoing relationship with Vassar.

Twenty years later, just as I collapsed after putting my three kids to bed, the phone rang. It was Mary Pick Hines ’53 and Carolyn Chin ’81, from the Chicago Vassar Club: Could I help with the Scholarship Benefit? After graduation, when time was plentiful, I eagerly volunteered to make this “connection” with others that shared the Vassar experience again. My club activities had ceased since becoming a mom and after the death of my friend, Vassar development officer Jim Palmer ’90. Without his infectious enthusiasm, working on Vassar causes had lost its appeal for me. After reluctantly being persuaded to design the invitation for the benefit at Kendall College (Chicago’s local culinary institute), someone suggested that recipes be included in the event’s program.

I was struck by inspiration (or was it Jim’s spirit?); this was a great idea! This time I excitedly volunteered. Concurrently, I received news that Catharine (Cappy) Hill would be Vassar’s next president. I tentatively emailed Willa Panvini McCarthy ’92 at AAVC, a friend of Jim’s I had met only twice. “Do you remember me? I have a strange request; can you help me contact Cappy to get her favorite recipe?”

This was the beginning of a snowball effect. Willa put me in touch with AAVC Executive Director Pat Duane Lichtenberg ’90, who got recipes from Cappy and President Fergusson. She also put me in touch with current students and the Director of Campus Dining Maureen King. Pat steered me to Vassar Quarterly Editor Samantha Trautman Soper ’91, who got me the names of all culinary alumnae/i profiled in the magazine in the last decade. The author of most of these articles was Bronwen Pardes ’95, another friend of Jim’s, which prompted me to write another email: “Remember me? I have a strange request….” Bronwen agreed to write profiles of people with interesting stories of Vassar dining, like Gilda Karu ’74, the first student ever to eat at ACDC. To get information on dining at the college during the 19th century, I contacted Betty Adams Daniels ’41, college historian, who introduced me not only to her fabulous new historical website,, but also to the library’s Special Collections department. I was thrilled to receive from Jim’s favorite professor, Susan Donahue Kuretsky ’63, a brief commentary on the portrayal of food in Renaissance and Baroque art in Northern Europe.

Here I was in a maelstrom of emails, collecting recipes, culinary memories, and interesting food-related facts from the whole Vassar family. I was making connections again with people and with history. Alumnae/i from across the country were introducing me not only to “Prexy’s Bathmat” (a chocolate cake almost as famous as Devils), but also to chef Andrew Zimmern ’84, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods. The idea had blossomed into a Chicago Vassar Club scholarship fundraising project Cornaro Cuisine, A Vassar Cookbook With a Liberal Arts Flavor.

This treasured connection was deepened when I learned that the Chicago Vassar Club of the 1920s had run a fashionable Michigan Avenue tearoom known as “Vassar House” for the purpose of raising scholarship monies. The Chicago Tribune wrote in 1926 that a “peppy lot of Vassar graduates” managed and would waitress at the bright café and serve 65-cent lunches. Here I was, 80 years later, using the appeal of a good meal to benefit Vassar scholarships again. James Beard wrote, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” The alumnae/i that contributed to the cookbook ranged from California to Florida and represented 78 years of Vassar graduating classes. No one will list the food as their greatest memory of Vassar, but it is something we all share, something that connects us to Vassar, to history, and to each other.

Cornaro Cuisine, A Vassar Cookbook With a Liberal Arts Flavor is available for $35 (including shipping) from the Chicago Vassar Club. Please write to Francine Lasky at 1437 N. Potter, Park Ridge, IL 60068 or email to order. Please also email Francine if you would like to share your own recipes or memories of Vassar dining.