Any Kentuckian who has attended a social function where finger foods and dainty appetizers are served has surely encountered one of the state’s food claims to fame: Benedictine spread. Reaching the iconic status of a Hot Brown, this green-tinted savory sandwich spread is made primarily by combining cucumber and onion juices into cream cheese. What many may not know, however, is that this sandwich wonder was created by a renowned Louisville chef and caterer, Jennie Benedict.
Benedict was born in 1860 and lived in Harrod’s Creek, just outside Louisville. Her wealthy family provided her with an education and, as her cooking skills became evident at a young age, a four-room playhouse complete with a working kitchen. Here, Benedict would sometimes cook full meals, a foreshadowing of the career that awaited her.
In 1893, Benedict’s ambition and skills blossomed into a restaurant and catering company, starting with the promise to pay a contractor out of her future profit if he would add on a kitchen to her family home. In her first year, Benedict’s debt was paid in full. By her seventh year in business, she had outgrown that first kitchen and upsized, only to relocate again in 1911 to a Fourth Street, Louisville location. She had become Louisville’s premier caterer for the most prominent people and events.
Her popularity led to the publication of a cookbook in 1904 that is still used and valued by trained chefs and home cooks today. The Blue Ribbon Cook Book, now in its fifth edition, holds the key to some of the most classic Kentucky tastes and traditions that originated with “Miss Jennie,” as she was called.
Likely a result of her formal training at Fannie Merritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School, the cookbook also includes kitchen tips and tricks, entire menus for dinner parties and luncheons, and a special chapter on “sick room cookery” that, today, will produce a chuckle with its interesting cure-alls.
Benedict, in offering her recipe collection long ago, said, “I have tried to give the young housekeeper just what she needs, and for more experienced ones, the best that can be had in the culinary art.” The longevity of these recipes proves Benedict’s creations are indeed that.
The Benedictine recipe
The Blue Ribbon Cook Book, University Press of Kentucky, now in paperback for $16.95, is available at www.kentuckypress.com.
For unknown reasons, Benedict chose not to include her recipe for Benedictine spread in the book. However, readers will find various versions of it recreated and revised by locally famous chefs.
Benedict belonged to a number of charitable organizations and was the first woman to serve on the Louisville Board of Trade. She also founded the Louisville Businesswoman’s Club and was the superintendent of the Training School for Nurses. Benedict passed away in 1928.