Historical Marker #2142, located in Louisville, KY (Jefferson County) commemorates the enterprising spirit and devoted philanthropy of world-famous chef Jennie Carter Benedict.
Jennie was born on March 25, 1860 in the wealthy farming community of Harrod’s Creek, located on the outskirts of Louisville, to John and Mary Benedict. She attended nearby public schools to receive her conventional education, but received a second education at home. From a young age, Jennie’s family recognized her propensity for cooking, and her maternal grandmother, whom she later describes as “a rare, beautiful spirit,” took note. Her grandmother had a sizable “playhouse” of four small rooms built for Jennie, so that she could further explore her culinary hobby. The playhouse included beds to be made, a dining room with a mahogany table and chairs, as well as silver utensils, and a kitchen. Jennie favored the kitchen above all else, recalling that she “often cooked a full meal” there, taking full advantage of the working stove, oven, and other equipment, much of which, like the rest of the furnishings, had been accumulated as gifts from family friends.
Given the wealth of her family, Benedict could have settled for a life of leisure, but her ambition guided her elsewhere. In 1893, she convinced a builder to add a small kitchen to her family home at Harrod’s Creek, and, devoid of any money of her own, promised to pay him with the profits of the catering business she intended to start. The builder agreed, and the resulting sixteen- by sixteen-foot building, outfitted with three lamps, four shelves, and lacking running water, became her first business establishment.
Benedict immediately sent out around 500 advertisements, and word spread quickly among her numerous and prominent local friends. She opened in November of that year, selling copious amounts of her specialties: plum pudding, fruitcake, mincemeat, and pulled candies. On April 1, 1894, she promptly repaid her builder $316.85 out of her earnings. She continued to expand, pulling strings in her extensive network to secure culinary equipment and a small red pushcart out of which one of her employees sold sandwiches as school lunches.
In 1895, Benedict was given the opportunity to attend classes at Fannie Merritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School for six weeks, after its president witnessed her impressive performance at the Louisville Pure Food Exposition where she took over a demonstration after its original presenter became ill.
By 1900, Benedict’s business had outgrown her first building, and she moved to a larger location downtown, officially naming her restaurant Jennie Benedict & Co. Her renown had swelled even further by 1911, when she moved again, this time to a building on Fourth Street. This location became a community staple, with younger people gathering to socialize around the elaborate soda fountain, designed with rocks from Mammoth Cave, and highly distinguished figures, such as former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, having her food catered.
Benedict made a name for herself outside her kitchen as well. In 1894, she became the editor of the Household Department of the Courier-Journal. In 1897, she founded the Louisville Businesswoman’s Club and began a 25-year term as superintendent of the Training School for Nurses, a progressive organization founded by Jennie Casseday to address the numerous deficiencies in public hospitals of the time. In 1899, she became the first woman to serve on the Louisville Board of Trade. She also worked extensively with other charitable organizations, such as the Order of King’s Daughters, the Flower Mission, and various infirmaries. She is often celebrated as a champion of the Progressive Era in Louisville and across the state.
Jennie C. Benedict died on July 24, 1928, but her sprawling legacy lives on in the form of her charitable work and delicious recipes, still available today in her Blue Ribbon Cookbook, published in 1902. Missing from the work is her secret recipe for Benedictine, her famous cucumber and cream cheese sandwich spread.