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The battling lady of Battle Creek
March 9, 2005

Think about Battle Creek, Michigan and you think cereal—Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes; don’t forget All Bran and Grape-Nuts.  You may not know that there’s more to this  city than cereal, and there’s a famous citizen besides Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Post.

            But let me go back and start at the beginning which is far away from Cereal City and long before Mr. Kellogg put the crunch in the corn flakes.

            Along about 1797 (no one knows for sure) a baby girl was born into a Dutch-speaking family in upstate New York.  This baby was not the daughter of the family; she was a slave born to slave parents. 

            (Does it surprise you to learn that there were slaves in New York State?  It does lots of people.)

            Baby Isabella grew up speaking Dutch.  No one is quite sure about her last name.  Some accounts of her life say that as a child of slaves she had no surname; others say she was Isabella Baumfree.  That name comes from the low Dutch dialect of the area and means tree, for the story is that her father stood straight and tall as a tree.

            His daughter grew equally tall—and strong.  New York began the emancipation of slaves in 1827, but Isabella could not wait.  The year before, she ran away from her masters, her husband, and her five children to find shelter with a sympathetic family who bought her freedom.  Later when she learned that one of her newly-freed sons had been sold into slavery in the South, she brought a court suit and gained his freedom.

            Isabella moved to New York City and began her crusade for emancipation of the slaves and rights for all women.  When she was in her forties, she had a stunning religious experience.  She recounted to her friend and supporter Harriet Beecher Stowe that she was called to travel the land to declare truth to the people.  From that day forth she was known by the familiar name of Sojourner Truth.

            Sojourner did travel the country, often sharing a platform with Fredrick Douglass.  A contemporary account says that audiences were “melted to tears by her touching stories.”

            Her travels continued throughout the country until in 1856 when she visited a meeting of the Michigan Friends of Human Progress, a group usually known as the Quakers.  She felt at home at last and moved into the community of Harmonia about six miles from Battle Creek.  Later she moved into the town itself and became a much loved citizen.

            During the Civil War. Sojourner went all over Battle Creek collecting food and other donations for the soldiers in the First Michigan Colored Infantry.  She also went to Washington D.C. to work in the Freedman’s Hospital.  While there she visited in the White House and met Abraham Lincoln.  At the close of the war she returned home to Battle Creek.

            This fiery lady never retired.  She continued to make appearances, though as she grew older she stayed closer to home.  The city recognized her as a “distinguished townswoman.”  In 1881, the Battle Creek Nightly Moon reported that her appearance at the county fair outdrew the presentation of former president Ulysses S. Grant a year earlier.  The paper went on to tell how octogenarian Truth was “drawn about in a miniature carriage by a pair of Shetland ponies” as she led a small parade of citizens.

            Sojourner Truth died in her adopted home town in 1883.  She is buried there and remains a source of great pride to the city.  Her country has honored her as well.  In 1986 her face appeared on a United States postage stamp.  In fact, her face appeared twice.  The double portrait honors her efforts as an abolitionist and as a proponent of women’s rights.   In 1996, NASA named the Mars micro rover “Sojourner” in her honor.  It landed on that planet during the two hundred-year anniversary of her birth as a slave.

            I don’t have any of Sojourner Truth’s recipes.  I doubt if she had time to cook. It’s hard to think about Battle Creek without remembering these two classics.           

Like you remember bran muffins

1 1/4   cups all-purpose flour 

1/2   cup sugar 

1   tablespoon baking powder 

1/4   teaspoon salt 

2   cups Kellogg's All-Bran cereal 

1 1/4   cups fat-free milk 

1   egg 

1/4   cup vegetable oil 

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cereal and milk. Let stand

about 2 minutes or until cereal softens. Add egg and oil. Beat well. Add flour mixture,

stirring only until combined. Portion evenly into twelve 2 1/2-inch muffin-pan cups

coated with cooking spray.

 Bake at 400° F about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

            Here are some variations: For muffins with reduced calories, fat and cholesterol, use 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons oil and substitute 2 egg whites for 1 egg. You can substitute a spoon-for-spoon artificial sweetener such as Splenda for the sugar.  Or

 substitute 2 egg whites for 1 egg and 1/4 cup sweetened applesauce (or 2 oz. jar bananas baby food) for 1/4 cup vegetable oil.  This one may yield a slightly different texture than the standard muffin.

            I remember making these with my grandmother, my mother and my Brownie Scout troop.  Later, when I was a Den Mother, I taught the Cubs of Den 2 to make them. They are everyone’s favorite and fun, if sticky, to do.

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats  

3   tablespoons butter 

1   package (10 oz. about 40) regular marshmallows 

   or 4 cups miniature marshmallows 

6   cups Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal 

 Melt butter (you can substitute margarine, but not the diet kind) in large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.  Add the cereal. Stir until it is well coated.

Using a buttered spatula or waxed paper, press mixture evenly into

13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray and cool.  Cut into 2-inch squares. They are best served the same day.  

            The variations on this are as endless as a Den Mother’s imagination.  Try adding a half cup of peanut butter or some chocolate chips, raisins or chopped peanuts. 


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network