Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mrs. Hering's Original 1890 Chicken Pot Pie Recipe that Launched Marshall Field's Food Service and the Future Walnut Room Restaurant.

As the real story is told, by 1890, Marshall Fields had established itself as a place where ladies were welcome to congregate. But there was just one thing missing: food. That's when Mrs. Sarah Hering came along. An enterprising clerk in the State Street millinery (hat) department, she had been trained in Field's "give the ladies what she wants" tradition of customer service. When she overheard two customers grumbling that they had nowhere to eat, she thought nothing of offering them the homemade chicken pot pie she had brought for lunch. She set up a table, served up her pie, and, without knowing it, started a restaurant - and a revolution. The ladies were so grateful that they convinced Mrs. Hering to make more pies for the next day, telling her they would bring friends to lunch and view the latest in hats the next day.
These ladies spread the word about the tastiest chicken pot pie they'd ever eaten, and soon, Mrs. Hering was selling her pies at a counter in the millinery department. A young manager named Harry Selfridge (who would go on to found Selfridges Department Store in London, modeling it after Field's) quickly recognized the potential of serving food to hungry guests and thus keeping them in the store for more shopping. So he persuaded Mr. Field to try opening a small tearoom in the building. On April 15, 1890, fifteen tables were set up on the third floor. There were eight waitresses and four cooks.
The four cooks of the "South Tearoom" at the State Street Marshall Field's store.
Each table was set with the finest silver tea service, and every plate was adorned with a red rose. That day, fifty-six women turned up to lunch on corned beef hash, chicken salad, orange punch in an orange shell, and Mrs. Hering's chicken pot pies. Selfridge's hunch paid off. "The South Tearoom," managed by Sarah Hering, became Chicago's first full-service dining establishment within a department store and was a runaway hit. It quickly expanded and, within a year, was serving five hundred guests a day. In the tradition of Mrs. Hering, many of the cooks in those early days prepared their specialties - from codfish cakes to Boston baked beans - in their own home kitchens and brought them in each morning.

In 1893, the South Tearoom was expanded to the entire 4th floor in the building's oldest section (Washington & Wabash) – just in time for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

Marshall Field was a major sponsor of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The tearoom then served 1,500 people per day.
The Marshall Field's South Tearoom in 1902. On the 4th floor of the oldest part of the store.
When it moved to its current location on the seventh floor, the tearoom expanded to seventeen thousand square feet. It took its new name from the Circassian walnut imported from Russia to panel the walls. The newly rebuilt south building that houses the Walnut Room today at Washington & State opened in September 1907. 

On the 7th floor, it was first known as the "South Grill Room," then known as the "Walnut Tearoom," next as the "Walnut Grill," and finally as the "Walnut Room" in 1937. Six tea and grill rooms occupied the entire 7th floor.
Marshall Field in 1904. Corner of Washington & State - the old south building. Notice the aging clock. It's not the one we see today.
Marshall Field in 1910. Corner of Washington & State - completed in 1907 - houses the Walnut Room Restaurant on the seventh floor.
Learn about Marshall Field & Company State Street store history of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd corner clocks.

While not the first restaurant in a department store (as the misinformation on the Internet claims), it was the first elegant, full-service dining establishment within a department store, and it's also the longest continuously operating restaurant in the nation. It's been reported that the Walnut Room alone served up an average of 600 pot pies daily. Mrs. Hering's famous Chicken Pot Pie is iconic to the Walnut Room in Chicago.

Women were denied service in restaurants if they did not have a male escort. Until the 1920s, it was unacceptable for a lady to dine unescorted while out in public. If a woman got a little peckish while shopping, she would need to return home to grab a snack. Before the Civil War, a "Ladies' Ordinary" space was set aside for women in hotels. This, it was often stated, was to protect "respectable" women from being accosted or harassed by men or, even worse, taken for easily available women by male travelers, loungers, and dubious characters. Beginning not long before the Civil War, restaurants started to cater to female shoppers who wanted lunch. Establishments called "Ice Cream Saloons" opened up near dry-goods emporia and the first department stores. They offered ice cream, which was thought to appeal to women, and light meals. A key element of their efforts to attract women was that they did not serve alcohol. By 1900, coffee shops, tea rooms, department store restaurants, and chain restaurants had a predominantly female clientele. Men might eat at bars that offered "free lunch" with the purchase of drinks, at grills, clubs or fancy restaurants. By the 1920s, most restaurants had given up the idea that they were protecting morals.
Originally called the "South Grill Room," seen here in 1909. The bold selection of grilled foods was meant to distinguish the South Grill Room from the daintier tearooms. The restaurants' role was not to make money (they usually operated at a loss) but rather to lure hungry visitors into the store and give those already inside a reason to stay. Their upper-floor location required diners to navigate past enticing impulse goods while going upstairs. Because so many customers spoke of this restaurant by referring to its Circassian walnut paneling, it was later renamed the "Walnut Tearoom," next as the "Walnut Grill," and finally as the "Walnut Room" in 1937.
Another time of the year, Mrs. Hering's Chicken Pot Pie was famous in the Walnut Room at Easter. The fountain is then decorated for Easter. (year unknown)
The Great Depression (August 1929 – March 1933) took its toll on the store's restaurants. By 1941, only four restaurants remained. According to an advertisement, customers could enjoy their North Shore Codfish Cakes, Canadian Cheese Soup, French Bread, and Chicken Pie in either the "Stately Walnut Room, picturesque Narcissus Fountain Room, rose-carpeted English Room, or the serve-yourself Crystal Buffet."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Mrs. Hering's ORIGINAL 1890 chicken pot pie recipe:

This recipe was recalculated for 6 servings, using modern measurements, and I noted the modern-day substitutions in RED. The original recipe made 50+ servings per batch. For best results ─ do not use substitutes.

1 (3 1/2 pound) frying chicken
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 small onion, halved
2 teaspoons salt


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup chilled lard (or substitute: vegetable shortening)
3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
3 carrots, sliced thinly on the bias
3 celery stalks, sliced thinly on the bias
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup fresh green peas (or substitute: thawed frozen green peas)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Combine chicken, carrot, celery, onion, and salt in a large stockpot. Add cold water just to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and allow to cool. 

Increase the heat to high and boil for 20 minutes to concentrate the broth. Pass the broth through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the vegetables. Pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred it into bite-sized pieces when cool enough to handle. 

Combine flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5 times to combine. Add the shortening and pulse a few more times until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal.

ORIGINALLY: Combine ingredients using a manual (hand) food mill or use a wooden spoon like in the 1890s.

Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons of ice-cold water. Stir and press with a wooden spoon until the dough sticks together. A little at a time, add more water if the dough doesn't come together. Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days before rolling.

Preheat oven to 400° degrees Fahrenheit

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add butter. When the butter is melted, add the onion, carrots, and celery for filling and cook, occasionally stirring, for 10 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. 

Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 

Slowly whisk in the milk and 2 1/2 cups of the chicken broth. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, often stirring for 10 minutes. 

Add the chicken meat, thyme, sherry, peas, parsley, salt, and pepper and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. 

Divide the warm filling among six 10-to-12-ounce pot pie tins or individual ramekins.

Place the dough on a floured surface and roll it to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 6 rounds about 1 inch larger than the dish circumference. Lay a dough round over each pot pie filling. Tuck the overhanging dough back under and flute the edges with a fork. Cut a 1-inch slit at the top of each pie. Brush the tops of the pies with egg wash. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. 

Place pies on the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling. Serve hot.

Yield: 6 Pies.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. I could swear I remember them selling stamps to collectors in the 1960's. My father was a philatelist and studied postal history. I inherited most of his collection which includes hundreds of books on the subject as well as covers, stamps and albums.

    1. Marshall Field's did sell stamps and coins. The department was by the book department. I bought many stamps as a kid in the late 1960s and 70s.

    2. Thank you for this, Neil. Labor intensive recipe! I worked at MF State Street when I was in high school. Lots of awesome memories, even though working conditions weren't very good sometimes. ;0)

  2. As always Neil, you have provided such great - and accurate history. (and I think I need to keep this recipe!) Thank you!!

  3. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Brings back many happy memories of visits to Field's with my mom and, after she passed, with my son.

  4. I knew there were not supposedtobe leaks in the pie!. Recently they were marketing the return of the original pie made with leeks. Awful! They also used a pate choux pastry top...

  5. Made me think of how much I miss that store. Stamps & coins (collected both) check. Signed 1st edition books check. But what I really loved was spending time in the Chrystal department and fantasizing. So many beautiful things - Steuben, Lalique, etc. Just wonderful.

    1. Yes, I remember going to the china and crystal department with my mother and admiring the beautiful merchandise and table settings. There was a special room for Steuben.

  6. Thank you so much for providing this recipe along with the fabulous history. I have so many great memories of my Mom taking me along as she shopped the many floors of Marshall Field & Company (not Marshall Field's - there's a HUGE distinction). The sales staff there even made ME feel important as my Mother was buying dresses, hats, home decor and then lunching in the Walnut Room before catching the El to head home to Jefferson Park. The original MF&Co is legendary.

    1. Marshall Field & Company logo was used before the BATUS Inc., acquisition in 1982, when it was shortened to "Marshall Field's."

  7. I loved going through Marshall Field when I started my career just one block away in 1979. You'd agree to meet someone "under the clock", since it was such a landmark. The whole store was like Disneyland for adults. It's been many years since I've been in Chicago, but terribly fond memories.

  8. OH MY GOD! This recipe is just as I remember from the late 1940s as a 10 years old. My Mother and I had a yearly excursion to Field's to shop for Christmas and always ate at the Walnut Room. I've tried a few recipes claiming to be the original... but this is it. I usually ended up with a new dress for Church too. Thank you.


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