THE BROOKS HOTEL

    When Edna Geisy and Gladys Rasmussen go out for dinner, they don't order fried chicken much any more. All too often, in their opinion, it just doesn't measure up to the version they cooked up in their own kitchen, every Sunday, for nearly 60 years. Edna, 92, and Gladys, 84, perfected the art of fried chicken during the glory days of the Corvallis' Brooks Hotel, the stately old yellow and cream Victorian that graces the corner of Willow Creek Road and the Eastside Highway.

    Each Sunday fro 1916 to 1975, hungry diners came from miles around to enjoy the family-style cuisine, the warm hearth and the family atmosphere made famous by the Brooks clan. And while a whole new generation of Bitter Root residents has never ever heard of the "Brooks girls," Edna and Gladys still like to reminisce about the made-from-scratch meals for 30 they cooked up each Sunday morning for much of their lives.

    "I don't think we could have done it if we hadn't been happy with it," said Edna, reflecting on the many hours of hard work over a hot wood stove. The Brooks Hotel began in 1916, quite by accident, according to Edna. Her father had purchased the home for his family of six - another child would be born later - and, as the delivery man who ferried both the mail and passengers between Woodside and Corvallis via horse drawn buggy, he found himself offering an extra room in his spacious home to a traveling salesman one afternoon.

    That's all it took. Before long, all three extra rooms in Louis and Lulu Brooks' house were taken up with lodgers, sometimes with as many as four men in a room. "And, of course they had to eat," said Gladys. So the tiny Brooks kitchen began turning out home cooked meals for boarders. At 50 cents for a night's lodging and 25 cents for dinner, it wasn't a bad investment for a travel-weary salesman.

    The Sunday fried chicken dinners were soon to follow. Lulu Brooks and her daughters Edna, Gladys Inez (for a while), and Lois (until she moved out) hadn't ever been introduced to the shortcuts of fast food cooking. From slaughtering and plucking the chickens on Saturday afternoon to setting the long dining room table with white linen tablecloths, flowered china, and the family's best silver, the meals were 100% homemade. "There were always two vegetables, potatoes and gravy, and one or two salads," said Gladys. "And, it was all family style."

    As their clientele grew, so did the Brooks garden, and that meant everyone pitched in to hoe and harvest. Edna's grandson, Roger Geisy, who now lives in Whitefish, remembers summer stays at Gramma's usually meant shucking peas, peeling potatoes and ducking in and out of a steamy kitchen every Sunday morning. "You worked hard as a kid, but you always sat down to a good meal, that's for darn sure," he recalled.

    Everything on the table came out of the Brooks' garden, pantry or fruit cellar. Canning 135 quarts of peaches during a season wasn't uncommon, and Gladys estimated the between peaches, pears, apricots, pickles, plums, beans, tomatoes and corn relishes, the family canned well over 1,000 quarts every year. "We'd make jam four gallons at a time," said Gladys. We finally bought a large enamel baby bathtub for making it in."
    Edna's specialty was the chicken. She rolled it in flour and, using lard she'd rendered herself out of pork rinds from the pigs she raised, fried it in a 14-inch covered skillet. That was her secret to moist, tender chicken. Her recipe evolved from years of practice. "You don't do it right all of a sudden," she said. "You have to learn gradually."

    Gladys would churn out a hundred-plus rolls and six pies every week. If the pies were open-face, she'd make the crusts on Saturday. Otherwise, it was all made fresh every Sunday morning.

    In February 1958, Mrs. Brooks died and Edna and Gladys weren't sure they could continue the hotel and meals by themselves. "We thought we'd work until July and then quit," said Edna. "But we worked for 17 more years after Mama died." And by the time they retired in 1975, their Sunday dinners were so popular that only those with early reservations were lucky enough to share in the weekly ritual. Many kept coming back, attributable to the homy surroundings, the delectable aromas, the chance to mingle with the cooks in the busy kitchen prior to mealtime, the bowls piled high with real potatoes - peeled, cooked and mashed - and the two grandmotherly cooks who made sure all the serving dishes were bottomless.

    Edna and Gladys, both widowed, now live in the 98-year-old Victorian house they inherited from their mother. It is till known locally as the Brooks Hotel, though it has long since ceased to be one. Edna keeps busy crocheting for grandchildren, Gladys likes to follow the horse races and they both still like a good game of bridge. While they don't miss the hours of cooking, they don't regret them either. "We just all worked as a family," said Gladys. "It was a good life."
                                                                                                                                                    The Missoulian, September 19, 1992
                                                                                                                                                    The Bitter Root View