With the Thanksgiving holiday almost upon us, it is time to begin planning and preparing one of the essential parts of any celebration: food. It seems timely, then, to highlight Flora Leslie, Brookside’s long-serving dietician and food director. I would like to introduce her to you in her own voice, recalling a memory of some precarious pumpkin pies:
Hearing this story in Flora’s voice brings the memory to life in a different way than simply reading it in written form. Cranbrook Archives’ Oral History Collection holds recordings of many voices that add dynamism and richness to their stories. Flora Leslie’s interview describes her life at Cranbrook and her experience of its people and places in the mid-twentieth century.
Born Flora MacFarlane in Alexandria, Scotland, in 1906, she made her way to the United States alone in December 1930. Journeying by ship on a very stormy sea, the passengers were required to stay below deck where they got to know each other more than they would have had they been able to wander on deck. Having worked in a photographer’s office in Scotland, Flora initially sought the same occupation in America.
But a fellow passenger Flora met aboard the ship told her that if she had no luck finding work, to contact her for employment. It is thus that Flora began to work for the Ward family in Pontiac, a family whose children were students at Cranbrook.
In 1932, Flora started working at Cranbrook, initially at Kingswood School. Flora married George Leslie in 1934, a landscaper and gardener, and later a superintendent of buildings at Cranbrook.
After several invitations from Jessie Winter, Headmistress of Brookside School, Flora became the dietician and food director at Brookside School, a position she held from 1934-1975. The position came with an apartment, and though at first Flora preferred to stay at Kingswood, which she describes as “light and bright and lovely,” Winter asked Flora and George back to Brookside one further time and had arranged the apartment beautifully. Most importantly, there was a brand-new Frigidaire refrigerator, a novelty in those days. As Flora recalled, seeing this small luxury she told the headmistress, “We’ll come!” The apartment was in the part of Brookside known as the ‘Ram’s House’ and had previously been occupied by Jessie Winter and by J. Robert F. Swanson.
During the war years, when food was in short supply, George and Flora Leslie kept Brookside stocked with vegetables—he grew them and she canned them.
After feeding generations of students, Flora published many of her favorite and original recipes in the Brookside cookbook, Favorite Recipes, which are still enjoyed by alumni far and wide. Perhaps you might like to try one of Flora’s original recipes this Thanksgiving, or a dessert recipe from one of the faculty families?
—Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research