Mondays & Memories of My Mom – “Famous Foods from Famous Places”

Hello to everyone, and welcome to Mondays & Memories of My Mom! I’d also like to say happy February 18th! According to the calendar at OCfoodies.com, it’s Crab-Stuffed Flounder AND Drink Wine Day – therefore, eat, drink and be merry! I’m down with that! In case you’re wondering who I am…

My name is Laura Emerich and my mom is Gloria Pitzer, also known as the famous “Recipe Detective”TM. Mom passed away just over a year ago; thus, I started this blog last year to celebrate her legacy and share remembrances of her because she had such a huge effect on so many people, besides my family and I; some we’ve never met, from all around the world.

Even though I grew up surrounded by and involved in “the family”, dining-room-table operation, I didn’t truly understand Mom’s deep love of it all (like the love of a mother for her child) until about 4 years ago when I started collaborating with her to re-write her personal favorite, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret Recipes; St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Printing). The goal was to republish it for a new media generation, as Mom started a new phase of her life as a widow.

Mom chose the cookbook for me to re-write for her. It was, basically, her favorite revision of her very first (self-published) cookbook, The Better Cooker’s Cookbook (Gloria Pitzer, Happy Newspaper Features; Algonac, MI – 1973). Ironically, it also became her last cookbook – 45 years and 5 or 6 revisions apart! Helping Mom to rewrite the “revised rewrite” of that original book, put me in touch with her in a whole new way! The cookbook was re-published under the title Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House, in January 2018. The subtitle of the book is “Famous Foods from Famous Places”.

Mom and I at her 80th Birthday Party – Photo by Paul Jaekel, Jan. 2016

“Recipe Detective” is the name that was bestowed on Mom by her many friends and fans from her regular radio, talk show visits, which started in the early 1970s. One of her favorites was with Bob Allison on his “Ask Your Neighbor” show (WWJ-Radio; Detroit, MI). This show still airs today, with Bob Allison joined by his son, Rob! The nickname was a natural fit for Mom, because she could sleuth out and find the secrets of the food and restaurant industries, just like Sherlock Holmes, who happened to be one of her favorite fictional characters. Mom always loved to solve a good mystery! A lot of her endeavors as to which “top secret” recipes to crack were inspired by requests from her quickly growing, newspaper and radio fan-base.

Another of Mom’s favorite regular, radio, talk show visits, from which she received other “secret recipe” requests/challenges, were with Warren Pierce on The Warren Pierce Show (WJR-Radio, Detroit). I’ll discuss more about these visits in next week’s blog, Interesting Challenges; so, I hope you’ll come back and check it out! By the way, Warren’s show still airs on weekend mornings – see: http://www.wjr.com/the-warren-pierce-show/

“I made a living with my writing; but, it was my writing that made living worthwhile.” – Gloria Pitzer

Mom wrote for most of her life – starting with daily journaling when she was a young girl. As a matter of fact, her journaling never stopped for the rest of her life AND it was a tremendous help for her to remember things as she dealt with Dementia in her last few years. Besides journaling, Mom wrote for and worked on school newspapers, in secondary school and college. She also entered, and won, many essay contests; all of which lead to her writing for local newspapers, as well as, syndicating her columns and cartoons nationally.

Mom always knew she wanted a career in writing. At first, she never thought about a career writing about the food industry; however, it seemed that most of her successes in writing revolved around recipes and homemaking ideas. “They” say the best things to write about are the things that you know best! But, I guess Mom didn’t know what she knew, until she realized she knew it! Then, she grew to love it even more!

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” ― Theodore Roosevelt

After leaving the newspapers in the early 1970s, to fill a consumer need she felt was out there and not being fed, Mom started publishing her own newsletter, which was first published in January 1974 and continued on through December 2000 – 27 years and 219 issues in all. Every issue was jam-packed full of new recipe discoveries from her radio and restaurant visits; plus, laughable and inspirational stories to feed the heart and soul, household/kitchen/cooking tips and tricks, restaurant/author reviews and recommendations and so much more! As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Mom often said her newsletters were “…like getting together for coffee with friends” SM.

1974 heading of Mom’s first newsletter.

From time-to-time, the newsletter changed frequencies of printings per year (i.e. monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly); and the title changed slightly a few times too, starting out as Gloria Pitzer’s Homemaker’s Newsletter (Jan. 1974) and ending as Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter, when Mom retired it (Dec. 2000). In addition, the price changed with the times also, starting out at $0.50 per issue or $5 for a 1-year (12 issues) subscription in 1974; and ending in 2000 at $2 per issue or $18 for a 1-year (12 issues) subscription. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who subscribed to Mom’s newsletters, or who know someone that subscribed – you can write to me at therecipedetective@outlook.com.

2000 heading of Mom’s last newsletter.

Mom also wrote and self-published about* 40 cookbooks (*over, if you consider that many had multiple printings & some had multiple versions). She also wrote a couple of “feel good”, inspirational books and many “brand-specific” recipe folders, as well as a couple of small recipe booklets; all created, of course, from her 30-year, on-going collection of recipes that she developed, tested, wrote and published – a collection that grew from a couple hundred to thousands, imitating famous dishes and products of the food industry – certainly, as if she infiltrated their actual, “top secret” recipes and methods!

Rabbit Hole Note: I’m not sure exactly how many thousands of recipes Mom has to her credit, but I am currently working on a “Master List” based on the indexes in her 40+ books and other publications. When it’s finished, I’ll be posting the extensive “master list” under a new tab on the website – be sure to check out the website again when the “Master Index List” tab is added – you’ll be notified right away if you’re following me on any one, or all, of the following social media links: https://twitter.com/recipedetective, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TheRecipeDetective/, https://www.instagram.com/therecipedetective/ and https://in.pinterest.com/therecipedetective/. The dream for the “Master Index List” is to have all the posted entries linked to all the other related “Cookbooks”, “Other Publishings”, “Recipes” and “Blog” posts.

Mom’s books stood out, head & shoulders above the rest – not only for her unique concept of “eating out at home” recipes, imitating fast-food and fine-dining dishes; but also, like her newsletter, for their homemade, crafty designs and lay-outs that were filled with good humor, food-for-thought and food-for-the-soul editorials, household tips & tricks; as well as tidbits of interesting historical information! No other cookbooks on the market at that time, or since, have offered any kind of combination like that – especially not with “make-alike” recipes to imitate food industry dishes and products at home – unless they copied the original copycat! There’s a fine line between imitating and plagiarizing, which is a topic for another blog post in the near future. Mom was a trail-blazer, carving out a unique niche in the food industry, which inspired many followers and other copycats!

Before she started the newsletter in 1974, one of Mom’s very first cookbook creations was called, The Better Cooker’s Cookbook (Gloria Pitzer, Happy Newspaper Features; Algonac, MI – 1973). This was a collection of recipes that Mom originally published in Cookbook Corner, one of the recipe columns that she syndicated to many different newspapers for over 5 years prior…

The Better Cooker’s Cookbook – written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Happy Newspaper Features; Algonac, MI), 1973

Here are some excerpts from a wonderful review of this cookbook, written over 45 years ago by Mike Royko [Detroit Free Press, The Feature Page; MONDAY, DEC. 10, 1973]:

I Keep the Munchies Away by Writing

IF YOU spend any time in this corner, you have noticed lately that I have been writing a lot about food, restaurants and eating. It always happens when I go on a strict diet. I satisfy my hungers by writing about food… But to keep the ol’ write-and-lose therapy going, let me pass on some info about two rather novel cookbooks that have come to my attention.

First, there’s Gloria Pitzer’s handmade (her five kids in Algonac even helped hand-color the cover) delight called, “The Better Cooker’s Cookbook.” Gloria is a delightful newspaper columnist and she notes in[side] the front of her book: “If the Good Lord had intended for me to cook, why wasn’t I born with aluminum hands?”

Another sparkling observation: “Cookbooks do not tell you, for instance, such vital items as the Impossibility of Using Up Easter Eggs!” I really groove on the little asides she tucks between the over 200 sensible recipes. Like this one: “Frankly, I never met a melon squeezer I really liked. They always make me feel so insecure, the way they hold the melon to their eye and thump it like they are expecting a heartbeat.”

…It’s a buck and a half and a belly-laugh a page…

I remember getting to help color those cookbooks! I was only about 8½ years old at the time; but, even then, I was OCD enough to stay within the lines, which was a very important requirement if you wanted to be one of Mom’s colorists! That was so much fun! Almost as good as being one of her taste-testers – because even the “duds” were great! The dining-room-table operation was always a family business; however, Dad was just the last one in the family that was let in on “the secret”…as Mom wrote about in “her story” many times, one of which I included in my recent 4-part series, Mom’s Story – How Secret Recipes Began.

As I got older, and learned how to cook and bake from Mom, I also got to help her make/test some of her “secret” recipes. I remember developing my own banana bread recipe when I was 14, after a small summer vacation at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan’s beautiful Lake Huron. That same week, a movie crew was there, filming “Somewhere In Time”, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour! It was one of my most memorable vacations with Mom and Dad (and my younger sister, Cheryl.)

Photo of Gloria Pitzer, on the porch of The Grand Hotel, taken by Laura Pitzer, 1979

I was very inspired by the hotel’s elegant presentation of snacks. In particular was a luscious, moist banana bread that seemed more like a cake than a bread, with a scrumptiously thick cream cheese glaze! My version of the hotel’s special treat turned out so good that Mom put it in her next cookbook, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1982, 1st Printing) – which is the original book (but 3rd printing) that I helped her re-write 35 years later. It’s ironic that it took Mom a couple years for her to write that book (based on her first, 1973 cookbook) and it took me a couple years to re-write it once again!

Thanks for visiting! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my tribute to Mom! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at therecipedetective@outlook.com.

In closing this week, along with one of Mom’s recipes from her “free recipes and ordering information sheets”, with which I usually end my blog, I’m also including a copy of MY “Banana Bread” recipe, as it’s found on page 182 of Mom’s last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective [published by Balboa Press (January 2018, 1st Printing) – a re-write by me, Laura Emerich, of her favorite, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing)] – asking only for proper credit if you care to share it.

 BANANA BREAD – Like The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island (MI)

On the lavish, luncheon, smorgasbord tables of the Grand Hotel, where we were staying during the filming of “Somewhere in Time” [1979], were a variety of sweet breads, as well as finger sandwiches prepared on quick breads. One of their sandwich ideas was softened cream cheese – possibly whipped with a little sour cream – on a wonderful banana nut bread. When we returned home from that vacation, our daughter, Laura, came up with a version of their bread which became one of our favorite recipes.

1/3 cup butter or margarine

½ cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups self-rising flour (SEE NOTE BELOW!)

1 cup each: ripe, mashed bananas (2 to 3 medium-sized) and chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed of electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes – set your timer!) Add the eggs and beat another 2 minutes. Beat in half of the flour and all the bananas for 2 minutes. Beat in remaining flour for 1 minute. Stir in nuts with a spoon. Pour into greased and floured, 9-inch bread-loaf pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes or until it tests “done” with a toothpick. Cool several hours before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

NOTE: If you don’t have self-rising flour, then substitute with – 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. The best results, I have found, is when I stir the ½ teaspoon baking soda into the mashed bananas, combining the remaining ingredients and adding that much as directed in the recipe above.

The following is, yet, another version of Mom’s homemade self-rising flour, as found on page 169 of the same book referenced above.

Sift together 3 c. flour, 3 TB baking powder and 1 tsp. salt. Store in covered container, in a cool dry place. Makes approximately 3 ¼ cups.

Mom always said there’s more than one way to reach a destination or desired result. The following picture is of another, updated version of Mom’s homemade self-rising flour from her “Free Recipes/Information” sheet (2000):

Let me know which version of homemade self-rising flour that you prefer – feel free to email me at therecipedetective@outlook.com.

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