1997 – Gloria Pitzer’s 3-in-1 Book

1997 Jan – Gloria Pitzer’s 3-in-1 Book

1997 – Gloria Pitzer’s 3-in-1 Book was written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI). NO LONGER IN PRINT – this cookbook, having 60 pages and an 8.5” x 11” format, is a culmination of 311 recipes that use less fat and sugar; as well as, recipes for the best breads you can’t make in a bread machine!

Fun Facts:

  • Sub-Titles: “Of Less Fat and Sugar, & Best Bread Recipes”, “It’s not what you measure out to that counts, but what you measure up to!”
  • Printings: 1+
  • Years: Jan 1997+ (sold out before Nov 1999)
  • Recipes: 311 listed
  • Pages: 60
  • Size: 8.5”x11”
  • Price: $8.75
  • Used copies on eBay: none found
  • Used copies on Amazon: $28.94
  • ISBN: 1-886138-12-5
  • NO LONGER IN PRINT

1995 – Gloria Pitzer Presents Secret Knock Off Recipes

1995 Nov – Gloria Pitzer Presents Secret Knock Off Recipes

1995 – Gloria Pitzer Presents Secret Knock Off Recipes was written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI). NO LONGER IN PRINT – this cookbook boasts a little of this & a little of that! You’ll find 352 copycat recipes of famous foods from even more famous places not included in her other books; amid Food-for-Thought, household tips, cooking tricks and humorous quips – all in a 60-page, 8.5” x 11” format.

In this book, Gloria Pitzer draws a parallel between most of the recipe secrets she shares with you here and those dishes we’ve all enjoyed while eating out or products we all buy at the supermarket. The food industry’s secrets are closely guarded by a very competitive market; but, Gloria’s recipe imitations unbreak the codes and unmask the mysteries of dining in as if we are eating out!

Fun Facts:

  • Sub-Titles: “For On-the-Go Cooks”, “The I Don’t Cook Much Anymore Recipe Favorites”
  • Printings: 2
  • Years: Nov 1995 & Jun 1997
  • Recipes: 352
  • Pages: 60
  • Size: 8.5″ x 11″
  • Original Price: $8.75
  • Used copies on eBay: $20
  • Used copies on Amazon: none found
  • ISBN: 1-886138-11-7
  • NO LONGER IN PRINT

1995 – Gloria Pitzer Presents The Mostly 4-Ingredient Cook Book of Secret Recipes

1995 Nov – Gloria Pitzer Presents The Mostly 4-Ingredient Cook Book of Secret Recipes

1995 – Gloria Pitzer Presents The Mostly 4-Ingredient Cook Book of Secret Recipes is an updated reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Dec 1986, 2nd Printing) written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI). NO LONGER IN PRINT – this cookbook has an 8.5” x 11” format with 60 pages, using the same 120 pages of the smaller, Dec 1986 format and laid out horizontally with 2 old pages per each new page. The new style boasted about 470 recipes in its index, covering dishes that Gloria developed and tested to perfection. This cookbook includes all of her favorite shortcuts to success that have been requested by her radio-listeners around the world, during her visits with over 150 radio stations.

Fun Facts:

  • Sub-Titles: “A Potpourri of Recipes” and “An Updated Reprint”
  • Printings: 1
  • Years: Nov 1995
  • Recipes: 470 listed
  • Pages: 60
  • Size 8.5” x 11”
  • Price: $7.50
  • Used copies on eBay: not found
  • Used copies on Amazon: $35
  • ISBN: unknown
  • NO LONGER IN PRINT

1986 – Granny Square How To by Gloria Pitzer

1986 (Fall) – Granny Square How To by Gloria Pitzer

1986 – Granny Square How To was written, illustrated and published by Gloria Pitzer (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI). NO LONGER IN PRINT – this 4-page folder of crochet patterns and projects (for vests, sweaters, purses and hats) had an 8½“ x 11” format and sold for $1 a copy. It was meant to be “Number 1 in a series” that could be collected in a 3-ring binder, like the Gloria Pizer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter. However, the series never came to fruition as Gloria had a number of other publishings happening at that time as well. Thus, the project was put on a back-burner, to simmer. I have not found any other issues to the series.

We’d love to hear from anyone who has any of these folders still! Please, write to: therecipedetective@outlook.com

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Mom’s Story – How Secret Recipes Began, Part 4

Hi, everyone, and happy Monday! Welcome!

If you’re new to here – I’m Laura Emerich and I started this blog 5 months ago to celebrate my mom’s legacy. My mom is Gloria Pitzer; known to millions as the ORIGINAL “Secret Recipe Detective”. Mom passed away just over a year ago, leaving behind an extensive treasure that included her love of life, family and faith; as well as her creative writing, illustrations and “Secret Recipes” careers.

This week, I am finishing up my 4-part, special series, “Mom’s Story – How Secret Recipes Began”, sharing with you some of Mom’s own memories of sleuthing challenges that earned her the title of the “Recipe Detective”, which she later trademarked. This series is based on excerpts from Mom’s story, as seen on pages 292-297 in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, published by Balboa Press (January 2018, 1st Printing) – which is a re-write by me, Laura Emerich, of her famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing).

Now, on with the final part of Mom’s continued story, in her own words:

My list of ‘Secret Recipes’ had grown to 200 and we offered them, on 4 x 6” cards [that I printed on my mimeograph], at $0.25 each or 5 for a dollar. It was quite a packaging process to fill the combinations of orders, so I put all those recipes into a book. It was going to be our ‘only’ book on the subject, since most of the recipes were ‘fast foods’ – but, as it turned out, it was only the 1st of a series of 5 books [not to mention all the ones that came after that series]. After ‘Book One’ took off and became a very good seller, I did a Bicentennial American Cookery book [pictured below] as a limited edition and was pleased when the Henry Ford Library at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan ordered copies for their Bicentennial collection. That was July 1976…

This is the front and back covers of the bicentennial cookbook mentioned above –
Ad about Mom’s recipe cards, as seen on the back of Gloria Pitzer’s The American Cookery Cookbook – written and published by Gloria Pitzer (Happy Newspaper Features, Pearl Beach, MI; July 1976)

Mom’s books were different than the rest – they stood out, not only in their crafty designs and lay-outs, but also because they were filled with food-for-thought AND food-for-the-soul AS WELL AS food-for-the-table ideas – all served up with a lot of clever humor on top! No other cookbooks at that time offered a combination like that – especially not with “make-alike” recipes to imitate food industry dishes and products at home! She was a trail-blazer, carving out a unique niche in the industry! But, let’s get back to Mom’s story…

RECIPES TESTED TO TURN OUT RIGHT

PAUL GAVE HIS BOSS TWO WEEKS’ NOTICE and left his job of 20 years to devote full time to helping me with the recipes and the newsletter. The subscriptions had increased from less than 100 to over 3000 in a few months. Bob Allison’s ‘Ask Your Neighbor’ show was still one of our favorite contacts and before we knew it, we became a sponsor of Bob’s show.

1974 – Gloria Pitzer’s Homemaker’s Newsletter

“It’s like getting together…for coffee with friends!” – Gloria Pitzer, referring to her newsletter

It was just prior to buying advertising time on Bob’s show that one of his audience had called in a request for a fish batter like Arthur Treacher’s. The caller specifically asked on the air if Gloria, “The Recipe Detective”, might give the recipe a try. I did and went back to the phone with each of several developing steps, waiting for the response of Bob’s audience to each one. The 1st several recipes were not quite “on target”. I wanted the recipe to be exactly like the famous batter of the fish and chips chain.

Each step came closer and closer to the perfect duplication, and each was reported over Bob’s show. Finally, with the club soda and pancake mix combination, the radio show’s audience was so enthusiastic that a copy of the recipe was sent to Carol Haddix, who was, then, the Food Editor of the Detroit Free Press. She tested the recipe and published it with an endorsement, that she felt it was “right on target”…

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

Speaking of the Arthur Treacher challenge (above) – the following is another commentary Mom wrote specifically about developing the recipe to mimic Treacher’s fish batter, as seen in her book, “My Cup Runneth Over – And I Can’t Find My Mop” [written and self-published by Gloria Pitzer, Dec. 1989; pages 73-74]. It was not a quick development, and others have tried to lay claim to this secret; but, in truth, Mom was the one to originally discover the “secret” ingredients AND process involved in developing a matching product at home. Unlike most of the companies, whose products Mom imitated, Treacher’s people accepted the copycat imitation as the homage it was meant to be.

“Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” – One of Charles Caleb Colton’s most famous aphorisms (1824). Lacon, Or, Many Things in a Few Words: Addressed to Those who Think (8 ed.). New York: S. Marks. #217, p. 114.

The most exciting attention we received was the recognition given us by the Arthur Treacher people. At the time, the Arthur Treacher fish batter was unique. It was crispy and golden brown and very light. Everyone we talked to about fish wanted to know how to recreate the Treacher fish batter at home. The original challenge came directly from Bob Allison’s “Neighbors”. The TV commercials advertised that it was “the meal you cannot make at home!” I tried to disprove that.

Finding the nearest Arthur Treacher restaurant [from “beautiful, downtown Pearl Beach”] was the real challenge. With a friend, I drove into Mt. Clemens and located one. After dozens of tests and trying what I thought would be a good Oriental Tempura batter, again, I was disappointed. I tried every fish batter I could find, in every possible recipe source [at the time], over a 6- or 7-month period.

Finally, one day, by accident, I was preparing fish for our dinner – without any thought being given to Arthur Treacher’s batter – and on a lark, [I] mixed together boxed pancake mix and some Club Soda. Only because the plumber was working on the pipes and had turned off the water temporarily, did I resort to that Club Soda, so that I wouldn’t have to put off preparing dinner until the plumber was finished. Everybody had someplace to go that evening, so dinner had to be fast and on time.

Wouldn’t you know it! There, on the platter, was a mountain of the most beautiful, golden, crispy fish that you would have sworn came right from Arthur Treacher’s own kitchen! The next day, I retested the recipe and tried to work out some of the little flaws that we came across, before I could report back to Bob Allison and his “Neighbors” over, then, WWJ-Radio, Detroit.

The biggest problem was how the coating kept falling off the fish during frying. It turned out, I had to correct two things – coating [the] moistened fillets, first, in plain flour, before dipping [them] into the batter and, then, having the oil precisely at 385F. Oh! And a third point: Never to use tongs – or the coating would break apart.

Once the fish recipe proved to be free of faults, I sent a copy of the recipe to Carol Haddix, the Food Editor of the “Detroit Free Press” [at that time], for her comments. I had talked with her, by phone, during the many weeks that I worked on perfecting the batter, trying to discover why the batter would sometimes fall off the fish; why the fish was, sometimes, greasy; and a number of other problems. She offered me the benefit of her experiences with frying fish and told me to get her a copy of the recipe, if I ever perfected it.

When she published the recipe in the paper, it carried her approval as “on target”. So, it does, therefore, have ample validation that the recipe is ours and does belong to “Secret Recipes”, in spite of the number of people I have had to confront on the issue over the years, regarding the plagiarism of it from our publications. Because our recipes and newsletters are all “dated publications” and are subject to Interstate Commerce, we don’t use the same copyright procedures that book publishers use.

We validate the originality by date of publication and back it up with radio and newspaper endorsements and involvement with the development and printing of the recipes for public use. But, that one recipe really caught the attention of the press! The wire services picked up Carol Haddix’s story about us and the fish batter recipe and, before long, it appeared in over 100 papers…[and the rest is history!]

Gloria Pitzer, 1985

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading “Mom’s Story” as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it again for her legacy tribute. In closing, here is a picture of Mom’s make-alike recipe for Arthur Treacher-Style Fish Batter and a bonus recipe, using any extra batter for Onion Rings (like Burger King used to serve in the beginning). This comes from Mom’s 1985 “Free Recipes & Information” sheet; asking only for proper credit if you care to share it:

More information about Arthur Treacher and a slightly different version of this recipe, using individual spices instead of the packaged ranch dressing mix, along with some other famous fish & chips-style dishes and stories, can be found on pages 105-115 of Mom’s last book, “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 famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing)].

Go to https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252 to purchase the book for only $20.99! An eBook version is also available for only $3.99!

Please, come back and check out my blog next week, “Famous Foods from Famous Places”, when I discuss more of Mom’s writing career and how she earned the title of “The Recipe Detective”, which she trademarked; plus, the cookbook that began it all!

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Mom’s Story – How Secret Recipes Began, Part 3

Hi everybody and welcome to Mondays & Memories of My Mom! This is a special blog I started last year to carry on my mom’s legacy. I’m Laura Emerich and my mom is Gloria Pitzer; also known as (aka) the one-and-only, ORIGINAL “Secret Recipe Detective”! That’s the name or title bestowed on Mom in the 1970’s era by her many radio talk-show friends and fans, because she could sleuth out the secrets of the food and restaurant industries like Sherlock Holmes (who happened to be one of Mom’s favorite, fictional book characters), determining how their dishes could be made at home with a minimum amount of cost, effort and ingredients.

This week, I am continuing with “Part 3” of my 4-part, special series, “Mom’s Story – How Secret Recipes Began”, sharing with you some of Mom’s own memories of how she came to be “The Secret Recipe Detective”, her trademarked name. This particular series is based on excerpts from Mom’s story, in her own words, as seen on pages 292-297 in her 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 famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing).

Resuming the story, “…How Secret Recipes Began”, here is “Part 3” in Mom’s words:

THE FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE

IT WAS THE WORST POSSIBLE TIME to launch a new business. The unemployment rate was terribly high. There was a newsprint paper shortage. There was a gasoline shortage. But, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least try to have my own publication. It was something I had always wanted to do. I couldn’t tell Paul. I knew that! He would have been far too practical to have approved of my starting my own paper, so I enlisted the help of our children.

I was taking in ironing at the time [1973-ish], at $5 a basket, and sometimes earned as much as $50 a week. The money was supposed to supplement Paul’s paycheck, which – as soon as we found could make ends meet – we discovered somebody had moved the ends. So, I took what money I could from the ironing earnings and bought a mimeograph.

Gloria Pitzer – 1974

I kept it in a big box in the utility room under my sewing table. Paul would hardly pay attention to what I wanted him to think was only sewing paraphernalia. For 9 months [1974], I mimeographed, assembled and mailed out about 100 copies a month of my “newsletter”. Bill and Mike helped assemble it and Debbie help me test the recipes and address the copies. I don’t know how we ever kept it from Paul for that long, but I couldn’t tell him what I was doing until I could assure him that I could make a profit. All I was doing was breaking even.

Mom had a lot of creative gifts and writing was probably on the top of the list. She had a way with words that made me smile and laugh, as well as make me think, “Hmmm?!” Her newsletters and books were full of “Food for Thought”, jokes, meditation, inspiration, historic information and so much more than just recipes. It certainly set her products apart from all the rest on the market at that time. She was largely influenced by Carol Duvall and her crafting newsletter, as well as, by Elsie Masterson and her “Blueberry Hill Cookbook” (1959).

Mom always described her own newsletters as being like “getting together for coffee…with friends.” I would describe it, simply, as Mom’s “happy place”. Anyway, back to her story…

Then, Dennis Wholley, at Channel 7 in Detroit, called and said somebody had sent him a copy of my newsletter. He was tickled with the crazy names I gave the recipes and the home-spun format. He wanted the entire family to be his guests on his ‘A.M. Detroit’ show on November 14th – which was also our Laura’s birthday. I couldn’t keep it from Paul any longer, because I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to promote the paper on a popular local television show.

He took it quite well, considering the state of shock he must have been in at my announcement. But, we took all 5 of the kids with us across town, in a blizzard yet, with Laura having a bout of car-sickness during the hour’s drive there. And, during that experience, we met Coleman Young, the recently elected mayor of Detroit, who was also a guest on the show. All of Pearl Beach must have been tuned into ‘A.M. Detroit’ that morning, with half of the population gathered at the Pearl Beach post office, watching the portable set there.

1974 – Paul & Gloria Pitzer going over orders at their dining room table in Algonac.

It brought us many new orders for our newsletter, and it wasn’t long before CKLW’s Bob Heinz asked us to appear on his show on New Year’s Day. We, again, took the family over to Windsor, Ontario – across the Detroit River – for another exciting experience and hundreds of letters that followed, wanting to subscribe to the newsletter. By that time, Paul was giving me every evening of his time when he came home from his own job at the sign company, plus all the weekends just to fill the orders.

Stay tuned, next week, for the final part of this 4-part series about Mom’s story – how she became the famous “Secret Recipe Detective” – in her own words, as she describes how Dad retired early, from the sign company, to help Mom full-time; and about her Arthur Treacher Fish challenge! I can say this, as one of the official taste-testers in the challenges that she endeavored from her radio listeners, “BEST job ever!” Even the “duds” (the ones that didn’t quite imitate the taste she was trying to achieve) were great!

The best way to tell how successful a dish will be is to look for the first one to disappear. Find the cook & get the recipe! [As seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Newsletter, Issue 146, Sep-Oct 1907; pg. 1, w/in “Dear Friends” editorial]

In closing, as I’ve been doing each week, I want to conclude this blog with one of Mom’s famous imitation recipes (pictured below), Applebee’s-Style Oriental Dressing, that appeared on one of her “Free Recipes/Information” sheets (2000) – asking only for proper credit if you care to share it:

Note: this particular dressing recipe was not included in 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 famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing). However, many other wonderful salads and dressings dishes, as well as wonderful morsels of “Food for Thought”, preparation tips and humorous antidotes can be found in the “Salads & Salad Dressings” chapter or section of this book on pages 26-48. Enjoy!

“Gloria Pitzer, The Recipe Detective” – Written by John Thorne, 1986

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Gloria Pitzer [quit] her job as food editor at a local paper because she insisted on giving readers the recipes they wanted, not the recipes her editor felt they ought to want. Still convinced that she was right, she took in ironing until she had scraped up enough to purchase a mimeograph machine, and started sending out a food letter, The Secret Recipe Report. (Now called Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Quarterly, it may well be the longest-lived food letter ever.) Ten years later she was making regular appearances on radio cooking talk shows all around the country and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the cookbooks into which she was periodically gathering these “secret recipes,” most famously her Better Cookery Cookbook: Secret Recipes for Famous Foods from Famous Places.

This triumph was built on the brilliant intuition that a lot of home cooks were tired of the recipes offered in most cookbooks and newspaper food pages. These, usually, break down into two general categories: dishes that, on the one hand, require the cook to tackle new methods and new ingredients for ends that may or may not prove worth the effort and, on the other, the all-too-familiar round of penny-scraping, time-cheating, fat-wary throw-togethers.

What Pitzer understood was that while this was what her readers may have said they wanted, it was secretly what they yearned to escape. Although they might be afraid to admit this, even to themselves, what would most excite them would be to learn how to make the food they most loved to eat: the fast food they bought at McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken and the brand-name treats they brought home from the supermarket, stuff like Oreo cookies and Hostess Snowballs.

So, Gloria Pitzer assumed both the title and role of the “Recipe Detective” and set out to decode these foods — at least to the point where she could replicate them in her own home kitchen. And she succeeded at this beyond her wildest dreams — sometimes to corporate fury and sometimes to its amused acquiescence.

It quickly became apparent that she had touched a public nerve. Her radio appearances — helped by her perky, unpretentious personality and unabashed enthusiasm — brought her thousands of letters. When she went on national television to teach Phil Donahue how to make Twinkies, she received over a million pieces of mail…an event that so traumatized her that she subsequently refused to appear on Good Morning America or in People Magazine. (Nor did she return to the Phil Donahue show for another twelve years. But, when she did in 1993, there were over five hundred thousand requests for a transcript — more than any other in the history of the show.)

Cookbooks offering homemade versions of popular restaurant and brand-name foods are nothing new. What made Gloria Pitzer different was both what she chose to replicate and how she chose to do it. For instance, Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, in their award-winning Better than Store Bought, eschewed brand-name replication entirely, teaching their readers instead to make corn chips or tomato catsup in a healthier and more economical fashion. These authors shrink from any association with the shameful thrill of a mouthful of Pringles or raspberry-flavored marshmallow fluff.

In complete contrariety, Gloria Pitzer actively promotes what is vulgarly excessive about such things, instinctively grasping that it was the way junk food breaches culinary decorum that makes it so desirable in the first place. Consequently, her versions are often worse for us than the originals and, sometimes even more expensive to make.

You would search in vain in Better than Store Bought for a recipe for Cheez Whiz; Gloria Pitzer gives us two. She also explains what we surely would always have wanted to know if we ever believed anyone would tell us: how to make Lipton’s instant cream of tomato soup, Eagle Brand condensed milk, General Foods “Suisse Mocha” instant coffee…and a host of other such familiars. Only Dream Whip has so far managed to stymie her, and that probably not for long.

How does the Recipe Detective go about deducing the secrets of these patent formulas? By trying, tasting, and — when these are available — perhaps casting a very casual glance at the ingredient list. Indeed, what to my mind makes Pitzer a true artist is her lack of interest in with what exactly a particular product is made. As she puts if forthrightly: “I do not know, nor do I WANT to know what these companies put into their recipes.” What she wants to replicate is less it than the experience of eating it.

So, to copy a forty-eight-ounce jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise, she blends the expected ingredients — oil, eggs, lemon juice, vinegar, salt — with some that you might not expect — three-quarters of a cup each of sugar and evaporated milk and two sticks of margarine. Then, to offset the incredible greasy richness that this produces (did I mention the six egg yolks?), she ups the lemon juice and vinegar to a third of a cup each and the salt to four teaspoons.

A spoonful of this mixture explodes in the mouth like a culinary hand grenade. Salt! Sweet! Sour! Fat! — all hit the taste buds simultaneously and with overwhelming intensity. This is cooking as an act of sensual violence. And while not all her recipes are like this, many are. Some go further.

Taken as a whole, this cooking is to ordinary fare as scarlet-covered romances are to ordinary life…normal caution cast aside for the pleasure of total surrender to the charming — and surely not totally unscrupulous — ravisher. Such food doesn’t ask to be tasted; it compels the mouth to submit. The message: when pleasure forces itself on you, there’s no blame in yielding. Relax and enjoy it.

Certainly, Gloria Pitzer herself treats the sweet-talking blandishments of her seducers as gospel truth. She writes with a straight face that the beef from which White Castle makes its hamburgers is “of such a high quality we can’t possibly equal it with what we buy in our supermarkets….” She spends months decoding Arthur Treacher’s “secret” fish fry batter and the Colonel’s “secret” eleven herbs and spices.

It isn’t, of course, that I don’t think such secrets exist. I’m sure they do. I just don’t think they have all that much influence on anyone’s decision to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken. This may be why, when Pitzer and Colonel Sanders chatted together once on a radio program, he genially hinted that she look around the grocery store for a packaged mix that might contain eleven secret herbs and spices. Pitzer diligently did just that-to discover that the secret behind that finger lickin’ flavor was Good Seasons brand Italian salad dressing mix.

Another cook might have been dismayed — some secret! — but Pitzer was thrilled. Here, suddenly, reality was replicating fantasy, her fantasy. Her final recipe — for three pounds of fryer parts — mixes two packets of the salad seasoning into a blend of butter, corn oil, Crisco, milk, lemon juice, and sage-and-paprika-seasoned pancake mix.

Because it bombards us with pleasurable and un-resistible stimuli, junk food offers an immediate comfort that ordinary food cannot… a comfort that few of us can resist all the time. But as it coddles, it also betrays, for like many seducers it is not what it pretends to be. We know this, and we don’t care. There is eating where the mouth is inquisitive, aggressive, alert, and appreciative because it genuinely wants to get to know what it is devouring. Then, like an encounter between two strangers in pick-up bar, both looking for an easy one-night stand, there is eating that knows it had best not look too closely and just take it as it comes.

Such encounters have their flavor, but that comes from a willed confusion of fantasy and reality, of appearance and substance, reinforced by the ambience of the bar and smooth talk that is at once sincere and empty. In the world of food, these things arise from the aura that is woven around the brand name, associations that persistent advertising persuades us to equate with our own sense of pleasure. This is why economy-minded mothers serve cheaper, frozen fried chicken to their family in a carefully preserved Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket — it’s the bucket, not the chicken (even less the herbs and spices), that provides the savor of this kind of eating.

The sobriquet “recipe detective” might at first acquaintance sound like an attempt to become fast-food’s Philip Marlowe — a solitary seeker of truth stalking the mean streets of the Miracle Mile. In Pitzer’s case, nothing could be further from the truth. The persona she projects in her writing is not that of detective-avenger but of willing victim, the romantic heroine who refuses to let go the illusions that lead, over and over again, to the threat of seduction and betrayal.

Food writing as Harlequin romance — it is in such terms, I think, that we should read her indiscriminate eagerness to justify fast food, her hymns of praise to those who make it, and, especially, her vilification of the writers who attempt to undermine its emotional solace. We should take it, that is, as defending not a belief so much as a dream.

If you go by the commercials, the Big Mac, the Diet Pepsi, the Lay’s potato chip are all you need to transform a family meal or a gathering of friends into a joyous event; they are sold, that is, as Energizer batteries for human beings. Food, perhaps, should not be put to this purpose. But it is, and it works — at least for a time. Better Cookery Cookbook — the title is without irony, since it is merely mimicking the Betty Crocker Cookbook (in case you don’t get it, she adds on the next page, “General Thrills Foods”) — because of its self-illusions, is a compelling, even touching, portrait of the author’s, and by extension, many another’s, struggles with the junk-food dream.

That unselfconscious honesty is what distances Pitzer from the more publicized mainstream writers on the pleasures of this world. The latter approach it as curious tourists in the land of Big Boys and Chicken in the Rough, tourists who keep their culinary passports in order so that they can get out at the drop of a hat. Gloria Pitzer actually lives there…and that makes all the difference.

Dream Whip has so far managed to stymie her, but that probably won’t for long.

by John Thorne, 1986

NOTE: Thorne lived in Boston for a number of years, where he self-published a number of culinary pamphlets reviewed at the time by The New York Times, which in 1983 grew into his ongoing newsletter, “Simple Cooking”. In the middle 1980s, Thorne moved to coastal Maine to devote himself exclusively to food writing, and where he became associated with Matt Lewis, who later shared a byline for a number of his books and his newsletter. Thorne’s newsletter has consisted of essays on food preparation and appreciation blended with snatches of autobiography…as well as frequent cookbook reviews. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Thorne_(writer)