Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

As always, happy Monday to everybody! I hope you’ve all enjoyed your Independence Day celebrations and the extra-long weekend! I want to wish a big “happy birthday” to the famous Austrian Chef, Wolfgang Puck, AND happy 130th birthday to the USA Wall Street Journal!

Also, in history – yesterday was the 38-year anniversary of when Mom FIRST appeared on the Phil Donahue Show! That was definitely a milestone event, to say the least! St. Clair’s little post office was swamped with a million letters, throughout that summer and fall, just from that show, which aired and re-aired around the world for about a year! It was truly an overwhelming response that none of us ever expected. More about that story appears in one of my early blogs, More than 15 Minutes of Fame.

Secret RecipesTM was just a family affair (other than my parents’ recent hiring of an Administrative Assistant, who was also a family friend) until that summer! Then my parents needed to pay some of my friends to temporarily come in and help with all the extra mail…from sending out hundreds of thousands of Mom’s “free recipes and product-ordering information” sheets for all the SASEs that came in, from the show airing that offer, to sending out the thousands-upon-thousands more newsletter issues, from all of the extra subscription orders that came from those “free sheet” mailings.

Donahue 1981 promo

Every year, the summer months seem to wiz right by me, never getting to completely enjoy them. While, on the other hand, winter seems to linger on endlessly! I want to savor every wonderful day of summer this year. It seems to pass by so fast here, in Michigan. Inspired by an article I read at https://www.beautyandtips.com/fun/10-fun-things-to-do-in-the-summer/ , I created a summertime bucket list of 5 things I want do this summer (as seen in photo below).

I’m a list-maker! Thus, I also started making another list of what I want to pack for our perfect picnic. Since I’m living a low-carb life-style, now, and my husband is not, I have to rethink our favorite classic picnic dishes to accommodate the both of us. That means most everything will need to be made and packed ahead of time, in individual servings rather than the usual family-style dishes. Great ideas on how to plan the perfect picnic and the related recipes can be found at, both, the Food Network’s and Taste of Home’s websites!

Our list of favorite picnic classics is similar to those listed in Sara Elliott’s Top 10 Picnic Foods, as seen on HowStuffWorks.com. When I plan my own picnics, I like to use the summertime classics that Mom used to make, I love her homemade dishes like fudge brownies, chocolate chip cookies, coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salads, fruit salad and fried chicken, which is always great, either, hot or cold!

I‘ve been learning to make my own low-carb versions of a lot of dishes I used to make and enjoy with my husband. For instance, I missed no-bake cookies, which I used to call “Mud Puddles” when I was a little girl. Thus, I took my favorite recipe apart and, like my mom, discovered how to make the same thing a different way; replacing the sugar with a sugar-substitute and the peanut butter with a low-carb version (I really like Skippy’s “Natural Creamy”), plus some unsweetened coconut in place of the oatmeal. I can, once again, savor those wonderful delights (IN MODERATION), while my husband enjoys a few of his own sweet favorites, fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies!

In addition, instead of the potato and pasta salads that my husband will enjoy, I can have a low-carb spring greens salad with fresh-picked vegetables from my garden, bacon bits, shredded cheese and my own, homemade, low-carb 1000 Island or ranch dressing. My husband always says he’d “rather eat the rabbit than the rabbit food!” I’ve also learned to make low-carb versions of coleslaw and meatloaf that we both enjoy – you can count us among those who like their meatloaf, either way, hot or cold. In addition, grilled chicken, instead of fried, is also a low-carb substitution that I can utilize for both of us (hot or cold)!

My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 68)

BIG BUCKET IN THE SKY!

Speaking of fried chicken – in a side note – while surfing the web, recently, for old articles about my mom, I ran across an article by John Owen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, published March 1, 1994, that said, in part…

COLONEL SANDERS’ ORIGINAL RECIPE was pressure-cooked in oil. The spicing is supposed to be a secret. One researcher concluded there are only four “secret herbs and spices” in the late colonel’s recipe. Another…The Recipe Detective…offers an excellent approximation but contains 11 herbs and spices. And it’s probably better for you because it is oven-cooked. Gloria Pitzer calls it “Colonel Sanders-Style Chicken.” – By John Owen

It should be noted that, since 1977, Mom actually called her imitation of KFC’s original product (as it used to be, before “The Colonel” sold it) “Big Bucket in the Sky!” chicken; following threats of legal action for trademark infringements from the KFC Corporation’s Trademark Manager in Dec. 1976. KFC had also sent copies of that letter to The National Inquirer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Detroit Free Press and WHO-radio for the reporters in those medias who wrote articles or talked about Mom’s imitation of “The Colonel’s” original product to, likewise, stop referring to it as “The Colonel’s Style” or “KFC’s Style” chicken.

Here’s a great “extended version” of the Colonel-Sanders-related story mentioned above (part of it is a summer rerun from my earlier blog, More than 15 Minutes of Fame). The following is Mom’s favorite recipe experience from “The Phil Donahue Show”, as it appears in her last book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective ( Balboa Press, January 2018; 1st Printing, pp. 86-89), along with Mom’s “Big Bucket in the Sky!” chicken recipe from one of those pages, as well:

Mom & Phil Donahue 1993

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

FRIED CHICKEN has always been a basic American favorite, even before it was a restaurant offering. It was ‘down-home’ and wholesome and has never lost its popularity. When Colonel Harland Sanders, in his retirement years, took a can of his favorite secret spices & herbs and his precious fryer and traveled across the country demonstrating his technique for preparing chicken. No one dreamed it would someday become one of the most successful corporations of the American restaurant industry, much less of the American free enterprise system, itself!

There are very minute differences between the popular restaurants in the way that their individual recipes are prepared… My own favorite is still the original recipe that we sampled when we were traveling [through] Ontario many, many years ago, and stopped at the White Horse Inn, where ‘The Colonel’, himself, was preparing his chicken and passing samples around to the customers. If the owners of the restaurant liked the response, Harland Sanders would provide them with the spices and the technique for preparing it under his name, which he eventually did – growing to the largest in the business.

Cartoon by Gloria Pitzer

THE SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE – WITH THE COLONEL’S HELP

I look back now to 1976 and 1977 and realize how fortunate I was to have had my life touched by so many helpful people – so many famous people! It’s almost incredible that what started out to be merely the frosting on the cake, of my monthly newsletter, soon became the whole cake!

While duplicating the secrets of the food and restaurant industry was only going to be a part of the publication I was writing, it was a surprise to me that the interest and the response from the public led to my specializing in the fast food division entirely! I thought my first book was going to be my ‘only’ book on that subject, but – six books later – I was still seriously, but lovingly, engaged in the pursuit of new information and challenging recipe imitations. [Side note: In total, Mom wrote and self-published over 40 books, in 30 years, 1973-2003.]

…One summer, while visiting relatives in West Virginia, we sampled some pan-fried home-style chicken that was every bit as good as the chicken produced in a pressure fryer. Paul’s 82-year-old-aunt claimed, why the chicken always came out just right every time she made it, which was religiously every Sunday, was the pan! She used an 80-year-old wrought iron skillet that had never been washed in soap and water. She ‘seasoned’ it with shortening – lard, mostly – and she kept it in the oven of her wood-burning, porcelain-enameled stove, where it was always warm.

THE FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE that first called attention to my recipes nationally – through the ‘National Enquirer’, ‘Money Magazine’, ‘Catholic Digest’, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’, ‘Campus Life Magazine’ and, yes, even ‘Playboy Magazine’ – was this following combination of ingredients… [as always, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it…]

See, also, http://therecipedetective.com/2018/11/06/big-bucket-in-the-sky-fried-chicken/ for another version included in this story.

The method is quite unorthodox and the original idea for developing it in this manner, came from a conversation I had with ‘Col. Sanders’ over the air with radio station WFAA in Dallas when I was a regular guest on a talk show with them for several months…

‘The Colonel’ was fascinated by the publicity I had received for my (original) ‘Big Bucket in the Sky’ fried chicken recipe and agreed that I was on the right track if I’d add more pepper. He loved pepper! He also suggested browning the chicken in a skillet and, then, oven-baking it until tender to achieve a likeness more to the original recipe he had created in 1964. He told me to look around the grocery store for 1 packaged product to replace the 11 spices – which I did diligently – and discovered that powdered Italian salad dressing mix was the secret!

Gloria Pitzer, Recipe Detective

So, I set to work to revamp the recipe. My original recipe was quite close to the famous Colonel’s product, but the coating kept falling off – because, as he explained, I couldn’t get the oil hot enough. He liked peanut oil, himself, but suggested that I could achieve a similar result by using corn or Crisco oil – with 1 cup solid Crisco for every 4 cups of oil. He talked about the quality in his product changing after turning the business over to new owners…Heublein [Incorporated]…

It seemed unlikely that a home-kitchen-rendition of such a famous product could be had for the price of my book. But the letters came in – ‘best chicken we ever had’; ‘LOVED that fried chicken recipe’; ‘our favorite chicken recipe…please don’t change it’; and ‘maybe the Colonel should have YOUR recipe!’

I don’t recall ever getting tired of fried chicken, while taste-testing all those “duds”; until Mom achieved the perfect result, for which she was aiming. There were never any bad “duds”! They just didn’t have the precise taste or quality (or both) that Mom was trying to attain.

On occasion, I’ve heard or read comments from some people who’ve tried one of Mom’s recipes and said, while it tasted really good, it didn’t taste like the product it was supposed to be imitating. Nevertheless, they loved it and continued to use the recipe as their families’ favorite “go-to” selection.

As I’ve mentioned before, in a previous blog (New Year, New Attitude), you’ll find some recipes, even in chain restaurants, will have slight, state-to-state or region-to-region, cultural differences. In addition, recipes are occasionally changed over the years to accommodate such things as public trends, healthier selections, availability factors and/or economic reasons among others.

In Crouton Crackerjacks’ wonderful YouTube video of a guy making (and giving proper credit for) Mom’s imitation of Cracker Barrel’s Buttermilk Biscuits, the guy says that the biscuits he’s making taste nothing like Cracker Barrel’s, to him. BUT, he does add that, all-in-all, it is an excellent biscuit – regardless of what restaurant inspired it – it’s his family’s favorite biscuit recipe! Check out the video at https://youtu.be/CLc0Hkbwz7c. AND see Mom’s recipe at the end of this blog for her “Beautiful Biscuits – Better than KFC’s”!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

For instance, regarding recipe changes, after Harland Sanders sold his company and recipes to Heublein Incorporated, they changed a recipe that resulted in “The Colonel” suing them for misuse of his image in promoting products he hadn’t developed. [From “The part of KFC’s Story They Don’t Want You to Know”, by The Useless Info Junkie at https://theuijunkie.com/colonel-sanders-sued-kfc/]

During his later years, Harland Sanders became very critical of the “new” recipes dished up by the new KFC owners, as he believed they had cut costs and allowed quality to deteriorate. BrightSide.me offers up more examples of corporate recipe changes in their article, 11 Products That Have Surprisingly Changed Over Time, at https://brightside.me/wonder-curiosities/11-products-that-have-surprisingly-changed-over-time-418560/.

IN CLOSING…

[NOTE: This is bonus recipe, for you, is a photo copy of Mom’s “Beautiful Biscuits, better than KFC’s” – from one of her “free recipe” offers.]

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