Happy Monday and happy March to everyone! As usual, thank God it’s Monday – #TGIM – as it’s another chance for me to share Mom’s story with the world, again!
March is National Women’s History Month! According to NationalDayCalendar.com, “National Women’s History Month was established in 1987 as a way to celebrate women across the nation and their efforts to make the country, and world, a better place for women of all ages and races.”
So, what better time is there to tell my mom’s story? Mom was a pioneer in the food industry, as she was the first person (let alone, the first woman) to begin the copycat cookery movement, back in the 1970s, imitating the “secret recipes” of “famous foods from famous places”, right at home!
Mom always felt that we could and should, all of us, make the world a better place – she liked to do it through her food-for-thought and food-for-the-soul articles, as well as her UNIQUE (at that time) food-for-the-table recipes.
In the mid-1970s, Mom was nicknamed the “Recipe Detective” by the radio listeners of Bob Allison’s “Ask Your Neighbor” call-in program, because she could decipher what combinations of ingredients and techniques could be used at home to imitate many favorite restaurant dishes and fast food items; as well as packaged “junk foods” and other supermarket products, for which people were searching to replicate. Later, Mom trademarked the nickname, as it became her signature format.
Fast food (and junk food) items were the most requested recipes for which Mom was asked to decode and devise a copycat version. Those types of recipes weren’t found in any other source being published at that time and people were clamoring to find out how to make their favorites at home. After all, fast foods epitomized the very restaurants where most American families, like ourselves, were apt to patron if they wanted an affordable meal!
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p.293)
I was a regular participant on Bob Allison’s ‘Ask Your Neighbor’ radio show that aired 5 days a week for 2 hours in the morning. I used Bob’s program for asking for food information that I needed for my weekly columns. Bob’s audience was very helpful in supplying me with answers. To reciprocate, I would reply to some of the requests made by his audience when they called into Bob’s show.
It was a unique format in that one could not simply call in a recipe or information simply because they wanted to share it with others. The information or the recipe had to, first, be requested by a previous caller. Many of my first ‘Secret Recipes’ were developed because of requests made by Bob’s callers for such dishes as The Colonel’s secret spices, Arthur Treacher’s fish batter, Sander’s hot fudge, Win Schuler’s bar cheese and so on.
At the suggestion of one of Bob’s callers that I should put all my column recipes into a book, I wrote my 1st edition  called ‘The Better Cooker’s Cookbook’. In less than a month, I had sold 1000 copies. I wasn’t satisfied with the book, so I didn’t reprint it – but, decided that it might work out better if I could do those recipes monthly.
So, in December 1973, I put together my 1st issue of what came to be my ‘Secret Recipe Report’; a newsletter that, for 106 consecutive monthly issues, brought me in contact with the many so-called secrets of the commercial food and restaurant industry. I probably wouldn’t have done the [newsletter], except for a falling-out I had [at the time] with the editor of a small-town paper for which I was writing a food column.
I had published some of my 1st attempts at duplicating famous dishes in that column and the response was beautiful, until I offended one of the paper’s biggest advertisers with a rendition of their cheesecake… ‘The kind that nobody doesn’t like.’ The editor told me I would have to go back to standard recipes like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf or chocolate cake – or I could pick up my check. I told him to ‘MAIL it to me!’
That’s when I decided it was time to launch my own paper. That afternoon, I put out my charter issue, sending samples of it to those whose names and addresses I had on file from having written to me at the paper. That was the beginning of ‘Secret Recipes’!
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p.296)
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, 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. 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 nine months, I mimeograph, 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.
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 14  – 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 carsickness 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.
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 [to Detroit and] 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.
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… 25 [cents] 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’ – [as it was considered a ‘fad’ that wouldn’t last long] but, as it turned out, it was only the 1st of a series of, then, 5 books.
After ‘Book One’ took off [in 1975] and became a very good seller, I did a Bicentennial American Cookery book 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…
Mind you, Mom never knew the actual “secret recipes” of the “specialty” restaurants and food companies but she could come up with her own combination of ingredients and techniques in recipes that imitated the famous dishes and products that people craved! In those days, nobody else was doing anything like it.
Mom didn’t write recipes for the usual, ordinary things that other cookbooks offered, at that time, such as ordinary chocolate cupcakes and fried chicken. Instead, Mom was the trail-blazer who brought us the SPECIAL recipes for making imitations of things like Hostess’ Cupcakes and “The Colonel’s” Fried Chicken. Mom often titled her imitations to sound similar to the original inspirations from which they were derived. For example, Mom’s cupcake imitation was called “Hopeless Cupcakes” and her chicken imitation was called “Big Bucket in the Sky Chicken”.
There was a bottomless well of “secret recipe” imitation ideas and inspirations within the food industry, that Mom could tap into – and she did – between supermarket shelves, delis, fast food chains and restaurants, just to name a few. Her self-published books and newsletters stood out from all the others – from the subject matter, itself, to its presentation and promotion!
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
Some of the other national, month-long (March), food-related observances being celebrated this month include Celery Month, Caffeine Awareness Month, Flour Month (with Nat’l Flour Day on the 20th), Frozen Food Month, Noodle Month, Nutrition Month, Peanut Month and Sauce Month, among others. Again, not food-related but close to my heart and Mom’s, as well – it’s also going to be National… Craft Month and Small Press Month!
Yesterday, March 1st, began National eBook Week! Don’t forget to get your copy of Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, available in eBook form, through the publisher, Balboa Press, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253.
Also, in hard copy, through the publisher, Balboa Press, for $20.99 each, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252.
#ThankGodItsMondayDay suggests that we… “Stop shaming Monday and look at what Monday has to offer… 52 CHANCES to see a beautiful sunrise… share your talents with the world… teach someone a new skill that will better their lives…” For me, it’s 52 CHANCES to tell Mom’s story, again, and, hopefully, re-inspire love in the kitchen, in the home and family, throughout the neighborhood and around the world. Nine down, 43 to go!