Happy Monday and happy July to one and all! I hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th of July celebration yesterday! This is the first Monday of the second half of 2021 but I always look forward to all Mondays because they’re my 52 Chances each year, in which I get to share Memories of My Mom with all of you!
This coming Wednesday is, among other things, the 40th anniversary of Mom’s FIRST appearance on the Phil Donahue Show (July 7, 1981). That was undoubtedly the biggest milestone event in our family-run, dining-room-table, cottage operation, which had started 8 years before that! It was even an historic event for our small hometown, to say the least!
St. Clair’s little post office (which was serving, at that time, less than 5,000 citizens) was inundated with about a million letters, throughout the summer and fall; just from that episode airing and re-airing around the world for about a year, following the initial taping! 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 an Administrative Assistant, who was also a family friend) until that summer, when my parents had to pay some summer temp-workers, who were actually my friends, to come in and help with all the extra mail. None of us had any idea of what the impact of such a popular, internationally syndicated show would be.
We were sending out hundreds of thousands of Mom’s sheets of “free recipes and product-ordering information” in all the SASEs (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes) that came in; as Mom offered during the show. There were also a lot of newsletter subscription orders that generated from those “free sheet” mailings, so once a month (for a while) the family also needed extra help just in putting address labels on the newsletter issues that were mailed out.
Mom’s copycat recipes revolution took the nation by storm and washed over the world – thanks to the Phil Donahue Show – like a tidal wave! Ever since her early cookbooks on the subject were first released in the mid-1970s, Mom referred to her copycat imitations as her solutions to “eating out – at home”, and that, she’d add, no longer meant hot dogs on the grill, in the backyard!
Word spread like a wildfire in the 1970s that a small town, Michigan housewife was duplicating famous foods from famous places and sharing her secrets in her self-published newsletter and cookbooks! Radio stations, newspapers, magazines and television – they all picked up on the story through the wire service (pre home computers and internet) and it snowballed from there. Here are a few of Mom’s stories about that first appearance on the Phil Donahue Show.
Additionally, tomorrow, July 6th, is National Fried Chicken Day! As such, here are a few more re-shares of Mom’s stories about imitating famous chicken dishes from places like KFC and Chicken-In-The-Ruff; each followed by re-shares of her copycat recipes for them, as well!
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pages 87-88)
[A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)]
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 names that will be identified with fried chicken for a long time to come that include Church’s Fried Chicken, Brown’s, Popeye’s, Original Recipe, Banquet Fried Chicken, Pioneer Fried Chicken, Southern Fried Chicken and, of course, the leader of the industry, Kentucky Fried Chicken, which will be familiar to us with an affectionate regard, as we recall the big bucket at the top of the pole revolving above the Colonel’s restaurants across the country – and now across the world!
There are very minute differences between these popular restaurants in the way that their individual recipes are prepared. At home, when you want definite inspiration in preparing your own fried chicken, I have given you only a few of the great versions. There are many more, but the side dishes that accompanied the chicken in these various restaurants deserve some attention as well. I have included some of these in this section.
My own favorite is still the original recipe that we sampled when we were traveling in 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.
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.
I’ve been asked by restaurants to give them permission to use my recipes and say so on their menus. I’ve been asked by ‘People’ magazine, at least once a month for six months – even before the Donahue show appearance – to grant them an interview. The fact that I had declined the invitation because I couldn’t handle any additional mail, made the columns of the Detroit Free Press, when their ‘Tip-Off’ columnist said it was ‘classy’ to turn down People Magazine – refusing publicity in a national magazine because I did not want to ‘get big’!
[NOTE: As I mentioned in previous blog posts, Mom did eventually grant “People” magazine an interview, which appeared in the issue dated May 7th, 1990.]
It was just good business sense to me. For like Maurice and Dick McDonald, I like what I’m doing and having somebody else do it for me, as Ray Kroc did it for the two brothers, would be like Liberace having somebody play the piano for him.
However, one of the most important turning points in the events of my recipe work was the influence that Col. Harland Sanders had over me and his direct suggestions on how to make my fried chicken recipe more like the one he originally developed!
With the tests for COUNTERFEITING FRIED CHICKEN AT HOME that was as good as what you could buy out – but for less – I felt I HAD to have a pressure fryer. This meant I had to have a place to also put it in my kitchen, which was already bursting at the seams with appliances and gadgets and utensils I really didn’t get enough use from, as it was.
Then 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-and blamed why the chicken always came out just right every time she made it, which was religiously every Sunday! It was the pan!
She used an 80-year-old wrought iron skillet that had never been washed in soap and water. She ‘seasoned’ it was shortening – lard, mostly. She kept it in the oven of her wood-burning, porcelain enamel dough, 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.
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. We discussed the secrets of the food industry with listeners by phone from our homes.
The Colonel was fascinated by the publicity I had received for my “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!
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.
When Heublein Conglomerate bought out the franchise, they paid a few million dollars for ‘The Colonel’s’ recipe and technique. 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… and ‘maybe the Colonel should have YOUR recipe!’
In honor of TODAY, being National Graham Cracker Day, here is Mom’s copycat recipes for “Chocolate-Covered Graham Crackers” & “Chocolate Coating For Graham Crackers”, like Keebler’s; as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 228) [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
Some of July’s observances include: World Watercolor Month, National Baked Bean Month, National Culinary Arts Month, National Grilling Month, National Horseradish Month, National Hot Dog Month, National Ice Cream Month, Independent Retailer Month, National Blueberry Month, National Picnic Month, and National Peach Month!
Other celebrations happening this week include:
Tomorrow, July 6th is also… National Hand Roll Day!
Friday, July 9th is… National Sugar Cookie Day!
…27 down and 25 to go!