October is chucked full of wonderful, month-long observances. Among them, in relation to Mom, are… National Women’s Small Business Month, National Work and Family Month, and Self-Promotion Month! Additionally, this is also National Book Month and National Cookbook Month!
When Mom left her job at the newspaper, in the early 1970s, she went home to start her own business; incorporating our whole family into her dining room table operation. Call it fate or whatever – Mom carved out a unique niche in the food industry that people, like herself, needed and wanted!
She called her concept “copycat cookery”! She also described it as “eating out at home” and “taking the junk out of junk food”, among other things. Mom was determined to discover how to imitate America’s favorite, famous fast food & restaurant dishes at home, as well as frozen and shelf-stable grocery items.
If it saved her household money, she wanted to share it with others, because, she believed, great recipes were meant to be shared! She was an innovator in the 1970s – developing her own copycat recipes and marketing her talents, herself, through the media – which, then, consisted only of newspapers, magazines, television and radio talk shows. No internet!
In the early years of her business, Mom sold her recipes individually, printed on 4”x6” index cards from a mimeograph she kept in our laundry room. She began with a small catalog that quickly grew to about 200 recipes. Then she expanded, publishing her own monthly newsletter and blazing that trail of uniqueness through all the “Betty Crockers” and “Julia Childs” of that time.
It didn’t seem to take long before Mom’s recipe library grew even more through requests from her growing fan-base. She then began self-publishing multiple cookbooks (at least one a year for over 30 years!) She was getting national, as well as international recognition for being the Secret Recipe DetectiveTM – the title given to her by her fans. Here’s Mom’s story in her own words…
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 292-293). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).]
BEHIND THE SCENES
PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR OF SECRET RECIPES or ‘The Recipe Detective’ are the names that my friends in radio and newspapers have given to me, and I enjoy living up to that assignment! I enjoy working with these recipe secrets, but most of all, I enjoy writing about them.
I’ve been writing all my life… Going way-back to when I was in grade school. I was always writing a book, or a poem or a short story. It was a way of life from my earliest memories – a way over which I seem to have no personal control! I had to write… Preferably about what I knew best at the time. Little did I know that what I would come to know best would be cooking!
The one year that I spent at Michigan State (when it was still a college, mind you…) was one year in which I learned 2 important things – I could not pass my Creative Writing course and I was ‘kicked out’ of Home Economics!
My Creative Writing instructor told me that I typed a neat looking paper and probably should be a secretary, for I would never make it as a writer. My Home Economics instructor advised me to spend the rest of my life having my meals delivered, for I was always finding fault with the way so many cookbooks were written.
I took a position with the J. Walter Thompson Advertising company in Detroit, working as a secretary to the copywriters. I met my husband, Paul, there when he returned from a 4-year tour of service with the Air Force. We started dating and one year later we were married. That was 1956.
Bill was born over a year later, and then Mike came 20 months after that, and Debbie came along 20 months after that. I lost 3 babies in the next 3 years, but Laura was born in 1964 and Cheryl came 20 months after that. During those years, Paul was working for a sign company in Mt. Clemens, Michigan – where, in the 20 years he spent with them, he did everything from drafting to purchasing agent to account rep!
I kept up with my writing, always working for one of the suburban papers and constantly free-lancing to magazines. When Redbook sent me $500 for my ‘Young Mother’s Story’ submission in February 1963, called ‘We’ll Never Live with In-Laws Again’, I put part of the money into a typewriter, as I had always had to borrow one before that.
I wanted a typewriter more than Reagan wanted to be president! I put a lot of miles on that $39.95 machine – I designed a column for weekly newspapers and mailed out samples to over 300 newspapers. Within a year, I had acquired 60 regular papers for my ‘No Laughing Matter’ column and another column I called ‘Minding the Hearth’.
Columbia Features in New York offered me a contract, and, for a year, I allowed them to syndicate the column in competition with a new humorist, Erma Bombeck! (Right church, wrong pew for me!) When a big city paper carried Erma’s column, Columbia placed mine in their competing paper. I split with Columbia on a 60/40 basis (I took 40) and finally, by mutual agreement, we broke the contract. I was on my own.
HOW SECRET RECIPESTM BEGAN
When Columbia Features and I parted company, they had acquired only 2 additional papers from me and lost several more. Within 6 months, I had regained all my original papers and was syndicating the column from our dining room table, where we then lived in what my friend, Bob Allison, called ‘beautiful downtown Pearl Beach’…
We had a 9-year old station wagon at that time. It burned oil and barely got Paul to work and back without something breaking down! I rode a bike to and from the Pearl Beach post office every day where I mailed out my columns and… looked for responses to ads I had placed in the Tower Press and Grit magazines for recipes on 4×6-inch cards that enabled you to imitate famous dishes at home.
BOB ALLISON’s ‘ASK YOUR NEIGHBOR’
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 specifically 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 [Cookbook Corner] column recipes into a book, I wrote my first edition  called ‘The Better Cooker’s Cookbook’. In less than a month, I had sold 1000 copies… 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 first issue of what came to be my ‘Secret Recipe Report’, a newsletter that… brought me in contact with the many so-called secrets of the commercial food and restaurant industry… 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. 295). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).]
WE WANTED OUR CAKE AND WE WANTED TO EAT IT, TOO!
We wanted to eat out at a price we could afford; and, when we couldn’t afford to eat out, we wanted to dine-in as if we were eating out! At the time, there were few recipes for this kind of cooking. We wanted to spend less time preparing the foods and less money on the ingredients and still serve a dish to those who shared our table with us that would be equal to – if not better than – anything we could buy in a restaurant or from a supermarket. For all of these reasons, I have pursued the investigations of the food industry with the greatest joy and the utmost care, translating into recipes, those secrets that I have been able to decipher.
Since this is National Chili Week, as well as this being National Chili Month, here is Mom’s copycat recipe for “Chili Mignon, Like Chasen’s Chili”; as seen in her last book… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 63). [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…
October’s month-long drink/food-related celebrations include… Eat Better & Eat Together Month, National Apple Month, National Applejack Month, National Bake and Decorate Month, National Caramel Month, National Cookie Month, National Dessert Month, National Pasta Month, National Pickled Peppers Month, National Pizza Month, National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, National Pork Month, National Pretzel Month, National Sausage Month, National Seafood Month, Pear and Pineapple Month, Rhubarb Month, Spinach Lovers Month, and Vegetarian Month!
Other October observances that could be food-related include… Italian-American Heritage Month, National Fire Prevention Month, National Reading Group Month, National Go On A Field Trip Month, National Kitchen & Bath Month, and Polish American Heritage Month!
Today is… National Cinnamon Bun Day, National Taco Day, and National Vodka Day! Plus, as the first Monday in October, it’s… National Consignment Day and National Child Health Day! Also, as the first full Mon.–Fri. work week in October, this is… Customer Service Week! And as the first Mon.-Sun. week in October, it’s also… Financial Planning Week!
October 6th is… National Orange Wine Day, National Plus Size Appreciation Day, National German-American Day (this is also German-American Heritage Month), and National Noodle Day! In addition, as the first Wednesday in October, it’s also… National Pumpkin Seed Day and National Walk to School Day (plus, it’s International Walk To School Month)!
Sunday, October 10th is… National Angel Food Cake Day, National Cake Decorating Day, National Handbag Day, and World Mental Health Day (speaking of which, it’s also… Positive Attitude Month!) Additionally, as the week of the 16th, Sunday is also the start of… National Food Bank Week (likewise, it’s Tackling Hunger Month, too!)
…40 down and 12 to go!