Mondays & Memories of My Mom – It’s all Relative

Hello, all! Happy Monday and welcome to Mondays & Memories of My Mom.

I’m Laura Emerich and I write these blogs in relation to my memories of my mom, Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL Secret RecipesTM detective. I started this tribute, in September of last year, to honor Mom’s legacy – besides being Mom, lover of life, family and God; she was also a satirist cartoonist and writer, as well as the famous Recipe DetectiveTM, investigator of the secrets of the food industry, pioneer and trail-blazer of the “copycat recipes” crusade – and, thus, this was a great way to channel my cherished memories of her and how she’s influenced my own life, as well as the lives of others.

St. Clair Museum advertisement, 2018

My subject for this week’s blog is about family roots and influence. “It’s all relative” is an idiom, or common term, used to say that [anything] can be thought of in opposite ways depending on what one compares it to. So, my question is: Are behavioral traits nature (roots) or nurture (influence)? This debate has been going on for eons, involving whether human behavior is determined by a person’s genes (nature) or their environment (nurture).

Gloria Pitzer, 1978

I don’t know the true answer, anymore than Mom knew the true recipes of the products she imitated at home; but, I do know that writing and artistry seem to run throughout generations of our family. As a writer and artist, myself, whenever my children did anything of the like, I highly-encouraged more of it from them – nurturing a natural talent, I suppose. My mom did the same for me and my siblings, as her parents (as well as aunts and uncles) did for her and her siblings…so is that nature or nurture? I feel like it’s a combination of both.

My siblings and I in the late ‘80s (left-to-right: Bill, Michael, Debbie, me and Cheryl) – By the way, National Siblings Day was just celebrated last Wednesday, April 10th!

I believe my love of writing and drawing stemmed from my mom and her relatives, as many of them (in both of her parents’ families that we know of) are gifted writers and artists, in some way, as well. However, while guesses can be made, whether the talent and/or passion for such are inherited and/or influenced by one’s up-bringing remains an unanswered question.

Besides her many years of syndicating weekly and bi-weekly columns and cartoons to papers and magazines around the country, Mom also wrote, illustrated and self-published close to 40 cookbooks in almost 30 years, 1973-2001 (plus a couple of books that were just food-for-thought/soul and “our family story”). A few years ago, I helped Mom re-write one of her favorite cookbooks, The Better Cookery Cookbook (1983) for a new digital generation. It went to press shortly before she passed away last year, under a new title, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018). Mom was so happy about reaching a new generation with her recipes and stories!

Similarly, Mom wrote, illustrated and self-published a “homemaker’s” newsletter for 25 years (Jan. 1974 through Dec. 1998 – 219 issues in all). It began and ended as a monthly publication, but there were some years in between when she published it bi-monthly (doubling the size) and other years when it was published quarterly (at about 4 times the monthly size). Each issue of the newsletter was always stuffed full of witty humor, stories from her radio show visits all around North America, restaurant reviews, food-for-thought, food-for-the-soul and, of course, her wonderfully unique recipes that were “food-for-the-table”. Mom would always write a little bit about our family and close friends too, because she always considered her subscribers as family and close friends also.

The newsletter’s title evolved over the years – from Gloria Pitzer’s Homemaker’s Newsletter, in its 1974 conception, to Gloria Pitzer’s National Home News Magazine in 1978, to Gloria Pitzer’s Monthly Cookbook of Secret Recipes in 1980, to Gloria Pitzer’s Cook’s Quarterly in 1984, to Secret Recipes Newsletter in 1986, to Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Quarterly in 1995 and to its final name, Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, in 1998 (it’s last year of publication.)

I would love to hear from anyone who still has their issues of Mom’s newsletters and still uses them! Please write to me at therecipedetective@outlook.com. I don’t have a lot of the issues, myself, but I still use the ones I have all the time, as well as her cookbooks. I’m also missing a couple of her cookbooks because, like others, I lent them out and never got them back.

Speaking of writing, did you know that April is National Records & Information Management Month? “Records” and “Information Management” are very general terms that encompass so many forms! I love to keep records of important things that have happened throughout my life (and the lives of my kids), using calendars, scrapbooks and “time capsule” boxes. I have boxes in the basement for myself and each of my three grown kids full of special keepsakes and creations (ceramic/clay projects, drawings and creative writings). My dad had given me a box of stuff like that once, when I was grown and having kids of my own. I loved it so much, because he and Mom treasured these things, that I created these kind of “time capsule” boxes for my kids too. Over the years, I’ve added our special “creations” and keepsakes from special events to each of them, including my own.

My mom’s extent of record-keeping for her life included all the family stories she wrote about in her newsletters and books, plus a few scrap books she kept, full of pictures and keepsakes from special events. But, most of her experiences and thoughts were inscribed in the journal entries that she wrote on a daily basis, book after book, since she was a young girl until she passed away in January 2018. Mom’s love of writing especially helped her to remember things in her last years, after developing dementia from a double-stroke she suffered in June 2014.

Paul & Gloria Pitzer, Algonac, MI
By the way, Saturday, April 20th is National Husband Appreciation Day!

And, speaking of record-keeping, my dad’s side of the family (both, the Knotts and Pitzer clans, from the West Virginia area) kept a lot of excellent records of their heritages! By the way, did you know that there’s a National Genealogy Day and it was just celebrated last month on March 9th? When I inherited Dad’s collection of our relatives’ pictures (from his Mom’s collection), I found many were documented with who, when and where descriptions – some pictures were accompanied by letters/cards that depicted the people, places and events. Likewise, on the internet, I can trace both of my paternal grandparents’ families back to their great-great-grandparents (in the mid-18th century) thanks to their families’ excellent records & information management that has made all this data available for a new, digital generation!

Original photo source unknown.

However, our Klein-Carter family history, from my Mom’s parents’ side of the family, has not been an easy lineage to trace. Even with the “free” membership at Ancestry.com, I can’t seem to find anything more than I already know from Mom’s stories. Under this picture (above), found on page 52 of Mom’s cookbook, Eating Out at Home Cookbook (self-published by Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; September 1981), Mom mentions her dad’s parents and a second cousin, plus, his older brother. I know my Mom’s dad was born in May of 1894. Thus, since his mom, setting type in this picture, doesn’t really look pregnant yet, but his 7-year-older brother is there (and looks about that age), working the press, I can only guess that this picture may have been from around early 1893.

The pictures I inherited from Mom, of her side of the family relatives, were rarely labled with any who, when or where information. I know she always meant to get around to it, but never did. I have many albums like that, myself. Now, all the more, I want to go through all of them, while I still can, and date, identify (people/places) and organize them for my kids to add to and pass on to their kids.

While Mom’s dementia, during her last few years before passing, brought up fairly clear memories of decades ago, almost like they were yesterday; sometimes, however, the picture was still missing a few puzzle pieces or the pieces were rearranged a little. So I keep trying to track down Mom’s ancestry records as best as I can with the bits and pieces of information that I have gethered from her stories.

Gloria Pitzer, 1985

Mom wrote a story about her mom’s side of the family, the Klein’s, in her book, My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop! [subtitled, “The True Story of a Family”] (self-published by Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, pp. 83-84). The picture above is also seen on the back cover of that book. Here is Mom’s story about the legend she knows as her mom’s family heritage:

…my mother’s parents were originally German, but they were also Jews, and living in Russia at the turn of the [20th] century. It was dangerous for any Jew in Russia at that time – so much like the story of “Fiddler on the Roof’, my grandparents with two small children and my grandmother expecting their third child, took a crowded freighter to America [around 1906]. They couldn’t speak a word of English and had nothing with them but what they could carry by hand.

On the way over, unfortunately, they came down with what suspected to be TB [Tuberculosis]… years later [around 1915], following the birth of their 7th child [my mom was their 4th child, born in 1909], TB finally took my grandmother. Having settled in Pittsburg, my grandfather moved on to Cleveland where he hoped to find relatives who would help him with a job and a place to raise the motherless children. It didn’t work out as he expected, however. The relatives were not where he had last contacted them.

The orphanage was over-crowded that he had been directed to, in order to leave the children and seek treatment for the TB that seemed to be getting worse for him. Having been turned away by the orphanage, he was about to leave all the children on a street corner, telling them that somebody would come along to help them, but that he had to get his train to the sanitorium that the government was sending him to for help. At that point, the nuns were passing by on their usual afternoon walk…on their way back to the Catholic orphanage down the street.

They stopped long enough to ask if they could be of help and, upon hearing the story from the older children, who spoke English, and [from my] Grandpa’s broken English, they concluded that the children needed to be cared for. They took the children to the Catholic orphanage, ensuring my grandfather that they would see to it that they went to Temple every Saturday, even though they would be in the Catholic schools and living in the dormitories with the other children.

When there was room for them at the Jewish orphanage, they would then be transferred – and the promise was kept. There, they all remained until each one turned 16 years of age… The compassion of those Catholic nuns and the care they gave the children of that Jewish immigrant, when Jews were hated as much as they ever were in this country, kept me from ever harboring feelings of prejudice toward other people due to their religious or racial backgrounds…

Consequently, I grew up without prejudices – with an open mind to all of us being different and yet the same and that’s okay, respecting our differences. As a result, my children also grew up without prejudices…whether nature or nurture, it’s all relative!

May 2017 – Myself, my grandson, my oldest daughter and my mom – 4 generations!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading “It’s all Relative” (the blog) and will return again next week – as Monday, the 22nd, happens to be National Earth Day and Easter Monday! Next week is also celebrating (besides my oldest two kids’ birthdays) Easter Sunday, National DNA Day on Thursday and Arbor Day (for most states) on Friday!

In closing, I usually end with one of Mom’s recipes that she gave away for free on her product information and ordering sheets in exchange for a SASE. The following recipe for “Carrot Square Cake, Like Sara Lee’s” wasn’t on any of those sheets, but it was given away for free when my brother, Michael Pitzer, first developed TheRecipeDetective.com website years ago for internet exposure to our parents and their “Secret Recipes”TM business. This particular recipe was also printed on page 47 of Mom’s cookbook, Secret Fast-Food Recipes (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1985).

Sara Lee’s-Style Carrot Square Cake from Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Fast-Food Recipes Cookbook (1985)

Cake Ingredients:

2 Eggs

1 tsp Vanilla

6 oz. Oil

1 tsp Salt

1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

2 tsp Cinnamon

1 cup Sugar

1 1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour

1 cup Carrots, grated fine

1 cup Walnuts, well-chopped

1/2 cup Light Raisins, optional

Instructions for Cake

Combine first 8 ingredients with electric mixer on medium-high. Beat 3 minutes scraping down sides of bowl often. Remove beaters. Stir in last 3 ingredients. Grease and flour 9″ square pan. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake at 325 degrees F about 50 minutes. Cool in pan about 30 minutes. Frost with Cream Cheese Icing (below) and sprinkle with additional walnuts.

Icing ingredients:

6-oz. pkg. Cream Cheese, softened

1/4 lbs. Butter

1 lb. Powdered Sugar

1 1/2 tsp Orange Extract

1 tsp Orange Peel (I use Spice Island brand)

1 TB Light Corn Syrup or Pancake Syrup

1 TB Cornstarch or Flour

Instructions for Icing

Cream the cream cheese with the butter until light and fluffy, using med-high speed of electric mixer. Add half of the sugar, increasing speed to high. Add extract and peel and beat about 1 minute. Scrape down sides of bowl often. Resume beating adding remaining powdered sugar. Beat smooth. Frost sides and top of cake.

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Happy Smorgasbord!

Hello, everyone! HAPPY Monday, April Fool’s Day, National Sourdough Bread Day, National Gardening Month and National Humor Month! Yep – that’s a happy smorgasbord!

If you haven’t been here before, my name is Laura Emerich and these blogs are dedicated to and for my mom, Gloria Pitzer, aka the ORIGINAL secret “Recipe Detective”TM. I started this weekly series last year to carry on her legacy – from her life-long love affair with writing to her “Secret Recipes”TM profession to her other personal loves of life, family and faith – through my memories of her; as well as, through the memories others have of her. She was an enormous influence, in so many ways, on so many people; especially on the woman I’ve become. Mom motivated and inspired a whole movement because she was the pioneer that blazed the original trail to imitating fast food, fine dining dishes, junk food and various grocery store products at home!

This week’s blog covers a smorgasbord of subjects. For instance, for all the foodies out there, besides it being April Fool’s Day, today is also National Sourdough Bread Day. In addition, for the gardeners in all of us, April is National Gardening Month! Consequently, April is also National Humor Month – which makes sense, given that the first day is April Fool’s Day – and, where I live in Michigan (as well as other states, I’m sure), Mother Nature seems to like to play continuous jokes on us throughout the month by often exhibiting 3 different seasons, all in one day! Plus, while it’s not a national holiday, the season for birding has also just begun as migrations head north to roost for the spring to fall months.

April is National Gardening Month!

Starting with my memories of Mom and our garden when I was growing up in Algonac – Mom always had a small, raised-bed garden full of strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and other such popular, homegrown garden staples. I also recall picking rhubarb, apples and pears for her pie and cobbler recipes. But then, as her “Secret Recipes”TM business grew in the mid to late 70s, she had less and less time to spend on the care of the garden let alone the harvesting. I enjoyed learning from Mom how to take care of it and I loved picking the fruits and vegetables for her, from which to create all those wonderful dishes. Her strawberry-rhubarb pie was one of my favorites!

After we moved to St. Clair in 1977, she couldn’t devote anymore time to a garden again, but she did continue to, at least, have a couple of tomato plants in patio pots every spring to fall. Mom had a very green thumb with all the plants, in the house and in the garden. She liked to use coffee grounds and grounded egg shells in her patio pots, which helped the tomato plants thrive.

Spring Crocus, Photo by Laura Emerich

Mother Nature’s grand arena is bursting with activity as spring awakens and regenerates life around us. Initially, the National Gardening holiday was a week-long festivity for which President Reagan signed a proclamation to kick off the first annual celebration of it in 1987. Then, in 2000, the National Gardening Association extended the celebration to last for the whole month of April.

To celebrate the event, have a picnic in a garden or go to a nursery and purchase a new plant for your garden. Decorate your garden, even add a seating area in it, where you can enjoy it up close. Another way to celebrate is to give a gardening gift, like seeds or plants, to someone special!

This month is a great time to start planting the bulbs of late-Spring bloomers as well. Other plants that are great to plant in April include fruit trees and berry plants or bushes. I planted a couple of cherry trees on our property about 7 years ago and they’re doing really well. The birds love them immensely! Our property already has a few old pear trees on it, so I’d like to get a couple of apple trees established this year.

2018 Cherry Tree, Photo by Laura Emerich

This is also a great time to plant perennial vegetables like asparagus, chives, rhubarb, horseradish and so many more. I already have the first three in my garden. I plan on adding horseradish this year. It’s also a good time for me to start my “cold crop” annuals like cabbage, spinach and other “greens”; as well as root vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots and beets. I’m not sure where she got it from, but I think I inherited Mom’s green thumb.

In their off-season, I repurpose my Christmas deer lawn ornaments as trellises in my vegetable garden! They’re great for various vining plants like cucumbers and squash AND I don’t have to worry about storing them.

Another thing Mom taught me, as I mentioned in my blog, “Grow & Make Your Own Groceries”, a couple of weeks ago, growing and sowing your own food can save a lot of money on the grocery bill – if you don’t factor in the value of your time AND if you have the time to maintain it. Except for the perennials, you can’t just drop the seeds and come back in a couple months to pick it all. If only it were that easy! But, on the upside, the hours put into maintaining a garden, with moderate activity, happens to burn about 300-400 calories an hour (depending on your size). Gardening also feeds our bodies a lot of essential Vitamin D since we’re out in the sunshine, which is a natural source for it!

According to the infographic, 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening, on https://www.organiclesson.com/6-wonderful-health-benefits-of-gardening/, gardening strengthens the immune system, relieves stress and elevates happiness, provides a physical workout, stimulates the brain and encourages a healthier diet! It sounds like a win-win-win-win-win-win set of beneficial circumstances to me!

My vegetable & flower garden, 2018!

In addition, this month is usually a good time for me to start pruning the few large patches of wild, black raspberries we have in our backyard’s wooded area – cutting out all the dead canes to make room for the new ones to grow. Thick gloves are highly recommended for this task to help prevent the hands from getting impaled by the thorns!

Backyard Bird Watching

On a related side-subject to spring and April, in general, it’s also a wonderful time for backyard bird watching! Lately, our cats have been going crazy, at the dining room windows, watching all the birds and squirrels in their usual spring, backyard activities – eating at the feeders, playing in the trees, building nests and other such things.

We have some birds that are here all year like cardinals, woodpeckers and blue jays. However, most of the varieties that we see migrate in with the spring season and back out by mid-fall. We get a wide variety of birds in Michigan.  The arrival of the robins, our state bird, is usually one of our first signs of spring, even before the bright, sunny yellow of witch hazel starts to pop on the fading winter landscape. Some robins don’t migrate south in the fall, like others do. Instead, they’ve adapted to our Michigan Winters.

The Robin – Michigan’s State Bird

This weekend, Mackinaw City will be host to the 4th annual “Mackinaw Raptor Fest”, celebrating a unique convergence of migrating birds every spring and fall due to the area’s exceptional location at the rare intersection of two peninsulas and two of the Great Lakes. Mackinaw City (and Mackinac Island) was one of my parents favorite destination areas whenever they had a chance to get away for a long weekend.

Watching birds is said to be very therapeutic. If you feed them, they will come! Growing up, I remember Mom always putting out special treats for the squirrels and birds in our backyard. Watching the birds always seemed to relax Mom and also helped to form the flow of her thoughts for writing her food-for-thought-style articles and editorials. I know it helps me too.

April through June, I usually put out orange halves and small cups of grape jelly for the orioles that migrate to our backyard. I’ve seen the woodpeckers enjoy the spring treats too! The yellow finches will always fight over the perches on the thistle feeder, but when the oriole wants thistle, they all move out of the way.

I heard our resident woodpecker early Friday morning, “rat-a-tat-tat”, on a maple tree outside one of our kitchen windows. The sound seemed to echo in our quiet neighborhood that morning. Then I saw a “Mama” robin perched in another tree, looking into my garden – for good materials to add to her nest, I’m sure. My husband and I really enjoy watching all the flora and fauna activity surrounding our homestead.

April 1st is National Sourdough Bread Day!

Now, out of the garden and backyard and into the kitchen for another food related happening today, as National Sourdough Bread Day is also being observed across the country. Amish Friendship Bread is a really great recipe to make and share with friends. My girlfriends and I used to exchange bags of AFB starter a lot. A super-great article about the process involved in making the starter and how to use it can be found on the “Friendship Bread Kitchen” website at https://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/amish-friendship-bread-starter/.

Mom wrote the following interesting explanation on the history of bread [as found on page 144 in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018)]:

BREAD HISTORY

The bread of primitive man was unleavened and perhaps, as the story goes, the discovery of a leavening agent by a cook of ancient Egypt was purely by chance. However, it came about that the Egyptians baked some of the finest bread in the ancient world in cone-shaped ovens. Flattened, and perhaps coarse to present-day taste, the ancient round or triangular loaves unearthed at Deir el-Bahari were a great improvement over the open-air baking of earlier times. Bread, the symbol of the bounty of the Nile, was cast upon its waters as a tribute to the gods. It was, also, placed in tombs to feed the departed spirits of the deceased. Egyptians literally earned their daily bread as workers, as they were given bread at the end of the day as wages for their labor. The Egyptians, who discovered the principle of baking raised bread, didn’t fool around. They just left some dough around in the hot weather until it went bad, and then they baked it. And – lo – it puffed up in old clay ovens and tasted great! The leavened loaf was launched, with no questions asked. The Egyptians regarded “yeast-ification” as an occult, not subject to the whim of man.

Mom also advised, when making a yeast bread, do not use a metal bowl or spoon in the developing process! Metal and yeast are not compatible and using such utensils or bowls with yeast could keep the yeast from working properly. Mom always preferred using either plastic or Pyrex bowls and only wooden or plastic spoons with which to stir or mix the ingredients.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my smorgasbord of topics today! In closing, I usually end with one of Mom’s recipes that she gave away for free on her product information and ordering sheets in exchange for an SASE. The following recipe wasn’t on any of those sheets, but it was given away for free when my brother, Michael Pitzer, first developed this website years ago for internet exposure to my parents and their “Secret Recipes”TM business. Since it is National Sourdough Bread Day, I’d like to share Mom’s copycat version of Schlotzsky’s sandwich rolls, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it.

Schlotzsky’s-Style Sandwich Rolls (from Gloria Pitzer’s “Secret Recipes”TM Newsletter)

1/2 cup Warm Water

1 TB Granulated Sugar

1 package Rapid Rise Dry Yeast

6 oz. Milk, very warm

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 TB Baking Soda, softened in 1 TB water

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour

In large mixing bowl combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes till very bubbly. With wire whisk add the rest with only 1 cup of the flour, beating to smooth dough. Beat in rest of flour until batter is thick and sticky but smooth, all flour being dissolved. Divide dough between 5 ovenproof, Pam-sprayed, cornmeal dusted (let excess shake out) soup bowls (each 5 inches in diameter). Cover each one in a square of Saran wrap sprayed in a bit of Pam and that side down. Let rise almost an hour or till above rim of bowls or cans. Discard Saran pieces. Bake on center rack of 375º F oven about 20 minutes or till golden brown. Let cool in containers on rack, spraying tops each in a bit of Pam while they cool to keep crusts soft. To use for sandwiches – slice in half horizontally and grill on lightly buttered hot griddle as you would for grilled cheese sandwich or broiler toast till golden. Then fill with lettuce and assorted lunch meats and cheese or sandwich fillings.