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.]

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – More than 15 Minutes of Fame!

Hi, again, to everyone!

If you’re new to here – I am Laura Emerich and Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL “Secret Recipe Detective”, is my mom. I started this blog series to carry on her legacy, which is why I titled my first blog in this series “A Legacy of Love” (9/17/2018), as that is what “Secret Recipes” always was to her and what it became to me over the last few years of her life while I re-wrote her favorite cookbook for her; to be published, again, for a new generation! I ended that 1st blog with a promised continuation of the story of her experience with being on The Phil Donahue Show, and here it is!

“…it was her first appearance on ‘The Phil Donahue Show’ that created the most overwhelming response to her talents than she could have ever expected’ – from Mondays & Memories of My Mom Blog Post, 9/17/2018 (http://therecipedetective.com/category/blog/)

It was July 7, 1981 when Mom FIRST appeared on The Phil Donahue Show. She appeared, again, almost 12 years later, on April 16, 1993. The response to her 1st appearance was over-whelming, to say the least – not only to her, but to our whole family; and even to our local Post Office and the community! During her 2nd appearance, The Phil Donahue Show was not allowed to give out her contact information. The request for transcripts for that episode broke the show’s record! A rough recording of that episode can be found on YouTube, in 5 parts.

Mom and Phil Donahue, 1993

Here is Mom’s own account of her 1st experience, as it appears in her last book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective” [published by Balboa Press (January 2018, 1st Printing, p. 298-299) – a re-write of her famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing)]:

It was 1977, and we were considering a move from Pearl Beach to St. Clair, since our 80-year old house was already packed, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, with recipe books and newsletter inventory. Just about the time we planned our move, the Phil Donahue show called and invited us to Dayton, Ohio to appear on their program there. I had to decline. We already had more work than we could handle, and I had found that television appearances were merely food demonstrations that I did not enjoy experiencing. I enjoyed my radio work more, and the number of stations on which I had become a regular participant had grown to include over 100 across the country and in Canada.

We were settling down in our new house in St. Clair, with our office in the basement. We outgrew that arrangement in a short time and rented a larger office uptown. But the books became more successful than we anticipated, and the newsletter circulation was growing to over 10,000. Soon, I found that we had to put the business back into our home. I couldn’t depend on being in a writing mood between our regular “office” business hours of 8 AM to 5 PM. Some of the radio shows that I took part in were on-the-air at midnight, especially my favorite visits with KMOX in St. Louis and WGY in Schenectady. With my files and reference materials at the office and me, at home on the telephone with the radio shows, the arrangement was not satisfactory. So, Paul and our 2 sons remodeled our two-car garage, attached to the kitchen, and we moved the operation back there; where, for the next 4 years, the business ran quite smoothly.

We were receiving about 1,000 letters a day from the radio shows that I took part in and the newspaper stories that I was more-or-less an acting consultant on subjects related to “fast food”. In the spring of 1981, our old friend, Carol Haddix, ran a story about our new book of “Homemade Groceries” in the Chicago Tribune, where she had just been assigned the food department. The Donahue Show people called once more and requested our appearance. We had just done a PM Magazine show with Detroit and had declined an invitation to appear in New York on Good Morning America, as well as declining an opportunity to have People Magazine interview us – and I still wonder why in the world I said I would do the Donahue show! I think it was because I had just tangled with Grit, the weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania, over giving credit to the Food editor’s teenage daughter for having developed a fish batter like Arthur Treacher’s, using club soda and pancake mix – and received an apology on the back page of one of their issues, placing the item between an ad for corn and callous remover and waste cinchers. I was also tangling with Jove Publications, who were pressing hard to sell their “Junk Food Cookbook”, using my recipes, word-for-word, with credit going to somebody else. I wanted to establish the fact that I was very much in business and willing to protect my copyrighted property with the same enthusiasm and sincerity as the major food companies had exhibited in protecting theirs from my imitations. (And believe me, we’ve heard from all the big ones!)

So, on July 6, Paul and I flew to Chicago, staying at the Hyatt O’Hare, and did the Donahue show live – for an entire hour – on July 7, flying back that same afternoon. The next day, 15,000 letters waited for us at the St. Clair post office. And every day for 4 months, we picked up thousands of letters – having received by Christmas, well over 1 million letters, requesting information on how to acquire our books, which were still available only by mail from our address. We were bogged down with an unexpected response. It was an experience of mixed blessings!

If you’ve ever seen 1 million letters, you know how we felt when we tried to handle the overwhelming response! It was exhausting! Our home, which was both our office and our sanctuary, became like a factory, with people helping us to process the mail, eventually having to return thousands of the orders to the customers with our deepest regrets that we could not, in all fairness to them, delay their order. The onslaught of mail had forced us to do this. We were all working from 7 AM until 1 or 2 AM the next morning just to open and read the mail.

Our phone bill had been buried in some of that mail and in a month’s time, being something like 23 to 24 days behind in opening the mail, our phone was shut off for non-payment of our bill. As soon as we realized what the mail was doing to us, we tried to get Donahue’s people to stop the continued scheduled showings of our appearance. But that show remained on their repeat schedule for almost a year, playing in the Panama Canal zone, Greenland, Iceland, Australia and on hundreds of small town stations.

Most of the letters requested a sheet of ‘free’ recipes that were included with the order blank for a self-addressed stamped envelope to us. The offer would have been good for us, if it had only been shown that one time – the day on which we appeared on the show – but for nearly a year afterward, the requests still came, as did the complaints and the threats to report us to postal authorities for not having sent those ‘free’ recipes, tore us apart emotionally and physically! Some people did not include their self-addressed-stamped envelope. Some envelopes were addressed to themselves, such as Joe Smith, but in care of OUR address instead of THEIR address. It was a confusing mess! Some people wrote threatening letters that they hadn’t received their orders and were turning us over to the postmaster general as frauds! I laid my head on my desk many a time, in tears of anguish and fatigue. The family was falling apart. We couldn’t print our books fast enough, to fill all the orders! Then the post office, in delivering the thousands of books that we DID mail out, lost some, destroyed some, and delayed and even miss-directed other orders…

I remembered what Dick Syatt, one of our radio friends, had told me about finally getting everything you ever wanted, when he said, ‘Hell is God, giving you what you thought you wanted.’ Sometimes we need to have something, lose it and get it back again, before we can really appreciate what we have. I had that chance and I am so glad for it. It was a time to learn and to grow.

To Mom, the “Donahue Show” appearance always remained the single, most important part of her “Secret Recipes” growing experience. It opened many doors that would have otherwise been closed in her field, allowing her to let her light shine; and inspiring her light to keep shining. Here is Mom’s favorite recipe experience from that show, as it appears in her last book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective [published by Balboa Press (January 2018, 1st Printing, p. 89) – a re-write of her famous, self-published book, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (May 1983, 3rd Printing)]:

THIS RECIPE was created on-the-spot when I discovered that my usual ingredients and…most familiar utensils were not ready…to use on The Donahue Show (… July 7, 1981) …I had to adlib the experience, calling upon every possible thing I could remember about good cooking. It was luck! And luck – of course – is when preparation and experience meet opportunity!

There was a toaster oven on the table the staff had set up for me to use during the live–telecast of the show. At 8 o’clock in the morning, the producer of the show was driving around Chicago, trying to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that was open, so that the audience could later compare what I had prepared to what the restaurant prepared. So, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand and tried to improvise with what was there. The on-the-spot recipe was every bit as good as what Paul & I had been publishing and was so much easier, that again we could prove that there will always be more than one way to arrive at a given result!

OVEN-FRIED KENTUCKY-STYLE CHICKEN

In doubled plastic food bags, combine well: 3 cups self-rising flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 envelopes Lipton Tomato Cup-a-Soup powder (see Index for my “Cup-of-Thoup” recipe), 2 packages Good Seasons’ Italian dressing mix powder and 1 teaspoon season salt. Twist the end of the bags tightly, creating an inflated balloon affect. Then shake the mixture well to combine.

Spray a jellyroll pan (10 x 15 x 3/4-inch) with Pam or wipe it well with oil. Run a cut-up chicken fryer under cold water and let excess water drip off, putting all the pieces into a colander to drain a few minutes. Dredge pieces one at a time in the flour mixture, by placing each piece in the bag of seasoned flour and shaking to coat. Arrange the coated pieces, skin-side up on prepared pan. Melt ¼ pound margarine or butter and, using a 1-inch-wide, soft-bristled, pastry brush (or one from a paint store with soft hair bristles – NOT plastic bristles,) dab the melted butter or margarine over the floured surface (skin-side only) of each chicken piece. When all the melted butter or margarine has been divided between the pieces, bake it in a 350°F oven, uncovered, for 1 hour or until golden brown and tender.

FOR CRISPY COATING: After applying melted butter or margarine, dust pieces with a few additional tablespoons of seasoned flour and drizzle with more melted butter or margarine before baking. Serves 4 to 6.