Mondays & Memories of My Mom – My Favorite Things

Happy Monday to all! And to ALL members of our military, past and present, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your service, defending and protecting our country! Now…

Tell me… What are some of your favorite things? I’ve found, over the years, that most of my favorite things are those which really don’t cost any money and, yet, are considered by some people to be priceless. Like Mom, some of my favorite things include writing, reading, drawing, seeing the magnificent array of autumn colors on a backroad’s drive through Michigan and the happy-go-lucky smile of my grandson.

Equally, I love the snuggles, nuzzles and purrs of my cats (and my wonderful husband), the sparkling sun reflected on the magnificent blue waters of The Great Lakes, the cheerful sounds of the birds and other wildlife in my backyard, the aroma of a Sunday slow-cooker meal wafting throughout the house – you know, the simple things in life!

Another of my favorite things is how much my mom has influenced and inspired me – as a writer, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook, wife, mother, teacher, etc. After I had kids of my own, I asked Mom for advice even more often than when I was young, and I loved to learn from her. To me, she was special just being “Mom”; albeit, to the rest of the world, she was special by being Gloria Pitzer, aka: the Secret RecipesTM detective.

I really consider myself lucky to have her as my mom and that I (as well as everyone else) can continue to learn from her, even from beyond, through her timeless writings – her legacy of love. That’s what I enjoy most, sharing those memories, discoveries and lessons with all of you! I also love to hear others’ stories about how Mom had touched their lives, as well.

As I’ve said many times, Mom was a pioneer and trailblazer in her field, especially being a woman! But, she was never fully on board with the Woman’s Lib movement that was going on at that time. It was a time, very similar to now – with “women-empowerment” campaigns and political upheaval, unequal pay between the sexes and below-poverty-level wages that weren’t rising proportionately with the high costs of living.

That’s when Mom set to work, writing and publishing her own recipes about how to imitate the public’s favorite fast food and restaurant dishes right at home; as well as shelf-stable grocery items and so-called “junk food”. Mom took the “junk” out of “junk food” by controlling the ingredients that went into her imitations. It was like having your cake and eating it too!

Mom often found ways to duplicate our favorite foods at a lower cost, too; and, if it saved our household money, she wanted to share it with others to help them save money as well – ‘because’, as Mom would say, ‘great recipes need to be shared!’

In the early 1970s, during the beginning years of what was to become Mom’s Secret RecipesTM legacy – which she often described as a “cottage industry” and “dining room table” family-operation – she had built up an index of about 200 “copycat” recipes, mostly favorites from the requests of her readers, family and friends. Mom developed and tested all of her recipes, herself, sometimes by taste-test-comparisons to the original products and sometimes from just a description by the requester.

First 5 books of the Secret Recipes Collection

It didn’t seem to take long before Mom’s collection of recipes grew from hundreds to thousands and went from individual-index-card-sales to multiple self-published cookbooks and newsletters, for over 40 years before she “retired”. But, do writers ever really retire? Mom continued writing in her journals, just for her own joy and not for publishing.

I don’t have copies of all of Mom’s books and newsletters, but I have a lot and they are my FAVORITE go-to-material for inspiration in the kitchen, as well as in my new blog-writing journey. Mom’s “cottage industry” creations (her self-published newsletters and books) are as unique in their style as they are in their content – including large collections of recipes sandwiched between household tips, comedic quips, “Food-for-Thought” articles and food-for-the-soul editorials. Mom often compared her handiworks to coffee-table-reading-material because they feed the mind and soul, as well as the belly.

Within the first year of her newsletter publication, Mom was getting national and international recognition for her talents and ingenuity. For the most part, Mom self-promoted her recipes through radio talk-show programs aimed at the homemaker. But, very quickly, newspapers and magazines picked up on the stories of a small town housewife who blazed a trail for recreating favorite restaurant dishes, fast food, junk food and grocery products at home. Even television news and talk shows, locally and internationally (in Canada), were contacting Mom with requests for interviews. [I’ll write more about those next week.]

None of Mom’s original, self-published books and newsletters are in print anymore. But, you can find used copies on eBay and Amazon. The only book of Mom’s, currently in print, is her last book, on which I collaborated with her, during the last few years of her life. It was Mom’s favorite, self-published cookbook, The Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd printing) and we wanted to have it re-published to inspire new generations in this “digital age”.

But, first, the new edition had to be re-written in Microsoft Word, which took me a couple of years (working “part-time”) to complete. The whole process created a new and unique bond between me and Mom. All of the highs and lows and pain and joy of re-writing the book to the new publisher’s specifications, while maintaining as much of the original content as possible – it was like giving birth all over again. Mom agreed that each of her books were like her children, to which she had “given birth”.

Shortly before Mom passed away, in January 2018, the “new” cookbook went to print (published by Balboa Press) with the title adjusted to Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective. Unfortunately, Mom never got to see the 1st printed copy, but she was so thrilled that her favorite book was being published again, even though it was by a publishing house – which she swore for decades that she’d never do. Nonetheless, time and age change a lot of things.

I have the first “author’s copy” now. It’s another of my favorite things because it represents the unique time and bond that it granted me with Mom, during the whole re-writing and re-publishing process, before she passed away.

No one else, before Mom, had ever taken on imitating the public’s favorite products and dishes from some of their favorite companies like McDonald’s, White Castle, Wendy’s, KFC, Arby’s, Applebee’s, Big Boy, Bob Evan’s, Hershey’s, Hostess, Sarah Lee, and so many more (based on the requests she received)! Mom even took on the companies and their lawyers who started demanding that she cease and desist her imitations!

Mom insisted that she didn’t know what these companies actually put in their own “secret” recipes; but she could certainly GUESS and create an imitation similar to, if not better than, the original product. The retail industry was already doing the same thing with the introduction of “generic” products in the stores. Similarly, she changed the names of her imitations to be like (but not the same as) the dish or product she was mimicking.

There were a handful of companies that saw Mom’s imitations as they were meant to be – compliments to the public’s favorite, great-tasting products. Some of Mom’s corporate “fans” included White Castle, Sanders Candy Co. and Hershey’s – to name a few.

Mom didn’t do a lot of television appearances – only a few local and a few national shows – she thought of them as more like cooking demonstrations, where she didn’t get to connect with as much of the audience as she did on the radio shows in which she took part. But television made a huge impact on Mom’s business. I’ll further discuss the TV shows mom did in next week’s blog entry. But, for now…Mom’s favorite experience in her Secret RecipesTM career…

The Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Printing) is now in print as Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018)

It was her first appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show” (July 7, 1981) that created the MOST overwhelming response to Mom’s copycat cookery – more than she (or any of our family) could have ever expected! Over a million letters came through our small town post office, just for Secret RecipesTM and the Recipe DetectiveTM. The whole family (and some of my girlfriends) were working day and night that summer to process it all. In some ways, it was a devastating mess for a “dining-room-table” family operation! But, there’s no denying, it was also a great learning experience!

Despite the fallout, the show opened many doors for Mom that she never expected; allowing her to let her light shine bright and inspire others world-wide. That is why, it always remained one of Mom’s “Top 10” favorite experiences. She even agreed to appear on the show, again, almost 12 years later, on April 16, 1993 – but, only on the condition that they not give out her contact information!

The show was only allowed to give out copies of the recipes Mom demonstrated on that episode. As a result, the public’s requests for transcripts of that episode broke the show’s record! They sent Mom a plaque to commemorate it – another of Mom’s favorite things. A rough recording of that 1993 episode can be found on YouTube, in 5 parts. Regardless, the whole experience, Mom’s inspiring light kept shining until the day she passed away. Now, I attempt to carry her torch in her honor.

Whenever my husband and I host a football party (like we did last weekend)… or any party for that matter, I love to channel my mom, whether I’m planning to serve a big meal or simple hors d’oeuvres. My mom was the hostess with the “most-ess”.

I have my own “Rolodex” of ideas, but most of them were inspired by my mom, first; then, ‘Pitzer-ised’ to fit my diet (or somebody’s diet) at the time. Much like Mom, it makes me feel good to make others feel good through food and friendship and entertaining. That is a priceless feeling and another one of both of our “Top 10” favorite things.

In fact, one of my favorite fall-football-season meals to prepare is chili. Like Mom, I can make it from scratch and let it simmer all day in a slow-cooker or I can whip it up from the left-overs of “taco night” or “spaghetti night” or “sloppy joe night” – you get the gist. I can also prepare it the day before an event, to re-heat the day of while I focus on other details or simply enjoy our guests’ company without distraction.

Chili is one of those few dishes that tastes even better the second day! I can “stretch it out” to feed more than expected by adding more meat or diced tomatoes or beans or sauce. Even by using smaller bowls or mugs – or by adding toppings like shredded cheddar cheese or corn chips – making a small amount seem like a lot. Plus, adding a quick-to-make side of inexpensive cornbread or some hot dogs can also stretch the meal even farther!

IN CLOSING…

This week, I’d like to share one of my own recipes on which I get a lot of compliments – my favorite, football-gathering, chili creation. I’m inspired to reveal it to you…”because”, as Mom liked to say, “great recipes need to be shared!” As always, I’m just asking for proper credit if you care to share it…

P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…

Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective is available for sale, at $20.99 each, through the publisher, Balboa Press, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062252; it’s also available in eBook form, for $3.99, at https://www.balboapress.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-001062253