Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Eating out at Home

Happy Monday and welcome, again, to Mondays & Memories of My Mom, a blog series I started last year to honor my mom’s legacy.

Mom and I at her 80th Birthday Party – Photo by Paul Jaekel, Jan. 2016

I’m Laura Emerich and my mom is Gloria Pitzer, aka the famous “Recipe Detective”TM, investigator of the food industry’s “Secret Recipes”TM. Starting in the early 1970s, Mom was the pioneer of imitating the food industry’s favorite fine-dining dishes, as well as fast food, junk food and grocery products at home! She carved out the original niche in copycat recipes movement. Mom also created the slogan, “eating out at home”, which became the title of one of her more than 40 self-published books in a 28-year span, from 1973 through 2001. You can find more information on most of her publishings by clicking on the “Cookbooks”  and “Other Publications”  tabs on this website. I’m still updating the “Other Publications” tab as I find more of Mom’s syndicated work from the 1960s and 1970s era.

Mom’s books were all quite unique and special. She built most of her cookbooks on the taboo subject of embracing fast food and junk food, while all the critics were saying to stay away from it and how bad all of it was for our health. Well, maybe so, but as Robert Redford once said, “Health food may raise my consciousness, but Oreos taste better!” – a quote that Mom noted on the first page of her September 1978 cookbook, Eating Out at Home.  [Note: See the “Recipes” tab on this website (another tab to which I’m working on adding more) for Mom’s copycat version of Oreo-Style sandwich cookies, which she calls “Gloreo’s”.] Opposed to those critics, Mom’s definition for junk food was “poorly prepared food”.

People know what they like, and Mom found a way to “have your cake and eat it too!” Mom claimed to be able to take the junk out of junk food by making it at home, where you can control the ingredients. It was a break through that had many companies, like Hostess, up in arms – that someone could possibly duplicate their product at home and, then, share it with the public! However, Mom never knew what the companies’ actual “secret recipes” were for their sumptuous products, as she wrote on page 2 of her Eating Out at Home cookbook…

You don’t have to know exactly how the original dish was prepared by the commercial food chains. All you need is a basic recipe to which you will add that ‘special seasoning’ or that ‘secret method of preparation’ that sets one famous secret recipe apart from those similar to it…

When I work to duplicate a recipe so that the finished product is as good as (if not better than) a famous restaurant dish, I begin by asking myself a series of questions: I want to know what color the finished dish has…[and] was it achieved by baking, frying or refrigeration?…What specific flavors can I identify?… and about how much of each may have been used…

Similar tests are used in chemistry…[to]…break down the components of an unknown substance and try to rebuild it. So the cook must work like a chemist (and not like a gourmet; who, most of the time, never uses a recipe – but, rather, creates one.)

The most remarkable part of the duplication of famous recipes is that you can accept the challenge to ‘try’ to match their [dish or product]. Sometimes, you will be successful. Sometimes you will fail in the attempt. But, at least, it can be done [‘practice makes perfect’], and it certainly takes the monotony out of mealtime when, for reasons of financial inadequacy, we can not always eat out…even if we could afford to eat at all or most of our meals away from home, wouldn’t that become monotonous in time?

2011 at Big Boy Restaurant – Marysville, MI

Mom found out decades later, in her and Dad’s retirement years, without 5 kids in tow and being able to afford it from the success of their “Secret Recipes”TM business, that eating out all the time did not get as monotonous for them as she thought it might! They enjoyed, at least, breakfast and lunch out almost every day and they made friends everywhere they went too!

Given that Dad was diabetic, they were always conscious of the choices they rendered – from the places where they chose to dine to the menu selections and portion sizes they made. They even afforded themselves the occasional fast food breakfast sandwich once in a while – everything in moderation. As Mom also wrote on the same page as the excerpt above:

STOP CHEATING YOURSELF of the pleasure of good food. Eat what you enjoy, but DON’T OVER eat…This is what really causes the problems of obesity and bad health – rather than believing the propaganda of the experts that ‘fast food’ is ‘junk food’…It is not! Poorly prepared food, whether it is from a fast-service restaurant or a [$20-plate in a] gourmet dining room, is ‘junk’, no matter how you look at it…if it is not properly prepared.

Junk is in the eye of the beholder…as Mom also wrote about in the following excerpt from page 3 of her Eating Out at Home cookbook, for imitating a cake similar to that of Hostess Twinkies:

TO DEBUNK THE JUNK…don’t think of Hostess Twinkies as junk dessert but, rather, the very same cake ingredients prepared in the Waldorf Astoria kitchens as the basis for their “Flaming Cherries Supreme”. All we did [to imitate the product] was shape the cake differently, adding a little body to the filling and putting it INSIDE the cake, rather than on top as the Waldorf did!

Furthermore, on the subject of “junk food” (including James Dewar, inventor of the Twinkie), the following excerpts came from one of Mom’s “Food-for-Thought” writings; as found on page 6 of her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018); originally written for Mom’s famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1982):

The critics who contend that ‘fast foods’ are ‘junk foods’ and not good for us, have probably never prepared these foods themselves. Certainly, they have no access to the closely guarded recipes from the food companies that created these dishes, as there are only a few people in each operation that are permitted the privilege of such information! So, 99% of the critics’ speculations are based on their own opinions… ‘Fast foods’ are not ‘junk foods’ unless they’re not properly prepared. Any food that is poorly prepared (and just as badly presented) is junk!

Unfortunately, ‘fast food’ has carried a reputation, by default, of containing ingredients that are ‘harmful’ to us. Yet, they contain the same ingredients as those foods served in the ‘fine’ restaurants with wine stewards, linen table cloths, candlelight, coat-check attendants and parking valets; which separate the plastic palaces of ‘fast food’ from the expensive dining establishments. One ‘eats’ at McDonald’s, but ‘dines’ at ‘The Four Seasons’. Steak and potato or hamburger and French fries – the ingredients are practically the same. How they are prepared makes the difference!…

James Dewar, date/source unknown

James Dewar started out driving a horse-drawn wagon in Chicago and, by 1930, was manager of the Continental Baking Company’s Chicago establishment. He invented “The Twinkie’, a sponge-type cake with creamy vanilla-flavored filling [in the early 30s.] It has been called the “Grand-daddy’ of modern snack foods. Today, the finger-sized cream-filled cake is as big a confectionery sensation as they were when Dewar first introduced his creation to American cuisine. The company that put out the Twinkie was originally called the Continental Baking Company and later became the Hostess company.

At the time, he wanted to give the public something reasonably priced, for the Great Depression of the 30s brought grave times to this country. Treats like the cream-filled Twinkies, would be a luxury to people who couldn’t afford otherwise. For decades, the appealing factor about the Twinkies national popularity has been that it is affordable! Dewar put 2 cakes in each package, selling them for $.05 a pair. For the price of a nickel, it was quite a bargain. Dewar remembered how the Continental Baking Company was selling small finger-sized shortcakes for strawberry season in the 1930s. The pans they used to bake them in were not being used except for the spring promotion to produce the shortcakes. He, therefore, came up with the idea of preparing the same shortcake in those pans, but filling each cake with an injection of vanilla cream. The Twinkies became an immediate success! The idea for the name, on the other hand, came while he was on a business trip to St. Louis and saw a billboard advertising “Twinkle Toes Shoes’, which was, then, a terrific sales pitch. The name “Twinkies’ was a spinoff of that shoe advertisement. From then on, the cakes took off. When Dewar retired from Continental in 1968, he boasted often to the press that he ate scores of Twinkies every day. That’s not a bad endorsement for the critics who claim junk food will shorten your life span.

Gloria Pitzer, 2013

Mom has always tried to encourage the inner cook in all of us, through her many publishings. Even if you didn’t think you could cook at all, Mom could make you feel like a gourmet, making your own creations and bringing joy back into eating at home. Additionally, without publishing any pictures in her cookbooks or newsletters, Mom could, very-well, describe in detail how the product should look throughout the various stages of the recipes; so that you knew or not if your duplication was coming along properly. Her recipes are always fun and easy to follow. She also made them simple to “customize”, to suit your own diet needs.

Mom’s original concepts of “eating out at home” and “taking the junk out of junk food” has brought so much joy to so many people who couldn’t afford such “luxuries” as eating out, even fast food, or buying junk food; either for monetary or health reasons. Mom gained a lot of followers in the copycat movement (also some plagiarists) since she started the concept in the early 1970s.

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

Just running a search on the term “copycat recipes concept” brought me 6,370,000 results on Bing and about 3,410,000 results on Google. Searching the term “blogs for copycat recipes” brought me about 18,200,000 results on Google, including this great article, “Top 25 Copycat Recipe Blogs of 2017” by Toby Kuhnke, Editor, AllFreeCopycatRecipes.com.  In addition, when asking Bing, “How many copycat recipe blogs are there?” – I received 95,100,000 results. In all, I’d say that’s quite a movement.

Also, searching Amazon for “Gloria Pitzer” brought me 63 results of people reselling her old cookbooks that are no longer in print; as well as others who are getting her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (January 2018) from the publisher, Balboa Press, and reselling them on Amazon. There are also many wonderful comments about my mom and her unique cookbooks to be found on many of these results!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading “Eating out at Home” (the blog) and will return again next week for “Mondays & Memories of my Mom” when my next blog, “It’s all Relative”, discusses Mom’s writing heritage as seen on the last page of her cookbook, Eating out at Home (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1978). Also, in closing, I usually end with one of Mom’s recipes that she gave away for free on her product information and ordering sheet in exchange for a 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 TheRecipeDetective.com website years ago for internet exposure to our parents and their “Secret Recipes”TM business. This particular recipe was also printed in Mom’s cookbook, Eating Out At Home (Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; 1978, page 47)

A-1-Style Steak Sauce by Gloria Pitzer

1/2 cup Dark Molasses

2 Green Onions, chopped

3 TB Kosher Salt, coarse

3 TB Dry Mustard

1 tsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Cayenne

1 clove Garlic crushed — or, 1 tsp Garlic Powder

1 Anchovy Filet chopped — or, 1 TB Anchovy Paste

6 TB Tamarind Fresh — or, 1 TB Tamarind Extract

1 tsp Pepper

1/2 tsp Fenugreek

1/2 tsp Powdered Ginger

1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Powdered Cloves

1/2 tsp Cardamom Seeds

3 drops Tabasco

6 oz. Rhine Wine

2 oz. Rose Wine

1 pint White Vinegar

1 TB Kitchen Bouquet

1 TB Postum Powder

Put all spices (except last 6 ingredients) through blender until it’s a fine powder. Place over low heat with half vinegar and simmer 1 hour; adding rest of vinegar a little at a time as mixture is reduced in bulk. Stir in tabasco, wines and kitchen bouquet. Cook 3 min. to dissolve. Remove from heat. Pour into crock or Tupperware container (2qt) and let stand covered for 1 week. Then strain through cheese-cloth, six times. Bottle and cap tightly. Keep refrigerated indefinitely. Freeze to keep for years.

“Gloria Pitzer, The Recipe Detective” – Written by John Thorne, 1986

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Gloria Pitzer [quit] her job as food editor at a local paper because she insisted on giving readers the recipes they wanted, not the recipes her editor felt they ought to want. Still convinced that she was right, she took in ironing until she had scraped up enough to purchase a mimeograph machine, and started sending out a food letter, The Secret Recipe Report. (Now called Gloria Pitzer’s Secret Recipes Quarterly, it may well be the longest-lived food letter ever.) Ten years later she was making regular appearances on radio cooking talk shows all around the country and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the cookbooks into which she was periodically gathering these “secret recipes,” most famously her Better Cookery Cookbook: Secret Recipes for Famous Foods from Famous Places.

This triumph was built on the brilliant intuition that a lot of home cooks were tired of the recipes offered in most cookbooks and newspaper food pages. These, usually, break down into two general categories: dishes that, on the one hand, require the cook to tackle new methods and new ingredients for ends that may or may not prove worth the effort and, on the other, the all-too-familiar round of penny-scraping, time-cheating, fat-wary throw-togethers.

What Pitzer understood was that while this was what her readers may have said they wanted, it was secretly what they yearned to escape. Although they might be afraid to admit this, even to themselves, what would most excite them would be to learn how to make the food they most loved to eat: the fast food they bought at McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken and the brand-name treats they brought home from the supermarket, stuff like Oreo cookies and Hostess Snowballs.

So, Gloria Pitzer assumed both the title and role of the “Recipe Detective” and set out to decode these foods — at least to the point where she could replicate them in her own home kitchen. And she succeeded at this beyond her wildest dreams — sometimes to corporate fury and sometimes to its amused acquiescence.

It quickly became apparent that she had touched a public nerve. Her radio appearances — helped by her perky, unpretentious personality and unabashed enthusiasm — brought her thousands of letters. When she went on national television to teach Phil Donahue how to make Twinkies, she received over a million pieces of mail…an event that so traumatized her that she subsequently refused to appear on Good Morning America or in People Magazine. (Nor did she return to the Phil Donahue show for another twelve years. But, when she did in 1993, there were over five hundred thousand requests for a transcript — more than any other in the history of the show.)

Cookbooks offering homemade versions of popular restaurant and brand-name foods are nothing new. What made Gloria Pitzer different was both what she chose to replicate and how she chose to do it. For instance, Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, in their award-winning Better than Store Bought, eschewed brand-name replication entirely, teaching their readers instead to make corn chips or tomato catsup in a healthier and more economical fashion. These authors shrink from any association with the shameful thrill of a mouthful of Pringles or raspberry-flavored marshmallow fluff.

In complete contrariety, Gloria Pitzer actively promotes what is vulgarly excessive about such things, instinctively grasping that it was the way junk food breaches culinary decorum that makes it so desirable in the first place. Consequently, her versions are often worse for us than the originals and, sometimes even more expensive to make.

You would search in vain in Better than Store Bought for a recipe for Cheez Whiz; Gloria Pitzer gives us two. She also explains what we surely would always have wanted to know if we ever believed anyone would tell us: how to make Lipton’s instant cream of tomato soup, Eagle Brand condensed milk, General Foods “Suisse Mocha” instant coffee…and a host of other such familiars. Only Dream Whip has so far managed to stymie her, and that probably not for long.

How does the Recipe Detective go about deducing the secrets of these patent formulas? By trying, tasting, and — when these are available — perhaps casting a very casual glance at the ingredient list. Indeed, what to my mind makes Pitzer a true artist is her lack of interest in with what exactly a particular product is made. As she puts if forthrightly: “I do not know, nor do I WANT to know what these companies put into their recipes.” What she wants to replicate is less it than the experience of eating it.

So, to copy a forty-eight-ounce jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise, she blends the expected ingredients — oil, eggs, lemon juice, vinegar, salt — with some that you might not expect — three-quarters of a cup each of sugar and evaporated milk and two sticks of margarine. Then, to offset the incredible greasy richness that this produces (did I mention the six egg yolks?), she ups the lemon juice and vinegar to a third of a cup each and the salt to four teaspoons.

A spoonful of this mixture explodes in the mouth like a culinary hand grenade. Salt! Sweet! Sour! Fat! — all hit the taste buds simultaneously and with overwhelming intensity. This is cooking as an act of sensual violence. And while not all her recipes are like this, many are. Some go further.

Taken as a whole, this cooking is to ordinary fare as scarlet-covered romances are to ordinary life…normal caution cast aside for the pleasure of total surrender to the charming — and surely not totally unscrupulous — ravisher. Such food doesn’t ask to be tasted; it compels the mouth to submit. The message: when pleasure forces itself on you, there’s no blame in yielding. Relax and enjoy it.

Certainly, Gloria Pitzer herself treats the sweet-talking blandishments of her seducers as gospel truth. She writes with a straight face that the beef from which White Castle makes its hamburgers is “of such a high quality we can’t possibly equal it with what we buy in our supermarkets….” She spends months decoding Arthur Treacher’s “secret” fish fry batter and the Colonel’s “secret” eleven herbs and spices.

It isn’t, of course, that I don’t think such secrets exist. I’m sure they do. I just don’t think they have all that much influence on anyone’s decision to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken. This may be why, when Pitzer and Colonel Sanders chatted together once on a radio program, he genially hinted that she look around the grocery store for a packaged mix that might contain eleven secret herbs and spices. Pitzer diligently did just that-to discover that the secret behind that finger lickin’ flavor was Good Seasons brand Italian salad dressing mix.

Another cook might have been dismayed — some secret! — but Pitzer was thrilled. Here, suddenly, reality was replicating fantasy, her fantasy. Her final recipe — for three pounds of fryer parts — mixes two packets of the salad seasoning into a blend of butter, corn oil, Crisco, milk, lemon juice, and sage-and-paprika-seasoned pancake mix.

Because it bombards us with pleasurable and un-resistible stimuli, junk food offers an immediate comfort that ordinary food cannot… a comfort that few of us can resist all the time. But as it coddles, it also betrays, for like many seducers it is not what it pretends to be. We know this, and we don’t care. There is eating where the mouth is inquisitive, aggressive, alert, and appreciative because it genuinely wants to get to know what it is devouring. Then, like an encounter between two strangers in pick-up bar, both looking for an easy one-night stand, there is eating that knows it had best not look too closely and just take it as it comes.

Such encounters have their flavor, but that comes from a willed confusion of fantasy and reality, of appearance and substance, reinforced by the ambience of the bar and smooth talk that is at once sincere and empty. In the world of food, these things arise from the aura that is woven around the brand name, associations that persistent advertising persuades us to equate with our own sense of pleasure. This is why economy-minded mothers serve cheaper, frozen fried chicken to their family in a carefully preserved Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket — it’s the bucket, not the chicken (even less the herbs and spices), that provides the savor of this kind of eating.

The sobriquet “recipe detective” might at first acquaintance sound like an attempt to become fast-food’s Philip Marlowe — a solitary seeker of truth stalking the mean streets of the Miracle Mile. In Pitzer’s case, nothing could be further from the truth. The persona she projects in her writing is not that of detective-avenger but of willing victim, the romantic heroine who refuses to let go the illusions that lead, over and over again, to the threat of seduction and betrayal.

Food writing as Harlequin romance — it is in such terms, I think, that we should read her indiscriminate eagerness to justify fast food, her hymns of praise to those who make it, and, especially, her vilification of the writers who attempt to undermine its emotional solace. We should take it, that is, as defending not a belief so much as a dream.

If you go by the commercials, the Big Mac, the Diet Pepsi, the Lay’s potato chip are all you need to transform a family meal or a gathering of friends into a joyous event; they are sold, that is, as Energizer batteries for human beings. Food, perhaps, should not be put to this purpose. But it is, and it works — at least for a time. Better Cookery Cookbook — the title is without irony, since it is merely mimicking the Betty Crocker Cookbook (in case you don’t get it, she adds on the next page, “General Thrills Foods”) — because of its self-illusions, is a compelling, even touching, portrait of the author’s, and by extension, many another’s, struggles with the junk-food dream.

That unselfconscious honesty is what distances Pitzer from the more publicized mainstream writers on the pleasures of this world. The latter approach it as curious tourists in the land of Big Boys and Chicken in the Rough, tourists who keep their culinary passports in order so that they can get out at the drop of a hat. Gloria Pitzer actually lives there…and that makes all the difference.

Dream Whip has so far managed to stymie her, but that probably won’t for long.

by John Thorne, 1986

NOTE: Thorne lived in Boston for a number of years, where he self-published a number of culinary pamphlets reviewed at the time by The New York Times, which in 1983 grew into his ongoing newsletter, “Simple Cooking”. In the middle 1980s, Thorne moved to coastal Maine to devote himself exclusively to food writing, and where he became associated with Matt Lewis, who later shared a byline for a number of his books and his newsletter. Thorne’s newsletter has consisted of essays on food preparation and appreciation blended with snatches of autobiography…as well as frequent cookbook reviews. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Thorne_(writer)

Gloreos – The Oreo-Style Sandwich Cookies

Gloreos – The Oreo-Style Sandwich Cookies

When the Washington (DC) Post once interviewed the Nabisco people to ask how they felt about a Michigan housewife, claiming she could imitate their famous chocolate sandwich cookie at home, they were very insistent that it was impossible! Well, I felt if Hydroxy could come close, so could I – and I gave the big food company a taste of their own product!  – Gloria Pitzer

Cookie:

  • 18 oz. package devil’s food cake mix
  • 2 eggs (eggs)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 cup Nestle’s Quik cocoa powder
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine cake mix, eggs + water, oil and cocoa powder. Blend well until you can form it into a ball. Let stand 20 minutes.
  2. Form dough into 1/2-inch balls placed 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet Flatten each ball with bottom of a greased once drinking glass that has been dipped in Nestle’s Quik powder to deepen the color of the cookies to resemble the originals.
  3. Bake 8 minutes. Immediately out of the oven, flatten each cookie with the back of a pancake turner. Let cool 20 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Filling:

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 lbs + 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Soften the gelatin in 1/4 C cold water and place in a pan of hot water until clear. Meanwhile, beat the Crisco until fluffy, adding the powdered sugar a little at a time.
  2. Add the vanilla and cooled gelatin and beat 6 minutes. Shape into 1-inch balls and place between the bottom sides of two cookies, pressing them gently but firmly together until the filling becomes nicely rounded at the edges.
  3. Chill about one hour to set the filling.

Assembly:

  1. Shape the chilled  filling into 1-inch balls.
  2. Place each ball between 2 cooled cookies, on the bottom-sides of each.
  3. Press gently until filling has spread to the edges of the cookies like the originals.

Makes 4 dozen sandwich cookies.

AboutOreos®

The Oreo cookie was developed and produced by Nabisco in February 1912 at its Chelsea factory in New York City (now Chelsea Market). It was created mainly to target the British market, whose biscuits were seen by Nabisco to be too ‘ordinary’. Originally, Oreo was mound-shaped and available in two flavors; lemon meringue and cream. In America, they were sold for 30 cents a pound in novel tin cans with glass tops, which allowed customers to see the cookies.

A newer design for the cookie was introduced in 1916, and as the cream filling was by far the more popular of the two available flavors, Nabisco discontinued production of the lemon meringue filling during the 1920s. The modern-day Oreo was developed in 1952 by William A Turnier, to include the Nabisco logo.

What a lot of people don’t know is that over 491 billion Oreo cookies have been sold since they were first introduced, making them the best selling cookie of the 20th century.

Check outwww.nabiscoworld.com/Oreofor more information about Nabisco and their entire line of great snacks.