Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Copycat!

Happy Monday! I hope everybody is having an awe-inspiring, magnificently marvelous Monday!

As defined by Wikipedia, copycat refers to someone “who adopts, copies, imitates, mimics, or follows the same thing as someone” else. In fact, one of the lines of Wikipedia’s various examples of copycat says, “…reference to a recipe that tastes like a restaurant recipe or famous product purchased in a store”, just as Mom had started developing in the early 1970s. If anyone knows of another copycat, who started imitating famous restaurant and grocery products before my mom, please contact me! [https://www.facebook.com/TheRecipeDetective/ OR therecipedetective@outlook.com]

In one of my earlier blogs, Imitation, I reminisced about how Mom had always referred to herself as “the Rich Little of the food industry”, because she could imitate their famous dishes and products like Rich Little could imitate famous voices.

Additionally, according to Wiktionary, to imitate is to follow a model or pattern; or to make a copy, counterpart or semblance of something… OR, as it also mentions… to plagiarize, which is, basically, stealing someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own.

I’ve previously discussed this subject in a couple of my other blog entries as well. Mom never knew what the companies actually used in their recipes, but she could create her own semblance of their products – that’s not plagiarism! However, there have been instances, over the years, of others blatantly stealing Mom’s work (sometimes word-for-word and sometimes changing a few words or exchanging ingredients, like flour, salt and baking powder instead of self-rising flour) and, then, passing it off as their own work!

I find it astounding, the number of “foodie” copycats who (since Mom introduced her first “copycat” cookbook, called Secret Restaurant Recipes, in 1976) have copied the ORIGINAL COPYCAT and all the subsequent copycats that have followed henceforth. Yet, I can’t find any type of written history on the subject of the “copycat recipes movement” – nor, in any other similar terms – yet, there’s no denying that the movement exists and, I think, it’s becoming a billion dollar industry!

I’m feeling inspired and frightened, all at the same time, to take up that challenge, myself – to write the history of copycat cooking – it’s like my mom is on my shoulder telling me, optimistically, to “go for it – it’s a ‘meant-to-be’!” Simply because, a couple of weeks ago, a friend randomly showed me a book, while we were sitting together at a backyard barbeque.

The book is called Ottissippi and it’s written by a local woman, Cheryl Morgan; who discovered there was an untold story of the history of the Anishinabe people in our Southeastern Michigan area. Thus, she decided to be the one to pull together all the bits and pieces of factual information she could find throughout our Great Lakes region and turn it into a beautifully told history. I was very impressed by her story.

But, that’s the kind of thing Mom would’ve called a “meant-to-be” event… it seems random at the time, but soon after you see the reasoning behind why that happened… as everything happens for a reason! I’ve been searching for a history on the “copycat recipes movement”, using various different terms and search engines; but, I have yet to find anything! Shouldn’t there be a written history on that subject – or is it just me, who feels that way?

 

Paul & Gloria Pitzer, Algonac, MI

When I was doing a search on the term “copycat recipes movement”, both, Bing and Google brought me SO MANY results on copycat recipes! Nevertheless, there were no articles or books on the subject of the “movement”. I am amazed that Mom’s name didn’t even come up on any of the first pages of results!

One of the rabbit holes I followed on Bing’s search results, led me to a “copycat recipes” term-search on Amazon.com. Out of 116 results (sorted by “Featured”), not one of Mom’s cookbooks came up until #46; which was her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018). Mom wrote and self-published a cookbook called, The Copycat Cookbook, in April 1988, which didn’t even come up in any of the first few pages of results! Likewise, when I changed the searched term to “secret recipes”, Mom’s last cookbook didn’t come up until #58 of more than 7,000 results (again, sorted by “Featured”).

Additionally, when I searched a similar term like “secret restaurant recipes” – which is the title of Mom’s self-published cookbook from 1976 (first edition, also known as “Book 1” in a series of 6) that I believe really kick-started the “movement”, in the first place; following Mom’s initial publishings of copycat recipes from famous restaurant dishes to fast food, junk food and grocery products – Mom’s cookbook didn’t come up until #183 of more than 1,000 results (once again, sorted by “Featured”).

The recipes in Mom’s “Book 1” had originated from her self-published newsletter, the National Homemakers Newsletter; which began in January of 1974, AFTER Mom had started developing a following of readers, in the early 1970s, from her syndicated newspaper columns, in which she first developed and printed some of her ORIGINAL copycat, make-at-home recipes for things like McDonald’s “Special Sauce” and Sara Lee’s Cheesecake.

Long story, short… newspaper advertisers kicked up a fuss… editor “strongly suggested” Mom go back to hum-drum brownie recipes… Mom quit and started her own publication, giving the public what they wanted; as she discovered from their requests, because there wasn’t any other source (at that time) from which to feed the ever-growing hunger for recipe secrets to imitate famous restaurant dishes, fast food, junk food and grocery products at home.

Mom has written her story, about being the Recipe DetectiveTM and how it all began, in many of her self-published books. It has also been told repeatedly by many reporters and talk show hosts over the decades, after she first fired up a lot of national attention, in the mid-1970s. It all began from requests by her readers, in the early 1970s; people who wanted to know how to IMITATE famous food products at home! However, following Mom’s first appearance on The Phil Donahue Show in July of 1981, the nation was more than just fired up – it exploded with the copycat recipes phenomenon!

Mom and Phil Donahue, 1993

Copycat recipe authors, whose names popped up on Amazon.com when I searched for the term “copycat recipes” (again, sorted by “Featured”), before my mom’s name ever appeared, included Lina Chang, JR Stevens, Todd Wilbur, Becky Bopp, Olivia Howard, John Andrews, Alexander Moretti, Bonnie Akins, Ron Douglas, Stephanie Manley, JP Brown, Samantha Schwartz, Nathan Isaac and David Pietras; plus, company names such as Six Sisters’ Stuff, Taste of Home, Prime Publishing and Publications International Ltd.

However, I have yet to find any “copycat foodie” who was published before my mom; nor any, since, who’ve given any kind of inspirational reference to her for having carved out this particular niche in the realm of recipes and copycat cookery. Mom was the ORIGINAL Recipe DetectiveTM, the trailblazing pioneer who began the “copycat recipes movement” in the first place. I may be biased, but I feel like, since it has become more than a movement (it’s a huge “industry”, now), some kind of recognition is due Mom for having carved out this niche in the first place – and it makes me, all the more, want to shout Mom’s story from the roof tops!

1985 Gloria Pitzer

Thus, I’m still feeling inspired to take up the challenge to write Mom’s biography, including a history of the “copycat recipes movement”. That’s kind of why I started this blog series, Mondays & Memories of My Mom, in the first place; to carry the torch for Mom’s legacy and to keep telling her story – to those who remember Mom as the Recipe DetectiveTM, to those who won’t admit to it because they’ve copied (sometimes plagiarized) the ORIGINAL copycat and to the newer, digital generation who probably doesn’t even know that there is a history behind the “copycat recipes movement” and it began with Gloria Pitzer!

Not too long ago, I was asked, by one of the talk show hosts Mom used to work with, why people like Todd Wilbur and Ron Douglas can get away with blatantly copying Mom’s work. The only answer I could find to that a few years ago, when Mom wanted to re-pursue Wilbur for plagiarism, was an online article called, “Recipes, Copyright and Plagiarism” by Jonathan Bailey (published March 24, 2015).

I thought the author gave a wonderful, easy-to-understand explanation of plagiarism – specifically among recipe writers – and how difficult it is to prove, let alone prosecute, the theft of someone else’s original work, especially in recipes, that’s being passed off as one’s own work. Such as Todd Wilbur did to Mom in the late 1980s; and which I discussed in an earlier blog, Mother, May I?

It’s not fair that people like that can get away with what I (and many others) would consider plagiarism, even if it is just borderline, by simply changing a few words or ingredients or measurements (like 2 TB, instead of 1/8 cup)… and seeking their own fame and fortune from it as well! Even Mom often stated, in her own cookbooks, that she could frequently come up with the same result by using different ingredients; as she often revamped her make-alike recipes to compensate for such things as ingredients that were no longer available, which prompted Mom’s homemade grocery recipes and subsequent cookbook.

Mom wrote in her book, My Cup Runneth Over and I can’t Find My Mop, about how her mom taught her certain cooking techniques; but, it was my Grandma Pitzer who, first, taught Mom how to make certain grocery products at home to save money (after she had married my dad and they were living with Dad’s parents for a short time).

Additionally, Mom, who was always a big fan of saving time and exertion, would often “revamp” her recipes to include “ingredient short cuts” (like using Mayonnaise in place of oil and egg or boxed cake mix in place of some flour and sugar ingredients). That’s how Mom came to develop her cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; April 1986), which she reprinted in June 2002 because of the popularity that shortcut cooking had gained. That cookbook was my latest source for many of the newest “thank you” notes I added to the “Media” tab, yesterday, on this website.

#MediaFriends

1986 Apr – Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes

FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…

“COPYCAT COOKERY doesn’t limit you to traditional ingredients or old fashioned methods for recreating your favorite dishes at home and you’ll find, in my recipes, that I often use pantry-shelf products to replace several other ingredients… SIMPLE INGREDIENTS, but marvelous results, with a smidgeon of the effort that more complicated from-scratch recipes offer!” – Gloria Pitzer, Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; April 1986, pp. 41 & 65)

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer, 1986

Today, July 15th, is National Give Something Away Day!

SO, IN CLOSING…

This easy pizza crust recipe is from one of Mom’s “free recipes and ordering information” sheets, given out in the late 1980s, and has only 3 ingredients – just stir & spread! A similar version to it can be found on page 54 of Mom’s self-published cookbook, The Best of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Feb. 1990)… again, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it. Thanks!

PAN PIZZA CRUST

By Gloria Pitzer

Ingredients:

12-oz beer (or Club Soda)

2 TB oil

2 ½ cups self-rising flour

Instructions:

Stir beer (or Club Soda) and oil together with a sturdy mixing spoon in a large bowl. Add flour and beat vigorously until smooth and moist. Dump dough into middle of Pam-sprayed, 12- or 13-inch, round pizza pan. Spread dough evenly with back of a large, wet spoon. (Note: Dipping spoon into cold water keeps the dough from sticking.) Use the spoon to patch any holes in the dough.

Bake the crust, empty, for 10 minutes at 400°-F; then, remove and, immediately, add your favorite sauce while it’s warm. Top with cheese and other favorite garnishments. Return to oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes or until toppings are bubbly, the cheese is melted, and the crust appears golden brown around its rim.

Cut to serve 4 – or one teenager!

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Interesting Challenges

Greetings to all and, as always, welcome to my blog – Mondays & Memories of My Mom!

In case you’re new to here, let me introduce myself – I’m Laura Emerich and my mom is the famously renowned “Recipe Detective”TM, Gloria Pitzer. After Mom passed away last year, I decided to start this weekly blog to pay homage to the huge legacy she left behind – from her well-known, writing career to her personal loves of life, family and faith.

The “Recipe Detective”TM, Gloria Pitzer

As I wrote about in my last blog, “Famous Foods from Famous Places”,  Mom was a trailblazer! In the early 1970s, she took on an interesting “challenge”, infiltrating the “secrets” of the retail food industry. While carving out a unique niche, Mom developed recipes to imitate famous foods from famous places right at home and for less cost than going out! As a wife and mother of five, herself, she saw a need in the market for the family unit to afford dining out, and she came up with the concept of “eating out at home!”

Mom had a special talent for determining the sources of flavors in a restaurant dish or, even, in a supermarket product. Some of her recipes used unlikely ingredient combinations that were unheard of at that time, like cake mix and mayonnaise, to achieve a certain flavor, color or texture. She also had a special talent to promote herself and her unique creations. Right from the start, “radio” and Mom formed a seemingly natural friendship/partnership. She knew who her target audience was and where to find them!

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)

The public loved the “new idea” of making fast food right at home, easily and at less cost. Times were tough. In her last cookbook,  Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; January 2018, 1st Printing – pp. 6-7), Mom wrote about the challenge of quitting her job at the newspaper in the early 1970s to start her own newsletter, as it was…

…amid an economic recession with the highest rate of unemployment I had ever experienced, but it was worth the risk. I was a dedicated writer that new someone had to give homemakers something more than what they were being given in the colored glossy magazines…There had to be more to mealtime… The food industry gave us more appealing products than did the cookbooks we trusted.

THEY LAUGHED! THEY DOUBTED! They even tried to take me to court when some famous food companies insisted that I stop giving away their secrets. They couldn’t believe me when I said that I did NOT know, nor did I want to know, what they put in their so-called secret recipes. I did know that there were very few recipes that couldn’t be duplicated or imitated at home… for much less than purchasing the original product…

“Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

FAMOUS FOODS FROM FAMOUS PLACES have intrigued good cooks for a long time – even before fast foods of the 1950s were a curiosity. When cookbooks offer us a sampling of good foods, they seldom devote themselves to the dishes of famous restaurants. There was speculation among the critics as to the virtues of re-creating, at home, the foods that you can buy “eating out”, such as the fast food fares of the popular franchise restaurants… [I think a lot of that “anti” attitude was driven by those big-name-companies, as they were the paying advertisers in the papers and magazines for whom the critics worked or with whom they syndicated.]

Still shot from Mom’s 2nd Phil Donahue Show appearance, April 16, 1993

Who would want to imitate “fast food” at home? I found that over a million people who saw me demonstrate replicating some famous fast food products on The Phil Donahue Show (July 7, 1981) DID – and their letters poured in at a rate of over 15,000 a day for months on end! While I have investigated the recipes, dishes and cooking techniques of “fine” dining rooms around the world, I received more requests from people who wanted to know how to make things like McDonald’s Special Sauce or General Foods Shake-N-Bake coating mix or White Castle’s hamburgers than I received for those things like Club 21’s Coq Au Vin.

“A cookbook should be as exciting as a good mystery!” – Gloria Pitzer

… making the reader feel as if you’re right there, in the kitchen with them, peeling, cutting, chopping, stirring, sifting and all the other interesting things one does when preparing food. It is my intention in this book… [and every book] …to make you feel at home in my kitchen, just as if we’re preparing the dishes together…to later enjoy with those who share our tables with us.

Mom often received “fan mail” and requests for specific dishes or products. Some sought out Mom’s talents through her many radio show interviews around the world, asking her to discover how to make their favorite restaurant dishes. Others, who relocated across country or overseas, made requests for Mom’s “Recipe Detective”TM talents to come up with copycat versions of certain grocery products they couldn’t get anymore. There was always a new and interesting challenge for Mom to conquer. She was a pioneer of the “secret restaurant recipes” and “copycat” movement, inspiring so many followers and other copycats! Nothing empowers better success than good, old fashion hard work and, simply, showing others how much you care.

She never knew the companies’ actual formulations or processes unless they willingly shared that information with her – and, while most didn’t, there were a few that did (or, at least, gave her hints to point her in the right direction) because they were impressed by her and liked what she was doing! Call it flattery or call it free publicity, those companies – White Castle, the original “Colonel Sanders” (after he sold his franchise) and the Sanders Candy Company, to name a few – saw it as a win-win!

Mom wrote of her great experience with the White Castle people in the following excerpt from page 13 of her book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; January 2018, 1st Printing):

A letter of appreciation from Gail Turley, Director of Advertising and Public Relations with White Castle Systems in their Columbus, Ohio headquarters reflected the feelings not often expressed by the major food companies, whose products I attempt to imitate with “make at home” recipes. “On behalf of White Castle System,” the letter said, “We are honored that you deemed the White Castle Hamburger worthy of an attempt at replication of the early days of White Castle and Billy Ingram…” And she enclosed a check to cover the cost of purchasing 15 copies of my first Secret Recipes Book to distribute to their Regional Managers. A far cry from the reaction I received from Orange Julius and Stouffer’s, who threatened legal action against me.

collage for Mom’s imitation inspirations

She also wrote of her positive encounter with the original “Col. Sanders” during a radio show out of Ohio (after he sold his entire franchise and was suing the new owners for changing his recipe) in the following excerpt from page 86 of the same book (cited above): “one of the most important turning points in the events of my recipe work was the influence that Col. Harland Sanders had over me and his direct suggestions on how to make my fried chicken recipe more like the one he originally developed!”

Continuing on with Mom’s encouraging experiences, not only with radio, but also with imitating the great Sanders Candy Company and their response to her copycat versions of their products, here are more passages from page 254 of Mom’s book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; January 2018, 1st Printing) [Note: I discussed part of these excerpts in an earlier blog, “Made With Love” (10/15/2018).]:

THE TASTE OF THE TOWN!

WARREN PIERCE OF WJR – Radio, Detroit, was one of my first radio friends with whom I would visit on the air regularly, giving out recipe secrets from the food industry. When Warren had an evening show, we found that the listeners’ responses to the famous “make-at-home” recipes prompted some very interesting challenges… Each time I offered Warren’s listeners one of the Detroit recipes, along would come requests for even more that I had not yet investigated. So, I would check out the new eating place, taste the house specialty and return to Warren’s show with the previously requested recipe. [Much like Bob Allison’s “Ask Your Neighbor” show.] This is how most of the recipes in my collection were originally discovered.

SANDERS’ HOT FUDGE was one of the nicest experiences I had in working with imitations of the famous recipes, for John (Jack) Sanders, the grandson and president of the company founded by his grandfather, Fred, was one of the sponsors of Warren Pierce’s radio show. Imagine my reluctance to share with his listeners my version of Sanders’ [Style] hot fudge…

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, between my Secret Recipes and Fred Sanders’ products and, I learned, encouraged many out-of-state orders for their products whenever I talked about them during my frequent radio visits around the country.

“When it’s from Sanders, even a little is a big, big treat…” – historical slogan for Sanders’ restaurant, bakery and candy company

MY VISITS ON THE RADIO WITH WARREN PIERCE are still my favorite experiences in my recipe investigations. I would rather do a radio show with Warren, in fact, than television with anyone else. The audience is responsive and the feeling of having really shared something the listeners enjoy having is very rewarding…

On the other side of that imitation or plagiarism coin, there were also (and still are) those who’d replicate what mom was doing in the “copycat” and “secret recipes” field – after all, as I’ve said many times before, she was a trailblazer and an inspiration! Followers were to be expected, as the field proved to be very popular and have endless sources of inspiration from restaurants to grocery products to celebrities’ favorite dishes and so on. Often, other imitators would properly credit Mom for inspiring their own work, which was similar but not exactly the same; as Mom often encouraged her readers to adapt their own tastes and styles to her recipes and to feel creative in the kitchen, changing them up a bit! But, then, there were others who blatantly copied Mom’s work and presented it as their own; some even flagrantly copied her recipes word-for-word without crediting the source.

Mom had many thousands of fans, all around North America and across the pond, who often told her about such plagiaristic cases as they came across them in their areas; and, of course, she would always, rightfully, pursue them. Before home-computers and the World Wide Web, “word” didn’t get around as quickly as it does now – especially since the influx of social media! However, make no mistake about it, “word” DID get around! This new, fast, digital age is a triple-edged sword, though; as it makes plagiarism easier and quicker to accomplish, likewise, it’s also easier and quicker to discover such illegal acts – and, yet, it’s an instantaneous, endless source of inspiration and information at your fingertips!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s blog. Please join me again, next Monday, when I write about my mom’s and my own experiences in dieting – “How to not Lose it, While You’re Trying to Lose It!” In closing, I usually share one of Mom’s recipes from her “free recipes and ordering information” sheets. In keeping with the upcoming “Fat Tuesday” celebration, I’d like to share this hot fudge sauce with you. This is actually a different version of the one in her “free recipes” offer, which I shared in an earlier blog on Oct. 15, 2018. Mom could often find various ways to create the same dish or product. Her hot fudge sauce is just one such example. This “Recipe #2” version of Sanders-Style Hot Fudge Sauce can be found in her last book, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, January 2018, 1st Printing; p. 255), asking only for proper credit if you care to share it.

HOT FUDGE SAUCELike Sanders

Recipe Number 2

13-ounce can Pet evaporated milk

1-pound Kraft light and dark caramels

½ pound (2 sticks) butter or margarine

12 ounces Nestlé’s milk chocolate [candy bars or chips] – Do not substitute on the brand!

In top of double boiler, over simmering water, combine all ingredients as listed, stirring about 15 minutes until smooth and melted. Cover and continue cooking for at least 30 more minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes. Cool and put through your blender in small portions, using on/off agitation on high speed until mixture is satiny-smooth. Makes 1 quart. Keeps refrigerated up to a month – reheat in top of double boiler over simmering water. Freezes well up to 6 months.