Mondays & Memories of My Mom – For the Love of Writing

Greetings! Welcome to my blog home, Mondays & Memories of My Mom! My name is Laura Emerich and these blogs are dedicated to the memory of my mom, Gloria Pitzer, because she left behind such an incredible legacy when she went to be an angel last year.

Most knew her as the ORIGINAL Recipe DetectiveTM, investigator AND imitator of the food industry’s “secrets” behind the well-known products and dishes from famous companies and franchise chains like Olive Garden, Olga’s, Applebee’s, TGIF, Ruby Tuesday, Bob Evans, Big Boy Restaurants, Chi-Chi’s, Cracker Barrel, KFC, Wendy’s, White Castle, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Sanders, Famous Amos, Mrs. Field’s, Kraft, Heinz, Nabisco, Keebler, Sara Lee… and the list goes on!

I’ve been writing these blogs on a weekly basis since last September, to channel the many wonderful memories I have of my mom and, also, to share her astonishing legacy – her special story – with a new, digital generation. Like Mom, I’ve always loved to write. One of my youngest memories are of Mom & I, when she was first teaching me how to write my name. I was going on 4 years old and about to start Kindergarten that fall. Mom sparked my love for writing, which she stoked in me throughout my life.

Mom left her mark on many from her over 60-year writing career, to her famous Secret RecipesTM profession to her personal loves of faith, family and life; all of which she always found a way to intermix in her creations, like the ingredients of a great recipe.

My mom’s first and last love (besides my dad) was with writing. She had always loved to write short stories and poetry since she was a young girl, as did I. She told me many stories of how she dreamed of writing “the great American novel” when she was a teenager. But, Mom’s childhood dream never came to fruition, as events in life took her in a slightly different direction with writing.

As a teenager and young adult in the 1950s and 1960s, she entered and won multiple contests, on radio shows and in magazines, usually winning cash or some sort of prize for her essays. However, every winning achievement that Mom had in authoring, usually included food in some manner.

Mom was creatively gifted, not just as a writer, but also as a publisher, advertiser/marketer, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook… and the list just goes on. Combined with a clever and satirical wit, all these ingredients uniquely formed Mom’s own special recipe for success – like a “super-power”! (FYI – yesterday was National Super Hero Day!)

Similar to stand-up comedians, Mom found her ‘family life’ to be the best source on which to base her cleverly witted cartoon panels and stories. In the course of her syndicated writing of “food-for-thought-and-table” columns, Mom found a unique niche that her readers wanted – even if the newspapers’ editors and their food industry advertisers didn’t.

Mom called it “eating out at home”! She set out to discover how to imitate the popular fast food & fine dining dishes in her own kitchen; as well as, some shelf-stable grocery items too. If it saved her household money, my mom wanted to share it with the world to help others save money also. Mom was a trail-blazer and pioneer for copycat cuisine, as no one else was doing this – imitating the fast food and junk food dishes/products that people craved, but critics constantly warned us were unhealthy!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

From 1973 through 2004, Mom wrote and self-published hundreds of newsletters and at least 40 books filled with not only thousands of these “secret” recipe imitations that she personally developed and tested, but also with her humorous stories and anecdotes, helpful kitchen and household tips, as well as some background or history about many of the companies and products being imitated.

Mom put so much love and passion into the recipes she developed and wrote, testing them over and over again (which was a labor of love all its own) until she felt they were good enough to share. In addition, Mom found that by promoting the making of these “taboo” foods at home, it gave the cook control over the ingredients that went into the recipes; thereby, debunking the “junk” to which the critics referred!

Her food-for-thought editorials were always written from her heart, with a devotion and hunger for helping and informing her readers, as well as entertaining them. Mom designed each of her books and newsletters, to be as much a coffee-table or bedside-table read as it was a recipe collection for the kitchen. No other such products on the market, at that time, could do that and Mom’s compositions took the monotony out of meal time!

Illustrations by Gloria Pitzer

Additionally, more of Mom’s memories about writing are in the following excerpts from of her own story, as seen in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective, (Balboa Press; January 2018, pp. 292-297). This book was actually a re-write by me of Mom’s favorite and most famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Printing):

I enjoy working with these recipe secrets, but most of all, I enjoy writing about them. I’ve been writing all my life… Going way-back to when I was in grade school. I was always writing a book, or a poem or a short story. It was a way of life from my earliest memories – a way over which I seem to have no personal control! I had to write… Preferably about what I knew best at the time. Little did I know that what I would come to know best would be cooking!

… I met my husband, Paul… We started dating and one year later we were married. That was 1956. Bill was born over a year later and, then, Mike came 20 months after that, and Debbie came along 20 months after that. I lost 3 babies in the next 3 years, but Laura was born in 1964 and Cheryl came 20 months after that.

That reminds me of one summer in my teen years, as our family was traveling on vacation to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH – during the long, 3-hour drive, Mom sat in the back of the van with me and helped me work on a poem that I was inspired to write about her and our family. Another cherished memory! I’ll include the poem at the end of this blog. But, for now, here is the continuation of Mom’s memories about writing…

During those years…I kept up with my writing, always working for one of the suburban papers and constantly free-lancing to magazines. When Redbook sent me $500 for my ‘Young Mother’s Story’ submission in February 1963, called ‘We’ll Never Live with In-Laws Again’, I put part of the money into a typewriter, as I had always had to borrow one before that. I wanted a typewriter more than Reagan wanted to be president!

I put a lot of miles on that $39.95 machine – I designed a column for weekly newspapers and mailed out samples to over 300 newspapers. Within a year, I had acquired 60 regular papers for my ‘No Laughing Matter’ column and another column I called ‘Minding the Hearth’. Columbia Features in New York offered me a contract, and, for a year, I allowed them to syndicate the column in competition with a new humorist, Erma Bombeck! (Right church, wrong pew for me!)

When Columbia Features and I parted company…within 6 months I had regained all my original papers and was syndicating the column from our dining room table…I rode a bike to and from the Pearl Beach post office every day, where I mailed out my columns and looked for responses to ads I had placed… for [my] recipes on 4×6” cards that enabled you to imitate famous dishes at home.

1972 advertisement that Mom designed and mailed out regularly, to papers’ and magazines’ editors, for syndication.

At the suggestion… that I should put all my column’s recipes into a book, I wrote my 1st edition called ‘The Better Cooker’s Cookbook’ [1973]. In less than a month, I had sold 1000 copies. I wasn’t satisfied with the book, so I didn’t reprint it – but, decided that it might work out better if I could do those recipes monthly…I put together my 1st issue of what came to be my ‘Secret Recipe Report’, a newsletter that… brought me in contact with the many so-called secrets of the commercial food and restaurant industry.

It was a perfect storm – from the unique subject matter of her books and newsletters to the media exposure of them through radio, newspapers, magazines and TV – which, all together, brought about Mom’s fame as the Recipe DetectiveTM.

I’m currently working on a time line of her appearances and interviews to add to this website’s tabs, gathering most of the information through her books, newsletters and other works as best as I can. However, I haven’t decided on a title for the new tab yet. I’m also still working on updating the “Recipes” tab with more of Mom’s creations. Before closing, here is the poem I mentioned above:

The poem, on which Mom helped me in 1979; along with a cartoon panel she drew in 1969!

Shortly after starting these blogs, I decided to include one of Mom’s recipes with each one. For the 35-plus years that Mom “worked her business”, she offered (in exchange for a SASE) a sheet of free recipes, along with information on how to order her currently available (at that time) self-published cookbooks; as well as how to subscribe to her newsletter.

I’ve recently exhausted all the recipes from the information sheets of which I have copies. However, this website, originally developed by my brother, Michael Pitzer (for internet exposure to our parents and their Secret RecipesTM business), used to offer other “free” recipes that Mom authorized; some of which weren’t on those information sheets.

Since my brother transferred the website to me, with which to carry on Mom’s legacy through these blogs, I’ve been working on updating the “Recipes” tab to include all the free recipes that were on the site to begin with (as they didn’t transfer to the new host), as well as the ones on Mom’s information sheets. It’s taking some time because I only have a printed list of the original 34 recipe titles that were offered on the website. As times change, so do some companies’ recipes; thus, Mom has had a few different versions of some of her recipes. I’ve found almost half of the original list so far. Stay tuned for more updates!

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

The following recipe may not be the same one that used to show for free on this website before last September, but this is the recipe I found for the same or similar title – as always, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it:

Olive Garden-Style Alfredo Fettucine

By Gloria Pitzer, from My Personal Favorites (Secret RecipesTM, Marysville, MI; Nov. 2000, p. 19)

Ingredients:

8-oz cream cheese, in bits

¾ c grated Parmesan

8 TB butter

½ c milk

1-lb box fettucine, prepared as box instructs

Instructions:

Put first 4 ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring until smooth and piping hot – but, don’t let it boil or it might scorch! Spoon sauce mixture over 4 portions of prepared fettucine. Serves 4 sensibly or 2 foolishly!

#NationalShrimpScampiDay

For all of you shrimp-loving foodies out there, this happens to be National Shrimp Scampi Day! Shrimp Scampi was one of Mom’s many favorite dishes at Olive Garden. It goes awesome with her imitation of their Alfredo Fettucine, as given above! The National Day Calendar website has a link to a great shrimp scampi recipe by Elise Bauer on “Simply Recipes”. Enjoy making this wonderful dish, along with the pasta, for dinner to celebrate the day and use #NationalShrimpScampiDay to post about it on social media.

P.S.

#NationalGardeningMonth

This week also brings an end to National Gardening Month. So, as we come from celebrating Earth Day and Arbor Day last week, now it’s Stewardship Week – one of the world’s largest conservation-related observances… this year’s theme is “Life In the Soil: Dig Deeper.” Since conservation is the preservation of resources, it sounds like a great segue from April into May! So is this old proverb…“April showers bring May flowers” – people have quoted this for centuries; but, as we approach May, I find it ironic that the first week is also National Wildflower Week! Additionally,  Wednesday, the 1st, is “May Day”, as well as “Bird Day”!

In honor of Saturday, May 4th, being National Star Wars Day…

Mondays & Memories of My Mom – The Best Things in Life

What’s “best” to me may not be the same as what’s “best” to you or to anyone else. But, from all the comments I’ve read on the subject, a LOT of people seem to feel that the best things in life really are the “free stuff”.

As far back as I can remember, my mom taught me that the best things in life aren’t necessarily tangible things! Mom – as do I – always treasured things like feelings, thoughts and expressions of caring. A smile or a hug or a strong, loving, family bond (be it by blood or by choice) have always been very important “best things” too.

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

All of these kind of things are given and received freely…at no monetary costs. I’ve tried to teach these “values” to my kids also – as my mom taught me and her mom taught her – now my daughter teaches these values to her son. Chivalry, courtesy and civility are not dead – nor can it hibernate, as long as we continue to teach it to each new generation!

Mom once wrote: “We must…remove price tags from people. Everyone has worth; the excitement lies in the discovery of their value!…Wealth does not equal worth and so the amount of money we could have earned, but turned down instead, as a result of keeping our publications at home, is not as important as the work itself.” – as found in her self-published book, ‘My Cup Runneth Over And I Can’t Find My Mop’, 1st Edition, December 1989; p. 106

In the Fall season of 1981, after the over-whelming response to her 1st appearance on the Phil Donahue Show – Mom was repeatedly laying her head on her desk, “in tears of anguish and fatigue”, as the family-operated, dining-room-table business went from “rags-to-riches”, in terms of public response to her creations. But, fame was not all it was jacked-up to be; and, it was taking its toll on everyone! The cookbooks couldn’t be printed fast enough, to fill all the orders that were continually coming in; some customers were upset that they hadn’t received their orders, due to all sorts of confusing reasons; and the family was stressed-out and crumbling apart from all the related fall-out of “fame”. Hence, I left home early (just before my 17th birthday), running away with a boy of whom my parents disapproved.

Mom and Dad thought that, by moving to the Los Angeles area with my younger sister (near one of my older brothers, Mike, and Mom’s oldest sister, Hazel, and her family), they could all have a new beginning and leave all their problems behind, in St. Clair. As I did, in moving to the Houston area with my boyfriend. All of us soon realized we were mistaken – about what we thought we wanted/needed and how to go about getting it.

“Hell is God, giving you what you thought you wanted.” – Dick Syatt

Pitzer’s St. Clair House, 1978

In California, it wasn’t long before Mom and Dad started missing the things about St. Clair that originally attracted them to move there from Algonac, in the first place…the friendliness of the town, the security of walking the streets without fearing harm, the simplicity of her small-town life. As much as they loved being near their family members, out there, that they rarely got to see, Mom couldn’t work or create in California! The peace and contentment she sought, but couldn’t find there, made her suddenly re-appreciate the freedom she had of living in a small, mid-west town, and she was eager to go “home”. She went back to what she loved best – writing and radio “visits” that kept her connected with her “readers” and “listeners”.

Remembering – Recollections of how we developed our Secret Recipes and the unique circumstances under which this dining room table operation has endured… will surely never make the best sellers list, and perhaps not even interest most critics, let alone the skeptics. They predicted that the public’s interest in my kind of cookery would not last long. It continues because it has merit! – (by Gloria Pitzer; from ‘The Original 200 Plus – Secret Recipes Book’, 1st Printing, June 1997; p. 2)

During that same time period, while I was on my own journey in the Houston area with my boyfriend, I also found that to be so true. It wasn’t long before I realized that being in a new place with my boyfriend was not making either of us happy. After 5 months in the Houston area, my boyfriend and I, along with another couple, moved back to our hometown area in Michigan. But, things still weren’t good/better for either of us. I was looking through rose-colored glasses at something that was just not meant to be.

Illustration by Gloria Pitzer

Mom found out, through friends of mine, where I was living and how I was struggling. She started sending me little, anonymous, “angel” cards with a $20 bill – no return address or any writing other than my name and address on the envelope. I knew it was from her, even though the writing was “disguised”. Angels were our “connection”. While the money did help – that I cannot deny – it was the “anonymous” angel cards, themselves, that meant the most to me. She was reaching out, without any pressure or judgement. After my boyfriend and I split up, circumstances led me back to a loving and forgiving relationship with my parents.

Mom said, of that whole experience, ‘Sometimes we need to have something, lose it and get it back again, before we can really appreciate what we have.’

Back to the best things in life – as I said in the beginning – things like feelings, thoughts and expressions of caring. A smile or a hug or a strong, loving, family bond (be it by blood or by choice) have always been very important “best things”! They are the things that truly make me happy…given and received freely…at no monetary costs.

Before Mom hung up her hat and magnifying glass to fully retire, (in exchange for a self-addressed, stamped envelope) she was graciously giving away “free” sheets of 12-20 of her “best”, most popularly requested, recipes and information on what publications she had in print and how to get them. All her recipes are copyrighted; and one thing she always asked for, when she gave permission to copy, was to give her the proper credit for it. I am going to share one of those recipes with you each week, here in my blog, as they also appear in her last book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective” [published by Balboa Press (January 2018, 1st Printing) – a re-write of her famous, self-published book, “Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook” (May 1983, 3rd Printing)], asking only for proper credit if you care to share it.

In last week’s blog, “More than 15 Minutes of Fame”, I shared her “Big Bucket In the Sky Chicken” recipe, which was also on the “free sheet”. This week, as “Pumpkin Season” begins, I’d like to share Mom’s favorite butter pie crust recipe from that “free sheet”, which is also found in her last book (cited above) on page 243.

BUTTER CRUST (My Most Dependable & Very Favorite Recipe!)

[Like Baker’s Square’s product!]

Melt ¼ pound butter – NOT margarine – in a small sauce pan on medium heat until it’s frothy, but don’t let it change color or become the least-bit brown. (I like to put the stick of butter into my heat-proof, 1 ½-quart, glass mixing bowl, placing it in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes on “Defrost”.)

As soon as the butter is melted, and while it’s still hot, dump in the remaining ingredients:  1 tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 cup all-purpose flour.

Turn your electric mixer on high and beat mixture in a bowl for about 30 seconds or until it comes away from the center and hits the sides of the bowl. Quickly gather it into a ball and pat it out to cover the bottom and sides of a Pam-sprayed, 10-inch, Pyrex pie plate. (Pyrex plates work best with this very rich recipe.) If you don’t have Pam, grease the pan in Crisco only! It might stick otherwise!

Bake crust at 375°F for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Fill as desired. Makes one 10-inch pie crust. Note: Do not double this recipe. The dough becomes difficult to work with as it cools and, then, it crumbles and breaks apart. Make one single recipe at a time.

   To make top crust: Pat out a single recipe, as given above, on a Pam-sprayed and waxed-paper-lined dinner plate. Invert crust over filling spread in crust-lined pan, per recipe of your choice. Lift off plate and peel back waxed paper. Make slits for steam to escape. Gently press crust to rim of pie pan with a floured fork (or a fork dipped in ice water.) Use an egg-wash if you wish (one egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water and brushed lightly – lapping it, rather than pressing it, over top of crust), but the butter in this crust should allow it to brown beautifully without the wash. Bake per filling recipe directions. Generally, the best temperature is at 375°F for 25 to 28 minutes or until filling begins to bubble up through the slits in the top crust in the crust is golden brown.