Happy Monday and happy National Food Day!
As I said at the end of last week’s blog, today is National Food Day; plus, it’s also Pumpkin Cheesecake Day! See the end of this blog for a copy of Mom’s sugar-free recipe for the latter. Part of what started Mom’s career as the Recipe DetectiveTM for Secret RecipesTM, was her keen ideas on how to make our family’s food budget stretch during the 1970s’ food crisis by making some of her own groceries, including special sweets and treats like Sarah Lee’s cheesecake, Hostess cake products and Famous Amos’ cookies to name a few.
Mom started sharing some of her discoveries in the columns she syndicated. It had a snowball effect when she started imitating famous food products and dishes, at home – in her own kitchen, with what she had on hand in her pantry – because our family of seven couldn’t always afford those kind of eating-out treats…that’s how Mom, first, developed her “Copycat Cookery” and “Eating Out at Home” concepts!
There were never any cookbooks out, prior to Mom’s first collection (in the mid-to-late 1970s), that offered copycat recipes for creating imitations of fast food and junk food favorites (without the junk in them), grocery products and famous dishes from famous restaurants.
At the time, in the early-1970s, Mom was writing and syndicating columns, focused on homemakers like her. They went out to multiple newspapers and magazines across the states. After a short syndication term with Columbia Features, Mom started syndicating her own columns. She often received requests from her readers whose families couldn’t afford to eat out, wanting to know how to make something at home and save on their food budget. She, too, felt a need or want for the same thing.
When Mom first began what was, later, to become her Secret RecipesTM legacy, and from which she also came to earn her title as the Recipe DetectiveTM; she had invented a copycat version of McDonald’s “Secret Sauce” and another for a cheesecake like Sarah Lee’s; requests for which she had received from her readers. Once Mom figured out one imitation and printed it, one request after another would come in for Mom to answer. I printed these recipes in two previous blog entries, but here they are again for your enjoyment…
Mom loved all the new challenges that came in for her to research and develop. At first, the publishers were all in favor of Mom writing what she thought her audience wanted in her column. However, when their advertisers put up a fuss about Mom’s imitations, the publishers told her to stop doing the copycat recipes or they’d have to let her go.
Realizing that this was an unexplored area of the food industry and that there were wants/needs, as she read in her readers’ letters, for making favorite food products at home; Mom left to start her own publication, telling the publishers to mail her last check to her. During the previous twenty years, working many different positions in the newspaper industry, Mom had picked up a lot of knowledge about how to put out a paper.
[By the way, National Newspaper Week began on the 1st Sunday of October, thus it ran from the 6th to the 12th.]
Mom reached out to her friends, family, neighbors and newspaper contacts and, in January 1974, she put out her first newsletter issue to a couple hundred subscribers. Initially, Mom was influenced by such talented women as Carol Duvall, Erma Bombeck and Elsie Masterton; designing her own publication to be a patch-work-quilt full of humor, household tips and tricks, food for thought, food for the soul and food for the table…the kinds of things women would likely discuss while sitting around the kitchen table, visiting and having coffee.
Mom called it a family, cottage-style operation. In order to balance all of her responsibilities, she involved all of the family…testing recipes, doing artwork, promoting and other such things. Aside from the newsletter, Mom sold her recipes, printed on index cards, for a quarter each or 5 for a dollar. When her recipe collection grew into the hundreds, Mom started developing and publishing her own cookbooks in the same manner as her newsletter issues, including all of the humor, household tips and tricks, food for thought, food for the soul and food for the table.
Mom’s following grew quickly, once word got out across the wire service that a small-town Michigan housewife was developing make-alike recipes for recreating famous food products at home, and the response had a snowball effect. There were many interviews by radio talk show hosts, as well as newspaper and magazine columnists; plus, some television appearances (first, locally and then nationally.)
Wednesday, the 23rd, is National TV Talk Show Host Day (and, the late, Johnny Carson’s birthday.) A couple of national TV talk shows that Mom appeared on were the Phil Donahue Show (twice – 1981 and 1993) & the Home Show (1984?), where she met Wally Amos of the Famous Amos brand sweets.
Mom was also invited to appear on the Tonight Show; but had been so over-whelmed by her other TV appearances and the audiences’ responses and orders that our family just couldn’t keep up. Not wanting to get so big that she may lose her enjoyment in what she does, Mom, regretfully, had to decline. However, she did get to know Ed McMahan and his wife, Pam, since they were originally from Michigan. Michiganders are kindred spirits!
As I wrote about in a February blog entry, people loved Mom’s fresh, new ideas on how to make fast food, junk food, grocery products and famous restaurant dishes right at home, easily and at less cost. Times were financially tough back then – there was a recession going on, as well as a food crisis.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; January 2018, 1st Printing – pp. 6-7)
…[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 1950’s 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…
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.
Since today is, among other things, National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day…
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
October is also, among other things, National Book Month & National Reading Group Month & National Cookbook Month!
#NationalBookMonth #NationalReadingGroupMonth #NationalCookbookMonth
‘A cookbook should be as exciting as a good mystery!’ – Gloria Pitzer
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