Memorial Day is upon us, and in the midst of a global pandemic. Thus, I can’t find it in me to say, “Happy Monday” as I usually do in my blog openings. This is a day for respectful solace, set aside to remember and honor all of our veterans who have died, serving in our military. Keep in mind, we may celebrate our freedoms but let us never forget by what cost we have them, in the first place!
In the photo below, I have shared seven thoughts on old Memorial Day traditions, about which I learned, last year, from Thanksgiving.com. All of us can, and should, bring any one of these things (or all of them) to fruition, in observance of Memorial Day. They can still be done safely, even amidst this pandemic and our crazy new norms.
Nonetheless, it is still Monday and I have to say #TGIM because, regardless of the day’s events, I always look forward to Mondays; as they are my #52Chances each year, in which I have to share my memories of Mom with all of you!
And, as I have mentioned the last couple of weeks, Mondays are even more special to me, now; since, on the last Monday of every month, except for today, I will be sharing even more “Memories of My Mom” and the “behind-the-scene stories” of how she came up with some of her famous copycat recipes, over the radio airwaves, on WHBY’s “Good Neighbor” show, with host, Kathy Keene. This week, however, I will be on tomorrow, instead of today – same time.
The “Good Neighbor” show airs weekdays, from about 11AM to 1PM (Central Time). I will be on with Kathy for, at least, the first half-hour of the show. If you’re not in the Appleton, WI listening-area, you can also hear the show, live via the internet, through a link on WHBY’s website at https://www.whby.com/goodneighbor/.
A few decades ago, Mom was a regular, monthly guest on Kathy’s show, for about 13 years. Now it’s my turn and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share even more memories of my mom!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 298-299)
THE PHIL DONAHUE SHOW
It was 1977, and we were considering a move from Pearl Beach [MI] to St. Clair [MI], since our 80-year-old house was already packed, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling, with recipe books and newsletter inventory. Just about the time we planned our move, the Phil Donahue Show called and invited us to… appear on their program…
I had to decline. We already had more work than we could handle, and I had found that television appearances were merely food demonstrations that I did not enjoy experiencing. I enjoyed my radio work more, and the number of stations on which I had become a regular participant had grown to include over 100, across the country and in Canada.
We were settling down in our new house, in St. Clair, with our office in the basement. [However,] we outgrew that arrangement in a short time and rented a larger office uptown. But the books became more successful than we anticipated, and the newsletter circulation was growing to over 10,000. Soon, I found that we had to put the [office] back into our home.
I couldn’t depend on being in a writing mood between our regular ‘office’… hours of 8 AM to 5 PM. Some of the radio shows that I took part in were on-the-air at midnight, especially my favorite visits with KMOX in St. Louis and WGY in Schenectady.
With my files and reference materials at the office and me, at home, on the telephone with the radio shows, the arrangement was not satisfactory. So, Paul and our 2 sons remodeled our two-car garage, [which was] attached to the kitchen, and we moved the operation back there; where, for the next 4 years, the business ran quite smoothly.
We were receiving about 1,000 letters a day from the radio shows that I took part in and the newspaper stories that I was more-or-less an acting consultant on subjects related to ‘fast food’. In the spring of 1981, our old friend, Carol Haddix, ran a story about our new book of ‘Homemade Groceries’ in the Chicago Tribune, where she had just been assigned the food department.
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF!
The Donahue Show people called once more and requested our appearance. We had just done a PM Magazine show with Detroit and had declined an invitation to appear in New York on Good Morning America, as well as declining an opportunity to have People Magazine interview us…
I still wonder why in the world I said I would do the Donahue show! On July 6 , Paul and I flew to Chicago, staying at the Hyatt O’Hare, and did the Donahue show, live – for an entire hour – on July 7th, flying back that same afternoon. The next day, 15,000 letters waited for us at the St. Clair post office.
And every day, for 4 months, we picked up THOUSANDS of letters – having received, by Christmas, well over 1 million letters, requesting information on how to acquire our books, which were still available only by mail from our address. We were bogged down with an unexpected response. It was an experience of mixed blessings!
If you’ve ever seen one million letters, you know how we felt when we tried to handle the overwhelming response! It was exhausting! Our home, which was both our office and our sanctuary, became like a factory, with people helping us to process the mail; eventually having to return thousands of orders to customers with our deepest regrets that we could not, in all fairness to them, delay their order. The onslaught of mail had forced us to do this.
We were all working from 7 AM until 1 or 2 AM, the next morning, just to open and read the mail. Our phone bill had been buried in some of that mail and in a month’s time, being something like 23 to 24 days behind in opening the mail, our phone was shut off for non-payment of our bill.
As soon as we realized what the mail was doing to us, we tried to get Donahue’s people to stop the continued scheduled showings of our appearance. But that show remained on their repeat schedule for almost a year, playing in the Panama Canal zone, Greenland, Iceland, Australia and on hundreds of small-town stations.
Most of the letters requested a sheet of ‘free’ recipes that were included with the order blank [in exchange] for a self-addressed stamped envelope… The offer would have been good for us, if it had only been shown that one time – the day on which we appeared on the show – but for nearly a year afterward, the requests still came, as did the complaints and the threats to report us to postal authorities for not having sent those ‘free’ recipes, tore us apart emotionally and physically!
Some people did not include their self-addressed-stamped envelope. Some envelopes were addressed to themselves, such as Joe Smith, but in care of OUR address instead of THEIR address. It was a confusing mess! Some people wrote threatening letters that they hadn’t received their orders and were turning us over to the postmaster general as frauds!
I laid my head on my desk many a time, in tears of anguish and fatigue. The family was falling apart. We couldn’t print our books fast enough, to fill all the orders! Then the post office, in delivering the thousands of books that we DID mail out, lost some, destroyed some, and delayed and even miss-directed other orders.
That was probably one of the most chaotic times in the lives our family. But, in the end, it opened doors for Mom that might never have happened otherwise. It also brought MILLIONS of new eyes to Mom’s cookbooks and newsletters – and overall talent – as she appeared on television screens, in millions of homes, world-wide.
ONE MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 87-88)
BIG BUCKET IN THE SKY
With the tests for COUNTERFEITING FRIED CHICKEN AT HOME that was as good as what you could buy out – but for less – I felt I HAD to have a pressure fryer. This meant I had to have a place to also put it in my kitchen, which was already bursting at the seams with appliances and gadgets and utensils I really didn’t get enough use from, as it was.
Then one summer , while visiting [our Knotts] relatives in West Virginia, we sampled some pan-fried home-style chicken that was every bit as good as the chicken produced in a pressure fryer. Paul’s 82-year-old aunt claimed why the chicken always came out just right every time she made it – which was religiously every Sunday – it was the pan! She used an 80-year-old wrought iron skillet that had never been washed in soap and water. She ‘seasoned’ it with shortening – lard, mostly. She kept it in the oven of her wood-burning, porcelain enamel stove, where it was always warm.
THE FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE that first called attention to my recipes, nationally – through the ‘National Enquirer’, ‘Money Magazine’, ‘Catholic Digest’, ‘The Christian Science Monitor’, ‘Campus Life Magazine’ and, yes, even ‘Playboy Magazine’ – was this following combination of ingredients. [See Mom’s recipe near the end of this blog post.]
The method is quite unorthodox and the original idea for developing it in this manner, came from a conversation I had with ‘Col. Sanders’ over the air with radio station WFAA in Dallas when I was a regular guest on a talk show with them for several months.
We discussed the secrets of the food industry with listeners by phone from our homes. The Colonel was fascinated by the publicity I had received for my ‘Big Bucket in the Sky’ fried chicken recipe and agreed that I was on the right track if I’d add more pepper. He loved pepper!
He also suggested browning the chicken in a skillet and then, oven-baking it until tender to achieve a likeness more to the original recipe he had created in 1964. He told me to look around the grocery store for one packaged product to replace the 11 spices – which I did diligently – and discovered that powdered Italian salad dressing mix was the secret!
So, I set to work to revamp the recipe. My original recipe was quite close to the famous Colonel’s product, but the coating kept falling off – because, as he explained, I couldn’t get the oil hot enough. He liked peanut oil, himself, but suggested that I could achieve a similar result by using corn or Crisco oil – with 1 cup solid Crisco for every 4 cups of oil. He talked about the quality in his product changing after turning the business over to new owners.
When Heublein Conglomerate bought out the franchise, they paid a few million dollars for ‘The Colonel’s’ recipe and technique. It seemed unlikely that a home-kitchen-rendition of such a famous product could be had for the price of my book. But the letters came in – ‘best chicken we ever had’; ‘LOVED that fried chicken recipe’; ‘our favorite chicken recipe…’; and ‘maybe the Colonel should have used YOUR recipe!’
In honor of National Country Cooking Month in June, which is just around the corner, here is Mom’s copycat recipe for Oven-Fried Kentucky-Style Chicken!
SPECIAL NOTE: The tomato powder called for in the above recipe was also the recipe I shared in last week’s blog post at: https://therecipedetective.com/2020/05/18/mondays-memories-of-my-mom-improvising/
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
…21 down, 31 to go!