Today is National Fast Food Day! What a spectacular day to celebrate! Mom wrote, illustrated and self-published about 40 cookbooks (+/-) and hundreds of newsletter issues, on the subject of imitating fast food and junk food, as well as other restaurant offerings and grocery products at home. How appropriate, now, especially for this year’s Covid-19 restrictions!
In a time, not unlike what we are in now – with political upheaval, low wages and high costs of living – Mom found a niche that people wanted! “Eating out at home”, she called it – as she investigated how to imitate fast food, junk food, & restaurant dishes at home; as well as, shelf-stable grocery items. If it saved her household money, she wanted to share it with others to help them save money too.
Mom was reportedly included in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records for being the first to recreate “fast foods” at home. The people from ‘Guinness’ were particularly interested in Mom’s copycat recipes for “The Colonel’s” secret spices, McDonald’s-style “special sauce” and Arthur Treacher’s-style fish batter. Those are only a few of the hundreds of recipes that are among Mom’s original imitations of “fast food”, starting back in the early 1970s.
Mom’s collection of recipes, from over almost half of a century of developing and collecting, were in the thousands! I’m still working on a master index of all of her recipes and writings for this website. You’ll find copies of those recipes, mentioned above, under the “Blog” tab, in some of my other blog posts; as well as under the “Recipes” tab, which I am continuing to update as well.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 6-7)
IT ALL STARTED WITH THE STROKE OF A PEN
I DO, WITH RECIPES, WHAT RICH LITTLE DOES WITH VOICES! Imitating the ‘Secret Recipes’ of the food industry has been an exciting experience for me. The critics felt that ‘fast foods’ and restaurant dishes were not worth the effort to duplicate at home, when you can just as easily buy the products already prepared!
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.
To know what these dishes contained, they’d have to be better [home-chemists] than I; as I have tested over 20,000 recipes with only the finished product as my guide to determine what each contained. ‘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 ‘finer’ restaurants with wine stewards, linen tablecloths, 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!
In the early ‘70s, I was trying to juggle marriage, motherhood, homemaking and a newspaper column syndicated through Columbia Features, when it seemed obvious to me that there wasn’t a single cookbook on the market that could help me take the monotony out of mealtime. There was not a single recipe in the newspaper’s food section that did not smack of down-home dullness!
‘Okay,’ they said at the newspaper I worked for, ‘YOU write the column on foods and recipes that YOU think would really excite the readers and make them happy!’ I did, but that didn’t make the Editors happy, because it made their [food industry] advertisers miserable.
When I was told that I’d have to go back to monotonous meatloaf and uninteresting side-dishes that made mealtime a ritual rather than a celebration or ‘pick up my check’, I told them to ‘MAIL it to me!’ I went home to start my own paper!
‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’– Seneca (Philosopher, mid-1st century, AD)
It was probably a dumb thing to do, 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 knew someone had to give homemakers something more than what they were being given in the colored glossy magazines, where a bowl of library paste could even be photographed to look appetizing!
There had to be more to mealtime than Lima beans and macaroni and cheese with Spam and parsley garnishes. There also had to be more to desserts than chocolate cake recipes that came right off the cocoa can. 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.
[However,] I did know that there are very few recipes that can’t be duplicated or imitated at home. And we could do them for much less than purchasing the original product. I proved…it can be and should be done!
‘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 is 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. To each, his own!
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!
And 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! Most are drably written by well-meaning cooks who might know how to put together a good dish but know nothing about making the reader feel as if they’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 [my] book of the food industry’s ‘Secret Recipes’, 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…
Fast food and junk food recipes weren’t found in any of the cookbooks offered back then – and these were the types of restaurants that struggling, middle class families would frequent when they wanted an affordable meal out. What were they going to do when they couldn’t afford to take their family out for such a treat? Mom knew! Make it at home! And she went to work, investigating all the possibilities there were to offer from this new platform; which grew exponentially!
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 306)
AFTERTHOUGHTS ON BETTER COOKERY
IF THE GOOD LORD HAD INTENDED FOR ME to be a gourmet cook, I would’ve been born with Teflon hands! Don’t misunderstand – I like to cook! But I do not wish to spend more time in the preparations than is necessary.
NO ONE APPRECIATES good food as much as I do. Don’t ask me how I know – I just do. It does not concern me how a dish has been prepared, if it tastes great and looks good on the table! A gourmet cook would never agree with this philosophy.
However, anyone can become a gourmet cook, that is, if that is what you wish. All you need are numerous ingredients of good quality, a lot of time and patience and twice as much money – not to mention, and unblushing candor for admitting without modesty you are a ‘gourmet’ cook. This admission will intimidate many people just as easily as being faced with the admission that somebody is a terrific dancer, a great singer or an exceptional parent.
And while it is perfectly acceptable and not the least bit conceited to say one is a ‘gourmet’ cook, there is still a tendency to back off from them because you know how many failures you have experienced and how skilled you would like to be in the kitchen, if only you had the time and the energy – and a generous allowance with which to buy all the right ingredients.
BETTER COOKERY is my answer to the ‘gourmets’, who insist that ‘fast food’ tastes like cardboard – and, sometimes, the various menu selections really do! But there are many family-type restaurants within the division of the ‘fast food’ industry that turn out exceptional meals for very reasonable prices, even giving senior citizens discounts and paying careful attention to how children are serviced.
When you’re a gourmet cook, you naturally have a throbbing desire to enjoy perfection with every dish, whether you’re preparing it, or someone else! To a gourmet cook, compliments go with the territory – failures don’t! They expect EVERY dish to be perfect enough to warrant a complement!
By the way – who isn’t grateful that they can still get their fast food fix during the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions – whether by drive-thru or curbside pick-up or delivery service or making it at home, ourselves?
Saturday, Nov. 21st, is World Television Day! Thus, next Monday, I’ll share with you more memories of Mom’s 20 years of experiences on television – from 1974 through 1993 – including our own local Detroit (and Ontario, Canada) area programs, as well as national shows like ‘CNN News’, the ‘Phil Donahue Show’ and ABC’s ‘Home Show’!
The whole month of November is also celebrating National Fun with Fondue Month! There are three main types of fondue – cheese, oil, and chocolate. With a little imagination, each type has an endless variety of possible options to change it up from the basic fondue sauce. Mom was a master at taking a basic recipe and turning it into an imitation of one of our favorite restaurant offerings, fast foods, junk foods, or grocery store products.
In honor of #FunWithFondueMonth, below are two versions of Mom’s “secret recipe” for imitating #BarCheeseLikeWinSchuler’s product; as seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 275). Mom’s was imitating many of Win Schuler’s products from the very beginning of her Secret RecipesTM legacy. These will be great for the coming holiday celebrations!
*NOTE: The original recipes from the Win Schuler company, for Schuler’s Heritage Cheese Spread & Schuler’s Seasoning Salt, can be found at https://www.theoaklandpress.com/news/longtime-restaurant-tells-its–year-story/article_9b6908aa-3553-52ac-8125-0f549ae6b398.html
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
…46 down, 6 to go!