In the early years of her business, Mom sold her “secret recipes”, for imitating famous foods from famous places, on 4”x6” index cards (ready for filing) at a quarter each, or five for a dollar. The cards were printed on the mimeograph she kept in the laundry room. Mom’s collection of copycat recipes grew rapidly from a few to a few hundred.
She promoted her developments mostly through radio programs. However, having such a new and exceptional concept, television, newspapers and magazines picked up on it quickly, too. Mom blazed a trail of uniqueness around the Julia Childs and Betty Crocker “want-to-be’s” of that time. Suddenly, she was getting national and international recognition!
It didn’t seem to take long before Mom’s original 200 collection grew into thousands through requests from her growing fan base. She went from the index cards to monthly newsletters and multiple cookbooks in a flash. Despite the critics’ predictions that public interest in Mom’s concept was only a fad that wouldn’t last long, she made a very comfortable living for 40 years as the Secret RecipesTM Detective. Plus the copycats that followed her! Mom claimed, “It continues because it has merit!”
Mom’s cookbooks were different than any others. Aside from her exclusive recipes, there was also Mom’s crafty designs and lay-outs, comedic illustrations, food-for-thought articles, and food-for-the-soul inspirations tucked in between all the food-for-the-table ideas and served up with a dollop of satire!
No other cookbooks, at that time, offered such a combination – especially not with recipes for imitating the food industry’s countless dishes and products right at home! Mom was a pioneer, creating a totally innovative and different niche in the recipe industry.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St, Clair, MI; June 1997, p. 2)
RX FOR SUCCESS
The 200 original secret recipes were only the beginning of what I felt would eventually become a well-described collection of worthy recipes. And it happened exactly that way.
At first, we advertised the cards at $.25 each or five for $1. But as the combination choices began to complicate the assembling process and packaging, everything was pointing us in the direction of a recipe book. When that first book of secret recipes was completed, we had progressed beyond those 200 dishes that were then filed away and forgotten. Many of these restaurants whose secrets we’ve imitated are no longer in business and some products we re-created with recipes of our own, which are no longer available.
June is such a great month! It was this month, 29 years ago, in 1992 (through December 2005), that Mom became a regular monthly guest on WHBY’s “Good Neighbor” show with Kathy Keene – with whom I’ve been visiting once a month, for a little over a year, myself. Kathy just retired last week. I’m going to miss those visits. It was so fun reminiscing with her about Mom!
Additionally, one of Mom’s self-published cookbooks, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (1997), came out 24 years ago, this month – which was also, at that time, 24 years since it had all started! That particular cookbook focused on Mom’s original collection of recipe cards that she developed and sold when she began her family-operated, cottage company from our dining room table.
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St, Clair, MI; June 1997, pp. 28-30)
HOMESPUN AFFORDABLE & EASY TO WORK WITH
WHEN THE RECIPE CARDS became so popular that we were packaging them, sometimes in complete [$40] sets of the full 200 selections, I began to look at the possibilities of doing my own recipe books – less-expensive to the customer, surely, and less work for us considering all of the myriad choices one can have with 200 individual cards.
I assembled several single page books that I could mimeograph, remaining independent in the production of them, and came up with several workable ideas. It was very shortly thereafter, [from] a printer Paul was dealing with, at the company he worked for in the city, that we learned how to layout our own camera-ready copy and provide the recipes quite inexpensively. It was such a relief to be rid of the messy mimeograph machine!
SELF-SUFFICIENT & SUCCESSFUL
Self-publishing is a hard row to hoe, but worth all efforts when the final product is the result of your dedication and determination not to fail. We hope to now be able to accept QVC’s offer to let them sell our books in a series of six, as they asked us to do just two weeks after we signed with Guthie-Renker . With that now long behind us, we are finally free to fix things the way they were before we fixed them!
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
It was a blessing in disguise that Paul’s assignments at the company where he worked had given him the job of purchasing agent, for it certainly prepared him strongly for the responsibilities that would come our way in branching out into self-publishing our books. Every department he worked in at Willey Sign Company gave him a basic foundation for being able to structure our business into a self-sufficient operation, from advertising to marketing and bookkeeping.
It was right after the ‘National Enquirer’ and ‘People’ magazine and ‘The Washington Post’ interviewed us and [printed] stories about our work, that he found himself spending every evening after he got home from his job, every weekend and his two-week vacation time, as well, working on our recipe business, that he knew he had to make a choice.
He had to give up his 20-year job and the benefits and such in order to devote full-time to Secret RecipesTM. It was a decision we have never regretted. With only $1000 in the bank and all of the bills that continued to come in day after day, we launched our ship of dreams and have never once had any regrets. Nor have we ever gone one day [as of this printing] since that date, August 13, 1976, without an order!
Mom thought that if she could’ve found another way by which to earn that much money for paying the bills, she would’ve given her work away for free, just for the joy of doing what she did! She never intended to ‘retire’ from her endeavors as the Recipe Detective. I think Dad eventually accepted that truth.
When Mom was first printing her work on the mimeograph, she didn’t look ahead for more sophisticated techniques. She took each day as it came, and each idea for a new book or newsletter issue, trying to present them with love, laughter, and sincerity; plus, a special enthusiasm like no one else.
Mom believed her cup had been filling up and running over for most of her life and never realized it until she was in her 50’s. She always thought that kind of wealth had nothing to do with money or fame, but with a sense of direction and resilience – “all the rugged way”!
EVEN MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 86)
HOW I CAME TO KNOW WRITING LAYOUTS & PUBLISHING SKILLS
I WALKED INTO THE OFFICE [of the Roseville Community Enterprise], kids in tow, and John [McPartlin] asked, ‘what can I do for you?’ To that I replied, ‘it’s what I can do for YOU. I’m here to apply for the job of suburban correspondent.’
He said there had to be some mistake, for they were not looking for one. I told him I realize they were not looking for one, but nonetheless, they did NEED one, and I was prepared to provide them with good articles, reports on area municipal meetings and any other features they would require.
John was reluctant, I am sure, to give me the job, but the association did prove to be a very beneficial one for both of us. I learned to key line while working for him, which enables me to now lay out all of my own work, without the assistance of a ‘publisher’.
From my work with John, I also learned about advertising production and sales and proofreading, as well as typesetting with the IBM composer, the very machine that now sets the type of this page and all of our work, making it ‘camera-ready’.
The important lesson I learned, however, from working under John McPartlin was how to recognize a good story and how to write it properly. My favorite daily newspaper in Boston has the slogan, ‘to bless all mankind and injure no man’. That is how I would want to write my own publications.
I learned, among many things, that writers do labor for the love of their work, like a lot of people do, and they live with discipline and constant rejections, which ultimately will separate ‘the men from the boys’ in this profession. The gift is like a slave-master, and the writer must write no matter what else is neglected or sacrificed. So writers settle for rewards of recognition rather than financial security.
‘A writer’s tools are ideas and ideas are funny little things that don’t work unless you do!’ – Gloria Pitzer
Security, to a serious writer, is an amplitude of ideas. Seniority means nothing. Effort and ability mean everything. Competition? There are approximately 400,000 professional writers today  with their articles or books in print, all clamoring for attention from a few thousand were the publications and book publishers. In my specific field, there are over 45,000 cookbooks on the market today . These are, both, collaborators and competitors.
A writer’s tools are ideas and ideas are funny little things that don’t work unless you do! Often, ideas come without an appointment – like at 2 o’clock in the morning, or in the middle of a pleasant lunch in a lovely restaurant. Then you pull out pen and paper and make notes because the ideas are fresh, and you cannot let yourself postpone the surge of inspiration you instinctively feel is touching you at that moment.
In honor of today, being National Chocolate Ice Cream Day, here is Mom’s imitation of Howard Johnson’s Chocolate Ice Cream, as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 254)
[A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)]
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
June celebrates, among other things… National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, National Candy Month, National Caribbean American Month, National Country Cooking Month, National Dairy Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Papaya Month, National Pollinators Month, National Soul Food Month, National Rose Month, National Turkey Lovers Month, National Camping Month, and National Great Outdoors Month!
OTHER OBSERVANCES THIS WEEK…
International Clothesline Week and National Fishing and Boating Week (June 5-12); National Gardening Week and Community Health Improvement Week (June 6-12); National Little League Week and National Flag Week (June 13-19); and Men’s Health Week (June 13-20)!
…23 down and 29 to go!