GRIDDLECAKES AND SYRUP, LIKE PANCAKE HOUSE – BY GLORIA PITZER
As seen in… The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; June 1977, p. 32).
2½ cups buttermilk
3 TB oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking soda
3 TB pancake syrup (*see homemade version below)
2 cups flour
¼ cup cornmeal
In mixing bowl, combine ingredients as listed and beat on medium speed. When smooth, let batter rest 10 minutes before using – 1/3 cupful for each pancake on a lightly greased, hot griddle.
[NOTE: To test griddle for hotness: a few drops of water will “dance” on it when it’s ready.]
Turn [griddlecakes] once, only as you see bubbles come to top of batter and edges appear dry. Makes 16 pancakes.
*GLORIA’S HOMEMADE SYRUP, LIKE PANCAKE HOUSE:
Combine 1 cup light corn syrup, ½ cup brown sugar, and ½ cup water in a pan on medium to medium-high heat; cooking and stirring until sugar dissolves. Then stir in a dash of maple flavoring and 1 TB of butter (or margarine). [Makes about 1½ cups.]
As seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 279)… [A rewrite of her famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).]*
Legend has it that Puddin’ Hill has the best-darn fruitcake west of the Mississippi – and the recipe for it is a secret that has been closely guarded by a lady named Mary, and her family – who’ve made it, not just a tradition, but a reason for celebrating!
Break up walnuts with hammer. Slice dates into 4 pieces each. Mix these with currants and set aside. Put pineapple and its juice with 1 cup of the sugar in a small sauce pan. In another small sauce pan, combine cherries with their juice and the other cup of sugar.
Let both pans simmer briskly, uncovered, about 30 minutes. Reserving the syrups, drain each. Set fruits aside to cool, spreading them out over lightly-oiled cookie sheets. Place cookie sheets of fruit in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes.
Remove [cookie sheets] to cool for 15 minutes. Combine [fruit] with the first cup of flour and walnut mixture in roasting pan. Coat every single dry particle of it with the flour.
Then beat remaining ingredients, as listed, with electric mix er on medium-high speed for 5 minutes.
Pack mixture evenly into bottom of 2 Pam-sprayed, 8-inch, square Pyrex baking dishes that have 2 layers of wax paper on bottom only.
Place dishes on cookie sheets to bake at 275°F for almost 2 hours or until toothpick inserted in center of each comes out clean.
Cool [cakes]. Cut each into 2 equal loaf-like pieces. Wrap each in a brandy-soaked cloth and then in plastic bags. Store at room temperature for 30 days to “ripen” before serving.
If you [want to] use the cakes right away, you can take the reserved syrup from the pineapple and cherries, which you set aside earlier, and combine them in a small sauce pan, until piping hot.
Remove from heat and measure the syrup. Add half as much whiskey, rum or brandy and brush the warm syrup over the cake-loaves before slicing to serve. Freezes well up to a year.
Makes 4 loaves (4 x 8” each). If prepared 30 days before serving, soak and re-soak cloth in liquor during that time, keeping them just dampened. Sealing cakes in air-tight containers – after wrapping in the cloths and in the plastic bags to keep them moist.
[*As seen in… Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 24).]
Grandma and the five girls were up at 4 AM to begin the baking each Saturday. Here is her bread recipe in her own words – with two exceptions. I used water and dry milk powder in place of her “rich top milk” and corn oil in place of her “melted suet”. There is a certain charm and her recipe language from a time will never see again – that I thought you’d enjoy sharing with me.
SATURDAY BREAD DOUGH
Fill your two-gallon cooker with 1-qt warm tap water. Add ½ cup dry milk powder, 1 TB salt, 1½ cups sugar, 2/3 cup corn oil, and 2 beaten eggs. Take 3 cakes of yeast (not dry packaged) and dissolve in enough warm tap water in small soup bowl to give the thickness of gravy.
Add to liquid ingredients and then begin adding almost all of a 5-pound bag of flour to those liquid ingredients, until most of the flour has been folded easily into a thick batter. It will be sticky. It should be! You cannot knead this dough and don’t have to.
Divide batter into two large (ungreased) mixing bowls, as wide as a beach ball, so they’re half full and let dough rise twice until doubled in bulk, punching down each time.
Then divide dough into six buttered bread tins (about 9-inch long), lightly flouring fingers to keep dough from sticking to your hands. Let rise about an hour or until doubled.
Bake nearly an hour and a moderate oven (about 375°F today). Remove bread from pans immediately and let each loaf cool on its side.
Prick crusts with fork and butter each to keep them moist. Wrap in butcher’s paper and tie with string. (Today, wrap in plastic food storage bags or waxed paper.) Do not slice bread for at least four hours after baking. Then freeze it up to one year. Makes six loaves.
WEST VIRGINIA BREAD
Divide the “Saturday Bread Dough” (above) equally between 12 round 9-inch layer cake pans that have been well-buttered. Dough should fill each half full. Let rise until doubled. Sprinkle top of each with white sugar (granulated – about 1 TB per loaf).
When doubled in bulk, bake two or three tins at a time in moderate oven (375°F) for half an hour or little more until golden brown. Remove from tins immediately. Cool a bit and wrap each in butcher’s paper and tie with string. (Today, wrap in plastic food bags or waxed paper.) Cut into pie shaped wedges while it’s still warm to serve with butter and preserves.
By Gloria Pitzer […as she prepared on ABC’s “Home” show – February 1988]
1 – 1½ cup(s) Bisquick
1 rounded tablespoon sour cream
¼ cup club soda
½ tsp sugar
Mix [everything] together, until a smooth dough forms. Dip your hand into just enough more Bisquick, so you can knead the dough in the bowl, until [it’s like] elastic.
Shape dough into 6 patties, equal in size and thickness. Place close together on a greased, 8-inch round, baking pan. Bake at 450°F for about 14-16 minutes or until golden and almost tripled in size. Makes 6 beautiful biscuits!
BETSY ROSS’ CUSTARDY CORNBREAD (from the bi-centennial days)
By Gloria Pitzer (1976)
¾ cup white cornmeal
¼ cup flour
2 TB sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 2/3 cups milk
1 egg, beaten
2 TB butter
[Pre-heat oven to 400°F.] Sift the first five ingredients, as listed, together [and set aside]. Combine 1 cup of the milk with the beaten egg. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix well to dampen all of it.
Melt butter in an 8-inch-square pan, in a 400°F oven. Pour batter into melted butter, in pan.
Happy Monday to one and all! As always, #TGIM – because Mondays are my #52Chances a year to share my memories of my mom with all of you!
This week, I’d like to revisit “the beginning” – when Mom started her “cottage industry”, “family enterprise”, “dining room table operation”. It was about 47 years ago, in 1973, when mom was putting together her very first cookbook, entitled The Better Cooker’s Cookbook, comprised mostly from recipes her readers shared with her, as well as those she had developed and printed in her syndicated column, “Cookbook Corner”.
The self-published and self-promoted cookbook, written and illustrated by Mom, came out in 1973 and sold out within a couple of months. I’m not sure how many copies were printed but I remember getting to help color in Mom’s illustrations with colored pencils on hundreds of books. I was about nine years old and it was VERY important to always “stay within the lines”!
But there were so many more recipes in Mom’s collection that she decided to print them on individual index cards and sell them, through mail-order, for 25-cents each or five for a dollar. She also started putting them in a monthly newsletter format that could be collected in a 3-ring binder – a set of which would create a whole book.
“Gloria Pitzer’s Homemaker’s Newsletter” launched in January 1974 as a 5 ½” x 8 ½”, 12-page, monthly “magazine” full of food information, editorials and news related to “homemakers” and their families, entertaining stories, humorous illustrations, and witticisms; plus, readers’ comments and requests, reviews of products, restaurants, and other publications or similar entities, with about 16 unique recipes (give or take) sandwiched in between.
The newsletters sold for 50-cents each or $5 for a yearly subscription. Mom retired the newsletter in December 2000, with issue number 219. Over the decades, it had evolved to an 8 ½” x 11”, 8-page format with twice as many recipes, writings, and reviews than with which it began.
Some of Mom’s editorials covered the backstories of various fast food and fine-dining restaurants along with recipes for imitations of their most popular dishes. The recipes were developed and tested, personally, by Mom. Of course, the family pitched in also – especially when it came to taste-testing! I can’t recall a “dud” I didn’t like! The “duds” were the recipes Mom never printed because, while they were very good, they weren’t just like the original dishes/products she was trying to mimic.
The “duds” may not have been exactly the same as the products she was trying to replicate but they were always great, nonetheless. I sure wish I had those “dud” recipes now. What a magnificent cookbook they would make! Regardless, Mom wouldn’t stop there, when she was trying to “replicate” a dish as close as possible to the real thing. She was always refining her imitations until she felt they were spot-on! And then, sometimes, for various reasons, she’d revamp them again, proving that there was usually more than one way to reach the same goal.
One of Mom’s early promotions (in 1977) for her monthly newsletter depicted her wry sense of humor, claiming: “Gloria Pitzer is cooking with laughing gas as she explores the world of eating out in order to create recipe-adaptations for dining in. From her dining room table, she and her family write, illustrate, distribute and kitchen-test the recipe creations of the restaurant industry. Only the names of the recipes have been changed to protect the guilty. Any similarities between Gloria’s recipes and the original dishes is purely intentional.”
Another of Mom’s satirical promotions said: “The Pitzer Family’s Publications is a purely relative operation staffed by Paul and Gloria Pitzer and their five children, who also contribute the illustrations to, both, the family’s monthly newsletter and their series of original recipes. Paul and Gloria feel they know their readers more as friends than as customers.” Mom always said, about her monthly newsletter, that “it’s like getting together once a month for coffee with friends.”
The premise of Mom’s reproductions was based on the adage, by Charles Colton, that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Mom believed that, while the restaurants’ dishes and food companies’ products didn’t really come out of test tubes and laboratory beakers, they did come from “scientific” combinations of ingredients (and, in some cases, techniques.)
Mom theorized that there were only a few basic recipes from which most everything derived, with the additions of certain flavorings/seasonings and techniques that made one dish distinct from another. She would often try out many different combinations of ingredients, since trial and error usually produced the best results.
Basically, none of the copycat recipes that Mom published during her 40 years, working as “The Recipe Detective” (1974-2014), had been given to her by any of the restaurants or companies. They were HER versions of THEIR dishes/products. She never knew what THEIR “secret” recipes actually were. Furthermore, Mom felt that being able to make these items at home added more loving care to the preparation and controlling the ingredients eliminated the “junk” from the “junk food”.
Additionally, Mom believed that cooking (and baking) was as much of an art as it was a science – often working like a chemist in the kitchen, trying to identify the various ingredients within a product through scent investigations, visual exams, taste tests, and other experimentations.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Secret Restaurant Recipes Book (National Homemaker’s Newsletter, Pearl Beach, MI; Jan. 1977)
FAMOUS DISHES aren’t really all that difficult to duplicate. The first thing you have to do is stop thinking of yourself as a COOK and start thinking as a CHEMIST! You want to take a substance and try to discover its individual components – whereas most cooks… [start] with one ingredient, building around it.
Your task is to take the final result and break it down… in other words, working backwards from the creation of the skilled cook, who usually stirs up a piece of culinary artistry with just a ‘pinch’ of this and a ‘dollop’ of that and a ‘dash’ of something else.
Start with questioning yourself about the food you wish to duplicate… What color is it? What is the texture like? How is it flavored? How is it prepared? You must have something to which you can compare it – a basic recipe from which you can draw the ingredients that lay the groundwork for a duplicated masterpiece.
The only way to duplicate a dish is really to taste and test – over and over until you eventually achieve what you feel are satisfactory results… Restaurants do not always cook from scratch so don’t be disappointed when you find that a ‘duplicated’ recipe employs the use of prepared mixes, because that is the way most of today’s food service businesses do it.
Most of what you eat in the corner diner where the truck drivers stop for good, home cooked, hot [meals] is the same basic food you would also be served in a fine hotel, supplied by the same food manufacturing firms that also stock our supermarkets… The secret of the restaurant’s success is more in the management than the food.
Whenever Mom attempted to duplicate a dish or product, her two initial concerns were, first, being able to do it at home (without special gadgets or hard-to-find ingredients) for less of a cost than purchasing the original; and, second, being able to do it with only a minimal investment of time and labor. Mom always said that she never liked to cook but she did, however, LOVE to eat out!
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Secret Restaurant Recipes Book (National Homemaker’s Newsletter, Pearl Beach, MI; Jan. 1977)
BUT, WITH A FAMILY of seven, who ate like 20, it wasn’t financially practical to have restaurant outings too often. It just seemed a shame that all of those delicious dishes that were served in restaurants had to be kept secret when families like ours could be enjoying them at home for a fraction of the cost of eating them out.
Our ‘National Homemaker’s Newsletter’ wasn’t using too many recipes in the beginning and those we used seemed to be just frosting on the cake. But each time I discovered the secret of duplicating a recipe from a favorite restaurant, the requests for more poured in. Soon enough, it became, not just the frosting, but the whole cake!
Mom always thought it was strange that it was okay to mention a company’s brand name in her list of ingredients, as companies thought of it like “free advertising” or “recommendations”. However, if she put their name in the title, at the top of the recipe, it was considered “infringing on their trademark” – or so their lawyers threatened with their “cease and desist” letters.
Although not all the companies whose products Mom attempted to imitate felt that way! There were many that accepted Mom’s imitations with honor, as the compliments they were meant to be. The critics predicted that Mom’s style of cookery wouldn’t last very long but it continued because it had merit! In fact, Mom pioneered a movement of copycat cookery for 40 years, until she fully retired in 2014.
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Secret Restaurant Recipes Book (National Homemaker’s Newsletter, Pearl Beach, MI; Jan. 1977)
FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, we had only a hundred readers or so. Then, because some good folks in the media took a liking to the newsletter and mentioned it, subscriptions picked up. Bob Allison of Detroit’s WWJ-Radio [show], ‘Ask Your Neighbor’,probably gave us the most enthusiastic reception, which led to our becoming a sponsor of the show and caught the attention of the ‘Detroit Free Press’ ‘Newsweek’, ‘National Enquirer’ and many others until we found our circulation had jumped…to nearly 4,000 in a little more than a year.
The duplications of the famous name recipes stirred the [public’s] interest. It was a service that apparently had not been offered to the public yet, and one we were most happy to supply. The humorous columns I had [been syndicating] to newspapers just a few years before became a popular attraction in the monthly newsletter…
The operation grew so quickly that it had the whole family working seven days a week, just to keep up with the orders. All of our five children helped to assemble, staple, address, and mail out the copies under my husband’s supervision, until we reached about 3,000 readers and then we found it [to be] such a full-time activity that my husband resigned from his position of 20-some years as an account t executive for a sign company… just to devote all of his attention to running my ‘office’.
It was such a joy to be doing something for people that brought them so much happiness and our own family such a sense of unity. When our oldest son, Bill, went off to college… and our [other] son, Mike… we had to replace them. It was pure luck [or Divine intervention] that one of my friends, and the wife of one of the Little League coaches that Paul had worked with in baseball, here, in town, was anxious to help us out.
Sherry Ellis joined us, and I can only describe her as ‘bubbling like a happy brook’ – the best thing that this office could have hoped for. Debbie, our oldest daughter, continued to help us after school and our two younger daughters, Laurie and Cheryl… It even included my mother’s assistance and, you’ll note, I have used some of her recipes. Without her, I never would have learned to boil water properly. She’s a superb cook!
[As of] January 1977, we will publish our 37th monthly issue of the ‘National Homemaker’s Newsletter’ and we [now] have close to 5,000 readers. We say that getting the newsletter is just like getting together once a month for coffee with friends!
It was a bittersweet day when Mom produced her last newsletter in December 2000 – after 27 years of visits with her thousands of readers. By the way, it wasn’t always produced monthly. Sometimes it was produced bi-monthly, offering double the number of pages, recipes, editorials, household tips, and more,. During a few years, it was produced quarterly; again, offering even more pages of writings and recipes than the bi-monthly issues!
Continuing, one last time, in the honor of National Country Cooking Month, here are Mom’s copycat recipes for griddlecakes and syrup, like Pancake House; as seen in her cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; June 1977, p. 32). Enjoy!
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
Listen to the “Good Neighbor” show, TODAY, at 11am (CDST)/ 12-noon (EDST), on #WHBY!
Happy Monday AND happy summer! I hope all the dads out there had an awesome, memory-making Father’s Day with their kids yesterday! As always, #TGIM – I always look forward to Mondays because they are my #52Chances a year to share these memories of my mom with all of you!
After being cooped up, to some degree, as usual, for the winter months, (which, in Michigan, is usually 4 months long instead of 3 – all of December through all of March) people are usually “biting-at-the-bit” to get out and enjoy spring! But this spring turned out to be a 3-month-long (and more extreme) extension of our “winter hibernation”, because of all the pandemic restrictions and closures. So, I ask: “Who isn’t ready to get outside now and explore the “Great Outdoors”?
My husband and I love to enjoy the outdoors by going on a nature hike, or by taking a long scenic drive around Michigan’s “Thumb Area” and having a picnic by the lake or checking out a small village eatery. We also enjoy camping whenever we can get away for the weekend – Michigan has a lot of beautiful campgrounds, parks, and state land to enjoy and explore.
I, myself, have been spending more quality time outdoors, this month, going for long walks or working in my gardens, as the weather has been getting warmer. I pulled out our cushions for the backyard furniture and made it “visitor-ready”. In fact, we had a backyard campfire with a few friends to welcome in the summer solstice.
I’ve also started organizing all of our camping gear and going over my checklist so it’s “ready to go” (except for filling our coolers) whenever we are ready to go. We usually go camping a few times a year – spring, summer, and fall. We missed our usual springtime excursion – so we’re really looking forward to our annual summer get-away! How do you like to enjoy your summer?
An online survey of Americans, conducted four years ago, in 2016, by the National Recreation and Park Association, found that the three most commonly preferred summer activities, among all the different age groups, were walking/hiking, going to the beach and having a picnic/barbecue. That sounds about right, still, today! It was interesting, though, that the survey had also found that Millennials preferred going swimming in a pool over walking/hiking.
If you’re one of those who are working out of their home all the time, like Mom and Dad did – or as many have been doing, temporarily, for the past 3 or 4 months because of the Covid-19 restrictions – that can also make you want to “get out and about” every once in a while.
Mom and Dad loved to take a day just to go on a scenic road trip to unwind from the workload at home and refresh themselves. Sometimes, however, work would manage to creep back in whenever they stopped for a bite to eat. Mom always managed to find something good that she wanted to analyze and duplicate when she got back home.
FRIENDS ARE A TREASURE and, when we count our blessings, we count our friends twice! It’s not possible to have a full and happy life without others to share with, to help when help is needed, to be helped when help is offered. – Gloria Pitzer
Mom and Dad seemed to make friends everywhere they went. Some trips were just for relaxation and fun. But other trips involved some Secret RecipesTM work too, as Mom really did enjoy what she did and it was easy to incorporate a restaurant review and an imitation of a dish (or two); even an occasional, in-studio, radio show interview, instead of through the phone lines, as Mom usually did.
Mom and Dad also loved to spend a weekend, here and there, camping with their “Good Sam” friends around Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. In fact, Mom wrote about that in her book, My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 61); saying: “Recipe seminars that I have conducted for the Good Sam RV organization in, both, Michigan and Ohio, have given me the opportunity to meet with and talk to people from all over the country relative to their recipe interests and food needs.”
Mom often said that her writing made living worthwhile. But her legacy of Secret RecipesTM gave her so much joy that, for the most part, it wasn’t like “working” at all.
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. 100)
MORE THAN FRIENDS
Some of our best ideas that come from our friends and we happily share the good they have offered. But even before the recipes were a part of our livelihood, I was learning from friends, holding dear the wonderful ideas they offered. From Dolores Garavaglia, one of my first friends when Paul and I were married, I learned how to make a terrific Italian spaghetti sauce.
We were visiting Ray and Dolores at their cottage, recently, near Houghton Lake [MI], and laughing over the dramatic shortcuts we’ve learned to take since those days, over 30 years ago, when we cooked ‘from scratch’ and thought nothing of an 18-ingredient recipe. From Harold and Anna Muzzi, we have derived a sense of appreciation for a friendship that goes back to Paul’s childhood when Harold [Muzzi] and Ray Garavaglia were his best friends and neighbors.
Julia Bulgarelli, another long-time dear friend, has always given me good ideas and she came from the cottage next door to Ray and Dolores to share an ‘oven stew’ recipe with me that we used in our January-February 1990 issue of our newsletter. Our files are full of such wonderful dishes. But, in addition to that, we learn about living and about loving from our friends. There is a reciprocation that blooms with affectionate exchanges, whether by mail or with personal visits.
Sherry Ellis came to my aid more than once when I was bogged down and needed another pair of hands. I appreciate her sparkle and enthusiasm for just about everything. Sophie Wesley and I have been super friends since we bowled together years ago and, when I least expect it, and needed it the most, a card would come in the mail from Sophie, reflecting the beautiful thoughts that comfort when comfort is needed.
Betty Pumford and I became friends through Flossie Taylor, who passed away a few years ago. Flossie [also] introduced me to Elsie Masterton’s cookbooks, which I truly treasure. Some of Flossie’s recipes dated back to her childhood when she remembered visiting her Aunt Clara and Uncle Henry [Ford] at ‘Fairlane’, their home in Dearborn, Michigan. Betty and I had wonderful lunches with Flossie and after Flossie was gone, carried on the happy tradition, also exchanging some great recipes along the way, as well as understanding and happy conversations.
Since our camping experiences with the national RV organization, ‘Good Sam’, we have truly adopted their slogan… ‘In Good Sam there are no strangers – only friends you haven’t met yet!’ How very true. What would we have done had we not been blessed with meeting Irv and Helen Henze [or] Helen and Chuck Mogg? How much we miss Chuck since he passed away. Friends are those people who know everything there is to know about you, but like you anyhow!
Needless to say, I can’t wait until we can begin our ‘motor-home camping’ again with our Good Sam friends. It’s our weekend vacation pleasure, May through October. Becoming part of the Good Sam organization is the best thing that has ever happened to us, where we could both enjoy mutual friendships and activities. Wonderful, caring people, who constantly remind us that ‘there are no strangers in Good Sam – only friends we haven’t met, yet!’ [From “GOOD SAM – CARING AND CAMPING” by Gloria Pitzer, as seen in Gloria Pitzer’s Secret RecipesTM Newsletter (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May-June 1987, 126th issue, p. 3)]
To Good Sam RV Club (MI & OH Branches): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet with and talk to people from all over the country, relative to their recipe interests and food needs… Since our camping experiences with…’Good Sam’, [Paul and I] have truly adopted their slogan, ‘In Good Sam, there are no strangers – only friends we haven’t met yet! – from Gloria Pitzer (1989)
Since my dad passed away in the fall of 2014, Father’s Day has become one of those days when I miss my dad more immensely than others! Like any daughter might feel, he was and will always be my hero! Thus, being that yesterday was Father’s Day, I want to share with you an old, satirical editorial that Mom wrote about Dad called “Father’s Day (or) the King and I!” Below is a photocopy of the article, which I found in Mom’s June 1974 newsletter issue.
There weren’t many things that stumped my mom more than understanding my dad’s love of football.
When I shared the following passage in last week’s blog post, I knew something about it sounded familiar. The “Texas Fruitcake” and “Horton’s…family” referred to in Mom’s story were that of Puddin Hillfame.
Grandpa was holding a full house, trying to beat the town’s commercial Baker, and Grandma’s competitor. When Grandpa ‘called’ him, Hartwig Horton was holding a flush of diamonds, but confessed he couldn’t pay Grandpa in cash. However, he would call the debt squared, if Grandpa would agree to take, instead of cash, a much-coveted recipe for his family’s ‘Texas Fruitcake’ that Grandma had been trying to duplicate for years; the secret formula closely guarded by Horton’s Texas family [as in ‘Puddin Hill’].Grandpa agreed. – Gloria Pitzer, Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 42)
Mom’s “imitation” of this famous fruitcake was in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 279); which was a rewrite of her famous, self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition).
It’s unclear if Mom developed this recipe, herself; or if she may have gotten it from “Grandma’s Kitchen Journal”, which she has mentioned a number of times in her “family folklore” stories that I’ve been sharing with you the last few weeks. I’m sure Mom would like to spin another yarn about this being THE recipe, won in a West Virginia saloon poker game! But I’m pretty sure it’s Mom’s own development.
These recipes, pictured below, are worth repeating. In honor of today, being National Onion Rings Day – here is Mom’s copycat recipe for the BEST ONION RINGS IN THE WORLD! It’s the same batter she used for her imitation of Arthur Treacher’s fish. Both of the recipes, in the photo below, were on Mom’s sample sheet of recipes that she gave away years ago in exchange for a SASE. They were also among Mom’s “Original 200” recipes – the cornerstones of her Secret RecipesTM legacy. Enjoy!
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
Hi everybody! Happy Monday to one and all! As always, #TGIM because I continually look forward to Mondays as they are my #52Chances a year, in which I have to share memories of my mom!
Over the past few months of having been under “stay home, stay safe” orders for the Covid-19 pandemic, many people started learning the art of bread baking – if they didn’t already know it – in part, because of food shortages in the bread department; as well, it was something to do (with a lot of time on our hands) and bread baking has been known to relieve stress! Here is what Mom has to say about that subject…
For the last few weeks, I have been writing about and sharing some of Mom’s stories (her memories) about my paternal ancestry. I found a few more of Mom’s folktales about “Grandma” and her “Backdoor Bakery”. This series of stories that Mom wrote, about 40 years ago, are based loosely, in part, on some family fables that have been passed down through the generations. I call it her “kin-folk-tales”!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 3)
THE BACKDOOR BAKERY
(The family saga, as written by Gloria Pitzer, based on ‘kin-folk-lore’.)
Grandma never intended to bake for profit. She did it because Grandpa couldn’t keep a job. He was a talented man – restless and easily bored with the same job for very long. When the oldest daughter, Vivian, went to work in the city at the hospital, she always had something good for lunch that Grandma had baked; and, after a number of the doctors and nurses in the employees’ lunchroom had sampled the baked goods, Vivian was taking home requests to bake special orders for a fair price.
Word spread very soon about Grandma’s baking talents. If somebody wanted a wedding cake or special coffee cakes for holidays or other celebrations, Grandma took the order and filled it promptly. They finally had to turn the back ‘washroom’, next to the kitchen, into a storage and working area to accommodate another stove and more counters and cupboards.
If someone came to the house, usually up the walk to the [front] porch, and rang the pull-cord attached to the clapper on the milk-wagon bell, somebody would answer the door and direct the prospective ‘customer’ down the walk, around the flower beds, and along the gravel driveway to ‘the backdoor’.
Of course, at the back of the house, there were two doors. One went to the cellar and the other into the new kitchen room. So Grandpa hammered up a sign in the appropriate place reading: ‘This is the backdoor.’ – with an arrow pointing to it.
Soon afterward, Knowles (or Butch, as we called him – one of the older boys) added a hand-carved sign that said: ‘Bakery’. From then on, it was always called ‘The Backdoor Bakery’. And when they moved into a building in the business district of town, years later, Grandma picked one with a nice back entrance to a little traveled side-streetso that the sign would be easily transferred to it.
In the introduction for the “Breads” chapter of Mom’s last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018), she says: “Homemade bread can be anything you want it to be, depending on the amount of time and effort you put into it. The ingredients are simple for a good white bread. In fact, the first time I worked with this recipe [see end of blog post], making notes of what I put in the batch, I thought I had left something out when I discovered that the final product was light and lovely and evenly textured. But after 3 or 4 more tests, I was perfectly satisfied that this was going to be my favorite white bread recipe for lack of a better name I called mine… Thunder Bread!”
Mom wrote about the secret of good bread, being in the kneading and rising of the recipe’s process; and that, given enough time, bread will rise anywhere – whether it be in the refrigerator, on the sink top, or in a dark closet! Mom advised that the more you allow kneaded dough to rise and punch it back down again, the better the texture will be.
Some fascinating pointers that Mom offered, in the practice of bread making, includes:
Not enough salt in the dough will make it course.
Too much shortening will make it heavy.
Not enough shortening will make it dry.
Eggs will make it soft like a coffee cake.
No eggs at all will make it spongy like old-fashioned bread.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 24)
[Below, cont’d from p. 24]
They bartered for the baked goods when they didn’t have the cash to pay. A bushel of apples or a peck of potatoes might be a fair-trade for bread, sufficient to feed a large family for a week. From the batter bread recipe, many versions of baked goods were created. Greased cupcake or muffin wells half-filled with the batter produced a good dinner roll (when baked at 375° for 20 to 25 minutes.)
Grandma insisted on one test for ‘doneness’ – tapping the crust with a finger. If it made a hollow sound – it was done! Grandma and the five girls were up at 4 AM to begin the baking each Saturday. During the bristling winter days at her ‘Back-Door Bakery’, there was a large enamel pot of lemonade keeping hot on the back of the stove.
She sold [the warm lemonade] for a few cents a cup to go along with a doughnut or cookie to those customers warming their hands over the heat of the stove before departing. When Jasper Fillmore turned up, she noted in her journal, there was a slug of Grandpa’s favorite whiskey added to it – providing no local ladies from the Temperance Society were about.
EVEN MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 42)
HOMESTEAD, HOTEL AND RESTAURANT
(The continuing family saga by Gloria Pitzer, based on ‘kin-folk-lore’.)
INSTINCTIVELY, GRANDMA KNEW what food combinations had to be ‘balanced’. She didn’t know why, nor did she anguish over the possibility that somebody in the family might be suffering from nutritional deficiencies. She didn’t fret because she lacked a formal education in the science of food chemistry or dietetics.
She just knew that 11 children grew healthy and strong with one soapy hot tub bath a week, baking soda-brushed teeth once a day, church on Sunday, school attendance without excuses – except for illness (and being sick of school was not an acceptable excuse) – combined well with definite daily chores, hot food, ample drinking water, sufficient sleep and loving tolerance of each other in spite of personal faults.
Cheese and eggs were both important ingredients in Grandma’s cooking. The eggs came every other day from Cousin Nell, who had a lucrative ‘egg route’ for many years, sufficient, in fact to feather her nest nicely with an all brick house of nine rooms and a live-in housekeeper and a handyman to tend to the chickens in the coops on the back of the 20 acre parcel where she resided.
No one knew what happened to Cousin Nell’s husband, Regis, who (some whispered) had up-and-left-with one of the saloon girls on a train heading for St. Louis. Nell pulled herself together quickly when she realized she had no one to look after her and the four children. She tended her garden, started selling the eggs from a dozen hens until she had enough money to buy more laying-hens from a hatchery and the business grew.
The cheese, in grandma’s kitchen, was homemade if it were the soft type that could be used within a few days. But she bought the hard cheese from the Mercantile in town once a month. She would wrap it in smaller portions, in wine-soaked cloth, or dip some in melted paraffin to keep even longer. These were interesting ingredients in the products of her ‘Backdoor Bakery’.
WHEN GRANDMA SLICED warm, fresh bread in her ‘Back-Door Bakery’ and made sandwiches for her customers, she kept it simple, using her homemade cooked salad dressing, sliced cheese – and their choice of apple butter, marmalade, or walnut butter with. Together, with a cup of hot cinnamon tea [or lemonade], from the enamel cattle (which I have now, sitting on the hearth in our living room) – no customer had to brave the chilly April rain without a warm cup of tea before leaving.
The food industry today markets their products in a more sophisticated method than Grandma did when she packaged her baked goods in brown paper and string, neatly piled in a large basket – sometimes in several baskets – and delivered by carriage over some hairpin curved roads between Grafton and Morgantown in West Virginia…
As for Nell, Grandpa’s brother’s girl, life was difficult at first. When the egg route began to support her nicely, there was talk around town that most of Nell’s money came from the card games she would sit in on when she delivered eggs to the hotel. No one ever confirmed it, since Nell was a handsome woman, to be envied by many of the matrons whose husbands found her attractive – and a good listener when they needed one.
The Homestead Hotel was the only place in town to stay – if you had to stay in town. And Vivian told how she ‘spent a week there one night’, when a snowstorm kept her from returning home from town. That was the night that Grandpa was with her – and Nell was sitting in on one of those ‘naughty’ poker games.
Grandpa was holding a full house, trying to beat the town’s commercial Baker, and Grandma’s competitor. When Grandpa ‘called’ him, Hartwig Horton was holding a flush of diamonds, but confessed he couldn’t pay Grandpa in cash. However, he would call the debt squared, if Grandpa would agree to take, instead of cash, a much-coveted recipe for his family’s ‘Texas Fruitcake’ that Grandma had been trying to duplicate for years; the secret formula closely guarded by Horton’s Texas family.
Grandpa agreed. But there were other hands dealt that wintry night, as Nell took on Morris Weismann, a few others, and came away holding the mortgage to the hotel as her winnings. The rather scarlet details of the all-night card game between Nell and the men, have been lost in verbal translation among aunts and uncles who still recall the excitement of it.
We only know that Nell and her four children, in their teens by then, moved into the hotel, staffed it themselves and kept the 20 upstairs guest rooms with the five baths between them, continuously occupied and tidy. Meanwhile, grandma worked out an arrangement with her niece to furnish the hotel restaurant with all of its baked goods for a fair price if Nell promised to shut down the saloon and the card games.
#TGIM! Happy Monday AND happy June to one and all! As always, I look forward to Mondays because they are my #52Chances per year, in which I have to share Memories of My Mom!
Last week, I shared Mom’s experiences and memories from the first time she appeared on the Phil Donahue Show, in July 1981. The whole year, following that appearance was, probably, the most chaotic time in the 40-year history of Mom’s family-run, dining room table, cottage-style operation. We were definitely not set up for that massive response!
Secret RecipesTM was JUST A FAMILY AFFAIR! Other than one full-time Administrative Assistant, who was also a family friend, it was just my parents, taking care of the day-to-day operations of their mail-order business, with a little help, now and then, from me and my siblings. That is, until that summer of 1981! Then my parents needed to bring in a lot of extra help. Even some of my high school friends were asked to help out, temporarily, with all of the extra mailings we had.
We sent out hundreds of thousands of Mom’s “free recipes and product-ordering information” sheets, in exchange for the self-addressed stamped envelopes that came in, per the offer that aired on that Donahue episode. We were also sending out thousands more newsletter issues than previously, from all of the extra subscription orders that came back from those “free sheet” mailings. But even with the extra help, we just never seemed to get totally caught up, as every day the hundreds of trays of mail kept piling up!
However, as frenzied as it was, in the end, it really did open a lot of doors for Mom that might never have happened otherwise; bringing Mom’s unique style of “copycat cookery” to the attention of MILLIONS of new eyes. The 1981 episode reran for about six months or so, after the initial airing on July 7th, appearing on television screens, WORLD-WIDE!
There’s no denying that Mom pioneered a ‘movement’, so-to-speak; carving out a NEW niche in the cookbooks and food industries! There was nothing else like it, on the market, at that time. But, soon enough, many “copycats” certainly followed, copying Mom’s focus on imitating the “junk food”, fast food and restaurant industries’ products that so many people craved – some followers even copied Mom’s work, to the point of straight-up plagiarism!
Amazingly, when the Phil Donahue Show people called again, 12 years later, in 1993, Mom agreed to return for another episode; but only with the stipulation that they not give out any contact information for Secret RecipesTM or our family. That stipulation inadvertently resulted in a record-breaking event! It turned out to be the show’s most requested transcript of all time, shattering the last record into tiny bits! The Donahue Show sent Mom a congratulatory letter and plaque to commemorate the historic event. It’s unfortunate that the show ended it’s 29-year stretch (1967-1996) a few years later.
There are recordings of that 1993, hour-long episode on YouTube, in a series of 5 “staticky” segments. In fact, I have my own “staticky” VHS tape of it, as well! Though, I did get it copied to a DVD, a couple of years ago, before it was no longer playable. Nonetheless, I wish I knew where I could find a recording or transcript from Mom’s July 7th, 1981 appearance. If anyone reading this knows, PLEASE, send me an email at: [email protected] – and thank you, in advance!
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. 68)
BIG SHOWS & INTERVIEWS
AFTER DONAHUE, PM Magazine, The Home Show, even being mentioned on Jeopardy and complementary reviews in Catholic Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Campus Life, Mother Jones, National Observer, as well as The National Enquirer (absolutely accurate, too, I swear!) Plus, a write up in Playboy Magazine [and] Home Cooking. We said no to People magazine. We did not want another 1 million letters [like we received after the Donahue show] and surely that would be inevitable, considering their circulation.
On a side note: Michael Neill, a writer at People Magazine, was persistent about wanting to interview Mom and she eventually gave in. His story, ‘For Gloria Pitzer, Unlocking the Secrets of Fast-Food Recipes is Easy: Just Fake and Bake’, appeared in People Weekly’s May 7, 1990 issue, on pages 81-82; including a couple of Mom’s recipes and the two photos of Mom, below, by Susan L. Tusa, but not Secret RecipesTM exact contact information.
Still, the article contained enough information, that a large amount of mail and orders arrived anyway for Mom and Dad at the St. Clair Post Office, during that spring/summer season; just not quite as massive an amount as the bombardment that followed after the first Donahue episode.
[BIG SHOWS & INTERVIEWS – Cont’d]
We knew that making a lot of money in a big hurry was not what we wanted, even though it might have been what others thought we should have done. We were afraid, then, that our cup would REALLY have run over. We also declined an invitation to be on Good Morning America the week after we were on ‘Donahue’.
And just as recently, we declined to appear on the Will Shriner Show… Also, I never did the ‘Kelly and Company‘ show at channel 7 in Detroit, even though they had invited me to be on with them several times. Jack McCarthy’s TV interview with us on Christmas Eve … for [‘Friday Feast’ on] Channel 7, in Detroit, was one of the highlights of our experiences.
And a few months ago, [I had] an even more enjoyable experience with Erik Smith, doing a segment in our kitchen for their ‘Friday Feast’, during which we prepared the hot fudge [sauce] like Sanders’ and the ‘McFabulous Biscuits’, from our information sheet of sample recipes.
Of all the wire services and all of the hundreds of newspaper stories about us across the country in the past 14 years [1975-1989], since our fast food recipes have become popular, I can still honestly say that I prefer radio to it all.
On another side note: Eventually, as with the Phil Donahue Show and People Magazine, persistence paid off, again; because John Kelly and Marilyn Turner, the husband-and-wife hosts of “Kelly & Company”, eventually interviewed Mom – and, yet again, not just once but twice!
Mom insisted that she would never do another NATIONAL television show, after the fallout from her Donahue experience. But, when her good friend, Carol Duvall, called to ask Mom to give ABC’s “Home” show (aka: “The Home Show”) a try, Mom couldn’t say no to her friend. It was a new show in which Carol, herself, had come to be involved. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience for Mom; especially when she was surprised by Wally Amos, being there, in person, to taste her imitation of one of his “Famous” cookies.
ABC’s “Home” show began as a half-hour program in mid-January 1988. Mom was a guest in February 1988. Following a 60-minute trial run in September 1988, “Home” expanded permanently to an hour-long series in January 1989. After the show ended in 1994, host, Rob Weller formed a production company with someone else and, together, they developed “The Carol Duvall Show” which aired on HGTV from 1994 until 2005, when it moved to the DIY Network in 2005 and ran for another 4 years.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 68)
THE HOME SHOW & WALLY AMOS
The Home Show, however, in February 1988, were wonderful to us [Paul and me]. They flew us to Los Angeles, and we appeared with Rob Weller and Sandy Hill in a one-hour segment that re-created some of our recipes. They were very specific that I do our ‘Famous Nameless Cookies’ and I could not see the reason they absolutely insisted on that recipe. I had trouble finding the right ingredients an hour before airtime, but we made compromises there and came up with an even BETTER version than before.
What had happened, without my knowing it, was Wally Amos, himself [was there]. They flew him in from Hawaii to taste-test my version of HIS product. What a delightful man! What a warm and generous soul. He brought me a tin of an assortment of his favorite cookies and, after tasting my version of his product, made me promise that I would never go into the cookie business! Meeting Wally Amos was one of those cherished memories that I will always look back on warmly.
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 86)
I LOOK BACK NOW… and realize how FORTUNATE I was to have had my life touched by so many helpful people – so many famous people! It’s almost incredible that what started out to be merely the frosting on the cake, of my monthly newsletter, soon became the whole cake!
While duplicating the secrets of the [fast] food and restaurant industry was only going to be a part of the publications I was writing, it was a surprise to me that the interest and the response from the public led to my specializing in the fast food division entirely!
I thought my first book was going to be my ‘only’ book on that subject, but – six books later – I was still seriously, but lovingly, engaged in the pursuit of new information and challenging recipe imitations. I’ve been asked by restaurants to give them permission to use my recipes and say so on their menus. I’ve been asked by ‘People Magazine’, at least once a month for six months – even before the Donahue show appearance – to grant them an interview.
The fact that I had declined the invitation because I couldn’t handle any additional mail, made the columns of the Detroit Free Press, when their ‘Tip-Off’ columnist said it was ‘classy’ to turn down People Magazine – refusing publicity in a national magazine because I did not want to ‘get big’!
[NOTE: As mentioned previously, Michael Neill’s story, ‘For Gloria Pitzer, Unlocking the Secrets of Fast-Food Recipes is Easy: Just Fake and Bake’, appeared in the May 7, 1990 issue of People Weekly, on pages 81-82.]
In Mom’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; 1982), [which is the book I helped her to rewrite and republish (with Balboa Press), now called Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018)] she wrote about some of the unhappy experiences she had with various companies and their legal advisers.
Their threats of lawsuits had Mom and Dad quite frightened at one time or another for attempting to duplicate their secrets in her own kitchen. But, truth is, Mom didn’t know their actual secrets unless they shared them with her. She could only make educated guesses and experiment with different combinations of ingredients until she came up with a good imitation.
However, others like Wally Amos (the former “Famous” Amos), Harland Sanders (the original “Colonel” of KFC fame), Jack Sanders (famous Michigan chocolatier), Arthur Treacher (actor turned restaurateur), the people of White Castle, General Foods, Hershey’s, and McDonald’s own Paul Duncan appreciated Mom’s flattery attempts to compliment them through her personal imitations of their products, even to the delightful caricature names that she gave her own creations. Those are the ones that made what she did all worthwhile!
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 onWHBY’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!