Combine, in saucepan, the starch and ¾ cup of the COLD water. Sprinkle gelatin powder over the other ¼ cup of the COLD water, to soften it. Then stir the HOT water into the starch mixture and heat until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly, until clear.
Turn off heat and add gelatin mixture. Add soap flakes and stir, to dissolve well. Divide into 4 or 5 equal sized containers, such as [small] margarine tubs [or baby food jars] and stir [different colors of] food coloring into each, as you wish. When cooled and thickened, apply to large sheets of art paper with fingers or paint brushes to create artwork.
Keep unused paints tightly capped and refrigerated, to use within a few weeks.
Tomorrow observes, among other things, National Write Down Your Story Day and Sunday is National Let’s Laugh Day! For many years, before Mom began her Secret RecipesTM business, she wrote satirical columns for various papers. Mom’s stories about how she delt with various situations, in our family and at work, always make me laugh.
Mom wrote down her story, often, in all of her self-published books and newsletters. Most notably, she wrote her (and our family’s) story in her self-published book, My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989), from which I often reference her anecdotes (aka: “MOM’S MEMORIES”).
Mom’s stories, about her dealings with our family’s humorous life-happenings, often blended facts with a little fabrication – just enough to entice a laugh. She was a talented writer. As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, she was greatly inspired, throughout her life, by many talented and funny women like Carol Burnette and Erma Bombeck, just to name a couple.
March is also National Craft Month. Writing a story/book can be considered a craft (an activity involving skill in making things by hand). Like Mom, since I was a young girl, I’ve always loved writing, drawing, and crafting things. Creativity was always encouraged and nurtured by our parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles – whenever I or my siblings crafted anything. I’ve written enough poetry to produce a book or two but I’ve yet to try to publish them.
In my blog posts, I’ve often written about how Mom inspired me – as a writer, artist, crafter, homemaker, cook, mother… The list goes on. A variety of artistic and creative skills seem to run in my family. If there is such a thing as an “artistic gene”, I feel lucky and grateful that my family and I seem fortunate to have it.
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, pp. 25-28)
THE LITTLE STEPS [cont’d]
WHEN I WROTE THAT very first poem that the Detroit News published when I was in the fourth or fifth grade at the US Grant School in Royal Oak, I was headed toward this livelihood and didn’t even know it.
When I wrote “The Young Pioneer” that same year with the girls who lived on the block, after we saw the movie about the life of the Brontë sisters, I was being directed towards this livelihood… Each was a little step in the right direction, in the direction toward which our entire family would come, and gratefully so.
The beginning of my interest in writing seriously began with the poem – a class assignment – and no one could’ve been more surprised than me to find it published in the newspaper… I remember that it was [after] the war ended… World War II. Every Saturday, the kids on the block would walk up town to the main theater where, for 11-cents, we could see a double feature, cartoons and a cliffhanger serial.
The movie that made the biggest impression on me and really started my emotional batteries to move me into writing, was the story of the Brontë sisters [Devotion(Warner Bros. Pictures, 1946)] – Anne, Charlotte and Emily Jane. One of them [Charlotte] wrote ‘Jane Eyre’ and [Emily] wrote the classic novel, ‘Wuthering Heights’.
They wrote without the benefit of a typewriter, which made an impression on me then. So, on the way home from the movie, I coaxed my friends into stopping with me at the dime store so I could buy a pack of notebook paper and a pair of long, heavy shoelaces.
I was going to fashion these into a manuscript like the Brontë sisters used in the movie. Ordinarily, we would’ve gone to the Royal Oak Sweet Shop on Main Street near Fourth for a soda or some Divinity or fudge to nibble on, but I was saving my quarter for writing paper.
It is good, sometimes, in looking back at how far we have come from the first steps that were to lead us into a bright direction… In our office, I have a file drawer that is full of newspaper clippings that have been written about us and our recipes. These go back to 1974…
Before I ever wrote the ‘Secret Recipes Book’ [in 1976], I [had] assembled a small volume of American dishes to celebrate the bicentennial. Several copies of that little book, ‘The American Cookery Cookbook’, were purchased by the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village in Dearborn [Michigan].
A curious young reporter, who was going through the Museum’s collection of new books, came across mine. He tried to purchase a copy, he later told me, by contacting every bookstore in the area. No one had even heard of me. I was not even listed in the ‘books in print’ directory.
So he returned to the museum and copy down the address from the cover of my book, looked us up in the phone directory and gave us a call. Once Dan Martin of Newsday Wire Service Features saw what the production of our monthly newsletter was like, he lost interest in that little bicentennial cookbook.
When he knocked on the door, that day, it was like inviting him into a Jean Kerr production of ‘Please Don’t Eat the Daisies’. There were a dozen baskets of ironing here and there in the large dining room, each [one] tagged with the name, phone number and date promise to the customer who left [it] with me to be ironed.
Two long tables under the windows were covered with freshly mimeographed 4” x 6” cards of recipes, spread out for the ink to dry. Several times a week, I printed up to 200 recipes and about 50 copies of each. At that time, we sold these through our newsletter for five-for-a-dollar or $.25 apiece. We did very well with them too!
In the living room, Debbie’s friends had gathered with their drivers’ training manuals to quiz each other for the big day coming up when those six teenagers would be taking their driving tests. In the kitchen, Cheryl and Lorie were working on Girl Scout badge projects with some of their friends. It was a madhouse!
Mr. Pipersack was shuffling in and out of the side porch door, trying to unplug the bathroom pipes and clean out the septic tank for us. In the back room, where the prehistoric furnace was located that heated our 80-year-old house.
A man from the gas company was arguing with a man from the Edison company about what was wrong with our furnace and why it wouldn’t work. They finally asked me if my husband owned a screwdriver. I told them, ‘of course!’ They looked at each other and then looked at me, then one of them said, ‘hide it!’
Our oldest son, Bill, was hunting through the kitchen drawers for some tools at that moment, so that he could get under the hood of his mustang out in the driveway and then let Mr. Pipersack pull his truck into the yard. Mike, our next oldest, was on the phone trying to convince a girl that the things she had heard about him weren’t true and if he could get his dad’s car on Saturday, would she go to the movies with them.
The cat was having a litter of kittens under the sewing table and our police dog, Susie, was about to have a litter of pups and was moping about, looking for comfort. I now wonder how any serious writer could have found inspiration in that kind of environment.
I almost wish we had given the impression that we were like the Brady Bunch so that the article the reporter was going to write, would have reflected better on our being normal and average; but frankly, I think I like the Brady Bunch because we could all learn so much from their faultless fantasies about family life.
One of my earliest memories of me & my mom is when she taught me how to write the alphabet and my name, from how to hold the pencil and draw the letters, to putting those wonderful letters together into words. I grew to love writing and crafting, mostly because of Mom. English and art were two of my most favorite subjects throughout school.
I was always amazed and inspired by how Mom managed to work at the newspaper and start her own business, doing what she loved most (writing), while juggling all of her other responsibilities; with a husband, 5 kids, and a dog for which to care. We were a dysfunctional, “real life” version of the Brady family.
There’s no better time than now to write your story down. Leave your legacy in a memoir. Capture the essence of who you are. Include your traditions, life-lessons, values, special moments, accomplishments, beliefs and hopes. Share your favorite pictures, too. It’s your story, run with it!
Turn it into a printed book – size doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of options online for “print on demand” companies. Your local printer can probably do it, too. Believe it or not, your story can be a great, personalized gift for family (and close friends) on any holiday or special occasion.
March is unofficially Maple Sugaring Month in Michigan! It’s not a national holiday but making maple syrup is a big event around here! There’s a really great article about sugaring [which is the process of gathering maple sap and making it into sugar and/or syrup – NOT the hair-removal process by the same name] at the Michigan State University’s Extension’s website, called March is Maple Syrup Season in Michigan.
[NOTE: Lent began on Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, and will run throughout March, until Thursday, April 6th (for 2023).]
Next Monday celebrates National Retro Day! Retro describes something new that’s imitative of past, classic fashion styles or designs. Nowadays, retro has expanded to describe many other classic things from our past – such as music, movies, TV shows, and even foods.
Additionally, next Wednesday is also the beginning of March, which celebrates National Craft Month! A craft is basically an activity that involves making things skillfully, with your hands. Common retro crafts include macrame, weaving, sewing, knitting and crocheting.
These days, other popular crafts include making beer/wine, jam, soap, pottery, jewelry, candles, aroma oils, etc. Sugaring, which is the process of gathering maple sap and making it into a sugar and/or syrup [NOT the hair-removal process by the same name], is considered a craft, as well.
Unofficially, March Is Maple Syrup Season In Michigan; which is also the title of a timeless, informative article about the traditional (retro) method of sugaring; written by Russell Kidd (March 14, 2013), available at Michigan State University’s Extension’s website.
Making maple syrup is a really big event in Michigan! On the weekends, mid-March to late-April, in different regions around Michigan, you’ll find an array of maple syrup festivals, celebrating the age-old craft of sugaring.
The ideal conditions required for maple sap to flow well are here, as night temperatures hover around the freezing mark and daytime temps warm up, into the 40’s range. The sugaring season normally lasts about four to six weeks, depending on the weather, climate change, and location.
Once the weather gets too warm and the trees start to bud, the sap is no-longer good for sugaring and the season is done. Around this time of year, since four years ago, I love re-sharing a really great story/video from my local morning news show.
Backyard Maple Syrup, With Jill-of-all-Trades, by Jill Washburn (March 26, 2019), available at Fox2Detroit.com, is an impressive segment about how to collect maple tree sap and a simple way to cook down a small batch (about 2 gallons), for a day or so in a slow cooker, until it renders a sweet, thick syrup.
When the mini sugaring process is done, the two gallons of sap yields about a half-cup of syrup, but there’s such a great feeling of accomplishment in being able to say, “I made it, myself!” [FYI: December 17th is the OFFICIAL National Maple Syrup Day.]
I’ve learned that maples with a 25-inch (or more) diameter can handle up to three taps but no trees should ever have more than that. Those with a 10-to-20-inch diameter shouldn’t have more than one tap. At 20-25 inches (diameter), they can sustain up to two taps. In an average season, each tap can produce about 10 gallons of sap, which renders about one quart of syrup.
Here’s a re-share of Mom’s homemade, copycat version of “Syrup, Like Pancake House”, made from pantry shelf products; as seen in her self-published cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1977, p. 32).
Between inflation and supply shortages, people are resorting more to making their own groceries and personal care products. Given our current trend, I think many of us are going to learn more about old-fashioned homesteading skills.
Mom was a trailblazer, with her “copycat cookery concept”. But she also wrote about how to stretch food, reinvent leftovers, and make many grocery products at home! If it saved money on her family’s grocery budget, she had to share it with others. Critics thought her craft (copycat cookery) was a passing fad that wouldn’t last. They were so wrong!
Not only did it last but it grew by leaps and bounds since its inception in the 1970s. Mom carved out a creative new niche in the food industry. People wanted to make their own fast food, junk food and grocery products at home. The concept was so catching that there were copycats copying the ORIGINAL copycat, even plagiarizing her.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pp. 298-299). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].
WE WERE RECEIVING ABOUT 1000 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.
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 – and I still wonder why in the world I said I would do the Donahue show!
I think it was because I had just tangled with Grit, the weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania, over giving credit to the Food editor’s teenage daughter for having developed a fish batter like Arthur Treacher’s, using [my] club soda and pancake mix [recipe] – and received an apology on the back page of one of their issues, placing the item between an ad for corn and callous remover and waste cinchers.
I was also tangling with Jove Publications, who were pressing hard to sell their ‘Junk Food Cookbook’, using my recipes, word-for-word, with credit going to somebody else. I wanted to establish the fact that I was very much in business and willing to protect my copyrighted property with the same enthusiasm and sincerity as the major food companies had exhibited in protecting theirs from my imitations. (And believe me, we’ve heard from all the big ones!)
So, 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 7, 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!
I’ve often mentioned that my favorite, of Mom’s self-published cookbooks, is The Secrets Of Homemade Groceries (Secret Recipes, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1979). When I was a young mom, struggling to make ends meet, money was tight, and the pantry was almost bare. Mom’s ‘Homemade Groceries’ cookbook was always my go-to source – AND still is.
It teaches how to make a lot of popular grocery products at home; as well as, how to stretch or extend other products, saving a lot of money on the monthly grocery expenses! The ‘high demand’, ‘overhead costs’ and ‘expected profits’ that are added to the prices of ‘convenience’ foods are what kill us at the grocery stores!
The lack of real nutrition that’s missing from these preservative-loaded, manufactured foods are not benefiting our health, either. They’re full of unnatural, shelf-life stabilizers, none of which are found in homemade groceries, where YOU control the ingredients!
‘Homemade Groceries’ includes easy principles for canning and freezing food, as well as making your own mixes, sauces and seasonings at a great financial savings compared to buying them – especially now! The retro homesteading concept has spawned new interests in “homemade”.
What happened to us, as a society? We became a too-busy-with-other-things, instant-gratification-and-convenience-overloaded culture! About half a century ago, we evolved into times when both parents, in a family unit, had to work to make ends meet, while their children were “raised” in the public schools’ Latchkey program.
The value of time changed dramatically, especially for working homemakers. Self-sufficiency and homesteading became a dying skill among many of the newer generations, who opted to spend their time differently, in exchange for conveniences – even to the extent of wanting more conveniences.
Nowadays, too many families are struggling to survive week-to-week and month-to-month, so cost-saving homesteading skills (re-termed as DIY) are making a renewed comeback. Besides, sometimes, when it comes to food, homemade is just better made, especially if you have to follow a special diet, as you control the ingredients in the product you covet.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ – Plato
Vegetable gardening time is approaching fast. Many growers are starting their seeds indoors, right now, and prepping their garden beds for when it’s time to transplant those seedlings outside – usually after about 8 weeks. I remember when I was young, helping Mom in our little garden and orchard, in Algonac; collecting tomatoes, apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb for her homemade sauces and desserts.
Besides the nutritional and money-saving values of growing your own food, it’s also a healthy activity! You can burn a lot of calories, while tending a garden. There are so many aspects involved – planting, weeding, mulching, composting, watering, harvesting. I’m really looking forward to getting back into my garden soon.
In honor of TODAY, being National Muffin Day, here’s Mom’s copycat recipe for “White Mountain Muffins” (aka: Bongo Biscuits); as seen in her self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; April 1986, p. 101).
Friday, February 24th is… National Tortilla Chip Day! BONUS: In honor, here’s Mom’s secret recipes for “Tortilla Shells” and “[Homemade] Masa Harina”, as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pp. 68 & 70). [A revised reprint of Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1983, 3rd Edition)].