CHOP SUEY BUNS, WITH MACKINAC FRUIT BARS VARIATION & THIN VANILLA ICING
By Gloria Pitzer, as seen in her self-published cookbook, The Joy Of NOT Cooking – Any More Than You Have To (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Nov. 1983, p. 182).
Chop Suey Buns:
2 2/3 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼-lb butter, melted & cooled
1 cup milk
2 TB sour cream
½ cup each: chopped candied cherries, scissor-snipped dates, raisins, and chopped walnuts
1 tsp bottled grated orange peel
Combine [first 4 (dry) ingredients] in a medium bowl. [In a separate bowl,] Beat [next 4 (wet) ingredients] together until well combined. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture. Stir with mixing spoon to completely moisten all dry particles and then stir in remaining ingredients.
Grease 18 muffin wells with Crisco. DO NOT flour them. Fill each ¾-full with the batter, which will be thick! Bake at 400°F about 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pans while warm. Makes 18 large buns.
Mackinac Fruit Bars [Variation]:
Prepare Chop Suey Buns batter (above) and spread it evenly into bottom of a 9”x13”x2” cake pan. Bake at 400°F, about 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes and apply Thin Vanilla Icing  over top and sprinkle with pecans. Cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen [small] bars.
We’re in the final stretch of August’s National Family Fun Month observance (for 2022) and quickly approaching Labor Day weekend – the unofficial end of summer. Kids are starting to return to school – some this week and some next week. From some of Mom’s syndicated columns, about spending the summers with us kids at home and underfoot, you’d think it was totally unbearable. In fact, she and Dad made our summers unforgettably FUN!
We lived on the beautiful banks of the St. Clair River. We had a dock from which we fished and swam, as well as a small, family-sized, Chris-Craft boat, in which we’d cruise up and down the river throughout the summer months. By the way, Chris-Craft started their boat-making empire in Algonac in the late 19th century.
I remember Mom taking us kids to the Algonac Lion’s Club Field, in town, where we enjoyed youth activities and crafts. Afterwards, we’d go next door to the community pool, with money we got for swimming, plus a little extra for a drink and snack at the concession stand. I always thought those were FUN days – at least they were for me.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Dad was involved with the Pearl Beach Lion’s Club, near our house. The Lions aren’t a fraternal or political group like many other “clubs”. Nor were they a “social” organization but they did host a lot of family and community events and activities throughout the year, every year – and still do.
According to Dad, the Lion’s Club is simply an organization of people who care about their neighborhoods and get together to do things they can’t do alone. They’re always willing and able to give their time, energy, and resources in service to their community and others. Back when Dad was a member, only men were allowed to join. Since 1987, women have been allowed to join, too.
Below is a picture of me, my siblings, and 2 neighbor-boys, standing in front of the Algonac Lions Club trolley that was in all of our local parades. I think this was from Labor Day weekend, 1970, and we got to ride on the trolley, with Dad, during the parade.
We had many family fun summer vacations, as I was growing up. My personal favorites were the trips we took “up north”. We went all over “the-tip-of-the-mitt” and into the U.P. I remember looking for Petoskey stones on the beaches along Lake Michigan, climbing among the rocks at Tahquamenon Falls, and seeing the ships go through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.
Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island were the best places of all. It offers an amazing experience that takes you on a journey through time, to Michigan’s earliest known history of settlers, with two big forts to tour, as well other terrific sights – there’s no way to pack it all into one day.
Mom has duplicated many treats and dishes from the local restaurants and shops there, as well as from the luxurious Grand Hotel’s dining room. I’m only half-way through creating a “Master Index” list of all Mom’s copycat recipes from all of her books. As of right now, there are over a dozen recipes listed from this area. I want to eventually add all of her newsletters to the “Master Index”, too, but I’m missing a lot of them.
Going to Cedar Point, in Sandusky (Ohio), was another highlight of our summers, with a ton of unforgettable family fun; going on all the rides and eating ridiculous amounts of junk food. Sometimes we’d also spend the night at The Breakers hotel, next door, on the beach.
Mom often duplicated some of our favorite carnival treats at home to bring back those memories. So far, six are listed in the “Master Index” that I mentioned above. Maybe that’s why I fell in love with the television show, “Carnival Eats”, hosted by Noah Cappe, when it came out in 2014.
Mom really enjoyed watching it with me, too. We both thought it was a really fun and innovative way to do food reviews of those sinful culinary noshes, in which we allow ourselves to indulge, at least once in a great while.
We also went often to Toronto and Niagara Falls, in Ontario, Canada. Every year we went, it seemed like both beautiful towns kept growing bigger and bigger with more exciting things to see and do; plus, even more great places to enjoy a snack or meal.
Mom always found new treats from the fudge shops and bakeries, plus dishes from the local delis and restaurants, to imitate when we went home. So far, there are almost a dozen listed in the “Master Index”, from these two areas but I know she has more from these towns, as well.
A couple of times, we drove to West Virginia for a family reunion and to visit our relatives from Dad’s side of the family. Both of his parents were from neighboring counties in West Virginia. Mom’s story (below), Vacation Returns (OR The Last Resort), is a spoof of one of those road trips and what it was like to travel that long with five children in tow.
Eons before cell phones, tablets, and other such data/electronic devices, Mom kept us all entertained on road trips the old fashioned way – with travel games like “20 Questions” and “I Spy”; plus, various versions of “Trivia”, “Story Chain”, “The Name Game”, and “The License Plate Game”.
An online survey of Americans, conducted in 2016, by the National Recreation And Park Association, found that the three most typically preferred summer fun activities (among all the different age groups) were walking/hiking, going to the beach, and having a picnic/barbeque. That sounds about right, still today!
Michigan has 3,288 miles of beautiful, fresh water coastline, surrounding most of the state. That’s a lot of beaches – and there are even more beaches along the state’s many in-land lakes and rivers, as well. It’s no wonder that going to the beach, swimming, and other water-related activities are the preferred fun activities, on hot summer days, among most (if not all) Michiganders.
Like I wrote in beginning, it’s the last days of August’s National Family Fun Month celebration. While we’re quickly approaching Labor Day weekend, families everywhere are trying to squeeze in one last “summer blast” before the kids settle back into their usual school routines.
How do you celebrate the end of summer – a weekend vacation, a day at the beach, or a barbeque in the backyard? Mom liked to celebrate right at home, whenever my siblings and I went back to school, saying that’s when her vacation began.
In honor of TODAY, being National Chop Suey Day, here’s Mom’s copycat recipe for “Chop Suey Buns, Like Ann Page’s” and her “Mackinac-Style Fruit Bars” variation (with a repeat of her “Thin Vanilla Icing”, for either or both); as seen in her self-published cookbook… The Joy Of NOT Cooking – Any More Than You Have To (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Nov. 1983, p. 182). I also shared these recipes in April 2021, with Kathy Keene on WHBY’s “Good-Neighbor” show.
By Gloria Pitzer, as seen in… The Joy Of NOT Cooking – Any More Than You Have To (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Nov. 1983, p. 182)
¼ cup oil
18-oz box yellow cake mix*
½ cup water
20-oz can fruit pie filling*
(cherry, apple, strawberry, or blueberry)
*[NOTE: You can substitute “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” products.]
Place oil in 9½x13½x2-inch cake pan, tilting pan back and forth until oil covers bottom of pan evenly. Combine cake mix with the eggs and water, using low-speed of electric mixer about 3 or 4 minutes or until batter is smooth.
Fold the pie filling into the batter [gently] with a rubber scraper, making a marbled effect. Spread batter evenly over bottom of oiled cake pan. Bake at 350°F – about 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool cake in pan on wire rack for about 15 minutes and then drizzle top of cake with 1 recipe of our “Thin Vanilla Icing”. Cool completely before cutting to serve 6 to 8.
By Gloria Pitzer, as seen in… Gloria Pitzer’s Mostly 4-Ingredient Recipes (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; April 1986, p. 67)
4-oz pkg. instant lemon pudding [powder]
18-oz box yellow cake mix
1 cup water
4 TB oil
Stir together dry ingredients. Put other 3 ingredients in blender , on high speed, about half a minute or until smooth. Pour over dry mixture. With electric beaters on high speed, blend until batter is very smooth.
Pour into greased and floured, 10-inch, tube pan. Bake at 350°F for 55 minutes or until tester inserted into [center of] cake comes out clean.
Cool upright, in pan, on rack for 45 minutes. Loosen [sides] with tip of sharp knife. Invert onto platter. Drizzle with thin vanilla icing. Serves 8-10.
Since this is still National Inventor’s Month, among other things, I want to continue telling you even more about my mom, Gloria Pitzer, the ORIGINAL Secret RecipesTM Detective and INVENTOR of the copycat cookery concept for imitating junk foods, convenience foods, fast foods, and other restaurant dishes at home!
During the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about Mom’s 40+ years (1973-2014) as the Secret RecipesTM Detective – from the inception of her copycat cookery business and the 1973 release of her very first, self-published cookbook, to her and Dad’s forced retirements, for different health reasons, in 2014.
Mother’s Day came and went last weekend. Like the last few years, it was bittersweet for me, again, as I cherished the loving bonds I have with my three children (and my grandson), while missing the physicality of that bond with my own mom; especially since it had grown exponentially during her last few years on Earth!
Moreover, Father’s Day is just around the corner. Accordingly, I’m really missing BOTH of my parents – especially these days more than most others. Dad passed away rather suddenly, in October 2014. Apparently, he had been sick, but he never said anything to anyone because he just wasn’t one to ever complain about his own ailments.
Furthermore, Mom had been suffering through a few grand mal seizures that summer, requiring some hospitalizations and doctor visits; so Dad was even more focused on her than himself. That’s just a small example of one reason why there are so many different national “health awareness” days, weeks, and month-long observations now – the key word being AWARENESS!
Amid everything going on in 2014, Mom and Dad had to completely retire their business. That relieved Dad, because he was six years older than Mom and had been wanting to fully retire for years. However, completely retiring the whole business left Mom feeling kind of empty, like she had lost her child.
No more stories to write… No more recipe investigations… No more radio shows… Even traveling had become too taxing for them, both. Then, as I mentioned above, Dad passed away, unexpectedly, that fall; following Mom’s several hospitalizations throughout that spring and summer.
Over the next eight months, with Dad gone, my sister, Cheryl, and I took turns taking care of Mom everyday, watching her for seizures, helping her with the daily housework, and taking her to her appointments and shopping. One morning, in the summer of 2015, we found Mom on her bedroom floor and had to call 9-1-1. The doctor at the hospital said she had suffered from another grand mal seizure AND a double-stroke, at some point during the early morning hours.
Mom was in the hospital for quite a while and even in the ICU for a brief time, followed by months of various therapies at a health care facility, before having to move into a “retirement place” that had 24-hour, on-site nursing care and other special amenities, as she had acquired dementia from the strokes. What Mom needed then was a lot more than what Cheryl and I could offer her, since we both had jobs to work as well.
Mom went through a lot changes and losses from 2014 until she passed away in January 2018. She never got to return to the condo she had shared with Dad, after her strokes. I had to become her legal guardian and medical advocate that summer. Cheryl and I also had to pack up her condo, paint and carpet it, then sell it to pay for her new living conditions.
Throughout her last 39 months of living without Dad, Mom never lost faith that they’d be together again, someday. She believed that it wasn’t for her to know when, why, or how – only that IT WILL BE! Giving up what we LOVE (no matter who or what it is) is probably one of the most difficult tasks we’ll face in our lifetimes. It definitely takes a toll on us mentally (admittedly or not) and that, in turn, affects us physically, especially as we get older!
Mom rolled rather resiliently with every punch Life dealt her, during her last four years. Her faith in God’s love and ultimate plan never waivered. She told me once that she drew her strength from memories of her own mom and all the adversity that she had faced throughout her lifetime. Mom felt that her own hardships paled, by far, in comparison.
Having journaled almost every day since she was about 10 years old, Mom’s love of writing was especially therapeutic for her dementia in helping her remember things, particularly in her last couple of years. In as much as it was a form of therapy for her memories, it was also a natural reflex for her to relax, reflect and meditate. She was amazed to be able to remember her youth more clearly than the previous day’s events, and bewildered by the “old face” she saw in the mirror.
Mom liked to write about finding the blessings in any given day or moment; good and bad, alike. That’s just how she was raised, being grateful for something everyday – not just for Life’sgifts, but also for Life’schallenges; which she willingly confronted and overcame, empowering herself to do more rather than discouraging herself to fail.
MOM BELIEVED THAT THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR FAILURE – ONLY LESSONS AND FAITH!
‘There’s a powerful wisdom we don’t understand. It comes down to believing… To having faith.’ – Gloria Pitzer; as seen in… This Is Not A Cook Book! It’s Gloria Pitzer’s Food For Thought (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Oct. 1986, p. 60)
Even though Mom enjoyed being “Nana”, “Grandma”, and “Mom” a little while longer; it was still, in part, a heart-wrenching time for her, being without Dad. She told me that it’s not something you get over, you just learn to live with it. He was not only her husband, life partner, and co-parent of five kids; but he was also her best friend and business partner.
They were together for almost 60 years, especially after Mom’s copycat recipes business really took off, in 1976. That’s when Dad left his job at the sign company to manage the business end of things for Mom, while she handled the creative and promotional sides – at which point it literally became a day-in-and-day-out, 24/7 relationship!
While I was growing up, surrounded by and involved in the “dining-room-table, cottage operation”, I didn’t truly understand Mom’s deep-rooted love for all of it (like a mother has for her child). Until late in 2015, when I started collaborating with her to rewrite her self-published cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; May 1982), using my 3rd edition copy of her book from May 1983.
The original goal was to republish one of Mom’s cookbooks for a new multi-media generation, while creating another source of revenue for Mom, as she started a new phase of her life without Dad. Mom chose that cookbook because it was, basically, one of her most popular and also her personal favorite, coming off of the tidal wave of fame she had received from her FIRST appearance on the Phil Donahue Show, in 1981.
In as much as I have always loved to write, since I was a young girl, like Mom; I hadn’t done much creative writing for a couple decades. Consequently, when I started helping Mom rewrite her cookbook, it rekindled an old flame in me; because, as I’ve mentioned before, Mom’s cookbooks weren’t just full of recipes. They also contained a lot of her own creative writing, in food-for-thought articles and stories of inspiration.
For decades, Mom never wanted to let any of her books be published by an outside company because they always wanted to change her creations. But, as times changed, so did situations and attitudes. We couldn’t take the self-publishing route this time around. So we researched many companies and finally chose Balboa Press.
To our surprise, Balboa Press didn’t want to change very much of anything except a few of Mom’s original illustrations (containing the likeness of KFC’s “colonel”) and the book’s title! They said it too closely resembled The Betty Crocker Cookbook’s title. As I told them, it was supposed to, since the whole book was a parody of imitations! But they wouldn’t budge. There was a time, years ago, that Mom would’ve said, “Never! Not any of it!” to the changes.
When Balboa suggested calling the “new” book simply Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook, that just wasn’t good enough for us! Together, Mom and I came up with a shuffled version of the original, eliminating the words “Better Cookery”, altogether.
Thus, Gloria Pitzer’s Better Cookery Cookbook, having a secondary title of “Famous Foods from Famous Places – the Best of the Recipe Detective”, became Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – the Best of the Recipe Detective, with the secondary title, simply, “Famous Foods from Famous Places”.
The layout needed to be changed slightly because of the digital revolution and the printed format we chose for the final product. Plus, I had to scan all of Mom’s pictures and illustrations from the original book, of which she and I could only choose a dozen or so to go into the new revision. Additionally, we chose some parts of the original book to omit due to changes in information, lack of current relatability, or other such reasons. There was a lot of work involved!
One of Mom’s most favorite things in life, next to Dad (and us kids), was ALAWAYS to write. She also loved to mentor those who shared that love! Helping Mom rewrite the “revised rewrite” of her original book, put me in touch with her in a whole new way from what I had, while growing up! Even from what I had, after having children of my own.
Somewhere within that project, Mom’s “child” became like my own child, as I dedicated about two years of my life to its completion (when I wasn’t doing all the other work I needed to do). The cookbook went to print in early January 2018. When Mom heard the news, she said that one of the highlights of her life was that she was “kind of famous for a while!”
Mom passed away later that month, two weeks after her 82nd birthday, leaving behind a beautiful legacy of faith, love, generosity, humor and a wide range of artistic talents. I feel so lucky to have all of these memories of her and how she contributed toward the woman I am today.
REMINDER: NEXT MONDAY – May 24th – will be my LAST visit with Kathy Keene on her “Good Neighbor” show, at WHBY, as she will be retiring soon! I wish Kathy nothing but joy in her coming endeavors!
In honor of today, being National Cherry Cobbler Day, here are Mom’s “secret recipes” for Cake Mix Cobbler and Thin Vanilla Icing that I shared on the “Good Neighbor” show, with Kathy Keene last month! [As seen in… The Joy Of NOT Cooking – Any More Than You Have To (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Nov. 1983, p. 182).]
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…