Monthly Archives: January 2011


This wasn’t something I really thought of as a comfort food until Bob asked me if I could make up a batch of “those cinnamon rolls”. He wasn’t able to enjoy any of them when I made up several pans of cinnamon rolls for Christmas—but his health is improving a bit and he is making tentative baby steps towards eating real food again.

And here’s how I rediscovered this recipe for cinnamon rolls – I wanted to make up a pan of them for his son Robert and daughter in law, Dee, when they paid us a visit in December. Truthfully, I have been making cinnamon rolls with that frozen Bridgeford bread dough for about a decade or longer. It was a lot easier than making cinnamon rolls from scratch. But we were out of the frozen bread dough and I didn’t feel like making a trip to the supermarket. So I found my recipe for “those” cinnamon rolls and made up a batch and they were a huge hit. Last time I made them I had Bob get out the Kitchen Aide mixer which has a dough hook – and voila! It streamlines the recipe even more. These are SO good:

5-6 cups all purpose flour
2 packages dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 ½ cups hot tap water
2 large eggs at room temperature

Mix together 2 cups of flour, the dry yeast, sugar and salt; stir. Add softened butter and hot water and beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Then add the eggs, continue beating, scrape bowl often…and add enough flour to make a soft dough. Shape into a ball; knead 5-10 minutes (you can do something else if you have a dough hook! I wash up the dishes) Then cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes (I let it rest in the mixing bowl). After 20 minutes, punch down and roll into a rectangle. Spread with a little melted butter; sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and (if you like) raisins or chopped nuts. Roll up lengthwise and cut into 1” rolls.

The original recipe says to place them on a cookie sheet, close together. I use a very old favorite yellow baking pan that I spray with pam. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Next morning, let the pan come to room temperature and if it’s in a warm place, they will rise some more. Bake at 350 about 30 minutes. Drizzle with glaze if you like glaze on them (we do!). You can make a simple glaze with powdered sugar and water. I am partial to a glaze made with melted butter, powdered sugar and some water – and a little almond extract for extra flavor.

You can use this dough to make other things but we are very partial to cinnamon rolls. If you are feeding a bunch, they could be made smaller (I make very big cinnamon rolls!) . Thanks to niece Stephanie for requesting this.
We’ve been enjoying a lot of homemade tapioca, chocolate pudding – and (my favorite) flan. Flan, you may or may not know, can be made all in one dish, such as a deep dish pie baking dish – or if you don’t mind taking the time, you can make it in individual baking dishes. I have found SO many recipes for flan—but will only share with you what I have already tried and know that it works well. Flan, girlfriends, is a kind of custard. Most flan has a coating of carmelized sugar that is really easy to make but keep the kids away from the stove when you are doing this. Melted sugar is very hot and can easily burn. I divide the melted sugar among 5 or 6 little glass Pyrex baking dishes and let it cool. Meantime you make the flan itself, then pour it into the cups – and place them into a large pan of hot water to bake inside the oven. Well, another reason I found for using the small Pyrex dishes, I couldn’t find a baking pan large enough to hold any of my deep dish pie baking dishes.

To make a simple flan, you will need

1 large can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Carmelize* (melt) the cup of sugar in a pan (it will take about 10 minutes) and pour into the bottom of a Pyrex dish or 5 or 6 small Pyrex custard dishes. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour into the custard dishes over the carmelized sugar. In preheated oven cook the dessert about 35 minutes in a pan of water, until a toothpick inserted into the flan comes out clean. Let cool, then refrigerate. Well, this last part took a little learning. Loosen the chilled custard with a sharp knife. Then turn the custard dish over on a saucer and run some hot water over it briefly, to get the custard to plop out. It’s a beautiful dessert and oh-so-delicious. Probably not very low in calories.
I overbaked the first batch of flan that I made; keep an eye on it and if it looks baked, check to see if it’s done. I think the directions were based originally on flan being made in a large pie dish. The small custard dishes will cook a lot faster. (We ate the overbaked flan anyway).

*Carmelized sugar – is simply melted granulated sugar. If you cook it–I prefer a cast iron skillet but I dont know how many people still cook with these–until the sugar melts, it will turn a beautiful brown. Just be careful with it as melted sugar REALLY BURNS.

Happy Cooking!


Ceil Dyer is a native of Houston Texas. She is a home economist with a B.S. degree from Louisiana State. Her formative years were spent in the bayou country of Louisiana, where, she said, the art of living was esteemed, dining was a function and cooking was a pleasure, never a chore.

Ceil Dyer began her career as a food publicist for wine and food companies both here and in Europe. She was a food columnist for the JOURNAL-AMERICAN. Later, she wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “THE INSTANT GOURMET”, the first of its kind to combine quick cooking with gourmet-style food. Her book “WOK COOKERY” was another sensational first; in this best seller, she was the first to use a wok for both Occidental as well as Oriental recipes. “WOK COOKERY” has sold over 1.5 million copies.

Ceil Dyer is the author of more than 30 cookbooks. (My list is presently up to 31) and since biographical information has been somewhat difficult to come by, we’ll focus, this time, on the books written by her and see what we can be learned about the author from her books.

You may know her best from her book, “BEST RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLES, CANS, AND JARS” – which was, I believe, the first of its kind in this genre (there have been a number of copycats). “BEST RECIPES..” was a huge success and probably had a lot of publishers scratching their heads and wondering why no one else had thought to do this before!

‘This is in essence your book,” Ceil explains in the introduction. “Or, to put it more accurately, the cookbook you would have undoubtedly compiled if only you had time for the project. For here are the recipes you meant to save from that jar, can or box top, recipes you and your friends have asked for, a good number your mother’s generation requested, and even a few of your grandmother’s choices. Recipes you meant to save but didn’t, those from magazine ads you may have torn out intending to file away someday, but that someday never came. In short, here is the cookbook you have always wanted: a treasury of the very best efforts of America’s food producers…” I could readily relate—recipes on the back of Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa, Calumet baking powder, the box of cornmeal – may have been among the first recipes I tried making, when I was a child. Along with whatever I found in Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook!

Included in “Best Recipes…” are the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Party Cheese Ball, Chippy Cheese Ball from Frito-lay, Guacamole with Green chili Peppers, from the Avocado Advisory Board, (very similar to how I make my guacamole, for those who want to know), an assortment of Lipton California Dips (going strong since 1954), West Coast Broiled Flank Steak (made with fresh lemon juice), Horseradish Dressing (thanks to Hellman’s (or Best Foods) mayonnaise, Spanish Pot Roast (from Kraft—it uses a bottle of Kraft Catalina French Dressing and sounds worth rediscovering), Campbell’s Best Ever Meat Loaf (a recipe from their 1916 cookbook “Help for the Hostess”!) and oh, so many more! As I scan the pages, I realize that many of my favorites are in “BEST RECIPES…” and they are all worthy of rediscovery! “BEST RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLES, CANS AND JARS” was published in 1979, over 30 years ago, and is still going strong. Another curious discovery – Ceil Dyer included a recipe in “BEST RECIPES…” for Hershey’s Red Velvet Cocoa Cake! I searched (diligently, I thought) some years ago for the origin of Red Velvet Cake, and never was able to pin it down. Ceil says that “In the thirties, money was scarce and luxuries were few. No wonder this economy-minded cake recipe from Hershey’s Cocoa was a favorite then…”

Also included with the cake recipes is Hellman’s (Best Foods) Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake and Orange Kiss-Me Cake, which was a Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner in 1950.

Skimming through “BEST RECIPE…” other favorite recipes include the original Caesar Salad (created at Caesar’s Bar and Grill in Tijuana, Mexico, just past San Diego, California), the original Vanilla “Philly” frosting, Heavenly Hash (remember that?), Magic Cookie Bars from Eagle Brand Condensed Milk (also known as Hello, Dolly’s and Seven Layer Bars), and Magic French Fudge (one of my favorite candy recipes). This is one of those little books that frequently turns up in used book stores and book sales – if you don’t have a copy, you’re missing out.

Ceil Dyer struck pay dirt again when she wrote “THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK”, published by Delacorte Press in 1977.

There is something you may not know about me. I have been fascinated with anything related to the White House since I was in my early 20s, and have amassed a fairly respectable collection of what I loosely refer to as my “White House” collection. (This from someone who nearly flunked American History in high school!) These books take up most of one bookcase in my bedroom and include my “White House related” cookbooks, along with Congressional Club cookbooks (an incomplete collection; it isn’t all that easy finding all of them). All of my American presidents’ books fill a bookcase in our newly built garage library, and all of my first ladies’ biographies and autobiographies are on shelves behind the presidents.

At any rate, “THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK” was one of those books I just had to have for my collection.

Ceil Dyer was a natural to write this particular book; she was a southern lady, herself, and lived not too very far from Plains, Georgia. She was able to talk with many members of the Carter family, some of whom helped her with the book.

Despite the fact that Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States, the Carters returned to their home in Plains, Georgia at the end of his presidency. Jimmy Carter became involved in diplomatic ventures and he and his wife, Rosalynn both became active in projects such as Habitat for Humanity. To date, according to Google, former President Carter has written 37 books, including “AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT/Memories of a Rural Boyhood”, published in 2001. He and his wife Rosalynn co-authored a book in 1987, titled “Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of your Life”. Rosalynn Carter hasn’t been a slouch, either – shortly after they returned to their hometown, she wrote “FIRST LADY FROM PLAINS”, published in 1984. The reason I mention all of this is simply that, there probably hasn’t been another president in my lifetime who was more “a president of the people” than Jimmy Carter. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they opened their hearts and homes to Ceil Dyer, sharing family recipes.

To learn what Jimmy Carter’s favorite foods were, Ceil had to go to Rosalynn Carter. The former president is one of those people, like saying goes, who eats to live. (whereas some of us live to eat). The 39th President does like fresh vegetables, his first choice being eggplant prepared just about any way from Southern fried to casseroles. He also likes butternut squash, butter beans, vine-ripe tomatoes (ummm, me too) and fresh corn.

“THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK” is replete with recipes, including a Christmas Day menu.

In 1972, Ceil Dyer published what I consider to be her finest cookbook with a historical twist. Weathervane Books published “THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK.”

Ceil Dyer worked with the Preservation Society of Newport County in researching and writing “THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK” which is a history lesson in Rhode Island – with recipes. It begins with its famous founder, Roger Williams who was welcomed by the Indians and invited to a meal of boiled fish and succotash. Ever since, Ceil assures us, boiled fish of some kind, often mackerel or herring—along with that classic mixture of corn and beans, — has been a favorite Rhode Island menu.

“THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK” is replete with recipes, old photographs, drawings, and history, capturing Newport from its colonial days and its life as a great seaport, to its glamorous age as the “Queen of American Resorts”. This, too, is a fun cookbook to read!

However, I am inclined to think that it has been Ceil Dyer’s “workhorse” cookbooks that have gained the greatest respect for decades. Read Books such as “EATING WELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING”, “THE QUICK GOURMET”, “CHICKEN COOKERY”, “THE PLAN-AHEAD COOKBOOK” “THE PERFECT DINNER PARTY COOKBOOK” or “THE AFTER WORK ENTERTAINING COOKBOOK” and you will surely see what I mean. So many of these books were written and published over 30 years ago, but they have all stood the test of time and would be valuable additions to anyone’s cookbook collection. The recipes are well-chosen with what I think of as “basic” or “scratch” ingredients. You won’t find a can of condensed soup or a box mix. This is not intended as a criticism of cookbooks or recipes that do call for a can of condensed soup or a box mix. What I merely want to point out, is that convenience foods come and go, and what is available on your supermarket shelves today might not be there tomorrow (or ten years down the road). So many convenience products of 25-30 years ago simply aren’t available anymore. That’s the importance of cookbooks that use all “scratch” ingredients, because the basics – onion, spices, sugar, flour, cornstarch and so on, will always be with us. And you may discover, as I have recently, that learning to make some things from scratch is infinitely tastier than a frozen or packaged mix. I have been making a strawberry sauce and a decadent chocolate pudding “from scratch” and the lesson that I have learned is simply this; nothing can really replace “homemade”.

One of Ceil Dyer’s best books on this very subject is “THE BACK TO COOKING COOKBOOK” which explains how to save time and money by not using chemical-laden, prepared, canned, precooked, dehydrated, convenience foods. In the very beginning of “THE BACK TO COOKING COOKBOOK” Ceil Dyer states: “The French maintain that American cuisine is based on canned soup.” She goes on to say that it’s fast becoming a fact—and this was written in 1970. Over 40 years ago! “Shopping carts,” Ceil laments, “are filled for the most part with cake mixes, icing mixes, bottled salad dressing, packaged cookies, ‘instant’ rice, no-cook puddings, canned sauces and soups, soups, and more soups. These last to be used as base for every conceivable dish….” Ceil goes on to explain that home cooked meals made from honest ingredients are far less expensive, taste better and are more nutritious than those made from ersatz concoctions. (This reminds me, a while back, my sister called to ask me how to make Taco seasoning. She had forgotten to buy “Taco seasoning” at the store. I had a recipe, read it off to her over the telephone – and she was pleasantly surprised. “It was just as good as,” she exclaimed. One weekend I was at my sister’s and we did a little grocery shopping. I noticed that taco seasoning was on sale and pointed it out. My sister replied, “I make my own from scratch all the time now with that recipe you gave to me.”

In the Introduction to “EATING WELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING”, Ceil Dyer explains, “the first principle of eating well for less is to cook what’s in season, plentiful and therefore cheaper, and to cook what’s on hand…” What bemuses me, most, reading those lines is that I have read them, repeatedly, being quoted from various famous chefs throughout the country. “Learn to shop,” Ceil advises, “as the Europeans do. First shop your own kitchen—what’s on hand, what’s left over that might be used; then and only then do your shopping, not with a preconceived menu but first to see what’s best, freshest and cheapest in the market place.”

Ceil Dyer’s cookbooks will make you the Queen of Homemade.

Cookbooks by Ceil Dyer:


I don’t have publishing dates for the following:


Happy Cooking & Happy cookbook reading!

-Sandra Lee Smith


A few years ago, a girlfriend and I were in an antique store when I came across a “vintage” bib apron, perhaps 1940s, – and fell in love.

“Could you make something like this for me?” I asked my girlfriend, who sews (I don’t sew. I cook. We can’t all do everything!)

She said she could, and she did–and now I have three of these big aprons, with big roomy pockets and I am seldom without one.

I found myself re-discovering aprons and wondering why, when you watch the chefs on the Food Network – none of them ever wears an apron! (I have ruined many a blouse or dress from cooking sans an apron–but these days you’ll seldom find me without one.

The aprons of my childhood bring to mind the voluminous ones worn by my Grandma Schmidt, who was as round as she was tall. Her dresses reached her ankles and her aprons were equally long and wide with huge pockets. I discovered, a few years ago, how handy aprons with pockets are when you go out to check the tomatoes in the garden and find yourself with handfuls of ripe tomatoes and no basket to put them into. The apron pockets work well. I also fill the pockets with clothespins when I am hanging linens or sheets on the clothesline. (Yes, some of us do still hang things on the line-but that’s another story).

Years ago, people didn’t have wardrobes the size of ours, today–and aprons, which could be easily washed, protected good dresses which might not have all been washable (never mind that everything had to be ironed too–perma-press hadn’t been invented yet) . I think the only times I ever saw Grandma without an apron were when she was going downtown (plus hat, dressy shoes, her handbag, and stockings) or to church. My mother also wore aprons but most of the ones in which she was photographed, were the half-size aprons. I, myself, need a bib apron because the spills and splashes usually land somewhere on my chest.

Aprons have a respectably long history, too – the earliest mention of an apron is in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve discovered they were naked and fashioned aprons from fig leaves. In the middle ages aprons became especially well known, as European craftsmen wore aprons as part of their everyday garments–old paintings of blacksmiths invariably picture them wearing a big old leather apron of some kind. I remember, as a child, the big white (well, originally it was white) aprons worn by the butcher in the butcher stores where my grandma went to buy a chicken or a cut of beef. There are also aprons used by carpenters which have many pockets to hold necessary tools. (hmmm, I think I would like to have one like that).

The apron worn in the kitchen was a fixture for more than a century, until the late 1970s–when it seems to have disappeared from our culinary landscape. Perhaps it has something to do with the perfect housewife image portrayed by the fifties–you know, “Father knows Best” and mother is always pictured wearing an apron with a wooden spatula in one hand, standing over the stove (Shades of Ozzie and Harriet?) Then women became liberated and burned not only their bras but also their aprons.

I always had a few aprons but they had been relegated to a seldom used linen drawer. Now, I have aprons within easy reach on several hangers on doors in the kitchen and I am not in the least embarrassed to be seen wearing one. (Some of them are really quite stylish, I think – and I love the pockets. Along with clothespins and Kleenex, I am usually carrying around my cell phone and digital camera).

For Christmas, my penpal/friend/and computer guru, Wendy, sent me two wonderful very retro looking aprons. Then my penpal Bev brought me a neat apron that she bought on a recent trip to Alaska – it has chocolate moose all over the print – and then her daughter brought me a new very-valentine-ish apron when she visited. Four new aprons in one year…can life get any better than this?

And not long ago I discovered a really great website dedicated to aprons after it was written about in the Los Angeles Times. Everything old is new again! I love it.

I am still mystified, however – how do all those people on the Food Network manage to cook entire meals (without wearing an apron) and without getting any of it on themselves?

For a couple of good apron websites:

And, if you Google “aprons” you will find a whole lot more!

Happy cooking!



January 23, 2011

One of the first cookbooks that I read by Nika Hazelton was something titled, “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974. It was one of the first cookbooks that I found in which the author had skillfully woven memoir with recipes—and I was charmed. I was also hooked and wanted to learn more about Nika Hazelton. I began searching for her cookbooks.

Researching a cookbook author is not always an easy task—years ago, very little biographical information about cookbook authors was provided by the publishers. Today, any well-known cookbook author (such as James Beard, Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, to name a few), has biographies written about them and the publisher usually provides a fairly substantial background bio on the book jacket. This wasn’t the case with cookbooks published decades ago. But when the collection of recipes is also a memoir, much can be gleaned from within the pages of the book, and not just from the dust jacket.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Nika Hazelton was born in Rome, (German father, Roman mother), grew up in Switzerland, and received her schooling in England. Nika studied under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics. She spent her early years traveling to the capitals of Europe with her father, who was a German diplomat.

In 1935, Nika made her home in the United States. She was considered an expert in the food of many countries. Nika began writing cookbooks during World War II, and at least seven of those books were on European cuisine. In addition to writing cookbooks, Nika was editor of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Food and she wrote for virtually every major magazine, including The New Yorker, Family Circle, Vogue and Virginia Quarterly. . She also had a monthly column in The National Review and was a regular contributor to The New York Times. In addition, Nika was an editorial writer for Harper’s Bazaar, covering food stories. (With all the writing that she did for various magazines, it’s a wonder she found time to write cookbooks as well!).

One of her earliest books, “THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY” was first published in 1949 by Doubleday & Company under the name of Nika Standen. Other books were published under the name of Nika Standen Hazelton and, later, just Nika Hazelton.

A clue to the type of cook she was can be found in the Introduction to “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN”, published in 1985. “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was not intended to be a cookbook for beginners. She lets you know from the onset that she assumes, if you have bought and are reading this book, you know something about cooking. She also explains that she likes simple foods made with the best ingredients available. Nika Hazelton was definitely a no-nonsense type of cook!

She used only freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the finest Tuscan olive oil (although she admitted to frying with peanut oil). She preferred butter over margarine for the simple reason that it tasted better. Nika never worried about cholesterol since she didn’t like fatty or greasy foods anyway and she removed all fat from meats and poultry (except when roasting a chicken!).

Nika said that she used few herbs and spices in her cooking because she disliked the flavor of too many herbs in one dish. “To my taste,” she wrote, I prefer to taste either basil or thyme or marjoram or sage or whatever in one dish rather than a combination of herbs.” However, she admitted to being less rigid with combinations of spices.

Nika wrote that she made cakes the old fashioned way, from scratch. She described her kitchen as being furnished with basic equipment, which included a KitchenAid mixer to mix, a Cuisinart to mince, a rotary peeler to peel and a small mandolin to cut transparent slices of potatoes and cucumbers. She writes, “My kitchen also sports a couple of balloon whisks, wooden spoons, good knives, and a very sharp pair of scissors, as well as the standard paraphernalia of measuring cups, mixing bowls, measuring spoons and so forth…”

She explains that she lived in the city and didn’t have much kitchen space, so she kept only bare essentials on hand in the pantry and said that she used very few canned foods (tomatoes, chickpeas and beans). Simplicity was Nika’s keyword throughout this introduction and to explain this philosophy, she said that she liked to keep things simple, possibly because throughout her life she had to cook for a family as well as professionally. Consequently, Nika adopted (to quote her), a “somewhat dispassionate” view of cooking—which may be a far cry from the themes of most professional cooks and cookbook authors. Generally, we expect a high level of enthusiasm from our cookbook authors! On the other hand, “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was published in 1985 and the dear lady had been cooking and writing by this time for quite a few decades. Although I still haven’t determined the date of her birth we do know that she came to the United States in 1935 and wrote a number of cookbooks during World War II.

At the time of writing “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974, the author was living on Riverside Drive in New York City, with her husband, with a view that looked over the green trees of Riverside Park and the Hudson River. This kitchen is also described as small and utilitarian. The author says, “It is by no means a display kitchen where I celebrate with imported cookware or run a cooking school. Nor,” she adds, “is it a family kitchen where the folks gather for warmhearted meals. Family meals with children,” she admonishes, “are horrible, yet children have to eat with their betters, as parents were called in a less permissive age, to learn at least a modicum of table manners…”

Nika thought teen-age meals no less awful, “Since fights lie beneath the surface. My children have known all this from early childhood, and even now when we have lived through a family meal, we all say: ‘Thank God, all has gone off well.”

Her kitchen in “I COOK AS I PLEASE” is described as having black Formica counters, a butcher block top and pine cabinets that got waxed three times a year, “and that,” she proclaims, “is it, even in dirty New York.” She describes the contents of cabinets and drawers in this kitchen, with “ironed towels done by the laundry because ironed kitchen towels are nice and life is too short to iron them…” This drawer also contained her aprons because it had been a hard and fast rule in her mother’s kitchen to wear an apron. Another drawer is described as holding “the flotsam and jetsam of kitchen life: Hungarian pastry brushes made from goose feathers, frames for making chocolate leaves, rubber bands, candles for blackouts, bottle tops with artistic design on top given to me by a five-year-old child as a token of her affection, fondue forks, scallop shells, measuring tapes, and a collection of never-consulted food leaflets, including one on how to make cheese at home…”
(This, from a woman who wrote an entire cookbook about cheese!).

She didn’t have a dishwasher—this woman who had a laundry service to iron her dishtowels—and said she could live without one since she didn’t find dishwashing nasty, “whereas,” Nika proclaims, “I find making beds nasty…”

“As I wash up, under running hot water” she explains, “I muse about any number of subjects. Dishwashing is much better for musing than lying in one’s bath or in bed….” (To which I have to agree. But I have to say, I don’t iron dishtowels, nor are they done at a laundry!)

Nika confessed that cookbooks were another one of the subjects she mused about as she washed dishes, and she writes an entire chapter about cookbooks in “I Cook As I Please”—she comments, quite rightly I think, that “cookbooks are mostly bought as escape literature, not to cook from…” Well, I don’t agree with Nika last sentence but perhaps that is how she felt about too many cookbooks in the 1970s. Of all the Hazelton cookbooks in my possession, “I COOK AS I PLEASE” remains my favorite.

Nika Standen Hazelton is the author (or co-author) of the following cookbooks:

• REMIISCENCE AND RAVIOLI, 1946, William Morrow & Co.
• THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY, (published under the name of Nika Standen) Doubleday & Company, 1949
• CLASSIC SCANDINAVIAN COOKING, 1965, 1987 Galahad Books
• THE SWISS COOKBOOK, 1967 Atheneum Publishers
• HOUSE OF INDIA COOKBOOK, 1967, co-authored with Syed Abdullah.
• DINNER AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE, 1972, by Charles Oliver FORWARD by Nika Hazelton
• I COOK AS I PLEASE, 1974, Grosset & Dunlap
• NIKA HAZELTON’S WAY WITH VEGETABLES, 1976 , republished 1995 by Castle Books
• AMERICAN HOME COOKING, 1980, Viking Press
• NIKA HAZELTON’S PASTA COOKBOOK, 1984, Ballantine Books
• THE COOKING OF GERMANY (Food of the World Series)
• LA CUISINE BY R. OLIVIER (translator and editor)
• THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM COOKBOOK (co author Faith Stewart-Gordon)
• COOKIES AND BREADS; THE BAKER’S ART co-authored with Ilse Johnson and Ferdinand Boesch
• INGREDIENTS COOK’S* co-authored with Adrian Bailey and Philip Dowell (illustrator)

Like I have so many other times with other cookbook authors, I Googled Nika Standen Hazelton to see if I could find some biographical information. I did.

Nika Hazelton, Whose Cookbooks Influenced U.S. Tastes, Dies at 84
Published: April 17, 1992
Nika Hazelton, whose cookbooks have been a mainstay of serious cooks for nearly half a century, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 84 years old and lived in Manhattan.
She died of natural causes after a lingering illness, said her son, Dr. S. A. Standen, who lives in London.
Mrs. Hazelton, the daughter of a German diplomat, was born in Rome, attended school there, and studied at the London School of Economics. She began her career as a reporter in 1930, covering the League of Nations for the German Press Association and then moving on to freelance work.
After marrying and emigrating to the United States in 1940, she began writing cookbooks with recipes culled primarily from home cooks throughout Europe and South America.
She published 30 books and they reflected her firm, no-nonsense taste in food. “American Home Cooking” (Bobbs Merrill, 1967), “French Home Cooking” (Viking Penguin, 1979,) “International Cookbook” (Harper & Row, 1967) and “The Italian Cookbook (Henry Holt, 1979) remain standards.
She was also a frequent contributor to the major food magazines and for several decades wrote a column about food, wine and travel for The National Review.
As cooking became trendy and precious in the United States, she seemed to raise a speculative eyebrow. Facing a group of wine writers in New York several years ago, Mrs. Hazelton waved aside questions about white truffles and little-known family vineyards. “I’m here to show you a meal from Tuscany that has the virtue of not being too expensive and not taking much genius or fuss to prepare,” she informed her audience and proceeded to demonstrate the proper way to make escarole and rice soup.

Her first marriage ended in divorce in 1954. She married Harold Hazelton in 1956. He died in November.
Mrs. Hazelton is survived by two sons, Dr. Standen and J. O. Standen, a lawyer in San Francisco, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 P.M. on April 28 at St. Agnes Church on East 43d Street in Manhattan.

Correction: April 18, 1992, Saturday An obituary yesterday about the cookbook author Nika Hazelton misstated the day of her death and the date of a memorial service. She died on Wednesday, and the service will be on April 27, at 3 P.M., at the Church of St. Agnes, 141 East 43d Street, in Manhattan

I have to tell you, I was bemused to read about her comment to the group of wine writers, as indicated above in her obituary. That is so Nika.

*The obituary credits Ms. Hazelton with writing 30 cookbooks. Possibly they weren’t including the cookbooks she co-authored.

–Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook reading!
Sandra Lee Smith


She first came to my attention with the acquisition of her book, “COOKS, GLUTTONS & GOURMETS,” published in 1962. I was writing “PEEK INTO THE PAST” at the time for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange.

“This is the first and only book,” claim Doubleday, the publishers, “which traces the history of cookery from the days of primitive man up to the present day of the Four Seasons Restaurant and gourmet supermarkets…”

Since I now have nearly two bookcases full of books on the history of food – I wondered – is it true? Was Betty Wason first to explore, in depth, this fascinating subject? I’ve been going through my collection, checking publication dates – and so far haven’t found any that precede 1962. Interesting!

“COOKS, GLUTTONS & GOURMETS” is packed with culinary history. It opens with a description of feasts in ancient Greece – inspired, no doubt, by Betty’s visit there during World War II. She covers the subject of cookery in the Far and Near East, all of Europe, and the New World. The last four chapters of this book are devoted to the United States—from Thomas Jefferson to the Harvey Girls and Betty Crocker. (It seems to me that almost all American food historians have had something to say about Betty Crocker!).

But “COOKS, GLUTTONS & GOURMETS” is only one of more than two dozen books written by Elizabeth Wason Hall, whose pen name was Betty Wason. Her writing versatility stretched from cookbooks to a book about the Greek resistance during World War II, to a book published in 1999 about macular degeneration. If my calculations are correct, Betty Wason has been publishing books for 56 years!

Betty Wason was born and grew up in Delphi, Indiana, in 1912 where she studied classical violin and painting. She eventually enrolled in Purdue University hoping to become a dress designer. Wason graduated from Purdue in 1933 with the Great Depression in full swing. Work was not easy to come by and she settled on a job selling yard goods in the basement of Ayres Department Store in Indianapolis. giving cooking lessons for a utility company, and then working as an itinerant cooking teacher throughout Kentucky towns. Later, her first experience broadcasting experience was gained conducting a radio program for women in Lexington, Kentucky. Eventually, she moved to New York, where she became an assistant food editor at McCall’s Magazine.

“I was young and wanted to see the world. I had no money, so I decided I would become a journalist,” she said in a 1997 interview

“Long before I was old enough to handle saucepans,” Betty writes in “COOKING WITHOUT CANS”, “I used to stand around in fascination watching Mother tossing up delectable dishes and begged to be allowed to try my hand at the game. My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating. And so my quest became one of finding new and exotic blends of flavor, and on bright Sunday afternoons when other girls were probably playing with paper dolls, I plunged into old cook books and read of strange combinations of foods, and revelled (sic) in imagined taste thrills.”

Betty’s first trip to Europe was as a free-lance journalist with credentials from Transradio Press; her first connection with Columbia Broadcasting System, at the time of the Nazi invasion of Norway, was as its staff correspondent in Stockholm. Later, she became correspondent as well to NEWSWEEK.

Between trips to Europe, Betty joined the research staff of the New York Newspaper PM, which was then in organization, and she planned the paper’s food page. Returning to Europe in the winter of 1939, she abandoned cooking and recipes to cover a long series of War fronts, from Finland and Norway down to the Balkans. “Betty Wason first became known to many Americans as the CBS correspondent, who always managed to be on the spot when headlines were being made in World War II,” claims one of her publishers.

Between the summers of 1938 and 1941, Betty Wason covered virtually every country in Europe, managing to be on hand where ever major journalistic events “broke”: Czechoslovakia during the Munich crisis and after, Vienna for the first post Munich conference; Hungary during the occupation of Slovakia; Rumania at the time of Codreanu’s execution; Yugoslavia during its Orthodox Christmas celebrations; Rome during Chamberlain’s visit to Mussolini; Paris during the end of the Spanish Civil War; Italy during the early part of the Second World War…..and the list goes on and on. (from the dust jacket of “Miracle In Hellas”). Betty Wason was on her way to Norway after the Nazi invasion began. Her cross into Norway was anything but routine. She eluded border guards and hitched a ride in a truck across the mountainous terrain where she hid in the woods to wait out an air raid. She interviewed numerous wounded British soldiers and found out just how poorly the Allied defense had gone. She returned to Stockholm and her broadcast by hitching rides and walking. But none of that mattered to the bosses at CBS. Despite her daring hard work they still asked her to find a man to read her copy. She left Sweden in the spring of 1940 in search of the next big story, she soon ended up in Greece after short stops in the Balkans and Istanbul. With an expected Italian invasion of Greece on the horizon CBS again hired Wason. She also started stringing for Newsweek during this time. In October 1940 Italian forces began to move into Greece, a cable came from CBS: “Find male American broadcast 4U.” Though CBS saw her gender as an impediment Wason strove on. During her six months in Greece her voice on the radio, Phil Brown, a secretary at the American embassy, introduced each broadcast with, “This is Phil Brown in Athens, speaking for Betty Wason.” Wason remained in Athens through the winter of 1940 and refused to leave the next spring, April 1941, as German air attacks ramped up in Greece’s capital. When the Nazis took Athens, Wason was stuck in the city for several weeks. Though America still remained “neutral” in the war Wason was kept, along with several other reporters, by the Germans who refused to allow anyone to broadcast. Eventually Wason left Athens on a Lufthansa plane bound for Vienna. Also on the plane were Wes Gallagher of the Associated Press and George Weller of the Chicago Daily News. Once in Vienna the Gestapo detained the entire group under suspected espionage. Soon the male reporters were released but Wason was kept another week for, according to her, “reasons never divulged except that the police wanted to know more about me.” When a CBS executive intervened, the Gestapo released her. She had married a Mr. Hall by 1943. On her return to the United States, Wason was inundated with interview requests, lecture requests and press attention. She recalled, “Everyone made a fuss over me but CBS,” Wason wrote. “When I went to see (news director) Paul White, he dismissed me with, ‘You were never one of our regular news staff.’ Then what, I wondered, had I been doing for CBS all that time in Greece?”

Wason authored 24 books after leaving CBS, mostly about one of her long time favorite hobbies, cooking, though her most successful book was her 1942 story “Miracle in Hellas: The Greeks Fight On”. She wrote that the book “was a resounding success. But the tough struggle to make it as a woman correspondent, ending with the cruel rebuff by CBS, cooled my desire for more overseas war reporting.”

In 1998, at age 86, Wason wrote about macular degeneration, an affliction which stole most of her eyesight and rendered her legally blind. Macular Degeneration: Living Positively with Vision Loss was written, in part, with a grant from the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.

In the Introduction to “COOKING WITHOUT CANS”, published by Smith & Durrell, Inc., in 1943, she explains, in part, “This recipe book has been prepared in the hope that it will inspire the artists in the kitchen to turn their skills to the creation of new and savory dishes, not only overriding the bugaboo of wartime shortages, but perhaps even paving the way for a new era in American cuisine.

Many of the recipes,” she continues, “listed in the pages which follow have been adopted from peasant dishes of various European countries—recipes learned during the course of travels during the years 1938-1941, in countries either on the precipice of war, or already plunged into conflict, where rationing was often far more severe than any this country has yet to suffer.

In occupied Greece, where I was forced to remain during the first two months of German occupation, we had to pound our own salt out of rock crystals, substitute grape dextrose for sugar (when we could get grape dextrose), dried chick peas for coffee, and a bricklike hunk of what tasted like gravy sawdust for bread. Our only fats were inferior olive oil, rationed to approximately eight ounces a month, and occasionally, white ‘sheep’s butter’ – mutton fat. There was virtually no meat. Yet we had meals, and some of them were surprisingly good….”

If the title, “COOKING WITHOUT CANS” piques your curiosity, it should be noted that the American food industry had worked diligently, prior to World War II, to convince American housewives that the easiest way to prepare anything began with opening up a can. You want soup “just like mama used to make?” open a can of condensed soup and add water—voila, ‘homemade’ soup. As a matter of fact, I think my own mother was one of those completely brainwashed by the food industry. The only fresh vegetables or fruit we ever had were potatoes, carrots, celery, and in the summertime, an occasional watermelon or cantaloupe. Everything else came out of a can. So, along came the War – and the tin used by the food industry for tin cans was, like almost everything else, needed for the War effort. Tin cans were melted down and cast into solid metal “pigs” for re-using in the war industry. (James Trager, author of “The Food Chronology” notes, in 1943, “U.S. housewives wash and flatten tins for recycling: one less tin can per week per family will save enough tin and steel to build 5,000 tanks or 38 Liberty Ships…”). On a personal level, I remember how we rinsed out the cans, removed the labels, opened both ends of the tin can, and then flattened it. It’s one of the very few things I actually do remember about the War years.

Consequently, canned goods were restricted, although home-canned fruits and vegetables were not. (During peak war years, an estimated 20 million Victory gardens were growing in the USA, producing over a third of the vegetables available in this country). For the duration of the War, American women would have to learn “COOKING WITHOUT CANS”, which was, I believe, Betty Wason’s first cookbook.

“DINNERS THAT WAIT”, published in 1954, may have been Betty Wason’s second cookbook. I happened to find a paperback copy of “DINNERS THAT WAIT” in a used book store some time ago. Not only was I delighted to find something else written by Ms. Wason – it only cost a dollar! This little book is aimed at “every hostess who feels that her guests, as well as her meal, should be enjoyed…” The solution, offered in “DINNERS THAT WAIT” was a collection of main dishes that were delay proof, that could be prepared hours or days in advance. Again, the author draws on her European exposure, offering recipes such as Moussaka, that she learned to make from Greek friends, Smorgasbord, and – everybody’s favorite, Kidneys with Mustard sauce. “It’s too bad,” notes the author, “kidneys are so little appreciated in this country. When properly prepared, they are superb, worthy of the most discriminating palate….”

One of the best features of this little book is that it provides step by step directions—literally—right down to Step 5: Set table. Put water and coffee in pot. Get dressed. This would be a great cookbook, even today, for young women who are unaccustomed to entertaining. (I think I will try Intoxicated Pork or the Chicken Tetrazzini the next time it’s my turn to host a dinner party at my house).

In 1963, Doubleday & Company would publish “THE ART OF SPANISH COOKING” by Betty Wason . She notes, “I thought I knew so much about Spain that I could, if I wished, write a book about Spanish cooking, based simply on the many Spanish cookbooks in my own library. Fortunately, a little nagging worry beset me. I should really visit Spain before writing about the country. So I did. I made a speedy eight hour flight to Madrid on a TWA jet, and I traveled over as much of the country as I could cover in a month’s time, eating, eating, eating, wherever I went….” Betty’s nine-year-old daughter, Ellen, accompanied her mother to Spain, offering her candid view of Spanish food. The Introduction to “THE ART OF SPANISH COOKING” provides a capsulized history of the history of Spanish food that I think you would find interesting. I was particularly intrigued with what she had to say about olives, olive oil, and sherry.

“Sherry,” writes Betty, “is a mysterious and unique wine. Its history goes back to antiquity. The Phoenicians brought the first grapevines to the area where all the world’s supply of true sherry is still produced, and they named the city Xera…Whether the wine produced in Roman times was the same as the sherry of today no one knows; however, after the vineyards had been destroyed by the phylloxera disease in 1894, new disease resistant vines were brought from the United States to be planted in Jerez, and lo and behold the wine was the same as ever….”

The entire book is written in this style, recipes and history stirred together to create a banquet of Spanish cooking. It is exactly the kind of book that cookbook readers enjoy.

In 1966, Galahad Books published Betty Wason’s “ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHEESE & CHEESE COOKERY”, which is presented as her 11th book. The publishers note, “She has written extensively about travel and world affairs, and served as a CBS correspondent in Greece during the German occupation in 1941. Her articles have appeared in VOGUE, HOUSE & GARDEN, HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, ATLANTIC MONTHLY and AMERICAN HOME”. At the time “ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHEESE” was published, Betty was also a consultant to the Spanish Oil Institute and other firms.”

“THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHEESE” is divided, (similarly to The Everything Cookbook that would come a few years later), into four parts. Part I – the Wonders of Cheese, offers an armchair history of cheese, while Part II is a Glossary of the World’s Cheeses. Part III explains how to serve cheese (there is a Cheese Etiquette, in case you didn’t know), and Part IV – Cheese in the Kitchen – presents us with recipes that range from cheese soups to cheesecakes.

“All my life I have been a cheese lover,” writes Betty, “but until I did the research for this book, I had no idea cheese was such a complex and fascinating subject…but the only way for anyone to really learn about cheese is to taste it….”

Once again, it becomes evident that Betty’s prior exposure to other places and other things provided some of the inspiration for yet another book. She explains, “My passionate interest in archaeology provided to be a further help in delving into the early history of cheese-making, for in several museums in Spain I saw tools of cheese-making dating from the Bronze Age, and in archaeology books, in my library plus translations of the classic Greek and Roman writers, I came across many interesting anecdotes about cheese in ancient times…”

Curiously, “A SALUTE TO CHEESE”, published the same year but by Hawthorn Books, is identical to “ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHEESE & CHEESE COOKERY”! I was so pleased when I found a copy of the former in a used bookstore, complete with dust jacket, for only $6.00. It was only after I got home and began leafing through the pages that I realized it was the same book, recipe for recipe, page by page. Both books were also published in 1966. (One can only guess at the reason why the same book was published by two different publishers at the same time. Perhaps one of the two cost less than the other?)

In 1967, Doubleday & Company published “THE ART OF GERMAN COOKING” by Betty Wason. Again, she visited the country. “Like most Americans today,” she writes, “I chose to fly to Germany in order to spend all my available time in the country itself, using the speedy transatlantic services of Trans World Airlines between New York and Frankfurt. Later, taking a cruise on the North German Lloyd’s luxurious new motor ship Europa, I realized how lovely it would be to have the leisure once again to cross the Atlantic by ship. At least, during the Caribbean cruise, I was able to talk with Chef Herbert Burmeister several times and to get from him recipes for some of the superb German specialties served on the Europa….” Betty describes the Germany she visited in the mid 1960s, but recalls, “It was in the late thirties, on the eve of World War II, when I visited Germany the first time as a journalist. During the Hitler era, elegance was frowned upon, at least for the people as a whole. The women were not permitted to use make-up and their clothes looked as if they had been designed to make every woman as dowdy and shapeless as possible…I was in German twice during the war years, before Pearl Harbor, and again in 1950 I visited Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart when those cities still had the rubble of aerial bombardments cluttering their streets and most shops offered only the barest necessities of life. To visit the richly prosperous, gay West Germany of today (1960s) is almost like seeing another country altogether. One is staggered by the change…”

She notes that for her, the most revealing things about people are found in little things. She says she always loved wandering through markets looking at the foods on display as a way of learning what kinds of foods go into home cooking. She also explains that one of the most difficult things about studying German cuisine was the language. “I once had the naïve idea that Germans all spoke the same language” she writes. She goes on to explain the differences—which reminded me of a conversation I once had with my German grandmother. Many different German foods and recipes are called by different names, depending on the region. Betty explains many of these differences. In this book, she presents a cross-section of recipes from the German cuisine of today (that is, in the 1960s) with new specialties born of today’s prosperity and old favorites which reflect the customs and traditions of another age.

“THE ART OF GERMAN COOKING” offers a great deal of history, along with recipes. I decided to quote Betty on the subject of sauerkraut, since this particular topic was discussed at my cousin Dan’s 4th of July cookout one holiday. (I make sauerkraut every few years, and can it. My cousin loves it so I keep him and his wife supplied. My cousin’s brother in law informed us that he learned how to cook sauerkraut while in Berlin and so knows the best way. I said oh, I just cook it with bratwurst. (I cook it pretty much the same way my mother did. We always have mashed potatoes and creamed peas along with it).

Betty writes, “After my recent gastronomic tour of West Germany, I concluded that one cannot dismiss sauerkraut simply as a vegetable. It is part of the German way of life.

Yet until the Mongol (or Tartar) hordes swept into Eastern Europe in the 13th century, sauerkraut was unknown in Germany. According to legend, at least, it was the Chinese who invented the dish, during the building of the Great Wall when the coolies were fed from barrels of cabbage preserved in sour rice wine. Salt was too precious to use then; wine (or vinegar) was cheaper. The Mongols learned about the sour cabbage when they conquered China, and brought it with them to Hungary. From Hungary it traveled to Austria, and from Austria to Germany. Which just goes to show,” Betty concludes, “how history plays strange tricks on people’s food habits..”

She goes on to explain that the ways of preparing sauerkraut in Germany are many. Along with regional differences they are differences in personal preferences. While some people like it cooked long and slow until very soft (which is how I cook ours), other people like it very sour and crunchy. Betty says that every region in Germany has at least one favorite sauerkraut dish. She also offers a recipe for making your own sauerkraut. “THE ART OF GERMAN COOKING” offers a great deal more than recipes for sauerkraut, however. If you ever happen to find a copy, this book, like all of Wason’s cookbooks, makes for enjoyable reading.

Another formidable undertaking would be “THE EVERYTHING COOKBOOK” published in 1970. This is a nice thick cookbook containing more than two thousand recipes!

“THE EVERYTHING COOKBOOK”, published by Hawthorn Books, is described by the publishers as five books in one: Book One is the “ABC’s of FOOD PREPARATION”. Book Two contains “MENU PLANNING AND WEIGHT CONTROL”, while Book Three offers “RECIPES”. Book Four is a “GUIDE TO ENTERTAINING” and Book Five “ALL ABOUT WINES AND SPIRITS”. This is a big thick cookbook that would compare favorably to almost any new comprehensive cookbook being published today.

In the course of her career, Betty Wason has worked as a food specialist and consultant. She was an associate food editor of WOMAN’S HOME COMPANION and editor at General Foods Kitchens. In addition, she wrote articles for HOUSE AND GARDEN, VOGUE, AMERICAN HOME, WOMAN’S DAY and other leading magazines. At one time, she was the woman’s editor for THE VOICE OF AMERICA.

At some point in her career, Betty Wason married and became Betty Wason Hall, and the mother of at least one daughter, Ellen. Ellen undoubtedly provided the inspiration for “COOKING TO PLEASE FINIKY KIDS” and “ELLEN: A MOTHER’S STORY OF HER RUNAWAY DAUGHTER”.

Betty moved to Pleasantville, New York along with a large collection of new and old cookbooks. Hunter Books, publishers of Macular Degeneration, indicate that as of 1998 Betty Wason was living in Seattle. Betty did not limit herself to writing cookbooks—she has, apparently, over the years written books about a variety of subjects.

The talented young lady who started out teaching cooking lessons traveled far and wide and experienced a versatile career that most of us can only dream about. She was, quite obviously, interested in a wide range of subjects, from archaeology to macular degeneration. And imagine this—her book on macular degeneration was published when Betty was 86 years old! Luckily for us, who love cookbooks, she wrote about those too.

Before closing, I want to make another comment about one of Betty Wason’s non-cookbook book accomplishments. In particular, I want to mention “MIRACLE AT HELLAS” which took some intensive searching to find, but was worth the search and the price.

I can only recommend that, since so many of Betty Wason’s books are out of print, you search diligently in your used book stores or internet websites such as for anything with her name on it.

Betty Wason is an author whose work has spanned six decades. I think you will be as impressed as I am over the quality and timelessness of her work.

Betty Wason passed away in February 2001 at the age of 88.


• BRIDE IN THE KITCHEN, 1964 (publisher?)
• THE LANGUAGE OF COOKERY, 1968 (publisher?)
• HAIR TODAY & GONE TOMORROW, 1969 (publisher?)
• ART OF VEGETARIAN COOKERY, 1969 (publisher?)
• MEDITERRANEAN COOKBOOK, 1973 (publisher?)
• MACULAR DEGENERATION, 1999 (publisher?)


myra waldo photo(left) Photo of Myra Waldo from a magazine ad.

*The following article was originally written for the CCE (Cookbook Collectors Exchange, a newsletter) in 2001. At that time, I was unable to unearth ANY information about the whereabouts of Myra Waldo, much less whether or not she was still alive. I even wrote to a prominent used book dealer in NYC who had been featured a number of times in cooking magazines; he’d never even heard of her! Internet searches failed to reveal any information about Myra either before or after my article was published in 2001. Now, a decade later, I decided to update the article for my blog. Dutifully, I entered her name on again—and much to my surprise, this time I was rewarded with obituary details. The answer to “Where’s Waldo” will be found at the end of this article.

In 2001, I had written:
Where’s Waldo? No, not the cartoon character that is hidden in a maze of pictures for kiddies to search through – this time the Waldo is Myra Waldo, someone you may or may not have heard of, depending on how extensive your collection of cookbooks happens to be or how knowledgeable you are about cookbook authors of the past.

When my curiosity about Myra Waldo was first piqued, a dig through my own cookbook shelves unearthed seven old paperback cookbooks, three of which were duplicates (with two different cover designs). Since then, I have acquired a respectable stack of Myra Waldo’s cookbooks, some through the Internet (, some from Carolyn George, a cookbook seller, with whom I became acquainted through the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, a few that CCE publisher Sue Erwin unearthed and even one that I located in a used bookstore. I already had this one title but bought it anyway, because it was only $2.50. (I always figure I can find a home someday for the duplicates).

Actually, I became interested in Myra Waldo in a roundabout way (I sometimes feel like Alice falling into the rabbit hole—one thing seems to lead to another). I was doing some research on Molly Goldberg, for a reason I no longer recall—it might have been in connection with my research on old time radio programs. During an Internet search on, I came across an article in which a writer accused Molly Goldberg and Myra Waldo of being one and the same person. OK, for all the youngsters out there, your first question may be “Well, who was Molly Goldberg?”)—so I will have to digress a bit, and no, they were not one and the same person).

Molly Goldberg was, in real life, Gertrude Berg. Gertrude Berg was an actress, born in 1899, who debuted in 1929 with her own radio show on NBC, “The Rise of the Goldbergs”, later shortened to simply “The Goldbergs”. It was second only to Amos & Andy in popularity. (Please don’t write to ask me who Amos & Andy were.) What’s even more incredible, given the times (when women were expected to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant), Gertrude Berg was the creator, principle writer and star of this weekly comedy series. Berg wrote most of the episodes, which, after a twenty-year run, numbered over 5,000. It may be hard to imagine, but in the decades prior to television, radio was made up extensively of shows—some as short as 15 minutes, most a half hour long—comedy, mystery, western, drama—you name it.

(In 1994, I wrote an article titled “DON’T TOUCH THAT DIAL” which appeared in the May/June 1994 issue of the CCE. There were, in addition to all of the story-line shows, radio recipe programs too, a forerunner of today’s television cooking Shows. I rewrote and shortened “Don’t Touch that Dial” for my blog, renaming it “When Radio Was King” which was a June, 2009, post on this blog).

“The Goldbergs” followed the adventures of Molly Goldberg and her husband Jake, and their family through life’s everyday problems. The program had a phenomenal 17-year run starting in 1930. In 1949, the radio program made a successful transition to television. Truthfully, I don’t remember the radio version of the Goldbergs but I do remember the television show, which ran for about five years on TV. (We had the first television set on our street; my father loved having whatever was new and innovative in the way of appliances and household things). When it became clear that television shows of this genre were on their way out, Golberg revamped her show, moved “the family” to the suburbs and renamed the series “Molly”. Gertrude Berg passed away in 1966.

By this time you are probably wondering just what Myra Waldo has to do with Molly Goldberg. Just this: In 1955, Myra Waldo and Molly Goldberg collaborated on “THE MOLLY GOLDBERG JEWISH COOKBOOK”.
Molly is the primary character through the cookbook, speaking in first person, staying in her Molly Goldberg character, but Myra Waldo undoubtedly put most of it together. “THE MOLLY GOLDBERG JEWISH COOKBOOK”, published in 1955, was a combination celebrity/radio show cookbook and it remains in circulation to this day. I have a hardcover copy that is in fine condition. (I think I bought it from Jessica’s Biscuit, a cookbook seller).

But this is just one of the many cookbooks written or co-authored by Myra Waldo, whose first cookbook was published, I believe, in 1954.

So, who’s Myra Waldo? I’m glad you asked, but have to admit, it hasn’t been easy to learn much about this elusive cookbook author. The dust jackets of her cookbooks offer very little in the way of biographical information, and often it’s the same few paragraphs in dust jacket after dust jacket. More can be gleaned from the pages of her cookbooks, but, unlike James Beard and Elizabeth David, and the host of other cookbook authors who have had biographies written about them, there is little to be discovered about the private life of Myra Waldo.

Myra Waldo was a cooking expert and a world traveler and may have been the world’s most traveled cook for her time. She was a food consultant for Pan American Airways who, with her husband, attorney Robert J. Schwarz, traveled all over the world. During the decades in which she compiled numerous cookbooks, she was a familiar figure on radio and television, and in newspapers and magazines. In addition to being the food consultant for Pan Am, Myra arranged a monthly regional dinner for the Overseas Press Club in New York City. As a contribution to international relations, she prepared a famous Thanksgiving dinner in Moscow for the Ministry of Culture and Technicum Institute of Health and Nutrition. She was Special Projects Director for Macmillian Publishing from 1965 to 1970, and Food and Travel Editor for WCBS-New York from 1968 to 1972. Articles written by Myra Waldo appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, House & Garden, and The Diners’ Club. One of the most fascinating snippits of information that I learned about Myra Waldo is that she and her husband even spent eight weeks on a safari, after which they completed a film about their experience. It seems they were dauntless in their travels and went everywhere.

In her world travels, Myra, (like James Beard), collected recipes and menus where most tourists would collect souvenirs. Cookbooks with a foreign flair appear to have been her specialty, although she by no means limited herself to cookbooks of this genre.

“Before 1918,” Myra writes in her cookbook “COMPLETE MEALS IN ONE DISH”, “foreign food had but little acceptance and few enthusiasts in the United States. In the two decades or so that followed, Americans gradually began to be intrigued by the food of Europe and during that period Italian and French restaurants opened in profusion throughout the nation. But since the end of World War II, an enormous interest in the food not only of Europe, but also of the entire world has been growing swiftly all over the country….”

I agree with the above statement, but with a slight qualification. I think foreign foods have always had an acceptance in the various ethnic communities throughout the United States—Italian food in the Little Italys, German food in towns such as Cincinnati and Germantown, where the early population was predominately German. But I read somewhere that it was American soldiers during World War II who brought home with them an acquired taste for foreign foods; many of them also brought home War Brides who brought with them the traditional recipes of their native countries. (As an aside, I might mention that Sally Tisdale, author of “The Best Thing I ever Tasted” doesn’t agree with this theory—but we’ll review Sally’s book another time. I am always nonplussed by the synchronicity of things, as I am writing and researching. I first read about restaurant critic Colman Andrews in Ruth Reichl’s “Comfort Me with Apples”. Then I read about him in Sally Tisdale’s “The Best Thing I ever Tasted” – and although he was, apparently, a restaurant critic in Los Angeles for a number of years, I don’t recall ever reading anything about or by him before. Last I heard, he was/is editor of a food magazine).

In any case, there were far fewer foreign cookbooks available to us during the early decades of the 1900s—and oftentimes, those that were available were frequently written with European measurements.

Myra Waldo set out to change all that. In “COMPLETE MEALS IN ONE DISH” published in 1965, the author and her husband traveled throughout Europe—Robert Schwartz never seems to be addressed by name, he is always “My husband”—and each chapter is introduced with a delightful short story of where they traveled and what they saw, and how they happened to discover this dish or that. I was so intrigued with the short stories that I leafed through the entire book and read them all first, before the recipes.

My favorite story is that of Myra and her husband, while in Vienna, walking past the Hungarian Embassy. They began to discuss never having been to Hungary, looked at each other and retraced their steps. Inside the Hungarian Embassy they presented their passports – and before long, despite what Myra describes as “a slightly disquieting feeling of nervousness” they were on their way. As they drove through the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, – the radiator boiled over because the fan belt had become loose. While wondering what to do, they noticed a farmhouse off in the distance, so they walked to it, where they encountered a peasant woman airing bedclothes.

They attempted to communicate in English, French, and German, and when that failed, made their needs known with sign language. They carried off a bucket of water, promising to return the bucket and when they returned, tried to pay the woman.

Myra explains, “The woman waved it aside and motioned us to come inside the kitchen. A delicious aroma filled the air, and always curious I wanted to know what was on the stove. But, it appeared, that was the very reason we had been asked inside—to have something to eat. It was a meal-in-one-dish, a sausage stew made with potatoes and sauerkraut, hearty and delicious. We were embarrassed about eating her food, for it was obvious the farm was a poor one, but we were very hungry, and she was watching us for expressions of enjoyment in the food. It was very good—delicious, in fact. We drank a light white wine with the stew and enjoyed both enormously.

My husband, who has his points, came up with the perfect method of repayment. The woman wouldn’t take any money of course, but my husband opened a suitcase and extracted a box of Viennese candy, which we had brought along. He was right! She was ecstatic with pleasure and quickly and enthusiastically recited a list of names, apparently members of her family who would enjoy the candies…’

Myra and her husband left “amid many words of thanks on both sides, which she couldn’t understand, and which we couldn’t understand, but which everyone did understand”.

Don’t you just love it?

Other Myra Waldo cookbooks with a foreign flair were
PAN AMERICAN’S COMPLETE ROUND-THE-WORLD COOKBOOK, first published in 1954 and reprinted at least eight times, up to 1960;
“THE COMPLETE BOOK OF ORIENTAL COOKING”, first published in 1960 by David McKay Publishers;
“THE COMPLETE BOOK OF GOURMET COOKING FOR THE AMERICAN KITCHEN”, also published in 1960, by G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS (French cooking for American kitchens);
“THE ART OF SOUTH AMERICAN COOKERY” published in 1961 by Doubleday and
“INTER-CONTINENAL GOURMET COOKBOOK” published in 1967 by Macmillan Company. (one edition has a spiffy box to hold the cookbook in), but I also have a very nice hardcover edition published the same year. Was the boxed edition for something special?
“THE COMPLETE ROUND THE WORLD MEAT COOKBOOK”, was also published in 1967 by Doubleday & Company, and
“SEVEN WONDERS OF THE COOKING WORLD” was published in 1971 by Dodd, Mead & Company
“THE COMPLETE BOOK OF ORIENTAL COOKING” offers chapters on cuisine from Hawaii, Japan, Korea Phillipines, Indonesia, China, Indochina, Malaya, Thailand, Burma, and India.

“SEVEN WONDERS OF THE COOKING WORLD” is devoted to recipes from China, The Orient (other than China), Where East Meets West (recipes from Russia, Roumania, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Israel), Middle Europe (Germany , Austria, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia), Italy, the Latin Countries (Spain, Portugal, South America and Mexico) and France.

“THE COMPLETE BOOK OF GOURMET COKING FOR THE AMERICAN KITCHEN” adapts hundreds of French gourmet recipes for American kitchens (and palates) with recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts, and a glossary of different kinds of cheeses, a chapter of information regarding wines and an herb and spice chart. This is the kind of book that will make gourmet cooks out of all of us.

“INTER-CONTINENTAL GOURMET COOKBOOK” presents recipes from twenty-six countries, (too many to list), but including Australia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Yugoslavia. What is most appealing about all of these cookbooks is that the recipes were all, obviously, chosen with particular care and are, in every instance, geared to the tastes of American palates. Each chapter is prefaced with an introduction by the author, whose writing is so appealing as to make you want to visit every one of these countries…being unable to do that, trying the many recipes might be the next best thing.

And, although “THE ART OF SPAGHETTI COOKERY” does not appear to have been classified amongst Waldo’s “foreign” cookbooks, it does contain recipes from many parts of the world; recipes such as Czechoslovakian potato noodle, Greek macaroni casserole, Bhat Aur Savia (Indian rice and spaghetti) and Chinese beef and noodles. As an added bonus, the author provides an interesting history of spaghetti in the Introduction. Makes no mistake about it, this is one cookbook author who always did her homework.

Another cookbook by Myra Waldo, while not strictly “foreign” has a European stamp, with recipes from France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
This is “CAKES, COOKIES AND PASTRIES”, (187 great dessert recipes from around the world) first published by Crowell-Collier Publishing Company in 1962. Included are tantalizing recipes for goodies like Venezuelan Banana Torte and Viennese Poppy Seed Torte, Greek Pistachio Cookies and Swedish Honey cookies.

“MYRA WALDO’S DESSERT COOKBOOK” is written in a similar vein, offering recipes from many parts of the world. Included are recipes for yummy recipes such as Hungarian Plum Dumplings, Chinese Sesame Seed Bananas, Polish Almond Bars and Persian Rice Pudding. This, also, was first published in 1962 by Crowell-Collier Publishing Company.

“SERVE AT ONCE, THE SOUFFLE COOKBOOK, 1954, was published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company in New York.

“Myra Waldo has been testing and collecting souffle recipes for years,” we learn on the dust jacket of this book., “Her previous writing experience ranges from copy for cosmetics and chain stores to travel folders, and to assisting her husband compile two dictionaries. She is a member of the Gourmet Society of New York..” Aha, so now we know a bit more.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think many cooks (whether male or female such as you and I, everyday people in our kitchens, prepare souffles anymore). If I were to make an educated guess, it would be that we don’t want to take the time to do anything culinary that takes too much time. Our cake and brownie mixes come out of a box; our cookies are slice and bake. We cut to the chase with pre-cut and frozen onions and already minced garlic and a lot of things that come out of cans. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. I often start out with a mix of some kind and then “doctor” it. (and now someone has made a career out of doing just that on TV). When I start researching cookbook authors of half a century ago, I begin to realize how far we have strayed from “scratch” cooking. I think I’ll try some of these souffle recipes and get back to you on this particular issue.

Myra Waldo appeared to be ahead of her time with cookbooks that were for our health. “SLENDERELLA COOK BOOK” was first published in 1957 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Later, it appeared in paperback under the title, “THE COMPLETE REDUCING COOK BOOK FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY”. Another cookbook published in paperback was titled “COOKING FOR YOUR HEART AND HEALTH”, first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1961, reprinted in paperback by Pocket Book in 1962 (cost of the paperback was fifty cents—imagine THAT!).

One book appears to have been originally published by Collier’s as a paperback, was “THE CASSEROLE COOKBOOK” (170 ingenious one-dish dinners). I think it might have been a takeoff from her earlier “COMPLETE MEALS IN ONE DISH” although the recipes are different. “The casserole” noted the author, “is the greatest single boon for the busy hostess. It permits her to join her guests instead of being confined to last-minute duties in the kitchen…” I agree, and reading both books, found many recipes that would be suitable even today. The back cover of “THE CASSEROLE COOKBOOK” notes that “Myra Waldo is the author of many Collier cookbooks, including “COOKING FROM THE PANTRY SHELF”, “GREAT RECIPES FROM GREAT RESTAURANTS”, “THE HAMBURGER COOKBOOK”, “COOK AS THE ROMANS DO”, “SOUFFLE COOKBOOK”, “CAKES, COOKIES AND PASTRIES” and “1001 WAYS TO PLEASE A HUSBAND: THE BRIDE’S COOKBOOK”. Incidentally, if you have this last title, it appears to be the most elusive of all Waldo’s books and, for some reason, the highest priced listed in I am unable to determine whether 1001 Ways to Please a Husband and The Bride’s Cookbook are one and the same or two separate books.

“THE BRIDE’S COOKBOOK” was published by Collier as a paperback in1961 with numerous reprints. The copy my friend Sue Erwin located was printed in 1972. As cookbooks go, this one is a delightful departure from the norm. It’s the story of newlyweds, Jane and Peter, told in diary form by Jane; the recipes are good and the story line is cute. As an aside, while researching this and other cookbook authors, it has become apparent that quite a few writers of the 50s and 60s wrote a bride’s cookbook.

Another favorite Myra Waldo cookbooks is “THE DINERS’ CLUB COOKBOOK, (Great Recipes from Great Restaurants), published in 1959 by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, Inc. Recipes are from famous restaurants from coast to coast and there is even one from the Toll House in Whitman Massachusetts—where the original chocolate chip cookie was created. The recipe in the Diners Club cookbook, however, is a frosted daiquiri pie. Many of the restaurants no longer exist today, but it’s fun to read and the recipes sound delicious.

In 1960, Myra Waldo published “COOKING FOR THE FREEZER” and this was dedicated to preparing meals in advance. Written prior to the advent of side-by-side freezers and cross top freezers, the refrigerator-freezer shown on the cover with the author doesn’t look like it would hold more than a single meal but the author offers recipes that reconstitute satisfactorily after freezing and do sound good. Most of Myra Waldo’s cookbooks show, I think, the influence of her world travels.

Despite being a most prolific cookbook author throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, publishing over 40 cookbooks, Myra Waldo appears to have all but disappeared from our culinary landscape. Most of my food-related books fail to mention her at all; James Trager, in “THE FOOD CHRONOLOGY” refers only briefly to her first cookbook, “THE SOUFFLE COOKBOOK” published in 1954, and Waldo’s 1967 “INTERNATIONAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COOKING”. (As a yardstick of comparison, I noted that Irma Rombauer, who wrote only one cookbook (Joy of Cooking) ranks an entire lengthy paragraph in Trager’s Food Chronology, while Margaret Rudkin who introduced the world to Pepperidge Farm Bread and wrote “THE PEPPERIDGE FARM COOKBOOK” is acknowledged with nearly an entire page. Ida Bailey Allen who, you know, is the author of first cookbook I was introduced to as a child, is referenced nine times in Trager’s book, even though some of Allen’s books were little more than pamphlets and many were quite obviously promotions for the products that sponsored her.

And yet, as I leaf through cookbook after cookbook written by Myra Waldo, I am impressed with the quality of her writing. Recipes are written straightforwardly, directions are clear and precise. Any one of us could read her cookbooks, today, and follow her instructions. Sometimes we are gifted with interesting asides such as those in “THE COMPLETE BOOK OF GOURMET COOKING FOR THE AMERICAN KITCHEN” in which Myra explains how Baked Alaska was the unexpected and happy result of a laboratory experiment and tells us how sherbets came to 16th century France with Catherine de Medicis, bride of Henry II. Myra often gives us a food-related history lesson throughout the pages of “THE COMPLETE BOOK OF GOURMET COOKING FOR THE AMERICAN KITCHEN”. This cookbook, incidentally, is another favorite of mine. The stories she shares in COMPLE MEALS IN ONE DISH are heartwarming. Each chapter begins with a short memoir—and it is here, in this cookbook, that one gets a true sense of who Myra Waldo is.

Another mystery to this most elusive cookbook author is that her books were published by many different publishers, sometimes two different ones in the same year. Oftentimes, an author’s books will be published by the same publisher.

And where’s Waldo, today? I don’t know. I have been unsuccessful in my efforts to trace the elusive Ms. Waldo. If you know the answer to this question, let me hear from you.

This list is intended to be a guide; I have no way of knowing how complete the list is.

• SERVE AT ONCE, THE SOUFFLE COOKBOOK 1954, was published by Thomas Y. Crowell Company in New York.
• PAN AMERICAN’S COMPLETE ROUND-THE-WORLD COOKBOOK, first published in 1954 and reprinted at least eight times, up to 1960;
• THE COMPLETE BOOK OF ORIENTAL COOKING”, first published in 1960 by David McKay Publishers;
• THE COMPLETE REDUCING COOK BOOK FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, PERMABOOKS (paperback) 1957 (*originally published in hard cover as the Slenderella Cook Book)
• 1001 WAYS TO PLEASE A HUSBAND, 1958* (is this the same book as the Bride’s Cokbook?)
• THE BRIDE’S COOKBOOK, Collier Books 1961 (paperback) original copy right 1958. (*Is 1000 Ways to Please a Husband and The Bride’s Cookbook one and the same book?)
• COOKING FROM THE PANTRY SHELF, 1962 (publisher?)
(this date may be incorrect. Possibly 1969?)
• CUCINA ORIENTALE, 1972 (publisher?)

Dates unknown:
• GREAT RECIPES FROM GREAT RESTAURANTS (possibly the Diner’s Club cookbook?)


• JAPAN EXPO ’70 GUIDE, 1970

And this is what I found on Google January 15, 2011:

Dateline July 29, 2004
“Myra Waldo, a writer who filled bookshelves with advice on places to see and their customs, died Sunday in her home in Beverly Hills. She was 88 and formerly lived in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The cause was congestive heart failure, her family said…Myra Waldo was born in Manhattan and attended Columbia University. In 1937 she married Robert J. Schwartz, a lawyer, who died in 1997. She used her maiden name professionally….” (Obviously, Wolfgang Saxon who wrote this piece – didn’t really KNOW anything about Myra Waldo. He concludes, “Ms. Waldo worked on special projects for the MacMillan Publishing Company in the late 1960s. From 1968 to 1972, she was on the air as food and travel editor of WCBS radio, a job that led to her 1971 “Restaurant Guide to New York City and Vicinity” which she continued to revise into the 1980s.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME, WOLFGANG? This is all you had to write about a woman who wrote over FIFTY books?

Jill Holzman, writing for Jewish Journal did considerably better with a short obituary about Myra Waldo Schwartz on August 5. 2004:

“Myra Waldo Schwartz, travel writer, food editor and critic, died July 25. A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Myra had numerous television appearances, a radio show on food on New York’s WCBS News Radio 88 and was the food editor for the Baltimore Sun’s This Week Magazine.
She wrote more than 40 books, including “The Complete Round The World Cookbook”, “Seven Wonders of the Cooking World” “The Molly Goldberg Cookbook” and “l,001 ways to Please Your Husband.”

Her passport bears the stamp of nearly every country, and the former president of the Society of American Travel Writers once described her as ‘The most traveled woman in the world,’ having visited every continent but Antarctica.

She is survived by her sister, Naomi Waldo Holzman; nephews Dr. Gilbert and Dr Donald Holzman, and their respective families. She remains an inspiration to her family, friends and fans.”

I’m only slightly mollified. It seems to me that Jill Holzman, being a family member, could have expanded more on Myra’s career. I would certain hope that, if I had written over forty cookbooks many of which were reprinted countless times in paperback editions (I know because I have a lot of them), my family had better have more to say about my illustrious career than a mere nine lines. And I have to say, I was saddened to learn she was living in Beverly Hills – not so very far from me when I was still living in the San Fernando Valley. I can’t help but wonder if she would have given me an interview, had I but known.

So, in 2011 when I ask you “Where’s Waldo?” you might correctly respond “In heaven” – or maybe she is peeking over my shoulder tonight, offering inspiration.

Happy cooking-and Happy cookbook reading!

–Sandra Lee Smith


Jean Anderson is a cookbook author whose work I have long admired, but with the publishing of “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” her status, in my eyes, increased enormously. This is a cookbook to treasure forever, and the fascinating detail is reflected in the pages that took the author ten years to write. Other cookbook authors have written books in tribute to the past century, but Jean Anderson’s “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” easily outshines them all. It could not have been an easy task, to search out the most popular recipes of the 20th century, and to chronicle 100 years of culinary change in America. Look at the changes that have taken place in just the past twenty or thirty years!

Jean began her research for this book by writing to editors of food magazines, major women’s magazines and newspapers throughout the country, as well as home economists at major food companies, asking for their 10 most requested recipes of the century. The response, she reports, was overwhelming. It was logical, I think, for Jean to start with these resources. We know that food editors have their fingertips on the pulse of American cookery. Who knows better what recipes are most requested by their readers? And, it was a role that Jean herself had played for a number of years. (As a young adult, I was strongly influenced in my love for recipes and the stories behind them, by Fern Storer, who was for many years a food editor of the Cincinnati Post. After we moved to California, whenever my mother was getting ready to mail a box of favorite things to me and would ask what I wanted sent, I’d reply “Rubel’s rye bread and the food sections from the Cincinnati post”. After we settled in Los Angeles, I began collecting the S.O.S. columns in the L.A. Times for many years).

And, although I knew I had a few other Jean Anderson cookbooks on my bookshelves, it wasn’t until I read “THE AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” that I became curious – who is Jean Anderson, cookbook author?

Like so many other culinary artists, Jean Anderson is a southerner, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, who was born Helen Jean Anderson. For many years she lived in New York City, but a few years ago in the late 1990s, Jean returned to the south, to Chapel Hill, where she lives today. For many years, Jean lived in Manhattan; she worked as an editor of Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal. She was also a senior editor at Venture magazine. She traveled the world on assignments for magazines such as Gourmet, Saveur, and Travel and Leisure. Jean traveled extensively as a free-lance writer-photographer in Europe, parts of Russia, India, the Middle East, and Latin and South America (Her travel itinerary reminds me a bit of a couple of other favorite cookbook authors, Myra Waldo and Betty Wason).

Jean is a graduate of Cornell University, where she majored in food and nutrition and has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Her early career included working as women’s editor for the North Carolina Agriculture Extension Service.

Jean’s parents were both mid-westerners (who were considered Yankees at that time, in the south). Jean has said that she loved reading, writing and cooking from a very early age, something many of us can relate to. And like so many other successful cookbook authors, Jean credits her mother with allowing her into the kitchen and encouraging her interest.
“I can remember when my father gave my mother a copy of “THE JOY OF COOKING” she has recalled, “I thought, ‘I would like to write a book like that!” (And THAT rang a bell with me – I credit my mother with my love of cooking when she turned ME loose in the kitchen when I was about ten years old—but my mother’s cookbook was an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook, the only one she owned for many years).

Well, Jean has written a book like that–quite a few, as a matter of fact, and her childhood dream of winning the Pillsbury Bake-Off was realized in part, when she participated as a judge at the Waldorf Astoria for one of the Bake-offs, during the period of time when Jean was a managing editor of Ladies Home Journal.

Jean visited Columbia University’s School of Journalism with the staff of her high school paper when she was a teenager, and was so impressed by the school that, after earning her Bachelor of Science Degree in Food and Nutrition at Cornell University, she headed back to Columbia to receive her Master’s degree in Journalism. It was during Jean’s graduate studies at Columbia that she won the honored Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship, which enabled her to spend a year abroad.

Jean Anderson has received many awards in the course of her career, including being named “Editor of the Year” in 1992 by the James Beard Foundation; she was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food & Beverages in America in 1994, and into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 1999. She was a winner of the R.T. French Tastemaker Award, for Best Basic Cookbook of the Year, in 1975, and then for Best Specialty Cookbook of the Year, in 1980. Jean was a winner of the Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for Best Foreign Cookbook of the Year in 1986 (possibly The Food of Portugal, which was published in 1986), and was a finalist for the James Beard Cookbook Awards and Julia Child Cookbook Awards in 1998.

One can’t help but wonder—how does a girl from North Carolina, who spent most of her adult life in New York, happen to write a book about Portugal? Jean explains, in the introduction to “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” that she never expected to find such bounty or culinary virtuosity when she first visited Portugal 25 years before writing her one and only foreign cookbook. As a matter of fact, “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” was the only major cookbook in English ever published on the food of Portugal at the time it was published, in 1986. When people heard that she was writing a Portuguese cookbook, they invariably asked, “But isn’t it just like Spanish cooking?” to which Jean demonstrates, no, it isn’t.

She explains, that, although Portuguese and Spanish cooks both rely heavily upon many of the same ingredients—tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, to name three, the differences are subtle, such as the Portuguese gazpacho version being much thicker, brimming with crumbles of yeasty homemade bread so that it more closely resembles their ‘dry soups’ called ACORDAS. Jean says the Portuguese version of flan is smoother and spicier than the Spanish because they are often thickened with egg yolks as opposed to whole eggs, and flavored only with cinnamon. Rarely do they contain lemon or vanilla, seasonings loved by the Spanish “just next door”.

“It was the Portuguese,” Jean reminds us, “who launched Europe’s Age of Discovery in the early 15th century; the Portuguese who designed a ship that could sail both with and against the wind (the caravel); who charted the west coast of Africa; who rounded the Cape of Good Hope; who plucked Madeira and the Azores from the ‘Green Sea of Gloom’ as the Atlantic was then known; who discovered Brazil; and who, not least, found the water route to the East’s treasury of spices..”

Jean returned to Portugal every year since her original trip in 1961—sometimes two or three times a year and remarks that she knows of “no nation where the countryside, climate, produce and cooking all shift so abruptly in a few short miles…”

She says she learned much over the years from Portuguese cooks who not only gave generously of their time and talent, but also happily handed over cherished family recipes…the result being, “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL”.

“I have broken bread in castles,” Jean writes, “convents, sophisticated Lisbon restaurants and salty tascas (bistros). I have interviewed cooks trained and untrained, haute and humble; I have prowled markets in towns large and small, and returned to the fish auctions of Cascais, Portimao, and Albufeira more often than I can remember. And,” she comments, “I came away from Portugal this last trip convinced that we Americans know more about the cooking of the People’s Republic of China than we do about that of this ‘most foreign’ of Western European
countries despite the fact that there are many Portuguese communities scattered across the face of America….”

Now here’s a most curious thing: Jean writes, “I have dined both simply and sumptuously in Portuguese homes and shall never forget the caldo verde (the green cabbage soup that is considered the national dish of Portugal) served to be by a complete stranger in a one-room fieldstone hut at the end of a squiggy mountain road. I had lost my way in the northerly Minho Province in the fog that so often frequents its mountains in early spring, and had stopped to ask directions. An old woman swathed in black answered my knock, and seeing how cold and tired I was, insisted that I rest a bit, and revive myself before moving on. I sat on a scrubbed pine table beside the mound of intensely emerald cabbage she had been shredding, watched as she tossed handfuls of it into a pot bubbling over an open fire. She stirred the pot once, twice, let it mellow several minutes, then produced a brown pottery bowl and ladled the steaming jade liquid into it. She then cut for me a thick wedge of broa (the rough, yeast-raised corn bread of the north) and poured a glass of vinho verde (the region’s crackling green wine, so called because it comes from green mountains and valleys, and also because it is drunk young. I don’t know that I have ever enjoyed a meal more….”

Déjà vu! I remember cookbook author Myra Waldo’s story of her experiences while traveling in Hungary! I wrote the following for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange some years ago:

My favorite story is that of Myra and her husband, while in Vienna, walking past the Hungarian Embassy. They began to discuss never having been to Hungary, looked at each other and retraced their steps. Inside the Hungarian Embassy they presented their passports – and before long, despite what Myra describes as “a slightly disquieting feeling of nervousness” they were on their way. As they drove through the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, – the radiator boiled over because the fan belt had become loose. While wondering what to do, they noticed a farmhouse off in the distance, so they walked to it, where they encountered a peasant woman airing bedclothes.

They attempted to communicate in English, French, and German, and when that failed, made their needs known with sign language. They carried off a bucket of water, promising to return the bucket and when they returned, tried to pay the woman.

Myra explains, “The woman waved it aside and motioned us to come inside the kitchen. A delicious aroma filled the air, and always curious I wanted to know what was on the stove. But, it appeared, that was the very reason we had been asked inside—to have something to eat. It was a meal-in-one-dish, a sausage stew made with potatoes and sauerkraut, hearty and delicious. We were embarrassed about eating her food, for it was obvious the farm was a poor one, but we were very hungry, and she was watching us for expressions of enjoyment in the food. It was very good—delicious, in fact. We drank a light white wine with the stew and enjoyed both enormously.

My husband, who has his points, came up with the perfect method of repayment. The woman wouldn’t take any money of course, but my husband opened a suitcase and extracted a box of Viennese candy, which we had brought along. He was right! She was ecstatic with pleasure and quickly and enthusiastically recited a list of names, apparently members of her family who would enjoy the candies…’

Myra and her husband left “amid many words of thanks on both sides, which she couldn’t understand, and which we couldn’t understand, but which everyone did understand”.

Well, I guess my next question is, do all American cookbook writers who go to Europe have experiences such as these? And isn’t it strange that both Myra Waldo and Jean Anderson had such similar experiences in two totally different countries?

But, getting back to “THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL” – if you can find a copy, grab it! I have to say, this is one of the most fascinating “foreign” cookbooks I have ever acquired. I want to try every single recipe! (I found my copy on—and the photographs will take your breath away! (Jean is also a photojournalist in the field of food and travel—a love of photography is something else I share with her. Recently my 8 year old grandson asked me why I am constantly taking pictures of food. I replied “Because I like to”.

Two other cookbooks of Jean Anderson’s that I cherish are “THE GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK” and “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES”. I am especially fond of the former because it’s a collection of America’s recipes, completely unique, completely Jean. Jean’s style in ‘THE GRASS ROOTS COOBOOK” reminds me of the Browns, in “AMERICA COOKS”. I am charmed by “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES” because it came to my attention shortly after I visited Hale Farm and Western Reserve Village in Ohio, with my brother and his youngest daughter, my niece, Laura. I had no idea there are restored villages such as these sprinkled all over the United States and it was quite an experience. “RECIPES FROM AMERICA’S RESTORED VILLAGES” was published in 1975 and I don’t know if all of these places are still operating—but Hale Farm was, some years ago, when I was visiting my brother in Cleveland. And if you are looking for an all-around cookbook, may I suggest “JEAN ANDERSON COOKS/ HER KITCHEN REFERENCE & RECIPE COLLECTION” published in 1982.

Jean’s “American Century Cookbook”, my favorite of the lot, was published in 1997. Obviously not content to rest on her laurels, in 2000, William Morrow, published Jean’s cookbook “DINNERS IN A DISH OR A DASH”, which I am going to review for you separately at a later date.

After “DINNER IN A DISH OR A DASH” Jean has published a new book every few years. In 2003, it was “PROCESS THIS!” by William Morrow Publishing. (“Process This!” is all about learning how to make the most of a food processor. I’m assuming that Jean really loves food processors; in 1979 William Morrow & Company published her “JEAN ANDERSON’S PROCESSOR COOKING”. Then in 1983 her publisher, William Morrow & Company, published JEAN ANDERSON’S NEW PROCESSOR COOKING”.

In 2005, she published “Quick Loaves”, followed in 2007 with “A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SOUTHERN COOKING”, William Morrow publisher. Her latest cookbook is “FALLING OFF THE BONE” which was published in October, 2010. (I plan to order this cookbook and so will get back to you later on what I think about it. I can’t imagine not liking anything that Jean Anderson writes. Right now, I have thirteen of her cookbooks.

Not bad for a little lady who shows no signs of slowing down! While attempting to update my records and see what Ms Anderson had been writing about since “American Century Cookbook”, I discovered she has her own website! You can visit it at

What an inspiration she is!

 GRASS ROOTS COOKBOOK, DOUBLEDAY DELL PUBLISHING, 1974, 75, 76, 77, 92 (*The Grass Roots Cookbook is a outgrowth of magazine pieces originally features in Family Circle magazine)
 The Doubleday Cookbook VOL 2 (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1975. R.T. French Tastemaker Cookbook-of- the-Year as well as Best Basic Cookbook
 Half a Can of Tomato Paste & Other Culinary Dilemmas (with Ruth Buchan). Harper & Row, 1980. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Specialty Cookbook of the Year.
 The New Doubleday Cookbook (with Elaine Hanna). Doubleday: 1985.
 The Food of Portugal. William Morrow: 1986. Seagram/International Association of Culinary Professionals Award, Best Foreign Cookbook of the Year
 The New German Cookbook (with Hedy Würz). HarperCollins: 1993
 The American Century Cookbook. Clarkson Potter: 1997
 The Good Morning America Cut the Calories Cookbook (co-edited with Sara Moulton). Hyperion: 2000
 Dinners in a Dish or a Dash. William Morrow: 2000

 Process This! New Recipes for the New Generation of Food Processors. William Morrow: 2002. James Beard Best Cookbook, Tools & Techniques Category
 Quick Loaves. William Morrow: 2005
 A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections. Foreword by Sara Moulton. William Morrow: 2007
 Falling Off the Bone, Wiley Publishing, published October 19, 2010

Also by Jean Anderson:

THE FAMILY CIRCLE COOKBOOK (with the Food Editors of Family Circle Magazine)

This list is as comprehensive as I could make it, based largely on the dozen or so Jean Anderson cookbooks in my personal collection. I also checked with and for titles. I have ordered “Quick Loaves” and plan to purchase both “A Love Affair With Southern Cooking” and “Falling off the Bone”. People who know me well are aware that I have had a running love affair with southern cooking for many years also and wrote about it way back when in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, an article that was titled “That’s What I like about the South”.

Happy Cooking! And when you aren’t cooking, read a good cookbook!

–Sandra Lee Smith


She goes on to relate the story of Abe Lincoln and New Salem fruit pies. “As a lanky young lawyer, Abe Lincoln satisfied his sweet tooth with home-baked fruit pies”.

One of his biographers, the famed newspaperwoman, Ida Tarbell, told how the ladies of New Salem, remembering his youthful fondness for their fruit pies, would bake and ship fruit pies to the by-then President Lincoln. The wrapping-shipping process was a chore, more trouble in a way than the baking. Special pie baskets were enclosed in homemade wooden boxes. Apple pies were the easiest to ship (there was no quick-service railway express in those days), but in season, the ladies did not hesitate to ship the President sour cherry or blackberry pie. For home consumption, the pies were baked with lattice tops. For but protection two crusts were generally used. The steam gashes were often fancifully made in the shape of a Star or the letter L (for Lincoln, of course) or B for blackberry or C for cherry. It was a labor of love the New Salem ladies performed—one much appreciated by the war-weary President, who must have thought often and nostalgically of the ‘good old days’ when he was a young man in New Salem.

There are quite a few references to pie in Poppy Cannon’s book—bearing in mind that throughout the 1700s, 1800s, and most of the 1900s, pie was an important factor in American cuisine. Cannon writes that one of President Van Buren’s closest friends was the writer Washington Irving. The two exchanged frequent visits and shared many common interests, including good food. One of their shared interests was a mincemeat pie, a specialty of Irving’s cook, Mrs. Robert McLinden.

Cannon notes that President Adams’ family recipe for matrimony cake is actually a recipe for apple pie…which reminds me that Boston cream pie isn’t actually a pie…but is a cake! For those of you who like to know these things, Boson Cream Pie was first created at the famous Parker House hotel in Boston. It is made from very light sponge cake layers with a custard filling in-between, and a chocolate glaze on top. According to Henry Haller, author of “The White House Family Cookbook”, Boston cream pie was a dessert sometimes served during the Nixon presidency.

Most of our American presidents considered apple pie one of their favorite desserts. President Eisenhower liked a deep-dish apple pie from Mamie’s recipe collection, and for a change of pace, they enjoyed an apple pie with a sharp cheese lining (that sounds interesting). President Nixon’s favorite pie was Key Lime—Nixon also had a favorite meat pie, a Tamale Pie recipe that was popular in California years ago and occasionally makes a comeback. Recipes for tamale pie can often be found in California cookbooks.

Mrs. Nixon’s favorite pie was a raspberry pie while Lady Bird Johnson had a favorite recipe for pecan pie, made from pecans grown on LBJ ranch. There is a story that pecan pie, made from pecans grown on LBC Ranch, was prepared and waiting for President Kennedy on the fateful day in Dallas.

President Andrew Jackson was fond of fried apple pies, while President Buchanan liked a Muscadine pie made from the grapes of his grape arbor, which Poppy Cannon says he cared for “fastidiously”.

One of President Garfield’s favorite pies was made from sour apples while a strawberry pie was said to be MRS. Coolidge’s favorite dessert. One of MRS. Eisenhower’s favorite desserts was pumpkin chifffon pie. Pumpkin chiffon is no longer a part of our culinary landscape, According to Merrill Shindler, author of “AMERICAN DISH”, chiffon pies, cakes and puddings were a fad of the post war years—while this is unquestionably true, I have traced chiffon pies to community cookbooks published in the 1920s and 1930s. The earliest I have been able to find was a lemon chiffon pie published in a Los Angeles community cookbook in 1923. Patricia Bunning Stevens confirms my own research, in “RARE BITS”, stating that the first really new pie of the 20th century was the chiffon pie, introduced in the 1920s.

If I might digress for just a moment–as noted in Gerry Schremp’s “KITCHEN CULTURE”, published by Pharos Books in 1991, chiffon cake was created by a California insurance salesman, Harry Baker, in 1927. For the next twenty years, Mr. Baker became famous in Hollywood, making his famous cake for restaurants and movie industry parties. In 1947, he sold the recipe to General Mills and the world then discovered that the mystery ingredient was salad oil. It was undoubtedly during this period that the myriad of chiffon desserts were so popular.

I could spend a long time writing about the presidents and their favorite pies as White House cookery is a favorite interest of minebut before moving on, would like to comment on a favorite recipe from Martha Washington’s family…it was called “HARTY CHOAK PIE” which translates today as – if you haven’t already guessed – Artichoke pie.

References to Artichoke pie can be found in centuries-old cookbooks. Lorna Sass, author of “TO THE QUEEN’S TASTE/Elizabethan feasts and recipes”, which was published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976, provides a recipe for Artichoke pie, noting, “Hakluyt points out in his VOIAGES AND DISCOVERIES OF THE ENGLISH NATION (1589) that the artichoke was a relatively new foodstuff for the Elizabethans. ‘In time of memory’ he claims, ‘things have bene brought in that were not here before, as…the Artichowe in time of Henry the eight.’”

Ms. Sass provides a number of medieval pie recipes in this and a companion volume, “TO THE KING’S TASTE”, also published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She notes that the Elizabethans were fond of cooking food in edible containers and many of their recipes were for pies. Pies and tarts, she observes, were among the highlights of Elizabethan cuisine. Many of these recipes might be found cloyingly sweet for today’s palate, as they combined numerous spices and sweet ingredients.

While doing research for an article I wrote for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, titled “Kitchens West” I found numerous references to pies made by pioneer women as they made the enormously difficult trip across the plains to Oregon and California. Despite all the hardships of traveling in a covered wagon, a conveyance about the size of today’s mini-van, these women baked breads and pies usually on a daily basis! (pie-making was second only to bread making).

There are many references in Susan Butruille’s book, “Women’s Voices from the Oregon Trail”, as well as in the Covered Wagon Women series, edited and compiled by Kenneth Holmes, to pioneer women baking pies from dried fruit and occasionally from berries they and their children would sometimes find on the trail. It has been thought that the ubiquitous mock apple pie may have originated on the Oregon Trail, some forgotten pioneer woman’s effort to provide her family with their favorite dessert when there were no dried apples nor any fresh fruit to make a pie filling.

However, Poppy Cannon, in “The President’s Cookbook” writes, “The Civil War created havoc with the traditionally rich Southern cooking. Although those in Washington were not noticeably deprived, countrymen in the South were suffering from severe shortages of familiar foods…”

Cannon goes on to provide a recipe taken from “THE CONFEDERATE RECIPE BOOK”, subtitled “A Compilation of Over One Hundred Recipes Adapted to the Times.” What follows is a recipe for mock apple pie—apple pie made without apples, by soaking a large bowl of crackers in water or milk. It would seem, then, that mock apple pie was familiar to women of the south, during the Civil War, and therefore undoubtedly familiar to the pioneer women crossing the plains in the mid-1800s.

Today’s version of Mock Apple Pie, made from Ritz crackers, is astonishingly “deceiving”—it tastes just like the real thing. Considering that a box of Ritz crackers, today, costs more than several pounds of apples, you’d have to ask yourself – why bother? But pioneer women didn’t have fresh fruit and after months on the trail, they sometimes didn’t have any dried fruit, either. An early Minnesota cookbook provides a recipe for mock mince pie that was also made from crackers, “Boston or butter crackers”. Americans became incredibly adept at creating all sorts of ‘mock’ foods, from mock turtle soup to mock coconut pie, made from potatoes. In Lincoln’s time there was even a recipe for fried oysters without oysters, made from corn—this is a subject we’ll have to delve into another time).

Writing on the subject of pie-baking on the Oregon Trail, Jacqueline Williams, author of “WAGON WHEEL KITCHENS” says that pies placed a close second in the baking department, after bread. Apple pie headed the list but mince, pumpkin, peach, currant and pot pies were mentioned in diaries and letters. “Even though baking pies involved mixing dough, making a crust, stewing fruit (usually dried), and lighting a fire, pies were such a part of the American cuisine that women were expected to make them for most meals…” The main complaint on the trail about pies, says Williams, was their sameness. “Spit in my ears and tell me lies, but give me no dried apple pies” was one of many ditties coined by the emigrants. (Other baked foods written about in diaries included apple dumplings, crullers, fruit cakes, doughnuts, fritters, bran dumplings, ginger snaps, fruit cakes, molasses cake and cookies!).

Charles Perry notes that in the late 1800s, American lumberjacks in a logging camp were described as eating mince pies three times a day and adds that the idea of pie for breakfast still hangs on in some places, especially Pennsylvania Dutch country. (One can’t help wondering—did the lumberjacks eat mince pies three times a day because they liked it so much, or was it because nothing else was available?).

Writing of lumberjacks reminded me of a recipe found in “HOW AMERICA EATS” by Clementine Paddleford, published in 1949. The author was directed to a place in Massachusetts, where a lady there made—in batches of a dozen at a time—a lumberjack pie, which starts out with “3 lbs fresh pork shoulder, 3 lbs chuck beef…” Need I say more?

Some of my favorite food historians are oddly remiss on the subject of pies—I found little written in Evan Jones’ “American Food” and Katie Stewart’s “The Joy of Eating” and even less in Reay Tannahill’s “Food in History”. While “The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking through the Ages” provides a number of pie recipes it offers no historical background on the subject.

However, there are a fair amount of cookbooks entirely devoted to the subject of pies. Sometimes they are in booklet form, such as Crisco’s “AMERICAN PIE CELEBRATION” volumes one and two, which featured the prize-winning recipes of the Crisco pie recipe contests, or the Good Housekeeping Party Pie book which originally sold for 39 cents. Better Homes and Gardens published a cookbook called “PIES AND CAKES” which originally sold, I think, for $1.95 in 1966. A few years later, BH&G devoted an entire cookbook to “ALL-TIME FAVORITE PIES”, published in 1978.

In 1965, Farm Journal published their “COMPLETE PIE COOKBOOK”—As anyone who collects cookbooks knows, the Farm Journal cookbooks are great books to have on your kitchen shelf.

Not a cookbook devoted entirely to pies, but “FORGOTTEN RECIPES” compiled by Jaine Rodack, published first in 1981, contains some pie recipes worth mentioning—ranging from grape skin pie to carrot pie and including something from 1921 called prune pie.

Cookbook author Teresa Kennedy is the author of “AMERICAN PIE” (subtitled ‘Irresistible recipes for fillings and crusts from four generations of champion pie bakers”), published in 1984. In the introduction, Ms. Kennedy observes that “It wasn’t until the bicentennial in 1976 that our nation really rediscovered ‘American food”. She says that, fueled by a long, nostalgic look at our past and its traditions, we began to recognize that American cuisine consisted of more than just fast-food burgers, hot dogs, and meat loaf and that American cooking was thriving in unique and infinite variety. “Pies,” notes the author, “piled high with fresh fruit or rich with cream—have been cooling on American windowsills since the colonial days. Perhaps no single product of this country’s cooking is more indigenous or more inspiring. After all, it was Mom’s Apple pie that sent soldiers into battle…”

Ms. Kennedy waxes poetic in writing that pies are what American food is really about. Pie baking competitions and pie-eating contests have been part of the American tradition from Bangor to Baton Rouge.

Speaking of pie baking competitions brought to mind the “BRAHAM’S 1991 PIE COOKBOOK”, from Braham, the Homemade Pie Capital of Minnesota. The folks in Braham have an original pie recipe contest out of which 104 were selected for this cookbook. (Curiously, ice cream pies were the big winners in 1991. What happened to mom’s apple pie?).

Does anyone in Minnesota know whether this contest is still going on? What do you have to do to become a judge?

“BLUE RIBBON PIES” was compiled by Maria Polushinkin Robbins in 1987. This is a compilation of “75 of the mouthwatering award-winning recipes from America’s State, County, and Local fairs”, proving that pie still captivates the American heartland.

Cookbook author Teresa Kennedy returned with more to say on the subject, in 1993, with the publication of “THE HUMBLE PIE/50 TORTES, QUICHES, PIZZAS AND EMPANADAS”, published by Collier Books. Ms. Kennedy notes that, “Although the main-dish pie has never become as popular in America as it has throughout the rest of the world, it is my own feeling that it is an idea whose time has very definitely come…” Kennedy states that as cooks the world over have long known, main-dish pies are easy, economical and nutritious. Many of the recipes in “The Humble Pie” would be absolutely ideal to serve at parties.

Leisure Arts, whose books you may have discovered and found captivating, published “EASY AS PIE” in their ‘memories in the making series’ in 1996. Although it does contain some nice pie recipes, this is really a dessert cookbook, replete with pie, cake and other pastry desserts.

There is a great little book called “Far Flung Hubbell” by Sue Hubbell, published in 1995 by Random House, which includes an essay called (what else?) “The Great American Pie Expedition”. Ms. Hubbell is a writer/bee-keeper/truck driver who has written numerous pieces for The New Yorker. While the author was on the road (delivering honey from her bee keeping ventures to retailers hither and yon), she sampled pie…pie made by the Shakers of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, Kentucky; Nantucket Cranberry Pie in Maine, pecan pie, banana pudding pie, apple pie and sour-cream raisin pie at the Potato City Motor Inn in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

“Americans”, says Hubbell, “discovered that other tasty pies could be made from materials at hand. A mock-cherry pie could be made with Cape Cod cranberries. Vermont pie was made from apples, with syrup cooked down from the sap of maple trees. American pioneers improvised and created our very own pumpkin pie. Americans, says Hubbell, were the first to discover what pies could be. Hubbell pulls no punches revealing what pies were good and which ones not-so-good in this most entertaining article.

More recently, cookbook author Pat Willard wrote “PIE EVERY DAY”, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1997.

Mindy Marin is the author of “THE SECRET TO TENDER PIE/AMERICA’S GRANDMOTHERS SHARE THEIR FAVORITE RECIPES” published by Ballantine Books, also in 1997.

Ms. Marin’s cookbook is charming “Some of these delicious old-fashioned recipes,” claim the publishers, “are pulled from the backs of kitchen drawers and corner cupboards, some strictly from memory, never before written down. Some were scrawled in faded ink on yellowed bits of paper, some scrupulously copies from the margins of old cookbooks…Mindy’s own Grandma Bessie Cecil finally reveals the secret to her unforgettable apple pie made from Gravensteins or Granny Smiths….”

The cookbook itself was inspired by Mindy’s grandmother and a recipe she gave to her. During the Christmas of 1992, Mindy’s grandmother asked her what she wanted for a present. The author realized that what she wanted most was her grandmother’s recipe for apple pie—and when she received it, two weeks later in the mail, it occurred to her that if her grandma had a recipe that meant so much to her, so must grandmothers everywhere. The Los Angeles Times published an article about her quest and she received hundreds of recipes from which to choose (I wish I had thought of this). “The Secret to Tender Pie” isn’t limited to pie recipes, but it is charmingly written, replete with photos, and a worthy addition to your cookbook collection.

Not to be overlooked is the subject of pie crust. As noted earlier, pie crusts in medieval times wasn’t even meant to be eaten. The flaky, tender pie crust that evolved in the 1800s and 1900s was certainly a product of American pride and engenuity. That, and lard. There is a most entertaining essay on pie crust in Jeffrey Steingarten’s “THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING” in which the author embarkes on a pilgrimage to find the perfect pie crust. He had an ulterior motive; he wanted to impress cookbook author Marion Cunningham, who was coming to town. The objective of the Perfect American pie crust, says Steingarten, must be seven things at once—flaky, airy, light, tender, crisp, well browned, and good tasting. He goes on to say that the tricky ones are flaky, tender and crisp,–because these are independent virtues. Getting flaky, tender and crisp to happen at the same time in the same pie seems nearly impossible.

Yet, he concurs, millions of American women and men in the early 1900s could do it in their sleep and probably tens of thousands can today. Marion, he says, is one of them. (You will have to read the book to learn more).

(Had Mr. Steingarten read John & Karen Hess’ “THE TASTE OF AMERICA”, first published in the USA in 1977, he might have discovered early on the importance of weighing, rather than measuring, flour—but then wouldn’t have had such an entertaining article to write in the aftermath).

If you are a serious about pie making and aspire to something greater than what the frozen food section of your supermarket has to offer, may I suggest Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “THE PIE AND PASTRY BIBLE”, published by Scribner in 1998. Few cookbook authors take the time to delve as deeply into a subject as Beranbaum, whose chapters include everything—from crusts to equipment. Sandwiched inbetween are chapters on everything from fruit pies to chiffon pies, from custard pies and tarts, to savory tarts and quiche, from puff pastry and croissant to fillings and toppings and sauces and glazes. There are helpful line drawn illustrations and color photographs that are guaranteed to make your mouth water.

An article about pie-making would not be complete, I think, without the inclusion of impossible pies. It took a bit of research to come up with some background material about impossible pies. I knew that the first one was a coconut impossible pie that has been around for decades, showing up in church-and-club cookbooks during the 60s. Impossible pies are, in case you have been living in Tibet and have been oblivious, a kind of pie that makes its own crust. I finally unearthed some information about impossible pies in Al Sicherman’s marvelous “CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE” (mine is a soft-cover edition published in 1988 by Harper & Row. Sicherman acknowledges that Impossible coconut pie was the first and no one knows how the recipe originated.
In any case, it wasn’t the people who make Bisquick. When they first heard about the recipe, they didn’t think it had enough potential—it didn’t use enough Bisquick. However, Mr. Sicherman did contact the people at General Mills, where Bisquick is manufacturered, and spoke to a representative who agreed that they didn’t know how the impossible pies got their start, but when the people at General Mills began to realize its potential (much like, one assumes, the people at Pillsbury began to grasp the potential of the tunnel of fudge cake), they began working up their own recipes. Now there are infinite impossible pie recipes for both dessert and main dish categories. I have often made Impossible pumpkin pie (and like it very much, thank you), and Impossible brownie pie. But if those are not to your liking, you can also choose from an assortment of other impossibles—cheesecake, pecan pie, chocolate cream pie, banana cream and French apple. And, of course, the original Impossible coconut pie.

Of the dozens of main-dish recipes, you can choose from impossible beef enchilada , impossible cheeseburger pie, impossible turkey & stuffing and impossible chicken pot pie.

One summer I was spending a few weeks visiting some friends and the two daughters and I took turns, almost nightly, whipping up various versions of an impossible vegetable pie until we finally became impossibly tired of it all and went to El Torito’s for margaritas and burritos. (Actually, the impossible pies are great, simple, and they reheat nicely. You just might not want to eat it every night for two weeks).

As I dug into dozens of cookbooks, searching for pie history and pie recipes, I realized that many recipes have faded into obscurity, pies such as grasshopper pie and shoo fly pie, chess pie and vinegar pie, even the chiffon pies of the 40s….some recipes disappear for a few decades and then re-appear, sometimes with a bit of a face-uplift, such as tamale pie while still others re-appear with a slimmed-down version, with less calories, less fat, less sugar.

Is pie disappearing from our culinary landscape?

What do you think?

“Delicious Pies”

Originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, on November 10, 1907. Author unknown.

In Spring men sigh
For Cherry pie
To soothe their taste capricious
‘tis with delight
they surely bite
and say that it’s delicious.

But later on
Ere Spring is gone,
They want a change from cherries,
And then they cry
For fragrant pie
That’s stuffed with luscious berries.

In summer days
The same old craze
For pie a new trick teaches,
With strong desire
Men then inquire
For pastry filled with peaches.

In chilly fall
For pie they call
But this time it is noted,
They want the kind
in which they find
sweet pumpkin thickly coated.

In winter drear
They persevere
For pies they still are scheming
But when it’s brought
They want it hot
And packed with mincemeat steaming.

Thus all year ‘round
Can pie be found
And men are quick to grab it—
Advice they spurn,
For pie they yearn,
And won’t give up the habit.

As a bit of a postscript to this, I would like to let all of you know that the kind of writing I used to do for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange for which this was originally published, would not have been possible without all of the assistance given to me, by my faithful researchers, Pat & Stan Stuart, Mandy Leon, and Sue Erwin, who all, often, tracked down information for me. I began to feel like Sue was looking over my shoulder as I wrote, for she often anticipated exactly what I was looking for even before I start writing.

Hope you all found this in apple-pie order!

–Sandra Lee Smith


Purdy writes that “Immigrants from other countries brought their own native specialties to our shores. The earliest of these were the Pilgrims, who brought family pie recipes among their meager possessions. The colonists and their pies adapted simultaneously to the ingredients and techniques available to them in the New World.

At first, they baked pies with berries and fruits pointed out to them by the Indians. Besides baking fruit pies and tarts as they had in their homelands, sparse new foods were stretched by being encased in pastry shells; sometimes foods were stretched even further by placing them between two crusts of dough or topping them with mashed potatoes…” (Top the pie off with mashed potatoes and it becomes Shepherd’s Pie, an English pub classic which may have been introduced to the United States around 1912). Shepherd’s pie is so-named because it was originally made from lamb.

Of Shepherd’s Pie, Jane Garmey, author of “Great British Cooking” writes, “Shepherd’s Pie has always been a favorite standby for institutional cooks and has been forced unwillingly on successive generations of schoolchildren, prison inmates and paying guests in seaside establishments of dubious quality. Traditionally, an authentic shepherd’s pie is made with leftover roast lamb that has been put through a mincer….” Explains Garmey, “meat leftover from the Sunday joint would appear in a variety of ways throughout the rest of the week and this gave rise to the old ditty: “Hot on Sunday, Cold on Monday, Hashed on Tuesday, Minced on Wednesday, Curried on Thursday, Broth on Friday, Cottage pie Saturday”….

Every matron should know
In her pantry may lie,
The spirit of peace
In a savory pie

(From Kitchenology, the Principia Mothers’ Club, St. Louis, Mo., 1933)

James Beard, in “AMERICAN COOKERY” (first published in 1972 by Little, Brown and Company), notes that “Early English settlers in America brought a heritage of enclosing everything edible in a pie crust, and meat pies were a common way of using up leftover roasts, combined with vegetables. Frequently the pies were baked in large outdoor ovens or in ovens built alongside the fireplace. Sometimes, too, they were made in pottery bowls that were put into a large kettle, which in turn was buried in hot coals…” There were also pot pies, says Beard, and the Pennsylvania Dutch idea of pot pie was a well-greased kettle lined with strips of freshly rolled-out noodle dough and filled with meat, gravy, and vegetables…”

Pat Willard, author of “Pie Every Day” explains that people did not used to be so picky about how their crusts came out. “When the first European settlers came to America,” says Willard, “the pie recipes they brought with them called for crusts that acted as cooking pots.

As dense and tasty as baked clay, the pastry that surrounded the first American pies was broken apart to get at what was inside.

If it could be eaten at all, it was because the gravy and juices on the interior had softened it until it could be used like a biscuit to sop up the remains…” Willard relates that in 1758, Doctor Acrelius, a Swedish parson visiting America, wrote back to his family that he had been served an abundance of apple pie whose crust “is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.”

This was because the English settlers often used suet, or solidified rendered drippings from meat, for their crusts.

“When baked,” explains Willard, “this kind of dough turns a wonderful golden color but is as hard as plasterboard and has a strong animal taste…”

“Shoo-fly pie and apple pan dowdy, makes your eyes light up and your stomach say howdy!”

(Shoo-fly pie was made with molasses, which attracts er….pesky flies, which is supposedly how Shoo Fly pie got its name. Phyllis Pellman Good, author of “The Best of Amish Cooking” describes Shoo-Fly pie as a “hybrid cake within a pie shell”. She provides a recipe for Montgomery Pie, noting that “pies with cakey tops and a variety of syrupy flavored bottoms are remembered especially by older members of the Amish community”. Apple pan dowdy is similar to apple pie, but contains molasses or maple syrup).

The Pennsylvania Dutch are known to be famous for their pies, so I decided to see what William Woys Weaver had to say on the subject, in his book “PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH COUNTRY COOKING”

“Gumbis (GOOM-biss”)” writes Weaver, “is a dialect corruption of the Latin word compositum, the past particle of the verb componere, which has several root meanings. One of these is “to put together” as in the act of creating something out of small parts. Thus, in culinary terms, composita are ‘compositions’ assembled from layered ingredients. This is the meaning of GUMBIS as it is understood in most Swiss dialects and is also the meaning in Pennsylfaanish. ‘Any baked deep-dish casserole made with layered ingredients fits the definition of a Pennsylvania Dutch Gumbis.

Another species of GUMBIS is the type made by layering noodles. These are generally referred to by the Pennsylvania Dutch as potpies. The true potpie of colonial America actually belongs to a separate tribe of recipes based on the cauldron cookery of the British Isles, whereby an iron cookbook is lined with a disposable crust…”

Weaver goes on to say that this was doubtless the type of potpie prepared for Henrich Freitag, a well digger, who settled in Stark County Ohio about 1805. “Until his first planting of crops matured,” writes Weaver, “Henrich and his family were forced to live off game and wild berries.

Then, when locusts appeared to ravage his new fields, Henrich, with a practical turn of mind, had his wife make potpie out of them. After eating the pie, Freitag remarked, ‘It’s the best pie you can make’. His descendants have not preserved the recipe….”

However, Weaver doesn’t agree with other food historians on the origin of the word pie. Says Weaver, “The term pie probably derives from the Celtic bih or bei, a word for something small, as in the Gaulish beic. The French words petit and piece both derive from beic. Thus, in its root culinary meaning, a pie was probably either a form of stuffed pasta as in Italian raviola, or a similarly shaped finger food such as a pastry….”

A glance in the kitchen window as I am passing by,
Reveals a pretty picture—fair Crissy making pie.
Sleeves to her dimpled elbows, flour on her arms and hands;
Beside the oaken table in graceful pose she stands.
(From Rio Bravo Farm Home Department Cookbook, undated)

In his book “America Eats”, published in 1989 by William Woys Weaver, he provides an explanation for Vinegar pie, (which seems to have been popular sometime in the 1800s), which I confess, had me greatly baffled. However, it seems that the invention of Vinegar pie was the result of some inventive housewife’s answer to lemon meringue pie. Weaver says that it might also be called a Poor man’s lemon meringue pie. The creation of the original lemon meringue pie called for a lot of fresh eggs, sweet cream butter and fresh lemons. Says Weaver, the vinegar pie recipe reduces the lemons to a mere hint of grated zest and replaces them with vinegar. The result looks like lemon meringue pie but the taste is not the same. However, vinegar pie became a feature of hotel and boarding house cookery in the upper midwest, doubtless, says Weaver, because this part of the country was far enough away from coastal ports to make the cost of lemons prohibitive. Although the Browns, in their book “AMERICA COOKS” included the recipe in their chapter on North Dakota and called it “Pioneer Vinegar Pie”, Weaver believes it should have been included under Michigan, where he believes it originated.
Meat pies, in any case, both large and small, have been around for centuries and eventually evolved into today’s potpie (on a trip to Michigan with my sister, one year, I was addicted to sampling chicken pot pies almost everywhere we ate, usually restaurants proclaiming “home-style food”). Believe me, a real cooked from scratch potpie bears little resemblance to its frozen cousin. I still swoon remembering the huge chunks of chicken, golden gravy and flaky crust…There are different versions of meat pies to be found in many different parts of the world. There are Cornish Pasties and Scottish Bridies, South American Empanadas and Mexican Tamales, The Asian Samosas and the English Shepherd’s Pie, Jamaican Beef pies, Polish pirogi, the Russian Pirozhky which is similar to pirogi, the French Quiche,* as well as turnovers and potpies and tamale pies. And what is today’s enormously popular taco but a modern day version of a meat pie that can be eaten out of hand?
(Says Charles Perry, the American idea of pie is still colored by the large medieval European “standing pie”, which is why we still make plate-size pies in a world in which the handful or the mouthful is the usual pie-size). (It seems to me that food manufacturers are still working hard to sell little meat pies to the public. Note the microwavable Lean Pockets, Hot Pockets and Croissant Pockets in your supermarket freezer case!).

In pointing out various counterparts to French and British dishes, Jane Garmey notes that since “cooks are notorious borrowers and thieves, all that this really proves is that no cuisine belongs exclusively to one country. What each country does is to lend food a national character”. And, although pie wasn’t on Garmey’s mind when she wrote this statement, it can be no truer than with pies.

*Interestingly—quiche actually has Austrian ancestry; the word is derived from the German word kuche – and although it’s supposed that real men don’t eat quiche, according to “The Cook’s Tales”, by Lee Edwards Benning, it was the real men fighting in World War II who brought quiche to America in the 1940s
(There is a most interesting explanation of Quiche in this book, which goes into far more detail).
“Pastry rolled out like a plate,
Pile with turmut, tates and mate,
Doubled up and baked like fate,
That’s a Cornish Pasty”

(From Jane Garmey’s “Great British Cooking/A Well Kept Secret”, published by Harper Perennial , 1981). (Ms. Garmey doesn’t translate the meaning of turmut, tates and mate for us but perhaps the tates are potatoes and the mate, meat? And might the turmut be turnips?)

“In the nineteenth century,” explains Garmey, “Cornish Pasties were eaten at home and taken to work by the tin miners, who kept them in their pockets and ate them for lunch. When the pasties were being made, it was the custom for each family member to place his initials on one corner of a pasty so that no one else would steal a bite…” (At the risk of digressing too much, I have to add that putting one’s initial on a pie dates back centuries, to a time when women made their pies and then took them to a communal oven to be baked.

From this we got the nursery rhyme, “patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man, bake me a cake as fast as you can, roll it and pat it and mark with it B, then put it in the oven for baby and me…”

Garmey explains that a pasty is a turnover usually filled with meat, but it could have other fillings. When times were hard, the pasties were filled with potatoes and called Tiddy Oggies (tiddy being the local name for a potato), not, she adds, to be confused with Priddy Oggies which came from the town of Priddy…and were filled with pork and cheddar cheese. In the north of England, says Garmey, pasties were made in the shape of a foot and called Lancashire Foot.

“Whereever there were miners in America,” explains James Beard in “American Cookery”, “the miners of Cornwall and Wales could be found. They introduced their famous ‘lunch’ Cornish pasties (pronounced past-ees). Pasties were large rounds of pastry filled with cooked or uncooked cubed or chopped meat, onions, potatoes and sometimes carrots, turnips and other root vegetables. The pastry crust was usually ‘tough’ or not very fat pastry so that the miners could wrap the pasties in cloth or newspaper and tuck them into a pocket before they went down into the mines to work.
If we are to believe Raymond Sokolov, author of “Why We Eat What We Eat”, the expression “As American as Apple Pie” is really a misnomer. Sokolov points out that before Columbus, there were no apple trees in America. Settlers brought seeds and grafts to the New World, hoping to re-create their old way of life. What they found is that the seedlings did much better than pure European strains. Seedlings, like human children, are all unique products of sexual reproduction. Each one is, technically speaking, a new variety. And so, almost immediately, farmers were in possession of new apple varieties sprung from New World soil under New World conditions. By 1741, says Sokolov, American apples were exported on a regular basis to the West Indies.
(I thought the statement—there were no apple trees in North America—to be challenging. However, at least one of my cookbooks, “Cooking With Apples” by Shirley Munson & Jo Nelson, with the Food Editors of Farm Journal, states that crabapples were growing wild in North America but the fruits were bitter, sour and very small.

What is uniquely American is what we were able to do with apples and apple pie.

In 1896, the American poet, Eugene Field wrote:


Henry Ward Beecher (the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe) took the time to explain how and when to serve apple pie, writing, “While it is yet florescent, white or creamy yellow, with the merest drip of candied juice along the edges, (as if the flavor were so good to itself that its own lips watered!) of a mild and modest warmth, the sugar suggesting jelly, yet not jellied, the morsels of apple neither dissolved nor yet in original substance, but hanging as it were in a trance between the spirit and the flesh of applehood…then O blessed man, flavored by all the divinities! Eat, give thanks, and go forth, in ‘apple-pie order!”

“The apple”, writes Phillip Stephen Schulz, in “As American As Apple Pie”, (published 1990 by Random House), “was an important staple in eighteenth and nineteenth century New England. It could be served in one form or another at every meal…by the end of the nineteenth century eight thousand apple varieties were listed by the Department of Agriculture; today there are probably tens of thousands…”

Schulz also gives John Chapman, alias “Johnny Appleseed” credit for being the man responsible for America’s love of apple pie, because he alone planted thousands of apple trees in this country. Apples had long been established in New England by the time Chapman was born in 1774 and as previously noted, apples had been a part of British cuisine since Elizabethan times. Pilgrim women brought pie recipes along with their rolling pins to the New World, along with apple cuttings from England.

(On the subject of apple pies, and particularly dried apple, called schnitz by the Pennsylvania Dutch, William Woys Weaver says that Pennsylvania Germans knew about apple pies of the English sort long before they settled in America. “Covered pies,” writes Weaver, “or Pasteten, were popular in Germany during the Baroque period…” Schnitz are slices of dried apple. According to Weaver, in his book “SAUERKRAUT YANKEE”, apple schnitz have been found among the remains of Stone Age lake dwellings in Switzerland, providing a bit of a clue to the role dried apples have played in the diet of Europeans over the centuries.

–William Henry Venable, “Johnny Appleseed”

Thinking about pie-making in the 1800s reminded me of something I had read a while back about Abraham Lincoln and his love of fruit pies. A quick search turned up the reference in “THE PRESIDENTS COOKBOOK” by Poppy Cannon, published in 1968 by Funk & Wagnalis.

“Although indifferent to many foods,” writes Cannon, “Lincoln did have one culinary obsession; he was inordinately fond of all kinds of fruit.

He wrote to a friend, Miss Mary Speed of Louisville, Kentucky: “I am literally subsisting on savoury remembrances—that is, being unable to eat, I am living upon the remembrance of the delicious dishes of peaches and cream we used to have at your house.” Peaches and cream, or peach pie was all the same to Lincoln as long as it contained fresh fruit.


–Sandra Lee Smith


” What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye
What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?”

Ever Since I first clipped a poem about pies from a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper over 40 years ago, and then began searching for rhymed recipes about food—and in particular, pie—pie has been ever on my mind. I discovered I was not alone in my quest.

Food editors throughout the country often feature pie; over the past few years I have managed to collect a small stack of articles about pie—from Marion Cunningham’s perfect pecan pie, to the Chicago Tribune’s “Easy as Pie? Well, not quite” by Kristin Eddy, from a Washington Times article creatively titled “Baking Pies can be a piece of Cake”, to a Los Angeles Times article by Russ Parsons, called “Fear of Pie-Ing” . The Los Angeles Times staff writer Charles Perry, whose work I greatly admire, wrote an article in November, 1993, titled “The Slice of History”, while the Times-Picayne newspaper, in November, 1998, provided an article called “Humble Pie”. The latter is the story of a bayou country family who have been making, and selling, melt in your mouth crawfish and chicken pies for over fifty years; it’s a wonderful success story of American ingenuity, about a woman widowed with six children more than 50 years ago, who didn’t know how she was going to make ends meet, who began making little pies to sell to the women of her town.

Elizabeth Craig, author of “COURT FAVOURITES” tells us that humble pie was originally made with venison. Patricia Bunning Stevens, author of a fascinating book titled “RARE BITS”, (Ohio University Press, 1998) subtitled unusual origins of popular recipes, takes Humble Pie a step further. Umbles, explains Stevens, were the internal organs of the deer, traditionally the servant’s portion. While the noble huntsman and his guests feasted on roast venison, the kitchen help made merry with an umble pie. She says that a play on words was inevitable. By the nineteenth century, some wit had coined the phrase ‘to eat humble pie’ and it became a part of the language.

My friend Sue Erwin and I discovered, in the Library of Congress Experimental Search System, over 400 listings with “pie” in the titles. Not all, of course, were cookbooks for expressions using the word “pie” have become commonplace. “Easy as Pie” might be considered an oxymoron, or perhaps more appropriate over one hundred years ago when women baked pies on a daily basis, even when trekking across the plains in covered wagons!

As anyone who actually makes a pie from scratch, today, knows—baking a pie really isn’t all that easy. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, I can make a pie from scratch. When my four sons were growing up, I often baked my own pies, usually fruit-filled. They all loved apple or cherry or peach pies). Their daddy wouldn’t eat a cream pie so neither would they. I mastered the art of pie crust but have discovered that, in recent years, I have lost “the touch”. I think pie-making is an art you have to keep up with.

Then there are expressions like getting “pie-eyed” (very drunk), “getting a piece of the pie”, “As American as apple pie” and “eating humble pie”. There is an old expression, “apple-pie order” but don’t overlook terms of endearment, such as “Sweetie-Pie”, “Sugar-Pie” or “Honey-Pie”. There is “Pie in the Sky” and my favorite ice-cream bar, “Eskimo Pie”. The origins of some of these expressions are in themselves interesting; some can be found in a book called “Lady Fingers and Nun’s Tummies” by Martha Barnette, published by Vintage Books in 1998.

Susan Purdy, in her booklet “As Easy as Pie” (published by Ballantine Books) notes that “pie quotations and cliches are as thick as berries in a homemade pie, and with good reason: They ring true.” Purdy says that if a vote were taken, pie would be (and in many places, has been) chosen hands down as the all-time great national dessert, with apple pie as the favorite flavor”. But, she adds that homemade pies of all flavors are on their way to becoming a lost art. Is she right? (And do you think the people at Bakers Square and Marie Calendar’s would agree?)

According to Charles Panati, author of “EXTRAORDINARY ORIGINS OF EVERYDAY THINGS”, “Although baking bread and confections began in ancient Egypt, there is no evidence that civilizations first bakers ever stumbled on the idea of stuffing a dough shell with meat, fish, or fruit. That culinary advance was made in ancient Greece, where the artocreas, a hash-meat pie with only a bottom crust, endured for centuries. Two features distinguished those early pies from today’s. They had no top crust and fillings were never fruit or custard, but meat or fish”.

Panati goes on to say that the first pies made with two layers of crust were baked by the Romans; Cato the Elder, a second century B.C., Roman statesman who wrote a treatise on farming, De Agricultura loved delacacies and recorded a recipe for his era’s most popular pie, placenta. Rye and wheat were used in the crust; the sweet, thick filling consisted of honey, spices, and cheese made from sheep’s milk, and the pie was coated with oil and baked atop aromatic bay leaves.

Jeffrey Steingarten, author of “THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING” (Vintage Books, 1998), tells us that savory pies were invented by the ancient Greeks and imitated by the Romans, who brought pie to Gaul. The medieval French were great pie lovers–always meat pies, never fresh fruit—and the Normans took pie along when they conquered Britain in 1066.

Elizabeth Craig writes that “During the reigns of Charles the Second, James the Second, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, pies were seasonal.

In the spring, skerret (?) and oyster pies were among those most frequently served. In the summer, humbler (venison) pie was most popular at court. During the winteer season, it gave place to artichoke and steak pies…”

Steingarten is amazed that no one thought to put fresh fruit into a piecrust until the English and French did it in the early 16th century.

However, Charles Perry notes that pie recipes nearly always included meat or fish until the 15th century, when recipes for pies filled with custard or fruit—nearly always dried fruit such as raisins and dates—began to appear. Perry writes that fresh fruit pies didn’t become common until the 16th century, possibly because sugar was slowly becoming less expensive. (Dried fruit, such as dates and raisins are, as you know, naturally sweet).

According to “The Dictionary of American Food and Drink” by John F. Mariani (published by Hearst Books in 1994), the word “Pie” is from middle English and dates in print to the early thirteenth century.

Newspaper columnist Charles Perry who writes an interesting column titled “Forklore” (sic) says that the very word “pie” is thought to refer to the magpie, a bird famous for its higgledy-piggledy nest. Mincemeat, notes Perry, “that peculiar mixture of meat, suet, nuts and dried fruits, is a perfectly typical medieval pie filling. Medieval pies often contained a vast variety of ingredients, reminiscent of the magpie’s nest.

Barnette, in “Lady Fingers & Nun’s Tummies” agrees with Perry, noting that, “the pie’s miscellaneous innards recall the bird’s (i.e., magpie’s) notorious habit of collecting various and sundry items and hoarding them in its nest. Such an explanation may sound far-fetched,” adds Barnette, “but it’s strengthened by the fact that the name of the Scottish specialty haggis—a boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with the minced organs of a sheep or calf mixed with onions, oatmeal and seasonings—is quite similar to the obsolete English haggess or haggiss, which, as it happens, means ‘magpie’”

Mark Morton, author of “CUPBOARD LOVE/A DICTIONARY OF CULINARY CURIOSITIES”, published in 1963 by Bain & Cox, appears to agree with the above definitions, providing much the same explanation for the origin of these words.

Morton says that from the mid-thirteenth to the early seventeenth century, the bird now known as the magpie was simply called the pie. Morton explains that the English borrowed this ornithological name, pie, from the French, who derived it from the Latin name for the bird, pica, which in turn developed from an Indo-European source meaning pointed, as is the bird’s beak.
“In a 1507 book by the Venetian chef Christofaro di Messisbugo,” writes Charles Perry, “there are recipes for pies made from pureed fava beans, asparagus, artichokes and other vegetables, all flavored with sugar, ginger and cinnamon (and, this being Italy, grated cheese). Sweetened artichoke pie was still being made in England 200 years later, for that matter, Messisbugo gave a spinach pie recipe flavored with figs, walnuts and raisins that’s reminiscent of tarte de blettes, the chard and raisin pie still made in Provence…”

In an article Charles Perry wrote for the Los Angeles Times in November, 1993, he observes “It has often been pointed out that apple pie goes back a long way in England and mince pie is straight out of medieval France…” and though this is true, here in America we have made pie something of our own creation. France and England, says Perry, don’t know our kind of pie.

Charles Perry agrees with John Mariana that pie originated in medieval Europe, but Perry says that the old word for pie crust, coffyn, (meaning a case or box) suggests just how substantial it could be.

“Some pies,” writes Perry, “were baked in pie plates, but the grandest variety was the ‘raised’ pie, baked in a free-standing coffyn, whose edges rose in a thick wall of dough a couple of inches high. It could even be crenelated-—adorned with square notches like the top of a castle wall”.

“For centuries,” says Perry, “pie was largely a way of preserving food, a sort of medieval equivalent of canning, except that the contents were nearly always meat. Often the crust itself was not even meant to be eaten, particularly in the case of game pies.

Red Deer Venison, Wild-Boar, Gammons of Bacon, Swans, Elkes, Porpus and such like standing dishes, which must be kept long,’ wrote the Elizabethan cookery writer Gervase Markham, “would be bak’d in a moyst, thick, tough, course and long-lasting crust, and therefore, of all other your Rye paste is best for that purpose…”

And before you say ew, ew, keep in mind that medieval households didn’t have refrigerators and freezers like we do today. Standing pies, Perry says, were huge and might be eaten from for up to three months. You’d cut a hole in the crust and take out what you wanted and then plug up the hole. When a standing pie came out of the oven, it was common to pour melted butter through a hole in the crust to hermetically seal in the contents. (I don’t suppose there are any statistics at all on how many people in medieval times died of food poisoning).

On the other hand, potted meats—finely ground or minced, cooked and flavored meat, packed into a crock and sealed with melted butter–are known to keep for months if stored in a cool place, so I can see the sense in pouring melted butter over the pie.

“With the introduction of household ovens,” writes Susan Purdy in “EASY AS PIE”, “pastry chefs dreamed up ever more outrageous pastries. Holidays were their showcases. A Christmas banquet, for example, would not fail to provide a swan pie, as well as a Grete Pye, consisting of a pastry shell encasing chicken, capon, peacock, game, and small songirds, all roasted, then inserted one into the other like Chinese boxes. Other pies contained stews or cooked mixtures of meats and fruits combined, such as beef with pears, dates, and nuts, or fruit, wine, eggs, and herbs.

Some combinations were more imaginative, such as beef, mutton, mallards, woodcocks, marrow, eggs, raisins, prunes, cloves, cinnamon and saffron..” (I get indigestion just thinking about some of these mixtures).

Purdy says that, in addition to creative variety, medieval banquets stressed appearance and illusion in foods. Not only were trenchers (the “dish” from which one ate—in medieval times, trenchers were made from bread dough) painted, but all sorts of edibles were gilded and decorated to create picturesque “subleties” for the guests’ amusement. “Unlikely combinations of creatures such as baked pigs and chickens had their carcasses stitched together to create mythological animals. Peacocks were carefully plucked, roasted, boned, then reassembled and re-feathered to look as if they were alive when presented at table. In addition, illusion foods were created for spectacles between courses. Pastry chefs strained their ingenuity to devise outrageous pies for this purpose. From the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, ‘animated pyes’ were the most popular banquet entertainments. The nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence…four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’ refers to such a pie”. Purdy notes that in all likelihood, those birds not only sang, but flew briskly out at the assembled guests, as they were live birds tethered inside a prebaked pastry shell. “Rabbits, frogs, turtles, other small animals and even small people were also set into pies, either alone or with birds, to be released when the crust was cut”, writes Purdy.

She relates that at the coronation banquet of Henry VII in 1485, a “goodlie Custard Pye” was served. Four strong men costumed in red and gold liveries carried this enormous pie to the king, who cut the first slice as fifteen pigeons and one hunchbacked dwarf flew out. (maybe the pigeons flew out, but the dwarf too?)

This story is told also by Elizabeth Craig, author of “COURT FAVOURITES/Recipes from Royal Kitchens”, which was published in London in 1953. This is one of the most treasured cookbooks in my collection. The notes on “Animated Pies” were copied by Queen Victoria from “an Ancient book” and tells how no coronation or great feast was complete in the old days without an “Animated Pye”.

Craig also tells the tale of how it was the custom in the days of Henry the First for the City of Gloucester to send a lamprey pie to the King at Christmas. As the story goes, Henry died from “a surfeit of lampreys” (i.e., he overindulged). However, the death of the king had no effect on the custom of sending the King a lamprey pie—it continued until 1836, when the custom died on account of a shortage of funds.

Queen Elizabeth the First was also fond of lamprey pie, and in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, a lamprey pie weighing 20 lbs was prepared for the event.


Like so many other nursery rhymes, there is a story behind this one as well and is explained in “THE CORNUCOPIA” by Judith Herman and Marguerite Shalett Herman, published by Harper & Row in 1973.

The authors explain, “Behind the nursery rhyme of ‘Little Jack Horner” is a story of intrigue. It concerns 3 people; King Henry VIII, Richard Whiting, abbot of Glastonbury Cathedral; and Jack Horner, steward to the wealthy abbot.
King Henry, according to the story, felt that the churchmen were abusing their power, living like noblemen, dressing in silks and other finery, dining too well at their banquet feasts…the King was said to have been particularly angered when he heard that the abbot had built a kitchen that could not be burned down. To appease the King, the abbot sent his steward, Jack Horner, with a gift for the king. The gift was a favorite pie, a Christmas mince pie. And, as the story goes, Jack opened the pie on his way to London. He saw that it was not filled with the usual minced meat and fruit, but rather with quite different ‘plums’; it contained 12 deeds to 12 different manors, or estates. Jack took the deed to the manor of Mells for himself, and left the rest of the pie for the king. The manor of Mells remained in the Horner family…”

The Elizabethans prepared pork and mutton pies, which were sold by street hawkers throughout the countryside. The filling was supposed to be sealed with an aspic or clarified butter to prevent air from spoiling the contents. “Disreputable or lazy piemen who neglected this sealer often poisoned their customers,” explains Susan Purdy.

“Travelers were warned to be cautious about tasting pies. This led to the implied astonishment in the eighteenth century poem we know as ‘Simple Simon met a pieman/Going to the Fair;/Says Simple Simon to the Pieman/’Let me taste your wares.’”

Other favorite British meat pies include pork pie, veal and ham pie and steak and kidney pie. Many of these recipes date back from medieval times.

This is pretty much how things stood when the American colonies were established, says Perry. He observes that Amelia Simmons’s “American Cookery”, published in 1796, gave recipes for mince pie, chicken pie, stew pie and something called ‘sea pie’ (meat with salt pork), as well as two apple pies.

End of Part One

Sandra Lee Smith