Monthly Archives: June 2012


KITCHEN CULTURE is one of my favorite types of cookbooks – not just a cookbook although it does contain many favorite recipes…not just a foodlore book, although it’s that, too.  A combination of both, Ms. Schremp industriously covers fifty years of culinary history. Taking us from (vaguely) remembered ration stamps and margarine capsules to modern-day microwave ovens and salad bars.

I remember when I first began researching material for “A Tribute to Helen’s Cookbook” that I searched in vain for more information about Harry Baker’s chiffon cake.  I knew that it had been created in the 1920s by a gentleman living in Los Angeles; I knew that General Mills bought out the recipe—but there the trail ended. I was unable, at that time, to find any other information     about Harry Baker’s chiffon cake…..and there it was, on page 19 of Kitchen Culture.

(When I first began writing cookbook reviews for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, we didn’t have Google or the internet—all of which has changed how we retrieve sought-after information. Back in the early 1990s, my chief source of information were the few food history books I had added to my reference books. And FOOD HISTORY is a relatively new branch of study).

Cooks and food faddists and trivia buffs will all find something enjoyable in Gerry Schremp’s informative, easy to read book, jam-packed with fifty years of food history.

Many of our favorite recipes are here, as well. I’ve noticed that readers are constantly besieging newspaper food columnists for those old childhood favorites…you’ll find most of them within the pages of Kitchen Culture, everything from tuna and noodle casserole (which I confess not liking) to steak Diane (which I do). Incidentally, many of these old favorites are still popular. At an upscale restaurant in Northern California not long before I received Kitchen Culture to review, I watched Steak Diane being prepared at a diner’s table. And haven’t we all tried tomato soup cake? (very good, too, like a spice cake).

Ms. Schremp’s bibliography is an impressive one; she states that her aim in writing this book was to entertain as well as inform.  For statistics that went into Kitchen Culture, she relied on those that the government has compiled, as well as what manufacturers, retailers, food processers, trade associations      and general magazines had to offer.

The book is packed with an impressive array of photographs, which include pictures of all seven Betty Crockers  (from her inception to present day)—interestingly, Betty has progressively gotten younger while the rest of us are getting older.

It is most interesting to follow the evolution of our eating habits and the streamlining of appliances  – to see how many changes have taken place as we went from mom and pop grocery stores to modern supermarkets.

As one who remembers most of the past fifty years (and then some) and have always enjoyed being in the kitchen,  KITCHEN CULTURE is a kind of book that I can easily relate to, as well.

Like to read? Like to cook? Often wonder where recipes or ideas come from? I think KITCHEN CULTURE is a book you will enjoy reading and refer to over and over again.

KITCHEN CULTURE is available on from one cent (yes, one cent) and up or  new for $4.92.  On you can buy the book for 99c for a pre owned copy or $4.92 for a new copy.

If you – like me – like to know something about the history of food –this is an easy read albeit packed with history and photographs.

HAPPY COOKING & HAPPY COOKBOOK COLLECTING! Although it does contain recipes, I’d consider it more of a food history book than a cookbook.

Happy cooking & happy cookbook collecting!



POTATOES & VEGETABLES” is the kind of cookbook that proves for sure big things can come in small packages.  As a matter of fact, if you are interested in specializing in a particular kind of cookbook but space is at a premium, small cookbooks might be the answer.  Little cookbooks come in many sizes and shapes and cover a multitude of cooking topics!

Pint-size cookbooks (not including paperbacks) have actually been around for a very long time, so the concept isn’t new. One of the oldest “sets” of small cookbooks in my personal collection is a series of 365 recipes –“365 Tasty Dishes”, “365 Dinner Dishes”,  and “365 Foreign Dishes” (there may have been more than three books to the series but three are all that I have ever found. These were published between 1903 and 1908 by George W. Jacobs & Company and do not credit a particular author. (Another interesting thing about them is that the idea of 365 recipes in one cookbook has come and gone a few times, too).

Another old set of small cookbooks that I have are a small boxed set by Helen Evans Brown, first published in 1950. There’s a Chafing Dish Book, Patio Cook Book and A Book of Appetizers. The three little books came in a green box.

Some cookbook researchers think these little cookbooks were a forerunner of the free pamphlets and booklets that we now pay several dollars for. When I was a child in the early 1950s, these booklets were generally advertised on the backs of boxes of cocoa or baking soda, corn starch or oatmeal. You could get one completely free of charge by sending in a post card with your name and address on it. Post cards were a penny—so, if I had ten cents I could get ten post cards and end up with ten recipe booklets. I guess you could tell which way the wind was blowing even when I was a little girl. By the time I reached my ‘teens, I already had a cardboard box full of those booklets and pamphlets. One such booklet is an early Watkins Cook Book published in 1925 (presumably, you have to use all Watkins products for the recipes to come out exactly right) while another small book was one written by Ida Bailey Allen in 1927,  which expounded the uses of Karo Syrup, Argo or Kingsford’s Cornstarch and Mazola corn oil. (I was surprised to discover that Mazola corn oil has been around so long!)

I have several small spiral bound cookbooks by Ruth Chier Rosen and Ruth and Richard Rosen; there is one called “The Chefs’ Tour/a visit into foreign kitchens”, another called “Tooth Sweet”, one called “Cyrano de Casserole” and yet another called “A Tomato Well Dressed/the Art of Salad Making”. These were published by Handy Aid Books by Richards Rosen Associates so I assume this was a family enterprise. (I discovered, on the back covers, additional titles of “Epicurean Guide”, “Terrace Chef” “A Guide to Pink Elephants” and “The Big Spread”! These little books, published in the 1950s, measure a mere 3 1/2×5”- are cute as the dickens, nicely indexed, and filled with great recipes!)

Some of my other wee favorites include “Make Mine Vanilla” by Lee Edwards Benning and – my all-time favorite little cookbook, “Favorite Fruitcakes” by Moira Hodgson which I have written about previously in the CCE.

More recently, even Mary Engelbreit has published some of these pint-size cookbooks. Tiny cookbooks are usually reasonably priced and make nice little gifts (or even stocking stuffers), when you want to give someone something but not spend a whole lot of money. Often, you can find some of these little books near the cash register of your favorite bookstore or Hallmark card shop. They can also be found in some gourmet shops.

POTATOES & VEGETABLES” might be small in size (actually measures only 4”x5”—but, it’s almost 2 inches thick and contains a whopping 240 recipes with beautiful full-color illustrations of each recipe (I love knowing what the dish ought to look like when it’s finished, don’t you?). Unquestionably, we are a society where visual impact is vitally important to us. If you look at a recipe and the illustration that goes with it looks like something the dog dragged around the back yard, how inclined would you be to give it a try?

Not only does “POTATOES & VEGETABLES” offer full color illustrations of the recipes, there are, additionally, smaller scale photographs of the dish being prepared, and an assortment of variations and extra tips given with each of the recipes.

Although this is a potato and vegetable cookbook, you will find, within its pages, recipes for soups (Indian Potato & Pea Soup, Broccoli & Potato Soup, Potato& Dried Mushroom Soup—and, my favorite, Tomato & Red Bell Pepper Soup); recipes for salads (think: Mexican potato salad, Sweet Potato & Nut Salad, Red Cabbage & Pear Salad). There is a chapter dedicated to Snacks & Light Meals (Thai Potato Crab Cakes, Potato, Cheese & Onion Rosti, Hash Browns with Tomato Sauce, Vegetable Crepes) followed by a chapter devoted entirely to Side Dishes (Potatoes & Mushrooms in Red Wine, Spicy Potato Fries, Steamed Vegetables with Vermouth). Next is a chapter called “Main Meals” followed by one called “Pies & Bakes”

Many of the recipes in both Main Meals and Pies and Bakes could be considered one-dish meals, such as Red Onion Tart Tatin and Lentil & Red Bell Pepper Flan. Sort of what I think of as a quiche. However, Main Meals offers Spaghetti with Pear & Walnut Sauce—which I think would make a wonderful company dish—and recipes such as Garbanzo Bean & Vegetable Casserole and Pan Potato Bake. “Pies & Bakes” offers recipes such as Potato & Meat Phyllo Parcels and Carrot-Topped Beef Pie but there are also recipes for Sweet Potato Bread, Cheese & Potato Plait (a bread), Potato & Nutmeg Scones and Potato Muffins. There are also recipes for Fruity Potato Cake, Pumpkin Loaf, Chili Corn Bread, and Cheese & Potato Bread. All of which just goes to prove – you can eat your veggies in many different ways, even for dessert!

This is a dandy little book with the most beautiful color photography illustrations.

“POTATOES & VEGETABLES” is from Paragon Publishing in Great Britain but it had been designed with American readers in mind (i.e., cup measurements, for instance, are for the American measuring cup of 8 ounces equals one cup).  It was published in 2003 – and best of all, priced at less than $5.00 ($4.69 at Costco).

I am sorry to report that I have been unable to find “POTATOES & VEGETABLES” in either or websites – what did amaze me were the vast number of cookbooks devoted just to the subject of potatoes—but I’m willing to bet that not many of them can compare with this “POTATOES & VEGETABLES” cookbook.  Maybe someone will come across a copy and write to tell us where to find it.





This cookbook review was originally written in July, 2002.

It was the greatest delight to discover “FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” in a recent cookbook catalog—the title and the author’s name, Becky Mercuri, jumped right off the page—for I knew that this was our very own Becky Mercuri, with whom I have occasionally corresponded and talked with on the telephone. (Becky used to be a columnist for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, for which I also wrote articles and did cookbook review).

I had known for quite some time that Becky was writing “FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” –food festivals interest me, also, so it was doubly delightful to have Becky’s brand-new cookbook to read and write about.  For, of course, this is a combination cookbook and food festival directory. There are, in “FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” 250 “Red, White & Blue Ribbon Recipes from all 50 States”.  As a Californian, I turned first to the section devoted to the Pacific, to see which California food festivals had caught Becky’s attention.  The choices are good ones, ranging from Mendocino California’s Abalone Festival to Castroville’s Artichoke Festival. Also included is the Strawberry Festival in Oxnard, California, which I have attended; Oxnard is just a short drive up the 101 freeway and attracts a great deal of attention in the local press every year.  When we drive to Ventura for a weekend getaway, we drive through the backroads that lead to Oxnard and Ventura, through vast farmlands that include the strawberry fields.  Becky notes, in “FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” that “Over 148,000 tons, or  about 20 percent of California’s strawberries, are produced in the Oxnard area.  The annual Strawberry Festival pays tribute to the industry while providing affordance entertainment, great food, and support for a host of local charities…”

This year, when my aunt was visiting from Florida, we took her on a day trip to Ventura, stopping at an Oxnard produce stand on our way home to buy a flat of strawberries, which I converted into preserves.  The strawberry festival in Oxnard, Becky observes, “features more than 270 arts and craft booths, three concert stages, Strawberryland for Kids and wacky contests (such as the Strawberry Shortcake Eating Contest).

And, although I knew about the Gilroy Garlic Festival which Becky Mercuri notes is world-renowned, I confess I didn’t know about The Borrego Springs Grapefruit Festival, the California Dried Plum Festival in Yuba City, the California Dry Bean Festival in Tracy, California, or the Goleta Lemon Festival in Goleta, California.  And that’s not all!  There’s a Carrot Festival in Holtville, California, and the Indio International Tamale Festival, in Indio, California—there is even an Eggplant Festival in Loomis, California!

I think it might be fun, if money and time were no object, to travel the width and breadth of the United States, just to attend some of these festivals.  Who wouldn’t want to check out Louisiana’s Sugarcane Festival, Crab Days and Oysterfest in St. Michael’s, Maryland, or the World Catfish Festival, in Belzoni, Mississippi?  Vidalia onion lovers might want to head for the Vidalia Onion Festival in Vidalia, Georgia, while New Yorkers might be interested in the Phelps Sauerkraut Festival in Phelps, New York, or their own Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, New York.

As one might expect, there is a Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine, every year (that would surely be a great festival to attend!) – and while one might expect  blueberry and maple syrup festivals on the East Coast, would you be surprised to discover the Marshall County Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, Indiana, or the Parke County Maple Syrup Festival in Rockville, Indiana? And although I was born and raised in Ohio and knew about the Circleville Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio, I was astonished to learn about an Asian Festival held in Columbus, Ohio, and a chocolate festival in Lorain, Ohio! (There’s also a Chocolate Fest in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Becky Mercuri has done her homework well for, along with an intriguing assortment of recipes which range from Double Chocolate Raspberry Marble Cheesecake (Central Maine Egg Festival) to Best Restaurant Manhattan Clam Chowder (Santa Cruz Clam Chowder Cook-Off and Festival, Santa Cruz, California), you will also find well-written, interesting capsule descriptions of each festival

In the Introduction, Becky writes, “Street food, carnival food, festival food—by whatever name, this is food that draws Americans together.  Thousands of food festivals are held annually throughout the United States, attracting millions of visitors…”

John T. Edge, who wrote the Foreword to “FOOD FESTIVALS, U.S.A.” notes, “In FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A., Becky Mercuri sings a paean to the diversity of America’s food heritage.  Along the way, she manages to convey a few lessons in culinary history.  So dive in. By the time you hit page 320, you’ll be out the door, stomach rumbling, car keys in hand, hell-bent for the Prairie Dog Chili Cook Off and World Championship Pickled Quail Egg Eating….”   John says “Look for me. I’ll be there, too.  I’ll be the guy surrounded by spent chili bowls, napping under the bough of an oak…”

Becky says that, in writing this book she had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of Americans who work hard to produce the food festivals and ethnic celebrations that make up such a rich part of our collective culture.  She quotes food writer Ronni Lundi, who she interviewed a few years ago, who told her “Music and cooking are my passions.  They provide windows to look at culture.”  Becky adds, “Indeed.  Nearly every festival in this book boasts of that same basic combination of music and food and gives us a peek into the very essence of life in a particular region or ethnic group….”  And perhaps that explains why, after collecting “regional” cookbooks for over thirty years, I find food festivals equally fascinating.  And a cookbook about food festivals?  My cup runneth over!

If you find the food history of the United States as fascinating as I do, I think you will enjoy “FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” – you may want to take it along with you on your next vacation, and search out some of these absolutely unique regional tributes to our culinary heritage. There is even a Directory of Festivals by Month, and a Directory of Festivals by State.  Amusing illustrations have been provided by artist Tom Klare.

Becky Mercuri began collecting recipes at the same age as I, (nine years old) and her cookbook collection contains over 7,000 volumes (quite a few more than mine, I think, although we quit counting at 3,000 books over ten years ago).  We also share an interest in cookie cutters but while Becky has over 3,000 cookie cutters and molds, I have no idea how many I’ve accumulated over the years—I can only tell you, they fill 3 large boxes packed in a closet. She has three dogs and a dozen cats, and is donating a portion of the proceeds of this book to the cause of animal welfare.  Along with writing for the CCE, Becky was food editor of the Wellsville Daily Reporter for three years.  She is also currently working on a comprehensive bibliography of all English language cookbooks published between 1940 and 1949.

I’ve been out of touch with Becky Mercuri, every so often attempting to find her through the internet.

“FOOD FESTIVAL, U.S.A.” by Becky Mercuri, was originally priced at   $24.95 when published in 2002. has copies, 3.67 for a new copy or a pre-owned copy from 05 cents. has copies for 99c or new at $3.66.

Becky Mercuri is also the author of the Great American Hot Dog Book, published in 2007. American Sandwich published in 2004, and Sandwiches You will Like, in 2002.

Other suggested reading: The Festival Cookbok by Phyllis Pellman Good,  A Feast of Festivals BY Joann Taylor Hane and Catherine L. Holshouser,  California Festivals, Carl Landau and Katie Landau with Kathy Kincade, THE FESTIVAL COOKBOOK by Phyllis Pellman Good, FOOD FESTIVAL, by Alice M. Geffer and Carole Berglie, FOODS FROM HARVEST FESTIVALS AND FOLK FAIRS.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!


The Hollywood Bowl.  How does one begin to describe it?  In the most simplistic of terms, it is a very large outdoor amphitheater located on the edge of the northern section of Hollywood, as you follow the Cahuenga Pass into the San Fernando Valley (say Kuh-WANG-GA).  And yet – and yet, it is so much more than “just” an amphitheater.  In Southern California, it is an institution, a particular way of enjoying what life has to offer. And on a summer night, it’s a fun thing to get together with friends and all bring something to make up a picnic supper.

The Hollywood Bowl is one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, (and the largest natural amphitheater in the United States) celebrating, in the year 2012, ninety years of existence.

According to a souvenir book about the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Bowl was built by a group of civic-minded women and men who were active in the area’s artistic and business communities. They wanted to establish an outdoor park and art center to entertain and educate a large and diverse audience.  Only about 5,000 people lived in Hollywood in 1910. The population grew, by 1920, to nearly 50,000 thanks to the movie industry, which had turned the community into a boomtown.

A search for the perfect place resulted, in 1919, in a spot east of Cahuenga Pass—a valley completely surrounded by hills, called Daisy Dell. More exactly, the Bowl is located in Bolton Canyon, one-half mile north of Hollywood Blvd., directly off the Cahuenga Pass, the site of El Camino Real, the original route connecting California’s missions.

The Theatre Arts Alliance bought 59 acres in the area.  (The Alliance disbanded because of disagreements among its members about the type of events to be produced at the outdoor theatre. It was reorganized in 1920 as the Community Park and Art Association). Prior to the first official Hollywood Bowl season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1922, the site was used for presentations of choral programs, pageants, plays and band concerts.  Hugo Kirchhofer, choral director of the Hollywood Community Sing, is said to have looked over the park and named it “The Bowl”.

Another tidbit of history has to do with the Bowl’s first concert season in 1922. It was a community effort; cardboard banks were distributed every where to raise “pennies for the bowl”.  However, students at Hollywood High School donated the money from their performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to purchase an electrical switchboard for lighting.  In appreciation, the school was invited to hold its graduation ceremonies at Hollywood Bowl, a tradition that continues to this day. The cost of admission in 1922 was twenty-five cents!

Possibly the most fascinating bit of trivia surrounding the Hollywood Bowl is the history of Peppertree Lane, the main pedestrian access from Highland Avenue to the Hollywood Bowl’s Entrance Plaza. It was named for the pepper trees that once lined the walkway. Early in Hollywood Bowl’s history, a fence was built along the lane, and in a few years, the fence posts took root and grew into pepper trees!  However, nearly all of the trees died during the 1950s.  Only one of the original trees still stands, just below the Hollywood Bowl Museum, but new pepper trees were planted along the lane in 1997.

The Hollywood Bowl has undergone numerous transformations in its 90-year-old history.  The first stage, in 1922, was a simple wooden platform with a canvas top. Patrons sat on moveable wooden benches.  The following year, the first 150 boxes were built in the front seating section.

In 1927, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a shell for the Hollywood Bowl that was made from lumber and clapboard from the movie set ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks. It was considered by many to be the most acoustically perfect of all the Bowl’s many shells, but was only used for one season. Fittingly, the 1927 season’s opening production was De Koven’s operetta Robin Hood.

Other transformations took place as years went by. The following year, Lloyd Wright, the oldest son of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed two shells for the Hollywood Bowl. The 1928 shell consisted of nine concentric segmental arches, which could be “tuned” panel by panel.

In 1929, the engineering firm of Elliott, Bowen and Walz designed the shell that we recognized for so many decades.  The Hollywood Bowl souvenir book notes that Allied Architects constructed this shell, which preserved the visual essence of Lloyd Wright’s 1928 design.

In 1940. artist George Stanley was commissioned to create a sculpture for the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl. Granite for this sculpture marking the entry into the Hollywood Bowl was brought from Victorville. Cost of the project came to $100,000.  The 15-foot high granite figure, “The Muse of Music” (still standing at the entrance today) was built by the County of Los Angeles Engineer’s Department in cooperation with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the Southern California Arts Project.  The “Muse of Music” was dedicated on July 8, 1940, and remains an impressive sight to this day, especially when illuminated at night.

The Hollywood Bowl was slated for yet another renovation again in more recent years. According to an article that appeared in the August 26, 2000, edition of the Los Angeles Times, the proposed changes would expand the shell interior up to 118 feet wide, 66 feet deep and 56 feet tall, allowing the entire orchestra to fit inside the shell. Previously, as many as one third of the performers were positioned outside the shell where, sometimes, they couldn’t hear the other performers.  The new look was a streamline modern style reminiscent of the 1930s. Many people protested the changes, perhaps not realizing that the Hollywood Bowl has undergone numerous changes in its 90-year-old history.

After nine months of construction, the brand new shell and acoustic canopy made their debut in 2004, with a new and improved stage making the concert experience better for both musicians and audiences. Also added were 4 screens, two at stage level and two in bench seating, to bring the concert action closer to audiences.

Bob and I were “regulars” for about a decade at the Hollywood Bowl. We have been thrilled with John Mauceri conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, performing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (complete with a performance by the San Francisco Ballet), followed by the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and culminating in a spectacular 1812 Overture, complete with cannons and fireworks.  Mauceri was an impressive conductor; we appreciated his dry wit and ability to captivate the audience with side bars of classical music history.

Mauceri is well known throughout the world as the Director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Los Angeles, which was created for him in 1991 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. At the Hollywood Bowl, he conducted over 300 concerts over 16 seasons. He now has the title of founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and recently returned to the Bowl Orchestra to make his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.

The Hollywood Bowl features a wide range of performers every season and there is truly “something for everybody”.  One of our summer concerts featured California Western music, led by John Mauceri, with a delightful program by Riders in the Sky, a group reminiscent of the Sons of the Pioneers.  Another evening we enjoyed a concert with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Mr. Brubeck, then in his 80s, brought the house down and charmed the entire audience.

Other recent Bowl performers  have included Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Marvin Hamlisch and country singer Randy Travis!  Although the Hollywood Bowl, while well known for its classical music concerts, over the decades it has drawn artists as noteworthy as the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nelson Eddy, Beverly Sills, Mario Lanza, Lily Pons, Placido Domingo. Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys—and in recent years, Whitney Houston, Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, Madonna, Bonnie Raitt, and Sting!

Need I continue? How about Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Andy Williams, Shania Twain, or Barbra Sreisand?

This impressive roster of performers included a performance in 1961 by Judy Garland – who kept an audience captivated in the midst of pouring rain! (Incidentally, in its 80 year history, rain has interrupted concerts at the Bowl only a few times—the “season” running from June to September, is normally Southern California’s driest time of the year.

Just about everybody who’s anybody has performed at the Hollywood Bowl.  One year, we were privileged to see Charlotte Church (just before I had surgery and had to give away our other season tickets).  Earlier that summer, we heard a Midsummer’s night Dream, featuring actor Michael York who read selections from ROMEO AND JULIET, JULIUS CAESAR, HENRY IV, PART II, AND A MIDSUMMER NIHT’S DREAM. Later, we saw a performance by the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Classical music not your style, you say? One of the featured artists one summer was B.B. King.  One Friday night in September, we were treated to “The Big Picture – 75 years of Oscar”—music from Oscar movies, with film clips on a big screen.  Still not your style, you say?

Here’s a sampling of performers who have given concerts at the Hollywood Bowl:  Benny Goodman (1939) while back in 1934, Olivia de Haviland and Mickey Rooney performed in a Midsummer’s Night Dream as Hermia and Puck. In 1936, soprano Lily Pons performed, holding the Bowl’s all-time record performance of 26,410. In 1943, a sensational new singer named Frank Sinatra made an appearance at the Bowl—while a few years later, in 1947, Margaret Truman, the daughter of President Harry Truman, starred in a Bowl performance. (Margaret, in case you are too young to remember, like her father, played the piano).  Peggy Lee made her debut at the Bowl in 1953 and returned many times, her final performance taking place in 1995.  Van Cliburn performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 1958, just before he won the Tchaikovsky International Competition Aware in Moscow, while jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, George Shearing and Sarah Vaughan also made appearances.

In 1964, the Beatles appeared at the Bowl; with a single ad and one blurb on a teenager TV station, 18000 tickets were sold (noise from the screaming overpowered any sound coming from the stage). In 1973, a young Pavarotti made his first local appearance at the Bowl—stealing, we are told, the show, while in 1979, the first Jazz Festival was presented at the bowl and featured such artists as Mel Torme, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams.

However, there is a lot more to “going to the Bowl” than sitting under the stars, listening to your favorite performer.

In the 1950s, the Hollywood Bowl suffered from a financial crisis. According to an article written by mystery writer April Smith (author of “NORTH OF MONTANA”) and published in the Hollywood Bowl magazine, “What rescued the Bowl was wine and cheese”.

“Along with a facelift,” writes Smith, “And Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who headed the ‘Save the Bowl’ campaign with such focus it was back in business before the end of that summer. One of her innovations was to remove the stern “No Food” signs and capitalize on the park-like grounds by encouraging the art of competitive picnicking. Contests were held for the best-decorated picnic baskets, and the leisurely experience of outdoor pre-concert dining attracted a new audience…”

Since then, picnicking at the Hollywood Bowl, prior to the concert, is as much a part of the ambiance as the concert itself.

For our picnic suppers one summer, Bob and I enjoyed shrimp cocktail, cubes of cantaloupe and honey dew melon, crackers and cheese, grapes, salami, and White Zinfandel wine. We generally parked our car in a parking lot where buses came to pick up Hollywood Bowl-goers. It was far easier than driving into Hollywood and dealing with the heavy traffic.  The cost was something like $6.00 roundtrip per person. Everyone you see climbing onto the bus is carrying picnic baskets or blankets or other comfy objects. (Whenever we were leaving, boarding the bus, people were cheery and humming the music we had just heard).

When you enter the Bowl grounds, the first thing you will notice are the picnicking concert-goers—they are spread out on every patch of grass and alongside both sides of the walkway into the amphitheater.  They have laid down tablecloths and have vases of flowers and candlelight to enhance their picnic suppers that range from hamburgers from Burger King to Sushi, elegant suppers from Gelson’s (a local up-scale market) to gourmet picnic dinners that (if you are lucky enough to have box seats) can be delivered directly to you. Gourmet suppers can be ordered and picked up, as well, and if you don’t feel like packing your own meal, you can order a variety of appetizers, main course salads and pastas, rotisserie chicken—and even poached salmon—from refreshment stands located throughout the Bowl grounds.

But, if you are interested in preparing your own picnic supper, as I do, you might be interested in the latest cookbook, titled “THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK/PICNICS UNDER THE STARS”.

You don’t have to attend the Hollywood Bowl to enjoy this spectacular cookbook, which features a wide range of recipes particularly suitable for picnics and pot lucks.  Appetizer recipes include such finger-licking good treats as spicy Italian Chicken fingers, Cocktail shrimp with Mango Chutney, Chicken Pate, Blueberry Ketchup, Spinach Dip in Red Cabbage Bowl and Salmon Log.

There are soup recipes (yes, indeed—bowl patrons bring hot or chilled soups in thermos jugs) so you can enjoy recipes such as Chilled Cream of Cucumber Soup with Curry or tomato, Crab and Avocado Gazpacho.

Enjoy Rosemary Clooney’s recipe for Corn Chowder or Spicy Black Bean Soup. There are inspiring sandwich recipes such as Wrap Sandwiches or Patafla Sandwich, which is a favorite Hollywood Bowl picnic dish that can be prepared a day in advance so the flavors can blend; choose from a very wide assortment of salad recipes which range from Armenian Cabbage Slaw to Summer Salad with Pecans and Pears—or perhaps Bleu Cheese Potato Salad or Cucumber and Jicama Salad!

The Hollywood Bowl Cookbook: Picnics Under the Stars” was published by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Affiliates of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association in 2002.  It features a cover photograph taken by Otto Rothschild.  Because the Los Angeles Philharmonic Affiliates believe that “music matters” in the lives of young people, proceeds from the cookbook will be used for music education projects they sponsor in the community and for the support of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The cost of that cookbook in 2002 was $19.95. I am unable to find any listings for it under either or, POSSIBLY because another book was published in 2003 (same title) and the list price of THAT cookbook, same title, is $39.95.  However, that being said – I am unable to find any available copies for that one either.

To add to my bafflement, I removed from my own bookshelves not one but two copies of THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK published in 1985. I will attempt to scan this cookbook since it does not appear any copies are available at this time. Perhaps I can also scan THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK/PICNIC UNDER THE STARS which is the edition I received to review in 2002.

If you ever happen to find yourself in my neck of the woods, you might want to visit the Hollywood Bowl. Visitors can park free daily until 4:30 p.m. to shop at the Bowl Store, visit the museum or explore the grounds.

The Bowl Store offers a fascinating collection of books, music, clothing, games and toys.

From the Hollywood (101) freeway, exit at Highland Avenue.

The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90068.

You can also visit the Hollywood Bowl via the Internet – at

Maybe, someday, we’ll see you at the Hollywood Bowl!

Review by


‘FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK/Feasting with your Slow Cooker” by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good is a recent offering from Good Books of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, published in 2000.

You may recognize the name of Phyllis Pellman Good; I have reviewed her books previously on the pages of the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. She is the author of THE BEST OF AMISH COOKING and THE FESTIVAL COOKBOOK. Phyllis co-authored several cookbooks, including RECIPES FROM CENTRAL MARKET, FAVORITE RECIPES WITH HERBS, THE BEST OF MENNOITE FELLOWSHIP MEALS and FROM AMISH AND MENNONITE KITCHENS.  Phyllis and her husband, Merle, reside in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and are co-directors of The People’s Place, a heritage interpretation center in the Lancaster County village of Intercourse, Pennsylvania. (I’d love to visit it!).

You may also recognize the name of Dawn Ranck. She is the co-author of A QUILTERS CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK and FAVORITE RECIPES WITH HERBS.

It may surprise you to learn that the concept of a slow-cooker really isn’t  new.  In fact, while researching some years ago for an article I titled  “KITCHENS WEST” for the CCE, I learned about something called a Hay Box, surely a predecessor of the slow-cooker we are all familiar with today. The Hay Box dates back to pioneer times, when pioneer women and men were trekking across the plains. Hay box Cooking was practiced extensively by pioneer women in their covered wagons, as well as by ranch cooks on the trail.

A suitable wooden box was prepared by lining it with straw; pioneer women often used flannel and shavings. A nest was left for the receptacle, which was usually an earthenware pot. A stew was partially cooked at breakfast, and as soon as the wagons began to move, the stew was poured into the earthenware pot, and put into the hay box, and covered with the remainder of hay or flannel.  The meat continued to cook in the insulated box, and at the end of the day a hot meal was ready for immediate serving.

Various detailed descriptions of preparing meals without fuel can be found other books.  During World War I and again during World War II, when rationing was in effect and it was necessary to conserve fuel as well, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used the hay box method with much success. The primitive hay box evolved into the “asbestos box” and the “copper double-tank cooker”.

The author of one cookbook offering a recipe for a Dutch Oven roast also suggests burying a Dutch oven as a great way to slow cook a dish, claiming it will tenderize the toughest game or beans.  The authors tell us never soak or scour your Dutch oven as it will rust (true) and “never blame anyone but yourself if you can’t remember where you buried dinner”.  (that’s one problem I’ve never encountered).

“Hay Boxes” were the forerunner of the Fireless cooker, actually a very similar device, which enjoyed a spurt of popularity during World War One and Two, especially in Great Britain and places where fuel was strictly rationed.

The Browns (Rose, Cora & Bob Brown) wrote about the fireless cooker in their book “MOST FOR YOUR MONEY” published in 1938, and M.F.K. writes about the Hay Box in her book “HOW TO COOK A WOLF” first published in 1942.

Under a chapter titled “Handy Hints”, the Browns wrote, “We seldom hear of fireless cookers these days, but at one time no so long ago, they were a part of regulation kitchen equipment, and they cut dollars off the yearly fuel bills.  World War propaganda further popularized them, for then all housewives were urged to save coal, not so much for their own account as for the dear Allies…Metals, which are wasted in peace times on all sorts of useless contraptions, had to be conserved to death-dealing ends. So the press carried instructions for making fireless cookers at home. All one needed was a wooden box or paper carton, and a lot of old newspapers to insulate it, layers of paper fitted into the bottom of the box and around the sides, with a cylindrical hole left in the center to receive a boiling pot of soup or stew then wads of paper on top to hold in all the heat for hours. An excellent device for long, slow cooking of cheap foods.  Dried beans, peas, and lentils, tendered in their unbroken skins, and cereals, started the night before, are still hot at breakfast time and have attained a jelly-like and delicate consistency which only many hours of low heat can give…”

M.F.K. Fisher, in “HOW TO COOK A WOLF”, observes, “Hayboxes are very simple. They are simply strong wooden boxes, one inside another with hay packed between, and if possible, a stout covering of linoleum or oilcloth on the outside. You bring whatever food you want to a sturdy boil, put it tightly covered on a layer of hay in the inside box, pack hay all around it, and cover the box securely. Then you count twice as long as your stew or porridge or vegetables would have taken to cook normally, open the haybox, and the food is done….”

So, you see, what goes around comes around and there is very little new under the sun. Fast forward, and it’s August, 1970, when the Rival Company acquired the assets of Naxon Utilities  Corp. This acquisition provided Rival with an old fashioned looking appliance called “The Beanery”.  The Beanery was a simple bean cooker, with a blazed brown crock liner.  The people at Rival experimented with this kitchen appliance, making bean dishes and other recipes with meat and vegetables.  They were pleasantly surprised to discover that the meat turned out better than beans.  They did some work on the little bean pot and an initial order of 25,000 units was produced.  By associating the crockery liners with its pot-like shape, the people at Rival came up with the name of Crock-Pot®.  It wasn’t long before the Crock-Pot became our favorite slow cooker. And for many of us, the name of Crock-Pot is synonymous with slow-cooker.  According to Rival, more than 80 million Crock Pot® Slow Cookers have been sold since 1971.  (Some of us even have more than one; I have two oval-shaped 5½ quart slow cookers. We had two others before that, smaller ones that I gave away—which I regret now, when I am no longer cooking for two. And yes, I use them quite a lot).

For many years, the only recipes you would find for slow cooker recipes would be those that came with the appliance (I must have several dozen of these pamphlets). However, in recent decades, as we became busier and busier, juggling careers and raising children, PTA and Little League, the Slow Cooker became more popular than ever.

In “FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK”, Dawn Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good provide more than EIGHT HUNDRED slow cooker recipes, apparently collected from numerous contributors (the authors don’t explain how they went about collecting the recipes. However, there are eough to keep you cooking over two years, by my estimation. “FIX-IT and FORGET-IT COOKBOOK” provides recipes for a lot more than chicken and condensed mushroom soup!  And yes, Slow Cooker cookbooks have come a long way since those 70s pamphlets. Who knew?

Dawn and Phyllis provide us with a great wealth of Slow Cooker recipes, recips for appetizers, snacks and spreads, breads, soups and stews, main dishes (many!) and a lot of desserts.  I’m sure you know you can make applesauce and puddings with your slow cooker, but did you know you can also make lemon pudding cake? Apple cake? Hot fudge cake? Harvey Wallbanger Cake? Chocolate fondue? Seven Layer Bars?  (yes! in your slow cooker!).  There are a wealth of main dish recipes in “FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK”.

Understandably, main dish recipe is our all-time favorite way of using this kitchen appliance.  Look for Paul’s Beef Bourguignon, Beef Burgundy or Chinese Pot Roast, Eleanor’s Corned Beef and Cabbage or Cranberry Pork Roast.  You won’t believe all the selections – and they all sound delicious!

FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK” is a wonderful addition to our kitchen cookbook favorites. It’s become one of my favorites. I think it will be one of your favorites too!

FIX-IT AND FORGET-IT COOKBOOK” published in 2001 was a soft-covered cookbook, selling for a reasonable $13.95 when new.  Now, here is a curious update – the book was republished in 2005 (Alibris has the best price for the 2005 edition @ 99c); it was reprinted in 2008 and a preowned copy on is $9.74.  It was reprinted  yet again in 2010; a new copy on Amazon is $8.49, pre-owned $7.85.  And oddly enough, Amazon is listing a Fix it and Forget 5 INGREDIENT COOKBOOK for sale pre-owned at $3.39.  And apparently, there are plenty of copies to go around.

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!





For those who expressed an interest in this topic, here are a few of the “X ingredient cookbooks in my collection:



ROZANNE GOLD RECIPES 1-2-3 (1996) hard cover


THE FOUR INGREDIENT COOKBOOKS AS EASY A 1 2 3 4 – Linda Coffee and Emily Cake (really? Cake and coffee?) (spiral bound)






The 5 in 10 CHICKEN BREAST COOKBOOK – 5 INGREDIENTS IN 10 MINUTES OR LESS – Melanie Barnard and Brooke Dojny (1993)

GOURMET COOKING WITH 5 INGREDIENTS –Deborah Anderson (spiral binding) (2002)

SIX INGREDIENTS OR LESS – Carlean Johnson (1982) (spiral binding)


You can only judge for yourself how useful these books are to you. I like them!

Happy Cooking!



LET US EAT CAKE” by Sharon Boorstin, published in 2002 by ReganBooks, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, is the kind of non-cookbook food-related memoir type of book that I find myself reading more and more often. For one thing, they’re “comfort reading”, like comfort food. You can read and relax, drifting back in time with the author.

For another, it’s really interesting to discover how women, often very close to my own age, grew up in different parts of the country, and in which ways our lives were similar and in which ways they were completely diverse. It always intrigues me, as well, how all these food writers, (and I include myself with the lot), developed an interest in food and cooking at a very young age.  We all have childhood memories of our earliest experiences in the kitchen.  That appears to be a common thread that runs through so many of these books.

(Indeed, even famed-author Jean Anderson, in her book “JEAN ANDERSON COOKS”, relates how her love affair with food began at the age of five and her disastrous experience when, left to her own devices, she began to improvise. She added nuts and raisins to the ginger cake batter; she decided to bake it as cupcakes in muffin pans, and turned the oven heat up so they would bake faster—and in her burst of creativity, she forgot to add baking powder and shortening. She also overfilled the pans, which she neglected to grease…slid the cupcakes into the searing-hot oven and went outside to play.  Jean says it’s a wonder she didn’t burn the house down – she did destroy two muffin pans and wrecked an oven). But I digress!

Initially, as I began “LET US EAT CAKE”, I was reminded of “Close To The Bone”, Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her life growing up in New York City – however, as I began to read Sharon Boorstin’s “LET US EAT CAKE”, I realized that the only real similarity is that they have both worked as restaurant critics. Sharon, for one thing, grew up in the state of Washington.

Sharon Boorstin’s “LET US EAT CAKE” was inspired, she says, by a long-lost recipe notebook.  She explains that she is the opposite of a pack rat—when things are no longer useful, she gets rid of them. The exception to this is a desk in her house that she has never cleaned out. She describes it as a burnished antique Federal desk with dusty cubbyholes and worn drawer pulls, the first major purchase she and her husband, Paul, made when they got married thirty-three years ago.

“It was under the thank-you notes in the bottom drawer of the Federal desk,” Sharon explains, “that I discovered the inspiration for this book—a loose-leaf notebook of recipes I had gathered from girlfriends and relatives when I was a newlywed.”

Sharon says that among the recipes were “Irma’s Tandoori chicken, Aunt Hannah’s Chocolate Cheesecake, Mary Ann’s Grapes Brulee, and Mom’s Egg-Bread Stuffing.” She says that each recipe brought back memories of the woman who gave it to her, “of the occasions when we made and enjoyed the dish, and of the friendship we shared….”

Sharon wrote an article about the discovery of the notebook—and the old times and old friends it brought to mind—for MORE magazine. “In doing so,” she says, “I realized just how important food, recipes, and cooking are in connecting women of different generations in a family and in connecting friends….”

Sharon also realized how much her friendships had changed over the years. She says that when she was a newlywed, she devoted so much emotional energy to her husband that she gave “short shrift” to her childhood and college girlfriends. Her husband became her best friend and together they had “couples” friends. Later, when her children were toddlers, she became friends with their playmates’ mothers.  Sharon says she did not develop any new female friendships that existed apart from her husband and children. Eventually, of course, her children grew up; Sharon gave up screenwriting with her husband to concentrate on food writing and journalism.  She discovered it was now easier to have time for girlfriends.  (on a personal note, I have to say, I have never been without girlfriends. My two oldest friends are Carol and Patty, whose families both lived on our street when I was a little girl—I don’t see them very often anymore because they’re in Ohio and I’m in California – but we stay in touch, more often now that we have the Internet. I’ve always had girlfriends and realized the importance of having them in my life. But I digress (again)  and this is Sharon’s story, not mine).

Sharon writes that she also realized that now, even more so than when we were younger, my friends and I share an interest in food—cooking, recipes, dining out. Unlike our mothers, we don’t cook just because it is expected of us as wives and mothers. And unlike our former unliberated single selves, we don’t find comfort in food when we can’t find a man, or use cooking to find one. When we entertain now, we do it with less effort, and we cook—and savor food—because we find it enjoyable, nurturing, and creative…”

It was while Sharon was writing the article for MORE that she connected with a girlfriend, whose recipe for Tandoori Chicken she discovered in her old recipe notebook. This was a girlfriend she hadn’t seen or heard from in over twenty years.

The two friends reconnected and now remain in close touch. They talk about their children, their work and their lives. Rediscovering her friend made Sharon realize what a treasured gift she had lost and inspired her to reconnect with other long-lost friends. “In each case,” she says, “my friends and I shared the joyous—and painful—experiences we’ve gone through since we last met.  We also discussed our delicious shared food memories: what we ate (sometimes with guilt for pigging out), what we cooked, and what was going on in our lives at the time. Girlfriends, I discovered, never forget these things…”

Sharon learned, “Food is one way all women connect, and I have included not just my own food memories but those of others as well. Some are family or friends; others are food professionals I have met through the years…”

Travel back in time with Sharon Boorstin, as she recalls her childhood with two sisters, growing up in the fifties in Washington. Her mother had only one cookbook, says Sharon (no, it wasn’t Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook!) – it was a copy of “THE SETTLEMENT COOKBOOK” which Sharon says only collected dust on the shelf. She says her mother was a self-described shiterein cook—that’s Yiddish for “she just threw stuff in”.

However, at a time when most families had just a small freezer compartment at the top of their refrigerator, Sharon’s parents had a twenty-cubic foot Sears chest freezer in which her mother froze virtually everything. Her father was also vice president of a fish company and brought home canned tuna, salmon, and crab by the case. (I can’t help but think, just imagine how many recipes her mother could have created with just those canned items!) – but no, Sharon says her mother’s dinner repertoire revolved around the following dishes:

Roast beef

Pot roast

Chicken baked with Lipton’s dry onion soup mix



Tina-noodle casserole made with her father’s canned tuna fish

Salmon loaf made with her father’s canned salmon

Top round steak tenderized with Accent

Meat loaf

Ground-beef casseroles

All of these, says Sharon, were served with ketchup.

It was from Sharon’s Grandma Ann that she learned to make blintzes, even though her grandmother spoke very little English and Sharon didn’t understand Yiddish.

Sharon takes us with her as she grows up, moves away from home and headed for college. One early experience which obviously influenced Sharon very much was meeting Dorothy, the mother of one of her boyfriends. Dorothy was a journalist and the first person Sharon ever met who loved to cook. She describes Dorothy as a patient, upbeat teacher. Sharon was thrilled to find herself learning from a gourmet cook.

“I helped Dorothy prepare steak tartar,” Sharon recalls, “who ate raw chopped beef in Seattle?—and duck (and who ate duck?) that she roasted on a rotisserie until the skin was crisp, the meat succulent. She made French fries in a big cast iron pot—she knew the oil was hot enough when she threw in a piece of bread and it cooked. On Sunday mornings she whipped up puffy soufflelike German pancakes and served them dusted with powdered sugar. Dorothy loved the color purple, and she garnished her dishes with candied violets and purple grapes that she coated with sugar. She always smelled like Estee Lauder’s classic perfume and she always wore pearls—even when she was cooking…”

After graduating from Berkeley in 1966 with teaching credentials, Sharon accepted a job with the Los Angeles Unified Schools. Before that, however, and she three of her childhood friends spent a summer traveling throughout Europe. It was there that Sharon began to really learn about food.

“Everywhere we went,” she recalls, “we savored tastes we didn’t know existed. I learned the profound difference between real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the powdery stuff in the green Kraft container that my mother sprinkled on spaghetti casseroles, and between a salade Nicoise and my mother’s tuna fish salad….”

Although “LET US EAT CAKE” is not a cookbook in the strictest sense, like other memoirs of this genre, it does contain some recipes. You’ll find Grandma Ann’s recipe for making blintzes, Sharon’s updated version of the 50s Canlis Salad, girlfriend Mary Ann’s Fresh Fruit Brulee, and her girlfriend Irma’s Tandoori Chicken, Sharon’s mother’s Egg-Bread Stuffing recipe and a few others, including some celebrity recipes: James Michener’s Favorite Gazpacho and Paul Newman’s Favorite Angel Food Cake.  And, I think that even though Sharon Boorstin’s book is about food, it’s really more about friendships and relationships.

I’ve really just touched lightly on Sharon Boorstin’s experiences which cover decades, as she relates them in “LET US EAT CAKE”.  I don’t want to tell you too much; I want all of you to get a copy and read it.  Mystery writer Faye Kellerman describes it as “a captivating memoir built around the kitchen, where the great dishes as well as the bonds of amity are created and nurtured side by side…”

And in case you are wondering (as did I) what a Canlis salad is – Paul Canlis is the creator, who was taught how to make it by his Lebanese mother.


2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 slices country white bread,
cut into 1⁄2″ cubes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper,
to taste
1 egg, at room temperature
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 lb. slab bacon, cut into 1⁄2″ cubes
1 cup grated pecorino
1 cup mixed red and yellow
grape tomatoes, halved
1⁄2 cup torn mint leaves
3 tbsp. oregano leaves
5 scallions, chopped
2 heads romaine, cored and cut
crosswise into 1″ strips

1. Heat oven to 325°. Toss butter, oregano, thyme, bread, and garlic together in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring frequently, until croutons are golden, about 15 minutes. Set croutons aside to let cool.

2. Whisk together egg and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly to make a smooth vinaigrette. Season with pepper; set aside.

3. In a 10″ skillet, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates, 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until bacon crisps, about 5 minutes; let cool. Toss bacon, reserved croutons, vinaigrette, and remaining ingredients in a large salad bowl and season with salt and pepper.


LET US EAT CAKE” by Sharon Boorstin sold originally for $24.95.  It is available on for one cent and up for preowned copies and for 99c on

Sharon Boorstin was the restaurant critic for the LOS ANGELES HERALD-EXAMINER and her writing has appeared in BON APPETIT, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, PLAYBOY, MORE, FOOD ARTS, CONDE NAST TRAVELER, UK and PORTHOLE.  She and her husband, Paul, have two children and live in Beverly Hills, California.

Happy Cooking!




People either love it—or hate it. So says Marguerite Patten in the Introduction to her book “SPAM – THE COOKBOOK” first published by Hamlyn, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group in 2000. Sue Erwin tells me she loves it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love it – but I had a can in the pantry so I opened it, sliced off some Spam and put it on crackers. Instant nostalgia – it brought back childhood memories of taking Spam sandwiches to school.  I have to tell you – don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!  SPAM is so popular that the Los Angeles County Fair (one of the largest county fairs in the entire country) has had a SPAM recipe contest for the past decade. Southern Californians happily demonstrate their ingenuity and creativity using SPAM. One year’s Fair cookbook featured California Teriyaki Turkey Spam Sesame Sushi and Spam Turkey Pockets (made with Oven Roasted Turkey Spam). Apparently, Hormel sponsors a SPAM contest at county fairs throughout the country. The winning recipes of 70-something SPAM recipe contests held at county fairs are then forwarded to the chefs at Hormel for a final judging—I read about this in a Los Angles Times article but the newspaper article neglected to state what the grand prize winner gets for this.

“Spam,” writes Marguerite, “is one of only a tiny number of brand-name food products that everybody knows.  From its humble beginnings in Austin, Minnesota, it has become a symbol of American culture, a powerful icon in both the USAand many other parts of the world…”

Marguerite says that SPAM’s hold on the American people is so great that it is even featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Spam,” notes Marguerite, “is as representative of American life as apple pie or Coca-Cola.”

Spam was first developed,” Marguerite writes, “In the 1930s by J. C. Hormel, president of Geo. A. Hormel & Co., as a way to use up the pork shoulder meat left over from the pork industry.  This was good quality meat but was difficult to cut off the bone in decent size pieces.  Its ‘leftover’ status made it an unlikely basis for a new product, but the last 60 years have proven its success…”

“It was slow to get started,” Marguerite writes, “because the American housewife of the time had been brought up to believe that meat that had not been stored in the refrigerator could make you ill. But soon the idea of canned foods took hold and since then SPAM has not looked back.”

Most of you are undoubtedly too young to remember this, but SPAM first reached icon status during World War II, feeding our troops – often morning,noonand night. It was one of the most widely used military foodstuffs among US troops, Marguerite notes, “but allied troops also received SPAM in their rations and it was used to feed starving Russians during the German occupation..”

Because it was served sp frequently, it became an object of ridicule while in wartimeBritain, SPAM was an important part of the national diet, not only for the troops but for hungry civilians as well, providing a good source of protein at a time when fresh meat was heavily rationed.

“Over the years,” Marguerite writes, “SPAM has beaten off its many competitors and imitators and still prospers to this day as an all-American   product, one that has been kind to the 1600Austin(Minnesota) residents who work for Hormel Foods…as well as the meat processors and hog farmers who make a living from it. SPAM is so much part of the town’s identity (Hormel Foods helped to build the hospital and library and donates generously to local charities) thatAustinis now officially known asSPAM Town,USA, and uses this honorable title to promote itself…”

Marguerite observes that SPAM is sold in virtually every grocery store inAmericaand that we consume about 90 million cans a year.  Hawaiians eat the most SPAM per year –about twice the National average. “The Hawaiians,” writes Marguerite, “are obsessed with SPAM, consuming over twice the national average, about four cans of SPAM per person every year.  They especially love their favorite pork product in sushi – SPAM musubi, a rice cake topped with pickled plum, a slice of fried SPAM, and wrapped with nori seaweed. This dish even rivals pizza as the school cafeteria favorite….”  (You’ll excuse me if I pass on that. I’m not fond of sushi and the one time an Okinawan neighbor persuaded me to try a pickled plum, I thought my mouth was going to turn inside out).

“SPAM”, Marguerite notes, “is now sold all over the world and, as an American product, it has great prestige in many societies, and is considered on a par with baseball caps and McDonald’s…”  She says that South Koreais one of the most rapidly expanding markets, where SPAM is considered a gourmet luxury and is often presented as a gift, like luxury chocolates and fine wines.  And Guam, she adds, has a huge appetite for SPAM, its citizens consuming an average eight cans of SPAM per person per year.

Not only that, it may surprise you to learn that over the years, there have been hundreds of SPAM fan clubs, and SPAM festivals all over the USA with recipe competitions, dressing up and SPAM sculpting events. As I noted at the very beginning of this review, there is a SPAM recipe contest at the Los Angeles County Fair. Inasmuch as I collect the fair cookbooks, I dug back into the files to see how many years the SPAM contest has been held at the fairgrounds inPomona,California. And now, Hormel offers a variety of other SPAM items for its followers – you can buy SPAM boxer shorts or SPAM sandals, SPAM Christmas tree ornaments or SPAM babywear.

SPAM luncheon meat, we have learned, was the brainchild of the president of Hormel, Jay C. Hormel, son of the founder, George, who had created this company out of what started out as a modest retail butcher shop. George wasn’t initially impressed with Jay’s idea but once all of the production problems had been overcome, the question remaining was, what to call it?  Originally, writes Marguerite, it was known as chopped ham but a catchier name was required.

“The lack of name,” Marguerite explains, “caused considerable delay before the canned luncheon meat appeared on the market…by 1936 there was a satisfactory product – ready to be sold – but one without a name…”

She says that “It is reported that Jay Hormel decided to stage a New Year’s party for the express purpose of naming ‘his baby’. Guests were to be entitled to a drink for each name they suggested and there would be a prize of $100 for the winner. The host is believed to have commented at a later date that ‘by the fourth drink’ people began to show some imagination…”

The name SPAM was suggested by Kenneth Daigneau, brother of the Hormel vice-president and an actor who was a guest at the party. . SPAM was launched in theUSAin May, 1937 and began to sell well in spite of the fact that within a very short time, there were over one hundred competitors.  Because SPAM was an inexpensive meat, even poor families could afford to buy it.  By 1938 SPAM had become so popular that it received an award for the best company development of 1937.  But it was really World War II that made SPAM famous.

In March of 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act which provided aid to the Allied Forces, and many businesses, including Hormel, moved into wartime production. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the USjoined the Allies and SPAM was fed to servicemen—by 1944, 90% of all Hormel canned foods were exported to various theaters of war. Marguerite explains in her book, “SPAM THE COOKBOOK” how wartimeBritain benefited from SPAM, which was even used to feed school children. The book also provides SPAM memories from people who survived the war and have fond memories of the canned meat that kept them from starving.

What follows is a variety of recipes, ranging from super sandwiches, recipes for parties, SPAM appetizers such as SPAM porcupines, and a lot of other up-to-date recipes for SPAM that I bet you’ve never thought of before—Thai Spam cakes and SPAMburgers, pineapple grilled SPAM or pork and fruit stir-fry.

What’s in the future for SPAM? Well, it’s still a favorite food throughout much of the world. SPAM even has a website – go to and find out about fan clubs and catalogue items. I think the future for SPAM is very bright; one only needs to read through Marguerite Patten’s book, “SPAM THE COOKBOOK” to discover the many new and ingenious ways of serving SPAM.   SPAM is still going strong!

SPAM THE COOKBOOK my Marguerite Patten is available on for 99c (or up, if you want to pay more. has copies starting at one cent. Remember the charge for shipping and handling is $3.99.

Happy cooking..,. maybe.







Culinary Alchemy



For maybe over five years—maybe more like seven or eight now–I have been searching for a quote – a particular food quote. I KNOW you will forgive me for rehashing this topic once again but one of these days SOMEBODY is going to know the exact quote.

I searched high and low and far and wide, somewhat under the impression that it was something that perhaps M.F.K. Fisher or Elizabeth David had written. Needless to say I didn’t find it in either of their books that I have on my shelves. I searched through three books of food related quotes and did an extensive search on Google without having any success.

What the quote related to is the name of that “thing” – the subtle changes that occur when cooks trained in the same kitchen making the same dish, following the same recipe–end up with different results.

Also got to thinking one day as I was watching “Chopped” on the Food Network – that what they are doing is a take-off on this quote I am searching for. On Chopped, the contestants are given 3 or 4 of the same ingredients and in a specific amount of time, have to create a dish–appetizer or an entrée or a dessert. They present their dish to the judges who decide which dish is the best and one contestant at a time is “chopped” or eliminated from the competition until finally one chef is declared the winner. You all are probably familiar with this show so perhaps I am unnecessarily digressing.  But what they are actually doing is WOK PRESENCE.

I accidentally found a quote while searching for something else. It was something Karen Hess wrote about in her outstanding book “THE CAROLINA RICE KITCHEN….THE AFRICAN CONNECTION”. Ms. Hess was referring specifically to African American women who, during the times of slavery, left their thumbprint on everything they cooked. They were a part of the south but they brought with them African influences which eventually changed the palate of southerners. Ms. Hess writes that the Chinese have a name for this, those subtle changes, and they call it Wok Presence.

(*I wrote an article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange years ago, titled “OUR AFRICAN HERITAGE” which appeared in the Feb/March 1996 issue of the CCE – which was how I was led to The Carolina Rice Connection by Ms. Hess).

Another cookbook author, Rosa Lewis had a somewhat different take on the same concept and wrote, “Some people’s food always tastes better than others, even if they are cooking the same dish at the same dinner. Now I will tell you why–because one person has more life in them–more fire, more vitality, more guts–than others. A person without these things can never make food taste right, no matter what materials you give them, it is not use Turn in the whole cow full of cream instead of milk, and all the fresh butter and ingredients in the world, and still the cooking will taste dull and flabby–just because they have nothing in themselves to give.  You have got to throw feeling into cooking.” – and no, this is not the quote I have been looking for.

I have been aware of these subtle changes for most of my adult life. It’s why a recipe can be published in a cookbook with exact directions and measurements and my results may not be the same as your results. And there may be a dozen reasons why not.

In the early 1980s, when I was living in Florida, I became even more acutely aware of this difference as I tried to share some favorite recipes with my next door neighbor. She would come crying to me “My cookies burn! They don’t turn out like yours!” – I was baffled – after all, it was the famous Toll House cookie recipe on the back of every package of Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. How could it be different?  I went over to her house to watch her bake the cookies and discovered that she would put two cookie trays, side by side – wedged in really, on a rack. The air couldn’t flow; the bottoms of the cookies burned.

I have been a great proponent, ever since, for baking two trays of cookies on two separate racks and switching them, top to bottom, bottom to top half way through baking to assure even baking, so the hot air circulates.  And when I am baking and time is not an issue, I bake one tray of cookies at a time. I have a very old stove so I pamper it a lot.

But “Wok Presence” can affect us in many other different ways. For instance – a girlfriend of mine says my ranch dressing tastes better than hers. I discovered she uses Kraft Miracle Whip salad dressing. I use Best Foods Mayonnaise (Hellman’s if you are East of the Mississippi).  Another time I discovered that a friend used a Polish Kolbasz for the Hungarian Layered potato recipe. You really need Hungarian Kolbasz to make an authentic Hungarian Layered potato casserole. That’s not to say that your dish won’t taste good. It just won’t taste AS good. It’s like – the difference you will get if you use margarine instead of real butter in a recipe. It will be ok. It just won’t be great.

Wok presence can be affected by the type of baking pans you use and the length of time something, such as a drop cookie, remains in the oven. I had this girlfriend at work who made such wonderful chocolate chip cookies. I asked her what the secret was. She replied that she under- baked the cookies; she would take them out of the oven a few minutes early and let them stand on the cookie sheet on a counter until they were cool enough to remove.

Such a small change but it made the difference between soft and chewy – and crisp.

I adopted her under-baking rule with most butter cut out cookies that I make – when they are brown around the edges yet firm enough – I take them out and let them stand on the cookie sheets for a while before transferring to wire racks to finish cooling. And cookie sheets! The kind of cookie sheets you use can make all the difference in the world with your finished product.  Now I replace cookie sheets every few years – and I use parchment paper on all of them, all of the time. It works better than the aluminum foil I used on the cookie sheets for years.

The more I think about this – the more certain I am that someone else, a famous cookbook author (and I am still leaning heavily towards Elizabeth David) said that the FRENCH have a name for it, those subtle differences that take place when two chefs – cook the same recipe, with the same ingredients – but each will turn out differently. There is a NAME for this and I am going crazy trying to pin it down.

My curiosity was piqued when someone sent me a food section from the San Jose Mercury News, published in September, 1994.  The story was written by Kathie Jenkins of the Los Angeles Times, whose name I recognized. Jenkins opens the article, titled “IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THE RECIPE” by relating the story of a lady whose hobby is trying recipes until she finds the perfect one. In her quest for the perfect crab cake, this cook tried many different versions including several provided by notable cookbook authors. “They were soggy little balls of yuck,” she reported.  “Even my husband wouldn’t touch them, which is really amazing. They were too disgusting.”

All of this came as no surprise, Jenkins reports, “to the owner of the Cook’s Library, Los Angeles’ only all-cookbook shop. “More than half the books in my store have at least one recipe that doesn’t work” reported the storeowner.  And John Taylor, who owns a culinary bookstore in South Carolina and is the author of “Hoppin’ John’s Low Country Cooking” observed that, if he only sold books where the recipes worked, he wouldn’t have any books on his shelves.

The trouble is, writes Kathie Jenkins, that recipe testing is nearly always left to authors who must do it or pay for it.  “For cookbook authors,” Jenkins notes, “slaving over a test kitchen stove can pay big dividends. The most popular personalities can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars. Added to this are revenues from product endorsements, consultant fees, sponsorships, television shows, and video cassettes.”

Or,” she continues, “in the case of style czarina Martha Stewart, your very own magazine. She started out as a Connecticut caterer, wrote the book, “Entertaining,” and parlayed that into a reported $2 million empire – plus a stream of royalties from television shows, videos, CDs and all those Martha Stewart products sold at Kmart…” (now Home Depot?)

Jenkins notes that a famous name is no guarantee that the recipes work, however.  Hoppin’ John Taylor commented, “Nobody in their right mind buys a Martha Stewart Book for a recipe.  They buy them for her ideas and great pictures. If a recipe works in a Martha Stewart book, it’s somebody else’s.”

In defense of Martha Stewart and apologies to any Martha Stewart fans, a spokesperson for Martha Stewart commented, “That quote sounds like somebody in the cookbook business who wrote a book and it didn’t sell. I think those are just sour grapes.”

Whether it’s sour grapes or not, I’ll leave that for all of you to decide. What is relevant to the subject at hand is that cookbook publishers have no test kitchens. Most newspapers don’t either and consequently, they can’t test every recipe they print from a cookbook. Most recipes are printed as they appear in cookbooks or from wire services. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Times does have a test kitchen and a staff to cook in it.  All of the recipes in the “Best of the Best” cookbooks published by Quail Ridge Press are pre-tested.  You can generally expect a well-prepared Junior League cookbook to have tested recipes and they will often tell you so in their book by thanking the committee of testers who worked on the recipes (sometimes testing recipes three or four times).  Jenkins notes that, unlike newspapers, which can correct a recipe the following week, if necessary, cookbook publishers can’t correct even the mistakes they’ll admit to, short of a recall or waiting until the next printing. And while cookbook publishers claim to care about accuracy in recipes, Jenkins notes, most are unwilling to spend the money to make sure the recipes actually work. In a standard publishing contract, the responsibility of recipe testing is left up to the writers.

Added to the mistakes that may be made somewhere between the writing of the cookbook and its publication, there is another important element to all of this.  It translates to the difference between the kitchen of the cookbook author and the kitchen of the person who purchased the cookbook.

Author Paul Reidinger has written, “But the curious truth about recipes is that they often produce dramatically different results in different hands in different kitchens. Many times over the years I’ve told interested parties how I roast my chickens and make my salsa, and I am always convinced that my methods are simple and bulletproof – until I am advised that somebody else used one of my recipes exactly and still ended up with a mess.  These admonishments remind me that recipes are only partly science; following a recipe is not like solving a quadratic equation.  There is play involved, wiggle room, variance, uncertainty, and the person in charge has to know how to adjust.”

It’s also fairly well known that famed cookbook author Elizabeth David disliked giving exact measurements in her recipes. John Thorne, editor of a cooking newsletter called Simple Cooking, in writing about Elizabeth David, commented, “This – although contemporary food writers (or at least their editors) consider it (i.e., David’s distaste for exact measurements) an inexplicable even reader-hostile failing – expresses a direct truth. The responsibility for a dish must finally lie not with the writer but with the cook.  Too much instruction muddles the reality of his responsibility.  Cookbooks cannot hold hands; their task is to make the reader think. In Elizabeth David’s books, reader and writer face this fact across the page….”

And, not to run this subject to the ground, there are so many variables when it comes to cooking. The cookbook author’s oven is probably not the same as yours (and do you even know if your oven temperature is completely accurate? Have you ever tested it with an oven thermometer?). Are you using the right size pan? You are probably not using the same kind of flour or baking powder as the cookbook author used. Most recipes don’t specifically state what brand of flour is used, and a lot of people are unaware that baking powder has a limited shelf life. The same goes for spices and herbs.  A lot of people don’t know that herbs and spices should be stored in a cool place, away from the stove. I was horrified to see, in a nationally circulated, well- known magazine, the photograph of a kitchen with a spice rack built right over the stove. I wrote to them to complain – that’s the worst place to put a spice rack. They did not respond to my letter.   If your herbs and spices have been languishing on a shelf near the stove for a year or two, chances are they’ll have very little potency. That could affect your recipe.

Recently, my granddaughter Savannah and I flew to Sioux Falls South Dakota where we spent a week visiting my son and his wife. One day I baked chocolate chip cookies for him. I used a Silpat sheet on the cookie sheet (at home I use parchment paper) and within a day they were rock-hard even though I under baked them. Another day I baked two cakes – one a chocolate cake, from a mix, in a Bundt pan. The other cake was an angel food cake in a new pan that did NOT come out of the Teflon coated pan easily. I covered my mistakes with chocolate glaze. I have no explanation for the difficulties I encountered using their kitchen—I would blame it on the stove but it’s a very expensive stove that they bought only a year ago. I don’t think Sioux Falls is at any elevation different from Ohio (correct me if I’m wrong). The chocolate cake did not rise as much as it should have. I felt like a failure even though I recognize that the problem was not having my own kitchen to bake in.

Consequently, the skill and expertise of the cook is an important factor to the outcome of recipes.   And what do you blame it on if it’s a recipe you have been baking in your home for over forty years?  I would undoubtedly be a disaster in one of those Pillsbury Bake-Off kitchens.

But, as Kathie Jenkins reported in her newspaper article, there are a lot of bad recipes that have appeared in cookbooks. The test crew at the Los Angeles Times did a lot of research on their own and discovered there were some real losers (including two lemon pies from Martha Stewart’s “Pies and Tarts” cookbook).  Says Jenkins, “Many of the reportedly faulty recipes not only worked but tasted wonderful.  One award-winning cookbook author griped that he could never get Rose Levy Beranbaum’s genoise to work. We did. Another complained of far too much chile oil in the spicy soba noodles in Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s ‘City Cuisine’. The noodles were delicious. And Marion Cunningham’s gingerbread did not run all over the oven the way one authority claimed it would.”

“So many things,” Jenkins notes, “affect how well a recipe works—equipment, weather, ingredients, personal taste. So what’s a cookbook author to do?  Vigilance and thorough working knowledge of one’s recipes are probably the best insurance..”

Jenkins comment on weather struck a chord. When we lived in Florida for three years, I discovered that some of my favorite recipes were simply impossible to make. The Stained Glass Window cookies simply dripped all the “stained glass” after a day or two and when I couldn’t get melted sugar to set up for the kids’ graham cracker houses, I put them into the oven thinking they would dry out. I set the oven on fire.  You simply couldn’t make any kind of meringue cookie, due to the humidity–and I discovered that the beet sugar in Florida was much grainier than the Hawaiian sugar cane sugar we were so accustomed to using. For about two years, I had a girlfriend shipping me bags of C&H sugar from California. (This is probably not a major problem for someone who has central air conditioning in their home but that was a luxury we didn’t have, at the time.    I was so happy when we moved back to

 California where—despite the intense heat of summers—we seldom have humidity to deal with.

 “Good cooking”, wrote Yuan Mei, “does not depend on whether the dish is large or small, expensive or economical. If one has the art, then a piece of celery or salted cabbage can be made into a marvelous delicacy whereas if one has not the art, not all the greatest delicate rarities of land, sea or sky are of any avail.”

 Since wok presence is boiled down to leaving your thumbprint – it seems logical to share a thumbprint cookie recipe with you:

 Cranberry thumbprints (From the LA TIMES COOKIE CONTEST)

Total time: 1½ hours, plus cooling and chilling times

Servings: Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Note: Adapted from a recipe by Kim Gerber.

Cranberry jam

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 (10-ounce) package frozen cranberries

1 (1-inch) piece cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons corn starch

1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together one-fourth cup of water, the sugar and orange zest. Stir in the cranberries and cinnamon stick and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of water with the cornstarch to form a slurry. Thoroughly stir the slurry in with the cranberry mixture and continue to cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. This makes a scant 1½ cups jam, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe. The jam will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Cookies and assembly

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons ground flax meal

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup coarse raw sugar (for rolling)

About 3/4 cup cranberry jam

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour and the all-purpose flour, along with the flax meal and salt.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then the orange zest and juice. Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the flour mixture until thoroughly combined to form a dough.

3. Roll about 1½ teaspoons of dough into balls. Roll each ball in the raw sugar, then place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 2½ inches apart. Press an indentation into the center of each ball using your thumb or finger.

4. Refrigerate the sheets until the dough is hardened, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

5. Bake each sheet of cookies for 7 minutes. Remove each sheet, and quickly re-press the indentation in the center of each cookie using the handle of a wooden spoon. Continue baking the cookies until set and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool on wire racks.

6. To assemble the cookies, place a small dollop (about one-half teaspoon) of the jam in the indentation of each cookie. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the cookies, if desired, before serving.

Each of 6 dozen cookies: 62 calories; 1 gram protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 9 mg cholesterol; 5 grams sugar; 13 mg sodium.

Happy Cooking & Happy cookbook collecting! – Sandy


My love affair with diners dates back to my early childhood, where, in South Fairmount in Cincinnati, Ohio, there once was a place on the corner of Queen City Avenue and Beekman Streets, called the Twin Trolley Diner.  I loved that restaurant. It was a favorite place to stop and have a bite to eat after going to the movies at the West Hills Theater in South Fairmount.  We lived in North Fairmount and everyone either walked or took the streetcars, also known as trolley cars, to get where they were going. Buses replaced streetcars while I was still very young. Even so, children walked everywhere. To have an adult drive you someplace was simply unheard of.  We walked to and from school, the library, movie theaters, the Dairy Queen, bakery, drug store, or the corner mom & pop grocery stores – unless you were going “Downtown”; then you took a streetcar or the bus.  The Twin Trolley Diner was also right on the street car/bus line. (It might surprise you to learn, too, that when women or girls went Downtown, they wore high heels, hats, gloves, and stockings—the works!  People didn’t go Downtown in casual attire, even if it meant walking all around Downtown in uncomfortable high-heeled shoes!).

There was another place in Cincinnati that enjoyed enormous popularity, that I didn’t even think of as a diner until I read about it in a cookbook called “ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor.  The diner is a place called Camp Washington Chili and the restaurant has been at the same location since 1940. It was just about a mile from our house, just across the Hopple Street Viaduct. Camp Washington Chili was always open 24 hours a day and very often, when I was a teenager, someone would get a yen for “Coney Islands” or “White Castles” and we’d make a late-night quick trip to both places. I think this happened mostly when I was babysitting for my older sister and she and her husband would come home from their evening out on the town.

 “Coney Islands” are specially made small hot dogs on smaller-than-average buns, loaded down with hot dog, Cincinnati chili, chopped onions, shredded cheese and mustard.  Cincinnati chili is a special blend of chili, originally created by a Greek chef and a “five way” is a plateful of spaghetti topped off with chili, kidney beans, chopped onions and finely shredded cheese—with oyster crackers.  Nearby was a White Castle restaurant, also a chain of diner eateries popular in my hometown. Their hamburgers were smaller than regular-size hamburgers – a really hungry person could easily eat about three Coney Islands and three White Castles. (When I was a little girl, the Sunday paper often featured a White Castle coupon—you could get 5 hamburgers for twenty-five cents! I think we clipped a lot of those coupons). Another memory from my earliest childhood is coming home on the street car with my grandparents, after spending a Sunday at their “lodge” downtown near Findlay Market. When we transferred streetcars at Hopple and Colerain Streets, Grandpa would go into the White Castle and get a bag of hamburgers for us to take home and eat.

 And, even though Camp Washington Chili has been at the same location since 1940, it’s no longer the same building.  When the City wanted to widen Hopple Street, they wanted a slice of the land on which the original Camp Washington Chili building was located. The owners obliged and now Camp Washington Chili is in a new—albeit very art-deco-ish building.  The owners and the food are the same, however, (although the menu has expanded). Whenever I am visiting my hometown, my nephew and his wife and I enjoy lunch at Camp Washington Chili.  All of the walls of the interior of the restaurant are decorated with tributes that have been appeared in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers about this most famous Cincinnati eatery.

 There are, now, many chili “parlors” throughout the city of Cincinnati, most either Skyline or Empress. Camp Washington Chili was one of the earliest, however and is so famous that the mayor declared June 12 to be Camp Washington Chili Day.  When I go to visit relatives and friends in Cincinnati, usually the first thing we do is head for one of the chili parlors. There is even one in the Greater Cincinnati airport (which, incidentally, is located in Kentucky—but that’s another story!)

“Diner history”, writes Sharon O’Connor in “ROCK & ROLL DINER” (published in 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc) “began in 1872 when Walter Scott drove a horse-drawn freight wagon filled with sandwiches, boiled eggs, buttered bread, pies, and coffee down Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Late-night factory workers couldn’t purchase anything to eat after 8 p.m. when all the restaurants in town closed for the evening, so the enterprising Scott brought the food to his hungry customers…”

A few years later, a man by the name of Samuel Jones noticed some of the lunch wagon customers standing outside in the rain eating and he had an inspiration – he would build a lunch cart big enough for people to come inside.   In 1887 at the New England Fair in Worcester, Massachusetts, for the first time ever, customers entered a lunch cart on wheels.  “Jones’ cart had a kitchen, fancy woodwork, stained glass windows, standing room for customers and a menu that included sandwiches, pie, cake, milk, and coffee,” writes O’Connor. “The idea of eating inside a lunch cart was an instant success.”

Before long, lunch wagons were being mass-produced by a man named Thomas H. Buckley, who became known as the “Lunch Wagon King.”  Buckley added cooking stoves to his lunch wagons, which allowed expanded menus.  These lunch wagons, O’Connor explains, underwent a number of changes and gradually evolved into the roadside diners of the 20th century. Curiously, early in the 1900s, when street railway companies were beginning to electrify, enterprising wagon owners into permanent restaurants converted many of the discarded trolley cars.

Before long, several other entrepreneurs went into the diner manufacturing business and began shipping pre-fabricated miniature restaurants that were approximately thirty feet long and ten feet wide to various parts of the country. Sometime between 1923 and 1924, the name “lunch car” evolved into “diner”.

“In 1922,” writes O’Connor, “diner manufacturer Jerry O’Mahony’s catalog pictured ‘lunch cars’; two years later, it showed many models called ‘diners’…”

“This new name,” explains Sharon O’Connor, “linked them with the fine dining experience offered on Pullman trains, and it also better described the expanded fare of breakfast, lunch, and dinner available twenty-four hours a day…”

Richard Gutman, author of “AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” delves a great deal deeper into the origins of the diner, and the life of Walter Scott and others who came up with the original food carts.

Gutman’s book also offers many illustrations and photographs of diners from their inception on.

One of the most interesting stories I’ve discovered about pre-fab diners is the Valentine Diners. These pre-fabricated diners were built in Wichita, Kansas, after World War II, and were numbered and leased across the country to meet the postwar demand for fast food. Vets returning from World War II were interested in a small business they could invest in – and it was the kind of business that was often family operated; everyone in the family helped keep it going and they often kept their diners open 24 hours a day to get the maximum amount of business.

Valentine Diners were made of aluminum and were built in 7 or 9 stool sizes.  They were leased complete with stainless fixtures behind the counter and a payment box next to the door where the leaseholder could deposit the first 50 cents he made each day as rental money. Once a month, the Valentine man came and unlocked the deposit box to take out the money. If the amount of money in the deposit box were short, the tiny restaurant would be quickly closed down.

Marian Clark, author of “THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK” tells the story of the Valentine Diners and says that, (at least as of 1993), there are two Valentine Diners still in existence in Winslow, Arizona. One of these is on 2nd Street in Winslow and Irene, the woman who runs the diner, remembers when it was moved to Winslow in 1947. Irene’s was called the Highway Diner back then and did a thriving business along route 66.

 The other Valentine Diner was originally called the Birth Place Diner because it was located on the site of Winslow’s first dwelling. On top of the diner was a miniature stock, in honor of its historic location.

It was during the mid-1920s that diner owners also began to make a bid for female customers to come into their restaurants. Initially, most women wouldn’t set foot into a diner. The Diners’ early days as late-night lunch carts gave them a reputation of being for men only.  Now, ladies were invited to come in; flower boxes, shrubs, and frosted glass were added to the décor.  In addition, the menus began to offer salads.  The bid for female customers also led to another major innovation. Writes O’Connor, “Because most women didn’t feel comfortable perched on counter stools, manufacturers began to offer diners with table or booth service. By the end of the decade, diners were regarded as inexpensive, respectable places to eat and this reputation served them well during the 1930s…”  (It was also during the 1930s that the term “Luncheonette” came along. This had, I suspect a more respectable ring to it for the ladies rather than something like “hash house” or “Lunch Counter”).**

In 1928, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.  However, Diners made it through those difficult years—people still had to eat, and Diners offered inexpensive meals. The 1930s also brought new construction materials such as Formica, glass blocks and stainless steel.

Sharon O’Connor offers a short history of the invention of Formica, which began to appear in diners in the mid-1930s.  (I have to digress a moment and tell you—my father worked at Formica, as a tool-and-die maker, for many years, starting out before I was born, until he retired in the 1970s.   When I was a little girl, I thought Dad worked for a man named Mica, because he worked “for Mica”}.  Now, I learn in Sharon O’Connor’s book, “the name of the material comes from ‘for mica’ that is, used in place for mica, and it was first used to insulate industrial products from oils and acids…”  By 1940, when a cigarette-proof Formica became available, it was the material of choice for diner countertops.

The popularity of diners peaked in the 1950s, when an estimated 6,000 of these small, family-owned businesses were in operation. In 1962, along came McDonalds and the advent of the fast-food chains caused a major decline in the diner business.  The 1982 movie “Diner” inspired a revival in diner mania – but then, in the 1990s, baby boomers became fascinated with the Retro look – and everything old was new again.  New versions of the 1940s and 1950s style diners are being re-created and the older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.  Unfortunately, a lot of places, like the Twin Trolley Diner, are gone forever.   And, one of life’s ironies about this entire story is that now, again, we have “food trucks” that go around to office buildings and factories during break and lunch hours, so that workers can go out and grab a bite to eat—what goes around certainly does come around!

We should also put in a word about jukeboxes; as everybody knows, jukeboxes and diners go together like ham and eggs, milk and cookies, chips and dip.  The jukebox had its beginnings in the early 1900s, when a coin mechanism was added to the phonograph.  Soon after, a mechanism was created to accommodate multiple records.  Most of these early systems played the records sequentially, just like a coin operated music box or player piano. The real beginning of the modern jukebox occurred in the early 1930s when the perfection of the selection mechanism allowed listeners to select the record they wanted to hear.  In the 1940s, jukeboxes played 24 records, contained illuminated plastics and were designed with round tops. As you might imagine, those jukeboxes are highly collectible today.

I think the history of the word juke is equally fascinating. The term juke joint actually precedes jukebox.  The words juke and jook are both corruptions of the ancient Elizabethan word jouk and originated in the western part of Africa. It meant to dance or to act wildly in the evening after a long hard day in the cotton fields. The small cafes and public houses reserved for blacks only in the southern states were usually named jukes or juke joints.

After coin-operated phonographs began to be installed in the jukes or joints, the term jukebox came into being and began to spread throughout the country. However, the words juke-joint and jukebox were for many years considered to be “black” terms and were not accepted by the white population or accepted in official vocabulary until the late 30s or early 40s.

Just before WW2, manufacturers of the jukeboxes came up with the bright idea of making wireless (remote controlled) wall boxes.  These were miniature jukeboxes mounted on the wall at booths (I even have a cookie jar shaped like one of those wall boxes). For a quarter, you could choose five songs (or even play the same thing over and over again, if you were so inclined, as my friends and I sometimes were).

Researching the subject on the Internet, one writer explained that the idea was good and most of the time the wall boxes worked pretty well. The only problem was that if the place had an excess of electrical equipment, sometimes the jukebox would take off by itself and play a record without any money being dropped into the slot.

A big shiny, colorful, Wurlitzer jukebox was usually somewhere in the diner as well.

Diners, I discovered, have their own “lunch counter lingo”.  This is a sort of shorthand slang used between serves and the cooks in traditional diners and luncheonettes. John Mariani, author of “THE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN FOOD AND DRINK”, published by Hearst Books (originally in 1983, but updated and revised in 1994) provides a sampling of terms if you are interested in  Diner Lingo.  Says Mariana “lunch counters have provided etymologists and linguists with one of the richest stores of American slang, cant, and jargon, usually based on a form of verbal shorthand bandied back and forth between waiters and cooks….”

Some of these terms, such as a “BLT” for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, have become a familiar part of American language.  H.L. Mencken, published in 1948, incidentally, culled Mariana’s list, from several other sources, notably “the American Language”. Mencken, in turn, found some of his sources dating back to a writer for the Detroit Press in 1852. Waiters, he says, developed most of it, in the 1870s and 1880s.

Here are a few Diner lingo terms:

ADAM AND EVE ON A RAFT:  two poached eggs on toast.



BIRD SEED: cereal

BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: A dish of meat, potato and vegetable served on a plate (usually blue) sectioned in three parts

BOWWOW:  A hot dog

BOSSY IN A BOWL: Beef stew, so called because “Bossy” was a common name for a cow


CROWD: Three of anything (possibly from the old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd)

DRAW ONE: Coffee

EIGHTY-SIX:  Translates to “do not sell to that customer” or “the kitchen is out of the item ordered”. Might be traced to the practice at Chumley’s Restaurant in New York City of throwing rowdy customers out the back door, which is No. 86 Bedford Street

FIRST LADY: Spareribs, a pun on Eve’s being made from Adam’s spare rib


 There are many other terms, most of them completely outdated in 2003, such as ZEPPELINS IN A FOG which were sausages in mashed potatoes. How many young people today even know what a Zeppelin was? (No, it wasn’t a rock group!)

“Now…” writes author Sharon O’Connor, “diners are flourishing across the United States, from nostalgic prefabricated booth-and-countertop models to custom-designed spots that seat hundreds and gross millions. Colonial- and Mediterranean-style places are being redone with less stone and brick and more polished granite, marble, glass, and stainless steel. New versions of classic 1940s- and 1950s-style diners are being re-created, and older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.  Menus across the country are diverse `and include traditional diner fare as well as more eclectic and regional selections….”

Some diner historians dispute what really constitutes a diner, however, and point out that many of today’s so-called diners are really imitation diners, or wannabes.

As noted in a magazine called “Roadside”, “if your diner is a storefront, or built into a shopping mall, or into a strip plaza, it is not a diner.  If it sits anywhere within the boundaries of an amusement park, it is not a diner.  If it serves $8.95 cheeseburgers and requires reservations, it is not a diner….”

Since I embarked on a mission to find out more about the diners of my childhood, I have discovered there is a wealth of published material on the subject! Whether you want to know the history of diners or how to cook comfort foods such as the diners were famous for serving, someone has written about it.

Diner cookbooks are a lot of fun to read and they are usually packed with nostalgic comfort recipes.

Cookbooks such as “ROCK & ROLL DINER”, and “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL” offer photographs of diners throughout the country and provide recipes featured at these restaurants (although nothing quite compares with actually visiting a fifties-style diner, sitting in a red-vinyl booth and ordering your favorite comfort food while selecting songs from the wall box.  Food and atmosphere have always been key elements to the success of these diners.  And, isn’t it ironic that the fast-food chains which once threatened the existence of the diners—are now in competition with them?

Want to learn more about diners, their specialties and their history?

You may want to look for the following:

“ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor, published 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc.

BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett, published 1996 by Cumberland House Publishing Inc.,

THE STREAMLINER DINER COOKBOOK” by Irene Clark, Liz Matteson, Alexandra Rust, Judith Weinstock, published by Ten Speed Press, 1990.

DINER” by Diane Rossen Worthington, published 1995 by Sunset Publishing Corporation

THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK” by Marian Clark, published 1993 by Council Oak Books

AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” by Richard J.S. Gutman, the John Hopkins University Press, paperback edition 2000 *

“RETRO DINER/COMFORT FOOD FROM THE AMERICAN ROADSIDE” by Linda Everett, published 2002 by Collectors Press, Inc.

“DINERS/AMERICAN RETRO” published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

“WHAT’S COOKING AT MOODY’S DINER/60 YEARS OF RECIPES & REMINISCENCES” by Nancy Moody Genthner, published August 2002 by Dancing Bear Books

And something for the kiddies, a children’s book on the subject, “MEL’S DINER” by Marissa Moss, 1994, by BridgeWater Books

*One of the bonuses of Richard Gutman’s “AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” is a directory of diners still in existence at the time the book went to press. Gutman suggests, “Once you’ve found a diner you like, ask the owner where there are others like it. Chancs are he’ll tell you about one, which might not be on the list. And by all means, if you find a good one I’ve missed, let me know.”

Happy cooking! Happy cookbook collecting!