Fern Storer was my favorite food editor, as far back as I can remember. After we moved to California in 1961, whenever my mother was putting together a box or envelope of things to send to me, I begged her to save all the Fern Storer columns she could find in the Post and send them to me (she also frequently sent me Erma Bombeck’s newspaper columns before the latter became so famous, but that’s another story).
Fern Storer was the first food writer I came to admire; she was an award-winning editor, intellectual, gracious hostess, devoted wife and friend, proud native Kansan and transplanted Kentuckian–all that and more, according to friends and former co-workers. As food editor for the Cincinnati Post from 1951 to 1976, Ms. Storer used those traits to teach people how to do things right.
“She was meticulous about testing recipes” said Cincinnati Post home/food editor Joyce Rosencrans. “She took great pride in the accuracy of those food sections and passed those principles down to me.”
Ms. Storer died in 2002 at St. Charles Care Center and Lodge in Covington. She was 96.
Fern married Sheldon Storer in 1931 and they lived in St. Louis for six years, then moved to Covington, where she began a six year stint as director of dietary services at William Booth Memorial Hospital. Later, she served as home economics consultant for Family Services of Cincinnati, where she began writing a food column for the Cincinnati Post. During her 25 years as food editor, Ms. Storer expanded the food section form a single column to several pages. After retiring from the Post in 1976 she wrote a weekly column called Microminders. Fern was considered a pioneer in microwave cooking; one of the first food professionals to tackle the trial-and-error of early microwaving, In 1989, her cookbook, “Recipes Remembered,” was published.
Ms. Storer is also remembered for bequeathing her house and 14.5 acres to the Northern Kentucky University Foundation. Rather than sell the lucrative hilltop site to developers, the NKU Foundation sold the property to the city of Fort Wright for $790,000. City officials began focusing on the area’s Civil War heritage. This land is where Hooper Battery was located and is one of only six Civil War fortifications left in Northern Kentucky. A museum is being planned and may by now be open to the public. (I hope to be able to visit it the next time I am in Cincinnati, which will probably be in 2013, for my next high school class reunion).
But it is Fern Storer’s cookbook “RECIPES REMEMBERED” that I want to write about.
When I was in my hometown of Cincinnati a few years ago, my nephew and I visited Ohio Bookstore, in the downtown area. This is a vast 3 or 4 storied bookstore and you could spend the day browsing through all of the books. Cookbooks, however, are on the first floor and there are hundreds of them. After a few hours of going through all the cookbooks, I had chosen about a hundred dollar’s worth of community cookbooks for Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and some from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana. It was too much to carry home in a suitcase so I boxed them up and my nephew promised to mail them to me. One of the books packed inside was a copy of “Recipes Remembered” by Fern Storer that I was delighted to find. I didn’t know the book existed.
She was the first and favorite food editor of my childhood. Also packed into the box was a book I had been reading on my way to Cincinnati—that one had one of my address labels glued inside. Long story short, the box of books never made it home to California. Curiously, the post office recovered and sent me the book of fiction, found at a post office in Bell, California – so I know that the box made it as far as California. The rest of the books never made it. More than anything I was distraught about losing Fern Storer’s book so I went on Amazon – and found another copy which, I am happy to report, is also autographed by the author.
The following year I was in Cincinnati again, and re-visited the Ohio bookstore. When I told my story about the lost cookbooks to the owner, he said “We can ship your purchases to you” and so that is what I did, that year. They ship a lot of books and are skilled at doing it; shortly after I returned home, the box of books arrived—it might have been by UPS.
I’m still bummed about the lost cookbooks. And now, whenever I travel, I take along a lot of address labels to stick inside any books that I may purchase while on vacation.
So, it took buying two copies of Fern Storer’s “Recipes Remembered” in order to end up with one. It was worth finding another; Hers is what I consider a truly regional cookbook, written in a charming chatty style—you feel like you could be sitting in Fern’s kitchen talking about food and recipes. Take, for example, the opening line to Birdie’s Applesauce Cake. Fern writes, “Nostalgic Cincinnatians who remember the old Cincinnati Hotel (before its elegant renovation) will recall the applesauce loaf cake sold at Birdie’s Delicasies, the busy little hotel food shop)…” This is honestly regional cooking and writing, the kind of community cookbook I cherish most—and it’s a twofer, about my hometown of Cincinnati—where my parents, sisters, brothers (along with cousins, aunts, and uncles) were all born.
The book itself is spiral-bound, a little larger than your average cookbook – and simply packed with recipes. Under soups there is even one for Mock Turtle Soup (much loved by Cincinnatians, I learned in Fern’s book that Mock Turtle Soup used to be a free lunch at old time saloons). There are also local favorites like Ham Hocks and Lima Bean Soup, Busy Day Pea Soup and Cream of Fresh Mushroom Soup, Fern’s Chili (a version of Cincinnati Chili—but you’d have to grow up in Cincinnati to understand there are dozens of versions of Cincinnati Chili, all claiming authenticity. My brother Jim swears his is the most authentic. I don’t lay claim to that, having lived most of my adult life in Southern California – I took a recipe for Cincinnati Chili and bastardized it into a combination Cincinnati-California chili). There is a recipe for Johnny Marzetti—a recipe that appears in dozens of southern Ohio community cookbooks, the name often misspelled – but Fern explains that the casserole named Johnny Marzetti originated in an old Marzetti restaurant in Columbus Ohio many years ago. There is also a recipe for Goetta or Scrapple, that my sister Becky often made—but you have to have some pin oats, or cross cut oats to make Goetta (I have some in the freezer). And, although there are many recipes that Cincinnati is noted for—my hometown has grown up; Fern includes many recipes you will find elsewhere in the USA such as one for Chasen’s Chili which used to be served at Chasen’s Restaurant (no longer in business) in Los Angeles.
I wish I could have known Fern. I wonder sometimes how my life may have been different if I had been able to work with her at a newspaper like the Post, testing recipes.
The next best thing, I suppose, is having a beautiful copy of her cookbook.
It’s not the easiest cookbook to find; published in 1989 by Highland House Books in Covington, Kentucky (right across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) I doubt there was more than the one original publishing run—but if you like regional cooking, or love Cincinnati, or just enjoy what food writers write about, it’s a good book to search for.
Somewhere in Bell, California, someone has my other copy.