Ceil Dyer is a native of Houston Texas. She is a home economist with a B.S. degree from Louisiana State. Her formative years were spent in the bayou country of Louisiana, where, she said, the art of living was esteemed, dining was a function and cooking was a pleasure, never a chore.
Ceil Dyer began her career as a food publicist for wine and food companies both here and in Europe. She was a food columnist for the JOURNAL-AMERICAN. Later, she wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “THE INSTANT GOURMET”, the first of its kind to combine quick cooking with gourmet-style food. Her book “WOK COOKERY” was another sensational first; in this best seller, she was the first to use a wok for both Occidental as well as Oriental recipes. “WOK COOKERY” has sold over 1.5 million copies.
Ceil Dyer is the author of more than 30 cookbooks. (My list is presently up to 31) and since biographical information has been somewhat difficult to come by, we’ll focus, this time, on the books written by her and see what we can be learned about the author from her books.
You may know her best from her book, “BEST RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLES, CANS, AND JARS” – which was, I believe, the first of its kind in this genre (there have been a number of copycats). “BEST RECIPES..” was a huge success and probably had a lot of publishers scratching their heads and wondering why no one else had thought to do this before!
‘This is in essence your book,” Ceil explains in the introduction. “Or, to put it more accurately, the cookbook you would have undoubtedly compiled if only you had time for the project. For here are the recipes you meant to save from that jar, can or box top, recipes you and your friends have asked for, a good number your mother’s generation requested, and even a few of your grandmother’s choices. Recipes you meant to save but didn’t, those from magazine ads you may have torn out intending to file away someday, but that someday never came. In short, here is the cookbook you have always wanted: a treasury of the very best efforts of America’s food producers…” I could readily relate—recipes on the back of Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa, Calumet baking powder, the box of cornmeal – may have been among the first recipes I tried making, when I was a child. Along with whatever I found in Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook!
Included in “Best Recipes…” are the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Party Cheese Ball, Chippy Cheese Ball from Frito-lay, Guacamole with Green chili Peppers, from the Avocado Advisory Board, (very similar to how I make my guacamole, for those who want to know), an assortment of Lipton California Dips (going strong since 1954), West Coast Broiled Flank Steak (made with fresh lemon juice), Horseradish Dressing (thanks to Hellman’s (or Best Foods) mayonnaise, Spanish Pot Roast (from Kraft—it uses a bottle of Kraft Catalina French Dressing and sounds worth rediscovering), Campbell’s Best Ever Meat Loaf (a recipe from their 1916 cookbook “Help for the Hostess”!) and oh, so many more! As I scan the pages, I realize that many of my favorites are in “BEST RECIPES…” and they are all worthy of rediscovery! “BEST RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLES, CANS AND JARS” was published in 1979, over 30 years ago, and is still going strong. Another curious discovery – Ceil Dyer included a recipe in “BEST RECIPES…” for Hershey’s Red Velvet Cocoa Cake! I searched (diligently, I thought) some years ago for the origin of Red Velvet Cake, and never was able to pin it down. Ceil says that “In the thirties, money was scarce and luxuries were few. No wonder this economy-minded cake recipe from Hershey’s Cocoa was a favorite then…”
Also included with the cake recipes is Hellman’s (Best Foods) Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake and Orange Kiss-Me Cake, which was a Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner in 1950.
Skimming through “BEST RECIPE…” other favorite recipes include the original Caesar Salad (created at Caesar’s Bar and Grill in Tijuana, Mexico, just past San Diego, California), the original Vanilla “Philly” frosting, Heavenly Hash (remember that?), Magic Cookie Bars from Eagle Brand Condensed Milk (also known as Hello, Dolly’s and Seven Layer Bars), and Magic French Fudge (one of my favorite candy recipes). This is one of those little books that frequently turns up in used book stores and book sales – if you don’t have a copy, you’re missing out.
Ceil Dyer struck pay dirt again when she wrote “THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK”, published by Delacorte Press in 1977.
There is something you may not know about me. I have been fascinated with anything related to the White House since I was in my early 20s, and have amassed a fairly respectable collection of what I loosely refer to as my “White House” collection. (This from someone who nearly flunked American History in high school!) These books take up most of one bookcase in my bedroom and include my “White House related” cookbooks, along with Congressional Club cookbooks (an incomplete collection; it isn’t all that easy finding all of them). All of my American presidents’ books fill a bookcase in our newly built garage library, and all of my first ladies’ biographies and autobiographies are on shelves behind the presidents.
At any rate, “THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK” was one of those books I just had to have for my collection.
Ceil Dyer was a natural to write this particular book; she was a southern lady, herself, and lived not too very far from Plains, Georgia. She was able to talk with many members of the Carter family, some of whom helped her with the book.
Despite the fact that Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States, the Carters returned to their home in Plains, Georgia at the end of his presidency. Jimmy Carter became involved in diplomatic ventures and he and his wife, Rosalynn both became active in projects such as Habitat for Humanity. To date, according to Google, former President Carter has written 37 books, including “AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT/Memories of a Rural Boyhood”, published in 2001. He and his wife Rosalynn co-authored a book in 1987, titled “Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of your Life”. Rosalynn Carter hasn’t been a slouch, either – shortly after they returned to their hometown, she wrote “FIRST LADY FROM PLAINS”, published in 1984. The reason I mention all of this is simply that, there probably hasn’t been another president in my lifetime who was more “a president of the people” than Jimmy Carter. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they opened their hearts and homes to Ceil Dyer, sharing family recipes.
To learn what Jimmy Carter’s favorite foods were, Ceil had to go to Rosalynn Carter. The former president is one of those people, like saying goes, who eats to live. (whereas some of us live to eat). The 39th President does like fresh vegetables, his first choice being eggplant prepared just about any way from Southern fried to casseroles. He also likes butternut squash, butter beans, vine-ripe tomatoes (ummm, me too) and fresh corn.
“THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK” is replete with recipes, including a Christmas Day menu.
In 1972, Ceil Dyer published what I consider to be her finest cookbook with a historical twist. Weathervane Books published “THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK.”
Ceil Dyer worked with the Preservation Society of Newport County in researching and writing “THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK” which is a history lesson in Rhode Island – with recipes. It begins with its famous founder, Roger Williams who was welcomed by the Indians and invited to a meal of boiled fish and succotash. Ever since, Ceil assures us, boiled fish of some kind, often mackerel or herring—along with that classic mixture of corn and beans, — has been a favorite Rhode Island menu.
“THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK” is replete with recipes, old photographs, drawings, and history, capturing Newport from its colonial days and its life as a great seaport, to its glamorous age as the “Queen of American Resorts”. This, too, is a fun cookbook to read!
However, I am inclined to think that it has been Ceil Dyer’s “workhorse” cookbooks that have gained the greatest respect for decades. Read Books such as “EATING WELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING”, “THE QUICK GOURMET”, “CHICKEN COOKERY”, “THE PLAN-AHEAD COOKBOOK” “THE PERFECT DINNER PARTY COOKBOOK” or “THE AFTER WORK ENTERTAINING COOKBOOK” and you will surely see what I mean. So many of these books were written and published over 30 years ago, but they have all stood the test of time and would be valuable additions to anyone’s cookbook collection. The recipes are well-chosen with what I think of as “basic” or “scratch” ingredients. You won’t find a can of condensed soup or a box mix. This is not intended as a criticism of cookbooks or recipes that do call for a can of condensed soup or a box mix. What I merely want to point out, is that convenience foods come and go, and what is available on your supermarket shelves today might not be there tomorrow (or ten years down the road). So many convenience products of 25-30 years ago simply aren’t available anymore. That’s the importance of cookbooks that use all “scratch” ingredients, because the basics – onion, spices, sugar, flour, cornstarch and so on, will always be with us. And you may discover, as I have recently, that learning to make some things from scratch is infinitely tastier than a frozen or packaged mix. I have been making a strawberry sauce and a decadent chocolate pudding “from scratch” and the lesson that I have learned is simply this; nothing can really replace “homemade”.
One of Ceil Dyer’s best books on this very subject is “THE BACK TO COOKING COOKBOOK” which explains how to save time and money by not using chemical-laden, prepared, canned, precooked, dehydrated, convenience foods. In the very beginning of “THE BACK TO COOKING COOKBOOK” Ceil Dyer states: “The French maintain that American cuisine is based on canned soup.” She goes on to say that it’s fast becoming a fact—and this was written in 1970. Over 40 years ago! “Shopping carts,” Ceil laments, “are filled for the most part with cake mixes, icing mixes, bottled salad dressing, packaged cookies, ‘instant’ rice, no-cook puddings, canned sauces and soups, soups, and more soups. These last to be used as base for every conceivable dish….” Ceil goes on to explain that home cooked meals made from honest ingredients are far less expensive, taste better and are more nutritious than those made from ersatz concoctions. (This reminds me, a while back, my sister called to ask me how to make Taco seasoning. She had forgotten to buy “Taco seasoning” at the store. I had a recipe, read it off to her over the telephone – and she was pleasantly surprised. “It was just as good as,” she exclaimed. One weekend I was at my sister’s and we did a little grocery shopping. I noticed that taco seasoning was on sale and pointed it out. My sister replied, “I make my own from scratch all the time now with that recipe you gave to me.”
In the Introduction to “EATING WELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING”, Ceil Dyer explains, “the first principle of eating well for less is to cook what’s in season, plentiful and therefore cheaper, and to cook what’s on hand…” What bemuses me, most, reading those lines is that I have read them, repeatedly, being quoted from various famous chefs throughout the country. “Learn to shop,” Ceil advises, “as the Europeans do. First shop your own kitchen—what’s on hand, what’s left over that might be used; then and only then do your shopping, not with a preconceived menu but first to see what’s best, freshest and cheapest in the market place.”
Ceil Dyer’s cookbooks will make you the Queen of Homemade.
Cookbooks by Ceil Dyer:
• HAMBURGERS PLAIN AND FANCY, GROSSET & DUNLAP, 1968
• THE PLAN AHEAD COOKBOOK , THE MACMILLAN COMPANY, 1969
• THE BACK TO COOKING COOKBOOK PRICE/STERN/SLOAN 1970
• THE QUICK GOURMET COOKBOOK HAWTHORN BOOKS 1972
• THE NEWPORT COOKBOOK, WEATHERVANE BOOKS, 1972
• THE PERFECT DINNER PARTY COOKBOOK, DAVID MCKAY COMPANY, 1974
• THE AFTER WORK ENTERTAINING COOKBOOK, DAVID MCKAY COMPANY, 1976
• THE CHOPPED, MINCED, & GROUND MEAT COOKBOOK ARBOR HOUSE, 1976
• FREEZER TO OVEN TO TABLE, 1976
• THE CARTER FAMILY FAVORITES COOKBOOK, DELACORTE PRESS, 1977
• EAT TO LOSE COOKBOOK, 1977
• EATING WELL FOR NEXT TO NOTHING, MASON CHARTER PUBLISHERS, 1977
• CEIL DYER’S COFFEE COOKERY, HP BOOKS, 1978
• BEST RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLES, CANS AND JARS, MCGRW-HILL BOOK COMPANY, 1979
• THE KITCHEN REVOLUTION COOKBOOK, MACMILLAN PUBLISHING CO., 1980
• EVEN MORE RECIPES FROM THE BACKS OF BOXES, BOTTLS, CANS & JARS
• WOK COOKERY, HP BOOKS, 1983
• CHICKEN COOKERY, HP Books, 1983
• GREAT DESSERTS, GALAHAD BOOKS, 1986
• CEIL DYER’S INSTANT GOURMET, HP BOOKS, 1987
I don’t have publishing dates for the following:
• HOW TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL FOOD IN A MOLD
• ALL AROUND THE TOWN: A NEW YORK COOKBOOK, WITH HUNDREDS OF RECIPES FROM NEW YORK’S FINEST RESTAURANTS (with ROSAIND COLE
• THE BREAKFAST COOKBOOK
• THE FREEZER COOKBOOK
• THE QUICK AND EASY ELECTRIC SKILLET COOKBOK
• THE SWEET TASTE OF SUCCESS
• PIZZA COOKERY
• MORE WOK COOKERY
• SLIM WOK COOKERY
• THE DICTIONARY OF LEFTOVERS
• GOURMET GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN
Happy Cooking & Happy cookbook reading!
-Sandra Lee Smith