I first became aware of Jeanne Voltz when she was a food editor of the Los Angeles Times in the 1960s, when we first moved to California. The food section of the Los Angeles Times was, in my estimation, unequaled in the 1960s-1970s. (I’ve been vocal in my disappointment with the current food sections of the two local newspapers, today. They’ve gone way too high brow for my taste. I find a lot more interesting recipes to clip from the food sections that my penpals send to me from various other parts of the country).
But a few decades ago, I clipped all of the recipes and articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and even filled two 3-ring spiral binders with S.O.S. columns. (This was one of those recipe columns where readers could request a particular recipe, often something served at a well known Southern California restaurant). But I digress.
Jeanne Voltz was born in Collinsville, Alabama, near Birmingham, to a southern family proud of its generations-old culinary skills. She began a career in Journalism in 1940 when, as we know from learning about Betty Wason, few women were in this field. Jeanne taught herself about food and cooking; she was a food editor for the Miami Herald in the 1950s, created the food section of the Los Angeles Times in 1960, and went on to become a food editor at Woman’s Day Magazine in 1973. Jeanne wrote a dozen cookbooks, two of which won national awards from the James A. Beard Association; “The California Cookbook” in 1971, and “Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds”, in 1986. Jeanne was the winner of the R.T. French Tastemaker Award for Best Regional Cookbook in 1971 and a six-time winner of the Vesta Award for newspaper food editing and writing.
Jeanne Voltz was also a founding member of the New York chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional organization for women in food-related careers. She was president of this organization in 1985 when the group went international.
Of her book, THE FLAVOR OF THE SOUTH”, Jeanne wrote that the selection of recipes was personal, drawn from her earliest gastronomic experiences at the table of a mother and grandmothers who spent much time and energy preparing food to the taste of demanding families.
Often, we find similar sentiments expressed by cookbook authors, offering recognition to their mothers and grandmothers!
Jean Anderson, who was a food writer with Family Circle at the same time that Jeanne Voltz was a food editor at Woman’s Day in 1973, recalled that Jeanne Voltz proved her worth immediately. Anderson wrote, “She (Voltz) really brought Woman’s Day into the modern age – introduced more sophisticated recipes that were still approachable for those cooks who were not accomplished…”
Jeanne Voltz also tackled the then-unfashionable subject of southern food in the late 70s, proving to one and all that southern food was a legitimate cuisine. (Ok, for those of us who have always loved southern food, it might surprise us to learn that southern food hasn’t always been totally acceptable to one and all!).
Much can be gleaned about the food concepts of an author by reading the introductions to their books, or even by reading between the lines of their cookbook recipes. Of southern food, Voltz wrote (in “THE FLAVOR OF THE SOUTH”) that “anthropologists classify diets in various ways—by breadstuffs , for example. The southern diet is based on corn and rice. Hot biscuits are the magnificent wheaten exception, but in some parts of the south more corn bread and rice are consumed than wheat…Other intellectuals,” she wrote, “ judge a cuisine by its flavors. The flavor of the South is a heady mixture of onions, celery, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, cumin, horseradish, chili powder, mustard, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, and the distinctive contribution of the Indians, fil’e, powdered leaves of native sassafras…”
Southern cooking, Jeanne Voltz wrote, is sensual, not intellectual. Southerners, she explained, cook and eat to enjoy. The simplest foods, fresh tender greens, and pot liquor with corn bread, or fried pan fish and hush puppies, are cooked with painstaking care.
“Only in the South and California,” she claimed, “do home cooks insist on fresh produce of a quality almost forgotten in other areas. Supermarkets have taken over food distribution in the South, as everywhere, but farm markets, fresh produce and seafood peddlers, and roadside stands still purvey fresh foods in beautiful seasonal area….”
And even though the author wrote those words decades ago, I believe they are still true today.
“Southern cuisine” she explained, “is influenced by diverse food styles, American, Indian, English, Irish and Scotch, African, French Spanish, Mexican, representing every flag planted on the soil, no matter how briefly. More recently, Cuban Spanish and Puerto Rican Spanish people have brought their food customs to Florida. Middle European Jews have also put their stamp on the cuisine….”
While visiting my friend Sue Erwin in Northern California some years ago, we spent several delightful hours one morning at her favorite used book store in Chico. There, I happened to find a like-new copy of “Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds,” Jeanne Voltz’s cookbook published in 1990 by Alfred A. Knopf. This book was originally published under the title, “Barbecued Ribs and Other Great Feeds”. It could have been subtitled, “everything you ever wanted to know about barbeque and didn’t know who to ask”….Jeanne covered every angle, from the grill, pointing out that some of the best barbecued chicken she ever had was cooked on an old oven rack set precariously on two stacks of bricks with the fire burning on the ground between the bricks..to accessories, which are illustrated. She provided detailed instructions for the fuel, fire, and cooking techniques. And, oh boy! What recipes!
The publishers proudly note, “Jeanne Voltz gives us the fruits of a lifetime of testing, eating, and enjoying good barbecue. She has gathered the best regional recipes from across America, from Alabama, the Carolinas, and Florida to California and the Southwest—recipes that she and her family have savored over the years, developing their own techniques for perfecting their barbecue skills.
“BARBECUED RIBS, SMOKED BUTTS, AND OTHER GREAT FEEDS” is also laced with personal stories about great roadside joints and barbecue lore…and it is designed to capture the spirit and flavor of America’s love for outdoor cooking.
It was while searching for an entirely different cookbook on my shelves devoted to California cookbooks that I found a copy of “THE L.A. GOURMET” published by Doubleday & Company in 1971. Subtitled, “Favorite Recipes from Famous Los Angeles Restaurants”, this little cookbook was co-authored by Burks Hamner, who was, at that time a public relations expert in the food and restaurant field while Jeanne was food editor of the Los Angeles Times. What bemuses me most, forty-something years after its publication, is the number of restaurants featured in L.A. Gourmet that no longer exist, such as Perino’s and Chasen’s, Hungry Tiger and Don The Beachcomber’s. (I was only at Perino’s once in my life but it was a most memorable, unforgettable evening. Many of my coworkers and I, back in the 1970s, spent numerous lunch hours at Don The Beachcomber’s—they had a wonderful south seas kind of luncheon buffet. The Hungry Tiger was the place to go for any great seafood dinner…but I digress).
While some, if not most, of the restaurants featured in “THE L.A. GOURMET” have disappeared from the southern California landscape, their specialties have not. And, in the introduction, the co-authors advised that the recipes chosen for this little book were the most practical for producing in your own home kitchen. They were also tested under home conditions and served to families and guests with good results. So it is that we can still enjoy the Hungry Tiger’s recipe for clam chowder, Roast Tenderloin of Pork as it was served at Don the Beachcomber, Fillets of Sole in White Wine with Mushrooms as served at Musso and Frank Grill (which, incidentally, is still around) or the Brown Derby’s recipe for Old-Fashioned Pot Roast. This little book is such a find that, if you should ever come across a copy, you will discover what a treasure it is.
The second cookbook of Jeanne Voltz’s that I discovered hidden on my bookshelves is a copy of “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK”, published in 1970 by the Bobbs-Merrill Company (what tickles me most is the discovery that I only paid a dollar for it!). Many of the recipes that appear in “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOOK” appeared previously in the Los Angeles Time Home magazine and food sections, and sure enough, I recognize many of the recipes from my vast collection of newspaper recipes clipped in the 1960s.
And Jeanne Voltz acknowledged someone I didn’t know anything about, Fleeta Hoke, who was food editor of the Los Angeles Times until 1960, and home economics advisor until her retirement in 1964. Says Jeanne, “Many recipes developed and popularized during her (Fleeta Hoke’s) more than 20 years at the Los Angeles times frequently are republished by popular demand and are included here…” – as a matter of fact, Jeanne Voltz selected more than six hundred of her favorite recipes from the thousands that crossed her desk each year to fill the pages of “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK”.
“THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK” is an enormous contribution to the published collections of California cookbooks, written in Jeanne Voltz’s inimical, friendly style. And it was while I was looking through this treasure of California cuisine that I made another surprising discovery – Jeanne Voltz once wrote under the name of Marian Manners. I remember that name! And, you don’t have to live in California to appreciate something like “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK” – its pages are filled with scores of recipes from all over the world, the Orient, the Middle East, Europe and South America…but then, California has been a melting pot for hundreds of years.
Jeanne Voltz, passed away in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on January 17, 2002, of pneumonia. She was 81. She is survived by her children, Jeanne M. Voltz, a food stylist in New York, and Luther Manship Voltz, a Woodland Hills (California) soft ware engineer.
Jeanne Voltz was the author of the following cookbooks:
“FAMOUS FLORIDA RECIPES” (1955)
“THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK,” (1970)
“THE L.A. GOURMET”, (1971) CO AUTHORED BY BURKS HAMNER
“THE LOS ANGELES TIMES NATURAL FOODS COOKBOOK” (1973)
“HOW TO TURN A PASSION FOR FOOD INTO PROFIT” (with Elayne Kleeman) 1977
“THE FLAVOR OF THE SOUTH” (1977)
“AN APPLE A DAY”, (1981)
“GIFTS FROM A COUNTRY KITCHEN”, (edited) 1984
COMMUNITY SUPPERS AND OTHER GLORIOUS REPASTS, 1987
Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds,” published in 1990 by Alfred A. Knopf.
THE COUNTRY HAM COOKBOOK
–Sandra Lee Smith