Category Archives: food memories

BAD FOOD – UPDATED

BAD FOOD. UPDATED

(PREVIOUSLY POSTED 2011)

We’ve all had experiences with “bad food” – food prepared improperly or maybe not agreeable to our taste buds.

Topping my list of “Bad Food” would be my mother’s library-paste rice and Hasenpfeffer (sweet and sour rabbit). The smell of the marinade in which my mother soaked the rabbit made me sick to my stomach. I knew it would be on the table in the next few days—only recently did I discover how my younger brother Bill side-stepped anything he didn’t like that was going to be dinner one night—he would hang around at Aunt Dolly’s until she asked him if he wanted to eat with them. Of course he did! (It never occurred to me that a person could deliberately skip a meal).

Mom didn’t have much talent with cabbage, either. She would put it on to boil around 9 am so it would be slimy mush by dinnertime. My sister Becky shuddered at the memory of mom’s lima beans while we all pinched our noses remembering the smell of kidney stew. (Maybe not Bill—he LIKED kidney stew).

My mother’s philosophy seemed to be, if the recipe required one or two hours cooking time, all day would be much better. Granted, we never suffered the ill effects of eating undercooked food and dinner could sometimes be a mystery, guessing what was in the pot. I was an adult living in California before I discovered how wonderful a pilaf rice can taste or how delicious corned beef and cabbage is when the cabbage hasn’t boiled all day.

I was born on the brink of World War II and many groceries were rationed or simply unavailable. My mother stretched her ten-dollars-a-week grocery allowance by cooking a lot of organ meats, which were cheap and un-rationed (liver, kidneys, tongue, heart and BRAINS). Ew, ew. No, don’t tell me it tastes just like scrambled eggs.

And, a child’s imagination can run amuck with the names of certain things. Take “head cheese”. Actually, it’s not a cheese but a lunchmeat, served cold–but do you know why it’s called “head cheese”? It was made with the head of a calf or a pig. As for my own particular aversion to stewed rabbit, I’m not sure which I despised the most – the rabbit or the occasional BB that might be found floating in the gravy. We only had hasenpfeffer when my father went rabbit hunting. The rabbits were cleaned at the kitchen sink; some things are better done out of the sight of small children. After I watched my then-husband clean fish shortly after we were married, I only ate fish sticks for several years. I think the only kind of fish my mother ever cooked were salmon patties (which, oddly enough is one of my comfort foods) but bear no resemblance to creatures that once swam in the ocean.

All of which only demonstrates that much of the visceral reaction we experience with certain foods can be traced to how the food was prepared, along with the deep-seated American aversion to eating some parts of an animal but not others (such as brains, liver, kidneys) .

I became curious about bad recipes initially when I read that many recipes in cookbooks aren’t actually tested prior to publication.

Have you ever followed a recipe in a reputable cookbook, only to find the results dismally disappointing? After many years of cooking, I can generally tell just from reading a recipe whether it sounds right to me. My curiosity about bad recipes was piqued when someone sent me a food section from an old newspaper. The author 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.”

It may surprise you to learn that most 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. And while cookbook publishers claim to care about accuracy in recipes, 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.

One writer noted, “… the curious truth about recipes is that they often produce dramatically different results in different hands in different kitchens…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.”

I’ll always remember my neighbor Lynn, in Florida, who managed to burn every batch of chocolate chip cookies. It was a recipe I had given to her.

“Lynn!” I said “That’s the recipe on the bag of Nestle Toll House morsels—it’s foolproof!” So I went next door to investigate and discovered that she was tightly squeezing two cookie sheets side by side on her single baking rack. The air couldn’t circulate and the cookies burned.

Over the years, my own cooking/baking techniques have improved (I think) with age. I am also the owner of an old (1940s vintage) Wedgewood stove that requires a little pampering on occasion. I seldom try to bake more than one tray of cookies at a time because the oven isn’t big enough and a second rack would either be too close to the bottom or too near the top. I often make up cookie dough and then just bake one or two dozen for us to eat, refrigerating the remaining cookie dough for another day. I indulge myself with an ample supply of parchment paper to line the cookie sheets. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, when my sons were growing up. We also ate a lot of spaghetti when my sons were children and to this day, my son Kelly doesn’t particular care to eat spaghetti no matter how good it may be. (They DID all like spaghetti with Cincinnati chili, though. (it’s a Cincinnati thing, spaghetti with chili).

Bottom line, maybe it’s not bad food but actually bad cook. But, I still don’t eat rabbit—no matter how it’s cooked. Do you have a particular aversion to a certain food or the way it’s cooked?

Happy Cooking!

–Sandy

SOME OF MY FAVORITE COOK BOOK AUTHORS PART THREE (CHEF LOUIS SZATHMARY and HARRY BAKER AND HIS FAMOUS CHIFFON CAKE)

SALUTING THE CHEF – LOUIS SZATHMARY
Originally posted January, 2011

For some time, I’ve thought about writing capsule biographies about some of the famous chefs. Finding chefs to write about was no problem—there are so many, especially nowadays, when hundreds, if not thousands, of four-star restaurants throughout the USA all boasting of their own super-chefs, who in turn frequently write cookbooks. I must have several dozen chef-authored cookbooks on my bookshelves. Other famous chefs appear on television and cable cooking shows; many of them have become familiar household names and faces. Who isn’t familiar with Rachel Ray and Paula Dean, Bobbie Flay and dozens of other TV chefs?

Many of the old-time chefs and cooking teachers of the 1800s – women such as Fannie Farmer, Miss Leslie, Mrs. Lincoln and others have been written about in depth by other writers. I think I would rather tell you about another super-chef, one you may not know as much about.

My favorite is Louis Szathmary! (Pronounced ZATH-ma-ree). Szathmary had an incredibly fascinating life.

Louis Szathmary, described by one writer as “a heavyset man with a generous face and large bushy mustache “(a description that matches the face on the cover of “The Chef’s Secret Cook Book”) was, surprisingly, a Hungarian who had a doctorate in psychology from the University of Budapest and a master’s degree in journalism. Szathmary was born in Hungary on June 2, 1919, reportedly on a freight train while his family fled invading Soviet troops. He learned to cook in the Hungarian army. After service in the Hungarian army during World War II, Szathmary spent time in a succession of German and Soviet prison camps and thereafter was a displaced person confined to the American occupation zone in Austria. He lived in Austria and other Western European countries before coming to the USA in 1951.

A few clues to Szathmary’s background appear in the preface to “AMERICA EATS”, by Nelson Algren. “AMERICA EATS” was published in 1992 as part of the Iowa Szathmary Arts Series. Szathmary, who knew Algren personally—and purchased the manuscript from him–wrote the introduction to “AMERICA EATS”. (Nelson Algren was a fiction writer and the author of “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM” which won the first National Book Award. In addition to writing fiction and poetry, Algren also wrote two travel books. “AMERICA EATS” was his only cookbook).

What cookbook collector hasn’t heard of the Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series! But, in case you haven’t, briefly, Louis Szathmary, in addition to being a chef and the owner of the famed Bakery Restaurant in Chicago for many years, was a cookbook collector. Actually, Szathmary didn’t just collect cookbooks—he amassed an enormous collection of rare cookbooks, scarce pamphlets and unique manuscripts spanning five centuries of culinary art. He had a collection of twelve thousand books devoted to what he called “Hungarology” – books about his native country – which were eventually donated to the University of Chicago Joseph Regenstein Library. Ten thousand books of Hungarian literature were donated to Indiana University while a small collection of composer Franz Liszt’s letters was given to Boston University.

Johnson & Wales University, the world’s largest school devoted to the food and service industry, was the recipient of over 200,000 assorted items, described as a treasure trove of historical artifacts, which filled sixteen trailer trucks used to make the transfer to the school. There were antique kitchen implements, cheese graters, meat grinders, nut crackers, raisin seeders, chocolate molds, books and even menus.
Included in the gift to Johnson & Wales was “a collection within the collection”, a presidential autograph archive that included documents dealing in one way or another with food, drink, or entertainment, written or signed by every American chief executive. In George Washington’s handwriting is a list of table china he inherited from a relative. A handwritten letter from Mary Todd Lincoln invites a friend from Baltimore to the White House for an evening of relaxation. In a penciled note to his wife, Julia, Ulysses S. Grant asks that two bottles of champagne be sent to the oval office for a reception with congressional leaders. (Szathmary referred to this collection “from George to George”, meaning from George Washington to George Bush). His gift to Johnson & Wales has been attracting thousands of visitors since opening to the public—I believe it! I would love to go to Rhode Island just to see the collection!
The autograph collection includes items written by other historic figures, from Napoleon Bonaparte to Charles Dickens, as well as a note from the fourth earl of Sandwich, inventor of the most frequently ordered food item in the world.

If all of this were not mind-boggling enough, in addition, Szathmary donated over 20,000 cookbooks to the University of Iowa Libraries, creating the Szathmary Collection of Culinary Arts. Almost overnight, according to David Schoonover, the library’s rare book curator, the institution became a “major research center in the culinary arts”. The University of Iowa Press, in conjunction with the University of Iowa Libraries, publishes reprints, new editions, and translations of important cookbooks from the collection of Chef Szathmary. It must have given Chef Szathmary great satisfaction to witness the birth of the Szathmary Culinary Arts Series. Each title presents an unusually interesting rarity from the collection he donated to the institution. One of these published books was “AMERICA EATS”, which I have in my own collection.

“In my native Hungary,” Szathmary wrote for “AMERICA EATS”, “I was raised in a bookish family. From my great-grandfather on my father’s side, my forebears were all book collectors, and when I had to leave just hours before the Soviet army arrived in the Transylvania city where I resided and worked in the fall of 1944, I had already inherited and amassed a sizable number of books, mainly on Hungarian literature and other Hungarian subjects…”

However, Szathmary arrived, in his own words, “virtually penniless” in New York in 1951, with only fourteen books in his small wooden trunk.

He appeared to have been fond of telling the story of arriving on our shores with $1.10 in his pocket, one change of underwear, two pairs of socks, one Sunday suit – and fourteen books. (It is worth noting that the 14 books Szathmary treasured most were not donated to any of the universities. The books he carried with him to America included a Bible he received as a child, three books on Mozart and several volumes of Hungarian poetry).

Upon his arrival in America, Szathmary began to collect books. Writes Szathmary, “My first purchase was a book by Ludwig Bemelmans at the Marlboro outlet store at 42nd Street and Broadway, where in 1952 all the remainder books were sold for nineteen cents each.” Szathmary confessed that he worked two jobs in the beginning, one during the day and another at night—and spent all the money he made on books. Of his early days in America, Szathmary said that he would spend hours in the Salvation Army basement searching for books, which he purchased for as little as five cents each. He said, “I rummaged through books in bins, on tables outside the door, and amid the garbage the accumulates in the back of used bookshops. I found treasures—valuable items—because I had the time.” Later, as time and money improved, he often worked at one job during the day and another in the evening. On the seventh day, he recalled, “I spent all the money I made on books.” (A man after my own heart!)

He continued to collect books while at the same time, as his interest in culinary arts and food management grew, he began to collect books in these fields as well.

Szathmary and his wife Sadako Tanino, owned and operated The Bakery Restaurant in Chicago for 26 years. It grossed more than $1 million a year for much of the time he was in business—and this was a restaurant that served only five dinners a week, no lunch, no bar and no “early birds”.

Szathmary authored several cookbooks of his own, including “THE CHEF’S SECRET COOK BOOK”, “THE CHEF’S NEW SECRET COOK BOOK”, “THE BAKERY RESTAURANT COOK BOOK” and “AMERICAN GASTRONOMY”. He was advisory editor for a series of 27 cookbooks, in 15 volumes, titled “COOKERY AMERICANA”, for which he also provided introductions. (I only have three of the volumes from the series at this time, “MIDWESTERN HOME COOKERY” and “MRS. PORTER’S NEW SOUTHERN COOKERY BOOK”, and “COOL, CHILL, AND FREEZE”. These are facsimile editions of earlier cookbooks. Szathmary seems to have been utterly dedicated to American cookery and cookbooks.

Szathmary was a prolific writer, and in addition to cookbooks, also wrote poetry. Additionally, he wrote a food column for the Chicago Daily News, and then in the Sun-Times every week for twelve years! Maybe he felt he didn’t have enough to do, for after closing the restaurant, he continued to operate Szathmary Associates, a food system design and management consulting business, and he devoted a great deal of time to what he described as “the matter of the books”. He also continued to lecture and worked continuously on new projects.

What is particularly intriguing about Szathmary as a chef is, I think, his wide range of expertise. So many of the super chefs today focus on one type of cooking. Szathmary, who could have devoted himself to solely to Hungarian cuisine, seems to have adopted the American potpourri of cookery, which embraces many nationalities. He was famous for his Continental cuisine, in particular his Beef Wellington.

What you may not know about Szathmary is that he developed the first frozen dinners for Stouffer Food Corp. He worked as product development manager for Armour, coming up with new foods and ways to prepare them. Szathmary also designed a kitchen for military field hospitals that could be dropped by parachute and assembled quickly in combat zones.

At The Bakery, Szathmary’s restaurant in Chicago, he dominated the dining room with his commanding presence. He’d walk around in rolled up sleeves, wearing an apron, often telling diners in his booming voice, what to order – or to ask them why something was left on a plate. His customers at The Bakery appear to have provided the inspiration for “THE CHEF’S SECRET COOK BOOK”. In the introduction, Szathmary said he gave recipes to ladies who visited his restaurant. Apparently, they often accused him of leaving something out!

Szathmary wrote, “When I tell the ladies that I am able to give them everything except my long years of experience, they still look suspicious. So once again I launch into my best explanation, an old record played over and over again, which goes something like this: If you go to a concert and listen to Arthur Rubinstein playing the MEPHISTO WALTZ of Franz Liszt, and if you go and see him backstage after the performance and ask him for the piano notes, and if through some miracle he gives them to you, and you take them home and sit down at your piano (untouched for years), open up the notes and play the Mephisto Waltz and your husband says ‘Darling, it doesn’t sound like Arthur Rubenstein—“ what do you tell him?

Probably this: Oh, what a selfish artist! He left out something from the notes, I’m sure. Because when I play it, it doesn’t sound like when he plays it.

Well, dear ladies,” concluded the great chef, “Do you really think Rubenstein left out some of the notes? Or do you think his talent had something to do with it—and his daily practice for years and years and years?

You see, my dear ladies, cooking is just like playing the piano—it needs talent, training and practice.”

Szathmary concluded, “The best-kept secret of the good chef is his long training and daily performance. It’s not enough to make a dish once and when it’s not up to standard, to declare, ‘the recipe is no good.’”
**

Szathmary spearheaded culinary education in Chicago by fostering work study programs with restaurants at vocational and high schools. Students and dining enthusiasts were invited to use the library on the second floor of The Bakery. He shared a passion for travel by assisting first time travelers with their plans to visit Europe and Asia.
Szathmary chose, on his own, to donate the bulk of his collections to various universities and institutions. Aside from Szathmary’s incredible generosity, what a wise move to make! Can you think of any better way to make sure the things you love most will be treasured by future generations, people who are certain to love your books as much as you do?

Szathmary explained that he had always bought books for various reasons. ‘When you bet on the horse race,” he said, “You bet for win, for place, for show. When you buy books, you buy some to read, some to own, and some for reference. You want to possess the books, you want to own them, you want to hold them. Perhaps you even hope that you will read them….’

And after having donated hundreds of thousands of books and documents to these different universities, Szathmary confessed “I am still buying books. It’s like getting pregnant after the menopause; it’s not supposed to happen.”

My all-time favorite Szathmary story is written in an article about obsessed amateurs. Writer Basbanes met Szathmary as the transfer of some 200,000 articles to the warehouses at Johnson & Wales was taking place. Szathmary was overseeing the transfer of his collection. Where, Basbanes asked the great chef, had he stored all this material?

With a twinkle in his hazel-brown eyes, Szathmary said, “My restaurant was very small, just one hundred and seventeen chairs downstairs for the customers to sit. But I owned the whole building, you see, and upstairs there were thirty-one rooms in seventeen apartments. That’s where I kept all the books”.

For many of us, we recognize in Louis Szathmary a kindred spirit. How to explain to non-collecting people the love of searching, finding, owning treasured books? One can only hope there are lots of books in Heaven. Meanwhile, here on earth, Louis Szathmary has left us with a wondrous legacy.

“SEARS GOURMET COOKING” was published in 1969.

“THE CHEF’S SECRET COOK BOOK” was published in 1972 by Quadrangle Books and is packed with mouth-watering recipes and lots of “Chef’s secrets” – tips provided by the master himself. “The Chef’s Secret Cook Book” was on the New York Times bestseller list for several years.

“AMERICAN GASTRONOMY” was published in 1974.

“THE CHEF’S NEW SECRET COOKBOOK” was published in 1976 and “THE BAKERY RESTAURANT COOKBOOK” was published in 1981.

Szathmary also edited a fifteen volume collection of historic American cookbooks. One of the volumes in this series is “Cool, Chill and Freeze/A new Approach to Cookery” which I purchased from Alibris.com. This is a reproduction , with introduction and suggested recipes from Louis Szathmary, of recipes from “FLORIDA SALADS” by Frances Barber Harris, originally published in 1926, and Alice Bradley’s ‘ELECTRIC REFRIGERATOR MENUS AND RECIPES”, first published in 1928 (oddly enough, I have both of the originals).

Included in the Iowa Szathmary Culinary Arts Series are “THE CINCINNATI COOKBOOK”, “RECEIPTS OF PASTRY AND COOKERY FOR THE USE OF HIS SCHOLARS”, “THE KHWAN NIAMUT OR NAWAB’S DOMESTIC COOKERY” (originally published in 1839 in Calcutta for European colonials living in India), “P.E.O. COOK BOOK” and the previously mentioned “AMERICA EATS” by Nelson Algren.

Since embarking on the life of Louis Szathmary, I have purchased three of his cookbooks from Alibris.Com on the Internet – they have a great listing! The most recent to arrive is a copy of “The Bakery Restaurant Cookbook” which I was delighted to discover is autographed by the great chef—who was something of an artist, too! (Why am I not surprised?).

His ‘autograph’ is the face of a chef, wearing a white chef’s hat.

Louis Szathmary was a member of the United States Academy of Chefs, the Chef de Cuisine Association of Chicago, and the Executive Chefs’ Association of Illinois. In 1974, he was awarded the coveted titled of Outstanding Culinarian by the Culinary Institute of America, and in 1977, he was elected Man of the Year by the Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society. He was considered by many to be the “homemakers best friend”, a master chef who willingly shared his secrets of culinary expertise with the world. His cookbooks read in a friendly, chatty way, making me wish with all my heart I could have known….this super chef! You would be wise to make an effort to add his books—if you don’t already own them—to your cookbook collection. Louis Szathmary was, above all, an excellent chef.

Louis Szathmary died in Chicago, after a brief illness, in 1996. He was 77 years old.
Nicholas Basbanes, in his article about Chef Louis for Biblio, described his first meeting with “this delightful, compassionate, brilliant man with the big white mustache”, relating “when I asked how it feels to give away books that were such an indelible part of his generous soul, Chef Szathmary responded, “The books I give away now, they stay in my heart, just like all the others. I don’t have to see them to love them.”

I wish I could have known him.

*Since posting the article about Louis Szathmary on my blog in 2011, I have received one hundred and fifty responses to my post! I can’t possibly rewrite all 150 but will try to provide you with some of the highlights which provides additional insight to the Chef, and what happened to a large portion of his collections: I deleted most of my responses to these messages but for ALL of the 150 responses I suggest readers go to my blog:. Salute to the Chef is on the title page.

From Nancy Skoda | January 5, 2011

I had the pleasure of working as one of Chef Louis’ personal assistants from 1985-1986. He certainly was a fascinating character and very aware of his own importance in cooking history. In addition to his extensive cookbook collection which included favorite church and community cookbooks (a personal favorite) Chef Louis also had an extensive post card collection. Seeing your blog about him brought back wonderful memories.

From Sue Rupp | February 5, 2011

Thank you so much for writing about Mr. Szathmary! I only ate at The Bakery twice, as I lived several hours away, but both times he came into the restaurant and greeted each table – such a new thing for a Midwesterner in the 70s & 80s. I have eaten in many famous restaurants since then but this first experience with great food and an interesting chef, in a unique setting, will always remain the most memorable and the best! I have all of his cookbooks and have slowly tried to collect the Americana series though some have been impossible to find.

From Dennis Crabb | March 28, 2011

My wife and I had a ‘colorful’ experience working with/for Chef Louis, similar, it seems, to Grant Aschatz’s time with Charlie Trotter. Our first night in the city, the Chef bid us dine at the Bakery at his expense…but tip well! — it was great. Coincidentally, we sat at a table next to Mike and Sue Petrich; he was a wine representative for Mirassou wines. After dinner, the Petrichs and we went upstairs to our modest 3rd floor apartment rented to us by the Chef and his delightful wife, Sada. We survived four months and had a colorful story resulting from each day with the Chef. Barbara Kuch was there and incredibly helpful. The staff was wonderful. Our “larger than life” Chef brought old-world training values to his new world – such a challenge…for all. He was unbelievably generous and painfully demanding — beyond professional. Sadly, I had to witness the Chef physically threatening a very young apprectice for “f—ing up the chocolate moose.” Conversely, when my wife’s father was dying of cancer, the Chef said, “Shhh – don’t tell Sada – here is $250 for your flight home to see your dad.” I know Beethoven has an emotional breadth unequalled by all others musically; similar was Chef Szathmary in the realms of cuisine and people. Sandy – thanks for sharing; thanks for listening…there’s so much more. Thanks for the opportunity. sincerely – d’crabb

From Helen Donna (Muranyi)

| April 17, 2011 I must add my story. When I was about 35 years old I was married to a Hungarian. My name then was Muranyi. I was working in Chicago selling radio advertising. Unwittingly I made an un person sales call on Louis. He roared at the thought that he might need advertising. He explained that reservations were filled weeks in advance. However, he was such a sweetheart he invited me to his library to see his 14th century Hungarian cookbook and his test kitchen. Needless to say at his invitation my husband and I did dine there as often as possible and it was the “special” restaurant for occasions for the children. The two younger never got to go as they were too young and grudgingly bring it up still as adults that were cheated. Always when we did dine there we received a special appetizer(usually a baked white fish in white sauce) that we noticed other diners were not served. Could it have been that the reservation was made in the name Muranyi? Usually we had a tableside visit from Louis and sometimes his cute little birdy Japanese wife. Actually I am searching for some information on her artwork that she had on the walls made from the wine corks. If you could be helpful in any way I would be grateful for any information or help. Those were special memories for my family.

From juan Boldizsar | July 7, 2011

Sandy, did you know that Chef Louis was responsible for the lobbying initiative that changed the US government’s classification of food service workers from “domestics” to “professionals”?

Chef Louis did, indeed, have a temper . . . . I worked there throughout my adolescence -Saturdays, school breaks, summer vacations- and I managed to get myself on the receiving end of it from time to time. Miss Lenegan (as Barbara Kuck often affectionately addressed Nancy) can attest to that! It took me a while, but I eventually realized that much of Chef Louis’ temper came from the fact that he cared deeply for and had high expectations of every single member of his “family” at The Bakery.

There were three different collage themes at The Bakery. Matchbooks, corks and obsolete currency. All of them were made by Louis and his wife Sadako (affectionately known as Sada or Auntie Sada) nee Tanino. The matchbook collages decorated the front room; the cork collages decorated “The Cork Room” (the main dining room); and the currency collages decorated “The Money Room” (the front room of the southernmost of the three storefronts used for private parties, banquets and the many cultural/social events that Louis hosted for the Hungarian community.

From Gabriele M. Doyle | December 12, 2011

How strange to come upon this blog today — I just happened to be wondering whether Sada was still alive and ran a Google search on her, and in the process came across your blog (which is quite lovely, by the way!).

I, too, worked with Chef Louis, but not in the kitchen. I was a part-time secretary who took dictation and typed up correspondence, articles, and whatever Chef needed. This was in 1993 and continued off and on for several years. My very young daughter came with me and stayed in her playpen except for lunchtime. She thought Chef Louis was Santa Claus!

He was working on a cookbook introduction and would ask me how to word things because he wanted to keep his Hungarian style while using proper English. It could be quite a challenge at times, and was always interesting. His wife, lovely Sada, was the epitome of grace, kindness and hospitality.

Chef Louis and I had some very interesting conversations about the Austro-Hungarian empire as I had spent a college year in Baden bei Wien, Austria. He and lovely Sada will stay in my memories until I die.

Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Gabriele (“Gabi”) M. Doyle

From Joan Hartmann | December 13, 2011

This is great!! I lived in Chicago until recently and LOVED Chef Szathmary and the restaurant. He was always generous and helpful and gave me perfect information re: products etc. Which brings me to why I was surfing his name. He had recommended a meat thermometer which I bought and which a guest recently broke, and I’ve been unable to find on line. It’s a La Pine (made in Switzerland). I see in his early correspondence that he’d provided a “form” to order it but I didn’t keep a copy. Do you by any chance have info regarding where I could look to order another??? Thank you so much!!!

From Sue Prahst | January 26, 2012

Sandy, thanks for the writeup on the Chef! I have his cookbook he signed for me with his legendary signature (he’d use 2 or 3 colored markers) where he made the L in Louis into a caricature of himself…the mustache, the chef hat were all drawn into the capital script L. I helped him with food prep for a tv show he was taping in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 70’s…I was only 12 or 13… he used my mom’s kitchen/stove to cook the turkey in the brown paper bag that he was going to pull from the oven on the show. Even though I was so young, he left a HUGE impression! I have used that cookbook so much that the pages are falling apart and I know it’s a treasure. Thanks for writing about him. I think part of the reason I love to try recipes, cook, etc… because of him. He was a very interesting man and larger than life… I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to have met him.

From MikeS | April 18, 2012

Hi Sandy, Thanks for posting the article about Chef Louis. He was my great-uncle. I only met him in person once but what a day! His library was massive and that was after he had given away many books. The food he cooked for us was exceedingly rich but very tasty. It’s easy to see why he shut down The Bakery, that style of food is long out of favor. I’m thinking it was easily a 2,000 calorie meal. But it was sublime food. Sada is an amazing woman and a lot of fun to be around.

From Colleen Theisen | November 20, 2012

Thank you for your wonderful article. If you want to see some of Chef Szathmáry’s collection we have digitized the handwritten cookbooks and put them online to be transcribed. You can find them here on our crowdsourcing page: diyhistory.lib.uiowa.edu.
Colleen Theisen
Outreach & Instruction Librarian
Special Collections & University Archives
University of Iowa

From Andrew S. Erdelyi | December 19, 2012

I met Chef Louis in the summer of 1953 when I was a school boy trying to be a kitchen help at the Jesuit Manresa Inst. in So. Norwalk, Connecticut where he was the Head Chef cooking three meals seven days a week for 250 or so Jesuits. To my good fortune I was able to keep up the relationship right up to the time he died in 1996. My two sons spent one summer each at his The Bakery Restaurant also as kitchen help. I was fortunate to have eaten at the Chef’s restaurant twice the last being when he had his 70th birthday bash at The Bakery. Chef Louis was kind to invite my wife and I to several events at the Johnson and Wales Culinary Museum and a private dinner at Dartmouth. If there ever was a “Most Unforgettable Character” he was it, while being a genuine Renaissance Man. May he rest in peace.

Andrew S. Erdelyi
Merrick, NY

From Charles Bartha | December 29, 2012

Dear Madam –

Upon reading your history of Louis Szathmary and The Bakery Restaurant, I felt it appropriate to send this letter detailing several reminiscences of my time with Louis. He was a good friend since our school days in Hungary, and I am hoping you enjoy these stories as you share them with others.

It is proper that I introduce myself. My name is Károly (Kahroy, Anglicized later to Charles) Bartha (the h is silent), third grade student (14 years old) at the Reformed high-school in Sp, in the Northeastern part of Hungary. It is September of 1937. The pupils were excited to hear the news that two students were transferring: brothers, one in the first grade, the other in the fifth. (There were eight grades then).

Géza (Gayzaw), the younger was in my brother’s class and lived with us in the same dormitory. The older, Lajos, immediately acquired the nickname, Poci (Potzi, one with a pouch) because of his large size around the waist.

For the Pentecost holiday next year, we received a four-day vacation.

Because the brothers lived too far and the train fares were too costly, they decided to remain in Sarospatak. I asked them if they would like to spend the vacation with us. They accepted gladly.

We arrived in Viss (Vish), my birthplace of about 1100 residents, unannounced. My father was the school-master for the Protestant (mostly Reformed), Jewish, and Gypsy (now Romany) pupils there.

My motherly grandparents lived with us and three more brothers in the same household. Although my parents were surprised, they welcomed the boys warmly.

There was not much to do in a hamlet with unpaved roads and without electricity. Our guests fit in fine immediately. Luckily, Lajos took along his set of pastel chalks and proceeded to make an excellent portrait of my grandpa. (Louis had a copy of it in Chicago.) Next day, he painted a picture of the mountain of Tokaj (Tokawy) and another of a manually operated ferry-boat on the bend of the nearby river, Bodrog.

Géza visited our vineyard and helped with the tedious job of red currant picking.
They went to church with us, where my father was the organist. I think they had a good time with us.

During his second year in Sarospatak, Lajos became the president of the school’s Literary and Debating Society. His talent for writing surfaced shortly and was greatly appreciated by the students and the teaching staff.

After Lajos’ graduation in 1940, our paths parted. Would they ever cross again? The war was looming on the horizon.

Lajos served in the Hungarian Army, so did I. He cooked somewhere, I attended the Hungarian Royal Military Academy. He was taken POW by the Americans, I surrendered to them. I emigrated to Detroit in 1949, he followed two years later, eventually to Chicago.

Around the end of 1960, I learned through emigrant papers that a fellow Hungarian named Louis Szathmary opened a restaurant in Chicago. We dropped in unannounced for a Saturday lunch in The Bakery with our kids. We were seated, and shortly after, greeted by the Chef himself. After mutual introduction, Louis remembered me when I uttered the word, Viss. I remembered him immediately, hugging each-other. Finishing our lunch, Louis didn’t let me pay for it. Although he asked us to come back repeatedly, we did not for a while, fearing that he’ll repeat the hustle over the pay. A few years later Louis invited us to a Hungarian gathering, for some cultural event. We accepted, and went back several times afterwards.

Approaching my retirement, Louis asked me if I would help him in his library. Having nothing else to do, I gladly accepted his invitation. A few years later, I began to work for him.

Arriving at The Bakery around noon, Louis introduced me to his “crew”.

I knew Sada from earlier meetings, a pleasant, gracious lady indeed. Next came Barbara, the chief-steward carrying a huge string of keys, who later behaved as if she owned the place; then Laci (Lawtzi), Louis’ personal driver and general factotum, fixer of everything; Pista (Pishtaw), the creator of tortes and other sweets, and preparer of the wondrous Beef of Wellington. Sadly, I cannot recall the names of those who were present at that long table.

Later, Sada told me that she spent an entire summer in Sarospatak where her husband attended high-school, with teenagers from all over the globe to learn Hungarian. To my surprise, her Hungarian was adequate for an everyday conversation.

Four-five (maybe ten) years ago, I read an article about Barbara in a magazine. I thought her last name was Koch (with guttural ch), I might be wrong. She was referred to in the article as the daughter of Louis Szathmary. (Hence her chip on the shoulder attitude?) Indeed, Louis created a position to her as curator—with plenty of stipend—to the Culinary Museum of the Johnson & Wales University.

My first night at The Bakery was uneventful, sort of. I was assigned temporarily to the living quarters of Louis’ departed mother. Before going to sleep, I looked around for something to read.

There was a long shelf above the bed, holding about twenty large books of the same size. To my surprise, all of them dealt with cannibalism, a definitely different and—luckily—a dying-out way of food preparation and consumption.

Who collected them and for what reason, I never asked. It was, in my opinion, a minuscule part of Louis’ collection of cook-books, numbering a few thousand.
Somehow, I didn’t read much that evening. Everyone to his taste.

After a sumptuous lunch, Louis showed me his cook-book collection. I found it immense, rather unorganized, noticing several duplicate copies. Louis told me that I’ll have nothing to do with these. His working area, the den of a genius, was a “mess”—a rather mild description— which nobody was allowed to touch.

My real job was to weed out duplicate copies, called “duplum”, (sic) in the literature part of his library and to arrange the books for dissemination. Louis asked me to leave alone his Transylvanian collection, housed in a separate room, and his private collection in his living quarters. For the next few weeks (year and a half, to be exact), I spent 5 to 6 hours a day on ladders, from noon on Tuesdays to noon on Fridays.

If I ran across books with interesting illustrations, such as wood- or linoleum-cuts, I put them aside. After the early evening meal, Louis looked them over, creating several piles to be given to his friends. Around eight o’clock, I had a call from Louis occasionally. If there were few guests that evening, he would ask me to join him while he ate his dinner. (I normally declined to eat again.)

Looking around, he would get up to greet the guests, returning to finish up his meal with a cordial.

It is difficult, if not impossible to break a habit—such as collecting books—especially if the “store” rolls up to your doorsteps. Although Louis slowed down near the end of his life, he loved to visit an adventurous Hungarian refugee’s truck, loaded with anything Hungarian, including recently released books. Sausages in one hand and 4-5 books under his arm, I encountered Louis at the back door.
Asking him what he purchased, he sheepishly confessed the sausages, but not the books, of which he already had several examples. I returned the books, telling the fellow to sell Louis only newly acquired printed material.

And, finally, I feel I owe Louis the following:

Besides dividing and donating his library to several universities in the USA, Louis also remembered his alma mater in Sarospatak. He sent his Kossuth collection there, not only books and letters, but also memorabilia.

(Louis Kossuth (Koshut, o as in or, h being silent) Regent-President in 1848-49, belonged to the Hungarian lower nobility, so did Louis. Kossuth attended the High-school in Sarospatak for a while, so did Louis. Both were fierce Habsburg foes and pro-democracy fighters, and both were Protestants. Hence the affinity, in my opinion, between the two patriots.)

Louis asked me to assure that his collection arrived safely on my next trip to Hungary. Naturally, I complied, taking numerous pictures of an as-yet unorganized collection.

Louis also sent huge pallets of émigré newspapers and several hundred books to join his Kossuth collection. This was the time I left The Bakery.

One of my brothers told me recently, that Louis’ presents were neatly arranged in a separate room, in a building adjacent to the main library.

At the main entrance to the high-school, there is a marble memorial plaque for the school’s famous professors and pupils. Louis’ name is on it, as the last entry (for the time being).

The grateful citizens of Sarospatak also arranged a special room commemorating Louis and his deeds, in a manor-house near to their 14th century famous fortress.
May you rest in peace, Lajoskám!
Respectfully,
Charles Bartha
icbarthat@comcast.net

May l add the correct Hungarian pronunciation of Chef Louis’ name:
Sz az in s(ee),
a as in (m)a(ll),
th t is the same, the h being silent,
m same,
á as in a(re),
r same, somewhat rolled,
y as in i(n).

The accent is on the words first syllable, as you noted correctly.

His given name was Lajos, pronounced approximately: Lawyosh.

His former full name is, with Hungarian hyphenation: Szath-má-ry La-jos. Yes, family name first, with no comma between the two names.

I called him often by his affectionate name: Lajoskám, my “little” Lajos.
Fredricka Reisman | March 12, 2013

While attending a mathematics education conference in Chicago around 1972, I gathered
several colleagues from Syracuse University including my Ph.D. committee chair and the University of Georgia where I was on faculty and my 17 year-old gourmet cook daughter and cabbed it from the Conrad Hilton to The Bakery. Chef Szathmary personnally guided our menu decisions and autographed The Chef’s Secret Cookbook to my daughter: “To Lisa with my best wishes” followed by his unique signature embedded in his drawing of a chef’s hat. Lisa and the chef somehow got talking about his special meat thermometer (to not leave in during cooking was unheard of) and she was thrilled with her new culinary acquisition. The next year Lisa and I had occasion to return to the Bakery and the Chef remembered us. Lisa and I often remembered our lovely experiences at The Bakery as recently as a few months before I lost her this past June after a 10-year courageous battle with cancer. She ended up following her dream of having her own art gallery and creative website (lisart.com) which her clients referred to as a jewel in Philadelphia. I am using the Chef’s rib roast and Chef’s Salt recipes this Saturday for Lisa’s elder son’s 31st birthday dinner.

From Marie | August 13, 2013 (This turned out to be the most important email I received about Chef Szathmary):

Hi all, I ran across this site while doing some research on Chef Louis Szathmary. My husband and I buy estates, foreclosure cleanouts, auctions etc. and recently made a purchase of over 300 boxes. I was floored to learn that this is the partial estate of Chef Louis and am in awe at the contents. So much so that I have begun to research him and his professional life. Which is something I have NEVER been intrigued enough to do with any estate purchase we have made. I’m not sure what I will do with all his belongings, but learning about him will help me decide!

From Sandy | August 13, 2013 OMG I almost fell off my typing chair. What a FIND! This must be from the second collection he started after he donated a lot of his collection to the University of Iowa and a much greater part of his original collection to the Johnson university (not sure of the exact information–I will have to look at my original notes again. ps – it was Johnson & Wales University. They probably have the largest collection of Szathmary at this time.

From Marie Smit | August 13, 2013

Yes a very surprising find for sure! Yea, we buy to resell so likely Ebay. Maybe locally since we are in the Chicago area as was the Chef.So there may be fans of his still around. I have gotten conflicting information from the research I have done on whether or not “The Bakery” was closed or sold. Do you happen to know? You are welcome to first crack at what we have. Just let me know what you are interested in because it is VERY diverse! Tons of signed menus, recipes, cookbooks, paintings (yes he was an artist too!), books, pictures, letters, photos, cooking utensils, Hungarian linens, his granite prep table from 1908! And lots lots more…..

from Sandy | August 13, 2013

Hello again, Marie – well just for starters you may get some responses from the people who have written to me, over time, about Chef Szathmary. I am fairly certain that the Bakery closed down. I knew he was artistic; I have one of his cookbooks that is signed with his comic drawing signature. If I were in your shoes (well, if I WERE in your shoes I wouldn’t be selling anything) – but as someone who makes a living on estate sales or foreclosures–I would put it into some kind of order and bundle groups of items–then put it on ebay. How to determine what things are worth? That I don’t know. Personally, I collect cookbooks, recipes, and some Hungarian items (my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family came from Budapest) – I would love to get my hands on that granite prep table but don’t see any easy way of buying it or getting it shipped to California. I would love to get some of the signed menus as well – OMG, what a FIND. I’m thinking his wife must have finally passed away and I don’t believe he had any children. Sometime ago, one of the people who read my blog post was someone who knew Szathmary when they were boys in Hungary–if I can find that letter (it should be amongst the responses I’ve received on this blog) – he wrote a lengthy message to me and he might be someone who would also have a better idea what the collection is worth. when you are prepared to sell some of these things, will you contact me?
I could never have imagined, when I wrote a blog post about Szathmary, the direction that post would take. thanks for writing! I’m absolutely thrilled for you. would also suggest, whatever you feel can’t sell on ebay, you might donate it to Johnson & Wales to go with what Szathmary donated to them some years ago. best wishes, Sandy

From jhartmann88@aol.com | January 8, 2014

Hey Sandy! I’ve been looking for info on the meat thermometer he recommended (someone broke mine) and I haven’t been able to find one on line. It’s a La Pine, made in Switzerland. Any chance the people doing the inventorying might have access to the form he gave to order????? Thanks if so!!

From Sandy | January 9, 2014 Dear J Hartmann:

You are a few weeks too late with this request; Marie, the woman who bought all of the Szathmary books, memorabilia, etc, sold everything to the University of Iowa–which already had a collection of his books, that Szathmary had donated to them years ago. Someone at the University of Iowa saw my blog update in which Marie told me how she had acquired all of Szathmary’s collections–and they contacted her & made her “an offer she couldn’t refuse” – You COULD try writing to the University of Iowa and ask them if they have such a form.

And finally – this email:

Farrow Tamburo | December 9, 2015 a Today I Googled “Fat Uncle Louie, Hungarian Chef”. Louie Szathmary was my Great Great Uncle. I came across your blog and I read it aloud to my mother, who once, had me and my brother bake cookies to send to Uncle Louie and his wife Sada. Apparently we were too clean for kids and threw flour on us for a picture she sent along. I never got to meet them but because of your wonderful article I now, know more of my family history! Thank you so Much it made me and my family’s day. -Farrow

**

*I have to add just one more comment to this article about Chef Louis Szathmary; call me crazy but when I was writing about Chef Louis—and then continued to receive emails about him culminating in a woman named Marie finding me and then selling everything she had found to the University of Iowa—I have felt like the great Chef was looking over my shoulder, nodding approval at what I was able to play a part in the salvation of his many books and collections. Rest in Peace Chef Szathmary!

–Sandra Lee Smith

**
HARRY BAKER AND HIS FAMOUS CHIFFON CAKE)

Originally posted on April 29, 2011 |

The story about Harry Baker and his famous chiffon cake is the kind of stuff on which legends are built and numerous references can be found in food reference books. According to the legend, the chiffon cake was invented in 1927 by Harry Baker, a California insurance salesman turned caterer. Mr. Baker kept the recipe a secret for 20 years, until he sold it to General Mills for an undisclosed amount of money. At this point the name was changed to “chiffon cake” and was released with a set of 14 recipes and variations in a Betty Crocker pamphlet published in 1948. (I checked the chiffon cake recipes in a 50s Betty Crocker cookbook—they came up with a lot of variations!)

But wait! That’s only part of the story!

Yes, a man named Harry Baker did create a chiffon cake that he sold to places like the Brown Derby which had a simple menu in its earliest years. The first dessert to be sold at the Derby was Harry Baker’s cake which was made by Mr. Baker and sold to the restaurant and to other Hollywood notables for their parties. The Brown Derby cookbook published in 1949 provides a brief explanation for the cake but also offers, in its chapter on Desserts, the Basic Chiffon cake recipe, along with recipes for orange chiffon, chocolate chiffon and walnut chiffon cakes. The pamphlet featuring chiffon cake recipes from Betty Crocker also featured Wesson Oil. The pamphlet offers recipes for Golden Chiffon Cake, Fresh Orange Chiffon Cake, Maple Nut Chiffon and Pineapple Chiffon – and even Spicy Chiffon Cake. For those who remember when a leaflet of recipes with some premium offers (General Mills Tru-Heat Iron, Scranton Lace Dinner Cloth) could be found in every bag of Gold Medal Flour, might also have found a leaflet for making Sunny Orange Chiffon Cake.

My question is—WAS the chiffon cake an original idea? Maybe–maybe not.

And before I go any further, I want to mention that—I had never heard of chiffon cake in the 1950s. My introduction to chiffon cake came through the pages of my manuscript cookbook, Helen’s cookbook, that I have written about before on my blog. Written in real India ink and in fine penmanship, Helen wrote at the top of the page “Harry Bakers Secret Ingredient “X” cake”—and underneath that, “Orange Chiffon Cake”. Helen’s handwritten cookbook was started in the 1920s and continued through the 50s and perhaps into the early 60s and she lived in Los Angeles, so she certainly would have been aware of Harry Baker’s cake. Honestly – I was learning to cook in the early 1950s – and chiffon cake was never on my radar.

The website, The Old Foodie, in a post dated March 25, 2011, provided a recipe for Apricot Chiffon Cake, from a South Carolina newspaper dated 1934 (certainly years before Harry sold his cake to General Mills). Another recipe, from a 1947 Nevada newspaper, is a Velvet Chiffon Cake. Which begs the question, of course, how much digging must we do to find out exactly how far back the concept of a chiffon cake might go. According to a Gold Medal Jubilee recipe pamphlet published in 1955, (and noted in “Fashionable Food/Seven Decades of Food Fads” by Sylvia Lovegren) “light and airy chiffon pies were popular under the name of ‘sissy pies’ in the early 1900s. These sissy pies were also called fairy tarts or fluff, sponge or soufflé pies—were based on variously flavored puddings, lightened with beaten egg whites, that were then baked in a pastry crust. They contained no gelatin, the common ingredient of the modern unbaked chiffon pie…” Lovegren writes that the first mention she was able to find of a chiffon pie as we know it, made with gelatin and uncooked beaten egg whites, appeared under the name of coffee soufflé pie in Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries from 1922. Writes Lovegren, “Gelatin and egg white-lightened chiffon pies, which were basically old-fashioned gelatin sponges or “snows” served in a crust—became all the rage in the forties. They were so popular that they rated a separate section in the 1943 edition of Joy of Cooking…virtually any flavor you could come up with went into these confections. Chiffon pie also helped usher in the era of the crumb pie shell based on crushed graham crackers or breakfast cereal…”
Patricia Bunning Stevens, in a fascinating little book titled “RARE BITS” provides an assortment of recipes and unusual origins and traces the word “chiffon”—which to the French simply meant “rags.” Eventually the meaning was extended to scraps of lace and ribbon, pretty things a lady might use in her needlework and store in her “chiffoniere”, a small chest of drawers. In the 19th century on both sides of the English Channel, chiffons were dress trimmings of every sort that loaded down Victorian gowns.

As the turn of the century approached, the meaning of chiffon changed again as the English referred to a type of fabric. In the 1920s, silk chiffon became the rage in the USA and eventually gave its name to chiffon pie. Per Stevens, chiffon pie was the first really new pie of the 20th century. It is said to have been the brainchild of a professional baker who, at his mother’s suggestion, named it for the filmy floating fabric popular at the time. Meantime, in France, chefs began to make chiffonades, vegetables shredded into fine strips to resemble rags used to garnish consomme. (maybe something we would consider “julienned” today).

**

In an article titled “When Harry Met Betty” author Joseph Hart writes, “One of life’s great truths…is that beneath its surface lies complexity. Our beloved fictions of heroes and villains crumble with scrutiny, leaving only convolution, shifting meanings, and unstable realities. The same is true of things. Even the simplest object has its hidden history of longing, love, and despair. Take, for example, cake. Chiffon cake…”

Hart continues, “Ask someone who lived through the 1950s, to name the icons of that era, and chances are that—along with the ’57 Chevy, Lucy and Ricky, and the cul-de-sac rambler—chiffon cake will make their list. The recipe was introduced by General Mills in 1948 with a major marketing blitz that featured Betty Crocker, another 1950s icon…With Betty’s help, chiffon became a nationwide sensation. Billed as “the first really new cake in a hundred years,” thanks to its “mystery ingredient,” chiffon was light and fluffy like angel food cake, yet also rich and moist like butter cake, and it rapidly became a favorite of housewives from Syracuse to Oceanside…”

The real mystery, says Hart, “Lurking beneath its lemony glaze is not a secret ingredient, but the secret life of its reclusive inventor: the appropriately named Harry Baker…”

Hart continues, “The shorthand version of his history, repeated in a thousand cookbooks, notes that the insurance-salesman-turned-baker invented the cake in Los Angeles in 1927. He baked his chiffon cakes in his apartment kitchen in the Windsor Square neighborhood and sold them to the glamorous Brown Derby restaurant, where they pleased the palates of Hollywood’s studio stars. In 1947, Baker sold his closely guarded recipe to General Mills for an undisclosed sum—‘because,’ as one General Mills publication quotes him, ‘I wanted Betty Crocker to give the secret to the women of America.’”

Hart continues to delve deep into the life of Harry Baker and for the whole story, refer to “When Harry Met Betty” by Joseph Hart, posted on secretsofthecity.com on January 29, 2007. The story behind the creator of chiffon cake is interesting but not uppermost in my mind right now.

Says Hart, although it was wildly popular in the 1950s, the chiffon cake had been figuratively gathering dust for decades by the time he discovered the recipe in the late 1990s. Hart writes that while browsing in a 1956* edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, he stumbled upon the recipe for chiffon.

Sandy’s Cooknote: *Betty Crocker’s 1956 edition of the Picture Cook Book notwithstanding, I found the recipe for Chiffon Cake – accompanied by a myriad of variations – in my 1950 limited first edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. In addition to the basic chiffon cake recipe, you will find maple pecan chiffon, butterscotch chiffon, pineapple chiffon, chocolate chip chiffon—and even a Holiday Fruit Chiffon that contains finely chopped candied cherries, finely chopped pecans and some very finely chopped citron.

Hart writes that HIS Betty still falls open to the creased and batter-spattered pages with the step-by-step directions for chiffon cake because, symbolism aside, it makes a truly splendid dessert.

Before chiffon, Hart explains, “there had been but two types of cake. Foam cakes, like angel food, contain no shortening and rely on eggs for leavening, while butter cakes rise with baking powder. Chiffon combines the two, relying on both eggs and baking powder and the clincher, add Harry Baker’s secret ingredient – vegetable oil (or, as it was called in those days, ‘salad oil’—another General Mills product as it happens)….”

Hart says he had been an enthusiastic baker of the cake for some time when one day, as he was going through back issues of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, he happened to come across an article about chiffon by food writer and Joy of Cooking contributor Stephen Schmidt. If, says Hart, you’ve read Cook’s Illustrated, you already know that Schmidt tinkered exhaustively with the original Betty Crocker recipe to end up with something a little better. Hart says he sticks with the original.

But what caught Hart’s eye was a sidebar article about Harry Baker, repeating the standard biography, insurance salesman, 1927 discovery, service to the stars…but Schmidt had uncovered some new details; for one thing, he noted that Baker during his Hollywood heyday, shared his apartment “with his aging mother” And the sale of the recipe to General Mills took on a new twist in Schmidt’s telling: ‘Having been evicted from his apartment, and fearing memory loss, the usually reclusive Baker trekked uninvited to Minneapolis to sell his recipe,’ he wrote. This information hinted at a story so Hart spent the next five years chasing the elusive Hollywood inventor of his beloved chiffon cake.

Harry Baker arrived in Hollywood in 1923 and began to tinker with cake recipes. Until Joseph Hart’s in depth research, I don’t think anyone knew where Harry came from or what brought him to Southern California (or—maybe no one cared). Baker worked diligently, creating over 400 variations of an angel food cake, trying to create a moister sweeter angel food cake. Nothing satisfied him until he thought to add some salad oil to his recipe. Years later he would tell a reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune that the addition of the salad oil was “a sixth sense, something cosmic” – at any rate, a new Hollywood star was born.

At the same time Harry Baker was treating his neighbors to experimental cakes, another kind of star was being born on Wilshire Blvd. The Brown Derby opened for business in 1926 in a building shaped to go with the name*

*Sandy’s cooknote: I visited the Brown Derby once, in 1961, with a girlfriend and my mother in law—it was a wonderful experience. The walls, I recall, were plastered with framed photographs of many famous movie stars (but then, you can visit almost any place in Burbank—Bob’s Big Boy, the dry cleaners, the shoe repair shop –and you will find framed photographs of movie stars on their walls. It’s a kind of happening thing in greater Los Angeles).

By what Harry Baker might have described as another cosmic twist, two years later he walked into the Brown Derby with a sample of his cake. It became one of the Derby’s signature dishes and as mentioned before, (per the Brown Derby Cook Book) for quite some time it was the ONLY dessert served at the Brown Derby. One of the most popular desserts at the Derby was Harry Baker’s grapefruit chiffon cake** which, according to its creator, he made especially for Hollywood gossip columnist Luella Parsons. “Louella was overweight and she held weekly staff meetings at the Derby,” he explained. “She threatened to move her meeting if they didn’t come up with a less fattening dessert. She told them ‘put grapefruit on something. Everyone knows that grapefruit is less fattening…”

**Sandy’s cooknote see the Grapefruit Chiffon Cake recipe at the end of this article.

Harry Baker’s fortunes rose with the Derby and he began receiving requests for cakes from famous actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck and Dolores del Rio, to be served at their parties. Throughout the 1930s, Baker’s cake reputation spread far and wide and orders came in faster than he could fill them. He mixed batter for each cake individually and baked them separately using twelve tin hot plate ovens set up in a spare bedroom. Finished cakes cooled on the porch where customers retrieved them leaving $2.00 payment in the mail slot. At the height of his business, Baker produced 42 cakes in an 18 hour day from which he grossed in equivalent, in today’s dollars, about $900.00. Joseph Hart began researching the life of Harry Baker and in 2003 wrote a short article for the Larchmont Chronicle, a newspaper that served the Hollywood neighborhood where Harry Baker had lived.

This in turn led eventually to more leads about the life of the elusive Harry Baker. After he sold his recipe to General Mills—the exact amount was kept secret—Harry Baker slipped away from public life. There was speculation about his whereabouts; Hart found, however, a death record for September 27, 1974, at the age of 91, Harry Baker suffered heart failure at the California Convalescent Center in Los Angeles. So, perhaps he never ventured very far from the Hollywood that had given him such a good life in return.

Sandy’s cooknote: For more information about Harry Baker, please DO read Joseph Hart’s in depth article, “When Harry Met Betty” which can be found on http://www.secretsofthecity.com, posted 1/29/07 if it is still listed online.
** The Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake is not included in the 1949 edition of the Brown Derby Cookbook. However, I DID find the recipe in the Brown Derby Cookbook 50th Anniversary Edition published in 1976, noting it is not called “chiffon”. Here, then, is The BROWN DERBY GRAPEFRUIT CAKE.

To make the Brown Derby Grapefruit cake you will need:

1½ CUPS sifted cake flour**
¾ cup granulated sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, separated
3 TBSP grapefruit juice
½ tsp grated lemon rind
¼ tsp cream of tartar

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and lemon rind. Beat until very smooth. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar separately until whites are stiff but not dry. Gradually pour egg yolk mixture over whites, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended. DO NOT STIR MIXTURE. Pour into an ungreased pan*. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched with finger. Invert pan on cake rack until cool. Run spatula around edge of cake. Carefully remove from pan. With a serrated knife, gently cut layer in half.

GRAPEFRUIT CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

12 ounces cream cheese (1½ package of 8 ounce size cream cheese)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon rind
¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 to 8 drops yellow food coloring
1 lb can grapefruit sections, well drained*

Let cream cheese come to room temperature. Beat cheese until fluffy. Add lemon juice and rind. Gradually blend in sugar. Beat until well blended. Add food coloring. Crush several grapefruit sections to measure 2 teaspoons. Blend into frosting. Spread frosting on bottom half of cake. Top with several grapefruit sections. Cover with second layer. Frost top and sides; garnish with remaining grapefruit sections.

*Sandy’s cooknote Can you even buy grapefruit in a can? I’m fairly certain that the only grapefruit sections I have seen in my supermarket are in a jar.

**Sandy’s cooknote: Don’t have any cake flour? To convert regular flour into cake flour: Measure out the all purpose flour that you will need for your recipe. This recipe calls for 1 ½ cups of cake flour. Measure 1 ½ cups of regular flour. For every cup of flour, remove two tablespoons of flour. For this recipe, remove three tablespoons of flour (put it back into the flour canister). Put remaining flour into a sifter set over a bowl. Replace the three tablespoons of flour with three tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift and sift the flour and cornstarch about five times. You now have cake flour.
~~~~~

To make Meta Given’s Golden Feather Cake you will need:

1 2/3 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
¾ tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk

Sift flour, measure and resift 3 times with baking powder and salt. Cream shortening until smooth and soft. Blend in ¾ cup of the sugar. Add beaten egg yolks and beat until smooth and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk in alternate portions, beginning and ending with flour and beating until smooth after each addition. Beat egg whites until just stiff: add remaining sugar gradually and continue beating until very stiff. Fold lightly but thoroughly into batter. Turn into two 8” pans which have been buttered and lined with waxed paper in the bottom. Bake in a moderate 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake is springy when touched with finger tips. Turn out on cake coolers (racks) and cool before removing waxed paper. Spread any desired frosting or broken up jelly between layers and on top and sides of cake. Makes10 servings.

TO MAKE HELEN’S X INGREDIENT ORANGE CHIFFON CAKE

Set out but do not grease a 10” tube (angel food cake) pan
Sift together in a mixing bowl:
2¼ cups sifted cake flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add in order given:
½ cup cooking oil
5 egg yolks, unbeaten
¾ cup orange juice
3 TBSP grated orange rind
Beat with a spoon until smooth. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl mix together:
1 cup egg whites (7 or 8 eggs)
½ tsp cream of tartar

Beat the egg white mixture at high speed until very stiff peaks form. Pour egg yolk mixture gradually over whipped whites, gently folding with rubber scraper just until blended. Pour into ungreased tube cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. When cake tests done, remove from oven, invert and let hang upside down until cold.

Sandy’s cooknote: I keep a bottle on hand to put my angel food cakes on after they are baked. A wine bottle is usually the right size.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the chiffon cake recipe sent to me by my niece Stephanie, who has perfected a coconut chiffon cake. Here, then, is Stephanie’s recipe exactly as directed:

STEPHANIE’S COCONUT CHIFFON CAKE WITH ADJUSTMENTS

By Stephanie Swetland

Cake:
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk, divided (I use silk coconut vanilla milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
My addition:
2 teaspoons coconut extract
Icing:
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 large egg whites
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 fresh coconut

I also used some cream of coconut when building the cake (you will see how at the bottom) It’s the kind you get near where the ingredients for mixed drinks is sold.
To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8″ cake pans. Set aside. In small bowl beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue to beat for 1 minute. In a medium bowl sift the remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the oil and 1/2 cup of the milk. Beat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, and vanilla (this is also where I add the coconut extract.) Beat 1 more minute. (I found that you really need to scrape the bowl down and beat a little more to make sure you get to the bottom of the bowl when scraping.) After it is thoroughly mixed, add the egg whites and gently fold in.

Divide the batter among the 3 pans (it’s about 2 cups each pan). Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and place on wax paper to continue to cool (they are kind of sticky cakes and very light. I put them directly onto my cooling racks and they stick a bit so it is best to use waxed paper.) Allow the cakes to cool completely.

To Make the Icing:

In a large saucepan mix the sugar, water, and light corn syrup together. Place over medium heat and cook until a soft ball forms, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a temp of 238 degrees. This should take 4-6 minutes.
While the sugar mixture cooks, add the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat till soft peaks form. When the sugar mixture has reached the desired temp, with the mixer running at a medium speed, gradually add sugar mixture to egg whites.
Continue to beat until all the syrup is incorporated into the egg whites. Continue to mix for 6-8 minutes until the icing is creamy and soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and mix for 1 minute.

Here’s the hard part

Pierce the eye of the coconut with an ice pick and drain the coconut water into a small bowl. I do not have an ice pick so I used the drill and drilled out 2 of the eyes and poured the water out.

Crack the coconut shell, pry out the meat, and peel with a vegetable peeler. I did not know how to crack open the shell so I went out to the back porch and threw it against the concrete*. It worked, then it took a lot of work and pulling and prying to get the meat out and to peel the coconut. I DO NOT recommend using your vegetable peeler, I completely dulled mine by doing this Just use a knife to get the peel off and then put it in your food processor and grind it up till it’s fine.

Sandy’s cooknote *to make the job a little easier, try putting the coconut inside two plastic bags before cracking it against the concrete.

To assemble the cake:
Place one layer on the cake plate. prick the layers with a fork and drizzle 1/3 of the coconut water over the layer (this is where I also drizzle a bit of the cream of coconut over); place 1/3 of the icing on the first layer and frost the top and sides, sprinkle 1/3 of the grated coconut over the icing, repeat the layers until finished. I made sure to have enough coconut to cover top and sides with it. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

Stephanie says this cake is a lot of work but oh-so-worth it!

My only final question is – did Harry Baker name his cake “chiffon” or was that the idea of someone at General Mills? – Maybe—maybe not!

Happy Cooking and Happy Cookbook collecting!

–Sandra Lee Smith

KEEPING A PACKED PANTRY

In my last home, the Arleta house where Bob and I lived for nineteen years, we had a walk-in pantry off the laundry room. Originally, it had ceiling to floor shelves on the left side with a few shelves on the right that were large enough for storing small appliances. When Bob and I moved into the Arleta house in 1989, I pointed out how much more efficient the pantry would be with shelves on the right from top to bottom – with maybe a few across the back for good measure. I wish I had photographed that pantry after Bob added all the shelves. It was a kitchen-lovers-ideal pantry.

There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of cupboard shelves in that kitchen – enough for dishes and pots and pans with a small cupboard dividing the kitchen from the eating area ideal for glassware. Another small cupboard above that cupboard with the glassware was ideal for medicines—out of the reach of children, especially.

I loved that kitchen. When Jim and I first moved into the Arleta house in 1974, my girlfriend, Rosalia, made lovely gingham curtains for the kitchen. A camellia bush was right outside the front windows, enough to see out but no one could see in. (and the house sat a good ways back from the street). Out of all the places in which we lived throughout 26 years of marriage, my favorite was the Arleta house, owned by a girlfriend of mine.

I also loved that pantry – and I thoroughly enjoyed keeping it packed. It was during the 70s that we acquired some Latter Day Saint (Mormon) friends and I was intrigued by their belief of keeping a year’s worth of bottle water and staples on hand, in case of an emergency. Well, my then-husband, Jim, was self-employed with business precarious throughout most of our marriage. I was a stay at home mom for 12 years, returning to work full time in 1977—and when only one of you has a steady income, you have to be able to create meals out of almost anything – or almost nothing. We frequently had spaghetti—so often that one of my sons won’t eat it at all today. (and I couldn’t tell you the last time I cooked spaghetti for myself) – but back then, I kept as much dry spaghetti as would fit inside a large potato chip can. I also kept boxes of macaroni and cheese on hand (something growing boys would always eat).

When canned vegetables were on sale, I bought as many as I could fit on two of the pantry shelves. Sugar, flour, brown and granulated sugars, pancake mix and Bisquick are kept in large Tupperware storage containers.

My daughter in law and I were talking recently about an obsession she and I share – keeping pantry shelves well-stocked; we think it may have something to do with our childhood experiences of never feeling like there was enough to eat. My mother fed six of us with one can of peas, spinach—whatever.

For years, I wondered why my mother cooked almost no fresh vegetables—even the spinach was from a can The only vegetables I can remember my mother cooking were potatoes, carrots, some onion, sometimes celery—even peas were from a can.

The only kind of salmon we ever had came out of a can (and we all loved salmon patties) and there was the nefarious cabbage that my mother put on to cook around 9 am for dinner at 6 pm. I grew up thinking I HATED cabbage, beets, and rice—only to discover years later in California that it wasn’t the cabbage, beets or rice that I loathed – it was the way my mother cooked these things, cooking them all day long (mind you, crockpots hadn’t come along yet). I was an adult living in California before I discovered I LIKE rice – we called my mother’s rice “library paste rice” My brother Bill is the only person I know who likes the library paste rice.

It was a March St Patrick’s Day years later that I discovered how great Corned Beef and Cabbage is. And both my sister Becky and I loved canned peas cooked in a creamy white sauce ala Viola. It was one of the few things my mother cooked that we liked.

When my cousin, Renee, gave me the cookbook that had belonged to our maternal grandmother, I had an inkling of an understanding why my mother cooked everything to death—very old cookbooks advised cooking canned foods to beyond recognition—this reference to “canned” meant home-canned-foods. If you can vegetables, a good long boil will prevent you from getting botulism, in case there are any botulism toxin in the jar.

The cookbook author wasn’t referring to manufactured canned goods—but just as my maternal grandmother would have boiled things to death, so did my mother. And although I do a considerable amount of home canning, I don’t can anything low acid – I only can foods that can be put into a boiling water bath, rather than a pressure cooker.

And I will be the first to admit that frozen vegetables are always a great addition to a meal—I keep several boxes of frozen spinach on hand in my freezer…it isn’t something actually coming from the pantry, but frozen vegetables, poultry and ground beef are a part of the packed pantry.

If you want to keep a packed pantry, I suggest stocking up on various vegetables or even fruits, different kinds of pasta, even some cans of chicken and salmon to have on hand in an emergency. Stock up on sales of tomato sauce or tomato paste, cans of diced chilies. I have lived for years in areas where dry beans of all kinds are easily available and (key word) inexpensive. Pack your pantry with the kinds of staples that you, your significant other, and any children still living at home – will readily eat. Don’t buy any canned foods that are dented – it’s too risky and not worth buying, even on sale.

I also stock up on boxed cake mixes when they are on sale—for which I am pleased, because a) cake mixes have been considerably reduced in size by the manufacturers and b) the prices have skyrocketed in recent months—but a thought about storing items like cake mixes – I have two large plastic bins with tight fitting lids in my laundry room/pantry that hold a lot of cake mixes, as well as flour and sugar. I also have all these recipes for making cookies out of cake mixes and I haven’t played around with my recipes enough to know what changes we may need to make with a boxed cake mix. I will get back to you on what changes we may need to make with those stream-lined cookie recipes. If you have attempted cookie making with cake mixes since the sizes have been reduced, let me hear from you!

Related reading: BAD FOOD, February 2011
CANNING VEGGIES FROM A “SMALL” CITY GARDEN
CITY FARMERS November 2012

–Sandra Lee Smith

WOK PRESENCE – OR LEAVING YOUR THUMPRINT

I presented this to my readers a couple years ago–while I am trying to figure out how to find some things, I have been repeating myself here and there, with apologies.

WOK PRESENCE – OR LEAVING YOUR THUMPRINT
Culinary Alchemy
or
THE COOK’S THUMBPRINT

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 (sometimes only 20 minutes!), 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…”

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

Another Recipe from the Cookie Lady

I didn’t get very far with my last post about cookie recipes–and when I am having a baking marathon, like baking cookies for Christmas, or making up batches of cookie dough for ice box cookie recipes or other ways to keep cookie dough chilled or refrigerated–I spend hours going through my cookie recipe collections. Oftentimes, I fall back on tried & true recipes –like my favorite recipe for butter cutout cookies. Either last year or the year before, I wasn’t able to use up all the butter cutout cookie dough. That might have been around early 2014 when I became sick and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks with kidney failure. Anyway, some months later when I was back on my own (my son Steve flew to California to take care of me for the month of March)–I found a double batch of White Christmas cookie dough at the bottom of the freezer. So, one day, I took it out and defrosted the dough–and I began baking cookies with it. I might have used the dough to make Easter cookies. So, why would I play around with any other cutout cookie dough recipe when I KNOW that White Christmas cookie dough is better than any other cutout cookie I have ever found. And admittedly, I bake some cookies year in and year out because a family member or a friend likes them–it makes a great gift to give someone their favorite cookies. I have been making cookies to give to friends and family members as far back as I can remember. I remember when we were living on Terra Bella Street in Arleta in the early 70s – my girlfriend Doreen and I would make up batches of cookie dough independently but when it got close to Christmas, we’d start baking cookies, together – her house or mine – batch after batch, dividing them up between the two of us—baking at night, when her kids and mine were asleep and we were free to focus on cookie baking. She lived around the corner from me and we were in and out of each other’s homes all the time. But baking cookies together is a fond memory. We were such good friends that she and her husband were my son Chris’ godparents at the church we both attended. so I can’t close without sharing my White Christmas cookie recipe with you: To make White Christmas cookies you will need: 1 cup butter 2 cups granulated sugar 4 large eggs 4 cups flour–sifted with 1/8 tsp each nutmeg and cinnamon Cream butter (softened beforehand) gradually adding sugar and beating with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Store overnight in a covered container overnight (or longer in the refrigerator). Roll dough very thin (I like doing this between two sheets of wax paper that has been dusted with flour) and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Cool on cookie sheets a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks. This makes a lot of cookies – how many depends on the size of the cookie cutters but you should get 8 or 10 dozen cookies. Store in tight fitting containers (old Tupperware containers are my favorite for storage) and when it gets closer to Christmas, start decorating cookies–OR you can brush a little egg white onto unbaked cookies and then sprinkle them with holiday sprinkles (Hundreds & Thousands in Canada) – and your cookies will be already decorated and ready to hide from the family until Christmas gets here. Christmas cookie recipes in June! Am I nuts or what? –Sandra Lee Smith

PLAYING RESTAURANT

As a child growing up in the 1940s, there were five children(including myself) and two adults to be fed. My mother baked bread in large turkey roasting pans twice a week and that supplemented our meals. She once told me she had ten dollars a week to spend on groceries during that period of time and for the most part, meals were repeated every two weeks or so. It is baffling to me that there were ever left overs–we were always a hungry bunch of kids – unless whatever was cooking on the stove was something one of us didn’t like. I didn’t like rice or cabbage but mostly I loathed Hasenpferrer–stewed rabbit that had been soaking for 3 days in vinegar and spices. The rabbit was one my father killed going hunting once a year. Once, when I was a very young child, I saw my father clean the rabbit in the kitchen sink. I dreaded supper anytime I came home and smelled that sickening sweet-and-sour mixture cooking on the stove. I wasn’t as clever as my brother Bill who would go to Aunt Dolly’s after school (not far from his school) and would call home to find out what was for dinner. If it was something he didn’t like, he would morosely hang around until Aunt Dolly would say “Billy, would you like to stay for dinner?” Of course he would! Aunt Dolly was a fabulous cook. It wasn’t until I was an adult and living in California that I had an enormous realization–it wasn’t the cabbage or the rice that I hated — it was the way my mother cooked things; cabbage would go on the stove at 9 am for supper at 6 pm. It was always a slimy mess. Rice, which we had with stewed chicken on a Sunday, was a sticky ball of goo. (Billy says he LIKED that kind of rice) I had to be introduced to Rice Pilaf and other great rice dishes to understand that my dislikes were due not to the food itself but to the way my mother cooked them. (and I think THAT was because she cooked the way HER mother cooked and food out of a can was cooked for an hour to be on the safe side and protect you from botulism).

Well, that was us in the 1940s and going into the 1950s. If there was ANY amount of a leftover item–even a tablespoonful – it would go into small covered dishes and into the frig. (I think aluminum foil was unavailable during the War. All we had to wrap anything in was wax paper. Mom never threw out anything.

Well, from around the time I was about 9 or 10 years old, I looked after my younger brothers all the time. In the summertime, when mom was working, I had to figure out what we could eat for lunch–and playing restaurant was born. I would dig through the refrigerator for any kind of leftovers and write everything down on a “menu”. Then Biff and Bill could choose their lunch which I would reheat and serve. Voila! no more leftovers and the next day I would have to come up with something different – unless we had more leftovers from the night before. It was just something that I dreamed up to make leftovers an interesting game for my siblings. And you know–I never resented or disliked looking after my younger brothers–they were just my brothers to look after.

Sandra Lee Smith