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"Gloria Pitzer, The Recipe Detective" Sometime in the mid-1970s, Gloria Pitzer was fired from her job as food editor at a local paper because she insisted on giving readers the recipes they wanted, not the recipes her editor felt they ought to want. Still convinced that she was right, she took in ironing until she had scraped up enough to purchase a mimeograph machine, and started sending out a food letter, The Secret Recipe Report. (Now called Gloria Pitzer's Secret Recipes Quarterly, it may well be the longest-lived food letter ever.) Ten years later she was making regular appearances on radio cooking talk shows all around the country and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the cookbooks into which she was periodically gathering these "secret recipes," most famously her Better Cookery Cookbook: Secret Recipes for Famous Foods from Famous Places. This triumph was built on the brilliant intuition that a lot of home cooks were tired of the recipes offered in most cookbooks and newspaper food pages. These, usually, break down into two general categories: dishes that, on the one hand, require the cook to tackle new methods and new ingredients for ends that may or may not prove worth the effort and, on the other, the all-too-familar round of penny-scraping, time-cheating, fat-wary throw-togethers. What Pitzer understood was that while this was what her readers may have said they wanted, it was secretly what they yearned to escape. Although they might be afraid to admit this, even to themselves, what would most excite them would be to learn how to make the food they most loved to eat: the fast food they bought at McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken and the brand-name treats they brought home from the supermarket, stuff like Oreo cookies and Hostess Snowballs. If you go by the commercials, the Big Mac, the Diet Pepsi, the Lay's potato chip are all you need to transform a family meal or a gathering of friends into a joyous event; they are sold, that is, as Energizer batteries for human beings. Food, perhaps, should not be put to this purpose. But it is, and it works -- at least for a time. Better Cookery Cookbook -- the title is without irony, since it is merely mimicking the Betty Crocker Cookbook (in case you don't get it, she adds on the next page, "General Thrills Foods") -- because of its self-illusions, is a compelling, even touching, portrait of the author's, and by extension, many another's, struggles with the junk-food dream.
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