28 Apr 2011, Posted by admin in MEET, 2 Comments
A few years ago, an editor took me to the home of Kit Snedaker, the former editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Now in her 90s, Kit is determined not to let the fiery Prudence Penny (aka Prudent and Pennywise, the culinary “Dear Abby” of the day) be forgotten. Before Kit retired in the 1980s, she found boxes and boxes of recipe clippings along with drafts that never made it to print (dating to 1917!) shoved beside a dumpster awaiting their fate. Kit saved those Prudence Penny recipes, but never got around to doing anything with them. So, she handed them over to me. Which means that occasionally, I am going to share recipes from the Prudence days, or simply fun anecdotes (sparring with Emily Post over when a salad course should be served is among my favorites).
The identity of first Prudence Penny at the Los Angeles Daily Examiner is a bit foggy (anyone know?) but the Chicago Herald-Examiner‘s first Prudence was Leona Malek, formerly the domestic science director at a Chicago slaughterhouse (information politely left out of her bio once she became Prudence). The former editor of a California poultry industry newsletter, Mabelle Burbridge, took on the role at the New York Daily Mirror. During her first year on the job, Burbridge answered more than 70,000 reader letters addressed to Prudence Penny. Not half bad for someone who didn’t exist.
The recipes tell a fascinating (and hilarious, or sad, depending on how you look at it) story of how we went from baking up the fresh peaches in our backyards with just enough sugar and spice to complement their flavor to a 1950s corporate food culture praising mom’s impressive “crown roast of hot dog wieners.” Within each recipe are small little snipits of the woman behind the Prudence face at various times. Because telegraphs were expensive, individual Hearst paper from coast to coast employed their own Prudence, who was typically the food editor. Several newspapers had live hotlines on weekdays for readers to call in with questions. Corporate sponsors soon jumped on the bandwagon, sponsoring those Prudence Penny radio spots and cooking classes. See where we are going here? Down the spiral of celebrity chef life, with television appearances, radio spots, book signings (gobs of cookbooks were printed). One of the last Prudence Penny characters in New York was played by an ex police-beat journalist who was laid off for drinking on the job. Scandal still sells. Hyman Goldberg became the most popular Prudence Penny of her (his?) day.
That we are getting back to our home cooking roots today would likely please Prudence’s earliest ancestors. Here’s the full story that I wrote on Prudence Penny and her Los Angeles Times sister, Marian Manners.