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    For 8 years, my co-author, Lynne and I were hired to teach classes in The Continuing Education Department at  Emory University. This only supported the old adage, “Write a book and you are an expert.”

    Based on our books, THE SMILE CONNECTION and HUMOR AT WORK, we alternated between two classes, “Adding Humor to Your Life: The Salt-Free, Low-Calorie, Polyunsaturated, All-Natural Guide for Feeling Good”, and” “Writing Humor: But Seriously Folks!” The writing class taught people that it’s not so easy to write funny, and we discouraged as much of the competition as we could.

    When our third book, MAMA’S COOKING: CELEBRITIES REMEMBER MAMA’S BEST RECIPE, gained some success, the Director of Continuing Education asked if we could now add, “Writing a Cookbook for Fun and Profit” to the mix. Cooking has never been one of my favorite activities, but I learned a great deal about writing a cookbook, and was happy to pass this knowledge along to my students, although I also learned some useful tricks from them.

    A young man in the class told me that he thought that my cookbook class would attract, “some really interesting women who liked to cook,” and he figured that it was cheaper to pay for the course than to take several of them out for dinner. It seemed to have worked, because after the second class, he, and a very pretty woman student, never showed up again.

    However, the class was very popular and ended up with a waiting list. I discovered that all kinds of people want to write cookbooks for various reasons. Organizations want to raise money with club member recipes, chefs want to sell cookbooks at their restaurants, and some collectors of old family recipes want to share recipes handed down through the ages.  I had to caution them that a “fistful of flour” depends on the size of a baker’s hand.

    Some students had unrealistic expectations.  You can’t put a book together in November and expect it to be ready by Christmas. So, here are few questions I had them ponder on the first day:

     How many Mac and Cheese recipes do you want in your club cookbook? And how do you pick the best one without ending up with half of your membership not speaking to you—ever again!
    If you volunteer for the local Zoo, are you sure a cookbook is the best way for you to raise money?
    Do you know the difference between “4 servings” and “Serves four,”—especially if your guests are teenagers on a football team.
    Be sure to know the difference between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp. After all, cooking  also involves a bit of science and math. If it’s wrong in the book, forget the profit part.

    And, students had to recognize that selling a cookbook involves, as Mama, from the musical GYPSY, would say,  “You’ve got to have a gimmick!” Cookbooks have long shelf lives, because most of them are purchased by collectors. Many of these people don’t cook—they read—and they like to have cook book collections in their kitchens.

    Some authors have wonderful gimmicks, and their cookbooks are very successful. One of my favorites was MANIFOLD DESTINY, by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller. It was a book with recipes for cooking meals on your car engine.  Internal combustion took on a whole new meaning for me.

    The gimmick that went wrong was the best seller, WHITE TRASH COOKING, published in 1986, by Ernest M. Mickler. Mickler didn’t get into trouble because of his recipes, but because of the photo of an unattractive woman on the cover of his book. Unfortunately, Mickler didn’t get her permission, in writing, to use the photo, and when the book was a huge success, the Ledbetter family of Alabama, shared all of the profits from his book with their attorney.

    Also, I found it of greatest importance to warn my students not to poison their readers.

    In 1992 Ballantine had to recall  GREAT CAKES by Carole Walter, because on pg. 499,  she had created a cake frosting decorated with lilies-of-the-valley, a poisonous flower. I understand that   both the American Medical Association and the NY Botanical Garden agreed that it looked great, but wouldn’t  recommend it for their cafeterias.  Ballantine suggested that people who had purchased the book cross out the recipe on pg. 499 or return the book for a refund.

    Of course, a poisoned cake might have its advantages, but only to Stephen King.

    In 2018, TALES FROM A FORAGER’S KITCHEN” by Johanna Holmgren was also recalled by Rodale Books for its recipe for “Chocolate Dipped Fungi.”

    Only one of my students found a real publisher for her cookbook.  It was on book shelves for about 10 minutes, but I was gratified to have been acknowledged as one of the people who had led her to her success.  I only wish she hadn’t misspelled my name.

    Esther Blumenfeld

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