Yesterday I posted a pound cake recipe that would have appealed to my three departed friends along with some memories of Joe McDonnal. Today's post is about memories of Shirley Nachman, a remarkably funny and kind lady from Detroit.
When Shirley Nachman arrived for a baking class at Kitchen Glamour, a cookware shop and cooking school with several branches in the Detroit suburbs, and immediately started saving 5 or 6 more seats for her friends who would be attending, I remember thinking, “The one’s gonna be trouble.”
Once the class started, I noticed that she and her friends all rolled their eyes when the overbearing store owner would insert her comments about how I should be using this or that piece of equipment she was interested in selling. They were also the only ones in the unusually staid crowd who ever laughed when I cracked a joke, something that usually gained me a dirty look from the owner. I went there to teach many times, and soon became good friends with Shirley and her inner circle that included Ann, her best pal and shopping accomplice; Larry, the foodie undertaker; and Mona, the former church organist who drove the biggest car I’ve ever seen. I named the group “the bad people” because they were always getting in trouble with the store owner (Mona was at the top of the owner’s list for once having returned an expensive item), cracking jokes back at me during the class, and generally having a good time. Shirley came to her fine sense of humor genetically – her aunt was Bea Benadaret who was Blanche, the next door neighbor, on the George Burns and Gracie Allen show in the early days of television. Shirley would sometimes arrive for a class weighed down with numerous shopping bags from her purchases in the store and before taking a seat would glance heavenward, addressing her late husband, “Sheldon, send money!!!” Eventually I settled into a pattern with Shirley and The Bad People. One quick before-class dinner, one morning/lunchtime visit to Ann Arbor to have the best sandwiches in the world at Zingerman’s Deli and do some shopping at Jan Longone’s, the antiquarian cookbook dealer, and a last-night-of-the-visit burger outing. Shirley and Ann came to New York several times and we had fun meals and took in a show; once we even met up in San Francisco where they were attending a conference and I happened to be teaching, and had a hilarious lunch at a celebrity chef’s restaurant where all was not well that day. I have a treasured memory of Shirley: on one of our visits to Ann Arbor, we arrived at Jan Longone’s to buy books and Shirley and Ann immediately scooted down to the basement where most of the books were, while Jan led me to the kitchen. On the table she had assembled a dozen beautiful 19th century cookbooks and said, “Two ladies would like you to choose one of these as a gift.” I was overwhelmed by their kindness but also by the difficulty of choosing. I finally decided on Mrs. Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery, published in New York City in 1817, mostly because while paging through I had noticed a recipe called “Wafers, as done at Newark.” How could I pass up a fabulous book that also mentioned my home town? When Shirley and Ann gave me the book the night before I was to leave, there was slip of paper (it’s still in the book) inserted at the Newark recipe page that read: “Southfield Wafers: Make Newark wafers and replace the mace with cinnamon,” in honor of the Detroit suburb where they both lived. When I wrote Cookies Unlimited several years later, I included both recipes… I made several one-day visits to Detroit to see Shirley during the last few years of her life. I would hop and early flight, Ann and her husband Mel would pick me up at the airport and we would head to Shirley’s house. Once when Shirley was feeling strong enough we made a last visit to Zingerman’s together. Back on a flight at the end of the day I always felt grateful that I had managed to spend some time with her again. Shirley loved to lavish attention on her grandchildren and often said, “I’m in the business of creating memories for them.” I’m fortunate that she created many wonderful ones for me too.
Remembering Three Dear Friends, Part Three tomorrow