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Passing the Torch to a New Sleuth

April 08, 2001|ROSE DOSTI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After 20 years of writing the Culinary SOS column, I'm outta here, bidding a fond adieu to all of the faithful readers. And I do mean faithful.

When I first took over the column in 1981, love letters from SOS fans poured in. "Oh, yeah," I thought. "People will say anything for a recipe." But I was wrong. Readers really do love the column. "It's the best," readers kept telling me at talks in libraries, community halls, food demonstrations and book signings.

And why not? Need a recipe that's been lost, stolen or chewed up by dog or child? Got a mother-in-law who refuses to part with her secret for sour lemon cake? Culinary SOS will find it for you.

The harder to find the better. When a woman said her husband threatened divorce if she didn't come up with Little Joe's spaghetti sauce, we jumped. No one was getting a divorce on my watch. A Gen X-er once begged for the recipe for a custard that her great-grandmother took to her grave. We dug hard to find the one with pineapple in it-eventually it turned up from a 1950s can of Del Monte brand pineapple chunks.

Those were easy ones. Once a woman wrote asking for a recipe for pancakes that her husband remembered eating 20 years before when he last served time in county jail. Well, I went directly to jail and the warden got the cook to whip up a batch at the warden's table. It was a happy day for both the former prisoner-who had spent 20 years pining for the pancakes-and for our readers-who learned a thing or two about refrigerating the pancake batter overnight to make them light and airy. (To say nothing of the inmate cook who got a couple of hours away from his cell to prepare them!)

The eras flash before my eyes-'60s Campbell Soup casseroles, '70s zucchini-taro muffins, '80s teeny-weeny-food-on-a-plate and '90s mix-and-match cuisine, in which things Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian, Cambodian, Thai, Italian ... whatever, become one.

Now there's functional food mania staring us in the face. Next thing you know, requests for omega-3 pies and cakes fortified with flax will start piling in.

Of course there were bad days too. Like the day the phone rang off the hook with complaints about a typo. OK, so it wasn't 12 cups of salt. It was only 1/2 teaspoon. And we could always count on a poison pen letter or two after printing recipes for the latest condemned food of the month.

So goodbye, readers, and don't worry, Culinary SOS will continue under the capable direction of Cindy Dorn. Special thanks, too, to the kitchen staff-patient Test Kitchen Director Donna Deane, testing whiz Mayi Brady and all of the apprentices. Thanks for saving my life whenever a recipe needed fixing, whether it was major surgery or just a few adjustments.

And, finally, a special goodbye to readers who thought I'd never leave-like those who tell me that their mothers and grandmothers used Culinary SOS recipes. Or like the young woman with magenta hair who said at a book signing, "Good heavens! You're Rose Dosti? I imagined someone ancient with a mustache and tennis shoes."

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