Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Early Days of Television - The Antoinette and François Pope Cooking Show

A decade before Julia Child gave us "The French Chef" and more than 40 years before the launch of "The Food Network", there was a program hosted by Antoinette and François Pope. It was my first cooking show. I was about five years old when I began to watch the broadcast on our Magnavox television set (and had to miss it when I went to morning kindergarten). Although it wasn't the the first cooking show in the history of American television (that distinction belongs to James Beard's "I Love to Eat" which appeared on NBC-TV from 1946-1947 - well before my time) it was most certainly one of the earliest and most popular. Along with "Ask Mr. Wizard", the Antoinette and François Pope endeavor was, at least for me, a must see in the early days of "educational" programming. The show was Chicago-based and came on, I believe, at 10:00 a.m. on Channel 7. The Popes ran a cooking school, "The Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cookery" and they published a cookbook appropriately titled "The Antoinette Pope School Cookbook". It was one of the cookbooks in my mother's library along with "The Joy of Cooking" and "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book", all of which I perused on a regular basis. It's how I learned to read! I honestly don't remember a time when I wasn't interested in food and cooking. My mother told me that my first "toys" as a toddler were pots and pans which I banged with a wooden spoon while sitting on the kitchen floor. So by the time the Popes cooking show was being televised, I was already a student of the culinary arts.

Back in the late 50s, my mother joined a book club. Mom wasn't too enthusiastic when it came to women's groups but since books were the focus, she signed on at the encouragement of a neighbor. There were about 16 active members and they met monthly for lunch and discussion. It was agreed that the ladies would take turns hosting to spread the workload. Once the members sampled mom's cuisine however, it seemed that she hosted about every three months! One of her most requested luncheons consisted of a chicken and wild rice casserole and hot curried fruit. She baked her famous potato rolls and always provided two spectacular desserts, one of which was a three-layer cake of one kind or another. I believe the casserole and curried fruit recipes came from the Pope cookbook. I'll know for certain once I manage to snag a copy - perhaps from Bonnie Slotnick or eBay - and then I'll be happy to share my findings.

In the meantime, if you're a parent or grandparent with small childen in your care, let them watch lots of cooking shows. You'll help them to develop an appreciation for all things culinary while keeping them out of trouble. Let them assist in the kitchen, too. In his book "Cooking in America", Pierre Franey said, "Cooking is one of those adult-and-child activities that really works ... Kids need to get the feel of real food early on. They need to get their hands into the raw ingredients and then witness what happens when those ingredients are combined and transformed into wonderful foods. This is an important way to teach kids - without belaboring the pedagogical intent - that the preparation of food is a creative process with great rewards beyond the mere elimination of hunger. How else are they going to learn that those paper-wrapped hamburgers hurled over the fast-food counters of America aren't the real thing?"

ADDENDUM: Alas, neither the chicken casserole or curried fruit appears in the Pope cookbook. Perhaps mom found the recipes in another book, magazine, or the Chicago Tribune's food section. Maybe a friend shared the recipes - or most likely, she simply developed them on her own. If I may add a lesson - before your grandmother, mother or favorite aunt go to that great kitchen in the hereafter, ask them for their recipes! Better still, get them on tape during a cooking or baking session. You'll be glad you did!


Nann said...

I'm reading a prepub copy of "Watching What We Eat: the Evolution of Television Cooking Shows" by Kathleen Collins (Continuum, May '09). A reference to the Popes and their show led me to look them up and thence to your blog. One of the sons lived in my hometown and his daughter was in my class and, I believe, they went to our church. I also remember that she'd bring a tin of sardines for lunch, grossing us all out by spearing one and waving it around...ewww, whole fish. My mother also had their cookbook and when she'd cook something fancy she'd say "a la Francois Pope," with a bit of sarcasm. (She was a good cook.)

Anonymous said...

I grew up with the Pope recipes, too. I never had any idea where the cookbook originated until I googled it tonight. my absolute favorite? The Chicken Milano. Also as an aside, as your blog is called "The Swedish Baker" my uncle was the owner of the Carlson Bakery years ago in Chicago. What great cookies and bread.