Cooking schools offer classes of all sorts nowadays. With a few hours’ time and a modest fee, the amateur chef can learn to prepare a range of possibilities: banana splits or blintzes, pot roast or paella, sushi or soup. And course topics include almost everything in between.
If you remember the Los Angeles Times cooking school, you know not much has changed. From the first cooking demonstration and lecture in The Times’ second-floor auditorium on Feb. 11, 1913, through the 1940s, the promise of learning a variety of new recipes enticed thousands of home cooks to leave their kitchens and observe the work of a pro.
That first afternoon, Bertha Haffner-Ginger prepared steak and potatoes; “Spanish-style chicken” followed two days later. Any number of main courses, appetizers, soups, salads and pastries were made in the coming years for standing-room-only crowds.
“Women Storm Lecture Hall to See and Learn,” read the headline of the story describing the first day’s class in 1913. More than 500 people attended the free program, which ended with waiters “in spotless white” serving the audience angel food cake and coffee.
Haffner-Ginger, an “attractive, sunny-faced woman,” was a popular “domestic science” expert of the time, skilled in the ways of household management and “well-cooked meals,” according to the story. She would stand in the model kitchen at the front of the auditorium three days a week and produce a “running fire” commentary on everything from how to set the table to the nutritional value of pea soup.
By the 1930s, The Times School of Domestic Science had become the Home Service Bureau, with a new model kitchen and new location in another Times second-floor auditorium. Cooking classes were offered weekly by Ethel Vance Morse, who used the pseudonym Marian Manners. Unchanged, however, was the public’s demand for new recipes. A class on Sept. 16, 1931, drew 1,600 people, three times the number expected. When the 500 seats filled, women scrambled atop tables and desks for a better view.
At another notable cooking class Jan. 13, 1932, Marian Manners invited three “housebroken husbands” to prepare their favorite dishes. In her column Jan. 18, Manners gave high marks to the men--all Times employees in the display advertising department. Frank A. Amis had prepared flaky cheese biscuits (“that melt in one’s mouth”). Willard A. Graff had made an apple pie (“beyond compare”). And a certain Mr. Pfister had concocted something called “Cabbage Surprise.”
Interestingly, The Times’ archives identify Amis and Graff: when they joined the newspaper, the types of ads they handled, their hobbies. Only Mr. Pfister’s biography is missing. All that remains is his “Cabbage Surprise” and a blurry photo of its creator posing proudly in an apron with his two colleagues.
The dish is a hearty one-pot meal of cabbage, pork chops and wide egg noodles seasoned with the pork chop drippings, onions, salt and pepper. Mr. Pfister’s recipe called for pouring 2 cups of cooking water from the noodles over the ingredients before baking, but today’s Times Test Kitchen has found that chicken broth provides more flavor. We incorporated this change in the recipe that follows.
In 1932, Marian Manners wrote that “Cabbage Surprise” is, “indeed, all its name implied"--even though it is a remarkably simple, straightforward dish. In 2000, perhaps the surprise rests more with the identity of the anonymous Mr. Pfister. We’re left to wonder how this amateur chef came to make such a tasty, time-proof treat.