“Of course!” I told her. Pam is a uniquely beautiful person and a friend for many, many years. She suggested I write about how I became a Deaner or perhaps about my many trips to Fairmount, Indiana. Through messages back and forth, we agreed that the Deanzine might just be the best place to unveil a VERY IMPORTANT FIND that I and only a couple of others have been keeping secret for awhile…
In the 20-something year process of collecting and compiling the recipes of what was to become Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean, the only recipe I could ever find from him was the kitten formula that he made for Marcus, his cat. Then mere days after the completed book was in process of being printed, THIS recipe was found! It was too late to “Stop the presses!”
So I started writing the Deanzine article about how James Dean came into my life and the many adventures it has provided over these last 37 years…saving the James Dean recipe for an “Easter egg” surprise at the end of the story. 8 pages into it and only half way through my tale, I thought, “How long does Pam want this to be?”
“2 pages, or even 1 if you want,” came her reply! Ha, Ha, Ha…there was no editing magic that could ever fix this…so I started an entirely new article…And STILL ended up with 4 pages! I guess the chasm of cyber space where I can blog and blog and blog on here, with no concept or restraint of “pages” has made me VERY long winded! LOL Pam loved the article and even expanded the latest issue, just to fit the whole thing in.
Since the fan club magazine is only in print and not online, I wanted to share this article with followers of the Recipes4Rebels blog site. I timed this posting to coincide with the Deanzine release , so here it is (with a few expanded comments in yellow, because I really was trying not to go on and on…). The recipe comes at the end, followed by the NEW video of cooking JAMES DEAN’S JELLY OMELET!
Resonating from the laptop speakers, the syncopated stroll of 1958s Born Too Late by the Poni-tails…as I sit here assembling the video for my latest Recipes4Rebels.com blog posting…it’s all about baking a James Dean birthday cake…
“Ah ha!” the brain interrupts, “There’s the perfect topic for that article Pam Crawford asked me to write.” Unrequited love for something unobtainable… How James Dean has influenced my (and others) lives, often leading us down unexpected paths. So many of us Deaners feel we should have been born in the 1950s…
I was born in 1962, in a rural Illinois farm community exactly 137 miles due west and of the exact same population size as James Dean’s hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. Weeks after graduating high school, this small town hick moved to the vast, scary, megalopolis of Chicago. I was attending The American Academy of Art, located in Chicago’s South Loop (long before the South Loop was what it is now…). It was here that I first encountered James Dean. A screening of East of Eden in the student lounge left me overwhelmed. WOW! I hadn’t been that affected by a movie since seeing Bambi at age 6. He haunted me for weeks…
A few years later, after reading David Dalton’s Mutant King, I decided to make a road trip to Marion, IN…just to see the place where this James Dean guy came from, and see if there was anything there. I never (quite) made it that trip. At a highway rest stop enroute, I found a flyer for The (just-opened) James Dean Gallery. It was a magical visit and I was hooked, making (at least) monthly trips back and forth to Indiana thereafter.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up a shabby little vintage celebrity cookbook that had a recipe for Crème au Caramel “from the kitchen of Natalie Wood.” Fascinating! I love cooking and food (I’ve been cooking since about the age of 9)…so here was a marriage of 2 of my favorite topics. I remember making that dish once for David and Lenny at The James Dean Gallery on one of my many trips back and forth…we all enjoyed it very much. I told David at the time that someone, someday, should really take the time to assemble all these recipes for the Dean fans.
Jump ahead many years and I’ve relocated to a tiny island in the south of Greece. I got the tragic news of being diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. My partner Alex was amazing and my doctors and pharmacists were beyond wonderful! After a successful surgery and 8 months of chemotherapy… I’m currently 3 years cancer-free. (I throw this bit of nastiness into the story because it plays an important role in what was about to come…)
The illness from the chemo left me pretty much confined to the couch of our little Greek house…I needed a focus. All these years later, no one had ever written that James Dean cookbook… Hmmm…maybe that’s what I needed…REBEL-THERAPY! I decided if you want the job done, sometimes you gotta do it yourself. Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean was born.
The timing was right, with the quantity of newspapers and historical records that have now been archived on the internet; the ability to communicate by email with people like Lew Bracker, Kitt Shapiro (daughter of Eartha Kitt), Filomena D’Amore (daughter of Patsy D’Amore, owner of the Villa Capri and Patsy’s Pizza in LA), Sammy Davis Jr.’s son, Steve Hayes (night manager of Googies Coffee Shop in Hollywood at the time Dean was a regular), indirectly with Stewart Stern and Toni Lee Scott and many, many others; and just a click away from David Loehr and the extensive library of The James Dean Gallery. It turned out to be a tough year for Dean’s friends and co-stars…several died in the midst of our communications. I was able to hook up with an internet community of bloggers whose interests are vintage recipes and Old Hollywood. Perhaps I wasn’t really “Born Too Late”…maybe I was born just at the right time!
I set the (unrealistic) goal of having the book complete by the 60th anniversary of Dean’s death. I ended up working 7 days a week for often 19 hours a day to reach that deadline. Because I had a vision of what I wanted the book to look like…1950s Formica countertops, vintage recipe cards, retro fonts and LOTS of photos…I did the entire layout and production myself. I was using 4 different computers, 3 milk crates full of 100s of folders, dozens of notepads scrawled with handwritten notes, and a mile high stack of reference books. There was also all the test cooking…some recipes took 3-4 times to get them right (old newspaper columns and fan magazines are notorious for omitting ingredients/directions or typos in the quantities).
I learned early on in the project that Dean didn’t really cook. He ate lots of junk and either got others to cook for him or ate in restaurants. Just after the book was complete and printing had started, David Loehr wrote me that he had found a James Dean recipe in the notes of Terry McGinn (who had started a James Dean cookbook many years ago, but never finished. It was originally intended to be a fund raiser for The Actors Fund. He donated his notes to The James Dean Gallery for purposes of helping with my project. Several valuable recipes and stories in the book came from his research). There was nothing I could do…the book was already printed. I’ve since released a couple of the unprinted Ortense Winslow recipes on my blog, but saved the Dean recipe for a special occasion.
The Deanzine seemed an appropriate place to release this first! This James Dean recipe comes from Sammy Davis Jr., who says Jim cooked it for them (Sammy Davis Jr. recited this recipe to John Gilmore, who later passed it on to Terry McGinn, who passed it on to me).
Jimmie and Sammy, as most Dean fans know, were tight friends. “It was a good friendship, because it was an honest friendship,” recalled Sammy. Jim even gifted Sammy the iconic red jacket he had worn in Rebel Without a Cause.
The directions are a little sketchy and the ingredients list a little shocking (in more than one way). I’ll be featuring this recipe on my blog in the next month or 2, along with a cooking video…watch for it! (Note: the parts of the recipe directions in brackets, were added by me for clarity. All else is in the original wording.)
The shocking part of the ingredient list for me wasn’t the marijuana…it was the combination of sweet jam, salty fish, and processed cheese. A flavor combination that I thought surly MUST have been inspired by the “dope.”
Dean’s omelet seems to be a variation on the “Jelly Omelet”…something that was never on my radar, but appears to be a fond childhood memory in certain parts of the country. Aunt Ortense might have made them for young Jim.
In analyzing this recipe, the jelly omelet dates back to the 1890s in American cookbooks and even further in France and Europe (think about sweet crepes with marmalade). Most often the jelly omelet recipes describe a pretty standard “plain” omelet, spread with any sort of sweet fruit jam. I also found a few jelly omelets that incorporated Velveeta or American cheese as far back as the 1940s (Velveeta was first manufactured in 1923).
Then there are the sardine omelets. Usually starting with fresh cooked or leftover fish… these are most commonly served with a tomato-based sauce. Nowhere could I find reference to a sardine omelet that used sweet jelly…let alone cheese (cheese and fish is an extremely rare combination, except on your Filet-o-fish sandwich from McDonalds). Would Dean have had access to fresh sardines at Sammy Davis Jr.’s house…or did he use tinned?
Surprisingly, I found SEVERAL references on the internet, specifically suggesting SARDINES, CHEESE, and RASPBERRY JAM as an impossible flavor combination (one as a sandwich eaten by DR. WHO on the TV series)! And they ALL listed RASPBERRY jam…not strawberry…not grape…not gooseberry… How weird is that?
Dean’s cooking techniques also raise questions (or at least Sammy Davis Jr.’s retelling of it). Sammy was actually a masterful cook. He cooked while on the road with The Rat Pack and even had his own line of food products later in life. In this recipe, Jim apparently cracks the eggs directly into the hot pan with melted Crisco. Most recipes would have beaten the eggs in a separate bowl first. Dean’s method is either going to require lots of fast whisking to keep the whites from cooking before the yolks (ending up with scrambled eggs), or simply break the yolks and let the whole thing cook into sort of a not-so-attractive “pancake.” In recreating this recipe, I’m going for the “pancake” possibility…more like crepes.
And then there’s that very last line about “squeeze upside down pie tin”…which again leads me to believe Jim was going for a flat crepe-like appearance. The only purpose could possibly be to press the melting cheese and other filling ingredients into the omelet. Nowhere can I find reference to anyone doing this to eggs in a pan. So that part remains a bit of a mystery.
As far as the cannabis section of the recipe, it seems Dean knew what he was doing. The THC of marijuana (the euphoria inducing chemical) is not water dissolvable, it can only be released in heated fats and oils (hence the Crisco in the recipe). Eating or cooking it without some form of hot fats would cause it to pass through the body undigested, never releasing its benefits. It’s also fortunate that he uses LOTS of other strong flavors, because the “dope” eaten plain carries a distinctive, unappealing taste. (Note: It still works to use butter or any other oil instead of Crisco in this recipe if you choose.)
If “dope” is not legal in your State or you’re at risk of being drug tested at work, substitute with dried parsley…it will impart a slightly “green” flavor and provide the visual.
When I finally got around to cooking this, I found that I had used WAY more Crisco than was necessary…you can cut down on that. I also found the technique of breaking the eggs directly into the hot pan was very awkward. When I made it the second time, I whisked the eggs first in a separate bowl. It helped a lot (not to mention that sometimes you have to fish out bits of egg shell). I used 3 eggs, 3 or 4 slices of cheese, 3-4 Tablespoons of the raspberry jam, 1 1/2 sardines, and a minimum of 1 Tablespoon of the Cannabis (or less of the dried herbs if Cannabis is illegal in your area as it is here in Greece). Less is better for both the cheese and the jelly…they tend to melt quickly and run out of the omelet and into the pan (and the combination is NOT attractive, so it can’t even be used as a sauce).
In Greece, an omelet might be served at lunch (the biggest meal of the day at around 2pm) or for supper (a lighter meal, often leftovers from lunch or a couple of souvlaki, at 10 or so at night), but not for breakfast (except to tourists). The Greek breakfast is often some sort of hand-held pastry (cheese in phyllo, spinach in phyllo, apples in phyllo, etc…) grabbed from the neighborhood bakery or coffee shop on the way to work.
I REALLY dislike sardines! I know, I know…they’re one of the healthiest things you can eat…because they’re caught so young, they haven’t had time to absorb many toxins…and they’re full of Omega 3’s and all sorts of healthy stuff…but I just can’t. I made the dish exactly to Dean’s specifications for the video, and was surprised at how the finished dish was so totally different than “the sum of it’s parts.” The Kraft American Cheese Slices lent a creaminess to the omelet, not so much any discernible cheese flavor. The raspberry jam added a mellow sweetness, but the distinctive raspberry flavor disappeared. The sardines added a salty juxtaposition to the jam, but their flavor also receded into an overall pleasant experience (although I do have to admit the fishy flavor was still there in the background and was STILL too much for me because I really, REALLY dislike sardines!). The sardines DID impart quite a fragrance in the kitchen too…so much so that Alex (who is a fish lover) refused to even taste the omelet!
If you like sardines, then you’ll have no problem…but if you really, really, REALLY dislike them, like me, then leave the sardines out! I remade this the next day for Alex and I, WITHOUT the sardines…I REALLY liked it!!! Eggy and slightly sweet (like the sweetness of a Belgian Pancake that you’ve topped with powdered sugar or marmalade), but also creamy and satisfying. The Cannabis evokes a relaxing sensation, making this a great dish for a lazy Sunday brunch or a “breakfast for supper” night after an especially stressful day. It’s STILL weird…it took a couple of bites into it to adjust…but would we expect anything LESS from Jimmie Dean?
Blogging became a part of the book almost a year before it was even published. Now it’s a fun and engaging pastime. There just wasn’t enough room on each page of the book to explore all the fascinating aspects of each person that knew Dean. The blog allows me to explore the topics deeper, using a related vintage recipe as the tie that brings everything together. Cooking these dishes really gives me a slightly clearer sense of the sights, smells, and flavors of how it might really have been like living in the 1950s. “Long-term rebel-therapy.”
A new posting is added at least once a month. The latest evolution within the blog is video. I was required to produce a promo-video before the original release of the book…I did 3. The process was so inspiring that I’ve continued to use it, learning as I go, as a means of artistic expression within the blog and in conjunction with the featured recipes each month. The blog keeps me engaged and connected to all the wonderful people within the Deaner community I’ve met over the years. For that, I was NOT “born too late!
This month brings a couple of new updates to the Recipes4Rebels website…first off, with the help of Google Translate, all pages are now available in over 116 different languages! How fun is that? Secondly, at the suggestion of Jenny over at SilverScreenSuppers.com, I’ve created an index of all the stars and all the recipes included in my book Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean with links to the recipes that I’ve blogged about on here. The index can be found from the Site Menu buttons on the Home page or directly HERE.