Cooking with the Stars

Cooking With the Stars — Discovering Pearl Bailey, Visiting Her Grave, and Reviewing Her Recipes

Can you believe that I haven’t posted an installment of Cooking With the Stars since Halloween?! Believe me, it’s just as mind-blowing to me as it is to you, as recreating the personal recipes of my favorite classic film stars is one of my absolute favorite things to do. The truth of the matter is that most of the time other things take precedence, both on and off of my blog. Even when I do want to devote some time to Cooking With the Stars, these old recipes have often turned into failures for me, and I wouldn’t want to take a picture of, much less recommend, some of the things that I’ve prepared according to old recipe books and magazines. Finally the time has come to return to the series, though, and I couldn’t think of a better way to come back with a bang, as I have a pretty amazing story to tell.

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As many of you may know, I recently moved from Saint Petersburg, Florida all the way to West Chester, Pennsylvania. It was a long journey to a place that I didn’t (and still don’t), know much about, and I’ve been excessively using Google to figure out everything from the historical events that took place around where I now live to which states we border (I still have trouble remembering because there are a lot more than the two that I’m used to from living in Florida!). One of the things that instantly caught my attention was a sprawling and beautiful cemetery just a short walk away from my apartment complex called Rolling Green Memorial Park. Of course, as addicted to famous people as I am and as much as I enjoy cemeteries, my first instinct was to do some research, hoping against hope that this random graveyard that was close to me but the better part of an hour from Philadelphia had anyone noteworthy that I would possibly have any connection to. As fate would have it, one star was buried there: Pearl Bailey. I had heard her name before, for certain, but in all honesty I was still largely unaware of Pearl and her contributions to music, stage, and screen. I spent the better part of the past week learning what I could about her by listening to her records, reading about her life and career, and watching videos of her interviews, performances, and her adorable appearances on my favorite classic game show, What’s My Line?.

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Pearl Bailey’s final resting place at Rolling Green Memorial Park. I think I’ll be visiting her often, and I’m definitely going to bring her some fresh flowers next time!

In short, I fell in love with her hilarious and sweet personality, her voice, and everything about her. She was talented beyond words, and like a “mama bear” that I sure wish I had. I realized that I knew her work even as a child, as her public persona was immortalized as the owl Big Mama in the classic Disney film The Fox and the Hound (1982). I was so amazed that I wasn’t a fan of hers before this, and I went from being simply surprised that anyone who suited my interests was nearby at all to being excited to pay my respects to such an amazing lady that I had become a newfound fan of. Of course I had planned to visit the park, take pictures, and write about this experience on my blog already, but I found the idea of only writing about visiting her grave to be perhaps too morbid for my audience, especially if you all didn’t share my appreciation for memorial gardens like myself. So, if all of this wasn’t fantastic enough on its own, upon further research I also found out that Pearl Bailey penned a highly praised cookbook, Pearl’s Kitchen: An Extraordinary Cookbook (1973), told in her endearing Southern style as she showed the world how to prepare her delicious home cooking. I thought of no better way to spend my next free afternoon than to pay her a visit and make some mean Southern dishes that would have made her proud. So, without further ado, here are the personal recipes from Pearl herself that I made:

Pearl Bailey’s Macaroni and Cheese

  • 4 cups cooked macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 pound Longhorn (Colby) cheese
  • 1 small can evaporated milk
  • Milk (to cover)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Run cold water over cooked macaroni and put in casserole with butter.
  2. Cut half of cheese and place on top of macaroni.
  3. Pour on condensed milk, then cover with regular milk till it “swims.”
  4. Add seasonings.
  5. Cut remaining cheese into large slices and place on top.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour. Serves 6-8.

I realize that Pearl’s method of putting all of the cheese on top of the macaroni instead of layering it in may seem odd, so I’ll mention that in some of her other mac and cheese recipes, Pearl will wait until the cheese melts, take the dish out of the oven, give it a good stir, and put it back in until it’s ready to eat. I went ahead and did this halfway through the cooking time and got great results, so if your dish looks disproportionate, you might want to try this too!

Pearl Bailey’s Zucchini with Tomatoes and Corn

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp salad oil (olive or corn oil)
  • 6 cups chopped zucchini
  • 1 clove pressed garlic
  • 1 package frozen corn
  • 1 can plain tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Brown onion in oil with zucchini and garlic.
  2. Place corn on top with tomatoes; simmer until thickened and reduced in volume.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

Pearl Bailey’s Rice Pudding

  1. Pearl says, “Take about 2 cups rice (long-grained), cook that (according to box instructions). While the rice is cooking, I throw in my roasting pan–a medium-sized one, big enough to roast a big turkey, well-greased:

(Pearl mentions that “I can’t tell you what quantity to use”, so I decided to list the amounts that I ended up using.)

  • butter (1 1/2 sticks, cut in bits)
  • sugar to taste (1 1/2 cups)
  • vanilla, about half a bottle (3 tbsps or a large splash)
  • 3/4 to 1 box raisins (2 1/2 cups)
  • eggs galore, 4 to 6 (depending on the size, 4 large eggs work well)
  • milk, enough so it’s actually floating

    2. Then stir in hot rice. Taste it before baking in 350 degrees or 400 degrees oven (preheated to 400 degrees F.) until it has a nice brown coating on top and that certain firmness (bake about 45 minutes or until silver knife inserted in pudding comes out clean). Cut to serve hot or cold. Serves 12 generously.”

Pearl also says, “Some people like it hot or cold. I like it cold. Cook it long enough so you can cut it but don’t overcook it. But it’s really divine! I must tell you!”

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My renditions of Pearl Bailey’s mac and cheese and her zucchini with tomatoes and corn, side by side.

I always find it so adorable when stars sing such high praises about their recipes, and I must say, I haven’t seen classic film recipes that are this easy in a long time! Listening to some of Pearl’s incredible music while I was cooking made the evening even more exceptional, and I really felt domestic while whipping these dishes up. I’ll start off by singing the praises of the macaroni and cheese. It tasted just like the kind of homeade mac that you might bring to a genuine Southern barbecue. I definitely caution you, though: BE CAREFUL when you pour in your milk! I was so focused on making my mac “float” that I added way too much. When I took the dish out to mix it, I ended up ladling a bowl’s worth of milk out of the pan! The final result was still delicious despite my mishap, though, and I think that this will be my go-to recipe for mac and cheese from now on.

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A helping of my Pearl Bailey feast!

The vegetables actually surprised me the most. The recipe doesn’t seem like much, and it was so easy to make, but combined these veggies were absolutely amazing! It’s definitely a toss-up, but I think I might have like this even more than the mac. I was really stunned by this revelation, and if you’re a fan of zucchini, definitely try this as a side dish for your next meal. Both of these recipes yielded a great amount of leftovers, and towards the end I ended up mixing both the vegetables and the mac and cheese together into one dish, which was fantastic as well!

The only minor letdown was the rice pudding. I added this recipe onto my menu at the last minute because I had nearly everything on hand to make it, but if I had to do it all over again, I think I would have just left it off. Maybe I didn’t add enough milk this time (which I find ironic) or maybe I cooked it too long, but to me this pudding just tasted like rice and raisins. At the very least, if you try this dessert out for yourself, I would definitely recommend pairing a serving of it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to help moisten up the dish, or maybe try taking it out a little earlier than indicated. I used a large but shallow dish, so maybe that was the problem. Who knows? Either way, I hope you try some of these wonderful recipes courtesy of Pearlie Mae, and if you haven’t heard of her, maybe it’s time that you discover her just like I did!

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