Thu, Feb 25, 2010

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Catalizadora de Archivos y Colecciones

Artifact of the Month: Candy Hits or Miss? Taking a Recipe out of ZaSu Pitt's Cookbook

Many already know that ZaSu Pitts was an actress, known for her comedic timing and large, expressive eyes. She was born in Parsons, Kansas in 1894 but moved to Santa Cruz with her family when she was nine. ZaSu’s childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street is still there (looking fantastic thanks to recent landscaping), sandwiched between the Nickelodeon Theatre and Jack’s Hamburgers. ZaSu’s real name was Eliza Susan (named after her aunts) but she preferred to be called her nickname, the mash-up of her two monikers.

ZaSu attended Santa Cruz High School and was active in the theatre department. She left Santa Cruz in 1916 at the age of 22 for Los Angeles and was cast in The Little Princess (1917), a silent film whose leading lady was Mary Pickford. ZaSu starred in Greed (1924) and was featured in numerous movies; she was at the top of her game in 1930s B movies. ZaSu performed on Broadway and acted in T.V. shows in the 1950s and early 1960s.


Candy Hits was written by ZaSu Pitts and was published in 1963, the year she died. It’s a recipe book sprinkled with anecdotes about her life. Making candy was a life-long passion of ZaSu. It connected her to her past and kept her grounded while she pursued her career. ZaSu was known to bring her sugary concoctions to Hollywood parties and gatherings.

“Many people have asked me how I happened to choose candy-making for a hobby,” ZaSu wrote. “It really began in my childhood, and if I close my eyes, I can still see the kitchen in our Santa Cruz home, smell the fragrant odor of spice cookies baking in our iron stove and molasses candy bubbling in the iron frying pan…I stood by, all eyes, waiting for that exciting moment when my mother would give me a piece of the taffy to pull into sticky strings.”

My daughter finished her report on ZaSu Pitts, and I suggested we try one of ZaSu’s candy recipes. This would be great–Sofia could present her report and as an added bonus, treat the class to homemade candy. So in our Santa Cruz home, we attempted to make ZaSu’s chocolate fudge. Three times I tried, but it didn’t turn out quite right. I’m convinced it’s me–I think ZaSu would have made it just fine. We ended up buying Marini’s fudge and taking it to school. And yes, we told everyone it was proxy candy.

We didn’t recreate the magic that occurred in the Pitts kitchen almost a hundred years ago, but at least we tried. “You must gamble on that precise moment when your candy is about to ‘set up,’ and pour it out into a buttered shallow pan just before that critical split second arrives” ZaSu wrote.

Candy-making’s a lot like many things in life: sometimes you get it right and sometimes it ends up a sweet mess.