Actress, Singer, Pearl Bailey Dispenses Down Home Cooking Tips at Signing

As she autographs her book, “Pearl’s Kitchen,” she give her admirers glimpses at what she cooks every day for her husband and their two children. Off on her book tour, she says she left them with “10 cooked roasts.”

The Washington Star-News, September 28, 1973: ”I need glasses, but I’m gorgeous,” says Pearl Bailey, smiling expansively as she views the mob who came to Woodward & Lothrop’s yesterday to watch her autograph her new book, “Pearl’s Kitchen.”

Two-and-a-half hours later, she has managed to autograph more than 200 books even though she is considerably impeded by a compulsion to dispense homespun philosophy and down-home recipes along with her signature.,

She’s indignant over rising food prices, but it hasn’t slowed her down. “I cook a ham, I save the water and use it on two or three vegetables. If I don’t have ham, I always have a pot of beans. You don’t need salad and soup and meat every meal. You can have beans and bread. You can have bacon grease and syrup and sop. I cook good liver. With liver, macaroni and cheese and rice pudding, I can wipe out anybody.”

Pearl always keeps a pot of zucchini on hand. “For years I thought it was a long cucumber with bumps. Now I take a zucchini, cut it up, throw in some onions and garlic, some tomatoes and put some corn in. And salt and pepper. Then I fill the pot with water and let it boil. The corn sweetens it. I bet you didn’t know that.”

She explains that the “funniest thing” about her cookbook — which is long on folk wisdom and short on recipes is: “I never say how much to use of nothing.”

Even if prices stay up. Pearl has no intention of joining a food boycott. “I’m going to get me a cow and find out how those things work. Also a pig. And grow some greens.

As she talks, Pearl keeps burrowing in her bag bringing forth things to show-and-tell. Included are a photographs of Pearl with the “King of Iran,” a bottle of ginseng root, a bag of sunflower seeds. Her crocheting is in there, too, she says, taking out a bottle of saccharin to sweeten the coffee someone’s brought her.

In each book she inscribes the words, “Love is really all,” but for each of her fans, she has a few individual words. She misspells one young woman’s name by adding the letter h. “That’s all right, honey.” she says, consolingly. “Deborah in the Bible has an ‘h’ on it. I just made you holy.”

If her patter is dazzling, her jewelry is blinding. Around her waist she wears a gold belt, weighing roughly 10 pounds, from which hang five charm bracelets laden with coins and other baubles given to her by presidents, kings and long-dead entertainers such as Sophie Tucker. Mammoth diamonds sparkle on two rings and an ankle bracelet.

And she talks about what a stickler she is for cleaning house and how she left 10 cooked roasts for her family when she left home Sunday for Willie May’s farewell ceremonies at Shea Stadium. “I didn’t cook them, the oven did.”

She rails about today’s children not learning how to cook and clean properly. “No wonder they shack up now. They don’t need a license when neither of them can do anything.”

Pearl makes several references to her “death” on March 5 when she was rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles after a heart attack. “Louis (her husband, musician Louis Bellson) told me I wasn’t breathing. I had heart failure. Everything was gone.” When she came to, she looked up to see a circle of bearded doctors. “You know, these days they let the doctors wear beards and open shirts and anything. I looked up and saw all those beards and I thought it was the apostles.”

She has it figured out that since she “died at 53,” she lost a year of her life — the year she was 54 — and somehow was reborn. “Medically I’m supposed to have a heart problem. I’m not afraid. I died once so I don’t have to die again.”

She says she feels good most of the time, except when she gets “aggravated” about her children. (The Belsons have a daughter, 13, and a son, 19.)

“People ask me about my heart. I’ve got news for you. ) If you’ve got to raise children today in this country, with all its crime and drugs, you’re going to have heart attacks.”

Pearl has long since resumed her high-powered career as singer, performer, TV personality and author. She has written another book, “The Little Seed That Got Lost,” which is for children, and is starting another, “Hurry Up America and Spit,” which is for her country. “It’s a heavy one. I hope they let me back in the country after they read it. But we’ve got to clean up America.”

She said she sent copies of “Pearl’s Kitchen” to everyone on the Watergate committee. “Sen. (Herman) Talmadge said it made his mouth water,” and Sen. Lowell Weicker wrote her that what he would cherish most were her “recipes for living the fullest of life.”

Coming up for Pearl: more appearances on The Hollywood Squares; three weeks in Las Vegas entertaining with Jack Benny and a morning TV cooking show beginning in February, entitled, not surprisingly, “Pearl’s Kitchen.”

[This article originally appeared in The Washington Star-News, September 28, 1973 as Pearl’s Wisdom: The Kitchen’s Her Bailiwick. #170 in a collection of more than 100 newspaper articles by Judy Flander from the second wave of the Women’s Movement reflecting the fervor and ingenuity of the women who rode the wave.]

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