|Meet Clementine Paddleford, a personality as improbable as her name. While others woo the nation's eaters with complicated recipes, she keeps readers drooling by just telling them how good things taste.|
In the business of food writing--and a highly technical business it has become--one of the most refreshing success stories is that of Clementine Paddleford, a lady whose writings now appear in newspapers with a total circulation of 12,000,000. Many of her food-writing sisters are heavily scientific these days, calculating recipes with all the precision of laboratory chemists. Miss Paddleford's approach is different. Her big interest is how things taste.
"We all have home-town appetites," Miss Paddleford once wrote--she comes from Stockdale, Kansas, herself. "Every other person is a bundle of longing for the simplicities of good taste once enjoyed on the farm or in the home town they left behind." On this down-to-earth premise she has won an appreciative audience in New York, where she writes a daily food feature for the Herald Tribune, and a national following through This Week, a Sunday newspaper supplement, for which she produces a weekly food spread. She also does a monthly column in Gourmet magazine and contributes to assorted other trade and general publications.
Her devotion to the joys of eating never wavers. Writing about apples, Clementine will start with a lead that is all nostalgia and rioting taste buds. "Apples flame the land," one of her autumn columns began. "Tens of millions of fruit to touch with the hand, to snap from the twig gently, tenderly. Scent of apples down orchard lanes. A drowsy winy scent permeating the country cellar, spreading across the market place. A glowing apple in the hand, cool, hard-skinned. The teeth crack into the brittle flesh, a winy flavor floods the mouth--the soul of the apple blossom distilled."
George Cornish, managing editor of the Herald Tribune, says he's a sucker for that sort of copy. "I had to send right downstairs for an apple," he recalls, "and I suspect most of our readers feel the same way when Clem turns on the salivary juices." Cornish feels that Miss Paddleford is unusually valuable to his paper because, unlike most food writers, fully half of her readers are masculine. There was spectacular male as well as female response to a cooky column that started out: "Open your mouth and shut your eyes. Like it? That's a cooky from the blue tin. Memories crowd in--a stone cooky jar that held the most enticing smell in the world."
Then there was the one that went like this: "A tour of smells, our daily tramp through the markets of the town. Catch that savory boiling fat from a kitchen on the Bowery? Cheese, smoked meats, the fish market; and the coffee on Water Street the best of all, heavy, sultry and slightly charred."
This is no act. Clementine feels that way about food and drink. To keep down her weight, she steers away from sweets and alcohol except in line of duty, but she'll try almost anything--and enjoy a great deal of it. Her gustatory experiences have included beaver, buffalo, muskrat and bear meat, 100-year-old Chinese eggs, snake filets, horse meat and tiny ricebirds spitted whole and eaten in a single mouthful. She confesses to have eaten--on a dare from some farm lads when she was fourteen--a dish of fat earthworms crisp-fried in bacon fat. She balked, though, when a Chinese gourmet in New York wanted her to try roasted beetles. "Seemed like going too far, even for me," she says.
For fifteen years, seven days a week, Miss Paddleford has devoted the better part of the hours from five A.M. until late in the evening to tasting, testing, eating, talking, reading and writing about food. It takes her from five A.M. until eleven A.M. to turn out the first draft of her daily Herald Tribune column. She writes on white bond paper--no other color will do--in a longhand pencil scrawl, using a sort of personal shorthand with most words left hurriedly unfinished. This is intelligible only to Helen Marshall, her secretary, who turns it into typescript acceptable to the printers.
After Paddleford copy has left her hands it is sacred at the Herald Tribune, despite squeamish souls on the copy desk who often think her phraseology too "gutsy" for so conservative a newspaper. When a copy-desk minion recently dared to alter her description of fresh tomato squeezings as "blood" to the milder "juice," an enraged Miss Paddleford marched to the city room to do battle and emerged victorious.
It wasn't always like that. In Miss Paddleford's early days on the Herald Tribune, a copyreader kept a curiosity book of rich, ripe food descriptions which were considered too strong for the customers, but amusing for retailing to fellow newsmen. There was, for instance, the essay about passion-fruit juice which started out, "Passion isn't what you think."
Clementine Paddleford has no degree in home economics, a fact which occasions some nose lifting in the food-writing trade. Other members of the Herald Tribune Home Institute are entrusted with testing the concoctions she mentions and sending out the recipes. Clementine is the gal who loves to smell, taste and talk about new dishes, and can bring them to life on the printed page.
Many people assume that "Clementine Paddleford" must be a pen name. It isn't. Her father was Solon Paddleford, a prosperous Kansas farmer. He met her mother while they were both students at Kansas State College. There Mother Paddleford took one of the nation's first college home-economics courses.
Father Paddleford acquired a nice stake when he was one of the winners in the race for land at the opening of the Cherokee Strip. He sold his claim for a good price and invested in a rich 260 acres of Kansas farmland. The Paddlefords purchased one of the first privately owned pianos in the neighborhood. Clementine rose at 4 A.M. to practice music before chores started at seven. She recalls that she managed a passable performance of The Flower Song, but always hated the piano, especially because a playmate, Nellie Flo Yantis, could play so much better.
Clementine took more readily to the kitchen, though, and by twelve she was a proficient helper. She liked especially to bake, "because it smelled so good and looked the most important. People would talk about a fancy layer cake when they wouldn't notice the roast beef."
By the time she was fifteen the Paddleford girl was writing locals for the Manhattan, Kansas, Daily Chronicle. She had talked her father into lending her an ancient family car, with which she covered vast quantities of ground. With an early-rising habit already ingrained by music lessons, Clementine took to meeting the four A.M. train for Kansas City. She dutifully recorded the names of local people who boarded this conveyance. Her father ordered this practice stopped, however, when he learned that his daughter had surprised a local merchant heading for the big city with a girl friend. This was one of the last times Clementine Paddleford was seriously edited.
After high school, Clementine went to Kansas State's School of Journalism. She also contributed to the Kansas City Post. When her journalism course ended in 1921, she felt qualified to tackle New York. Adequately staked by her family, but determined to make her own way, Clementine Paddleford headed for the New York University's School of Journalism.
The Kansas girl was lonely and frightened in New York. She had gathered the impression that creative people lived in Greenwich village, but she was horrified by the grimy streets, messy garbage cans and noisy kids around the room she rented. Later she heard of a chance to share a handsome apartment near Columbia University with three other girls. She lived an outwardly luxurious life with her own big bedroom and lavish share of the joint larder, while actually going almost completely broke.
What saved the Paddleford career in Gotham was her discovery of a woman's-page feature in the New York Sun called The Woman Who Sees, which related incidents and anecdotes of city life supposedly observed by an anonymous author. The Sun sent an eight-dollar check for her first contribution and accepted many others, some of which Miss Paddleford made up, because they were things she "might have seen." The Sun also gave her books to review. She asked for heavy scientific tomes because she had learned that while the review brought only a three-dollar or four-dollar fee, the books could often be sold to a dealer for as much as five dollars afterward.
When the writing wasn't paying too well, Clementine waited on tables at the Union Theological Seminary and clerked in Gimbel's umbrella department. The latter employment ended when a customer banged the counter and yelled, "Miss!"
"Don't you 'Miss' me!" Clementine yelled back, as she opened a large umbrella in the customer's face.
In the summer of 1923 Clementine accepted an invitation to vacation with a writing friend in Chicago. Her intention to return east in the fall was altered by her being hired for two Chicago jobs which paid well. She wrote advertising for Montgomery Ward and simultaneously did publicity for a big city agricultural fair that set up on the banks of the Des Plaines River. A fair official gave gambling concessions to some of the Chicago mob, and when the management interfered with the grafts, the hoodlums retaliated by stealing some prize quilts Clementine had borrowed from farm women for exhibition. Miss Paddleford and her boss had to flee over roofs from their offices in the Loop to escape irate quilters when the stolen quilts were discovered buried deep in river mud. The Chicago period also included a short-lived marriage to Lloyd Zimmerman, an engineer who had too much traveling to do. They separated within a year and were later divorced.
A series of other writing, editing and promotion jobs led to New York and the woman's editorship of Farm and Fireside Magazine, since defunct. After seven years, a change of editors let Clementine out, and she went, with considerable success, into free-lance writing, mostly about food.
In 1932 chronic hoarseness led to the discovery that Miss Paddleford had a malignant growth in her larynx. She submitted to an operation in which a part of the larynx and vocal cords was removed. This has made it necessary ever since for Miss Paddleford to breathe through a tube in her throat. Its aperture is concealed by a black ornamental ribbon. In order to hold her breath in the diaphragm for talking, she must apply a finger to this tube.
It took her six months to relearn speech, since it required the development of control over an entirely new set of muscles. It took even longer to lose her self-consciousness about the tube and the rather sepulchral voice it gave her. But aside from avoiding public speaking, Clementine does not let her handicap interfere in any way with her life and work.
A series of articles in the Christian Herald attracted the attention of Eloise Davison, already a Paddleford friend. Miss Davison went in 1936 from a utility-company job to be the director of the Herald Tribune's Home Institute, where she is still Clementine Paddleford's boss. Miss Davison offered Clementine an imposing title as Food Markets Editor and forty dollars a week to write six half-columns of advice to New York housewives on buying and eating. The job sounded like a cinch to Paddleford. Half a column a day shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. And forty dollars was bread and butter. But what with her conscientiousness and her growing interest in the job, it wasn't long before she was putting in as much as twelve hours a day combing food markets and writing the column.
It originally appeared anonymously and without identifying the places where the foods she mentioned could be bought. The former policy was changed in a matter of months, the latter five years ago, when the burden of answering an average of 1000 telephone calls and hundreds of letters daily became too great for the paper.
Today, with a writing income estimated at $25,000 a year, Miss Paddleford still puts more than twelve hours a day into her job. She makes her home in a tiny East Side apartment with Clare Duffe, her ward, and Peter, a thirteen-year-old, part-Persian cat. Clare Duffe, now a Wellesley freshman, is the daughter of a Chicago friend of Miss Paddleford's. The mother, a successful writer of children's books, died six years ago. During her last illness she asked Clementine to keep an eye on Clare. Clare came to the Paddleford apartment first as a visitor and stayed on as a member of the family. Clementine is very proud and fond of Clare.
Miss Paddleford does most of her writing in a long morning stretch at home, drinking quantities of black coffee alternately from a French drip pot and an Italian espresso machine. She is surrounded by a fabulous personal filing system. Only she knows how to use the millions of words she has stored away in drawers, folders and scrapbooks under privately remembered headings. Sometimes she has trouble finding things herself.
The files include every word Clementine Paddleford ever wrote, from school days on. Her Herald Tribune writings alone fill a formidable bookcase. There are folders for every month in the year, for holidays, for weddings. Each contains clippings, literary references, reader suggestions and other material suitable for the occasion. Miss Paddleford has a personally compiled thesaurus of words--mostly rich, ripe and luscious--to describe things that look and smell and taste good. She has also carried out such projects as annotating the entire works of Dickens for food references. Thus, when she wants to know just how Tiny Tim felt about Christmas goose, the quotation is easily at hand. The Bible has also been food-analyzed. If Clementine happens to be writing about chowder, her thesaurus directs her to Moby Dick, where she has noted a mouth-watering description of the soup Queequeg cooked up.
While writing away in her apartment each morning, Miss Paddleford will break off from time to time to phone a sleepy press agent about the prices and ingredients of a dough mixture she is describing, or to place a personal food order with her grocer. Along with preparing her Herald Tribune column, she will get in some licks on her This Week spread and perhaps answer a few reader letters. "I always try to have my Christmas mail answered by the next September," she says.
In late morning she leaves her apartment for the Herald Tribune office. She always carries a thick black loose-leaf notebook and a mass of loose papers, from which she can find out where she stands on just about everything--her appointments for three weeks ahead, her expense account, ideas for future articles, the items of clothing she intends to buy in the near future.
At the newspaper she sweeps past the air-conditioned model kitchens into a small, orderly and aseptically clean office on the ninth floor. Here she sees or talks on the telephone to a steady procession of food manufacturers, restauranteurs and their press agents, all of them seeking plugs in her column and many of them bearing specimens of what they want her to plug. Still other food products come in by mail. A certain amount of usable material emerges from all this. Miss Paddleford has no prejudice against publicity operators; she judges their offerings by the same news-and-palate standards she applies to food from any other source.
Items that can be sampled without cooking she tastes at once, making the first entries on an office form with spaces for "appearance, flavor, color, texture, consistency, general ratings and suggestions for use." A recent day's crop of candidates included a new domestic champagne, California figs and dates, Greek locust honey, a new bottled meat sauce, an elaborate package of French chocolates, some fancy cookies, fish canapés and a mint sauce.
All the while, Miss Paddleford will be attending to various office matters--answering inquiring readers on the telephone, consulting with staff members like Gwen Hall, who sets up the toothsome photographs which illustrate the column, and Anne Pappas, who does the cooking in the institute's model kitchen.
Finally she breaks away from the office, perhaps with a press agent coming along in the taxi to finish his sales talk. Her schedule for the day may call for a visit to a milliner for dressmaker, but she is also likely to get in some scouting of food markets and restaurants. Back home in her apartment at last, she relaxes in a warm tub while a maid prepares dinner. She often eats at her desk while sorting out notes and material. Late in the evening a special-delivery mailman brings a confidential produce-market forecast whose findings will be incorporated into the next day's writings. Clementine knocks off at eleven, as a rule, and sleeps until five the next morning, when she unfailingly wakes up without benefit of an alarm clock.
Then there are the special luncheons and dinners staged to publicize various foodstuffs and cafés. Miss Paddleford receives invitations to far more of these affairs than any human stomach could possibly negotiate. She rarely goes to the evening events, except for such occasions as the annual dinners of the Amis D'Escoffier and the Chevaliers du Tastevin, where the town's leading chefs and maitres d'hôtel try to outdo one another in serving elaborate food and drink to solemn groups of gourmets. But Clementine gets to quite a few of the luncheons. Some of them are pretty remarkable, such as the all-horse-meat luncheon which undertook to popularize that dish early in the war. There have been similar ventures on behalf of bear, muskrat, beaver, whale and buffalo meat. "None of them were as good as beefsteak," Clementine says.
Miss Paddleford's most memorable outing was probably a two-week tour of France she made in 1946 as a guest--along with other newspaper representatives--of Air France. In twelve days on French soil they attended some twenty-eight receptions, given by hosts like the premier of France, the Chefs Société du Cent and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. There were mountains of food and veritable fountains of champagne and stronger waters. Most of the party nursed perpetual hang-overs, but La Paddleford was up at dawn every day, visiting the markets, walking miles through obscure streets and, despite a complete lack of French, finding out about Gallic cuisine from backstage.
Miss Paddleford was impressed by much of the pomp she encountered and by being received by such people as the Windsors, as she made unblushingly clear in her newspaper columns about the trip. However, as the plane approached New York on the homeward flight, Clementine was heard to sigh, "It'll be good to be home where the ice water flows like champagne."
Miss Paddleford has won the confidence of some of the most legendary epicures in the world of fine food. For ten years she corresponded sympathetically with Roy Alciatore, hereditary head of the famous Antoine's, in New Orleans, with its oysters Rockefeller, oeufs Sardou and pommes souflées. At a food editors' convention in New Orleans in 1947 she pinned him down in person and did not let him escape until he had disgorged the material for an article which she entitled Antoine's Ten Secrets.
But Clementine is just as apt to devote her space to the "little old lady" who cooks jellies in a tiny 9th Avenue store or the one who peddles horseradish on an East Side street corner. In her own home the food is seldom very esoteric. The menu for a favored guest would run something like this: Real Strasbourg Pâté with thin-sliced rye bread to spread it on; medium-rare steak rubbed with garlic and drenched in onion juice; green vegetables with a sprinkle of nutmeg; salad with her electrically whipped special dressing, and perhaps peach Melba and coffee for dessert. The meal would be accompanied by a light dinner wine, not necessarily imported, and followed by some fine brandy.
The Paddleford reputation has grown mightily in recent years. Not even her competitors deny that her copy is unsurpassed for appetite appeal. The Herald Tribune's archrival, The New York Times, paid her the compliment of instituting a daily food column a few years after the Paddleford feature became established.
Periodically, Clementine gets offers of big salaries from other publications or from food companies which would like to have her writing exclusively about their products. She is a smart business woman and lets the Herald Tribune know when it has competition for her services. The paper usually comes through with a raise. But money isn't everything, and it is unlikely that Clementine will ever switch to a more confining job. She likes like too well the way it is.
Source: Saturday Evening Post, 1949 Apr 30, pgs. 43, 56-58.
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