Late St. Clair resident Gloria Pitzer leaves flavorful legacy with copycat cookbook series

In the early 1970s, Gloria Pitzer, a columnist for the Times Herald and the former Richmond Review, unexpectedly became a household name in the Blue Water Area.

Known for her homemaker's column filled with household hints and recipes, Pitzer's journey began when she received a request for McDonald's special sauce recipe. She went to work identifying each of its ingredients, publishing the recipes in the paper, and igniting a wave of requests for copycat creations.

Gloria Pitzer
As her column gained popularity, Pitzer visited a restaurant in Port Huron and enjoyed a slice of what was advertised as a homemade cheesecake. However, Pitzer recognized it as a product of the Sara Lee brand. Emerich says after this, her mother went to work writing her copycat recipes from home full-time.

“She had the most unique taste buds,” her daughter, Laura Emerich, says of her late mother. “She was able to take one bite of something and immediately identify just about every flavor and ingredient.”

Originally from Mt. Clemens, Pitzer and her husband Paul moved to Algonac in the 1960s before eventually settling in St. Clair in 1977 where Pitzer continued this culinary venture.

Emerich says their decision to move to St. Clair was driven by her parents’ overall fondness for the town and their desire for a larger home for their family.

“They were always up that way anyways … They loved everything about St. Clair and visited it so often that they decided they might as well move there,” she says.

Together, Pitzer and her husband raised five children in their St. Clair home: William “Bill” Pitzer, Michael “Mike” Pitzer, Debra “Debi” (Pitzer) Hamilton, Emerich, and Cheryl Pitzer.

Emerich fondly remembers her mother’s hand-cranked mimeograph machine where she first began printing recipes on 4x6 index cards, sold for 25 cents each or five for $1. Over time, the index cards turned into a monthly newsletter in January 1974 mailed from Pitzer’s home which was printed until December 2000.

“When Mom didn’t get a recipe just right, she called it a dud, and we would get to enjoy it for dinner,” Emerich shares. “We loved her duds. My personal favorite was her meatloaf.”

Emerich says her mother had many supporters throughout the Blue Water Area. Pitzer knew the local meat market man, the neighborhood cleaners, and several local business owners who were all more than happy to help market and sell her copycat cookbooks in their establishments.  

In 1973, Pitzer sold the first 1,000 copies of her first copycat cookbook called the "Better Cookery Cookbook.” In 1976, Pitzer’s first “Secret Recipes Cookbook” was published and, throughout her career, she published 40 different cookbooks averaging one each year.

In 1981, Pitzer was asked to be on the Phil Donahue Show to showcase some of her copycat recipes. Emerich says immediately following the show around one million letters were mailed to their home.

Gloria Pitzer and Phil Donahue.
“They were so frustrated at the St. Clair Post Office that they were going to give Mom her own zip code,” Emerich shares laughing.

Maintaining a friendship with Phil Donahue over the years that followed, Emerich says the transcript of that particular show in 1993 broke records for talk shows at the time. Donahue received an award and a plaque for that accomplishment which he gifted to Pitzer upon his retirement and is now cherished by her family.

In 2014, Pitzer retired after her husband’s passing. After several years of battling with dementia, Pitzer passed away in 2018. Her legacy and contributions were recognized by the community after her passing by honoring her in the St. Clair Historical Museum.

Explore more about Pitzer and her publications at
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Read more articles by Rita MacDonald.

Rita MacDonald is a U.S. Army veteran and a full-time registered nurse who claims that her Irish and Scottish heritage is the reason for her love of storytelling. She is the mother of two adult sons, “Gummy” to her three grandchildren, loves talking with anyone who will engage in a conversation, and “eats life with a shovel!” In addition to her work with The Keel, Rita is a contributor for the Thumbprint News, an author of three books, and writes a blog at