Hampstead women cook up a tasty business with old-fashioned recipes Cookbook ads are latest step

December 30, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine could change the life of two Hampstead women.

One of them, Edna Dubbs, put 36 years' worth of cooking experience into a book of her own recipes. She cooks from scratch and wouldn't dream of picking up a box of Hamburger Helper.

"You could put me out in the woods and I would know how to survive," said Mrs. Dubbs, 52.

Her friend, Charlene Shearer, 33, is selling Mrs. Dubbs' cookbook using the marketing skills she learned in her nine years as an Air Force public affairs specialist.

Mrs. Shearer's favorite kitchen resource was a recipe book put out by Campbell Soup Co.

Ask her now what her favorite cookbook is and she'll say, "Edna's Old Fashioned Country Cooking."

Both women would like to make a living off their joint venture -- and a few other projects that Mrs. Shearer plans for her fledgling one-woman business, CMS Marketing, based in her Hampstead home.

So far, they are breaking even, they said, thanks to a low-cost production system in Mrs. Dubbs' basement. Mrs. Dubbs invested about $5,000 in a computer, photocopier, paper-cutter, binding machine and other materials. They have sold 500 books at $9.95 each.

"We haven't made a profit yet -- that's what 1993 is all about," Mrs. Shearer said. "I have a five-year business plan, and we are right on schedule. By the end of the year I had planned to place our first national ad, and the Bon Appetit ad will be in the January issue."

The two women met while they were co-workers at Montgomery Ward. Mrs. Shearer has quit to devote her energies to CMS Marketing. Mrs. Dubbs is on a leave of absence recovering from foot surgery. She said she will quit within two years if her book profits start multiplying.

Mrs. Dubbs and Mrs. Shearer expect orders to start coming by the truckload once Bon Appetit readers respond to the three-line classified advertisement they placed at a cost of about $500.

"A good response to a classified ad is one-half of 1 percent of total circulation -- that would be about 30,000 orders," Mrs. Shearer said. But she said that would be an unrealistic expectation.

"It's not unreasonable to expect something within one-sixteenth of a percentage, in the 8,000 range."

While Mrs. Shearer came up with most of the marketing strategies, Mrs. Dubbs came up with an unusual way of selling her cookbooks in a very personal way.

Inspired by home parties she attended for Tupperware, Mary Kay cosmetics and other similar lines, Mrs. Dubbs came up with the idea of cookbook parties.

The host or hostess invites a few friends and supplies the beverages, plates, napkins and utensils.

Mrs. Dubbs buys and cooks the food -- up to three dishes from the cookbook -- and brings it to the house and serves it. She also brings copies of the book with her, so people can buy them on the spot.

Neighbors might be glad to find that Mrs. Dubbs' book includes her recipe for chicken corn soup. Mrs. Dubbs makes a 30- or 40-quart batch in her back yard at the height of the corn harvest. The corn comes off the stalk, gets shaved and thrown right into the butchering kettle -- the only thing big enough to hold that much soup.

"I guarantee you can smell it all the way to Manchester," she said.

The recipes are her own, although some are variations of popular dishes such as the Knorr Vegetable Soup Mix dip. Mrs. Dubbs adds diced onions to her version.

Some recipes call for canned vegetables, beans and processed cheese. But for the most part, Mrs. Dubbs scoffs at what others may call shortcuts, such as buying cut vegetables from grocery store salad bars.

"Do you know how long those vegetables have been sitting out?" she said.

Mrs. Shearer adds that even if they were just cut, they are expensive.

"If you do it the way Edna does it, you'll spend pennies a portion," Mrs. Shearer said.

One economical specialty of Mrs. Dubbs' is hog maw. Pennsylvania Dutch folks will recognize it as stuffed hog stomach.

The stuffing varies with the cook. Mrs. Dubbs makes it much like her mother-in-law did, with hamburger and sausage, cabbage, celery and other vegetables. Her own touch is to add a bread dressing for more moisture, and make gravy from pan drippings.

"I can feed 10 to 15 people [with one hog maw]," she said. The stomach costs about $3.50 at most butcher shops, and the stuffing ingredients usually amount to less than $10, she said.

"I am not a Marylander, I am not a farm girl, and I finally had Edna's hog maw," Mrs. Shearer said, attesting to its wonderful flavor.

"You don't have to eat the stomach -- you can just eat the stuffing."

Most of Mrs. Dubbs' recipes use foods you could buy at any grocery.

"We tried not to get too many weird recipes," Mrs. Shearer said.

Mrs. Shearer's five-year plan includes a series of books specializing in low-fat and microwave cooking, if she can talk Mrs. Dubbs into it, and one that has traditional recipes.

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