EVER SINCE THE beginning, the secret recipes of Franke’s Cafeteria have been the stuff of recipe-seeker lore. For decades—though primarily from the 1950s through the ’90s—the food pages of the local newspapers were inundated with readers writing in to ask for certain dishes. The result was that most recipes included qualifiers such as “like” or “style.” Glazed Sweet Potatoes (Something like Franke’s Cafeteria’s candied sweets) [October 1992]. Egg Custard Pie Like Franke’s [October 1986]. Scalloped Eggplant, Franke’s Style [July 1973]. Spaghetti Sauce Recipe Like That Served at Franke’s [February 1996].
Such requests were so often repeated that one columnist, when asked for the strawberry jam cake in March 1960, responded, syntax splintering, as if on the brink of exasperation.
“Really. Franke’s ought to send me some ‘payola,’ instead of which the fiends won’t even authenticate a recipe, though I can get all sorts of house specialties from the Drake, the Waldorf, the Ambassadors.”
Best as we can figure, there was just one occasion when Franke’s broke its Wonkaesque silence and revealed, officially, a recipe:
On Feb. 9, 1961, the following “Down Idea Alley” column ran in the Arkansas Gazette:
After lo these many years that this column has seen requests for recipes from Franke’s—we received this very nice letter.
Dear Mrs. Woods:
On January 19, you printed a letter from Mrs. James Cooper of Monticello, in regard to a “delicious and unusual cottage cheese salad” that we serve. Through the years, you have been good enough to publish letters from time to time which include our name; and though you haven’t done it to get our name in the paper, of course, we have appreciated the nice publicity that comes from being mentioned in your column. As you know, it’s been our policy over the years to not give our recipes out, since we feel it is our only “stock in trade.” However, we have decided this time to send on to you the recipe that Mrs. Cooper inquired about, either for sending to her or printing in your column, or whatever you might wish to do with it.
Cottage Cheese Onion Salad
1/2 package lemon Jell-O, 24 oz. size
1 quart boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart mayonnaise
1/4 cup pimientoes [sic], finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, grated
1/4 cup green pepper, grated
1 quart celery, finely cut
1 quart cottage cheese, fine curd or mashed through sieve
Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water. Add salt and sugar, and set in pan of ice to cool. When cool and beginning to set, add mayonnaise, pimientoes [sic], onion, green pepper, celery and cottage cheese. Mix well together. Put into molds and chill. Unmold and serve on shredded lettuce. Yield: 20-24 molds.
THOUGH WE MIGHT’VE preferred the scalloped eggplant casserole or egg custard—and definitely have mixed feelings about savory Jell-O—we’ll take it as a consolation prize. … And meet you at the Rodney Parham location.