Eat Like the Stars: Screen Couples That Cook—and Gena Rowlands’ and John Cassavetes’ Cherry Torte

by Jenny Hammerton

There is something romantic about cherries, so I think it’s absolutely appropriate that the month that features Valentine’s Day is also National Cherry Month.

Buddy Rogers and Mary Pickford share a sweet treat with My Best Girl director Sam Taylor.

Buddy Rogers and Mary Pickford share a sweet treat with My Best Girl director Sam Taylor.

I’ve been thinking about Hollywood couples that came as a team recipe-wise. When asked for some favorites for a book published in 1938, Mary Pickford made sure her husband Buddy Rogers got a name check, too. Was it Mary or Buddy who got their aprons on to make Praline Penuche Fudge? Did they spend a day in the kitchen making it together?Or did they feed it to each other in a lovey-dovey style once their cook had finished rustling some up? We will probably never know.

When Fred MacMurray wasn't cooking up a storm at the family ranch, he'd serenade wife June Haver.

When Fred MacMurray wasn’t cooking up a storm at the family ranch, he’d serenade wife June Haver.

When June Haver and Fred MacMurray appear together in the recipe books, it’s clear who wears the trousers, with Fred’s ownership of each dish clearly appearing in their titles: Fred MacMurray’s Favorite Pumpkin Pie and Fred MacMurray’s Favorite Super Flemish Pot Roast. I must try the pot roast, anything with “super” in its name has got to be good, hasn’t it?

PowellAllyson

“Beef stew for dinner, honey?” Morning coffee with Dick Powell and June Allyson.

June Allyson and Dick Powell proffered up their joint recipe for Cream Cheese Salad for a collection of film star recipes in 1953. Dick definitely enjoyed rattling the pots and pans and didn’t mind being photographed with a whisk in his hand. But June cooked too, claiming that her Beef Stew a la Dick Powell was “the greatest stew you’ll ever encounter.” Dick loved it so much that June had to make “barrels” of it and “chuck it in the freezer.”

“Take a deep drag and think of my mom’s kourabiedes." Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes at work on some kitchen-sink drama.]

“Take a deep drag and think of my mom’s kourabiedes.” Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes at work on some kitchen-sink drama.]

Another celebrity couple that liked to cook: screen legends Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes. Talking to food writer Johna Blinn, an enthusiastic Gena said that she liked to prepare unusual dishes. She’d been taught how to cook basic Greek dishes such as spanika by John, and raved about her mother-in-law’s kourabiedes. I’m not sure if the recipe Gena and John offered up to the Motion Picture Mothers organization in the 1970s has its roots in something Greek, but it is utterly delicious. [Ed. Note: EatDrinkFilms Publisher Gary Meyer talks about John Cassavetes in his Movies: Lost and Maybe Found.]

Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes Cherry Torte

Gena Rowlands     “Listen, punk, you will not leave this kitchen without some cherry torte!”

“Listen, punk, you will not leave this kitchen without some cherry torte!”

Serves 6

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 can sour cherries (drained) [reserve the syrup]
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda [bicarbonate of soda]

Work sugar into butter, add beaten egg, add flour, nuts and cherries mixed with soda. Bake in a 9” x 9” square pan in a 300 degrees [150 degrees C / gas mark 2] for 45 minutes. (Requires no liquid for mixing, cherries provide moisture.)

Hot Sauce to Serve Over Squares of Torte

  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • Syrup from drained cherries
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch [cornflour]

Cook until thickened.

It’s quite difficult to mix in the cherries without crushing some, but don’t worry, all to the good.  When cooked, the torte has a lovely chewy texture, a bit like a brownie, and doesn’t rise in the oven. Cut into squares it’s a real treat, with or without the sauce.

It’s virtually impossible to get sour cherries in syrup here in the UK, so I just use ordinary tinned cherries. The sauce that is made with their syrup is pretty sweet, so I’m going to persist in searching for sour ones.

Happy Cherry Month. Even if you don’t get around to making this torte, you can buy some fresh cherries, pick out ones that are two to a stalk and pop them over your ears. Then you can pretend to be Carmen Miranda!


Jenny HammertonJenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5,500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters. You can read about and buy her new book  Cooking with Joan Crawford here.

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