Eat Like the Stars: A Marx Brothers Menu

by Jenny Hammerton

Until fairly recently, many people in the UK had no idea what a pecan was. A bit like avocados in the 1970s, they were a rare species here, and foraging in health food shops was usually required. Now, however, they have become freely available in supermarkets and we are growing to love them, and sometimes choose them over hazelnuts or walnuts. I, for one, wholeheartedly embrace the idea of National Pecan Day on the 14th April. Let’s go nuts!

Groucho Marx as Otis B Driftwood, in a scene from A Night at the Opera (1935). Credit: MGM Studios/Archive Photos/Getty Images.

Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood, in a scene from A Night at the Opera (1935). Credit: MGM Studios/Archive Photos/Getty Images.

Sometime around 1945, Groucho Marx invited newspaper columnist Earl Wilson and his wife Rosemary to dinner. “There’ll be a lot of celebrities there, and booze and fried chicken, Thursday night at 6 o’clock. Would you come?” The Wilsons were thrilled to be invited, having never met Groucho before, and Earl excitedly asked, “We sure will! What’s your address?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” said Groucho.

Credit: Good Day.

Credit: Good Day/ChooseCreative.com.

They wheedled it out of him, and at the party they had pan-fried chicken with Romanian Mamaliga, a creamy, buttery, cheesy cornmeal dish. For dessert, date and pecan pie was served. They must have charmed the recipe out of Groucho’s second wife Kay Marvis too, as Rosemary and Ruth Pool included it in The Beautiful Wives Cookbook , published in 1970.

Date and Pecan Pie

  • 115g / ½ cup butter
  • 95g / ½ cup sugar
  • 120ml / ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 120ml / ½ cup maple syrup
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon
  • 120g / 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 75g / ½ cup chopped dates
  • A pie crust

Work butter until creamy; add sugar, syrups and eggs. Stir in vanilla and bourbon and mix well. Add nuts and dates and pour into a 20cm / 8-inch pie shell and bake one hour in moderate 350 degrees oven (175 degrees C / gas mark 4).

Films featuring the Marx Brothers are full of jokes involving food, and off-screen too, it’s a subject for much clever wordplay. Anyone who has had bananas hanging around their kitchen for too long will know the truth in Groucho’s classic observance: “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.”

In their heyday, the Marx siblings offered several favourite recipes to cookbook compilers. Chico liked Macaroni a la Lido, Harpo was fond of a Mixed Cabbage Roast and Groucho shared his technique for making matzo balls in a 1933 cookbook entitled Famous Recipes by Famous People . I’d never eaten matzo balls before trying Groucho’s recipe for these, and I absolutely love them.

It is said that after eating matzo ball soup three days in a row, Marilyn Monroe exclaimed: “Isn’t there any other part of the matzo you can eat?” This may be apocryphal, but I like to think that if she did say this, it was said tongue in cheek. I’m sure Groucho would have got a kick out of it if the story is true….

The Marx Brothers and Thelma Todd in Horse Feathers (1932).

The Marx Brothers and Esther Muir in A Day at the Races (1937).

Matzo Balls

  • 5 tea matzos
  • 4 tablespoons melted chicken fat
  • 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped / minced
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Matzo meal
  • Chicken broth to serve
Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont in A Night at the Opera (1931).

Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont in At the Circus (1939).

Soak tea matzos in cold water, and when soft, drain and squeeze dry. Brown onion in chicken fat and add to matzos. Then add the egg, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and stir until thoroughly blended. Add enough matzo meal to hold contents together and roll into balls about the size of the yolk of a hard boiled egg. Place in the ice box / refrigerator for three or four hours, and when ready to serve, drop into boiling water. When they come to the top of the water, let them boil for about two to three minutes and then remove. Add two or three balls as desired to each portion of chicken broth.

Note: I use approximately 1/3 cup matzo meal (about 50g) and allow the balls to cook at a rolling boil for around 30 minutes. This results in light and velvety matzo balls!

A few last words from Groucho on recipes. “I want to caution all of you in regards to following a recipe. It’s not as simple as it might seem. For instance, I once used a recipe book to make beef stew. I boiled it for four hours, and believe it or not, it still tasted like a recipe book.”

Horizontal RuleJennyHammertonJenny 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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