Throughout the culinary world, it is safe to say there are few names as well-known as Mary Lansing. From her many years in broadcasting to her numerous books that have put good cooking within the range of all, Miss Lansing is revered by all who value culinary knowledge and a certain way with presentation. Certainly, had she not paved the way, there might never have been a Julia Child, a Delia Smith, or even a Rachael Ray. Mary Lansing blazed the trail for them all.
She was born in East Broadbent, a medium-sized town in New Jersey, in 1912. Miss Lansing's mother, Delphine (neé Cranleigh-Buxford), was a native of Selsdon-upon-Mire, Middlesex, and was a second cousin to Colonel (retired) Roger Percy, father of the famed war hero and raconteur John Thomas Cholmondeley-Minge. Her father, Milford Lansing, owned and operated a restaurant in East Broadbent; the two met and married during Miss Cranleigh-Buxford's grand tour of the United States in late 1911.
Mary's education was of the usual sort; grammar school, secondary school, and two years at the Althorp School for Domesticated Young Ladies in Millstone, New York. At the conclusion of her formal schooling, Mary's real education perhaps commenced when she returned to East Broadbent to help out in her father's restaurant. It wasn't long before she demonstrated a real, though underdeveloped, talent in the kitchen. Mary became famous for her way with not only the dishes of the day, but for her ability to manage the restaurant staff, particularly the many busboys employed by her father.
Her parents soon realized that her culinary talents, at least, deserved further training, and Mary was shipped off to the prestigious LePetomaine School of Cookery at Santa Vaca, California, for two further years of schooling. Upon her return, somewhat older and wiser, she resumed her duties at the family restaurant. This time, she concentrated on her cooking talents and soon controlled the entire restaurant menu. Miss Lansing turned her father's restaurant into one of the most popular eateries on the Eastern Seaboard.
As luck would have it, one evening in 1932 when the featured entree was the creation that would become her signature dish, 'Mary Lansing's Wenge River Bean and Noodle Fantasy', it so happened that a prominent radio producer was among the clientele that evening. Entranced by the dish, he offered to feature Mary in a 15-minute daily cooking program and signed her to a contract on the spot. “Cooking with Mary Lansing” debuted in June of that year and was an immediate success. The program was expanded to a full half-hour in April, 1933, and continued to enjoy impressive ratings.
With the coming of World War II, Miss Lansing determined to contribute to the war effort. Not only did she become a fixture at the local USO, becoming quite popular with the servicemen, but she shifted the focus of her program to stretching food and food budgets. Through such recipes as 'Mary Lansing's Mock Turkey Supreme', and her many uses for ordinary ingredients such as oatmeal, chicken fat, and cayenne pepper, Miss Lansing helped ensure that many Americans continued to eat well during the lean war years. It was during this time that she published the first of her many cookbooks, Food Goes to War with Mary Lansing.
In the 1950s, Miss Lansing pioneered the use of gelatin in savory dishes (her 'Mary Lansing's Eastbourne Jellied Chicken Surprise' remains a classic). By this time, she was the hostess not only of her original radio program, but also of an expanded-theme program, “Around the House with Mary Lansing”. There, she offered housekeeping tips, homespun wisdom, and (of course) cooking ideas and hints. This program was as successful as her original program, and Miss Lansing remained as popular with the public as ever, a popularity that was boosted with the publication of her Let's Get to Cooking with Mary Lansing in 1954. Indeed, she displayed a certain talent for self-promotion; her few critics suggested this was at the root of her popularity, assertions that did little to diminish her standing with the cooking public.
With the coming of television, Miss Lansing began to consider the possibilities offered by that new medium. After much consultation with her producers, “Mary Lansing's Kitchen” debuted in the fall of 1955 to general acclaim. Now hosting two radio programs and a television show, Miss Lansing was busier than ever. The pressure of work began to tell on her, and thus by 1962 both radio programs came to an end in favor of increased concentration on her television program, now expanded to a full hour. Another best-seller resulted when she published Gracious Entertaining with Mary Lansing in late 1967.
As the public's tastes changed during the 1970s, many television programs fell out of favor. Miss Lansing's fell victim to shifting tastes, and “Mary Lansing's Kitchen” was cancelled in 1973. Undaunted, in the next few years she published four more cookbooks, one of which (Eating Hip with Mary Lansing) was an unexpected, enormous success. Suddenly back in the public eye, Miss Lansing was approached by the Public Broadcasting Service to host a new, updated cooking show. “Mary Lansing Cooks!” debuted on PBS in the spring of 1978, and was a staple of that network until she voluntarily retired the show in 1991. The following year, Miss Lansing published her first book of country-style cooking, Who The Hell's in the Kitchen with Mary!, followed by a volume of ethnic cookery, With Mary You Should Be Cooking.
Miss Lansing continued to cook, teach, and lecture all through the 1980s and 90s, and appeared at many colleges and cooking schools as a guest speaker and instructor. In 2002 she celebrated her 70th year in broadcasting by returning to radio with “Mary Lansing's Eat Right” for National Public Radio, with its companion volume, Healthy? Mary Lansing Knows Healthy Eating!. There, she offers tips, tricks, and recipes for eating right, such as her well-known 'Mary Lansing's Hialeah Watercress Supreme'.
As fit as ever in her 90s, Mary Lansing is today a living legend of the culinary world. She shows no signs of slowing down; indeed, she has been engaged, as part of her 100th birthday celebrations, to create the Inaugural Dinner for the US president-elect in 2012. Her latest cookbook, Cooking the 21st Century with Mary Lansing, is to be published later this year.