There’s a recipe in Best of Bridge Holiday Classics that author Mary Halpen said exemplifies what has made The Best of Bridge one of the most successful brands in Canadian publishing – now at about four million books sold. The Christmas Morning Wife Saver (see sidebar for recipe) is easy to follow, using simple ingredients to create delicious foods that everyone in the family loves, according to Halpen, one of the original eight authors of the nine Best of Bridge cookbooks. It’s that modest premise of hand-lettered recipes – with a few jokes thrown in here and there – and of course, delicious, straightforward recipes that are the hallmark of the now 40 year-old brand.
“When we started, we only had a couple of rules – the book had to lie flat – hence the trademark, coil binding – and the ingredients for every recipe had to be available at the local supermarket. Each recipe was tasted by all of us, and made by at least three or four of us, so it didn’t take long until we gained people’s trust. People would even say, “I’m cooking a recipe for the first time for company.” That says something,” said Halpen, now on a Western Canadian tour to promote the latest manual, a collection of 225 recipes for special occasions.
The ebullient 73-year-old Halpen – who lives the mantra, “find something you love to do in life, and figure out how to get paid for it,” is still the face of The Best of Bridge – though the eight longtime friends retired the company in 2008 and now work in co-operation with publisher Robert Rose to offer collections taken from the original books dating back to 1975. In the last six years, Best of Bridge collections on slow cooking, home preserving, and new recipes have added another handful of bestsellers to the already wildly popular lineup – an unlikely success story if there ever was one.
“We were just bridge-playing moms – friends who looked forward to the food more than the bridge playing,” laughed Halpen on how the company came to be. “On that 1975 bridge weekend at the cottage, we said we should write a cookbook, just to prove we could start a business. We never thought we’d be doing it this long, and every time we’d say ‘this is our last book,’ another recipe would come in. It has always been about our love of food, and having fun.”
While the recipes evolved from family-focused simple fare using ingredients the husbands described as the ‘three m’s – marshmallows, mayonnaise and mushroom soup’ – to ethnic recipes like butter chicken and pad thai, Halpen said all the books are filled with recipes “that just work – it may not be the only lemon bar recipe out there, but we know ours is never intimidating and it’s good every time you make it.”
This time around, the Bridge ladies’ favourite holiday recipes are featured – roasts, special entrees and new recipes for everything from holiday buffets and potlucks to festive libations and treats. Halpen said what makes this collection extra special are the chapters devoted to leftovers and food gifts –from homemade toffee to seasoned nuts and preserves. As always, the ladies promise simple recipes with gourmet results.
Best of Bridge Holiday Classics (and the entire Best of Bridge collection) is available at Costco and Chapters/Indigo as well as through local independent booksellers like the Bookstore on Perron.
Christmas Morning Wife Saver
A Canadian tradition – don’t wait for Christmas! Make breakfast the night before and enjoy your morning.
16 slices white bread, crusts removed
Slices of Canadian back bacon or ham
Slices of shard (old) cheddar cheese
to 1 tsp. dry mustard
c. minced onion
c. finely chopped green pepper
1 to 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 c. milk
Crushed corn flakes cereal
Put 8 pieces of bread in a 13 by 9-inch buttered glass baking dish. Add pieces to cover dish entirely. Cover bread with thinly sliced bacon. Top with slices of cheddar cheese, cover with slices of bread. In a bowl, beat eggs and pepper, add mustard, onion, green pepper, Worcestershire, milk and Tabasco. Pour over bread, cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, melt butter and pour over top. Cover with cereal. Bake at 350F uncovered, 1 hour. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh fruit.