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'Taste of Home' meets a devoted reader
For readers of Taste of Home, preparing food for friends and family is a reward.
By Chris Sherman, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007
THONOTOSASSA - Taste of Home doesn't need Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray to make it the biggest food magazine in the world. Not when it has Kathy Kruse and thousands more home cooks sending in recipes - plus millions of readers who want to try them.
Kruse, 55, goes to the magazine to get inspiration, and to share her own. That's when she's not hosting 16 bridal showers for various nieces. Or cooking Thanksgiving dinner. There were 79 guests this year (16 more couldn't make it).
Familiar home-cooking and entertaining is what you'll find in Taste of Home - and in the ranch house on McIntosh Road with the white columns out front. Taste of Home depends on people like Kruse who like to cook. The magazine boasts 4.5-million subscribers, more than Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Food & Wine combined. It is full color but not slick, no ads but lots of recipes.
Every year, readers submit 90,000 recipes to food director Diane Werner and a staff of 19 who edit and test them. "Our recipes are from real people who do cook, made with nothing unfamiliar or too unusual.
I think that's what people do appreciate about all of our magazines and books. They aren't intimidating and yet they taste fabulous and often look spectacular as well," Werner says.
It was clear that home cooking is happily alive when the magazine, Werner, met its readership, Kruse, in a kitchen in rural Hillsborough County last month.
Werner doesn't fret about yuppie kitchen anxiety and anti-domestic prejudice or fantasies of culinary entrepreneurship. Ironically, Taste is younger than most of the glossy foodie magazines. It is now owned by Reader's Digest but it was started in 1993 by the publisher of Farm and Ranch Living, Country Woman, Reminisces and other magazines for people "who live in or long for the country."
That's Kruse. She calls herself a farm girl from small-town Wisconsin. She married one of five sons of a local preacher. They all moved to the same 11 acres here and travel the country selling Bible stories on tape and MP3 format at state fairs.
So when Werner came to the Tampa Bay area to promote the massive Taste of Home Baking Book, packed with recipe tips and photos (protected by two splash guards), we asked her to demonstrate a recipe for a devoted reader.
Werner and Kruse had fun with pumpkin streusel muffins, Wisconsin memories and tales of the kids, but it was the out-of-town expert who was wowed.
Kruse had been happy to have us over and too much a hostess to stop at muffins.
"We need to have something more," so she set her kitchen table like a magazine-cover tea party with stacks and tiers of yellow depression glass and antique china, flowers and linens.
While the muffins were in the oven, Kruse rolled out tomato herb soup, mini Reuben canapes, chocolate chip cookies and a cake swirled with a shell of chocolate and cream, among other things.
Even the iced tea had drama. A cleanly crisp glass of peach, mango and lemon was accomplished by a clever mix of tea bags.
Still the subject was baking. Both Kruse and Werner love the warmth and charm of pulling goodies from the oven and like using buttermilk. "Anyone who has ever taken time to bake something and received the compliments and smiles that follow" shares it, Werner said. That's one reason she wanted to bring the recipes together in an easy-to-read book.
Werner is a careful baker who sticks to recipes and measures carefully; Kruse trusts her instincts.
When they had trouble creaming butter and sugar until light and fluffy by hand, Kruse suggested going to the Bosch, her big German universal mixer.
Streusel topping was nice, but Kruse had pecans on hand. Why not?
Kruse and Werner agree that home cooking is changing.
"There was a time you would not have found sun-dried tomatoes in a Taste of Home book," Werner admits.
Still, she's not pushing the new and unusual. "There will always be the comfortable, at-home feelings of a good meal or recipe that everyone can identify with. Nothing out of the ordinary, just plain good-tasting."
Kruse is more adventurous and eager to duplicate any dish she has met in a restaurant. "I have trouble with Thai and the coconut milk curry," but she's not giving up.
Her flexibility and unflappability come from personality - and preparation. "You have to be ready out here when you can't get baking powder at the Stop and Go."
The Kruse house was planned carefully during long hours in trailers on the fair circuit. She dreamed up a kitchen with two ovens and a long marble island with an extra sink so someone can wash dishes and not interfere with the cooking. Her husband William thought of French provincial furniture and columns. Thrifty buys and DIY labor made them a reality.
So Thanksgiving for nearly 80 wasn't impossible. Kruse has nine china hutches of dishes and once got a deal on 150 charger plates.
She set up two tents outside for tables and a third for drinks, laid out three 20-pound birds, potluck sides and desserts in the dining room and lined up the family's next generation for dish duty in the kitchen.
Only three turkeys? Taste of Home would love her answer: "We're not big meat eaters, I guess we love our pies too much."