Phyllis Quinn

Many years ago I became so ill that I could not get off the sofa for several weeks, and this is when Phyllis Quinn, personal chef, swooped in to rescue us from starvation. Yet I did not know then what I know now. The day that Phyllis landed at my door with open arms ready to feed and nurture our family, I made a dear friend I would treasure for 25 years.

Eventually, in 2014, Phyllis brought her “Ask Chef Phyllis” cooking Q&A from her social media pages to our Selene River Press blog. The SRP blog hosts a community of health practitioners, foodies, and authors. Each with their own unique voice, our writers represent a wide range of knowledge and speak to a wide range of people. Yet Phyllis stands out, just as she did in life. Her voice—full of joie de vivre and a larger-than-life ability to love—captures you into a hug of acceptance and comfort. In her way, Phyllis was a healer, and food was her medicine.

We were thrilled to publish two little books by Phyllis that she originally planned to use as material for her Udderly Cultured cheese-making classes. When life took her in a different direction, she discontinued the classes, but her audience still had questions. One reader asked, “Can you find the recipe for veal piccata that was served at the Italian Pavilion during the 1939 World’s Fair?” Phyllis not only found the recipe but somehow brought the fair to life with her storytelling. “My husband is gluten intolerant. What cake can I make for him on Valentine’s Day?” asked another. To which Phyllis answered with a Gluten-Free Chocolate Flourless Cake that would make anyone’s Valentine’s day sweeter.

As the word got out about her writing, even more people discovered Phyllis’s homey, kitchen-tested recipes and the fundamental cooking skills she wrote about in her books.

Until her last days, Phyllis remained young. She giggled like a girl, her smile big and full-hearted even in her 80th year. Still dating after widowhood, still hanging out with girlfriends, still hiking in the rough terrain of her mountain home. She shared herself fearlessly with everyone she met. You can see all of this in her wonderful blog posts, where you’ll find at least one delicious recipe waiting for you at the end.

We will miss her spirit, her force of love, her stories, and—if I leave this out she will never forgive me—her scrumptious cannolis.

We love you, Phyllis.

– Stephanie Selene Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Selene River Press

Our Favorite Phyllis Quinn Posts

I only knew Phyllis through her words. So many stories. So many memories. And so many wonderful meals.

The one with the “big, ugly heirloom tomatoes” from her Poppa’s New York City garden. “Even the leaves impart a scent on your hands when you pick them, and the aroma is almost sensuous. My New York childhood is loaded with such sweet memories.”

The one with the Tapioca Pudding from the Horn and Hardart Automat in New York, a place where a “a twist of a wrist delivered a culinary treasure.”

The one with the Broccoli and Chicken Divan, “popular at ladies luncheons in the 1960s.” (I always smiled when Phyllis wrote of “ladies luncheons.”)

The one with the Funeral Potatoes, an aching story of loss and loneliness written after the death of her husband. “In the Bronx, many years ago, there was an old widow woman who lived across the street. Now that old widow woman is me.”

The one with the Sauce Garibaldi, written after a vacation to Italy: “Should you ever be invited to a soiree by a stranger in a foreign land, I can only hope that your experience will be as magical as our near-midnight adventure—aboard a luxury yacht.”

And the one with the Coconut Custard Pie, written when she began dating again: “For me, being in love means being all in. Do you feel the same way?”

For Phyllis, we feel the same way.

– Heather Wilkinson, Senior Editor of Selene River Press

“Phyllis had a knack for sharing holistic health techniques in a way that made them more approachable, not just with well-crafted recipes, but through her personal stories that brought the warmth of a homecooked meal through your book or web browser,”

– Nick Armstrong, Author of Men in Kitchens

“Though I never met Phyllis in person, I felt like I truly knew her, as would anyone who has delved into her spirited writings. Phyllis had a genuine goodness to her; she cared about everyone and everything. This world is a little dimmer without her sweet spirit in it, and she will be forever missed,”

– Danielle LeBaron, Managing Editor of Selene River Press

Phyllis' Bio: In Her Own Words

My passion is cooking. I collect and enjoy reading cookbooks as if they were intriguing, can’t-wait-to-turn-the-page mystery novels. How did this come to be? Back in the 1940s, multigenerational households were not unusual in the Bronx. In addition to my immediate family of Momma, Dad, and my sister, our three-story house was filled with my maternal grandparents, Nana and Poppa, and my paternal widowed grandmother from Italy, Grandma. Here my passion for cooking and making cheeses began.

In late spring, Nana, who was French and Iroquois, would return to the age-old craft of making her own cheese. I didn’t know then that the April rains brought new grasses to the mountains. By May and early June the cows were feasting on nutrient-dense food that only fast-growing green grasses can produce. I didn’t know it was those early grasses that made the creamiest cheese possible—but I do now.

So on Sunday mornings in spring, off we’d go to Verna Mae’s Farm in the Catskills. For a child in New York City, going “upstate” meant an adventure in the country. We picked strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, and whatever was in season from May through late October. After lunch at Verna Mae’s Farm, we’d make the two-hour journey home to begin processing the foods we’d gathered. Some of this abundanza we put up for the winter.

But Nana’s real goal at the farm was to buy raw cream and milk to make butter, cheese, and ricotta. The atmosphere in our Italian-French kitchen was one of reverence for fresh, natural, uncompromised good food. My earliest memories were of watching my grandmother turn raw milk into cheese, and heirloom produce into delicious meals. I remember that feeling, the excitement when you’re about to create. My love of cooking food—its preparation, my appreciation—all started here. And, ultimately, brought this book into being.

The rural Long Island enclave of Smithtown was another arduous three-hour ride. I’d spend the time counting the numerous potato farms all the way from the Bronx. It seemed an eternity before we reached Main Street and the huge bronze statue of Whisper, Smithtown’s legendary bull.

Smithtown was also home to Poppa’s cousin Joe, the town butcher. At his shop, I learned how to dress and clean fresh chickens and ducks. I also learned all about sausage making—stretching the intestine and holding it open for Poppa and Joe as they stuffed it with ground pork and spices. Cousin Joseph taught me the different cuts of pork, veal, and beef that filled my mom’s order.

With Dad stationed in Okinawa with the Air Force, Poppa was my only father figure during World War II. Since I was the oldest grandchild, he took me everywhere, even eeling off the peer at Pelham Bay. From him, I learned to fish as well as clean and gut whatever we caught.

But my best times were visits to Aunt Lena’s house in Rye, New York. Lena wasn’t really my aunt, but she was born in the same small Italian village as my grandfather. Her family owned Cerbone’s PastryShop, and I loved the stories she told of her childhood in the warm climate outside of Naples.

I often watched Lena and her brothers make Italian and French pastries, which is another art passed down generation to generation in my family. Many years later, Lena became my benefactor, funding two semesters of formal training at The Culinary Cooking School of America in Poughkeepsie. But when her husband passed away, my formal training ended abruptly.

When I left school, I got a job at National Cash Register at Rockefeller Center in New York City, where I operated semiautomated billing and bookkeeping machines. NCR, along with Burroughs and IBM, were pioneers in what later became the computer industry.

I married Bill in October 1962, and we raised two children, Annemarie and Billy. For nearly ten years, I was a happy wife, stay-at-home mom, and homemaker. Bill went to night school, earned his engineering degree, and got hired by the Seagram building. As a good investment opportunity, we bought a bar and grill in College Point, New York. We named it Quinn’s Inn.

The inn gave us some diversified income, and eventually the business bought the building—a good thing, because even back then rents were high in New York City. For the most part, it was a self-sufficient enterprise with personnel in place. That is, until the cook broke her arm. That’s when I got my feet wet as a professional cook! I pitched in cooking and running the kitchen, making plain but wholesome food with a pleasing, homey touch. One day, our accountant Ben asked us what had changed in the kitchen. For the first time, food sales had risen above liquor sales. The twenty gallons of East Coast Chile con Carne that I cooked each and every Wednesday had put our food sales over the top!

A few years later we moved upstate, to Saratoga Springs, where I managed a dinner house in the Lake Lucerne area of the Adirondacks for almost four years. Eventually the owners divorced and sold the business. Life was changing once again. I applied for the general manager position at Chi-Chi’s, an upcoming chain of restaurants out West. I got the job, and in 1982 we moved to Denver.

One year later, I made a lateral move with Chi-Chi’s to Fort Collins. I met Dr. Barbara Mendrey and her husband, Pastor Bob. When she asked me to cook for her family, so began my next career as a personal chef.

Upon retiring to Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, in 2004, I joined a women’s group called the Mountain Gals. When I brought them my fresh mozzarella, they loved it so much that they asked for lessons. That’s how my Udderly Cultured cheese classes took off. I taught the basics of milk and cream fermentation to eager students of all ages who want to learn a sustainable skill. Lunch was included, and of course we ate from our own creations.

But why stop there?! From the classes came calls for help. One young woman wanted to know why her mayonnaise failed. Sometimes I went to their homes to remedy whatever was wrong. Other times I answered by email.

And so began my career as a food writer. Which, eventually, inspired me to write my books.

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