As the editor-in-chief of this magazine, I get plenty of weird letters, emails, and phone calls. The other day, I received an unsolicited manuscript by a fella who wanted us to publish an essay about—I swear on my children—his belly button. There’s the PR agent in “Los Angeles–New York” who, in a breathless email, practically demanded that we cover the second coming of clog-inspired footwear from Sweden. My favorite, though, is a recurring call from a scammer with the “Canadian Pharmacy” who has an urgent reminder for “Mr. Gary” that it’s time to refill his Viagra order. I tried to tell the man I wasn’t Mr. Gary, but now when he calls, I rise to the challenge and pretend to load up on all kinds of medicine-cabinet goodies before losing interest in the ruse.
Then there’s the tale of a woman I’ll call Jan, a subscriber who reached me on the phone in search of a pumpkin roll recipe. At first, I laughed and thought, Well played, Canadian Pharmacy guy. But something in Jan’s voice—exasperation with a pinch of hope—told me she was the real deal. Jan wanted the recipe for her 90-something-year-old mother, who had misplaced part of an ingredients list that ran in the mid-1980s in either Bon Appétit or Indianapolis Monthly. Jan had been searching for more than a decade for the lost half of the recipe—what I assumed to be the Holy Grail of pumpkin rolls.
I went to work with just one other clue: Adjacent to the recipe was an ad for an Alaskan cruise featuring Indianapolis humorist Dick Wolfsie, which pretty much ruled out Bon Appétit. I dug through the bound volumes of our magazine, concentrating on the fall months, because only degenerates eat pumpkin rolls before Labor Day. After about 30 minutes of flipping pages, I found Wolfsie in November 1986, beckoning me to join him and his wife aboard the Golden Odyssey—next to, unmistakably, the known half of the recipe.
In my excitement, I called Jan before I skipped backward a page for the missing text. I wanted her to share the thrill of discovery. She answered. “Are you ready to be eternally grateful?” I asked. She gasped. I turned the page and, for dramatic effect, lingered over a Lazarus department store ad of two overly sweatered models before revealing the results she’d been waiting a decade for: 1 cup flour, 6 tablespoons unsalted butter. That was it? “That can’t be right,” I said. I felt cheated, and worried Jan did, too. But she was overjoyed. As a reward, she promised her mother will make me what we now know to be Spice Cake with Pumpkin Mousse. It’s coming in the mail.