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A barefoot Lucy makes winemaking a barrel of laughs. Lucy and Ethel stuff themselves with runaway confections in a chocolate factory. Lucy gets hilariously tipsy making a commercial for the alcohol-based Vitameatavegamin. We’ve memorized these quintessential I Love Lucy episodes by heart. And now we can experience the cuisine behind these scenes thanks to pop culture and food writer Jenn Fujikawa’s new tribute to the hit sitcom, The “I Love Lucy” Cookbook: Classic Recipes Inspired by the Iconic TV Show.
“I Love Lucy was a huge part of my childhood. I’d watch the reruns over and over. It didn’t matter how many times I’d see them, they always made me happy,” says Fujikawa. “The food-centric episodes were my favorites, and not the ones you’d think. Everyone loves the grape-stomping and chocolate conveyor belt episodes, but when I was asked to write this book—because I know the show so well—it was the obscure episodes that immediately came to mind. Lucy and Ethel eating watercress sandwiches on a road trip, the breakfasts Lucy and Ricky had in the morning—those were all equally as important to me to be featured in the book.”
Fujikawa’s cookbook conjures up fun culinary concoctions along with memories of hysterical sitcomic scenes that have fed audiences’ need for laughter for nearly 70 years. “Ricky and Fred attempting arroz con pollo, only to end up with a kitchen explosion. Lucy adding too much yeast and creating a giant bread monstrosity. Those episodes make me smile and also make me hungry,” she says.
Lucy‘s slapstick-driven food moments find home sweet home with Ricky Ricardo’s equally expressive Latin roots in this hardback tribute’s colorful pages. “Desi Arnaz’s Cuban heritage is a huge part of the show and Ricky’s persona,” says Fujikawa. “So giving real estate to those two things was incredibly important to me.”
Reliving the show’s classic scenes via the foods they featured or inspired can encourage cheerful kitchen creativity that’s sure to help beat the blues during today’s more complex, socially isolating times. “I Love Lucy is an iconic show,” Fujikawa says. “You can’t turn on the TV and not feel happy when you see an episode. My goal was to connect that feeling to cooking so that everyone can experience the joyfulness of I Love Lucy in their homes, and I hope readers can feel the love for the show that I put into the recipes.”
Everyone Wants to Know …
BN: How much creative license did you take with these as-seen-on-TV dishes?
JF: I didn’t have to do much—of the 180 I Love Lucy episodes, you’d be surprised how many are food-related. While there are some inspired dishes, they are all based on actual episodes or themes from the show. That’s why I loved the show so much—so many of the storylines were based on cooking or eating!
BN: What prompted Lucy to cook the Cuban dish Carne de Puerco con Chile Verde? Which ingredients did you add to your recipe to round out her meal?
JF: In the episode “Lucy’s Mother-in-Law,” Ricky’s mother arrives from Cuba for a visit and Lucy was determined to make a good impression. What better way to win someone over than with comfort food? Creating a good base for the verde is key, so tomatillos, fresh cilantro—and the recipe can be adjusted so you can make it as mild or as spicy as you like.
BN: What goes into your watercress sandwiches to take these teatime favorites to the next level?
JF: In the episode “Off to Florida,” Lucy and Ethel take a road trip with a possible murderess. Honestly, it’s much more charming than it sounds. But they forget to pack their lunch, so she offers them some watercress sandwiches. What made that episode stand out to me was Lucy saying they tasted like “buttered grass.” I found that so hilarious. Watercress gets a bad wrap. It’s a superfood that’s packed with nutrients. These sandwiches definitely do not taste like buttered grass because I elevated them by adding a light crab salad mixture. Putting the crab salad on thin, buttered bread along with the fresh watercress gives the sandwiches a boost and makes them more apropos of a tea party than a possibly murderous road trip.
BN: Which I Love Lucy dishes and drinks would you recommend for a ’50s-themed night?
JF: I recommend starting off with a shrimp cocktail appetizer, then roast beef as a main course. Both of these are very much the essence of a 1950s dinner. Round it out with an iceberg lettuce salad topped with Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing, ending with a sweet Icebox Cake. Even if you’re stuffed you can’t have a ’50s-themed meal without a cocktail. The Babalú is a take on a classic Old Cuban.
BN: Can we “spoon our way to health” via your spin on Vitameatavegamin—a Bloody Mary with veggie-rich garnishes (and even bacon on a skewer!)?
JF: If you leave out the alcohol it’s actually quite a hearty vegetable juice! Vitamins, meat, vegetables. Okay, it doesn’t taste like candy, but it will put pep in your step!
BN: Nobody stomped grapes like Lucy! How did the famous episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie” influence your red wine- and rum-based Bitter Grapes Sangria?
JF: Well, if you’re going to stomp all those grapes you might as well put that energy to good use! The Bitter Grapes Sangria was inspired by the memorable scene and the idea of a beautiful fruit-filled Italian countryside. The episode is a fan favorite, and I wanted readers to be able to create their own drink to enjoy while they watched.
BN: Which episode inspired your Dozen Egg Frittata—and what energizing ingredients will help us get our “Lucy and Desi” on?
JF: In “Lucy Does the Tango,” Lucy tries to smuggle eggs out of the henhouse before Ricky finds out, and she does so by transporting them in her shirt. At that moment Ricky decides they absolutely have to practice their Tango—and you just know disaster is about to happen. The result is a soggy shirt with a ton of cracked eggs. I love a good frittata. Eggs are a good source of protein, and you can really make it your own by adding vegetables to your liking. A dozen eggs can feed a whole family, and a frittata is an easy meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.