Despite all of her onstage persona and jokes about her cooking and kitchen abilities, comedienne Phyllis Diller was a culinary wiz with a passion for dreaming up delicious recipes.
I still miss Phyllis, who we lost at age 95 in August 2012, a great and funny friend to so many. When I wrote and published my first "From the Farm" cookbook a decade ago in May 2004, Phyllis was the first to help me get the word out, by writing the foreword and a special chapter featuring some of her all-time favorite recipes.
Memories of my first cookbook prompted a recent letter I received from reader Jack Moody, who has been on the hunt for Phyllis' prized chili recipe.
"Philip: It may be 10 or more years ago, when I was able to purchase some of the best canned chili in the world. Yes. It was Phyllis Diller's Chili. After trying a can of it, I went back and purchased six more cans for my pantry. Apparently I was the only one buying it, because the shelf space at the store kept shrinking. Finally, it was no longer available and the store could not special order it for me. I have tried for years to find her recipe, even trying to contact her agent about getting the recipe. I tried again this morning to find the recipe, and found your name and recipes associated with Phyllis including in 'From the Farm.' Is her chili recipe in it or can you tell me how to get her recipe? Thank you. Any help would be appreciated. Jack Moody"
Thank you for your request Jack and for reminding others of Phyllis' commercial line of "Phyllis Diller's Philli Dilli Chili," which was manufactured in three varieties: beef, vegetarian or chicken. The line launched with much promotion in October 1987, with Phyllis and her family hosting a large garden party at her Brentwood, Calif. home to introduce her latest culinary feat with the intention of the chili being available around the country. However, you are correct. After a few years of production, and limited distribution to stores around the country, she opted to cease production. She told me the operation eventually became too cost-prohibitive.
At the time I published my first cookbook, Phyllis, who was born an only child, still wasn't quite ready to share her chili recipe with the world. She told me the original recipe came from her own mother Frances Ada, and Phyllis always savored the flavor and memories which would take her back to her youth being born and raised in Lima, Ohio. But like you, there are many who have tasted her chili and deem it as some of the best to be found.
Phyllis' son Peter died in 1998 and her daughter Stephanie, who died in 2002, also preceded her death. Daughters Sally and Suzanne and son Perry still survive. Perry, 64, is likely the best go-to guy to help locate his mom's true recipe, since he has handled much of his mother's estate and affairs, with the help of his sisters, since their mother's passing. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, since Easter is just weeks away, I'll share Phyllis' recipe for her Diller Deli-Style Potato Salad, which I kept in my file and have not ever printed or published in the past.
"This potato salad is simply sensational," Phyllis wrote on the recipe card when she gave it to me in 1988.
"And besides everything else, it's super simple to prepare."
Phyllis Diller's Deli-Style Potato Salad
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
1 cup real mayonnaise
4 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and sliced thin
2 large white onions, finely diced
Salt and black pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS: In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, sugar and mayonnaise. Boil and prepare potatoes. Gently combine the dressing mixture with the potatoes. Add in the onions and salt and pepper and adjust seasonings for desired taste. Serve gently chilled, but do not serve cold, so flavors are distinct. Makes 6 to 8 servings.