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  • Writer's pictureSteven Hansen

Yummy Origin Stories: Baked Grapefruit

We love food! We especially love creative recipes that were invented to make us happy.

This recipe wasn’t invented by Mrs. Houdini, but grapefruit was still a rare novelty in American households in the early 20th century when she popularized this sugary-citrussy treat.

The renowned illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) loved home cooking – dishes like his mother served during his childhood years in Budapest.

We know his favorites were chicken paprikash, spätzle, goulash, and custard bread pudding. Those were the same dishes that his wife Bess continued to cook for him throughout his life.

But Bess had a favorite dish of her own: baked grapefruit. Did Harry like it too? Well, there’s “no escaping” the fact that he probably ate it whether he liked it or not.

Baked Grapefruit Dessert [Transcribed from her handwritten recipe page]

Thoroughly wash a grapefruit, halve it, loosen meat, remove seeds and fiber.

Cover with sugar.

Place in baking pan, partially filled with water.

Bake well until top is well browned [375 degrees for 15 minutes].

Serve piping hot.

The glass or so of remining pan water containing the oil of grapefruit to be chilled and drunk later. A regular course of the latter is an EXELENT [sic] skin beautifier. I recommend both.

-- Mrs. Harry Houdini

Though he extolled a regimen of clean living and a healthy diet as a key to his physical fitness, Houdini still enjoyed hearty meals when he wasn't "in training."

In a 1907 letter to Bess, cited on the Wild About Harry site, Houdini describes a meal he relished while on a trip to Chicago:

"Had spaghetti dinner, roast beef and mashed potatoes, washed down with excellent coffee and lady fingers inserted in cream."

Photos (from top): Broiled grapefruit from McCall’s magazine, 1972; Harry Houdini with his wife Beatrice (“Bess”) and mother Cecilia Steiner Weiss; public domain/; Bess’s original recipe page,; Harry Handcuff Houdini, promotional postcard, 1899.

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