Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Marian Morash: The Cook Who Inspired Us to Eat Our Vegetables!

July 13, 2023 Think THF

My friend Jennifer introduced me to Marian Morash’s The Victory Garden Cookbook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982) in 2022. She explained that the cookbook was her mother's go-to wedding present. When Jennifer and her daughter saw a feature article about Mrs. Morash and her husband in Better Homes & Gardens (2017) they wrote her. They thanked her for the inspiration the cookbook provided three generations of cooks in Jennifer's family, and the modest Beard-Award-winning chef, author and TV personality wrote back, amazed that the cookbook could still be found.

Marian’s inspiration came from none other than Julia Child who passed along partially cooked foods from a cooking show that Marian’s husband, Russell Morash, piloted in 1962. The following summarizes the connections that laid the groundwork for the influential Victory Garden Cookbook.

The Victory Garden Cookbook 1982
Dust jacket, The Victory Garden Cookbook (1982). / THF708642

The Victory Garden Cookbook 1982 Inside Cover
Hardcover, The Victory Garden Cookbook (1982). / THF708645

Morash's Background and Inspiration

Morash’s husband, TV producer Russell Morash, first encountered Julia Child, co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1962), on the WGBH-TV show I’ve Been Reading, in an episode likely broadcast on February 19, 1962. Child captivated WGBH-TV staff and viewers with her cooking demonstration, and the station decided to produce three pilot episodes of The French Chef. These aired in 1962 on July 26 (the omelet), August 2 (coq au vin) and August 23 (the souffle). The new series, The French Chef, debuted February 11, 1963. Marian’s husband, Russell Morash, produced the new series. The half-prepared recipes that Russell salvaged from the show, along with Julia Child’s directions written to Marian so she could complete the cooking, nurtured the nascent chef. In 1975, Marian co-founded Straight Wharf Restaurant in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and ran it as executive chef.

The same year that Straight Wharf launched, Russell Morash branched out, launching Crockett’s Victory Garden at WGBH-TV in Boston in April 1975 (later named The Victory Garden). The time was right for such a do-it-yourself show. The energy crisis of the early 1970s caused people to be more economically thrifty, and gardening provided a means to that end. Public interest sustained this first television gardening show in the United States and helped keep it on the air for 30 years. When it ended in 2015 (as The Victory Garden's EdibleFeast) it was the longest running weekly garden series in the United States (and just a few years behind the BBC’s Gardener’s World, launched in 1968 and still in production).

Marian Morash

Russell and Marian Morash of the Television Program The Victory Garden circa 1991
Russell and Marian Morash of the TV Program The Victory Garden, circa 1991. / THF707550

The Victory Garden Show and its Influence

James Crockett, who hosted The Victory Garden until he died in 1979, so inspired Russell that his gardening prowess gave Marian a lot to work with in her kitchen. Marian’s expertise grew through her work at Straight Wharf Restaurant, too, and Marian also worked as executive chef on Julia Child’s short-lived Julia Child & More Company, which aired in 1978 and 1979. Then, in 1979, Marian became a regular on The Victory Garden, demonstrating vegetable cooking in her own kitchen for more than 20 years between 1979 and 2001.

The Victory Garden Cookbook began to take form when Judith Jones, editor of Julia Child’s cookbooks, envisioned a comprehensive overview of common garden vegetables from planting to plating. The result is an easy-to-use cookbook focused on 37 vegetables, arranged alphabetically. The more than 800 recipes please the most fastidious cooks. The growing tips, harvesting and storage advice please the most fastidious gardeners too. The combination fulfills the promise of “a vegetable encyclopedia for gardeners who cook and cooks who wish to garden.”

Neither Russell nor Marian, despite Emmys and a Beard Award, ever rested on their laurels. Instead, Russell launched another do-it-yourself show on WGBH-TV. This Old House debuted in 1979 as a one-time, 13-part series. In its 19th season (1998), Julia Child and Marian Morash joined regulars Norm Abram and Steve Thomas to design a dream kitchen for a colonial house in Milton, Massachusetts.

Norm Abram, Marian Morash, Julia Child, and Steve Thomas in Promotional Image for This Old House: Milton 1998
Norm Abram, Marian Morash, Julia Child and Steve Thomas in Promotional Image for This Old House: Milton, 1998. / THF707554

Legacy of the Morash Couple

You can read more about Marian and Russell Morash in articles published online. One by their granddaughter Madeleine Cohen for Oldways includes a personal overview of their remarkable work over decades. Oldways Preservation Trust recognized the couple with the 2020 K. Dun Gifford Local Hero Award and described Russell as “the father of today’s reality and Do-It-Yourself TV,” and Marian as a chef “who introduced us to the simple pleasures of the garden and the sea, making cooking approachable and fun. . . . You’d have to have been living on the moon not to have felt the impact of their work.”

I now have a dog-eared copy of The Victory Garden Cookbook and am putting it to good use.

Debra A. Reid is curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford.

recipes, gardening, by Debra A. Reid, agriculture