“Picture it: Miami, 1987…Four women, friends. They laugh, they cry, they eat. They love, they hate, they eat. Every time you turn around, they eat.”
~ Sophia Petrillo
Over the course of seven seasons and 180 episodes, the four Golden Girls did a lot of eating. Many of the show’s most memorable scenes started or ended around their Miami kitchen table (which mysteriously had three chairs, despite four people living in the house). They’re most famous for their passionate love affair with cheesecake, but in practice, the girls were as indiscriminate with food as they were with…never mind.
While Blanche was the least domestic (she couldn’t pronounce the word “bleach”), and Dorothy’s cupcakes were “dry and tasteless,” the other two women of the house were frequently seen cooking. Their tastes, however, could not have been more different.
SOPHIA’S ITALIAN CUISINE
As the archetypal strong-willed Sicilian grandma, Sophia Petrillo is fiercely proud of her skill in the kitchen. She claims that her cooking saved her marriage, and that she nearly went into the frozen pizza business with Mama Celeste. Throughout the show’s run, Sophia makes many Italian and Italian-American dishes, from baked ziti to zabaglione, a wine-flavored custard. Her most cherished recipe is salsa grandiosa, a sauce prepared once a year in her home village on the Festival of the Dancing Virgins. Passed down through Sophia’s family for centuries, it has 152 ingredients, with each new generation improving upon the recipe in some way (“it was my great-grandmother who added heat.”)
Sophia often clashes with those who do not share her taste in food. She discretely dumps sushi into her purse while on a date with a Japanese guy and walks off the set of a pizza commercial when she tastes their “mighty lousy” product. At home, she derides Rose’s cooking as “garbage” and “Scandinavian crap on a cracker,” while Rose, with her trademark innocence, unknowingly insults Sophia by comparing her to Chef Boyardee.
ROSE’S SAINT OLAFIAN CUISINE
Rose Nylund has a penchant for traditional recipes from her hometown of Saint Olaf, Minnesota, the peculiar names and flavors of which are a frequent punchline. Most of these dishes are made up to sound vaguely Scandinavian, playing off the character’s Nordic heritage. Rose’s mouth waters at the thought of eggs gafloofen or pigs in a svengabluten, and her housemates are revolted by the stench of sparehuven krispies until she explains that if you hold your nose while eating, they taste like strawberries and ice cream.
Some of Rose’s Saint Olafian recipes are based on real Nordic ones. These include her (in)famous fish balls, a common sight on Scandinavian tables, and her herring pie, which sounds similar to Norwegian fiskegrateng (fish au gratin), a creamy baked casserole. In one episode Rose serves Swedish stuffed cabbage leaves called kåldolmar (the name is related to Greek dolma, stuffed grape leaves). In another episode, Rose prepares a “Saint Olaf friendship cake” called vanskapkaka to win over an unfriendly coworker (Rose: “Want to see my vanskapkaka?” Sophia: “Only if I don’t have to show you mine.”) Vänskapkaka really does mean “friendship cake” in Swedish, and although the dish is fictional, its name resembles a genuine Swedish dish called “visiting cake.” According to legend, this lemon cake topped with a sweet almond crust got its name from its preparation; so easy that if you start when visitors are coming up your driveway, you can have the cake ready by the time they sit down for coffee.
But for the most part, Saint Olaf’s culinary delights, from gerfloogenblergen to yak intestine crackers, belong to the realm of fantasy. Not that fantasy stopped someone from creating an entire Pinterest board with recreations of Rose’s recipes.
COCO: THE LOST GOLDEN GIRL
True Golden Girls fans know that in the pilot episode, the girls had another culinary expert among them: Coco, a gay male live-in cook. The only thing he’s seen making is enchiladas rancheras (Dorothy: “Why don’t you just shoot me?”), and after Season One, Episode One, he never appears or is spoken of again.
The official in-universe explanation for Coco’s disappearance is that after Sophia moves in with the girls in the pilot episode, she takes over the cooking. The actual explanation, according to a 2015 Atlantic article, is much more interesting. Coco was not originally part of the show’s concept. Concerned how audiences would react to a sitcom with an all-female main cast–a novelty at the time–the network introduced him to provide a male point of view, and made him gay so there would be no sexual tension within the house. The girls were so well-received by audiences that Coco was written out as unnecessary, with many of his jokes, like his job, going to Sophia. Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia and Rose would spend the next seven seasons as a quartet, sharing food as they shared laughter, one-liners and love.
Happy April Fool’s Day!*
* Also Easter. Also the anniversary of the accession of the Roman Emperor Majorian, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, and the birth of Rachmaninoff. There’s always something to be happy about.