Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Strawberry Bread Recipe Prompts Copy Desk Memories

February 8th, 2009 · 6 Comments

I went to the Girls Strawberry U-Pick in Delray Beach the other day, and of course, got some strawberries. Beauties. Yes, it’s strawberry season in South Florida — that’s a story TK (to come, in news parlance) soon.

I love the Girls market, and could have spent a few hours there — not to mention a few weeks’ pay. Jams, jellies, sauces, coffees, all kinds of old-fashioned candies (BB Bats anyone?) and ice cream and cookies too.

I also bought a jar of Balsamic Sweet Onion Jam, with the Girls label on it. I will use it on a garlic pork tenderloin I’ll roast soon, but I’ll save some for a butternut squash half, too, stuffed with sage-cornbread stuffing. Possibilities are endless for stuff like this.

Out back of the market is where the strawberries are ripe and ready. They grow in these cool vertical pots, so there’s no bending to pick – and no rotted berries laying on the ground.

Then, there are the beautiful exotic birds — macaws, parrots, pheasants, quail, sleek European swan — and a giant tortoise in their lovely garden. It’s a great outing. Take money!

From the kitchen to the newsroom

I fully intended to eat the berries on my cereal, but cereal is a sometimes thing for me. Then, a trip to a private island in Georgia loomed, and I knew the berries would be headed for Rot City before I got back.

So I pulled out my files, remembering Denise’s strawberry bread. Denise Jennings was the copy desk chief at The Post when I arrived, a great singer, and a baker of this delicious bread.

Like most of my old recipes, this one carried a lot of memories. The bread took me immediately back to the early newsroom I worked in at The Post in 1983.

It was a different world

It was incredibly different than the newsrooms today – so much has changed. There was still a back shop where type was cut and pasted onto the pages, remarkably fast, by a bunch of people wielding Xacto knives. You tread gently with those folks and if you were smart, learned their favorite alcoholic beverage in case you did happen to cross them.

Between them and the press was the copy desk. Most papers still have copy desks, though we hear they’re slowly being eliminated and copy is going directly from the writer to the web or to print. That’s scary.

The copy desk staff at any paper are the unsung heroes — and occasional villians — of the news. Their main job is to catch fact, grammar and spelling errors, and smooth out copy — in short, crafting the final product from some often raw material. 

The good ones can make copy sing, knowing just the right word the reporter was trying to use and cutting unnecessary and sometimes pompous verbiage. Occasionally, a mistake was edited into a story, and reporters suddenly forget all the saves the desk made, and focus was on the mistake introduced. It was an ugly moment all around. 

Copy editors write pithy, informative headlines and captions that are their own genius — the bad ones steal from the reporters’ leads. They match photos to copy, and pull quotes that are interesting and give a page extra life. They handle sometimes numerous page remakes and deal with last-minute adds or rewrites. They do all this on deadline, of course, with an editor standing over them with a virtual whip, and a backshop and production and distribution group ready to hang someone when everything is held up.

Too many editor layers

It was a lot more fun when the “rim rats” did more work. (The copy desk is two parts: rim — those doing most of the intial work and layouts, and slot — the editors to whom the copy gets shoveled for a final read. The names come from when the desk was a horseshoe shape — the rim around the edge, with the slot editor sitting in the center of the desks, gathering copy and headlines from the rim, and signing off on it to go to the backshop.)

Today, page designers and artists do a lot of the layouts; photo editors handle photos, graphic editors handle the maps and graphics, and upper editors handle more of the copy. There are now web slotters and “producers” and other digital media types who are slowly replacing copy desk staff.

Back in the day, however, the desk ruled. There was nothing like a wild night when a story was breaking for 1A. Adrenalin was flowing, editors hollering at reporters, and photogs running around and huddling over a photo as deadline loomed.

There was a consultation on just the right headline and layout for the “package,” but while that happened, the rim was ripping up the inside pages and reworking stories — rewriting heads and resizing photos to fit a new layout for the copy now pushed inside. They cleared early zones — papers sent to outer reaches of the circulation — to concentrate on getting the final copy for the main edition as up-to-the-minute as it could be before releasing the pages.

Breaking the web

 “Can we throw a brick in the web?” was always the joke. A break in the “web,” the continuous roll of paper that fed the press, would buy time while the pressmen fixed it. Breaking the web on purpose (with a brick) was likely done, though I never personally saw it happen. Most often, we just ran late, and dealt with the note from the editor that filtered down the next day — usually with a congrats on the great story layout, etc., etc. — so the sting was minor.

If you talk to those of us displaced journalists, it’s those things we miss. The internet push, the business that’s crept into the newroom today (sell ads first, then think about content) and all the talk about new ventures leaves us cold. What happened to real news? It’s not even called news — it’s now “information.”

But desk rats in particular miss those deadlines, and having their hands deep in the production of it all, then finally, walking out to the driveway the next morning and seeing the finished product in their hands.  It’s a great feeling, being able to say, “We did it again.”

The recipe that started it all

Here’s the strawberry bread recipe I’ve tweaked from Denise.

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vanilla or plain yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup toasted nuts (pecans, almonds or walnuts)

Cream the butter and sugar till smooth in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Add vanilla and mix.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the dry mixture alternately with the sour cream in three additions, starting and ending with the flour. Mix at low speed until just combined — do not overbeat.

Stir in the strawberries and nuts by hand.

Bake in a greased loaf pan, at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in center is clean.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes; turn out and cool completely. Glaze, if desired, with a powdered sugar mixed with lemon juice. (1 cup sugar to about 1 tablespoon juice)

Bread freezes very well.

Note: This makes a great bread pudding, layered with berries and the egg mixture.

Tags: Recipes: What's Cooking!

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ksteinhoff // Feb 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    If you want to wallow in The Old Days, check out this pix at


    When I heard that The Post was going to farm out its printing to The Sun Sentinel, I made two last visits to the production department just before the place went dark.

    Even though I’ve been around newspaper presses since I was 12 years old, the magic of a press room still fascinates me.

    I subscribed to a dozen of the best photo papers in the country back in 1969 when I was plotting my next career hops. Over the next 18 months, I gradually let all the subscriptions expire except The Post because they did the best photo work in the country on a daily basis and they had, arguably, the best reproduction.

    I hope these pictures reflect some of the appreciation I feel for them. They made me look good for a lot of years.

  • 2 ksteinhoff // Feb 8, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Back in the dark ages, shortly after movable type was invented, I worked at my hometown newspaper, The Southeast Missourian, as a summer intern. The job lasted three years because they forgot to fire me at the end of the three months (mainly because I worked for peanuts).

    The copy editor, Bill (Meston, I think was his last name), had a thing about not talking to reporters.

    You’d turn in your story, wait anxiously as Bill scrawled all over it with his soft lead pencil and watch while he sidled over to your desk holding it gingerly between two fingers until he dropped it like it had been rolled in something dirty.

    Attached to your copy would be a typewritten note – usually no more than a couple of sentences long – asking a question, wanting clarification or snidely pointing out something like “Cape Girardeans do not hit each other in the rear, alas.”

    The bad thing was he was always right. Not usually right, always right.

    One day, though, I thought I had him.

    I took an obit about a woman who was married on her birthday. Same month and same day.

    I knew this was the kind of thing he would pounce on.

    I watched him work his magic on my copy and swivel over to his typewriter to pound out one of his notes (which I assumed would be something like, “Are you SURE about those dates?”).

    When he slid the note on my desk, I was sitting smugly ready.

    Until, that is, I read his comment, “I’ve heard of child brides, but this is ridiculous.”

    Yep, when I typed out the birth date and the wedding date, I put in the same year for both.

    It’s been 40 years and I can still remember the sly smile on his face as he walked back to his desk.

    I got to know Bill a lot better when I worked the copy desk. Turned out he was a nice guy, well read and whose outside-the-office hobby was NOT pulling the wings off butterflies.

    Just for the record, here’s what proofreaders looked like back in The Old Days:


    Even thought they were only supposed to flag places where the type didn’t match the copy, they still saved me from factual errors more times than I’d like to admit.

  • 3 Lurch // Feb 9, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I remember Denise, and I even remember that strawberry bread you folks brought in for the desk to sample. VERY tasty.

    Nice take on how a copy desk works. WAY too many of those rushed to the last second nights were due more to indecision on story play by the “suits” than by late breaking news. But we usually still made deadline despite them.

    It was good to have a stereotypical crusty old editor on the desk. They’d teach you something. Before pagination, we’d type our headlines on paper for the slot folks. The late-great Pete Briggs would sometimes wad the headline sheet up and toss it back across the desk to a cringing editor who would open it up to read his “NS” – NO SHIT – rewrite it. He’d also reject bureaucratic language, saying things like “There are no power ‘outages,’ just as there are no power ‘onages.’ They’re “power ‘failures.’ Period.”

    We didn’t have proofreaders in Composing. The pasteup folks weren’t even supposed to read the stories as they pasted them up. But they did anyway, and they saved us from major league embarrassing errors LOTS of times.

  • 4 Lurch // Feb 9, 2009 at 6:24 am

    When late-breaking news broke out, it WAS a good feeling to have all hell break loose, lots of late changes, tons of late-arriving copy in the rim, then STILL make deadline, or miss it by just a couple of minutes. A pilot friend, upon landing, always said “Defied death again!” But I’d say “Defied DEADLINE again.”

    It was funny when the “suits” got involved though. The managing editor was never around at go-to-press deadling, except on election nights. After doing my page layouts, I always worked in Composing, telling them where to cut the stories to fit the hole on the page and handling any other glitches. As deadline neared and I was busy signing off pages, the “suits” would look at me like “are we gonna make it?” And I’d remind them that “they won’t start the press without us.” We were all doing the best we could with the late-breaking copy and such, and if the press was a few minutes late starting, oh well……But the editor always gave me an odd look when I said that…..

    And of course there were some rough nights when after deadline we’d notice minor errors on pages and blow them off with “The way things went tonight, we’re lucky we didn’t say “F–K’ in a headline”….(don’t think we ever got THAT word in the paper, although the Evening Times came close with a typo from Hell. Their headline said “8 Arrested on Drug Counts” but someone left the “O” out of “Counts.” No, nobody got fired).

  • 5 ksteinhoff // Feb 10, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    The Times frequently had quirky front pages. My favorite:

    Aliens Land in Pahokee in Jesus is Back type on a story about illegal immigrants.

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