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Gloria Bley Miller: 1921 - 2008

by Jacqueline M. Newman

People

Winter Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(4) page(s): 18


The 1,000 Recipe Chinese Cookbook, is still in print, but its author succumbed in New York City on January 17, 2008 at age eighty-six. Gloria Bley Miller wrote this phenomenal early Chinese cookery bible and many still use it. She also wrote other books, non culinary, and gave generously of time and resources to people and institutions she adored. Many benefitted from her largess.

Born November 12, 1921, Mrs. Miller earned a B.A. from Hunter College and a Master's degree from Bank Street College. These degrees were in art and education, respectively. In 1962, she married Richard McDermott Miller, a prominent sculptor. Thanks to his continued support in all that she did, her contributions to the education of those interested in life and in Chinese cuisine were immeasurable. The above named cookbook, published in 1966 and still in print, speaks to its continued popularity, value, and enthusiastic use. Her husband's encouragement of her interests Chinese continued until he passed away in 2004.

Craig Claiborne, then of The New York Times, once wrote that her book should be treasured by anyone with serious interests in Chinese cuisine. Little did he know, when he penned those words, how many would take his recommendation to heart and cut their Chinese culinary teeth using it, my husband included.

What made this book, and still makes it valuable beyond the recipes and their variations, are the sections after them. At the end of the book are some hundred plus pages detailing ingredients needed to prepare Chinese recipes, substitutions for many of them, how to soak and store a plethora of them, and wine, tea, and other terrific sections relating to Chinese cooking. Would that her family or her publisher would put out a small item of just that material; many could use it, shop with it, etc.

Mrs. Miller not wrote books, most not in the culinary field, she also supported public institutions and other charities, and she helped individuals. At her memorial service March 19th, held at the Century Association, a chap she helped come from China to study in the United States some twenty-five years ago spoke eloquently about this fine lady who was his mentor. She financially supported his education at Columbia University and supported him philosophically, spiritually, and actually, thereafter. At that service, he spoke about this helpful, charitable, frugal, and fantastic lady who lived n Sheridan Square, shopped and ate each week in Chinatown, was personally frugal but generous to others, and who always did so much for others, himself included.

Almost one hundred people attended the service, and quite a few spoke about her. Everyone clearly loved her including Jane, who later became a friend. This lady brought along a written response from Ms. Miller to her 1970 query about ginseng. It was then, an almost unknown item in American Chinese cookery, and it still is. The letter, seen on this page, shows Miller's desire to help everyone, share her knowledge simply for the asking, and asking that others that they share theirs with her.

Harley Spiller, this magazine's Associate Editor wrote this editor that "Gloria Bley Miller's cookbook is my go-to text for Chinese cooking. I use it so much that the cover has become a pastiche of bright yellow duct tape–making it the easiest book to spot in my home. My favorite part is the Chinese-English transliteration guide for foodstuffs-–it is so helpful, I tore it out of her big book and carried it with me across Hong Kong. Her recipes are as simple as can be, the only difficult part is choosing which of the many of them she gives for each ingredient. Do you want your pork stewed, braised, red-cooked, white-cooked, long-simmered, baked, fried, or broiled? Gloria Bley Miller has answers."

                                                                                                                                                       
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