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Late music educator also a cook

The life of music educator George Zimmerman, who died Jan. 1 at the age of 91, will be celebrated Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Sears Recital Hall of the Philips Humanities Center on the University of Dayton campus. The public is invited to attend.

Zimmerman was the supervisor of music for the Dayton Public Schools where he taught for 25 years, and was a music instructor at UD from 1976 to 1994.

In addition to a lifetime of teaching music with great gusto and a twinkle in his eye, George was known for his hospitality and his cooking. At tomorrow’s reception, guests can sample George’s “Blitzkuchen,” a coffeecake. We’re honoring his memory this week in “Our Good Cooks.”

“Every meal was an event at George’s table — from the delicious food and great laughter to the stimulating conversation,” says Mark Strickler, a trumpet player and former student who is president of the UD band alumni. “It was likely to include musical/singing outbursts. I always left the table with a full belly and an even fuller heart. George was a consummate host.”

Strickler says although Zimmerman never married or had any children, he had a music-based family that included thousands. “His love of life was infectious,” Strickler says. “We all wanted to be a part of his family, and he willingly added us all.”

In the university’s obituary, Michelle Tedford wrote that students remember Zimmerman for his hospitality and for introducing them to American popular music. One student, she said, came expecting the Beatles and left enthralled by Debussy and Copland.

“He would invite ravenous students for gourmet meals and sing-alongs around the piano,” Tedford wrote. “Many of his recipes ended up in his annual Christmas cards or in the many editions of his cookbook.”

Cookbook available

Zimmerman’s cookbooks included “Favorite Recipes … by George!,” and a series of his booklets “Everything Makes Me Think of Food.” His “Unofficial Guide to Ghetto Gastronomy” released by MicroPress, is available in the UD bookstore.

“For seven years I have shared favorite recipes with friends at Christmastime in little collections,” Zimmerman wrote in a book preface in the summer of 1991. “Some of my most enjoyable times with friends have been around a dinner table with good food and fellowship.”

After an angioplasty and cardiac rehab, Zimmerman changed his eating habits and his recipes, cutting down on fried foods, cookies and cakes, and substituting popcorn, hard pretzels and yogurt.

“There’s a lot of good stuff remaining, and I enjoy it all, especially lots of fruit,” he wrote in 1992 in another cookbook. “And I read labels with new interest. I still love gathering good friends around the table with light conversation and smaller portions — for me! I still include old world delights and new taste treats.”

Other reminiscences

“Having George Zimmerman as a Trotwood neighbor for a few years in the late 1960’s was a unique experience,” says Jane Hovorka of Centerville. “There was always music, food and laughter around George.”

Hovorka says among their friend’s specialties were apple flan, also stew made in a suspended cast iron pot cooking in the wood burning fireplace. She especially remembers his large wooden salad bowl.

“There was always an open bag of goldfish crackers in George’s kitchen for my young son and daughter,” Hovorka adds. “One Irish meal we shared with George at his condo in Naples, Fla., he introduced us to soda bread. After dinner George was usually at the piano playing some of his favorites, often songs from The Fantasticks.”

Hovorka says it was tradition for George to have a party with UD students to decorate his tree at Christmastime and another party to take it down several weeks later with very few needles remaining.

“Living across the street we benefited from all the vocal entertainment and everyone treasured his wonderful homemade candies especially the delicious turtles during the holidays.”

Centerville neighbors Armand and Sally Martino said in the 60s they were also invited to Zimmerman’s home for dinner with the idea they’d be helping to decorate his tree.

“He brought together three couples who had never met,” she explains. “Gourmet George fed us, and entertained us with the piano, and had his Christmas tree decorated with his marvelous ornaments from around the world. The stories that night were so hilarious, that we walked home with our sides aching. It became a yearly tradition.”

Zimmerman’s tips on cooking and entertaining

Wrote Zimmerman in a cookbook: “One thing I was taught during my sojourn in the U.S. Army Medical Corps was never serve a meal consisting of one color — such as creamed chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and cauliflower. Too bland. Not appetizing. Add a green salad, some carrots or beets.”

His other hints:

  • Vary texture: e.g. smooth, crunchy, fibrous, etc.
  • Plain graham crackers as well as chocolate pie shells come ready-made. They’re great for ice cream pies.
  • Broken olives are good for salads and are less expensive than whole ones.
  • Prepared stuffing always work and if you add some “for real” celery it makes it even better.
  • Gravy mixes work well and are as easy to prepare as any gravy and actually as tasty and probably not as lumpy.
  • And, finally, from UD retired professor of German, Edward Hatch, who with George led University community cultural travel programs to Vienna: “George once told me when baking oatmeal cookies to take them out of the oven just before they’re done, and then they will be very nice and chewy.”

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