Bette Davis: her films, her food.

A recipe and notes on some of her wondrous films to enjoy while under lock and key.

Bette Davis in the Petrified Forest, 1936

I’ll bet Bette Davis didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but the recipes she did share represent something of who she was as a person. It’s a starting-off point anyway.

She was a free-spirited woman who liked foods that brought her back to her New England roots. The Red Flannel Hash has just 4 ingredients and would’ve been served at breakfast alongside eggs. She also left us recipes for her baked beans, split-pea soup, and 3-minute egg. She enjoyed wine spritzers and cucumber salads and fresh berries.

I’ve been entranced with Bette Davis ever since seeing her for the first time in The Petrified Forest, a 1936 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard.

Occasionally my parents would find a VHS of an old classic film at the video store (remember those) and I relished them from the start. I was feeling what it must’ve felt like to be a kid in 1930’s Depression Era, sneaking into the movie house and gazing at my favorite stars from the blackness of the theater.

Davis didn’t always play like-able characters but I felt something seething in her that was so interesting. Whatever she was feeling, she conveyed it through the person she played on the screen and you could feel her sharp bite even when she was in a silent pause. She was often explosive, but even without the overt passion there was always an edge of irreverence.

Her films have stood the test of time and are still a treat to watch.

I was feeling what it must’ve felt like to be a kid in the 1930’s Depression Era, sneaking into the movie house and gazing at my favorite stars from the blackness of the theater.

One of my all-time favorites that exemplifies her explosive side is a 1934 movie called Of Human Bondage, also with Leslie Howard and based on a novel by W Somerset Maugham.

I’ve always felt that actors who are artists are not pretending. They’re instead in touch with a true part of themselves that reflects a facet of the character they’re portraying. They recognize that this is an opportunity to express a side of themselves that perhaps they’re unable to express in their real lives. Yaay! Permission to let it rip!

In my opinion, Ms. Davis was most in touch with her rage than any other emotion, and that’s fine because it served her well with the characters she played. They were almost always fiery women.

Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage, 1934

In Of Human Bondage, Davis indeed lets it rip, at the expense of poor Leslie Howard. He plays a doctor with a club foot who is madly in love with Mildred, the girl portrayed by Davis.

In one famous scene he finally puts his foot down and denies her what she wants so she screams at him wildly. You can see the violence in her face and hear it in her piercing voice. She tells him she never liked him, that it used to make her sick when she let him kiss her.

She screams,

“…and after you kissed me I always used to wipe my mouth! Wipe my mouth..!”

She was just 23 in 1934 and barely beginning her career. By the time All About Eve comes around in 1950, she’s in her early forties and needs a career boost. Her reputation was that of an excellent actress who took her work seriously, but who could be difficult and demanding.

Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders in All About Eve, 1950.

After a series of bad movies, Davis is quoted as saying that Joseph Mankiewicz resurrected her from the dead by casting her as Margo Channing.

She was nominated for an Academy Award that year. Judy Holliday won for Born Yesterday, but Davis has nothing but praise for the experience of making All About Eve.

Bette Davis’ Red Flannel Hash, with corned beef, is remade vegetarian-style. I suggest the “Dinner and a Movie” tradition: enjoy the hash while you’re wrapped up in this great movie, All About Eve.

Gary Merrill and Bette Davis in All About Eve, 1950

She plays Margo Channing, a mature stage actress who, like Davis, needs a resurrection. The other obvious parallel between her real life and the reel life, is that she and Gary Merrill, (who plays her boyfriend in the movie) fall in love in real life and stay together for 10 years. You can see and feel the chemistry between the two of them in this movie. She later said that Gary married Margo Channing and not Bette Davis, and that once the movie ended, the relationship didn’t stand a chance. Must’ve been fairly good to last 10 years though Bette.

The quote “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”, comes during a party scene in which Margo is steaming over the conniving Eve, who is crowding in on her personal and professional life.

Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders in All About Eve, 1950.

Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Hugh Marlow, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter are all fine actors who surround Davis in All About Eve. Even Marilyn Monroe has a small part as a starlet.

This is a not-to-be-missed film, even if you’re not a fan of Old Hollywood. It’s fun and will keep your interest to the end.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy the Red Flannel Hash as much as the movie. I have to admit though, this recipe is a far cry from Bette’s hash. The corned beef is replaced by smokey tempeh. The potatoes and beets are there, accompanied by an onion I added, along with some parsley. Gone is the cream.

First up is Bette Davis’ original recipe. If you’re not a vegetarian you might prefer to cook it her way. I will follow up with the vegetarian remake.

I like a glass of wine with a movie, so for this dish I suggest a white wine, perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc.

Don’t miss my Nutrition Notes, in which I talk about some of the healthy ingredients in the recipes.

Bette Davis’ recipe, handwritten.

Bette Davis’ Original Recipe for Red Flannel Hash:

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked corned beef

3 cups cold boiled potatoes

1.5 cups cooked beets

Directions:

Chop all of these ingredients.

Season and Moisten with cream.

Put into hot buttered ironware frying pan, stir and spread evenly.

Brown slowly over medium heat.

Serve with poached eggs on top.

VEGETARIAN RED FLANNEL HASH

Ingredients:

2–4 tblsps olive oil (to brown the ingredients)

1 can cooked beets, just water and salt (no vinegar), diced

2 medium/large red potatoes, boiled and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 package of smoky tempeh (Lightlife is a good one: see photo)

1 handful of parsley, chopped

Spices: smoked paprika, salt, pepper, basil

Photo by Maria Graceffo
Photo by Maria Graceffo

Directions:

Split ingredients into 2 separate frying pans, unless you have one very large pan.

Heat the olive oil well, in two frying pans.

Add fully-drained and chopped beets.

Let the beets brown slightly and then add the diced potatoes.

Continue to cook until the potatoes are lightly browned, about 5 mins.

Add the diced onion and let brown.

Season with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and dried basil.

Add the smoky tempeh and cook for another few minutes.

Place in serving dish and top with parsley.

Vegetarian Red Flannel Hash

Eat with a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc:-))

OR enjoy for breakfast with your pasture-raised eggs.

NOTE: This dish looks heavy but it’s not heavy as long as you don’t use a lot of oil, and brown the veggies lightly.

In this photo, I hadn’t browned the beets but for best taste the beets should be slightly browned.

The smoky tempeh though, is very important in making this tasty. If you can’t find it, you can look for any meat-alternative smoky replacement.

This is in memory of Bette Davis, and her love of simple, uncomplicated food.

Enjoy this and the movie too!

SKIN-HEALTHY NUTRITION NOTES:

Tempeh is made of fermented soybeans, which have bioflavonoids that form a large group of phytochemicals found in plants. They detoxify harmful estrogen, inhibit enzymes that cause cancer, and firm the skin.

Beets strengthen immune and liver health and help with clear, bright skin.

Parsley is a potent source of glutathione which is a strong antioxidant to protect your skin cells. It also has digestive enzymes which really help with a cooked meal like this one. I keep a handful of parsley with me during the day and munch on it from time to time. It’s got a pungent taste that I really like, and it freshens breath too.

Onions are healthy whether raw or cooked. They are cancer-protective as they block carcinogens called nitrosamines. What’s not to like there? I put onions in salads, soups, sandwiches. They are very easy to include in a lot of dishes. Then I follow up with a parsley chaser:)

Thanks for the inspiration Bette!

I Write about nutrition, skincare, Old Hollywood, and anything else that sparks my interest or entices me to share. Suchgoodskin.com

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