Herald food columnist retiring after 36 years on the job

After 36 years as The Herald’s voice for Snohomish County homemakers, Judyrae Kruse is retiring.

Judy was hired to write the Forum, a column designed to exchange readers’ recipes and homemaking tips, on April 18, 1977.

Nancy Erickson, a former “women’s editor” at The Herald, actually started the Forum five years earlier, but the idea, the name and the column will forever be linked to Judyrae.

In the early years, the column ran sometimes weekly, sometimes daily, before settling into its three-a-week schedule: Mondays and Fridays on the comics and puzzle pages, and Wednesdays in the food section.

To read Judy’s column is to read a diary of life in Snohomish County: Recipes for slow-cooker stew and make-ahead casseroles followed the school year. She shared an idea for dinner pulled from the pantry after a week of snow and ice. When the weather warmed, the recipes cooled: crisp salads and gelatin desserts, ideas for grilling.

She knows first-hand when it’s time to share some expertise with fish. Judy’s husband, Wayne Kruse, is The Herald’s longtime fishing and hunting writer. While Wayne told readers where to find the salmon, Judy told them how to fix it once it came home.

When someone was looking for a particular recipe — “it was a cookie, crisp, with some kind of spice” — Judy sent out an SOS. And readers responded. If they didn’t have a recipe that fit the bill, they often shared something they thought might be equally nice. “My kids love these cookies.”

Occasionally, without warning, a recipe would strike a chord. Who knew Snohomish County residents ate so much Green Goddess dressing? After a request, the deluge of recipes continued for months.

How many ways are there to make snickerdoodles? Many. Many ways, many readers, many recipes. Judy published them all. That’s because she understood the focus of the column: It was not the recipes themselves, but the readers, the names of friends and neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers, that were important.

When several people sent in the same recipe, she printed all of their names and meticulously made note of variations, both small and significant.

The recipes arrived regularly in the mail, lots of them the original clippings, spattered with batter, decorated with coffee rings, smudged with grease marks.

Some were carefully handwritten, some copies, some ripped from a magazine, even some torn from an earlier Forum column.

Judy indulged readers whose cavalier husbands and naughty children tossed their recipes or recycled the newspaper before a choice one was clipped out. She was not averse to a rerun if someone pleaded for the directions they’d lost. And she knew that some recipes just had to be run every year, like the annual “dinner in a pumpkin.”

If some recipes were crazy popular and some became a tradition, the columns that garnered the most thoughtful — and the most poignant — responses were reader requests for help re-creating a childhood dish, often something made by a mother long gone.

Readers shared stories of their childhoods in towns across the country, tough times during the Depression or times of deprivation during World War II, and how their mothers created treats, such as the potato candy from the 1930s, for their kids, no matter what.

Besides having a knack for encouraging a real exchange of ideas, Judy never missed a deadline, even when faced with technological problems beyond her control.

She also never lost her sense of humor.

Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein says it well.

As The Herald’s features editor from 1992 until 1997, Julie was also Judyrae’s editor.

“There was very little editing needed in that role,” Julie said. “Judyrae’s copy always arrived ahead of deadline, like clockwork. There was rarely a single typo or nitpick.”

The longevity of Kruse’s column is amazing, Julie said.

“To keep up a pace of several columns a week for decades isn’t easy. Judyrae has always made it look that way,” Julie said.

Julie’s contact with Judy was mostly by phone. She remembers conversations about what dishes upcoming columns would feature, often related to the season.

“I was impressed by Judyrae’s ability to tell a little story with her recipes, and introduce readers to home cooks all over Snohomish County,” Julie said.

More than that, Julie said she and Judy developed a phone-call friendship.

“We would always get to laughing about something — often kids or pets,” she said.

Judy’s work is one feature that has made The Herald unique, Julie said.

“Her column will be missed,” she said.

Judy may be retiring, but she leaves a rich legacy based on the most basic of values: family, home and hearth. Her columns weave together the story of our lives, the story of Snohomish County, in a way that is comforting and familiar, entertaining and instructive, humble and homey. Just like the woman herself. Just like Judyrae Kruse.

Melanie Munk: 425-339-3430; munk@heraldnet.com.

By the numbers

Judyrae Kruse’s Forum column has been a fixture in The Herald for three decades. Here’s the breakdown:

Years written: 36

Columns written: 2,496

Letters received: 14,400

Recipes: 3,744

Dog biscuit recipes: 144

Missed deadlines: 0

Note: Numbers are estimates

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