When it comes to cooking, Ruth Stein likes things that are challenging and different - but that's how she's approached all aspects of her life.
The 94-year-old Margate woman has worked as a classical singer, a nurse and a college instructor. She helped launch the local Head Start program for underprivileged children and worked to keep high school kids off drugs.
And - as her friends know - through it all she also baked delicious pies and made other great creations in her kitchen.
Now almost halfway through her 10th decade, Stein is still going strong.
"I refuse to be vanquished," Stein says, paraphrasing a favorite quote from Rose Kennedy, mother of President John F. Kennedy.
Stein was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but moved to Atlantic City when she was 8 years old. After graduating from Atlantic City High School in 1935, she went to Mount Sinai Hospital in Philadelphia, where she became a registered nurse.
But nursing wasn't Stein's only passion. She also studied voice with teachers in Philadelphia and New York.
After marrying Walter Stein, she followed her husband to Hatboro, Pa., where he did civilian work for the Navy during World War II. After the conflict, the couple returned to southern New Jersey, where Walter Stein went to work for Atlantic Beverage - eventually rising to the post of vice president, while his wife pursued dual careers in nursing and singing.
Following her passions
"I loved them both. I always said that everything I did I loved," Stein said. "I never got up one day where I felt that I didn't want to go to work."
Over the years, the couple traveled extensively, visiting everywhere from New Zealand, Mexico and Europe as well as making many trips inside the United States.
Stein was a mezzo soprano and her entertainment career included appearances at Atlantic City's swank hotels and at venues up and down the East Coast. She was also a soloist at Congregation Beth Israel in Northfield for 30 years.
Working at two jobs kept Stein busy, but it also helped her meet a large number of people.
"They used to say to me, 'Listen, Ruth, you either sang to me or gave me a bath,' for some of them, I did both,'" Stein said.
Stein became a mother, giving birth to daughter Judith, and continued pursuing her education, earning a master's degree in Human Development from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In 1965, she became the health consultant for the local Head Start program and later went on to work at Atlantic City High School, where she was involved in a drug prevention program that sent high school students to talk to younger children about self-esteem.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she taught psychology at Atlantic Cape Community College.
But as she kept busy, Stein also taught herself how to cook. She hadn't been interested in working the kitchen when she was young, but that changed once she met Walter Stein.
Fiddling around in the kitchen
"It wasn't until after I got married that I really got interested. I started fiddling around. I wanted to make nice things and started finding wonderful recipes," Stein said.
With her hectic schedule, Stein was wary of tackling anything too complex or time consuming, instead, she scanned newspaper articles, magazines and cookbooks for things she could prepare.
"I liked making recipes that were a little different. I liked ones that were challenging and different and easy. I didn't want them to take up too much time," she said.
Stein's daughter also became a fine cook over the years.
One dish Stein became famous for was her mother's mustard recipe - an item family and friends still request she makes for them.
"Everybody loves that. I have to keep them supplied. They'll call up and say 'Ruth, I'm running out,'" Stein said.
However, Stein's most popular recipe has to be her Cranberry Nut Pie. That dish has provided years of enjoyment to Stein's family and friends, not bad for a recipe that cost her just a dime.
Stein came across the recipe when she and her husband were out for a drive on a nice fall day. They saw that a local firehouse was having some kind of sale, so they stopped to take a look. There were boxes of recipes, with each recipe selling for 10 cents. It was there she found the Cranberry Nut Pie recipe.
"A woman standing in back of me said 'That's a very good recipe. I recommend it,'" Stein recalled.
It was a recommendation Stein still appreciates.
Stein said the recipe is a wonderful pie for Thanksgiving, Christmas or other holiday celebrations.
"I make it anytime I'm going to someone's house for dinner. I always have cranberries in the freezer," she said.
Anne Kabo, of Margate, has known Stein for about seven years now. She's a fan of everything her friend creates.
"I've had her pie. It's delicious. I've had her cinnamon nut cookies - they're fabulous too. Everything she makes is awfully good," Kabo said.
And while Stein doesn't have many regrets from her long life, there was one goal she did not accomplish, although that was her husband's wish, not hers.
"I was married for 68 years. He was so supportive of everything I wanted to do," Stein said. "After I got the masters degree, he wanted me to get my doctorate. I said 'I will be on Social Security by the time I get it.' He said, 'Darn, I wanted to call you Dr. Ruth!'"
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Cranberry Nut Pie
•2 cups cranberries
•1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
•1/2 cup sugar
•1 cup flour
•1 cup sugar
•1 1/2 sticks of melted butter
•2 teaspoons almond extract
Mix together cranberrys, walnuts and 1/2 cup of sugar, spread in bottom of well-greased 10-inch pie plate. Mix together flour, 1 cup of sugar, melted butter, eggs and almond extract. Pour this over the cranberry mixture, bake 55 to 60 minutes in a preheated 325-degree oven. Can be served with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. or simply powdered sugar.