cooks at home

SKETCHING THE MENU

Cartoonist Brian Crane is influenced by dinner table conversations.

WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTOS BY CHRIS HOLLOMAN 
COMIC STRIP BY BRIAN CRANE

Cooks at home sketching menu

Growing up during a time he calls “the golden age of comic strips,” Brian Crane always aspired to create art and a comic strip of his own that could potentially entertain others for decades to come. Now his comic strip, Pickles, which debuted in 1990 in 24 newspapers, runs daily in more than 1,000 papers around the world, including The Washington Post and Reno Gazette-Journal.

In 2012, Crane was given the Reuben Award (the highest honor in the profession) by members of the National Cartoonists Society. Nationally and globally recognized, Crane lives, eats, and illustrates locally in Sparks.

Dream come true

Although Crane worked in the commercial art/publishing world for 20 years, he eventually sought a career shift as he approached his 40s.

“I started thinking back to my childhood dream and wondered if I could really [create a successful comic strip] if I tried,” he says.

After tossing around main character ideas and countless sketches, Crane decided to pursue a story line about senior citizens, Earl and Opal Pickles. When he first started the comic, Crane had to use his imagination to generate ideas, but now, he says, he’s actually becoming a senior citizen himself and has humorous stories of his own to draw from.

The idea behind the strip’s title is that it is a random last name, but it also plays with the concept of a person “being in a pickle” or a humorous situation.

cooks at home sketching menu2

Inspired by food

He and his wife, Diana, who does a lot of the cooking in their home, agree that many conversations at the dinner table have inspired stories within the comic strip.

“It’s amazing the number of strips I’ve done related to food,” Crane says with a chuckle.

In fact, he hadn’t realized how often food appeared in the strip until this story prompted him to search his archives.

In one, Opal Pickles wakes up her husband, Earl, in the middle of the night so he can leave their surplus zucchini on people’s doorsteps. Diana maintains their family’s garden and admits that she has pawned off extra summer squash on neighbors and friends. (She also grows tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.)

Close at hand

Crane draws every panel by hand in his home office, located only a few steps from the kitchen. His office is filled with Popeye memorabilia and inspirational comic strips, from greats such as Peanuts’ creator Charles Shulz.

Crane’s family members, including his seven grown children, still occasionally enjoy dinners together in their home. Brian and Diana prepare a wide variety of recipes together, including homemade chicken soup and Polish runzas, a family friend’s recipe they’ve had since 1976. Now, the recipe has been passed down to Crane’s daughters, who now make them for their own families.

Erin Meyering loves when art and food collide. Writing this article reminded Erin of her grandmother’s passion when cooking the family recipe for Plum Duff dessert, and her dedication to reading the newspaper comics — every single Sunday. 

Recipe

Runzas

(courtesy of Diana Crane. Serves 6 or more)

Brian and Diana Crane prepare a wide variety of recipes, including homemade lasagna and zucchini bread. This traditional Polish recipe for runzas is inspired by family friends who lived in an area with a prominent Polish population and prevalent Polish culture.

Serve with fruit or Jell-o, or enjoy plain. Runzas also make great leftovers.

1½ pounds ground beef

1 head green cabbage, shredded

1 large yellow onion, diced in small pieces

2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

3 loaves frozen white bread dough

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

Place frozen bread dough in greased bread pans to defrost. Cover with cloth and let rise several hours.

In large skillet, brown ground beef until pink. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Add shredded cabbage and diced onion. Simmer all together for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Set aside or refrigerate.

About 1 hour before serving, cut each loaf of bread dough into 6 pieces. Use roller to roll each piece of dough to about ¼- to ½-inch thick. To each flattened piece add 2 tablespoons ground beef, cabbage, and onion mixture. Form dough into ball around mixture.

Bake on greased cookie sheet for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.

After rolls come out of oven, spread butter on tops and sprinkle with shredded cheese (optional). 

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