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Goodbye Dorothy Dean: Woman who served as last home economics specialist at The Spokesman-Review dies at 89

Margaret Heimbigner, the last woman to serve as The Spokesman-Review’s “Dorothy Dean,” has died at 89.

Heimbigner became Dorothy Dean in 1967, and worked for the newspaper’s home economics department until it closed in 1983, said her son, Martin Heimbigner.

The pseudonym was used by the head of that department from 1935 until Heimbigner’s tenure ended, publishing recipes, operating a test kitchen and fielding thousands of telephone calls from cooks.

“We clearly had a lot of good food as a kid growing up,” Martin Heimbigner said Tuesday. “I ate quite a few variety of things,” including one memorably odd recipe using cactus, he said.

Margaret “Peg” Heimbigner told The Spokesman-Review in 2005 that her staff would field 500 to 600 calls in the days before Thanksgiving. In the early 1970s, the department answered 20,000 calls a year, on everything from whether it was safe to use flour with tiny worms in it, to what to do about lumpy gravy.

Dorothy Dean was discontinued because it got too expensive and lifestyles were changing, the newspaper reported.

Heimbigner retired although she worked off and on for The Spokesman-Review doing specific projects, her son said. She took up running in her late 50s and ran Bloomsday for more than 20 years. She was an avid gardener, and was politically active, Martin Heimbigner said.

She died in her sleep while visiting her daughter in Richland, just a few days shy of her 90th birthday. Heimbigner is survived by a son and a daughter, and one grandchild. Her husband died in 2003.

Services are tentatively planned for Nov. 13 at Riverside Memorial Cemetery.

In honor of Margaret Heimbigner, here’s a recipe for Nanaimo Bars, mentioned by Heimbigner’s son-in-law in a story in 2010 as his favorite of the Dorothy Dean recipes:

Nanaimo Bars

From “Bars, Squares and Slices,” C-23, 1961.

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Icing:

1/2 cup butter

3 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons vanilla pudding powder

2 cups powdered sugar

4 squares semisweet chocolate

1 tablespoon butter

Measure 1/2 cup butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and egg into the top of a double boiler. Place over hot water; cook, stirring, until mixture is of custard consistency. Remove from heat and stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts; blend well. Pack mixture into buttered 9-inch square pan.

Icing: Cream butter; blend milk and pudding powder and stir in. Add powdered sugar; mix until smooth and creamy. Spread over cookie base; refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. Melt chocolate with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread over vanilla layer; chill until set. Cut into bite-size squares.

Yield: About 5 dozen candy cookies.


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