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RECIPE ROBBERY AND OTHER APRIL FOOLS' TALES

Have you heard the story about the Red Chocolate Cake?

A woman dining at Manhattan's Waldorf Hotel fell in love with the bright red cake and asked for the recipe.

They mailed it to her and charged $350.

April fool! The story is not true and never was. No one knows how it got started.

Still, on this day of jokes, it's interesting to think about all the weird food myths that people have digested through the years.

These stories are always repeated by someone who swears he knows the people involved. But most of the stories are really hard to swallow.

There's the legend about the Nieman Marcus chocolate chip cookie, for instance: Woman tastes cookie, asks for the recipe, is told it will cost "two-fifty" and is later sent a bill for not $2.50, but $250.

Her lawyer says she has to pay, but then she strikes a blow for justice by giving the recipe to anyone who asks for it. She calls it the Revenge Cookie or something like that. (Think David vs. Goliath in the kitchen.)

Is the story true? Sorry, but Nieman Marcus vehemently denies charging anyone for a recipe -- ever. They've even developed a chocolate cookie recipe in self-defense. Janet Bourbon, who developed the recipe (adding a little espresso powder to the standard ingredients for a bit of Texas pizzazz), says the company will send it to anyone, and it comes on a sheet of paper with a big headline: "Free for the Taking."

(By the way, Mrs. Field was also rumored to be selling her cookie recipe for big bucks. The story spread so widely that she was forced to post denials in the stores. Mrs. Field definitely does not give out recipes, however.)

More rumors. I spent my childhood looking for the word "free" on the Popsicle stick underneath the icy treat. I had been told such sticks definitely existed.

But I never, ever found one and neither did any of my friends, though the kid next door swore to me that his brother's best friend did and he got another Popsicle.

I guess the moral of this story is that not every sucker comes from the freezer.

But maybe all of us were influenced by the story of the Indian and the Tootsie Pop. Even today, this story surfaces periodically.

If you're lucky enough to get a Tootsie Pop with a wrapper displaying an Indian picture, rumor says, you can turn in the wrapper for free candy.

No, no, no, says Ellen R. Gordon, president of Tootsie Roll Industries Inc., based in Illinois.

"We have always tried to make our wrappers interesting for our consumers. The pictures have changed from time to time, but the Indian has held his place for many, many years," she said in a letter to The News.

"Our records do not indicate that our company ever sponsored a pop promotion displaying the Indian or any other symbol."

Then she faxed me a prepared fact sheet, "The Legend of the Indian Wrapper," a truly goopy story of how an Indian chief taught Mr. Tootsie to enclose a piece of chocolate in his candy to make the Pop. And how the Indian knows that Mr. Tootsie always will do this.

"Since we enjoy (Tootsie Pops) so much, aren't we all kind of lucky that the chief still cares?" the story ends.

Yuck! It would have been better to send out a free lollipop.

Though many food myths have a mercenary edge, some gruesome stories also circulate.

From time to time you hear Bubble Yum has spider eggs in it. (We'd like to think that if this were true, the Food and Drug Administration would do something about it.)

Or how about the perennial story that Mikey (of Life cereal fame) died from eating too many Pop Rocks? (They exploded in his stomach, the story goes.)

Someone from New Jersey once told me with a straight face that he heard about a dinner party in which all the guests had to have their stomachs pumped.

He didn't know exactly where this happened, but supposedly they went to the hospital after the hostess' cat turned up dead. (Actually, the demise occurred after they had all left the dinner table.)

Then there are the rumors that are supposed to be humorous. Such as this obituary that turned up recently on the Internet, where a lot of these stories circulate:

"Veteran Pillsbury spokesmodel Pop-n-Fresh died yesterday from a yeast infection. He was 71. Mr. Fresh was buried in one of the largest ceremonies in recent years.

"Dozens of celebrities turned up, including Mrs. Butterworth, the California Raisins, Hungry Jack and Betty Crocker." (Nice of her, since General Mills and Pillsbury are rivals.)

"The grave site was piled high with flours and Aunt Jemima gave the eulogy, describing Fresh as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded.

"Mister Fresh rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with many turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his time on half-baked schemes.

"Still, even as a crusty old man, he was a roll model for millions. The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes, until done."

And the official company line on this?

"Reports of the Pillsbury Doughboy's death are greatly exaggerated. He is alive and doing well," a spokesman said.

"We're glad that so many people are having fun with him. That's proof of his popularity."

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