At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D. C., in front of 600,000 people, a former Sarasota circus aerialist-turned-chef wowed onlookers recently with her mouth-watering recipes from the 4th edition of Simply Sarah ~ A Circus Girl’s Cookbook. The circus-styled spiral-bound cookbook with 165 recipes, photos, and anecdotes of traveling, family, and the circus, has sold over 2,000 copies.
Still fit and lean at 71, Sarah Chapman has branded herself as the “cook who feeds the troupe.” In 1999, she prepared food for 24 in a kitchen inside a tractor-trailer at Roberts Bros. Circus. But she became handy in the kitchen long before that as she cooked for her children and husband, Danny Chapman, whom she married at the tender age of 19; Danny was more than 30 years her senior.
His aerialist career ended in Brussels after he fell 55 feet. He turned to clowning and was instrumental in the formation of Clown College. He met Sarah when she performed as a member of Sarasota’s Sailor Circus.
Traveling on the road , she perfected the art of cooking by reading cookbooks, magazines, and those she met in laundromats and supermarkets. She learned to juggle performance time with tending to her blended family of seven, home-schooling her daughter, and taking correspondence classes as well as cooking between daily shows.
She served her traveling meals on paper plates and in reusable plastic glasses, with loud generators and wild animal noises as accompaniment. Once at home on Phillippi Creek in Sarasota, she delighted in serving elaborate meals on table linens and with centerpieces, candles, and music in the background.
She tells her reading audience that she fed circus people wholesome, nutritious food. And when her readers prepare a meal, she encourages them to make it a class act: “Support it with props or rigging and garnish it with wardrobe, lights and music. That makes you — the cook — the main attraction.”
And she knows all about main attractions. As a featured act with Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for six years (1969 to 1974), she perched 19 feet above the air while balancing on a trapeze. She took part in other acts as well.
The highlight of her career, she recalls, was performing a simple aerial act on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1970 while the Ringling Circus performed in Madison Square Garden.
She also assisted the circus’ press department by furnishing recipes for humaninterest articles.
In 1979, fibromyalgia stole her show and forced her into retirement. She went
on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Humanistic Studies with 20 upper level credits
from her circus career.
She keeps fit by eating mindfully, swimming, attending exercise classes, and
hanging upside down daily from a trapeze. It reminds her of the circus that used to be so much of a part of her life.
“I still miss the smells, color, and music of a circus — especially hearing the
applause because it told me about the audience,” she said.
Simply Sarah ~ A Circus Girl’s Cookbook is available at Amazon.com
Sarah Chapman’s Black Bean Soup
3 c. black beans
1 ham bone
1/2 lb. salt pork
1/8/ tsp. thyme
2 med. onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
1 qt. beef stock
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 bay leaf
3 qt. water
1 lg. carrot chopped
White rice optional
In stockpot, cook ingredients (except sherry and salt) 2 to 3 hours
until beans are tender. Remove bay leaf and bones. Season and add
sherry. Reduce heat and stir occasionally until beans thicken to soup
consistency. Serve in petite cups topped with chopped onion and
shredded cheese. Dip warm, buttered French bread into the soup. Make
it authentic by putting 1 Tbsp. cooked white rice in bottom of soup cup.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Sarah Chapman’s Cotton Candy Eggs
2 eggs separated
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. water
3-4 slices mango
1 Tbsp. butter
Cinnamon or nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
Heat broiler to medium-low (350 F). In a small dish, cream yolks with sugar.
In a small mixing bowl, add salt and cold water to whites and whip until stiff
and dry. Fold yolks into whites.
Warm a 6- to 8-inch frying pan on medium-low. Add butter and wait until
it bubbles. Add eggs, spreading to edges. Cook 3 minutes. Immediately insert
pan under broiler 6 inches from heat, leaving oven door cracked. Cook 3
minutes until raised and blistered. Remove pan and flip eggs over unto serving
While cooking the eggs on the range and in the oven, heat a second frying
pan with 1 Tbsp. melted butter. Add sliced fruit and warm. Toss in 1 Tbsp.
brown sugar; then drizzle vanilla over fruit until sugar caramelizes. Remove
from heat. Pour warmed fruit over eggs. Voila–airy cotton candy eggs.