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[caption id="attachment_180515" align="alignright" width="300"] Shirleigh Moog was right at home in the kitchen, feeding the people she loved.[/caption] In a house on a hillside outside Asheville, Michelle Moog-Koussa is cooking

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[caption id="attachment_180515" align="alignright" width="300"] Shirleigh Moog was right at home in the kitchen, feeding the people she loved.[/caption] In a house on a hillside outside Asheville, Michelle Moog-Koussa is cooking

Shirleigh Moog, author of Moog's Musical Eatery

Shirleigh Moog was right at home in the kitchen, feeding the people she loved. Photography courtesy of Moog Family Archives

In a house on a hillside outside Asheville, Michelle Moog-Koussa is cooking lunch.

She’s baked herb bread and chopped celery for a celery-and-olive salad. Her Greek spinach-and-feta pie and decadent graham bar cookies are out of the oven. Her mushroom caps are ready to stuff with crab, and she’s beating together dill-orange butter to toss with steamed carrots.

All of the recipes are from the same cookbook: Moog’s Musical Eatery: A Cookbook for Carefree Entertaining, by Moog-Koussa’s mother, the late Shirleigh Moog.

Her copy is a well-used hardcover in black and white. When a visitor pulls out her own paperback version, Moog-Koussa gets excited. “You’ve got the color cover! That’s really rare.”

Published in 1978, the book’s cover is half the fun. Illustrated in a trippy style straight out of the 1970s, it features an eggplant, a bunch of celery, a loaf of bread, and a wedge of cheese dancing on a counter; musical notes erupting from an open drawer; and a cartoon Shirleigh leaning on an upended keyboard, a smile on her face. Look closely, and you’ll see that the cartoon kitchen is filled with tall cabinets covered with dials and lights.

Cover of Moog's Musical Eatery cookbook

Shirleigh Moog’s cookbook boasted a very ’70s cover and was filled with recipes that were served to famous musicians of the day. photograph by Tim Robison

Cartoon Shirleigh is where she always was: In the kitchen, surrounded by one of the greatest musical inventions of all time, the Moog Synthesizer, invented by her late ex-husband, Robert Moog. (It’s MOHG, by the way, not MOO-G. It rhymes with “vogue,” as Michelle Moog-Koussa is quick to point out.)

You know the Moog Synthesizer even if you don’t think you do. Think of the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’,” or Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here. The Beatles used it on Abbey Road. So did Donna Summer for hits like “I Feel Love.”

And of course, there was Switched-On Bach. Wendy Carlos’s groundbreaking 1968 album proved that the synthesizer wasn’t just weird electronic noise: It was a legitimate musical instrument. Carlos won three Grammys for it, and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys called it “one of the most electrifying albums I ever heard.”

Many musicians and composers, including Carlos, Keith Emerson, and John Cage, found their way to the Moogs’ door in upstate New York to learn how to use the Moog Modular Synthesizer.

Shirleigh Moog fed them all.

“She was so good at it,” her daughter says. “It seemed effortless for her. Every meal was a home-cooked meal.

“Everyone who gets her cookbook is struck not only by the recipes but also by her love of feeding and entertaining and making people feel comfortable. That comes through.”

• • •

It wasn’t easy, though. Biographers of Bob Moog always note that while he was a brilliant inventor, he was a terrible businessman. He wanted Moog technology out in the world, so he only patented several parts, not all of the electronic components that would have made him more money. At one point, he wanted to leave the company and was forced to give up the rights to his own name. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs before he finally got the rights back in 2002, three years before he died.

Shirleigh was the practical one, who gardened and canned and kept their four children fed. She rose to challenges, like the time Bob was hosting a seminar and gave Shirleigh $100 to feed 50 guests. She enlisted help from her friends and emptied her basement of pickles and jams to make it work.

Shirleigh was born Shirley Leigh, the daughter of Romanian immigrants. She was creative and wanted to major in art history, but her father refused. She earned a degree in education instead, teaching kindergarten through third grade.

Boog Moog with the Moog Synthesizer

Bob Moog with his synthesizer. Photography courtesy of Bob Moog Foundation Archives

Instead of making art, she married Bob, an inventor who had fallen in love with a strange instrument, the theremin, which emitted otherworldly sounds when you moved your hands near two metal antennas. (Think of the eerie sounds in early science-fiction movies — chances are, they were produced by a theremin.)

While Bob worked on his Ph.D. at Cornell University, the Moogs sold theremins and kits to make them. Shirleigh posed with a theremin in an early catalog. She also changed her first name to Shirleigh — her mother-in-law was named Shirley, and the two didn’t get along. So she combined her first name and her maiden name to forge her own identity.

Moog-Koussa thinks that cooking and sewing became creative outlets for the frustrated artist her mother really was.

“Musicians are such open spirits, and she was, too. She felt a kinship with them.”

“There was a lot of that in her cooking,” she says. “Musicians are such open spirits, and she was, too. She felt a kinship with them.”

After Bob gave up the rights to the Moog, they moved the family to North Carolina in 1978 and bought land. Bob had previously come down to Brasstown to work with a friend who made musical instruments. Living in a 100-year-old cabin for the summer, they built a 15-sided round Deltec Home. In her cookbook, Moog’s Musical Eatery, Shirleigh included layouts for her New York and North Carolina kitchens. In her Southern kitchen, she had a gas range and oven, an additional standard oven, and a desk next to a sunporch.

The cookbook still stands out for its practicality, with tips on not wasting food and detailed plans for a cookout brunch for 40 to 50 people, a buffet for 100, and a vegetarian buffet for 30.

• • •

In 1994, after their children were grown, the Moogs divorced. Bob Moog remarried, but Shirleigh never did.

“It was 36 years of built-up dynamics that included a lot of resentment,” Moog-Koussa says. “I don’t think it’s easy being married to an inventor.”

Her mother once told her, “Your father got all the acknowledgment and never wanted it. And I wanted acknowledgment and never got it.”

Shirleigh Moog crafted a new life for herself in Asheville. She was involved in civil rights and the NAACP, she switched from growing vegetables to growing flowers, and she wrote a column on healthful cooking for The Asheville Citizen-Times. She published a second book, on the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid, but it didn’t draw much attention. (Neither did the Food Guide Pyramid.) She died in 2018 at the age of 82.

“In the journey of invention, there’s a whole ecosystem that the family is a part of, and the spouse is a big part of that.”

Today, Moog-Koussa runs the Bob Moog Foundation, which recently opened the Moogseum in downtown Asheville. Inside the museum, theremins and synthesizers are on display for visitors to play. Her brother and two sisters have moved away, but Moog-Koussa has taken on the job of protecting both of her parents’ legacies. Her mother’s cookbook is out of print — used copies on eBay range from $55 for the color paperback to $145 for the black-and-white hardcover — but she hopes to get it reprinted to sell in the museum gift shop. Her ultimate dream is to add a café and serve her mother’s recipes. It would be called Moog’s Musical Eatery, of course.

Both of her parents loved to cook, she says. It was one of the things that united them. And, in a way, she says, their love of cooking and music fit together. Cooking involves putting together components to make something new. And so does building synthesizers.

“In the journey of invention, there’s a whole ecosystem that the family is a part of, and the spouse is a big part of that,” Moog-Koussa says. “They empower. That’s the most important thing I can convey, just how important she was to making the whole thing possible.”

Moogseum
56 Broadway Street
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 258-1262
moogseum.org


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This story was published on Mar 12, 2024

Kathleen Purvis

Purvis is the food editor for The Charlotte Observer. She is the author of two Savor the South Cookbooks: Pecans and Bourbon. Purvis has been cookbook awards chair for the James Beard Awards since 2000.