Thursday, August 25, 2005
Betty and Me
In 1967 I was 10 years old. One of my Christmas presents that year was the Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cook Book. This was the 2nd edition; the first was published in 1957. I spent hours poring over the recipe, bugging my mom to be allowed to make things. Fortunately, my mom was the type to encourage us to be self-reliant in the kitchen, so I could bake to my heart's content. My favorite recipe was for Hot Fudge Pudding, which became a regular dessert staple around our house.
A couple of years later, I was in Junior High, and took the required 2 years of Home-Ec. After that my time in the kitchen was limited - I had other activities, and frankly, it was the 70's and I was trying to get away from the whole domestic thing.
But my relationship with Betty Crocker was not over. One day during my senior year all the girls in my class had to report to the Home-Ec room (a place I tried to avoid), and take the test for the Betty Crocker award. This was a standardized test with a short essay question. I took the test and thought nothing of it. A few weeks later it was revealed that I had won the Betty Crocker Family Leader of Tomorrow Award for my school. Probably one of the truly major surprises of my life.
From there I went on to college and majored in Political Science, graduated and moved to Chicago. One of my roommates had a Betty Crocker cookbook, and I began poring over the recipes just as I had with my Boys and Girls Cookbook, discovering that just because I had no interest in becoming a domestic diva didn't mean I couldn't enjoy baking. For my birthday I asked for and received my own copy of Betty's cookbook. I still have that cookbook, and faithfully use it to this day. My son's favorite au gratin potatoes are from there, and I use her pie crust recipe to create pies that people rave over.
So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks. Marks, who once worked as a tour guide at the Minnesota Historical Society, has devoted years researching Betty Crocker, and "her" influence on American society from the 1920s, when she was introduced to the public, to today, where she continues to reign strong among marketing "personages." The book is a fascinating look at how cooking has changed over the years. When Betty was first introduced, new electric stoves were replacing woodburning stoves, demanding the need to teach a new generation of women things that their mother's had done differently. Soon, Betty was handing out advice over the radio, and even on television. Marks also examines how Betty's look has changed over the years, all a result of careful market research.
I enjoyed reading Finding Betty Crocker. It brought back memories of my own Betty experiences, and even led me to dig out my old Boys and Girls cookbook, now tattered beyond repair. Maybe I'll make some Hot Fudge Pudding for dessert tonight.