Cooking Adventures #1
The Betty Crocker Edition
Do you know how many cookbooks I have? It’s a lot. And counting. I LOVE cookbooks – and not just because they contain some really great (and easy – most of them) recipes, but also because they are a documentary of sorts. Each one, when read from cover to cover, takes the reader on a journey of family and friends, courage and rage, joy and loss. It’s an autobiography of lives that contribute to the American Cuisine ideal.
Skipping over the recipes, on the first read, marking what I see as interesting – but reading between the lines is key. A cookbook is not just how to cook XYZ. It’s a complete guide to cook how they cook. Which, yeah right Nikki, big deal. But it is because at the end of the day, those recipes are just recipes and all the words in between is where you learn how to cook without the recipes. This is where the magic happens, where creativity meets resourcefulness to brew a new staple at your dinner table or that special whatever you need for whatever you need. By fusing the recipes in each book with the tips, tricks, and lessons learned by each chef, you will continually to not only amaze yourself with what you can cook but also anyone who has the pleasure of sitting at your dinner table.
So – having confessed my weird love of cookbooks, I want to take you through the first cookbook I ever remember reading: Betty Crocker. Not just the Betty Crocker millennials know with boxed cakes and simple dinner recipes from her energetic website. I have an original print, fresh off the 1950’s press passed down from my grandmother to my mother and finally to me. It’s complete with cramped writing in the margins, duck tape, and softly printed pages rife with sexism. Let’s dive in, shall we?
First, as you will notice, this book is um- very, very loved. Some of these recipes I know by heart (weird saying right?) and some, I can’t even begin to cook. As with it’s printing date, the ingredients and recipes mirror classic 1950’s American Society. This means recipes that call for cakes of moist yeast, organs of all sorts, and lots o’ lots o’ lard.
While, I learned a lot from the OG Betty Crocker – how long to roast every vegetable you can think of to perfection – it is sadly not viable for an everyday guide to cooking anymore. And while most of you will say, well – duh Nikki, it’s not as dated as you might think. A roast in 1950 is still a roast now and how long you cook it at what temperature for an internal temp of XYZ has not changed. Even so, I will pull it out on occasion to make a specific type of bread or quickly see how long my duck needs to crisp. Or perhaps I just want to put my mark on it, as others have before me.
Taking a look at the 1950’s edition while treating it as a historical artifact, an interesting narrative is formed. This is rife with ‘Make it Quick!’ and ‘Don’t spend all day slaving over the stove with this easy recipe!’ slogans that point to a more active participant in American culture, where the housewife isn’t just a homemaker anymore. She is busy with a job and running the kids to all their various activities AND taking care of the home (wait, I thought we were talking about 1950’s?). There is no time to make a full breakfast with fresh baked bread, a full dinner on the table at 5pm AND pie with handmade crust for dessert. And while Betty Crocker is a fictional character, she understands the struggle of the ‘more modern woman’ and often litters advertisements for her new ‘Quick and Easy’ or ‘Pre-Made’ whatever-it-is-product, the 1950’s woman responded to her with such vigor that Betty Crocker became one of the most widely known brands today.
Indeed the cookbook itself would have been beyond useful for the 1950’s cook with all the pictures and detailed instructions on every little step including tips and tricks for when you inevitably do something wrong somewhere. It also brought some of the most far ranging cuisines from around the world straight to the American table embodying the true American melting pot. I think, one of the first full color picture cookbook widely available, this would have been the first time some Americans were even hearing of Indian or African spices/dishes. With the recipes filled with encouragement making sure the reader knows this recipe has been tested and perfected in the trusted Betty Crocker kitchen, it’s less of risk to try something new.
Not only did it bring the instructions for flavors of the world to the American Kitchen, it also brought Americans together. There are recipes from all over the country, some passed down through generations, printed in every Betty Crocker cookbook I have had the pleasure of perusing. I enjoy the thought of the brand reaching out to all American chefs/bakers to share their favorite recipes and of course, giving credit where credit is due. Amazingly, Betty Crocker has done just that with tried and true family favorites that have not changed a tablespoon since they were first printed.
For an Easter dinner here at Fort Cannon, I executed one such recipe with results leading to perfection, I could hardly believe it. Sometimes I like to add some embellishments, you know, extra vanilla, little bit more cinnamon.. but this time, I restrained myself and they turned out better than I ever expected. Take a click on the link below and give it whirl.
How did yours turn out??