Sunday, April 28, 2013

Betty Crocker, an American Icon ! ... the history.... the story .... and how she influenced the way my family cooked

The name Betty Crocker has become a cultural icon in the history of American cooking.
However, the name is fictitious. It was created by the Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
William Crocker was the companies director. The name Betty was chosen as the first name because in 1921 the name Betty was extremely popular and was thought of as an all American name.

Marjorie Halstead was a Home Economist at that time and she created Betty Crocker as a household product for the American housewife.
Eventually Washburn Crosby merged with several other milling companies and became General Mills.
Betty Crocker became an icon for the General Mills Company.

A portrait of what was thought to be Betty Crocker was created in 1936. It changed over the years to reflect General Mills' cultural perception of the American homemaker.
The first Betty Crocker cookbooks appeared in 1933.
In 1950  Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book was published.
I own a copy of that book.

I grew up in the 50's and it was a time of post war brides starting families and learning to cook.
My mother would have used this book in her kitchen.

My Grandmother's generation created everything from scratch. She would never have baked a cake from a box. My Grandmother made homemade breads, cakes, frosting, pies and full course meals. However that was not the case for my mother's generation. It was a time when women went outside the home for employment which allowed households to have a double income . The fact that woman worked, took time away from the daily household chores, including cooking . It was easier to purchase something in a box than cook from scratch.

Here are some of the examples of products that my mother would have had available in her kitchen.
They were all produced by General Mills and were packaged in a box or some sort of container.
Cookie Mix
Cornbread Mix
Hamburger Helper
Instant Potatoes
Homemade Stuffing
Suddenly Salad
Brownie Mix
Cake Mix
Frosting Mix
Complete Meals in a Box
Bowl Appetit Products

Basically these products made life easier for the working woman. In 1953 it got even easier, the TV Dinner was introduced to the market. They were also referred to as, ready-made meal, ready meal, frozen dinner, and frozen meal. They were pre-packaged frozen or refrigerated meals. They required little preparation and contained all the elements for a complete single serving meal. They usually contained a meat, a vegetable, and a dessert. They eventually included items such as fish and rice. The original dinners came in a portion divided aluminum tray that was simply heated in the oven. I was raised on this type of food.
The introduction of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book allowed homemakers to be more creative in the kitchen. It opened up a new world of food.

The book was divided into sections that made it easy to look up a recipe.
The categories were:

How To Do.
Preparation hints such as Peeling a Tomato, Browning Flour, How to section a Grapefruit.

Meal Planning Table Service.
Nutrition, Appearance, Cost, How to Set the Table, Answers to Questions on How to Serve .

Breads, Yeast
Meat, Fish
Supper Dishes
Short Cuts
The Index

It was complete and very informative for the new bride or a mother with a large family.
I'm quite sure I was raised on Betty Crocker recipes.

Here are a few that I either remember as a child or that I consider American Classics.

My parents entertained often. We grew up on a street where everyone was very social when it came to getting together and having parties.
Here's a very good example of what my mother served as appetizers.
These examples are taken verbatim from the book.

Simple Hors D'Oeuvres:
Smoked White Fish Fillets, Deviled Eggs , Frankfurts (1"lengths) , Smoked Salmon, Shrimp or Lobster, Vienna Sausages.

My mother did not bake Bread, but she did make Doughnuts.
I won't post the recipe, but this is what is say's about them.
"Brown and Crusty ... best served warm. New Englanders make them for breakfast and serve them with cheese."

Occasionally we would have a homemade cake. It would have been made for  Birthdays and always at Easter. She would make a traditional , according to the book, Light Golden Cake. It would always have a white Frosting. But, I must say that if there wasn't an occasion to celebrate, she always made a Betty Crocker cake from a boxed mix!

In the Cookie category, we always has cookies at Christmas. My mother and Grandmother would make all of the Holiday Cookies in the book. We all grew up with Chocolate Chip Cookies. My mother and my grandmother always had a cookie jar filled with Chocolate Chip Cookies. As a kid, I was convinced that the jar was always magically filled with cookies. The jar was never empty.
Here's what Betty Crocker said about Chocolate Chip Cookies.

"The glamorous Toll House cookies... first introduced to American homemakers in 1939 through my series of radio talks on "Famous Foods from Famous Places"
Follow the recipe above except in place of 1/2 cup sugar use 3/4 cup (half brown, half white). Then mix into the dough 1/2 cup cut-up nuts and one 6-oz. package of chocolate pieces (about 1 1/4 cups).
Here's the recipe they were referring to:

Mix together thoroughly:
1/2 cup soft shortening ( part butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Sift together and stir in:
1 1/8 cups sifted  Gold Medal Flour
1/4 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt

Temperature: 370 ( quick mod. oven).
Time: Bake 8 to 10 min.
Amount: About 3 doz. 2" cookies.

Drop rounded teaspoonfuls about 2" apart on lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake until delicately browned ... cookies should be soft.
Cool slightly ... them remove from baking sheet.

I will definitely try making these!

Eventually the Toll House started offering bags of Chocolate Chips that included a recipe. They're still available and are the most popular cookie in America.

In the Egg category the most popular egg was a basic fried egg for breakfast.
When the Holidays approached, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas and always for a summer picnic the eggs were deviled.
We always had deviled eggs at my grandmother's house during the summer.
My grandmother and mother made the best deviled eggs in the world!

Here's Betty Crocker's recipe for Deviled Hard Boiled Eggs.

"Mounds of savory yellow egg yolks in white frames. A stunning garnish and satisfying appetizer ... food for picnics and parties.

Cut in halves ... 6 hard cooked eggs
Slip out the yolks. Mash with a fork
Add .....
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dry mustard
about 3 tbsp. salad dressing or vinegar or cream ( enough to moisten)
Refill whites with egg yolk mixture, heaping it up lightly.
Use with salads, cold cut meat platters, etc.
To Carry Deviled Eggs to Picnics
Fit two halves together,wrap in waxed paper ( twisting the ends )

In the Meat category we always had Roast Beef, Ham, Chicken..... the basics. The hamburger was the served at every picnic and for weekend lunches. I think we had meatloaf at least once a week.
If there was a special occasion, we had some of the recipes listed in the book such as, Pork Chops, Beef Stew, Liver and Onions, Pheasant and of course Turkey during the Holidays.

In the pie category I'll just list the most popular ones.
We always had homemade pie. I don't ever remember eating a store bought pie.
My grandmother was definitely a better cook than my mother and that's simply a fact.
My grandmother made the best pies in the world. What grandchild would argue with that?
Here are the pies that we grew up with.
Cherry ( my dad's favorite)
Blueberry ( my favorite)
Pecan ( my favorite)
Pumpkin ( my favorite)
Lemon Meringue ( only on special occasions)
Banana Cream ( not often so it was a favorite)

The only salads that I can remember are Potato Salad, Macaroni Salad and Cole Slaw.
I am convinced that my grandmother and my mother made the best! I still make their recipes for all of these salads.They were the only salads that  we had as children. A special occasion would include Chicken Salad . We did eat tossed salad but it wasn't our favorite.
The book includes the following recipes.
Fruit Molded Salad ( we had these at Thanksgiving and Christmas)

The next category is Sauces.
I don't have much to say about our family history when it comes to sauces. I think the only type of sauce that my grandmother and mother made was Gravy! I think the only time we had that was at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We did have chocolate and butterscotch sauce for ice cream which is included in the category.
The book includes sauces for meat, game, vegetables, desserts, white sauce, caper, cheese, egg, hollandaise, mushroom and more.
Fancy sauces were never a part of our meals.

Here's what Betty Crocker said about soup. Soup is as old as the art of cooking.
La Soupe is the name given the evening meal in parts of rural France.
Each nation has its own special soups, rich in chunks of meat, hearty with vegetables and barley, rice and macaroni.
Today, soup serves a double purpose. It stimulates the appetite and provides wholesome nourishment.
As kids, we ate Tomato, Chicken Noodle, Minestrone, Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken.
The book also lists recipes for Vichyssoise ( we never knew what that was), Cream of Cucumber Soup Oyster Bisque,Tuna Vegetable Chowder. These are soups that we were never familiar with.

I could write a dissertation about this section. I could list every recipe. We ate every type of vegetable. I don't think there's a single vegetable that we didn't eat.

The category called Short Cuts is quite interesting. It begins by saying that you should have a plan for your time and work. Minutes saved are hours gained.
Take time to plan meals for a week or several days at a time. Establish convenient work centers. Keep utensils and equipment in good working order. Disregard gadgets that add work.

Here are some recipes that I would consider iconic for the 50's.

Molded Gelatin Salad
Made with flavored gelatin. Choose flavor to make an interesting combination with the fruits or vegetables, etc. you add.
Prepare according to directions on package. 1 pkg. flavored gelatin
Add... 2 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar.
Chill and when partially set, add.... 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups well drained and cut up fresh or canned fruit, vegetables, or seafood, etc.
When partially set again, pour into a ring mold ( 8" in diameter and 2 1/2 " deep) or 8 to 10 individual molds. Chill until firm. Unmold on large chop plate or individual salad plates. Garnish with crisp lettuce, curly endive, or lacy watercress.
Serve with appropriate dressing: Mayonnaise with whipped cream for mild salads ... or Tomato - Cucumber Mayonnaise for vegetable and seafood salads.
Serves 8 - 10.

Meat Loaves ... Delicious hot or cold
Mix thoroughly ...
Fluffy Meat Loaf
1 lb. ground beef ( or veal )
1/2 lb. ground lean pork
2 C bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tbs. minced onion
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. sage

Pack into greased 9x5x3" loaf pan. Bake. Unmold. Serve hot ... or serve cold. For Catsup - Topped Loaf, spread 3 tbsp. catsup over the top before baking.

Tuna - Stuffed Eggs on Rice
Spoon into a greased 12 x 7 1/2 x 2" baking dish 3 cups fluffy Boiled Rice. Place Tuna- Stuffed Eggs ( add flaked tuna to yolk mixture when making Deviled Eggs ) in slight depressions in the rice.
Sprinkle with sieved hard - cooked egg yolk. Cover and heat in slow mod. oven 15 min. Serve hot with hot Curry Sauce.
6 servings

Creamed Vegetables
Make them go further and adds a sauce. Use one vegetable or two or three in combination.
For 6 servings, add 1 cup hot Medium White Sauce to 2 cups hot cooked vegetables, drained. Serve plain , on toast or hot biscuits, or in a rice or noodle ring.

Scalloped Vegetables
Originally baked in scallop shells.
Place Creamed Vegetables in greased casserole, or arrange vegetables and White Sauce in alternate layers. Top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake until browned, 20 min. at 350 degrees ( mod. oven).

Eggs a la Reine

Fit for a queen's luncheon or supper
Place rounds of toast in baking dish. Cover with sliced mushrooms sauteed in butter ... then with poached eggs. Pour over all, hot Cheese Sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese and place in quick mod. oven ( 375 ) until cheese is melted.

Eggs a la Lee:

As served in Old Virginia
For each serving, cover hot toast round with thin slice of boiled ham. Top with hot poached egg. Pour hot Mushroom Sauce over all.
Serve at once.

Deviled Ham Appetizers:

Mash deviled ham with a little horse-radish, grated onion, and coarse black pepper to taste.
Spread on toast beds.

As I read the appetizer section I came to the conclusion that you definitely needed toast!

Chutney - and - Bacon ( serve on prepared toast bed )
Minced Clam - Cheese (spread on toast bed)
Hot Cheese Puffs ( Heap on 1 1/2" rounds of prepared toast)
Smoked Oysters ( Place a smoked oyster on each tiny round prepared toast bed)
Peanut Butter - And - Bacon ( Spread prepared toast bed with crunchy peanut butter)
Caviar ( spread on toast bed with tiny pearl onions)
Tomato - And - Shrimp ( Place slice on a frill of lettuce on a prepared round of toast bed)
Anchovy or Sardine ( Place on a long narrow prepared toast bed)

Apparently you couldn't entertain and serve appetizers unless you had plenty of toast !

I've enjoyed doing the research and posting the history of Betty Crocker. I wrote about my grandmother and my mother and the way they cooked.
The next chapter to this part of the history of cooking should include my generation.

I can easily sum up how my Grandmother and my Mother influenced the way I cook :
There's a Hippy in the Kitchen!

Peace in the Kitchen!

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