I did not actually grow up with a person named Betty Crocker. I did not jump rope with Betty Crocker. It was not Betty Crocker who bested me in anything that required coordination including that new-fangled hula hoop. I didn’t play paper dolls with Betty Crocker and I did not beat her in a spelling bee. She is not the girl who had a crush on the same boy that I did in 6th grade. Betty was none of those things, but she played an important part in my formative years.
Betty (with whom I am on a first name basis) is more than 30 years older than I am. But she is not a real person. She was created by General Mills as a marketing gimmick in the 1920’s so the company would have a human touch in answering consumers’ questions about their products.
Nevertheless, she played a significant role in my young life. As far back as I can remember the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook was a fixture in our kitchen. It was published in 1950, a couple of years before I was born. It was my mom’s number one go to cookbook. By the time I learned how to cook, the cookbook was well-worn and splattered with foodstuff. Pages had pulled out from the three-ring binder and tape was holding it together. It continued to serve as the main cookbook for my family as long as my mom still cooked. My mother eventually gave that book and her recipe box to a grandson who as it turned out made a career in the restaurant industry.
The first cookbook I bought for myself when I got my first apartment was Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. It was copyrighted in 1969, several editions later than my mother’s. This version had several changes. It no longer was called a “picture” cookbook although it had more pictures than the original. Statements such as, “The woman who knows her sauces is a Culinary Artist” were no longer found in the 1969 edition. Few of the recipes are the same as in the 1950 version. Nevertheless, like my mom’s, my cookbook has been well used, splattered with food stuff and has lost pages. Mine has a broken binding. It is generally in
worse shape than my mother’s ever was. Although I have now collected many, many cookbooks, Betty Crocker is still my go to cookbook. In particular, I still use the pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving each year.
I never got over feeling that Mom’s edition was more desirable than mine (except for the obvious sexism). As I got older I developed an appreciation for things from my childhood. I started a quest to find the edition of the cookbook that I knew growing up. I did find one in pristine shape that looked like the first edition. I bought it, but I always felt it was a throwback reprint of the original one.
And then, one day, in some thrift store somewhere, I found an original Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. It was battered. The binding had been broken and was taped. It had been given better care than ours because there was not nearly as much foodstuff splashed on it. The previous owner had added handwritten recipes as well as recipes that had been torn out of magazines. What a delight to page through and see the old recipes! What a treasure I now have. It might not have value to anyone else, but it means the world to me.
Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, just another thread of my life.