Seriously, This '67 Wilton Cake-Decorating Catalog Will Break Your Heart
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Cake and Food Decorating Ideas by Wilton
Date: 1967 Publisher: Wilton Industries Discovered At: Bay Area Free Book Exchange, El Cerrito, California
The Cover Promises: Lit-up head-shop castle cakes prove even Mom is somewhat interested in tripping.
You may light your castle by running your wire and sockets to each tower before icing. No matter how you do it, all the children young and old will love you for your new creation in icing.
Yes, this lavish and goofy catalog has a good chance of getting you choked up, and not just at the thought of the homemakers of the 1960s smearing frosting over extension cords in the hope that this, at last, will win back the love of their pop-mad children.
But before we get to its surprising pathos, let's marvel at its delights. First, take a closer look at the great castle-brick typesetting on its cover:
Where else have we seen that?
And before anything else, let's enjoy some of the guide's choicest desserts. Wilton reminds us that you can please anyone with a cake. What other treat is perfect for both circus clowns and Ivy Leaguers?
For ballerinas or — well, what is that, exactly?
Hey, cats on the train tracks in a pumpkin patch deserve cake just as much as any Yalie!
Anyway, like all craft guides, the Wilton cake-decorating catalog is filled with beautiful lies:
Whipping up a from-scratch cake into full-on Liberace glory is easy? It's common for crafting guides from the Sixties to appear peculiarly ambitious to us today, now that women have secured the right to seek careers — and the economy has turned so mean that they all pretty much have to. Who has time to gild piano cakes?
Wilton seems to promise that you can create dessert miracles in three easy steps. See what a snap it is to make the tastiest of crime scenes?
Wilton believed that its readers' schedules were wide-open enough that they could also set themselves to creating the only works of art more impermanent than cakes:
Of course, things were already changing in the Sixties. Women's evolving role in American life is a theme of some Wilton centerpieces. Here, the company honors female college students:
Wilton could be timely, as we see when the mop tops become cake tops:
OK, that's not really the Beatles. It's their unlicensed plastic equivalent — the one that's not the Monkees. That band name — the Go-Go Swingers — suggests that Wilton believed rock 'n' roll perhaps typified a culture spinning out of control. That theory is confirmed by the company's idea of a "typical pose" for a teen girl:
That figure could work as a topper today, maybe, if you were to bake a cake for your favorite professional webcammer.
And before we get to the heartbreaking stuff, can we toast one aspect of Sixties culture that is absolutely superior to today's? Dancing Dessert Batman remains the best of all Batmen:
But the 1960s wasn't all go-go-swinging superheroes! Jolly as the Wilton catalog is, it offers poignant evidence of its decade's tragic upheavals. Consider these cake-topping servicemen and their brides:
Note the addendum: "We will have individual Marine, Navy, and Army figures available in July, 1967 for going away Service Men or welcome back Service Men party cakes."
Wilton's promise suggests that there had already been terrific demand for armed forces cake-toppers — and that the company, so attuned to the cheery messages that Middle America likes to send itself, was scrambling to meet this new need. Suddenly, as the draft kicked into high gear, much of Wilton's cake-making audience found itself needing to commemorate a new and terrifying event: the government marching their sons off to fight in the jungle for reasons nobody could quite explain. How could so many millions of families face such fear and loss?
The pleasant business of cake-making must have helped. Same goes for the rituals of carving cake, eating cake, maybe singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." But no amount of sugar and clever craftsmanship could hide what those boys and those families were facing. I would never wish more work upon the overburdened homemakers of the Sixties, but in this case it's hard not to: If only everyone who ever whipped up one of these going-away cakes later had to plant those same servicemen figures on one saying "Welcome home."
But enough heartbreak! Here's a three-cake palate-cleanser: One for poodle-lovers, one for some kid who would grow up to program Nintendo's Duck Hunt, and one for that random child you've just adopted!
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