Throwback: 10 Lessons from 55-Year-Old Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook
A lot has happened since Betty Crocker published her Dinner for Two cookbook in 1958.
All images from Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook, General Mills, 1958
Betty Crocker never actually existed in flesh-and-blood form, but long before she started churning out boxed cake mixes and frostings, she was used for an ad campaign for Gold Medal flour in 1921. Shortly thereafter, the company used her name to answer all manner of baking questions posed by women around the country and even gave her a radio show.
She went on to publish several cookbooks, including The Betty Crocker Cookbook, which debuted in 1950 and remains in print to this day. Lesser known is Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two, published in 1958, which is tailor-made to city-living whether you're in a couple or not; recipes are simple, easy to source, and short, and they make only enough food for two people. So if you're single, you'll have some leftovers; if you live with another, it's just enough for one meal.
But that's not to say the book isn't hilariously dated (although the illustrations by Charles Harper remain fantastic). And despite sweeping changes in how we think about ingredients, cooking and gender roles, there is still plenty that rings true in Crocker's classic take on cooking.
Below, graphic wisdom and wackiness from Ms. Crocker herself.
What every cook should know:
If you want to have your friends saying "She's a wonderful cook," Crocker advises knowing how to prepare coffee, biscuits, gravy, pie and cake, and also green salad, broiled steak, hamburgers, fried chicken, roast pork, and mashed potatoes.
And how about that cake?
Crocker suggests a "Brown Beauty Cake." Bring it to the next Box Social you have scheduled and you'll be a star... Want the recipe? Take the ingredients next to the picture and prepare as follows:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8" square pan. Stir boiling water and chocolate together until chocolate melts. Cool. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Stir in chocolate mixture. Add shortening. Beat for 1 minute, medium speed on your mixer, or 150 strokes by hand. Add remaining ingredients. Beat 1 more minute. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 35-40 minutes until cake tests done. Cool and frost.
Maybe you'd like to bake that cake for a special occasion? Crocker has advice on those, too:
For birthdays, anniversaries and celebratory dinners, Crocker thinks it best to "Use you best table linen, china, and silver. Center the table with an arrangement, floral or otherwise, appropriate to the day-- with candlelight for a happy glow over all." You know, make it special; borrow your man's hammer-and-nails and tack up a "Happy Anniversary" sign.
When company comes, ladies, best make sure your lipstick is perfect. Also, a good host must: "Remember that true hospitality is what you give of yourself in your own home, it's not measured in the number of courses you serve or the elaborateness of the setting."
Crocker also advises, "To entertain successfully, do it often enough to keep it from being an ordeal; do it simply enough to keep it from being a strain; and do your work before the guests arrive, then join them for a good time."
Maybe you'd like to treat your guests to an international dinner experience?
Go find your best global tablecloth and brush up your chopstick skills.
In 1958, Crocker observes, the nation was going multicultural and thus: "American homemakers are becoming expert in the art of turning out the pizzas of Italy, the rice dishes of the Orient, the pastries of France, and other national favorites," a trend she hopes will "Bring happy memories or intriguing visions of lands from afar, [and a]lso... serve as an international language in promoting a better understanding between the countries of the world."
Lofty goals, but her heart's in the right place, no? And to accomplish this, Crocker specifically recommends using a "small cart filled with red, white and blue flowers" to "recall the streets of Paris" or using "a low bowl or piece of driftwood filled with cherry blossoms or chrysanthemums" to make an "authentic Japanese centerpiece." Also, cover the lights with Japanese lanterns.
This lady seriously loves her soufflé, and who can blame her? It's rising practically to the heavens.
If you'd like to make it, it's apparently super easy, and if you get it right, you'll be the star of your next soiree.
Ingredients: 2T plus 2t butter 2T plus 2t flour ¼ t salt pepper cayenne pepper ¼ t mustard (powder) ⅔ c milk ⅔ c shredded sharp cheese 2 egg yolks, well beaten 2 egg whites ¼ t cream of tartar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter over low heat in heavy saucepan. Blend in flour, seasonings. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbling. Remove from heat. Stir in milk. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Remove from heat; stir in egg yolks.
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff. Fold in cheese mixture. Pour into un-greased 1 quart baking dish. Fro High Hat Souffle, make groove one inch from edge. Set baking dish in pan of hot water (1" deep). Bake 50-60 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately with mushroom, tomato or seafood sauce.
And you'll want to make sure you've prepared the perfect dessert. Maybe one of these gems?
Nothing says glamor like a sundae bowl brimming with melonballs, bananas and strawberries ("Glamorous Fruit Dessert," bottom right). Although, that Peach Melba is tempting: half a peach over vanilla ice cream with raspberry-currant sauce? We'll take it. And what if you brandied the peach first?
When you go to market, line up with the other ladies and wait for the nice gentleman to tell you what the day's specials are because, Crocker advises, "Good marketing is as important as good cooking, and the good chopper will always be prepared for any emergency," like when unexpected guests show up or friends come over on a Sunday afternoon for snacks. If you can handle these situations, "this will make your reputation as a good homemaker and a cordial and unflustered hostess" without causing "any strain on you." And really, what more could any gal aspire to?
But beware buying fish:
Cooking fish was a sure-fire way to become a cat lady... But in all seriousness, this book came out before so-called "sustainable seafood" was even a glimmer in some environmentalist's eye; many of the fillets Crocker recommends were so overfished during this book's time that since it was written, their populations fell to crisis levels. Some, like sea bass (not the Chilean kind), bluefish and flounder, have even bounced back from historic lows but others, like cod and salmon, remain extremely underpopulated.
But one sure-fire way to eat sustainably is to hunter-gather yourself a meal. So, sally forth to the forest (in your bonnet, of course) and gather ye some berries, and hope your Davey Crocket husband is good with a gun.
And for Chrissakes, don't forget ye shopping cart!
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