#77 | Betty Crocker Lost Recipes
Beloved Vintage Recipes for Today's Kitchen
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast, with me, Suzy Chase.
Cathy: Hi, I'm Cathy Swanson. I'm the executive editor of the Betty Crocker and Pillsbury cookbooks for General Mills here in Minneapolis, and I'm here to talk about Lost Recipes, which is one of our newest cookbooks that we have out.
Suzy Chase: 80% of this cookbook includes tried and true recipes that aren't in today's repertoire. What do you think happened to those recipes like Welsh rarebit or cherry berries on a cloud, and what is Welsh rarebit, exactly?
Cathy: Well, first of all, Welsh rarebit is actually a very rich cheese sauce served over toast, and that was popular back in the day when people didn't have the same income as they do now and meat wasn't necessarily the center of the plate. And so they had to get creative about what they could serve for dinner. As far as what's happened to some of these recipes, I think that they've got pushed to the back of the recipe box, so to speak. As new recipes and new flavors have been introduced, people just sort of pushed them back and kind of forgot about them.
It's sort of like fashion, I think. Out with the old and in with the new, but just like fashion, I think food comes back around. People long for the foods they grew up with or are interested in the nostalgic recipes because of the feelings that they invoke. They remind us of the wonderful times we've had with family and friends, or we remember going to grandma's house or whatever the case may be. So there's been a new interest in some of these old recipes again, and so we were so excited to bring them back.
Suzy Chase: So Betty Crocker was born in 1921. Tell us about that.
Cathy: Yes, I love this story. So our parent company was the Washburn-Crosby company, and we were a flour milling company, and we ... They did a contest where if you could put together a jigsaw puzzle successfully and send it in, you would win a pincushion. And a pincushion was a hot item of the day, so they had thousands of people turn in their jigsaw puzzles. But with them came all kinds of cooking questions, and the marketing people of the company at the time thought that there should be someone that represented these women to answer these letters more personally, and so that's how they created Betty.
They actually took ... So it's not a real person, but they wanted to invoke a person that symbolized the continuing service to consumers. And so they were wanting these letters to represent helpfulness and trustworthiness and quality, and so what they did was ... to create her was they took the eyes of one woman and the lips of another and the hair of another and kind of put them together. And the name Betty Crocker comes from ... Betty was just a very popular name at the time that sounded warm and friendly, and Crocker was the name of a retiring, very loved executive. And so they just put those names together.
And then, they just asked the women around the office to sign that name and then just went with the signature that they seemed to match the persona. I think this is so interesting, that by the time she was not quite 25, she was the second most known female after Eleanor Roosevelt. And today, she remains one of the most recognizable names in the kitchen still today.
Suzy Chase: Do you find that people are surprised to hear that Betty Crocker wasn't a real woman?
Cathy: Well, sometimes people are surprised. Her personality is so engaging, some people do think she is real. She's been around for a while, so the word's gotten out. But once in a while, we'll run into people that didn't realize that she is not real. And it's interesting, because over the years, when she's gotten many, many letters and calls about recipe questions, she's also got some unusual requests such as marriage proposals. Isn't that funny? I love that.
Suzy Chase: That's so funny. Well, we all love Betty.
Cathy: I know. I love that, too. We that work on the Betty brand feel, really, a kinship with her, and we like to embody those same characteristics today as we develop new recipes and products. But she's just in our hearts.
Suzy Chase: It boggles my mind that in the 1920s, Betty got anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 letters per day as women moved to the big cities. So in 1924, one station in Minneapolis debuted the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. I love that title.
Suzy Chase: It was the country's first radio cooking program. Talk a little bit about that.
Cathy: Yes, I know. Isn't that neat? The demand for cooking information was really ramping up, when you see and when you talk about the number of letters that she'd get a day. And so the company expanded its commitment to consumer services with this Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, and it's actually one of the longest-running radio shows in history. It was on for a total of 27 years, and she actually had two shows, because it was so popular.
And so what they did was they had two different women read the script in different areas of the country so that they could accommodate all those shows that they were doing. And it boosted the morale of homemakers through difficult eras of American history. The Great American ... or the Great Depression in 1929 hit, and the average American family income fell by 40%. And so suddenly, listeners were turning to Betty not just for tips, but for real help and support, as well.
And I loved how they worked this. So you enrolled in the school by requesting the recipes, and then the homework was to make the recipes and write a report. And those that completed all the recipes and lessons graduated during a broadcast ceremony.
Suzy Chase: That is the cutest thing I've ever heard. I think you guys need to bring that back.
Cathy: I would love to do that, and in fact, I've got a grassroots program working on that.
Suzy Chase: I'm so excited. It sounds so darling, and I feel like, as you said, everything old is new again. I think people would love it.
Cathy: I agree. There's so much interest in cooking now, with the ability to Instagram your food on your plate, and people want to connect with the ingredients and know where they come from. And so this revival of cooking is just so exciting to me, as a food lover and a way to connect people with ... you can connect people with food. So this is fabulous.
Suzy Chase: In 1936, the first official portrait of Betty Crocker was released. Was there some kind of a message to women with that first official portrait?
Cathy: You know, I think that what they were trying to do was just embody those characteristics that were important that Betty Crocker represents, and by taking the eyes of one woman and the lips of another, et cetera, they wanted to represent a woman of the times. And I do believe that this portrait, who was done by a female illustrator by the name of Neysa McMain, was trying to do was ... back then, those portraits, people did have serious looks. And of course, you'd always wear your best outfit, so I love it that Betty is in her red suit and ruffled white blouse.
Suzy Chase: Well, then into the '60s, Betty looked a lot like Jackie O.
Cathy: Yes, I know. I love that. Kind of [crosstalk 00:07:42]-
Suzy Chase: And the Betty Crocker I remember from the '70s was more like a business Betty, like when women started going back to work.
Cathy: That's exactly what they were trying to portray with that. That was a big era of when women were trying to return to work, and so they were trying to make her look like a business professional woman at that time. Although, those of us that create recipes for a living just crack up at that photo, because is it very realistic to cook with a white blouse with a bow? That's really probably not the best idea, but it did embody the idea of what they were trying to portray.
Suzy Chase: Tell us about ... going back to the '50s, tell us about Betty Crocker's first picture cookbook that was introduced in the '50s. Why was it a picture cookbook?
Cathy: Well, it was done in 1950, yes. It was the first book of its kind that offered not only recipes, but images of how to make the recipes, as well. That had never been done before, and I think that was really a huge benefit to consumers, because you could ... how many times you can just see better with a picture than you can with words, and then you get it right away. That book has sold more than 75 million copies over the years.
Suzy Chase: Wow.
Cathy: Yeah, it's ... and what I thought was cool too was they put a washable cover on it so that it could be a hardworking tool in the kitchens across America. I thought that was so cool, and the Lost Recipes book that we just did that we're going to be talking about, as well, did the same sort of thing. We wanted to evoke that same sort of feeling of this can be a hardworking recipe book.
That was our first book that we affectionately call Big Red, and we've been updating and revising that book over the years. And now, we're on our 12th edition, which just came out last fall. And with each edition, we carefully evaluate all the recipes to see if they should stay or go to make room for the new flavors ... or new recipes and new flavors and techniques the way people are cooking today. And I really love it when people find out what I do, and they say, "I've got a book in my kitchen. I have my mom's book," whatever.
And they always say, "I always love it. No matter what recipe I'm looking for, I seem to be able to find what I need in the Betty Crocker Cookbook." She just doesn't age. Betty Crocker just continues to be a helper in the kitchen, and we're offering well tested, approachable, creative recipes for the way we cook today. So you can find your favorites, like apple pie, but you can find new things like shakshouka, which is a really exciting egg dish to make, and it's super easy, as well.
Suzy Chase: So this latest cookbook of lost recipes is perfect for the Betty Crocker fan who loves recipes with a nostalgic twist. One nostalgic recipe that has been modernized is the healthified lemon broccoli salad. Can you describe how this retro dish was upgraded?
Cathy: Yes. The broccoli salad is like a staple in delis and shows up at potlucks all the time. It's just been around for years. But once in a while, like for this book, we decided to offer like a 1.0 version of a classic. So that's ... we recognize that we're all looking for ways to cut calories without sacrificing flavor. So what we did for this recipe was we cut back on the fat and calories by substituting Greek yogurt for some of the mayonnaise, and then we also zipped up the flavor with some lemon peel and lemon juice. And instead of raisins, we used dried cranberries and added a bit of crunch with soy nuts. And I think it's just a fabulous treat. So it's like you can still have that broccoli salad. It's got a little bit new flavor to it, and you can feel good about eating it, as well.
Suzy Chase: In 2017, with every piece of information, every fact, every recipe available on the internet, there's something so timeless about having your cookbook right there on the counter as you make a meal. Don't you agree?
Cathy: Oh, I totally agree. It's a physical way to connect to the recipes when you can touch the pages and you can see the photos, and I think it's actually easier to cook from a book. Like, when your hands are dirty, you don't have to swipe with dirty fingers.
Suzy Chase: Right.
Cathy: And one of the things that I learned from my grandmother was that you can write notes on the pages. You can talk about when you served it or what you'd differently next time, like make a double batch. It goes quickly. It becomes a cooking scrapbook of the things that you've made, as well as a legacy to your family, because they can remake the recipes that they grew up with, and they can see all your notes on the side. So when they go, "What was that cranberry dish you served at Thanksgiving?" They'll see the notes right there.
And I love it that I can go right to specific cookbooks with the recipes I want. It's a lot easier for me to find the exact ones and not have to wade through all the versions that are out there online that don't work because they weren't thoroughly tested by professionals. So I am just a complete cookbook fan.
Suzy Chase: What did it take to create this cookbook? Like, how were these recipes chosen?
Cathy: Well, for this Lost Recipes book, which just came out, it took over a year to make. And what we did was we thought it would go right to the consumer, right, and find out what kind of recipes they've been looking for. So we worked closely with our consumer relations department to identify the top recipes that have been requested over the years for each category. And then, we also compared notes with the foodies that were working on the project to make sure that we weren't leaving anything out that we really wanted to have in there.
We scoured all of our old books to help us trip our memories into remembering, "Oh my gosh, I forgot all about the Sally Lunn. That has to be in the book." And then, what we did was, once we figured out what recipes we wanted, we compared all the versions of the recipes that we have to make sure that we were using the best version of it. And then, we had to scrutinize every recipe for flavor, texture, color, and tweak them if needed, because way back then, people's palates weren't as sophisticated as they are now. We cooked differently. Sometimes, things were very overly salty because they didn't have a depth of flavor, or they were very bland.
So we wanted to ... or they weren't that visually attractive, because people just were more concerned about getting food on the table. Now, the eating experience has to be all those things. It has to be visual. It has to be textural, and it has to have great flavor. And so we looked at these recipes and added a little bit of parsley here or grind of pepper there to help elevate the recipes to a brand new level.
Suzy Chase: Now, your parent company, General Mills, has their own archives in Minneapolis. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and what can we find in the Betty Crocker section at the archives?
Cathy: Sure. Well, actually, the archives are closed to the public, but I've been lucky enough to get a tour. I was so excited to be back there. It was very cool. They have holdings from, I mean, 1866 to the present. They have over 3,000 cubic feet of space, and it's a secure repository for historically significant, non-current records documenting the founding of the company, development and the organization, management and archives from General Mills, the Washburn-Crosby company, which was our parent company, the Pillsbury company and the subsidiaries collectively known as General Mills.
We don't specifically have a Betty Crocker section, but it's a varied ... oh, it's a variety of items, including Betty Crocker packages and advertisements and the portraits and cookbooks, and we even have a lot of consumer letters that were written to Betty and photographs of the Betty Crocker kitchens over the years. They have changed quite a bit.
Suzy Chase: So the other night, I made the recipe for chicken Tetrazzini, and it took me back to growing up in Kansas in the '70s.
Cathy: Oh, great.
Suzy Chase: I had no idea that the dish was named after opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini. What did she have to do with the dish? It's so funny.
Cathy: Well, food ... I know. Isn't that interesting? Food folklore believes that this dish was created in the very early 1900s by the chef of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. And Luisa Tetrazzini, that opera singer, was a long time resident of the hotel. So apparently, they decided that they should name it after her, because she graced them with her presence at dinner probably very frequently.
Suzy Chase: Do you have any Betty Crocker Christmas/holiday tips?
Cathy: Oh, yes. In fact, you can find them online. We have a great website. It's easy to find, bettycrocker.com. We still are being a help in the kitchen with inspirational and doable recipes. You'll find how tos. You'll find guides for holidays and entertaining. There's a great promotion that they're running right now, the 24 Days of Cookies, that you can sign up via email to get. So every day, for 24 days, you get a new cookie in your email account. It's super fun just to get, and there's also information about our cookbooks and meal planning.
And then, not only that, but we've also just come up with a brand new Christmas book, which I think is so fantastic and works really well in the kitchens, because it covers every kind of recipe you'd want for the month of December, whether it's ... you're going to one of those Friday night after work parties and you need an appetizer to bring that won't take you very long to make, but you want it to wow everyone that tries it. We've got those recipes.
Or if you're wanting to have brunch or people staying with you for brunch or the big meal ... we even have recipes for making homemade gifts, and which I think is super cool, is we've even done a couple of recipes that use ingredient kitchens ... I mean, I'm sorry, ingredients from your kitchen to make gifts that aren't edible, such as ... we have a facial mask that is made with yogurt, and we have a body scrub made with brown sugar and kosher salt. Super fun. So you have to try those out.
So we've got a lot going on at Betty Crocker, whether it's online or in cookbooks. We're still really trying to be a service to our consumers and help people learn how to cook, help them make things that bring people together in their life.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find Betty Crocker on the web and social media?
Cathy: Bettycrocker.com is on the web, and we also have the Betty Crocker Facebook page, which you can join. And they've got a lot of fun and exciting things happening through the Facebook page, as well.
Suzy Chase: Since 1921, the Betty Crocker kitchens have been a trusted source of inspiring but doable recipes. Thanks, Cathy, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Cathy: Oh, you're so welcome. Thanks so much, Suzy.
Suzy Chase: Follow me on Instagram at Cookery by the Book. Twitter is IAmSuzyChase, and download your kitchen mix tapes, music to cook by, on Spotify at Cookery by the Book. And as always, subscribe in Apple Podcasts.