#124 | Learn with Betty
Learn with Betty
By Betty Crocker
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery By The Book podcast, with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Cathy: Hi, I'm Cathy Swanson-Wheaton, and I'm the Executive Editor of the Betty Crocker and Pillsbury cookbooks at General Mills in Minneapolis, and I'm here today to talk about Learn With Betty, our brand new cookbook.
Suzy Chase: I find the hardest part of being a home cook is being a confident cook, how can this cookbook help us with our confidence in the kitchen?
Cathy: I know, right. Isn't that really what people struggle with? Whenever people find out what I do, or even my family and friends, when we talk about what we're eating these days, that always comes up. It's like people, "Oh gosh, I wish I could make a great cheesecake," or, "I wish I knew how to make a good meatloaf." That's where the inspiration from this book really came from, is that cooking really is not difficult, if you understand the simple tips and tricks to make things turn out.
Cathy: We thought this would be a fabulous book for any kind of cook. I've had requests from friends who have said, "I have a nephew with special needs and he loves to cook, but he really needs a lot of step-by-step help, do you have a book?" It's like, "Absolutely, Learn With Betty is that." Or for the kids in college, just the new couples who are trying to cook more from home. They know what's going in their food more than eating out. It's great for them, or even the established cook who says, "I've been making potato salad for years, but I just have trouble. The potatoes are always mushy. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong."
Cathy: This is who we were looking at, all these different people, and trying to help them by giving you the recipes that you'd love to have in your hip pocket and be able to say, "Got friends coming over dinner, I've got something I can make for that," and really wow people with everyday good food. Although, we did throw a few surprises in there, and we can talk about that later if you want.
Suzy Chase: Tell me about who this cookbook is geared towards, and what sorts of things you wanted to include, that went along with the Betty Crocker brand?
Cathy: Betty Crocker is all about really, and always has been, about really inspiring the home cook to be able to make good food, and really get joy from cooking and joy from sharing it with others. You really find that food is really what brings people together. That's where conversations start and memories happen.
Cathy: We really wanted to gear this cookbook towards every type of cook that is out there, from a brand new cook, to someone who's been around the block for a while and is just looking for some inspiration or some tweaks in how to make some recipes better. Just feel confident that you don't have to practice ahead of time. You can follow a recipe for the first time, and have it be successful.
Suzy Chase: Who was Betty Crocker?
Cathy: Betty actually isn't a real person, which some people really don't know that. The secret's been out for quite a long time now. She's almost 100 actually. She was created when there was a contest, when our predecessor company, which was a flour milling company, held a contest and said, "If you can complete this and send a letter in to us, you will get a flour sack," it looked like a Gold Medal flour sack, "Pin cushion." Pin cushions were all the rage those days.
Cathy: All these people, thousands of people were writing in for this pin cushion, but along with it came all kinds of cooking and baking questions. The smart executives of the company at the time realized that there's a big need out there, and hired home economists to answer those letters and really help the home cook.
Cathy: Betty was created. They just took the name Betty because it was a warm and friendly name of the day, and put it together with Crocker, which was the last name of a very loved executive that had just retired, and she was born. She was just created to really help the home cook, and has really served quite a lot of people over the years. During the Depression, when money was tight and people were off at war, she really helped then. She just continues to be trending with the times, helping people know how to cook what's out there now, and just a trusted cook in your kitchen.
Suzy Chase: I love this, in the 1920s, Betty got anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 letters per day, as women moved into the big cities. In 1924, one station in Minneapolis debuted the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. I love that. Was this the country's first radio cooking program?
Cathy: It actually was. In today's terms, with all the cooking shows that are out there, this was like the first one. It was on the radio, and it debuted in Minneapolis, and then became a national program. It actually ran for 27 years, which makes it one of the longest running radio programs of any type ever done. It was very popular.
Cathy: I just recently learned this, and I thought it was so funny, that they had an unexpected audience with this program, that they weren't thinking they were going to get.
Suzy Chase: Truckers?
Cathy: Men started listening to it when they came home from the war. They loved her warm and friendly voice, and how she was describing how to make these lovely dishes. I thought that was kind of fun to learn.
Suzy Chase: That's nice. It probably reminded them of their mother.
Cathy: That could very well be. There's something about having home cooked food, it just brings comfort to people.
Suzy Chase: In 1936, the first official portrait of Betty Crocker was released. Who determined what Betty would look like and what she would wear?
Cathy: It's funny, when you look at all those photographs now, she's got a very kind of stern, not necessarily friendly looking smile to her, but at the time I think they wanted to instill the idea that she is serious, that she has something to say, and that she can be very helpful.
Cathy: What they actually did for that first portrait was they took the eyes of one woman in the office, the hair of another, the lips of another, and they created the first Betty Crocker. Then they just passed her on a piece of paper and asked different people to sign the name. They just found her signature in one of the people who worked in the office.
Suzy Chase: In the 60s, I think she had a bit of a Jackie O look going on. Was that on purpose?
Cathy: I do think that they took inspiration from the women of the day, that were inspiring and that women looked up to. Yeah, some people say she looks like Jackie O. There's a couple there that kind of look like Mary Tyler Moore, I think, the '65 or the '69 portrait. Which is interesting too, because not only was she popular on TV, but that show was as if she worked in Minneapolis. There's still a big statue of her in downtown Minneapolis, so that's kind of a fun nod as well.
Suzy Chase: I always wanted to live in that Mary Tyler Moore apartment.
Cathy: I know, me too.
Suzy Chase: Remember the sunken living room, and her cute kitchen?
Cathy: Yeah, wasn't that the coolest?
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Cathy: Oh my gosh, that was very cool.
Suzy Chase: In the 70s, it seemed Betty was ready to go to work.
Cathy: Yes, some of the portraits, starting in '69, she had more business suit, business attire on. They were trying to show that yes, more and more women were entering the workforce. The funny one I think, is the one in 1986, where she's got her red suit, of course, but she's got a white bow tie. That just always cracks us up, those that have worked in the kitchens, because would you ever bake or cook in a bow tie? That's probably not a good idea, standing over a stove. It was kind of the clothing of the day, so it did fit her.
Suzy Chase: After all these years, Betty is still relevant and people look for her inspiring recipes. What do you think contributes to her longevity?
Cathy: I love that question. I think for those of us that do and have worked on Betty Crocker, there's a little bit of Betty in the hearts of all of us. We really feel that we want to help the consumer. It's always been primary that we do very quality work, whether it's the products that we make or the recipes that we develop.
Cathy: We thoroughly test them, and we think about the consumer all the time, "Will they understand the directions? What can we do to help them understand how to make something turn out well?" I think it's just this quality and this love of feeling like we are Betty Crocker, that has added to the longevity.
Suzy Chase: Describe how the recipes are divided up in Learn With Betty.
Cathy: Oh, sure. We covered every eating occasion, from appetizers to desserts, but then what we did was we ... They're divided that way, but every recipe is like its own cooking lesson. It has the main recipe. It has all the techniques that you would want to know about how to make it successful, and these aren't difficult things at all, but just tips and tricks we've learned over the years.
Cathy: Then we have a beautiful photograph of that recipe, and five ways to change it up. Once you understand the method to how to put it together, we let you get cheffy with five ideas, and I think that'll even inspire people even to come up with even more of their own. It's really like over 300 recipes that you get in this book. It's 62 core recipes, and then five more for each one.
Cathy: We had fun picking the recipes that were going to go in this book. We have a fabulous consumer response department that answers over a million queries a year. We were able to tap into them and say, "What are the recipes that people are struggling with, that they would like help with?" We polled each other here at General Mills and at our publishing company. I also went out on Facebook to my friends and said, "Tell me what are the recipes that you'd love to be able to do, that you don't know how to do." That's how we kind of arrived at the recipes that we have in the book.
Cathy: I wanted to throw in a couple, there's some standards that gosh, it doesn't matter that it's been around forever, like meatloaf, for example. You make a good meatloaf, and people are just going to talk about it. It doesn't have to be some fancy recipe that's Instagrammable. Actually, home cooked comfort food is Instagrammable, right?
Cathy: We have those kind of recipes, but I also threw in a couple of really fun ones too, that people would say, "Wow, this is unexpected." We have a cold brew coffee pie, which is just different and very on trend now, with people loving cold brewed coffee. You get a whole variety of things, so it's like no matter when you're cooking, whether it's for just a weeknight meal or you want to impress the neighbors or something, you've got a whole gamut of things to choose from.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of meatloaf, the other night I made the savory meatloaf on page 84, and I also used the mashed potato inspiration on page 86.
Cathy: Oh gosh, awesome.
Suzy Chase: I think meatloaf takes us all back to our childhood. I read in Bon Appetit, about meatloaf, they had a whole article about meatloaf, and they said it was here to stay in the 1950s, largely in part due to Betty Crocker. Did the meatloaf recipe premiere in the first Betty Crocker picture book?
Cathy: It actually did. It has changed slightly, but yes, that recipe was in our very first book, which oh my gosh, has sold so many copies. They said at one point that the only book that sold more copies than this is the Bible, which I thought was really interesting.
Suzy Chase: Wow.
Cathy: Yeah, back in the day, Betty Crocker was trying to help women back in 1950. Money was tight, they didn't have a big food budget. Women used to have meat grinders, and they would grind their own meat, and use the trimmings then in recipes. This meatloaf was awesome, because it used meat trimmings, both beef and pork, and then you could extend it by adding oats or breadcrumbs to it, so that you actually get a more filling dish than just made with all meat.
Cathy: It debuted in the 1950 cookbook, but since then what we've done is we've recognized that people usually don't have a half a pound of ground pork around. We've made the meatloaf all with ground beef, and we've also added a little bit more seasonings, because our taste palettes have become more sophisticated over the years. Now it has the addition of Worcestershire and garlic. Back in the 1950 cookbook, they just suggested that you could top it with ketchup. Today, in the Learn With Betty book, you can top it with ketchup, or chili sauce, or barbecue sauce. I personally love chili sauce, it just adds an amazing taste contrast to the meatloaf, and people go, "Wow, what is this?" It's so simple to put together.
Suzy Chase: That just took me back to my mom's meat grinder, back in the day. Remember, they used to screw it on the edge of the counter?
Cathy: Yes, yup, they used to do that.
Suzy Chase: Oh wow. I wonder where that went? It's probably in storage.
Cathy: I know in this day and age, you can get them for your big stand mixer, you can do it over again if you want.
Suzy Chase: Allison Roman wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times called How To Eat In 2019. Her thing is to spend less time in the kitchen and more time at the table. One of her go to's are tiny bowls filled with food that don't require any cooking.
Suzy Chase: Now, most of the recipes in your appetizer chapter follow this idea.
Cathy: Yeah, they do. That can make a lot of sense, because I really feel that when you have casual appetizers, it not only sets your mood as a hostess, it makes you less nervous about having people over, but it also sets the mood for your guests, in that this is going to be fun, and relaxed, and we can say what we want, and we can laugh, etc.
Cathy: Back in the 50's, appetizers used to be so frilly and froo froo. You put all this time and effort into them, but today it's like gosh, if you have a killer appetizer, like a really good guacamole, who doesn't love that?
Cathy: I do have to say that I think we shouldn't miss the opportunity to get joy from the process, as well as the end result of having the food done and ready to eat. I've really found that I've gotten a lot of memories, great memories from cooking with my sisters, or baking cookies with my sons at Christmastime, or with my husband when we were dating. There's really a lot of joy that can be had in preparing it together. That's one of my favorite ways to entertain, actually, where not one person is responsible for the entire meal, which takes a lot of the pressure off, but you can have fun throwing things together, and then enjoy what you made.
Suzy Chase: I love that. People always want to help.
Cathy: Exactly. Yeah, they feel bad if you're running around the kitchen and they're sitting there doing nothing. We always do that at the holidays when we fondue. I started out and I'd have everything prepared when people came over, and I'd be exhausted. Then I started thinking, "Wait a minute, why don't I have people help me get everything on the table? We can have people making the cheese sauce, tossing the salad." People love that, and it's kind of become a tradition now, that everybody has their job that they want to do when it's time to get the fondue ready.
Suzy Chase: Can you tell us about the Betty Crocker kitchens?
Cathy: There have been two or three different versions of them over the years. Originally, they were created to develop the prototypes for new products, answer letters that those consumers have been asking us ever since the beginning, and create recipes that can go on the backs of packages and things, for our products.
Cathy: I actually worked in the last set of kitchens, that kind of dates me. We used to have seven kitchens that represented areas from around the United States, and they were open for tours. It was really fun to have people come through. They had over two million people come through on tours, from celebrities and dignitaries, to Girl Scout groups and school groups.
Cathy: In the early 90s, they closed those, because we were doing so many new products, that it was so confidential that we would have to shut our curtains or shut our curtains and our glass doors if we were having meetings in there.
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh.
Cathy: Yeah. These people would want to come on tour, and now only half of them were going to be open or whatever. We didn't feel like we were doing a service to the consumers, if they came all the way to see them and there wasn't enough to see.
Cathy: Today's kitchens are at least triple the size of that. We have over 18,000 square feet, I think it is. They're actually not available even to the company. You can't just get down there and go mulling around, unless you have a special badge. We do have huge glass windows that overlook some of our kitchens.
Cathy: We have people there, home economists, food scientists, and chefs that create the recipes down there, using appliances that people can have in their own kitchen. It's consumer appliances. We're not baking in big bakery ovens or whatever. We're testing things just the way you could make them at home. We have both gas and electric ovens in each cooking area, so that we can test the difference. Sometimes we'll find that a recipe will bake differently in a gas oven versus electric. We account for that. Depending on what kind of oven you have, you know that it'll work out every time.
Cathy: It's really fund to be down there. It's a very creative atmosphere. I'm glad that they're still in existence, because we just are always creating really fun and exciting recipes that show up either on our websites or in cookbooks, those kind of things.
Suzy Chase: I noticed that you included lots of color photographs, and remembered that in the first 1950 cookbook, it was a picture book. Did you take inspiration from the first cookbook for this latest one?
Cathy: Until you said that, I'm not sure I even realized that I did, but subconsciously, absolutely. That book was such a big seller because it did include photographs with the recipes and how to make them. People back then, just as people now, still find that photographs really add a lot for helping to understand what something should look like.
Cathy: It was interesting too, when I'm going through that 1950s book, I realized that in a way it is sort of like this book now, where there were tips and techniques with the recipes. We just added now the addition of giving you five new ways to create every recipe after that. Yeah, in a way, they are very similar, and we're still holding to that traditional Betty way of doing a cookbook.
Suzy Chase: Moving on to my segment called My Last Meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Cathy: Do I have to pick one thing?
Suzy Chase: No.
Cathy: Let's see. Actually, I think I would probably choose fondue. That's because I would have my family and friends, and people that have meant a lot to me, with me to help prepare it, and enjoy that time. Then fondue is one of these meals where you can't just rush through and be done. I love it, because it causes you to sit, take your time, and you get to have a lot of conversation. I would hope that we could go over all kinds of memories of things that have been wonderful and stuff over my life.
Cathy: I'm from the Midwest, so can you ever get enough cheese? There would be cheese fondue. Then, of course since it's my last meal, I wouldn't have to count calories or anything, so I'd probably have to finish it up with the Betty Crocker chocolate layer cake and chocolate frosting. I love the recipe that we have in Learn With Betty, that's why I chose it, because it's so good. Then homemade vanilla ice cream, I think that would do it. Or maybe the killer brownies too, that's a really good recipe too, that was in Learn With Betty. Oh my gosh, it's got three different kinds of candy bars in the brownie and also in a peanut butter frosting. Oh my gosh, yes, that probably would be it.
Suzy Chase: Wow. Where can we find Betty Crocker on the web and social media?
Cathy: Betty Crocker is out there to help you, even when you have a last minute need. You can go to bettycrocker.com on the internet, and you can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Suzy Chase: What's better than having Betty right there in the kitchen with you? Thanks Cathy, for coming on Cookery By The Book podcast.
Cathy: Thanks, Suzy. It's always enjoyable to talk to you.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram, @cookerybythebook, and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery By The Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks, since 2015.