Betty Crocker was always there when I needed her. As a preteen, I kept her red cookbook nearby. Chocolate chip cookies were my first baking specialty; that page in the cookbook was splattered and tattered from frequent use. I felt accomplished to learn the recipe for these cookies by heart.
As a teenager, I moved into baking a red chocolate cake. Quick breads and pastas followed. During college, the cookbook section on main dishes became more important.
My Mom had grown up with Betty Crocker. Betty was created in 1921 as a fictitious food expert by a small Minneapolis milling company. When General Mills bought this company, it expanded the use of Betty as a marketing tool. Soon she hosted a radio cooking show.
Different actresses played her part in the media. During the Depression, she advised how to stretch one's food budget. Betty's image was created in 1936. People identified with her and her cooking knowledge. In a public opinion poll, she was rated as the second-most famous person in the nation, after Eleanor Roosevelt. Next came a television show.
By the 1930s, a Betty Crocker Coupon Catalog allowed consumers to mail in coupons from their products, to reduce the cost of kitchen items. In the late 1960s, my Mom used the coupon catalog to purchase Oneida flatware. Two of my sisters picked out patterns they liked. Mom presented them with a place setting of fork, knife and spoon with their birthday or Christmas gifts. By the time they were married, they each had service for eight.
I spotted a Betty Crocker mail-in offer for Oneida ware while in college. By recruiting other dorm students, I was able to send in enough offers to have a complete service for 12. I was very proud of this purchase when I married a few years later. I kept this flatware in a nice box for many years. When I finally began using it for everyday, our daughter commented, "Mom, this is just like eating in a fancy restaurant." We used all of the serving pieces, and appreciated the grapefruit spoons. Today my Oneida looks as shiny as ever.
The decades since her creation have affected Betty Crocker. I've enjoyed observing Betty's changes in appearance as she is kept culturally relevant. With the last of her seven changes in 1996, she is now multicultural, with a slightly darker, ethnic look.
Her newer cookbooks reflect the use of prepackaged and frozen foods. Stir-fry was not a significant entree 80 years ago. Now I use Betty's stir-fry recipes for quick, healthy meals. General Mills and its Betty Crocker brand have dropped the coupon catalog.
More than 200 Betty Crocker cookbooks are now in print. My shelf carries just a few, including a microwave cookbook.
I currently have on display at an exhibit in the Clearfield Library in Amherst a 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook as well as other information about Betty. This old cookbook fascinates me with the comments before some recipes. In the dessert section is Bess Truman's Frozen Lemon Pie. "A specialty of a gracious former White House hostess, Mrs. Harry S. Truman "
Happy 80th birthday, Betty. Your cookbooks are still the first ones I go to. My daughter is now the third generation to use your books. You have been and continue to be a marketing success.
Diane O'Brien, who lives in Williamsville, has been using Betty Crocker cookbooks for many years.