I admit, I have a weird little hobby.
I LOVE reading vintage cookbooks – both to crack myself up AND gross myself out.
I recently came across a 1962 copy of Betty Crocker’s Good & Easy Cookbook. The cookbook belonged to my mom.
Mama gave it to me one year for Christmas because I enjoyed pulling it out and reading excerpts from it, just for fun. The chapter on cereal alone rendered me breathless with hysterical laughing.
You have to understand, life was very different for women in those days.
It was a time before women’s liberation, sexual liberation.
It was a time when a decent married woman did not work outside of the home and divorce was absolutely unthinkable.
It was a time when women wore horrible pointy bras and industrial-strength girdles.
It was a time when the middle-class married woman’s role model was June Cleaver (mom to “The Beav”). June wore high heels when vacuuming and pearls when gardening. She cooked full, elaborate breakfasts and lunches, and dinner was an all-out formal affair in the the dining room.
I suppose some women tried to emulate June, but I suspect many more hated her with a passion.
Anyway … the Betty Crocker Good and Easy Cookbook.
Let’s start with cereal. Betty suggests putting dry cereal in “attractive pitchers” so your family can “pour out” the amount they’d like.
(What? The family can’t pour from a box?)
Betty also says to serve cereals in “lovely compote or other dessert-type dishes”, and lists a number of alternatives to pour on your family’s cereal – instead of milk.
“Breakfast!” our homemaker calls. (We’ll call her May because she will NEVER be a June.) “Here, Timmy – here is your cereal with softened ice cream. Susie – here is your cereal with whipped cream instead of milk. And, Husband – I put eggnog on our cereal!”
May watches her husband take a bite, turn red, and start coughing.
Belatedly, she realizes her Good & Easy cookbook just specified eggnog – not spiked eggnog.
Oh, well. It won’t be the first time our homemaker has started drinking before noon.
In today’s world we try to pry our children away from too-sweet, candy-like cereals. Betty, however … encouraged homemakers to add “chocolate chips” or “cinnamon candies” or “miniature marshmallows” or “tiny cubes of sparkling jelly” to cereal.
That last scares me. To think of some woman, getting up at the crack of dawn. Taking jelly out of the jelly jar and attempting to cut it into “tiny sparkling cubes”… There’s just something beyond creepy about that.
Betty also displays a rather sick sense of humor when she advocates for “hiding” things in the children’s cereal bowls. Yep, little Timmy’s going to be real happy to find that stewed prune in the middle of his ice cream!
Next chapter – Lunch. The “light meal of the day.”
While there are some lunch-y suggestions – soups and sandwiches – there are many others that seem more qualified to be the evening meal. Pork chops, ham steaks, spaghetti, a number of casseroles …
It is also around this chapter I began to notice a few things.
Most recipes call for a can of cream of chicken soup – UNLESS they call for cream of celery or cream of mushroom.
Unspecified “fat” (lard) is actually added to many dishes.
Recipes using cream call for a minimum (not maximum) butterfat.
And monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a frequent and hearty addition to these recipes … as in, “monosodium glutamate – 12 shakes!” (Hmmm, maybe not all of May’s headaches are caused by alcohol, after all.)
Above is a picture of a homemaker packing “lunch” for her husband. It appears to be cream of chicken soup and a sandwich with cheese, mayo, and raw bacon slices. This woman either knows NOTHING about cholesterol or she knows A GREAT DEAL about cholesterol.
(Poor Timmy and Susie. They will miss their dad.)
Next chapter: Dinner!
This comes with the introduction: “When you use frozen, refrigerated, and canned foods, brown ‘n serve rolls, and packaged mixes, you are taking advantage of the work of hundreds of ‘silent servants’ outside your home.”
What a masterful piece of marketing! “Silent servants.” What homemaker in 1962 wouldn’t enjoy the thought of servants making her life easier?
And silent ones at that!
Especially May, who’s stuck at home, in the kitchen, all day, cooking for a worthless husband and two ungrateful children, none of whom ever lift a finger to help around the house …
That was the beginning of the chapter. The end of the chapter actually refers to dinner as “The Magic Moment.“
Wow, talk about pressure! I’ve made many dinners A likes, and has had double and triple helpings of, but has he ever once sat down and said, “Oh, this is magic.”
NO HE HAS NOT.
Pass me that bottle, May.
Since the book was written in 1962, I wasn’t expecting many vegetarian or vegan recipes. And I didn’t find many. (No vegan ones at all; a few vegetarian ones full of butter and cream and eggs and cheese.) As the book goes on, I became increasingly more aware of how meat-centric it is.
Often more than one type of meat is used in a recipe. Ground beef and pork is a common combination. Another recipe calls for lamb chops, chicken livers, and sausage – three kinds of dead animals on one plate!
There’s detailed instructions on cooking and carving meat. Betty pulls no punches – she refers to “neck slices,” “leg steaks,” “shoulder steaks,” “breast,” “heart.” There’s no doubt you’re cooking a once-living animal.
And there are a few really disgusting recipes:
- Stuffed Veal Heart (“Trim small cords and vessels from veal heart. Fill cavity with 1 cup Bread Stuffing. Tie with string. Brown in hot fat.”)
- Or Tongue – (“Choose baby beef, veal, or lamb tongue….Bring to boil, simmer until tender … Cool slightly and trim off bone and gristle and remove skin. Slice.”)
Ughh… if our homemaker May had to cook things like that, I understand why she drank.
Vegetables are given very short shrift, occasionally appearing as part of a main dish (usually as peas).
The “cream of carrot soup” doesn’t actually have any carrots at all, just carrot juice!
There’s an 8 page section on vegetables (out of a total 183 pages of recipes).
This includes a very helpful section on “Heating Canned Vegetables.” (Before you laugh, consider our homemaker has been drinking since the eggnog on her cereal this morning.)
There’s also a section on “Cooking Frozen Vegetables” – “Follow directions on package.” Umm, yes. That was very helpful! Thank you, Betty!
Oddly, even though vegetables are almost non-existent in this cookbook, fruit plays a very important, powerful role! There’s all kinds of advice on fruit juices, displaying fruits attractively, combining different fruits together, making fruit salads. Believe it or not, some of the advice is actually good!
Then, sadly, Betty dives into over a dozen “gelatin” mold salads …some featuring fruit, some featuring …
- Beets and Horse Radish. I cannot make this up. In lemon-flavored gelatin.
- Perfection Salad – Cabbage, pimentos, and sweet pickles in lemon flavored gelatin.
- Sea Dream Salad – Cucumbers and onions in lime flavored gelatin.
This is a picture of … I don’t know what it is, exactly. Let’s remember May has been drinking since her morning cereal. Let’s hope none of this includes leftover veal heart, tongue, or the family cat that’s been missing a week.
The final chapter is the “fourth meal.” It’s the “meal people eat for fun.”
I really can’t imagine eating a fourth meal, after starting off the day with cereal and ice cream, pork chops and dessert for lunch, some good ol’ veal heart and canned vegetables and fruit mold and cake for dinner …
Betty adds some extra pressure here. “Though you will spend only a few moments (yeah, right) your home will be a happy one if your family knows that they can count on finding home-baked cookies in the cooky jar or a tasty sandwich spread, fruit, and milk in the refrigerator.” Hear that, homemakers? If you’re marriage isn’t as satisfying as you’d like … just bake some cookies!
It’s in this section I really noticed some bias in the menus. For daughter’s birthday, our homemaker fixes … chicken salad sandwiches, “birthday bouquets” (cupcakes), and ice cream. For son’s birthday, the menu is far more substantial … spaghetti and meat balls, greens with oil-and-vinegar dressing, crusty hard rolls with garlic butter, and “Tarts to Suit His Fancy.”
You have a problem with that, Susie? Well, maybe you shouldn’t eat so much whipped cream.
My FAVORITE recipe from this book …
I’m telling you, it’s so awesome it makes me want to become an omnivore again, just to serve this at a dinner party and see the looks on my guests’ faces.
It’s gotta be the most brilliant way to serve prunes, EVER!
It’s called … DEVILS ON HORSEBACK.
“Fill pitted cooked large prunes with pimento-stuffed olives or almonds around which anchovy fillets have been wound. Wrap a half slice of bacon around each (anchovy) stuffed prune. Broil 3″ from heat for 2-3 minutes.”
On further reflection, though, I think I’d rather bring this to a potluck than serve this at our own home.
Sometimes, I wonder what happened to May.
I like to imagine that she finally sobered up one day, took a good look at her Good & Easy cookbook, said “The HELL with this,” and trashed it.
Then later that evening, when her husband told her that his dinner moment was “not magic,” she took a good look at him and trashed him too.
Timmy and Susie? Well, they had to lead their own life … Timmy wound up in Overeaters Anonymous and Susie wound up with a dozen different eating disorders and a dozen different abusive men.
I’m not sure May was the kind of woman that would have gone back to college in those days and had a career. But I believe she learned some self-sufficiency skills and was able to make a living.
I also like to think as the 60’s wore on, she became a vegetarian (easy enough to do after preparing one too many veal hearts) and subsequently lost weight – which meant she also lost the need for those constrictive undergarments!
She ditched her pearls and heels.
She took up with a man who often cooked for HER.
GO, MAY, GO!
And let those “Betty Crocker” moments become just a dim and horrible dream.