I declare today Bibliophile Friday. Why? Well, is it redundant to say that books are awesome? Because they are. Some are, anyway. A lot of them. I work at a used bookstore where a huge quantity of every-subject-you-can-possibly-imagine comes across the counter daily. I see a lot of the same stuff -- titles and authors you could probably guess at, like Danielle Steel, James Patterson or Dr. Phil self-help books. But we see a lot of great cookbooks, too, and art books, philosophy, pop culture, travel (and music and movies, too)... the list goes on.
I thought it would be good to share the scoop on some of my favorites, and new things I come across, so hopefully, if I remember ;) -- Friday will be my show-a-book day! Yay!
Because I've been cooking up a storm lately, I thought I'd start with an oldie, one that sits in my kitchen cabinet more for decoration than anything else, but one that I have referred to in the past just for fun. Betty Crocker's New Picture Cookbook, printed in 1961 by McGraw-Hill, is oh-so-quaint mid-century. Betty, Betty, you little devil, this cookbook is one of my favorites.
I remember reading somewhere that a vast percentage of Betty Crocker cookbook readers at the height of her popularity in the mid-20th century thought she was a real person, rather than what she actually is, a brand name made up by General Mills. She's gone through many makeovers during her lifetime, and I have to say, she looks pretty demure in her spine portrait. There is actually another book that came out a few years ago by Susan Marks about the history behind the icon, called Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food. The portrait comparisons on the article's page are endearing.
As far as this specific book is concerned, I'm mostly in love with the cover. The colors are adorable. The entire book is illustrated, however, by Joseph Pearson, and it's one of those typical everyone-is-SO-cheerful! kinds of cookbooks.
It's worth noting that I'm just finishing up season 2 of the show Mad Men, so I can't help thinking of Betty Draper when I look at some of the illustrations of the happy-bappy housewife whipping up dinner for her picture-perfect husband and two kids. The nuclear family, remember?
It's kind of amazing to think of the culture that these cookbooks appealed to 50 years ago. This book was geared to women and only women, as the makers of food and the satisfiers of family in the home. (Today, I just ran across an old falling-apart copy of the Settlement Cookbook, another classic from the beginning of the 20th century, and even that, right in the first page, boasts "The way to a man's heart." Gotta love it. That would never fly today.) But housewife-ing was a full-time job, presentation being the keystone.
And maybe one of my favorite photos is right in the beginning, at the Betty Crocker test kitchen in Golden Valley! Look how pristine everything and everyone is! It looks like a girl's dream come true. If only I looked that adorable while decorating cakes and lining up my loaves of bread perfectly!
Here's to a wonderful piece of nostalgia, and some darn good classic recipes.