Women’s History Month, Part 22: Betty Crocker (1921-present)

For the start of Women’s History Month (or, as we call it on the Virginia Tech campus, Women’s Month), I thought we would, oddly enough, talk about the woman who didn’t exist: Betty Crocker. The idea of Betty Crocker was (and remains) influential. And yet, she doesn’t (and didn’t) exist as a person–Crocker is an identity and a brand. On the one hand, we could argue that perhaps a fictional identity isn’t the way to sell products or best way to represent women. On the other hand, the fact is, it worked. Really, really well. Which is why it seems fair to take a look at just what this character did for culinary history.

We’ve highlighted a couple of specific publications “by” Crocker in the past: Betty Crocker & Salads  and Betty Crocker & Outdoor Entertaining. This week, we’ll add some more to the mix. Special Collections houses 21 books and publications attributed to Betty Crocker, including my beloved Betty Crocker card libraries. If you add in books housed in the circulating collection, that total doubles. You can view a list of the publications online. And that barely scratches the surface of materials attributed to this identity and image. There are books, card libraries, pamphlets (we have those in some manuscript collections, too), flyers/single-page instruction sheets, individual recipes cards, advertisements, and more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, who was Betty Crocker, then? The idea behind her creation in 1921 was to have a female persona/representation for Washburn Crosby (by the end of the decade, the company would merge with others to form General Mills). The company’s advertising department was all male, but their intended audience was, of course, women. They needed an image to sell that. However, this is not to say that there weren’t women involved in helping to build the persona. When “Betty Crocker” got a radio show in 1924, she was voiced by a home economist on staff, Blanche Ingersoll. The publications that began to flow out to the public written by Betty were really the work of Marjorie Child Husted and a team of home economists who created, tested, and marketed the recipes. Husted worked on getting the persona of Betty Crocker to engage with real people for items like “Let the Stars Show You How to Take a Trick a Day with Bisquick” from 1935. The first portrait of Betty Crocker appeared on materials in 1936, giving further credence to the identity.

During decades of change, Betty Crocker’s work was adapted to meet needs of women around the nation: Publications focused on how to stretch foods during the Great Depression and how to cook under rationing conditions in World War II. While all of these things could have also been provided by a single author, radio host, home economist, etc. (or a series of them over time), as we’ve seen with other companies, we might also consider there is something to be said for the consistent image that we’ve seen now for more than 90 years. The idea of Betty Crocker as a constant companion in the kitchen, one who rises to the challenges of changing times and even reflects back some of what is going on for women during that turmoil. (*see note at the end of the post)

If you’d like to know more about the history and evolution of Betty Crocker, there are some resources at your fingertips (and beyond). I discovered the MNopedia article on Crocker, which helped me write this post. There’s a chapter in The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has a brief article that contains images of Crocker of time. And Laura Shapiro’s book, Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America, includes at least part of a chapter on Betty Crocker.

*On a side note, I didn’t know much about Marjorie Child Husted before I started this post, though I had seen the name. It was interesting to learn that in addition to her work with this persona, “during the war, Husted worried that women were not being honored for their work in the home. She developed the Betty Crocker American Home Legion in 1944 to recognize women for their contributions. Husted championed the rights of women in the workplace, criticizing General Mills and other companies for discriminating against their female employees.” (http://www.mnopedia.org/person/betty-crocker) It seems that much of what she did was tied to Betty Crocker, which gives us another perspective on both Husted and what she intended Crocker to be.


Getting Out of Our Shells: Shellfish Cooking by an African-American Chef in 1901

Some recent research has led me to a little bit of the history of oyster availability in the early 20th century. I was fascinated to learn that landlocked (or at least landlocked from the eastern seaboard) locations like Kentucky and Tennessee would have train cars loaded with ice and oysters brought inland for purchase and consumption. In those, and other regions, it would be a bit of a status symbol to be able to afford and share this shellfish delicacy. And the cookbooks of the time reflected this: regional cookbooks from areas inland began to include recipes for clams, oysters, and other items that would continue to become easier to obtain. So, with shellfish in mind, and in honor on of Black History Month, I thought I would share a relatively recent publication by an African-American chef we were able to acquire last summer: 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish: Terrapin, Green Turtle, Snapper, Oysters, Oyster Crabs, Lobsters, Clams, Crabs and Shrimp. Written by H. (Harry) Franklyn Hall, it was published in Philadelphia in 1901.

Front cover
Front cover
Title page
Title page

Fair warning: Historically speaking, this cookbook has more turtle, terrapin, and snapper recipes than I’ve ever encountered in a single cookbook–37 of them. It is also filled to the gills (seafood pun intended, of course), with oyster recipes–a whopping 101 of them, to be exact!

Interestingly, this book has several introductions. There’s a true intro before the table of contents by Hall, pointing out the economy and purpose of the book (with recipes made “plain and simple, so that not only the lady of the house can understand them, but to save her annoyance, the butler, housekeeper or cook, not only the proprietor, steward or chef, but the side cook, all of whom hope to become chef some day as well”). In other words, Hall has multiple audiences in the home and professional sphere. The second “introduction” is about Hall himself, which we’ll come back to shortly. After the table of contents, though, I found the “Caution,” which includes some of Hall’s advice–follow directions and don’t cut corners!

 Most persons think that it is not necessary to follow instructions exactly as given in preparing, cooking or serving an article of food. The same is a common but serious mistake. For instance, if you think it does not matter whether you bleed a green turtle five minutes or an hour, you will simply make the mistake that will keep you from ever making the kind of clear green turtle soup containing clear bottle green meat with the soft, smooth, peculiar flavor, which is procured in houses whose cuisine department is under the management of Chefs, who take on chances on hit-or-miss cooking

Even scanning through this book was a huge education for me. I grew up eating seafood and I still adore it (though it took me a long time to come back around to raw oysters). I would rather cook and eat shrimp or fish before I would dig into a steak or a pork chop. Now, if you asked me to filet a fish, it wouldn’t be pretty–I’m no professional, but I could do it and make it tasty. Turtles and terrapins, on the other hand, are way out of my wheelhouse. Hall’s book, however, offers step-by-step, enlightening instructions:

Snapper [snapping turtle] recipes
Snapper [snapping turtle] recipes
Green turtle recipes
Green turtle recipes

While turtles, terrapins, and oysters do seem the larger focus, I decided to share a few pages from the more underrepresented shellfish: clams, lobster, and crab. Opposite the start of chapter on crab, there’s also an advertisement. Apparently Hall was in the self-promotion business, too, like any good chef, and at least some of his recipes could be acquired already prepared! There’s a fair bit of overlap with the lobster, crab, and shrimp. You often see a recipes that says something to the effect of “prepare as you would for lobster xx, but use crab instead.” Once you nailed the technique, the protein could be swapped.

The book tells us a bit about where Hall worked over his 29+ year career, in hotels and restaurants in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (with the 15 years leading up to the book at the Chef Boothby Hotel Company in Philadelphia, which “contain[s] the generally acknowledged largest and finest oyster and shell fish department in the world”). A little genealogical research turned up that he was born in Washington, DC, in 1853. Around 1874, he was married and his wife, Georgia, was also born in 1853 in DC. According to the 1900 census, where he is listed as “Harry F. Hall,” they never had any children. Unfortunately, I can’t find a record of either of them after 1900 (or rather, after 1901 when the book was published), so I’m not sure they died before the 1910 census, if somehow they were recorded under something that isn’t coming up in a search, or if they just slipped through the records somehow. But the 1900 census certainly gave me more than I had first thing this morning. 🙂

300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shellfish is available online in its entirety, for all your turtle, crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, and oyster needs, too! It was Harry Franklyn Hall’s only book, despite his obviously long career in the cooking world, but I think it says a great deal about work, his expertise, and his efforts to bring shellfish to home cook. In other words, it’s worth a look–you might just find something to make today!

Women’s History Month, Part 14: Eliza Leslie (1787-1858)

This week, we’re looking at the life and books of Eliza Leslie (1787-1858). Eliza Leslie was born in Philadelphia and most of her books were published there (or in New England). She spent the first 12 years of her life living abroad in England. After the family returned to the United States, for financial reasons, her mother opened a boarding house (and we can speculate about what influence that may have had on her future written works). She eventually began publishing stories in children’s and women’s magazines. It wasn’t until around the age of 40, however, that she published her first cookbook: Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828). She did not publish under her own name. Rather, the title page of Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats reads “By a Lady.” Later editions and at least one publication would use this moniker. Another variation was “By a Lady of Philadelphia.” Eventually, though, she used her own name, often branding her books (as we’ve seen with other authors) by including her name in the title, as with Miss Leslie’s new Cookery Book (1857), Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies (1859), and Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt Book (1850). She died in 1858, and she was writing and publishing right up until then (Miss Leslie’s Behaviour Book: A Guide and Manual for Ladies appears to be a posthumous guide).

There is a brief, but good, biography of her (to which I am indebted) from the Library Company of Philadelphia that includes a portrait of Eliza. Many editions of her books (culinary, household, gift books, and novels) are available online through projects like the Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, HathiTrust Digital Library, and many other sources. I’ve also scanned some pages from a few items in our collection (two are a bit too fragile for the scanners).

Bibliography of Eliza Leslie Publications at the University Libraries (items in bold are in Special Collections; items underlined are in Newman Library):

  • Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston : Munroe & Francis, [1829?].
  • Pencil Sketches, or, Outlines of Characters and Manners. Philadelphia : Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1833.
  • Laura Lovel: A Sketch, for Ladies Only. Lowell: Franklin Bookstore, 1834.
  • Pencil Sketches, or, Outlines of Characters and Manners. Philadelphia : Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1835.
  • Pencil Sketches, or, Outlines of Characters and Manners. Philadelphia : Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1837.
  • Althea Vernon, or, the Embroidered Handkerchief: To Which is added, Henrietta Harrison, or, The Blue Cotton Umbrella. Philadelphia : Lea & Blanchard, 1838.
  • The Violet: A Christmas and New Year’s Gift, or Birth-day Present. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1838.
  • The House Book: or, A Manual of Domestic Economy for Town and Country. Philadelphia : Carey & Hart, 1841.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Woodbridge: with other Tales, Representing Life as It Is and Intended to Show What It Should Be. Providence : Isaac H. Cady, 1841.
  • Mrs. Washington Potts, and Mr. Smith: Tales. Philadelphia : Lea and Blanchard, 1843.
  • Leonilla Lynmore and Mr. and Mrs. Woodbridge, or, A Lesson for Young Wives: Also, Dudley Villiers. Philadelphia : Carey and Hart, 1847.
  • Kitty’s Relations: and Other Pencil Sketches. Philadelphia : Carey and Hart, 1848.
  • Amelia, or, A Young Lady’s Vicissitudes: A Novel. Philadelphia : Carey and Hart, 1848.
  • Directory for Cookery, in Its Various Branches. Philadelphia : Henry Carey Baird, 1851. 40th edition.
  • New Receipts for Cooking: Comprising All the New and Approved Methods for Preparing All Kinds of Soups, Fish, Oysters…with Lists of Articles in Season Suited to Go Together for Breakfasts, Dinners, and Suppers…and Much Useful and Valuable Information on All Subjects Whatever Connected with General Housewifery. Philadelphia : T.B. Peterson, [c1854].
  • The American Family Cook Book: Containing Receipts for Cooking Every Kind of Meat, Fist, and Fowl, and Making Soups, Gravies, and Pastry, Preserves and Essences; with a Complete System of Confectionery, and Rules for Carving; and also Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston : Higgins, Bradley & Dayton, 1858.
  • Directory for Cookery, in Its Various Branches. New York, Arno Press, 1973. (reprint of 1848 edition)
  • Corn Meal Cookery: A Collection of Heirloom Corn Meal Recipes Dating from 1846. Hamilton, Ohio : Lawrence D. Burns, Simon Pure Enterprises, c1998.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single good bibliography of all of Leslie’s works that I was able to locate (there is a partial one on Wikipedia). [Perhaps one of these days I’ll finally get around to doing some Wikipedia edits and tackle the challenge!] But we do know that she wrote a great deal in culinary/household management, in what we might consider children’s literature for girls and young women (in so much as some of her stories were filled with lessons and instruction) and she wrote and edited for a variety of gift books. In other words, she had plenty of good advice to share. Next week, we’ll look at another women who wrote for the home and for children (so, Eliza makes a great transition)–Lydia Maria Childs. See you then!


Digitized Cookbooks at the Folger

As you know, Special Collections at Virginia Tech isn’t the only special collections and archives to be digitizing its rare and unique content to share on the web! Over the weekend, the Folger Shakespeare Library some new material to its online platform. The best part? It’s almost all historic receipt books and cookbooks! You can see the list of recent additions online, complete with links to the items themselves. I also recommend you browse by category and check out “Cookbooks” and “Recipes” for other items.

New Blog Post from NPR

I’m working on a feature post for this week, but in the meantime, The Salt, NPR’s food-related blog, posted a story yesterday that touches on some of the themes I talked about last week: the Civil War, food supplies, and coffee. It also talks about cookbooks published during the Civil War (or lack thereof). You might want to check out “Slavery, Famine And The Politics Of Pie: What Civil War Recipes Reveal” while you’re waiting on me.

The Garland Cook Book (Ovens, not Decorations, of course!)

Waaaaaaay back in 2011, when “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” was born, I talked about how our collection included materials relating to food technology. More specifically, we have historical books, publications, and ephemera which depict changes in food technology over time. This week, I tracked down a cookbook on our shelves that comes from a corporation. Rather than pushing a food product, like some other titles I’ve blogged about before, this one is pushing what we might call a food technology product: oven heat control.


The Garland Oven Cook Book isn’t quite what I expected. I imagined this was a company that made ovens. I was sort of correct. In fact, it’s a cookbook designed around/for a specific oven part: heat control. The full title is actually The Garland Cook Book: Containing Tested Recipes for Cooking by Controlled Heat and Instructions for Operating the Garland Oven Heat Control. In other words, it’s a cookbook designed for process, based on a product. The introduction has a lot to say on this:

The subject of cooking by controlled heat is one that is engaging the attention of the best cooks and domestic science experts everywhere, and the verdict is unanimous that it not only makes much lighter the task of preparing the daily meals, but gives even the experienced cook a certainty of good results for cooking any particular dish desired…

The control automatically holds the flame of the oven steady at this desired temperature. It is not necessary to watch it, or even think about it, for the control keeps the heat constant and steady, without your having to touch the gas cock, or even go near the oven until the time is up to take the food from the oven.

I don’t know much about The Garland Cook Book. In fact, the only copy that shows up cataloged for public or academic libraries in WorldCat is ours, so it seems to be pretty scarce. There’s no clear date, but the cookbook was probably created by the Detroit-Michigan Stove Company, which produced Garland stoves. Lucky for us, the Detroit Historical Society knows more than I do, and there’s a short article on the Garland stove online. The stove dates back to the 1860s and the company to 1872. This item doesn’t have date, but is possibly from the very late 19th century, but more likely the early part of the 20th century.

However, probably the most important thing about this cookbook is the mechanism behind it. In terms of gas stoves, even temperature control was a huge leap forward in technology, kitchen efficiency, and home cooking. It meant less time being tied to the kitchen, less guesswork, and less need to keep a constant eye on the food.  I know we have some more publications in the collection (and some ephemera, too) dealing with stoves, ovens, and their changes over time. So, if you’re interested, you should pay us a visit and we’ll do some digging. You never know what we might uncover!

Corn: The War Edition

I realized that while I’ve written a bit about World War II and food/food substitutions for victory, I haven’t really shared as much about World War I and food. I did post about bread and World War I earlier this year, but this unobtrusive little volume struck me this morning (not literally, of course, though falling books can sometimes be a danger in this job). It’s The Corn Cook Book [War Edition] written by Elizabeth O. Hiller and published in 1918.


I image you can guess what kinds of recipes this book has. (If you said anything but “corn,” I’d be shocked.) It’s primarily corn meal, but there are a few items that use actual corn kernels, too. I’ve included the preface, along with some sample pages, since it gives a nice introduction to this particular edition and to the cause it supports.

One of the things I like about this item is the advice at the bottom of each page. It starts at the bottom of the introduction, which features specific directions on how to do things like mix, stir, beat, cut and fold, as well as notes on how to measure. This note reads: “IMPORTANT–The foregoing instructions must be carefully followed; the ingredients called for in the recipes must be used, to insure success in the finished product. Each recipe in this Corn Cook Book has been carefully tested by an expect–a graduated teacher in household economics.” The rest of the book contains the same advice about skim milk and butter substitute. I wish there was a little bit of something else, but we can’t say Hiller wasn’t consistent.

I’ve done a little research and it actually appears this might have been the only edition of The Corn Cook Book–in other words, there doesn’t seem to have been a non-war edition. Hiller wrote a number of books in the first 20 years of the 20th century, primarily calendar or 365-day type meal planning cookbooks.

If you’d like to see the full version our feature text this week, you can check it out on the Internet Archive. Today is graduation, so our summer is about to kick off. Special Collections may not have as many students in the reading room, but we’ll be here and we’ll have plenty of visitors. We encourage you to be one of them!