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.


Serial Domestication: Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book

Note: I scheduled this post to go out on September 1, but discovered this morning that never happened! So, here is it is (and apologies for the gap in posts)!

Among the history of food and drink materials, you’ll find quite a bit to say on the intertwined topics of cookery, household management, and domestic economy (later what we would call “home economics”). On the surface, that’s what Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book sounds like. It was a small serial publication that began in 1860 and ran until at least 1878 or so. Here in Special Collections, we have three different years: 1868, 1875, and 1877. This week, we’re looking at the volume from 1868.

It does, in fact, contain a lot of recipes for food and a short miscellany of household recipes and cleaners. And I love that the cover also states, “This book will be issued annually, with entirely new Receipts. By preserving them, and sewing them together, you will have in a few years the best collection of Receipts in the country.” It’s like an art project to build your own cookbook. It’s true if you compare editions, there are different receipts in them. But there’s something else going on in Mrs. Winslow’s Domestic Receipt Book, too.

ADVERTISING! It shouldn’t be surprising–we’ve seen that again and again in the collection–but it did sneak up on me in this case. As it turns out, Mrs. Winslow was a name used to sell a patent medicine (“Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”), and was tangentially attached to two other products, produced by the same companies. There are small testimonials tucked in between recipes, as well as some full page ads for the three featured products.

It’s worth noting that Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available starting in 1845, some 15 years before the receipt book first appeared in publication, and it was sold well into the 20th century. There’s a short history of it online (and yes, there was an actual Mrs. Winslow!). 1868 was still decades from the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 that would require labeling on medicines, so consumers weren’t likely to know that the main ingredients in the bottle were alcohol and some form of opioid (usually morphine). It certainly would help calm a child’s teething–and knock them out in the process.

The serial comes out of Boston, but the recipes included are fairly generic. They feature ingredients that would have been available east of the Mississippi, at least, and you’ll find corn breads, pies, pickled items galore, “a Ham better than a Westphalia,” and some uses for some less attractive cuts of meat. The recipe for “Pine-Apple Marmalade” stuck out, since pineapples weren’t really common yet and pineapple recipes in cookbooks remained a rarity through the end of the 19th century. They were hard to acquire and therefore, expensive. (And yes, I’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole of pineapple history I need to explore further!) Pineapples aside, it’s a collection of approachable and fairly basic recipes, which is good, since, like most cookbooks of the the time, they don’t include much in the way of directions.

It may seem we’ve gone a bit far a-field in this post (from patent medicines to pineapples), but it serves as a good reminder that cookery-related resources are rarely as straight-forward as we may expect or want them to be. Rather, they have a great deal to tell us about ingredients, techniques, and times–and they are well-worth a look.

Summer (Cooking) School, Part 2: Canning and Preserving

Picking up on the theme from earlier this month, I thought it might be fun to continue some cooking school lessons over the summer. So, this week, we’re looking at Ola Powell’s Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use, published in 1917.

Each chapter includes a LOT of informational content, but each is also punctuated by photographs and illustrations throughout. Since the book is really designed to be a lesson book, though not exactly a text book, it does come complete with built-in quizzes. The end of every chapter includes a list of questions about the content, so you can make sure that learning has really soaked in and been preserved (pun intended, of course). The chapters cover the foods you would expect: fruits, veggies, pickles and relishes, jellies, preserves/conserves/marmalades, and fruit juices. But it also includes chapters on the history and safety of canning and preserving, techniques, drying foods for preservation, canning as a business, and teaching canning.

The diversity of this content is an important reflection on the significance of canning and food preservation. It was a necessity for feeding a family, but it was also a social activity, a profit-making opportunity, and clearly integrated into many aspects of domestic and home life, whether rural or urban.

Ola Powell was an extension agent by training and that surely shows. In addition to the many editions of Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use, between the mid 1910s- and the early 1940s, she also authored or co-authored works on a variety of other topics, including making and caring for mattresses and bedding, sewing, plants and plant diseases, home demonstration work, and farm and garden management.

You can find Successful Canning and Preserving; Practical Hand Book for Schools, Clubs, and Home Use in its entirely among the scanned books from Special Collections online. You know, in case you’re looking for a good mushroom ketchup recipe or a few trivia questions on the advantages of canning in tin versus glass.

Until our next summer school lesson, stay cool and enjoy something tasty…

Summer (Cooking) School is in Session, Part 1: A Few Food Lessons in Domestic Science

The spring semester is over, but summer school has begun here at Virginia Tech. If that reminds us of anything, it’s that we’re ALWAYS learning. So, this week, we’re looking at Twenty Lessons in Domestic Science by Marian Cole Fisher, published in 1916. We won’t look at all 20 (and honestly, we almost weren’t going make it past the awesome diagrams in Lesson One!), but we may also revisit this book in the future!

TX715F571916_fc TX715F571916_tp
TX715F571916_toc1 TX715F571916_toc4

There are a few pages before the actual lessons start, covering basics like cooking methods, budgeting, and rationing (although not in the war-time sense we’ll see this concept used staring the following year during World War I). And, there’s a table of “Important Equivalents to Memorize.”


Then there’s Lesson Number One: Function of Foods. Which includes some awesome charts from the USDA

TX715F571916_15 TX715F571916_19 TX715F571916_27

And here are a few pages from Lesson Number Three: Cakes and Their Process, which is where we start to get to some actual recipes!

TX715F571916_45 TX715F571916_48 TX715F571916_59

If you’re interested in the rest of the lessons, you can see this item in its entirety on Special Collection’s digital platform. It was part the more than 200 titles relating to food history that have been digitized. We also have two copies of the print volume in the collection, too, if you want to see it in person. (Or, you can wait and see if we add some more in the future!) For now, just remember it’s 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder to 1 cup of flour for your biscuits, muffins, and quick breads. Oh, and frosting goes well on just about anything sweet–right? 🙂

Fireless Cooking in the Early 20th Century

This week, I’ve been attempting to clean up/sort out some boxes in my office. This includes two small boxes of additions waiting to be added to collections. Among them are some pamphlets for the Virginia Tech Special Collections National Agricultural Publications (Ms2011-022). (We’ve recently updated the name from its previous title of “National Agricultural Publications,” a decision motivated by a desire to create collection titles that are following the current standards for archival description.) The collection contains United States Department of Agriculture, War Food Administration, and other national agency publications on topics ranging from war-time food use and Victory gardens, kitchen appliances, preservation strategies, individual foods/food groups, and home demonstration. Our feature item is a USDA pamphlet from 1921 (first published in 1917) called Homemade Fireless Cookers and Their Use.

For those of you unfamiliar with a fireless cooker (personally, I had a vague idea, but nothing concrete), have no fear! The first page includes an explanation:

A fireless cooker is a device for keeping food so hot after it has been taken from the stove that the process of cooking will be continued and completed. It makes cooking easier and lessens the amount of fuel needed. It is usually more economical when used as a supplement to a gas, oil, or electric stove that to a coal or wood range in which a fire is kept all day for purposes other than cooking.

This bulletin explains the principles on which a fireless cooker works and the kinds of food with which it can be most advantageously used, and gives simple directions by means of which an efficient one can be made at home from easily obtained and inexpensive materials…

Efficient? Economical? And it can be made at home? Sounds like a helpful bite of food technology to me! Since it was written the practical purpose of instruction, it’s not surprising that this is a text-heavy 16 pages. But it’s chock full of information from the how-to-build to the what-to-cook, and does include some illustrations and photographs. The last page also talks about using the cooking box to keep foods cold. By 1921, a wide variety of stand-alone oven/stove types were available, but they were often small in size. The idea of the fireless cooker meant that foods with longer cook times could finish elsewhere, freeing up space inside. We still use some of the techniques of the fireless cooker today, though perhaps not in the same ways. The fireless cooker is a predecessor of sorts to the slow cooker, which would emerge about 15 years later, bringing fireless cooking back into the kitchen from the outdoors.

This pamphlet is available in its entirety on a number of sites, including the Internet Archive, but today I’m linking to the University of North Texas USDA Farmers’ Bulletins collection. It contains this week’s feature item, along with more than 1,800 other USDA books and pamphlets published between the 1880s and 1980s! The edition on the UNT site is from 1917, so it’s an earlier version of the one on our shelves. The 1921 has a few more images, but the same number of pages.

We’ve got lots more from the home economics field on our shelves and we’re always here. So feel free to come by and learn about how to make your own fireless cooker, your own cheese, or how to build the best greenhouse for your property…Or at least get a sense of how it was done historically. Happy cooking!

The Kellogg Family “Business,” Part I

Welcome to 2015! Many people out there may have New Years’ resolutions that are diet-related. That being said, this week’s feature may either inspire or frighten you. (Hopefully the former, but my apologies in advance if it’s the latter!)

In January 2013, we featured a two-part post about vegetarian cookbooks created by religious organizations. In both posts, there was mention of the work of John Harvey Kellogg, M.D (1852-1943). Dr. Kellogg is a fascinating man to read about and we have a number of publications from Battle Creek, Michigan, where he lived, preached, practiced, and taught a rather interesting lifestyle. In other words, January 2015 [Has it really been two years since January 2013 already? Time flies when you enjoy blogging!] is going to feature a multi-part series on another unique organization that touted the benefits of vegetarianism in the 19th and 20th century! But, before we get to the Kellogg-Kellogg feud, the Kellogg-inspired launch of Post Cereals, or Kellogg-Post feud, let’s start with Ella. Well, at least one of her works: Science in the Kitchen: A Scientific Treatise on Food Substances and Their Dietetic Properties, Together with a Practical Explanation of the Principles of Healthful Cookery, and a Large Number of Original, Palatable, and Wholesome Recipes (1898).

Science in the Kitchen, 1892

You can read a bit more about Ella Eaton Kellogg (1853-1920) on the Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame website. For now, you should know a few things: 1) she was an early founder of what we now consider the field of dietetics; 2) she founded a cooking school and a school of home economics; 3) she was a prolific book and article editor and author; 4) at various times, she led organizations focused on childcare, motherhood, dietetics, hygiene, and “social purity; 5) she helped raise more than 40 adopted children; and 6) oh, and she was married John Harvey Kellogg (they were married for 41 years from 1879 until her death in 1920). Ella was quite the culinary/domestic Renaissance woman!

Science in the Kitchen was first published in 1892 and was in its third edition by 1898 (it went through at least two more in 1904 and 1910). The book was inspired by all of her work, but the first edition was published not long after the school of home economics, the the cooking school, and the “School of Domestic Economy” were established in the late 1880s. All of these activities fed into her writing a manual for those who weren’t in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In short, Science in the Kitchen was Ella Eaton Kellogg’s guide to almost everything domestic. There are introductory sections on the purpose and properties of food, the digestive system, cooking techniques, and kitchen planning and management. The majority of the text focuses on types of foods and preparations: grains/cereals, breads, fruits, legumes, vegetables, soups, breakfast dishes, sauces, beverages (alcohol and mostly caffeine-free, of course!), dairy, eggs, meats, and even desserts. The fact that there is meat section, when the Kelloggs’ themselves were vegetarians, is a rather interesting side note. Like many domestic guides, it also features recipes for the old, young, and sick, tips for food preservation, meal planning, service, etiquette, and holiday dinners. One of the more unique sections is a chapter about clearing the table, washing dishes, table linens, caring for dishware/utensils, and how to deal with garbage (more specifically, how to deal with food garbage that will be fed to animals)!

If you’re curious, you can read and view this entire work online through VTech Works, the University Libraries institutional repository here: https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/10316. [To be honest, now that I’ve been skimming it, I hope I’ll have a chance to read some more of the full 565 pages myself!] From how to light a fire to school lunches, Mrs. Kellogg has something to say on just about everything and household need.

Next week (and perhaps for another week or two after that), we’ll look at more from the food, nutrition, and health focused Kelloggs. They and their publications have a lot more story to tell!

Bonus: Food History Podcast Recommendation

On a nutrition/diet-related note, I did want to share a wonderful podcast on the history of health, nutrition, and dieting in America from Backstory. It is a rebroadcast I first downloaded in late November (I don’t know the original date), but I was finally catching up on my podcasts before the holidays. You can listen to “Health Nuts” online at the Backstory website here. It runs about an hour, but you can pick and choose segments, too. If you only pick one or two, I recommend “Meatless Moralism” and “Cereal Dating.” The former has a fair bit in common with today’s feature item and the latter is just plain fun! [Backstory features three historians, each one focusing on a different century of American history (18th, 19th, and 20th). Each week, they take on a new topic, including other historians and experts in the conversation.]

Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part II

We’re one week closer to the anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, so I wanted to share some more Extension materials. This week, I raided Ms2012-040, State/Regional Home and Agricultural Publications. Three folders of this collection contain a range of publications from Virginia Cooperative Extension, published between the 1930s and the 1970s. You can see the folder list, complete with a bibliography of publications, online

Continue reading “Celebrating the Smith-Lever Act (& Cooperative Extension!), Part II”

Women’s History Month, Part 7: Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer (1849-1937)

This week’s Women’s History Month profile is on Sarah Tyson (Heston) Rorer. Born in Pennsylvania in 1849, she grew up in Buffalo. Her family moved to Philadelphia around 1870, where she met and married her husband, William Albert Rorer. In 1882, she began taking cooking classes at the New Century Club. Within two years, she launched the Philadelphia Cooking School, to educate other women in the art of cooking, dietetics and nutrition, and healthy eating. Over the course of her professional career, she was an educator, author, editor (Ladies Home Journal), columnist, radio show host, dietitian, and lecturer. Her desire to emphasize healthy cooking led her to develop “Philadelphia ice cream,” the recipe for which appears in the works of many later cookbook authors. Her style of ice cream omitted thickening agents (even eggs) and relied instead on fresh ingredients. Her work in dietetics was a significant factor in the creation of the field of hospital dietetics and the feeding of the sick. Some of her later life was spent in state and local politics in Pennsylvania. Rorer died in 1937.

Here in Special Collections, we have 8 of Rorer’s many titles, including two available online:

  • Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Ecomonics, 1886 edition, 1914 edition (available online: http://hdl.handle.net/10919/10354)
  • Hot Weather Dishes, 1888
  • Home Candy Making, 1889
  • Dainty Dishes for All the Year Round, 1890
  • Good Cooking, c.1898
  • Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book: A Manual of Housekeeping, 1902
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes: Vegetables with Meat Value, Vegetables to Take the Place of Meat, How to Cook Three Meals a Day without Meat, the Best Ways of Blending Eggs, Milk, and Vegetables, 1909
  • Mrs. Rorer’s Diet for the Sick: Dietetic Treating of Diseases of the Body, What to Eat and What to Avoid in Each Case, Menus and the Proper Selection and Preparation of Recipes, Together with a Physicians’ Ready Reference, 1914 (available online: http://hdl.handle.net/10919/10355)

One of the striking things you might notice, even from this short list of her works, is the trend in titles. Sarah Rorer was a household name and her book titles seem to build on her brand and identity. If you were to look at some of her other titles (check out a previous Culinary Thymes article from the Peacock-Harper Culinary Friends and a wonderful biography from the Pennsylvania Center for the Book), you’ll notice the trend continues. A good percentage of her works begin with “Mrs. Rorer’s.”

Sarah Rorer’s more than 50 year career focused on healthy eating and good nutrition. She continued to influence generations of cookbook authors and educators, as well as the everyday cooks she reached through her columns, lectures, and radio programs. She’s no longer a household name (unless, perhaps, you are a culinary historian), but modern dietetics owes her and her work no small debt.

Sarah Tyson Rorer bridged the 19th and 20th centuries when it came to cooking. Next week, we’ll have our last Women’s History Month profile of 2014,where we’ll go back in time a little further. Without our 18th century author (or maybe authors!) for next week, American cooking may not have developed as it did!

Getting to the Heart (or Kidney or T-Bone) of the HF&DC, Part 2

If you missed last week’s post, you’ll want to take a look at it here–Otherwise, today’s short post won’t make much sense. If you did tune in, or you’ve just caught up, you’ll want to check out the two images below.  These are the two “key” cards, that list all the flash cards in the kit.

List of cuts, Part I
List of cuts, Part I
List of cuts, Part II
List of cuts, Part II
So, as you can see, our “quiz” last week featured:

  • #8, Tenderloin Steak (Filet Mignon)
  • #15, Flank Steak
  • #43, Fresh Ham, Shank Portion
  • #63, Slat Pork (Side)
  • #81, Riblets
  • #102, Hearts (Pork, Veal, Beef)
  • #105, Ox Joints

How well did you do?

Getting to the Heart (or Kidney or T-Bone) of the HF&DC

Even Special Collections staff who don’t spend a lot of time with the History of Food & Drink Collection have a favorite item. Many of the library staff and Special Collections visitors do, too. Some of our personal favorites have already appeared on the blog, and we’ll definitely see more of them in the future. We’re attracted to items for different reasons, whether we’re questioning who created a recipe in the first place or copying something down to try at home. This week, we’re sharing an item that fascinates us all.

If you’ve come to a display or event at Special Collections where we had culinary materials, chances are you’ve seen this week’s feature before. It was discovered among some unprocessed materials back in 2007, but it’s been a staff favorite every since. We just hope you’re ready to test your knowledge of meat cuts!

Vegetarians, now would be a good time for you to look away…

(Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

The Natural Color Meat Identification Kit [flash card]: Complete with Suggestions for Using and Instructor’s Key actually includes 108 different organs and cuts of meat from six different animals. By no means a single purpose tool, it comes with 8 suggested uses for home economics and agriculture students, including games, quizzes, field trip studies, nutrition education, and exhibits. Despite the jokes we make around here, this is one of those rather timeless items in our collections that can still fulfill its initial purpose today. If you need to learn about meat and pictures help you learn, this is the way to go!

Besides Virginia Tech, five other libraries in the U.S. are lucky enough to own copies of this kit. (I’ve also met one visitor to Special Collections who had a set of their own at one time!) We can’t be certain about the year the produced, though one catalog record does suggest it was some time in the 1960s.

You may have noticed that while we posted a number of pictures of cards (with the corresponding number), we haven’t supplied the key. The reverse side of each card has the number, but the list of cuts and organs are on two separate cards. If we put those in the gallery, it would take all the fun out of kit! While some may be obvious, others may not. The answers, along with the full list of items, will appear on the blog early next week.

In the meantime, we encourage you to hazard a guess or two in the comments below…