Next in my series of reviews of cookbooks for children are two Betty Crocker cookbooks: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957, available from Archive.org https://archive.org/details/bettycrockerscoo00croc) and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1965). These two books were published by General Mills as part of their long history of creating cookbooks to help sell General Mills products and teach America how to cook.
Like Things to Cook (1951), the two Betty Crocker cookbooks for boys and girls attempt to be inclusive of both boys and girls. Both books begin with a page devoted to their “Home Testers”. A small sketch of each child involved in the project is accompanied by a quote. From these quotes, it is apparent that the children took their role very seriously. A girl named Elizabeth proclaims, “All those recipes sound like a lot of work. But we loved it,” and Ricky states “We always said what we thought, even if it wasn’t complementary.”
Both of these books contain some interesting gender dynamics. Both boys and girls participated as testers for both books. In the 1957 book, there are 12 testers, eight girls and four boys. The 1965 book had 13 testers, eight girls and five boys. While the ratio of boys to girls was certainly not equal, I appreciated that the publishers attempted to demonstrate that cooking is not just for girls. Indeed, throughout both books, girls and boys are featured in the illustrations accompanying the recipes; however, one interesting thing to note is that only boys/men wear chef hats in the earlier book. In Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls, a boy is wearing a chef’s hat on the title page and on page 87, and on pages 123 and 186, an adult male chefs are pictured wearing a chef hats. No girls or women are shown wearing chef hats. We can’t know if this was a deliberate choice, but this omission implies that only boys can grow up to be professional chefs; whereas, girls are mostly suited to be home cooks.
This issue of representation is improved in the second book in which a boy and two girls are shown wearing chef hats. The boy, pictured on the front cover, is wearing a white chef hat while proudly presenting a chocolate-frosted cake to a girl and young boy who gaze at him in amazement. On the back cover is a girl wearing a red chef hat; this image is replicated on the interior of the book as well. The girl in this picture is more passive than the boy on the cover. She’s surrounded by cooking supplies as she reads from a cookbook. On page 26, another girl is shown wearing a chef hat. In this case, the chef hat is white and she is carrying a plate full of streusel-topped rolls. While the placement of the pictures is not ideal representation of the potential of female chefs – they boy wearing the chef’s hat is on the front cover after all – it is definitely an improvement over the earlier books.
Also remarkable is that boys are the only ones pictured cooking outside of the house in both books. Boys cook on grills and over fires, but girls do not. Girls are shown eating outside, but the food appears to have been prepared inside and brought outside.
The parents are also treated differently according to their gender. While this isn’t particularly abnormal for the time period, there is a sense in both books that the kitchen was the mother’s realm. In the section titled “before you start to cook”, the first direction is “Choose a time to suit your mother, so you won’t be in her way.” The quotes from the children reinforced this sense that the kitchen belongs to the mother: “We always left the kitchen clean. Then Mother liked to have us help” and “We learned to use the pots and pans that our mothers have in their kitchens.” The father is not a presence in the kitchen. In the 1957 book, the word “dad” appears seven times, and each of these mentions is in reference to his birthday. By contrast, mom/mother/mama are used 13 times, mostly in reference to her domain in the kitchen.
Sample menus are provided for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the 1965 book, but there’s something a little unequal about the menus. Father gets oven-fried drumsticks. Mother gets SPAM a can of “pork luncheon meat” which has been flavored with clove-studded pineapple slices and brown sugar. The labor division is also unequal. For the Feast for Father, the child is directed to “switch jobs with Mother and let her be your assistant for such a special occasion. She’ll be happy to set the table, make the coffee, and give any other help needed” (141). On Mother’s Day, however, the father’s tasks are much less arduous: “Dad can pitch in to make the coffee” (142).
The recipes in both books are well written; although, they do seem to be a bit on the bland side. Both cookbooks have recipes for chili, but neither seem particularly spicy even though the 1965 book bumps up the spice level from one teaspoon of chili powder to two teaspoons. The majority of the recipes call for shortcuts, such as Bisquick, Betty Crocker Cake Mixes, and canned soups. That’s not surprising at all since Betty Crocker’s brand is built on convenience.
Some additional things that stick out: the hamburger recipes call for evaporated milk (ew) and there are remarkably few chicken recipes. There is only one recipe that calls for chicken in the book from 1957, and that chicken comes in the form of condensed chicken and rice soup from a can. In the later book there are only two chicken recipes, Creamy-Chicken Vegetable Soup (made by combining canned soups) and Oven-Fried Drumsticks.
Unlike Things to Cook (1951) both books have a rather substantial section on safety. Children are advised to “Ask mother before you use a sharp knife, can opener, or electric mixer.” Aside from standard cooking tasks: chopping, slicing, cooking on the stove, and pulling hot baking sheets from the oven, most of the recipes are fairly safe. One recipe calls for the use of a double boiler, which is slightly risky because of the hot steam, but none of the recipes require deep frying or working with molten sugar.
Finally, another major difference between the earlier book and the latter is the addition of a page devoted to nutrition. The page, titled “Foods you need- every day”, is very brief. It lists four food groups and how many servings are recommended per day. The book recommends 2 or more servings of meats; however, meats is a misleading term since it lists not only poultry and fish but also eggs, dried beans/peas, and peanut butter. Four or more servings of vegetables and fruits are also recommended, but the book gets a little more specific; it recommends one citrus fruit daily and one dark green or yellow vegetable every other day. Milk recommendations vary by age, as children are directed to drink more milk than adults. Four servings of whole grain, enriched, restored, or fortified breads and cereals are recommended daily. Finally, the reader is directed, “And don’t forget fats, sweets and extra servings from these four groups – they provide additional food energy and other food values.
Compared to today’s dietary recommendations, there isn’t all that much difference between what Betty Crocker and My Plate’s recommendations, aside from specificity. My Plate separates fruits and vegetables into two categories and has recommendations for different categories of vegetable, for example orange/red vegetables, starchy vegetables, dark green vegetables, etc. The other major difference is that sweets are not recommended as part of My Plate because in this scheme they are only supposed to be an occasional treat rather than a major fuel source.