The book pictured above is one my mom found me at Marshall’s many years ago; it’s a reprint of the original Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book from 1950. She figured correctly that I would love the illustrations and descriptions (as well as some of the recipes of course). I rediscovered it in my daily basement organizing a few days ago and have been delighting and chuckling in reading it ever since. Here’s one of my favorite passages from the introduction:
We dedicate [this book] to homemakers everywhere, –to all of you who like to minister to your dear ones by serving them good food. That’s an age-old way to express love and concern for their welfare. And it’s just as important today when we make use of the latest short cuts, equipment and prepared foods as it was when women made their own bread, butter, cheese, –all the foods their families ate.
Grand, isn’t it? My favorite chapter above all others is “Meal-Planning & Table Service.” You can imagine all the juicy sentences I’ve been gleaning from it. The first is the introduction, which tells you the basic seven foods to eat. Behold, the “Circle of Good Nutrition.” Because that’s a thing.
Group 1: Green and Yellow Vegetables
Group 2: Oranges, Tomatoes, Grapefruit (or raw cabbage and salad greens)
Group 3: Potatoes and Other Vegetables and Fruits
Group 4: Milk and Milk Products
Group 5: Meat, Poultry, Fish, or Eggs (or dried beans, peas, nuts, peanut butter)
Group 6: Bread, Flour and Cereals
Group 7: Butter and Fortified Margarine (with added vitamin A)
I must report to you that you’ve been doing it all wrong. According to the wisdom of 1950, we all need to be eating more yellow vegetables, oh and some fortified margarine (with vitamin A!). Margarine is so important, in fact, that it gets its own CATEGORY. Boy, I was way off. I think the best is when they combine potatoes with fruit. Science, y’all.
Here are a few other passages from that chapter (italics are theirs):
Planning, preparing, and serving meals is an art which develops through inspiration and thought…It’s important to plan a variety of foods for well balanced meals to keep your family well nourished. But above all, be sure those meals are appetizing, attractive, and delicious to eat. For mealtime should help build happy home life.
Indeed. Here, here!
It may be only a ruffle of lettuce to set off a salad; a bunch of purple grapes for an accent note on a platter of roast chicken; a few tiny pimiento bells to add color to a bowl of oyster stew at Christmastime. Whatever the finishing touch, be sure to make it as good to eat as it is to see.
Mmmm, pimiento bells. One of the more underrated garnishes, apparently.
The cocktail section begins with the best sentence ever written in 1950…
The clever wife has a simple appetizing cocktail (cold in summer, hot in winter) ready for her weary husband when he comes home at night.
From a chapter titled “Short Cuts,” here are some suggestions for keeping your personal outlook high (bold is mine, it’s a must-read):
Eat proper food for health and vitality. Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply make-up, a dash of cologne, and perhaps some simple earrings. Does wonders for your morale. While children are napping, do something refreshing. Write, knit, or listen to pleasant music. Harbor pleasant thoughts while working. It will make every task lighter and pleasanter. Notice humorous and interesting incidents to relate at dinnertime.
Can’t you just imagine this perfect housewife, cheerily handing her husband a drink and reporting the mysterious incident with the missing sock (spoiler alert: the dog ate it!)? I wish it were still a job to write such passages in today’s world. I would so rock at that job. Except that I’d probably be fired for suggesting that housewives meet their husbands at the door wearing only a cocktail and a smile. Heck, they could have used some shaking up of tradition, right?
Here is Betty’s suggestion for a Sunday evening supper dish:
Welsh rarebit with tomato slices, anchovies, and gherkins. Chilled pears. Chocolate cupcakes. Coffee, milk, and tea.
Because nothing goes better with my rarebit than some gherkins and tea.
Thanks for indulging a weirdo historical cookbook lover and reading along with me!
Happy cooking, ladies.