Years ago, chefs were only found in restaurants and a cook was in your own home, usually your mom.LONG before there was Ms. Deen or other celebrity chefs, the US had a favorite cook rated as the second most famous and popular woman just behind Eleanor Roosevelt — and she wasn’t even a real person.
Betty Crocker never existed. Aside from being a cultural icon, she is entirely fictional. She originated in 1921 when a Minneapolis milling company, Washburn Crosby Company, wanted a way to personalize answers to consumers baking questions. The name Betty was considered warm, friendly and all-American; Crocker was after William Crocker, a retired company executive. Betty’s replies were signed and her signature was by a company secretary who won a contest. It’s still used on products today.
In 1924, Betty Crocker made her radio debut with the nation’s first cooking show, featuring 13 actresses working from radio stations across the country. The Betty Crocker School of the Air became a national broadcast, airing for 24 years.
Betty’s first portrait appeared in 1936 and while changed over the years always accommodated General Mills’ cultural perception of the American homemaker as knowledgeable and caring. The widely circulated portrait reinforced the popular belief that she was a real woman. An artist brought together women in the company’s Home Services Department “blending” their features into an “official” likeness.
Betty’s portrait has changed over the years. No one has ever posed as a model, rather the image is a composite of many women.
Betty’s face was recreated 8 times over the past 75 years. In 1955, she became younger and in 1980 thru 1986 became a “professional” woman. In 1996, “Betty” became multicultural acquiring a darker, more “ethnic” look. The current image is a combination of 75 women of diverse backgrounds and age. Betty is only shown in head shots and never seen from the shoulders down.
The impetus for this post was finding a copy of Betty Crocker Good and Easy Cookbook on the local library’s sale table last week. It seems that the 1996 publication date was older than books the staff reserves for major book sales (like the Firecracker Book Sale this week). The $1 shown is the price paid — SOLD!
Even though we’re downsizing cookbooks, some things, like favorite recipes don’t go out of style, just get revised or updated.
I still have my original Betty Crocker Cookbook in the 3-ring binder. It was bought after moving into my first apt and still in use today, over 25+ years later.
In my mind, certain things go together like cooking and Betty Crocker. Sorry, Paula, Rachel, Ina, Giada, Alton and others, but she has a lot more years of popularity in her favor, even if she’s only a fictional character.
What about you — favorite chef or cook ?