Cooking with Betty Crocker is Child’s Play!
You know, it started out simply enough. On a trip to Vashon Island, I picked up a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls, circa 1957. I have a vintage cookbook addiction and simply can’t resist any pre-1965 tome, especially one so jam-packed with line drawings not only of kids cooking “Whiz Nut Bread,” but also chickens drinking chocolate sodas and cookies getting all cozy with a long, tall glass of milk.
Upon first reading, the items in the book seem pretty simple and geared towards the 10- to 15-year old set. Putting peach halves on a bowl of Wheaties and wrapping hot dogs in pre-fab biscuit dough doesn’t seem too require too much thought or attention. I figured I could make any of these blindfolded. When it came to actually making the recipes, though, everything fell apart. Fast.
I started with Branded Pancakes. Pancakes are easy, I thought; writing letters is easy, I thought; I can do this, I thought. Boy, was I wrong. The recipe started out simply enough, “make pancakes as directed on Bisquick package…” Done. I even added some lemon extract and poppy seeds. “Let batter trickle from teaspoon onto hot griddle to form an initial. Initials must be made backwards to be right when pancakes are served…”
Turns out that a batter-dipped spoon is not one of the easier writing utensils to wield. And writing backwards on paper is one thing, but on a hot griddle is another. It’s no wonder there are no photos of the pancakes in the cookbook. After a few tries, I was able to make a few passable pancakes, but I doubt I’ll ever host a brunch wherein I regale my guests with a buffet table-sized display of Oscar Wilde quotes a la flapjack.
Fueled by my partial success, I pulled out another book from the archives, The Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook for the Hostess of Tomorrow (1955) and decided to sate my sweet tooth with a batch of Animal Cookies.
Again, the recipe seemed simple enough – attach animal crackers to vanilla wafers with frosting. The photo in the book showed the animal crackers standing upright, so that was my goal. I pulled the box of wafers out of the pantry, found some frosting and animal crackers, and got to work. The first hurdle was deciding which animals to use. This was of vital importance – they couldn’t be too top-heavy and had to have a solid base. The second hurdle was actually getting them to stand up. I don’t know about the frosting of the ’50s, but the (store-bought) frosting of today is neither thick nor goopy enough to hold the animals upright. I ended up propping each cookie against a shot glass while the frosting set, which took about 3 hours — or it would have, if not for Neko The Cat.
Who knew she had a sweet tooth? There went that batch.
So, four hours and two batches (and a cocktail or two) later, I had made one perfect cookie. And I ate it and it was delicious. The others, while perfectly fine in flavor, looked like Dr. Moreau-vian freakbeasts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
There was one final recipe to try in this cookbook trifecta, Candle Salad; back to Betty Crocker for this one. According to the book, “it’s better than a real candle because you can eat it.”
Oh yes, you can eat it.
This piece originally appeared in The Seattle Spellout.