Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vintage Cookbook: Betty Crocker's Dinner in a Dish - Wait, people ate what?

I was attempting to hold off discussing this glorious gem of a cookbook until I actually had the opportunity to make one of the dishes, but now I'm toying with the idea of a retro potluck dinner party when the next season of Mad Men starts up instead...

Betty Crocker is more myth than actual happy lady in the kitchen.  Interestingly enough, her image has changed over the years.  Initially she had an older appearance, almost like a grandmother.  Since the 1960's she's taken on a more modern "Mom" like image.  (Google "Betty Crocker through the years" and you'll see what I mean)!  I was devastated to discover recently that my own Betty Crocker cookbook (well, actually my Mom's cookbook from the late 1970's that I grew up using and experimenting with in the kitchen) ended up in a pile of books sold at a yard sale.  I've been stalking online auction sites ever since, only to find that it is now considered vintage and quite pricey.  I could kick myself for not stealing it from my Mom sooner!  It's the 1978 3-clip ring edition if anyone has a copy they'd like to donate...  ;)

In the meantime, I managed to find this great edition at a local antique store.  I'm fascinated by how just a few decades can really modify the tastes and preferences of a generation.  For instance, you don't see too many jello salads or GASP!!!! aspics (savory gelatin dishes) at too many parties anymore.  A friend's Thanksgiving family tradition includes serving an aspic every year that only her father eats.  I've tried it and it didn't taste quite as horrible as you'd imagine.  Kind of like a coleslaw gelatin salad, perhaps?

An aspic from Betty Crocker

My husband is always shocked by a gelatin salad I grew up eating on many special occasions, a Cherry Coke jello salad, which includes bing cherries, pineapple, cherry jello, cream cheese, and chopped pecans.  Although, this may be due to the fact that my husband is a Yankee and may just not be used to cooking with Coca-Cola.  Though my generation didn't really enjoy the full array of aspics, sweet gelatin dishes were very common when I was growing up, and now it seems like those may be on their way out, too.

Flavor combinations seem to have slowly changed as well.  Dried beef appears in may cookbooks from the 1950's and 1960's, but now seems dated and not too healthy in the sodium department.  And take, for instance, this "Summer Salad Pie".

It looks so lovely, doesn't it?  Here's the jist of it: Cheddar cheese pie crust, tomato/celery/green olive aspic filling, and tuna salad topping.  WTF???!!!  No, thank you.

Also interesting, is how easy it is to forget how far we've come from the "Get back in the kitchen, woman!" days.  And while I happen to be a woman who loves the kitchen and cooking for my man, my only place in life is certainly not there.  Check out this excerpt from the cookbook:

Now, I don't know about you ladies out there, but speaking for myself and regardless of my current pescatarian diet, I can eat the shit out of some spareribs!  The sexism in old cookbooks just makes me laugh now.  I've got an even funnier cookbook from this aspect I'll save for another time.

Here's the one that confuses me the most:

Upon first glance, it appears to be a precious little tea cake you might serve at brunch.  Not so, my friends.  

Party sandwich loaf?  Shrimp salad filling, cheese pecan filling, AND chicken bacon filling?  Wait, and a cream cheese frosting?  My mind is racing from the overload of flavors.  Stop the madness!!!  All kidding aside, the wonderful thing about Betty Crocker cookbooks is how simple the recipes are to follow.  And there really are some amazing recipes that can be incorporated in today's changing meals.  One recipe I'm really excited to try is this one:

I'll let you know how it turns out!

I connected with my grandmothers especially when it came to the kitchen and I miss them all the time.  When I find cookbooks such as these, I become nostalgic about their cooking.  I like to imagine them cooking some of these very recipes in their own kitchens when this was a brand new cookbook.  Hopefully some of their skills will rub off on me when I attempt to make some of these dishes, too!  

P.S.  I'd love to know if any of you have odd vintage dishes you grew up eating!


  1. oh gag! i always laugh about jello molds and jello salads and how southern they are. and of course, you can turn anything into a salad or casserole. i love to tell dave about pear salad all the time. gag!

  2. Wait... what is pear salad? Do tell!

  3. I would like to get a copy of the summer salad bowl recipe from this book. I had one years ago and I lost the book. Thanks.