“Food for Thought” Cookbook book club – Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook
For our fourth meeting of the “Food for Thought” cookbook book club, we focused on Betty Crocker’s “Picture Cookbook” with an emphasis on retro recipes.
I thought Betty Crocker was an actual person who built the empire. In searching for my retro recipes, I discovered that there wasn’t a person with that name.
Betty Crocker is an icon built by the Gold Medal Flour Company. It was born in 1921 during a promotion the company ran. The company received thousands of promotion responses and a flood of baking questions. The name “Betty Crocker” was created to personalize the consumer inquiry responses. Crocker was chosen to honor a popular, recently retired director of the company. Betty was chosen simply as a friendly sounding name. Within a few years, the consumer demand for baking information, fueled by the popularity of Betty Crocker spawned the beginning of the home service department, and ultimately the Betty Crocker Kitchens.
Betty Crocker has been a cultural icon and part of families’ food traditions – not to mention a trusted source of recipes and homemaking know how – for more than 90 years. So when Susan decided to host this gathering and selected the cookbook, she asked that we carry out the true retro style and wear our aprons and pearls – and we all did!
In carrying out the evening’s theme, we began with a glass of classic champagne cocktail that Terri made.
Champagne cocktails became popular during Prohibition, when flappers were desperate to make the available bathtub bubbly taste better. Ha!
To accompany our cocktail, we had three appetizers.
Terri made caramelized-onion bruschetta. She commented that the recipe was “easy” to make and that the directions for caramelizing the onions was “spot on.”
Sharon made sriracha veggie-cheese balls and sauce. Cheese balls are the perfect party food, because they are fun! This version was true to its retro origin, with kicked up ingredients. The recipe made a good-sized portion – plenty for our party!
Sharon also made basil and crabmeat topped cucumbers. The topping was a nice blend of basil with lemon and red onion. Sharon commented that they too were “easy” to make and that you could assemble the topping ahead of time and assemble before serving.
Susan was tasked with the dinner entrées: Swedish meatballs and chicken a la king. Susan commented that both were items her mom made for dinner when she was a kid.
The Swedish meatballs were served over white rice – in further keeping with the retro style. Susan commented that she was surprised that the meatball recipe called for few spices since today’s recipes typically include more items.
The chicken a la king reminded me of a deconstructed version of chicken potpie. It had nicely poached chicken breasts with a creamy sauce. Susan noted that when her mother made it she would pick out the pimentos but now she didn’t notice or mind them.
Accompanying the chicken and meatballs were two side dishes and homemade parker house rolls.
Val made the rolls from scratch. Parker house rolls were invented at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1890. They are considered a staple for many dinners. The rolls were buttery with a soft interior and crispy shell.
Val also made the cranberry orange gelatin salad – another widely popular side dish for our retro-style meal. Gelatin was once considered a sign of wealth, before the advent of prepared gelatin, as only members of the elite classes could afford it. The combination of cranberry and orange flavors would be perfect for the upcoming winter holiday meals.
Pat made Florentine salad. Any dish that uses the word “Florentine” refers to a recipe that is prepared in the style of the Italian region of Florence and typically is a dish featuring spinach. True to its definition, the salad’s main ingredients were spinach, hard-boiled eggs and bacon. It had a light, red-wine vinaigrette dressing.
As we reflected on all the elements on the plate, we made a few observations about the retro meal. First, many of the recipes we cooked used fairly plain ingredients and how the modern versions have ramped up the elements for more bold flavors. Second, we were surprised at how many of the recipes included ingredients that now we wouldn’t consider the healthiest, but back then the obesity epidemic wasn’t as rampant as it is today. We also had some laughs reading through some of the tidbits Susan had collected about the retro time period (e.g., costs of gas, bread).
For dessert, I made a pineapple upside-down cake. To further the retro theme, I baked it in an original Bundt pan. The cake was very simple to make. My only anxiety was in hoping it would come out of the pan intact, which it did.
For our “take-home treat,” I made spumoni-chunk cookies.
Spumoni is a molded Italian ice cream typically consisting of three flavors – cherry, pistachio and chocolate. These cookies were true to the ice cream representation and included chopped, dried cherries, chocolate chunks and chopped, salted pistachios. They were easy to make, but the ingredients were quite costly. I packaged our “take-home treats” in cute gift bags.
In total, eleven dishes were made from Betty Crocker’s Picture cookbook. Each dish was very representative of the retro-style theme. We had another fun meal and enjoyed our gathering.
We scheduled our next meeting for mid November. Terri is hosting. We selected the Buvette cookbook as our focus for the appetizers, entrees and sides recipes. The dessert and take-home treat recipes will be from Kathy Wakile’s “Indulge” cookbook.
Have you ever made a retro-style dinner?
What’s your favorite Betty Crocker recipe?