My father is very good at entertaining small children with stories that he makes up on the spot. When my sister Emily was little, he used to tell her stories about Betty Crocker. He says he doesn’t really remember how this icon of American marketing became the heroine of numerous adventure tales; he thinks maybe he was just cooking dinner one night when Emily asked for a story. Nevertheless, if you ask him nicely, maybe he’ll retell the thrilling tale of “Betty Crocker Cooks Lunch for the Elephants in the Zoo” or “Betty Crocker Cooks on the Moon.”
I remembered these stories when I came across a review of Finding Better Crocker on the Nonfiction Readers Anonymous blog. I’m going to take the easy way out and just tell you to go read that post, since I couldn’t say it any better myself. Briefly (in case you skip that step) Finding Better Crocker is a delightful history of the fictional General Mills spokeswoman, and of the real women behind her. It’s also, by default, a concise history of the evolution of modern cookery since the 1920’s.
I didn’t know, until I read this book, the role that General Mills (via Betty Crocker) played in helping Americans cope with food shortages both during the Depression, and then again during World War II. You get the sense that this was a company that cared about making sure that Americans stayed healthy during these difficult years – they were interested in more than just selling flour. My father grew up during this time, and I know that my grandmother listened to the Betty Crocker radio broadcasts. Is it possible that my father formed an impression of Betty Crocker as a capable intelligent woman as he listened along?
If you are ever in Minneapolis, Minnesota, you should visit the Mill City Museum, which is located in the old Washburn “A” Flour Mill, built in the 1870’s by the Washburn-Crosby Company (which later became General Mills). You might think a museum about the history of flour milling would be boring, but you would be wrong.
(Book 37, 2007)