Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Betty Crocker's Ancestors: Vintage Advertising Cookbooks

by Stephen J. Gertz

Magic Cookbook and Housekeepers Guide
Toronto: E. W. Gillett, Co., n.d. (ca. 192-?)
5 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. Wrappers.  62pp.
In 1474 the Italian humanist Bartolomeo Platina (1421-1481) compiled and published in Rome the first printed and dated cookbook, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, Libri de arte coquinaria, haute cuisine, Libro novo (Of Honorable Pleasure and Health), a monument to medieval and Renaissance cuisine. In Latin, it was reprinted in many subsequent editions, and translated into Italian, German, and French (it was a best-seller in Paris). In 1475 Platina was  named Vatican librarian by Pope Sixtus IV.

Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina prefect of the Vatican Library.
Fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, c. 1477 (Vatican Museums)
Eleven years later, in 1486, Küchenmeisterei (Cooking Mastery), a book sometimes and erroneously attributed to Gutenberg (out of business since the late 1450s, his print shop taken over by his financial partner, Johann Fust, after a lawsuit in 1455), was published by Peter Wagner (f. 1483-1500) in Nuremberg.

These cook books in print - the earliest known - were successfully sent out into the world for sale at a profit. At some point, however, in the early 1900s, a brilliant marketer decided to publish a recipe book to promote the sale of his product. Very soon, just about every manufacturer of foodstuffs adopted the idea and a minor deluge of small, branded cookbooks in softcover flooded the marketplace.

Reliable Recipes
Chicago: Calumet Baking Powder Co., n.d. (ca. 192-?)
5 1/4" x 8 1/2 in. Wrappers. 80pp.
With colour and b/w illustrations.
The books were free. The point was to spread the word about the superiority of the product and the many ways it could be used to transform the average housewife into a kitchen-to-dinner table goddess and thus win the hearts of husband, children, and dinner guests; the books "encouraged women to diligently and happily cook family meals" (Neuhaus, J. Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America, 2003).

Royal Baker and Pastry Cook
New York: Royal Baking Powder Co., (c. 1902).
8 x 5 in. Wrappers. 42pp.
It was a great way to move merchandise off the shelves, a brilliant stroke of huckster advertising that was highly successful in marketing the slew of new convenience foods and old staples by presenting different and useful recipes that incorporated the product.

Yeast Foam Recipes
(Chicago): (Northwestern Yeast Co.), n.d. (ca. 193-?).
 6 x 3 in. Wrappers with single staple at top.
12pp. With illustrations.
The success of these branded cookbooks reflected the Home Economics movement of the late nineteenth century that continued at full steam into the twentieth century, college women studying "domestic science" to improve the nutrition and health of the family.

Salad Secrets
Montreal: Colman-Keen, 1928.
8 1/4 x 5 1/2 in. Wrappers. 22pp.

A Friend in Need
(Montreal): Church & Dwight, (c. 1924).
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. Wrappers. 28pp.

"Typical upwardly-aspiring Anglo-American middle class families in the 1910s took cues from meals suggested by period cook books. Technology was moving quickly; foods were readily available, in and out of season. World War I imposed unexpected challenges. Here we catch early glimpses of American discomfit reconciling traditional Old World dishes (read: heritage) with newly formed alliances (read: opportunity). Most American print sources proclaim culinary nationalism (aka the 'melting pot') was summarily celebrated and embraced. For the unity of the country. How else to explain Lasagne with American cheese and Chop Suey with American hamburger?" (Food Timeline.org).

Good Things To Eat
Montreal: Church & Dwight, c. 1924.
5 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. Wrappers. 32pp.

The Magic Baking Powder Cookbook
Toronto: E. W. Gillett, Co., n.d. (ca. 193-?).
9 x 6 in. Wrappers. 32pp.

There was the belief "that the application of science to domestic problems could save society from the social disintegration they saw at the turn of the century. This program of science education for women had benefits and limitations. On the positive side, women could pursue science degrees in higher education....

Magic Cookbook and Housekeepers Guide
Toronto: E. W. Gillett Co., n.d. (ca. 192-?).
5 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. Wrappers. (64)pp.

Sixty-Five Delicious Recipes Made With Bread
(Philadelphia): The Fleischmann Co. (yeast), (c. 1919).
7 x 5 in. Wrappers. 32pp. With illustrations.
"...On the negative side, the existence of home economics departments enabled schools to direct women interested in science into a sex‐segregated educational track and sex‐segregated occupations, with relatively low prestige and limited resources" (Paul S. Boyer. Home Economics Movement. The Oxford Companion to United States History).

The Art of Baking Bread
Chicago: Northwestern Yeast Co., n.d. (ca. 192-?)..
8 x 5 in. Wrappers. 16pp. With colour illustrations.

Baumert Cheese Recipes
NP: (F. X. Baumert Co.), (ca. 192-?).
6 1/2 x 4 3/4 in. Wrappers. 30pp.
With colour and b/w illustrations.
"Compliments of Chateau Cheese Co. Ltd. Ottawa"

Amaizo Cook Book
New York: American Maize-Products Co., 1926.
6 x 9 in. Wrappers. 38pp.

The Genesee Pure Food Company, makers of Jell-O, was the first to issue promotional cookbooks in a major way. A product of the Victorian Age, Jell-O was introduced by carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer Pearle B. Wait in 1897. It flopped. In 1899 Wait sold the patent to Orator F. Woodward for $450, and Woodward, a marketing whiz, began to heavily advertise the product. Jell-O remained a minor success until 1904 when Genesee blanketed the nation with salesmen to distribute free Jell-O cookbooks, a pioneering marketing tactic at the time. 

The Jell-O Cook Book
Le Roy, NY: Genesee Pure Food Company, n.d. (c. 1910-15)
"In some years as many as fifteen million booklets were distributed. Noted artists such as Rose O'Neill, Maxfield Parrish, Coles Phillips, Norman Rockwell, Linn Ball, and Angus MacDonald made Jell-O a household word with their colored illustrations" (Le Roy, NY Historical Society).

By 1909, gross sales of Jell-O reached over a million dollars. There was no disputing the power of advertising cookbooks to sell product, and more than a few manufacturers adopted the tactic. By 1913, Jell-O sales had doubled. If there was any doubt left about the magic that these branded cookbooks could conjure for the bottom-line it disappeared in a puff of smoke, and just about every company involved in selling foodstuffs published them.

Betty Crocker's  Picture Cookbook
NY: McGraw-Hill/Genreal Mills, 1950.
First edition.
This ultimately led to the most popular branded cookbook ever published, Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, the brainchild of General Mills which created the fictitious character to pitch their flour, introduced her through promotional cookbook pamphlets, then on the new medium of radio in the country's first cooking show, and later, in 1950, published what would become the most popular cookbook of all time, Betty Crocker's magnum opus. By 1991, in its seventh edition, it had sold twenty-six million copies and an incredible number of General Mills products.

These early advertising cookbooks are fun and not terribly expensive to collect for the info, the illustrations, and their history: vintage slices of American domestic life and womanhood.

With the exception of the Amaizo, Betty Crocker, and Jello cookbooks, all images courtesy of David Mason Books eList 22/

1 comment:

  1. What fun covers! I have several quirky old advertising cookbooks that belonged to my grandmother. Social disintegration at the turn of the century? How funny-- They would freak out if they could see the world we live in today!


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