I bought my Betty Crocker Cookbook when I was 21 years old. I still have it and still use it. The waffles and pancakes recipes are on opposite sides of the same page – a page that has seen more than its fair share of batter and cleaning, as the warping indicates.
In listening to Salt Sugar Fat, I learned some really disturbing news about my cookbook’s author: She never existed! Betty Crocker was created by the marketing team at Washburn Crosby Company, which was acquired by General Mills a few years later. I also discovered a skeleton in her make-believe closet: She was created to sell processed foods. Say it isn’t so!
This knowledge caused major cognitive dissonance. The sole reason I bought the cookbook was so I could cook from scratch!
The very first time I used it was to create a birthday cake for a coworker. I was told I was responsible for supplying birthday cakes for my team. I asked how much the company would reimburse me, and I received the nastiest look I’ve seen in a work setting to date. “It is your team. It is your responsibility.”
I was barely breaking even at that point: A store-bought cake wasn’t in the budget.
I got to the store and looked at the packaged mixes. I almost started to cry in the aisle. Even they were too expensive.
Inspiration struck: I thought through what ingredients I had at home. Flour, check. Eggs, check. Sugar, check. Vanilla, check. Holy cow. I could make a cake!
Then there was frosting. The canned stuff was too pricey. Yes, I was that poor. I didn’t know how to make a frosting from scratch. Then I remembered hearing about melting chocolate chips over the top of a still hot cake. Generic chocolate chips were less expensive than frosting. With that one purchase, I was off to make a cake … and make peace with the evil oven that tried to kill me.
The next day I was so nervous when it came time to celebrate. I desperately didn’t want her to think I was cheap. That was wasted worrying effort. She was over the moon that I would have taken the time to make it from scratch – she’d never had a cake before that hadn’t started in a box or come from a store.
The frosting ended up being more solid than creamy, but everyone still ate it. It had the added benefit of being a frosting that I would eat.
You’d think I would have taken away from this experience the moral that people appreciate the “from scratch” effort. It took more than a decade for that lesson to really sink in.
Thank you, imaginary Betty Crocker, for helping me learn this lesson.
Did anyone else know that Betty Crocker was make believe? or Have you ever made a from-scratch cake?