Remembering Betty Crocker

Images of Betty Crocker through the ages from thehistorykitchen.com.

On a recent weekend visit to Oak Glen during its prime apple season, David and I had fun tasting, smelling and buying mouth-watering apple pies with sky-high crusts, as well as a few candied caramel apples garnished with chocolate chips.

The trip also aroused many nostalgic memories of the delicious apple desserts baked by my own mother, who always wore pretty, but sensible-looking, aprons while serving us.

Our mothers were a hearty sort who did not succumb to public pressure to whiten their teeth. It was a less-harried pace and lifestyle — the day and age of single-car families — when one of the greatest challenges in the fulltime homemaker’s day was finding a sensible way to use leftover stale bread or cake.

But what I envied most about that era was that our mothers didn’t need a background in chemistry to be intelligent in the kitchen.

I have always suspected that Betty Crocker ended up with dimpled thighs from years of cellulite buildup caused by her old-fashioned mouth-watering pie crusts made from shiny white shortening that came in tubs. Now please don’t misunderstand me — I’m sure she was a very good soul — but she probably never got out of the kitchen much, so how on earth could she possibly have known about such things as clogged arteries and heart disease?

In Betty Crocker’s early days, it was typical for our mothers to torment themselves over the flavor and “flakability” of their piecrusts. They lived in the golden age of radio which aired Monday-to-Friday serial soaps featuring story (and recipe) narrations by characters who promoted the sponsor. I would invariably walk in from school to find my mother attuned to every word.

Aunt Jenny promoted the recipe-of-the-day using Spry Shortening, Winifred Carter promoted Crisco and Mary Ellis Ames Pillsbury’s Best. But the most famous of all was Betty Crocker, who recommended Gold Medal Flour and General Mills products as the answer to all cooking and baking needs.

In their day, words such as trans fat, hydrogenation, polyunsaturated and essential fatty acids were never spoken outside a scientific laboratory by anyone not wearing a white lab coat. Nobody on the North American continent had ever seen or heard of tofu and vanilla yogurt could easily have been mistaken for cold cream. And as for vegan, I’ll bet it would have been considered a word misspelled.

But back to the need of being a chemist. The media warn us of the newest “bad food” each week, frequently citing some of the above-mentioned terms in their explanations. And by now, most of us know what these terms mean. By terms, I refer to saturated fats, unsaturated fats, trans fats, hydrogenation, fatty acids, plus vegan.

And although diets may vary according to the local culture and demographics, healthy eating is always based on a common sense approach to a well-balanced diet, with moderation kept in mind at all times.

Ha ha, gotcha! There never was any such person named Betty Crocker. I just wanted to see how many of you read this column all the way to the end.

The fictional character of Betty Crocker — whose name, face, and signature were used by General Mills on a wide range of products and cooking schools — was invented in 1921 as an advertising tool so she could convincingly dispense recipes and cooking advice.

Her fictional persona was reportedly based on characteristics drawn from 75 women of diverse backgrounds to reflect the average American homemaker.

Trivia junkies might be interested to know that Betty Crocker would be 98 years old today. And by the way, her portrait and image have been updated at least eight times so, you see, it was patch-patch-patch for Betty just like for the rest of us!

Jan Fowler is an award-winning columnist and author of “Hot Chocolate for Senior Romance.”