Betty Crocker has been one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history, and I am one of the cooks who made that so. We became friends when the pressure to yank off her apron, throw away her oven mitts, and haul her out of the kitchen was strong.
After graduating from college, I joined the parade of new grads to the employment agencies. The initial interviews, in retrospect, were unnecessary, because the agency had other criteria for sorting us out. The men were ushered into one room where they were screened for sales and management positions, while we women were lead into another room and directed to take typing tests. I wasn’t the only one who surveyed the rows of gun-metal gray electric typewriters in stunned silence.
I found my own job as a research assistant for a publishing company and didn’t mind typing first reader reports of manuscripts I routed on to the editors. I got engaged, and Betty walked into my life at a bridal shower. And for the novice cook, who could be a better teacher than someone named Betty.
Betty is the older next-door-neighbor who sits you down in her kitchen, pours you a steaming cup of coffee, then serves you a thick square of yellow cake swirled with chocolate. She grocery shops on Thursdays when the new sales start and cooks dinner every night, with a roast on Sundays. Betty, steady and familiar offers comfort, like a pot of fragrant vegetable soup.
As our married lives began, Betty unfailingly answered my calls. For party food, there was Mushrooms Royale. Guacamole. Frosted Pate. Okay, so it was really a mound of braunschweiger wrapped in a cream cheese. But I surrounded it with pumpernickel squares and sweet midgets, and it was a hit. For Gouda Burst, I cut a cross in the red shell, mixed the scooped-out cheese with white wine and other flavorings, refilled the shell, then pushed it out so it “burst” through the cross. Cool stuff.
We hosted brunch for our families, making Betty's Favorite Pancakes on our new tabletop griddle and laid out an assortment of accompaniments on our Sears dining table. Pineapple Sour Cream Topping with Pineapple Syrup. Woodman’s Special, topped with Orange Butter and Blueberry Syrup. And for The Denver, a mustard-butter spread and minced green pepper, onion and ham. My own addition was strawberries and freshly-whipped cream.
For dinner parties, there was Veal Cordon Bleu. Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. Company Cheesecake with Strawberry Glaze. Williamsburg Orange Cake.
Beef Bourguigonne and Coq au Vin became favorites. Julia Child had become wildly popular by then, but Mastering the Art of French Cooking with its pages-long format for a single recipe only intimidated me. I preferred Betty.
Betty doesn’t come off the shelf much anymore. Her ring binders, once a snug and tight fit, have loosened and spread with age and repeated use. Years have softened her once-bright orange color, and her binding is frayed. I think of her as an old friend.
Here is one of her recipes that I considered darn-near miraculous. Basic Brown Sauce is for gravy-challenged cooks like me who don’t want to mess with pan drippings and skimming fat. This is my adaptation of her bordelaise version. Food Snobs, you best turn away now.
Melt 2 T. butter in a saucepan. Add in a tablespoon or two of minced shallot and briefly saute.
Stir in 2 T. flour, until it absorbs into the butter.
Slowly add in beef broth and wine, stirring, so it incorporates with the butter/flour.
Then stir in a bit of snipped parsley,1/4 t. thyme, freshly-ground pepper.
Keep stirring over a low flame until it’s thickened.
Mushrooms, chopped or sliced, are a good addition to this. I also love tarragon in this. Use fresh instead of dry herbs, and then double the quantity. If you don’t want to add the wine, just go with all beef broth.
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