At a moment in our culinary history when even our everyday weeknight dinner focus — or fuss, depending on your recipe perspective — is on (more) sustainable, farmers market-friendly, nose-to-tail cooking, we were curious what we might find among the pages of a modern Betty Crocker cookbook. Slow-cooker pig trotters with Weiser Farm potatoes? Right. But surely, at least no more powdered mashed potatoes?
Just our luck, the latest in Ms. Crocker's series, The Big Book of Weeknight Dinners, was released earlier this year.
Before we go on, we should clarify that yes, we realize Betty Crocker is a commercial brand, much like her imaginary Prudence Penny and Marion Manners friends. All three emerged as part of the home cooking fun in the 1920s and were quite popular through the 1950s.
Even still, we didn't expect to find powdered mashed potatoes still in that beef stew ingredients list, or a catfish stew served up in “biscuit bowls” (refrigerated biscuit dough shaped into bowl shapes) that calls for a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, a jar of sliced mushrooms, and one can of cream of mushroom soup. A chicken curry recipe requires only five ingredients, yet curry powder is the only one that isn't frozen, jarred, or microwave-ready: 2 teaspoons of curry powder, 1 cup of yellow or red curry sauce, 1 package of microwavable white rice, 1 package of refrigerated cooked chicken breasts.
That's not so surprising if these were all General Mills (which owns Betty Crocker) products, but most are general references to bagged lettuce and pre-cut chicken grocery store product categories, not brand names. Why not simply call for 6 cups of romaine lettuce rather than specifically a 9-ounce bag of romaine lettuce?
Still, there are glimmers of modern beer and porcine trends in the latest home cooking edition from Ms. Crocker. A traditional mac n' cheese recipe gets a flavor boost from a cup of beer, although the type of beer that would be best here is not mentioned (a Hefeweizen, lager, or stout is going to taste substantially different than a light beer). The most curious modern addition to that “beer-cheese Mac and sausages” recipe is microwave popcorn — two cups are sprinkled on top as a garnish.
Still, the “modern” beer and popcorn references make rare appearances in this cookbook. It's the little 1950s things, like using corn syrup-laden soda in recipes (“root beer barbecue beef sandwiches”), that Ms. Crocker can't seem to let go of even today: A dressing for an “Asian chopped salad” is made from frozen limeade concentrate, a chicken-broccoli quiche still calls for the mushy, frozen version when fresh broccoli is one of the most reliable grocery store staples in the produce aisle these days.
We're weren't expecting a full-out farmers market conversion from a 91-year-old who has been doling out good old American boxed/frozen/microwaved recipes this long. But would stepping away, just a little, from those bottled beef gravies, jarred mushrooms, and frozen mixed veggies be too much to ask, Ms. Crocker?
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