One of my latest fixations has been my vintage copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, circa 1950. My love of it has absolutely nothing to do with cooking because I hate to cook. It has everything to do with the cheery illustrations, the homespun poetry, the refined advice, and the one magnificent recipe that history has failed to properly honor – the Flaming Cabbage.
Few people know this, but Betty wasn’t just a comfort in the kitchen to happy homemakers, she was a revolutionary. Not only did she support clever wives with the perfect cocktails for weary husbands, or challenge them to be daring with herbs, but she also advocated a very modern concept – self-care.
For in the back of her precious tome, after all of the recipes for shrimp cocktails and chiffon pies is a two-page spread entitled “Short Cuts.”
It starts off innocently enough, with tips on how to rinse dishes and grate soft cheese. But then it veers off the rails, and without so much as a polite cough, lasers in on the well-being of The Woman Herself.
For Personal Outlook, 1950:
“Eat proper food for health and vitality. Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply makeup, a dash of cologne, and perhaps some simple earrings. Does wonders for your morale.”
I can’t remember the last time I consistently did any of those things. First all, I often skip breakfast. The hair and makeup thing has never been my bag, especially since I work from home. And I don’t think jewelry has touched my body in months. I realize I am an extreme case, but don’t forget that Betty is Every Woman, and can speak to us all. So, here are my translations of her sageness:
For Personal Outlook, 2016:
“Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Love what you see in the mirror, inside and out, and treat yourself accordingly. And maybe stop by the jewelry store after carpool duty for a little extra frosting.”
If you feel tired, 1950:
“Lie down on the floor on your back, put your hands above your head, close your eyes, and relax for 3 to 5 min.” (I should note that in the illustration, the lady is doing this in her apron.)
If you feel tired, 2016:
“You have permission to take a break, wherever and whenever you need it. But nap in a conspicuous place, like the kitchen floor, so your family will have to step around you. It might even get you a little extra help with the laundry.”
Refresh your spirits, 1950:
“Recreation” means “re-create” …for enthusiasm and courage. Garden, paint pictures, pursue any hobby, look through a magazine for home planning ideas, read a good book, or attend club meetings.”
Refresh your spirits, 2016:
“Girls Night Out Baby!”
Notice humorous and interesting incidents, 1950:
“…to relate at dinnertime, etc.”
Notice humorous and interesting incidents, 2016:
“You are the heart of your home and the life of your own party. Tonight, gather everyone around the table or TV and have a good laugh over the PTA meeting or the weird guy at work.”
As you can see, Betty cared about her readers and served up ideas like vitality, morale, and courage on a warm plate of love. But then there’s this one:
Check up on yourself, 1950:
“If after following all these rules for proper rest, exercise, diet, you are still tired and depressed, have a medical check-up and follow doctor’s orders.”
Wait. Drop the mic.
Did Betty use the “d” word?!
Is that proper? Is that gentile? Is that the most awesome thing you have ever seen in a cookbook?
Ya’ll – Betty knew. She KNEW that being a woman with a family is an overwhelming job. She KNEW that striving for perfection comes at a cost. And she didn’t want any single one of us to fail.
Check up on yourself, 2016:
“It’s ok not to be ok. Sometimes, we just can’t do it all. Please ask for help, and then ask for help again. You absolutely deserve it.”
And don’t let another day go by without indulging in a Flaming Cabbage:
Clean out a large cabbage. Curl outer leaves back from top. Cut out center; hollow it out about 6″ deep. Place a sterno lamp in the cavity (lamp hidden, but flame should come almost to top of cabbage). Place cabbage on serving plate. Surround with a frill of parsley. Thrust wooden picks through cocktail sausages and stick into the cabbage. Stick an olive onto end of each (to protect fingers from flame). Guests broil their own sausages.
Copyright 1950, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book