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Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food
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Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  339 ratings  ·  82 reviews
While Betty Crocker is often associated with 1950s happy homemaking, she originally belonged to a different generation. Created in 1921 as a “friend to homemakers” for the Washburn Crosby Company (a forerunner to General Mills) in Minneapolis, her purpose was to answer consumer mail. “She” was actually the women of the Home Service Department who signed Betty’s name. Event ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 19th 2007 by Univ Of Minnesota Press (first published March 29th 2005)
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Lolly's Library
A truly eye-opening look at the making of an American icon. I think we tend today to brush off or mock such kitchen staples as Betty Crocker, but it was amazing to read about the impact a fictional character had on the morale and skills of several generations of cooks, bakers, and homemakers, for good or ill. In some ways, she promoted a Stepford wife-like lifestyle for her followers, yet with the introduction of Betty Crocker's one-step and quick-step baking mixes and other time-saving food mix ...more
Simone Collins
This is really fantastic. And interesting. And AMAZING. I mean... Betty Crocker, as a campaign, is wildly successful- and it has shaped so many people's lives! It's incredible. To think that all those recipes, radio shows, Hollywood appearances and connections, and millions of letters were all oriented around one carefully managed, fictional woman.... aaaaah @____@

I also simply enjoyed looking at the Betty Crocker recipes, adverts, and pictures speckled throughout the book, as well as the letter
...more
Ann
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This was a very interesting study of the famous advertising symbol and how strong a support she was during both the Depression and WW II. An icon among advertising creations, Betty Crocker's inception and evolution is really interesting.
Sue Wargo
May 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable look at an icon. This is a well writen look at the history behind one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Sherri Anderson
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an interesting book. I can't believe how much history I learned. Not just about the company but how Betty Crocker affected MN and the country. It was an easy read. Fun and the pictures and the recipes were wonderful. Yes I tried just about all of them We loved the quaking pie.
Sarah
If you are a home cook, chef or just like food I think you'll find this book very enlightening and interesting. Learning about who Betty Crocker really was (I had always thought she was a real woman) and who was behind her creation was fascinating. The book even has a few appetising looking recipes at the beginning of the chapters. Reading it makes you want to go and do some baking, with or without a cake mix.
Reza Amiri Praramadhan
Betty Crocker stands as one, if not the most, successful advertising and public relation campaign in history. Indeed, at her height of popularity, Betty, who is not a real person, claimed the second most popular woman in America, only behind Eleanor Roosevelt. Throughout the book, I can see why. Letters after letters showed that American women identified themselves with Betty, even confided in her. And indeed, many people simply cannot stand the fact that Betty isn’t real, in the way of Santa Cl ...more
Melissa
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
This book is accessibly written but really short on any kind of analysis - either of the fabrication of Betty as marketing tool, nor of the use of marketing to emphasize and encourage very specific gender roles. Or even the impact of recipe marketing campaigns on how and what Americans eat, particularly the overadoption of processed food. It’s too bad - I think this could have been much more interesting than just a “this happened and then this happened and here’s a two page description of the Ge ...more
Stephanie Wilson
This book left me wanting to make Bisquick biscuits and make a Chiffon Cake! I enjoyed reading about how the era dictated who Betty was and how people thought she was so real!

If you enjoy reading cookbooks or learning about women's history and how their role has changed, this gives the perspective of what it looks like from the kitchen.
Steve
This was a great read, extremely interesting and with lucid prose. It is an excellent counterpoint to the thickets of dense prose I usually encounter (I mostly read academic texts). Marks does a great job to outline the history of Betty Crocker as both the venue through which General Mills scored one of history's great marketing coups but also how Betty Crocker as an icon illustrates the manifold shifts in the role of women in American society and cooking and housekeeping's role in those shifts. ...more
Trish
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved it but then I am a cooking teacher and a history buff. My husband got tired of be saying "hey dear, did you know this?"
Bookworm
A look back at one of the standards in many, if not most US households. Many are familiar with her recipes, cookbooks, baked good recipes, etc. But what's the story behind Betty Crocker? Was there ever a Betty Crocker? How did her brand come about and how has it changed throughout the years?

The book books at Betty Crocker as she develops as a guide for homemaking women at home, to a wartime adviser to her transition beyond through the modern era. Some of this was quite fascinating. I had never t
...more
Celeste Ng
I'm fascinated by Betty Crocker and everything she represents--in a kitchy sort of way. So I enjoyed this book, although it doesn't give much historical perspective. It cites letters from Betty Crocker fans over the years ("Do you know I think that if women were as eager to learn new ways of fixing new dishes or remodeling the old ones, as they are in new beauty aids and how to make themselves more lovely, they wouldn't have so much trouble in keeping their husbands in good humor") but doesn't s ...more
Heidi
Jun 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Heidi by: Kathryn
Shelves: nonfiction-misc
I had no idea Betty Crocker was such an American icon. The first half of the book is the most interesting, with excerpts from letters and Betty's radio shows. Betty was a champion for homemakers, elevating homemaking from drudgery to a noble calling, especially in the 1930s and '40s.

It was disturbing, though, to see how she contributed to the pressure placed on women to be "perfect" homemakers, telling women that they'd risk losing their husbands if their cakes weren't light and moist. And this
...more
Anne
Today, over two hundred products bear her name, along with thousands of recipe booklets and cookbooks, an interactive website, and a newspaper column. What is it about Betty? In answering the question of why everyone was buying what she was selling, author Susan Marks offers an entertaining, charming, and utterly unique look -- through words and images -- at an American icon situated between profound symbolism and classic kitchen kitsch.

Whatever it is about Betty, I missed it. In looking at the
...more
Amy "the book-bat"
This book counts as #7-Microhistory for the 2015 Eclectic Reader Challenge.

I read this book as part of a "History of Betty Crocker" class at LovelyLivingUniversity.com (free online classes for fun). I really enjoyed learning about this cultural icon and how she came to be. I was surprised to learn that she wasn't a real person. I am very impressed with the people who created her because she seems so real. I grew up with Betty Crocker like most Americans. Anyway, this book takes us through the cr
...more
Elizabeth
It just could have been better.

While I enjoyed reading parts of this, I have to admit, I skimmed a lot. It was just so dry.

I wanted to feel something. And I just didn't.

The Betty Crocker cookbook was something I escaped into as a child. I would pour over the pictures and menu descriptions and dream about the day that I would entertain and put out such a gorgeous spread. My friends and I would laugh about how Betty suggested making braised celery as a side dish. Um. Yuck. The Christmas cookie p
...more
Andrew Brozyna
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-history
This a quick and light read. It was interesting to learn of the changes in 20th century American cooking and how the advertising department for Gold Medal Flour (later bought by General Mills) responded: the invention of Betty Crocker and the evolution of her products and personality through the century. Although the author didn't make this point in her book, there are many parallels between General Mill's popular (yet imaginary) spokesperson and today's food celebrities.

I was surprised that the
...more
Marina
Apr 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was incredibly interesting - popular activity always tells the tales history books cannot. So many intriguing aspects of this little gem; over the course of its pages, we see the mutually responsive faces of advertising and the American woman (and her role) over the past century.
I was more impressed by Betty's ever-clever ways to ease the burdens of women than I was distressed to learn of what at times seemed to be the constant bombarding of ads onto housewives. This was probably be
...more
Thepleasanttimes
I had no idea that Betty Crocker had such a career- the radio years, cooking school, and homemaker's league were fascinating to read about- Marjorie Husted (Betty Crocker script writer and voice) could have been my mother!
This book did make me a little hungry. As much as I dislike Cake Mixes, my tummy was rumbling with the description of home-baked white bread made from Gold Medal flour. There are a few recipes in the book, too, which I would like to try
I also enjoyed the samples of advertising
...more
JulieK
Apr 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When this corporate persona was first created in the 1920s, people believed she was a real person and wrote to her with baking questions, relationship problems, and even marriage proposals. Some were heartbroken when they toured the Betty Crocker Kitchens and were told she wasn't a real person. "Betty" wrote letters, had a radio show, hobnobbed with movie stars, and went through many makeovers. I was especially interested in how she gave advice on cheap meal planning during the Depression and co ...more
Elizabeth
May 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in advertising, company branding, or the business of food
The corporate life of Betty Crocker was surprisingly interesting to me. I collect vintage and antiquarian cookbooks and I own several from Betty Crocker, but when I picked this book up I just wasn't expecting it. The history of this fictitious culinary powerhouse is surprisingly interesting if you happen to have an interest in the business of food or the branding of organizations. I does read dryly so you have to be committed to the subject to get everything out of it. I liked it and it did enli ...more
Erin
This was a great book on the history of Betty Crocker up until the middle of the book when it felt like the author lost her train of thought. Prior to that point it was full of great information and old advertisements of Betty Crocker. My favorite part is the information on the war years, including the distributed brochures and posters detailing how to stretch your meats, sugars, etc. It was definitely a sign of the times. It makes me appreciate some of the recipes handed down from my Grandma to ...more
Lisa
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pardon the puns, but this was delicious. Well written and well researched, this history of the advertising icon, Betty Crocker, was quite interesting and I ate it up. Lots of classic advertising in this book, lots of personal letters and recollections, which show that the author mined the General Mills archives to great effect! This is my kind of consumerist history - personal and engaging, touching on several greater historical threads (modernity, the rise of convenience products in the 20th ce ...more
SouthWestZippy
Betty Crocker was born out of the desperation of the department manager Samuel Gale. He was not comfortable signing his name on the thousands of correspondence letters that a 1921 advertising Contest generated.

I found this book to very interesting. Walks you through the development and the history of advertising used by Betty Crocker, a few older recipes and great pictures. I found it interesting on how Betty Crocker made a conscience decision to change the advertising as the world changed but
...more
Leslie Goddard
I had high hopes for this book, but mixed reactions. Marks assembles an impressive amount of information and facts, much of which is fascinating, but she provides only minimal analysis and context for what she's describing. Sometimes it even feels like she has slipped into publicity for General Mills. The illustrations provided are minimal and fairly small, with captions that provide little more than an obvious explanation of what you can see. This is an important topic but this book avoids prov ...more
Heather
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Honore
Previous review, which still holds: LOVED IT! Fun and entertaining read, as well as being an insightful look into the role of women re: domesticity in the 20th century.

I just re-read this, after having read it for the first time years ago. Now that I am more well-read on women's history in the US in the 20th century, I have a better context for the evolution of the Betty Crocker brand and and how it evolved over time.
Christine
Mar 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through a bit of a quirk I have been reading a lot on the history of homemaking and home economics. This book was a really fascinating history - and not just for what it said about Betty Crocker (though that was great, too). How things have changed since our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were baking! This book is based on the MS thesis of the author, and has some very enjoyable research behind it.
Karen
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I don't know if it because I love to bake. I loved the history of it. Not being of the age to remember how important the radio was in homes was so interesting to me. And also the affect WWII had on every aspect of everyday life always impresses me. I loved reading the process of how Betty Crocker started and what she was involved in to what she is now. This would make a really good bookclub book.
Barbara
May 01, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
It’s apparent that this book flowed from an academic paper. It’s factual, a tad dry, peppered with quotations, and contains marvelous illustrations/photographs. Betty has inspired great devotion. General Mills kept tissues at their test kitchens for heartbroken visitors who had expected to finally meet their mentor. Recommended for those interested in women’s history, this book is as light as a slice of Betty’s once famous chiffon cake.
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