Betty Crocker turned 100! Though it’s her “birthday,” Betty Crocker was never born. While she has changed over the years, she never ages. She doesn’t look a day over 40! Her image has been altered by artists to keep her current.
Betty’s most recent official portrait was painted in 1996 to celebrate her 75th birthday. It was inspired by a composite image, itself based on photographs of 75 real women reflecting the changing demographics of America. Betty doesn’t represent an actual woman. She represents a cultural ideal.
So how did Betty Crocker come to be? From the very beginning, Betty Crocker emerged in response to the needs of others. In 1921, readers of The Saturday Evening Post were invited by the Washburn-Crosby Company (makers of Gold Medal flour) in an ad to complete a jigsaw puzzle and mail it in for a prize. The advertising department got more responses than it expected. In addition to contest entries, readers sent in questions, asking for cooking advice.
The company’s mostly male advertising department staff wasn’t sure the mostly female customers would trust a man’s response. So Betty Crocker was invented as a customer service tool to answer those requests. Quickly, Betty the fictional cook and homemaker caught on in the culture. She received so many letters that multiple company employees had to learn to produce her familiar signature.
In 1950, the company—now renamed General Mills—produced the first Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. It was filled with the more popular or in-demand recipes the company had collected over the years. But the volume contained more than just recipes and instructions.
Cookbooks aren’t valued solely for the quality of the foods they help others produce. The most inviting ones are often imaginative and present the possibilities of a hospitable setting would-be hosts and hostesses aspire to achieve. Recipes anticipate a future in which one has cooked and served something delicious to loved ones gathered together. They may also reflect a fondly remembered past, harkening back to dishes prepared by beloved matriarchs (or often today, patriarchs too) with love and care. When cookbooks include personal anecdotes, they invite a feeling of connection that mimics the nostalgic history collected in a generational recipe box.
An ad for the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book explained how the edition was a product of those personal connections among women who never even met one another. It read, “The women of America helped Betty Crocker write the Picture Cook Book,” and the resulting book “reflected the warmth and personality of the American home.”
Why? Human culture produces icons that influence daily life. Betty Crocker and other such figures change over time in order to remain popular and profitable. But our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.