|Betty Crocker's Chocolate Chip Cookies on my mother's c. 1961 cookie sheet
with a vintage 1950s spatula (they don't make 'em like they used to do).
My mother didn’t collect the amount of cookbooks that I have, and neither did she have the Internet, but she had well-used copies of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book (1956: 2nd ed.) and Betty Crocker’s Cooky Cook Book (1963) on her kitchen counter, with the former in a loose-leaf binder format that eventually fell apart from use. I’ve always assumed that she got them at one of several bridal showers before her July wedding to my father in 1961 (on her parents’ 25th anniversary which was sometimes the custom in old families) when she also received a decorative 1950s recipe box filled with handwritten or typed specialties from friends and family. Both cookbooks were part of the extensive and popular 1950s lineage of cookbooks developed by General Mills® with its famed—but fictional—Betty Crocker™ homemaker icon. Even though my mother was a trained R.N. she was a full-time 1960s suburban housewife in a time of social transition (she later worked full-time as a nurse from 1974-2011 and God bless her for her sacrifices and for supporting her three children for many of those years).
There is a back story here and one I feel compelled to share with you (one difference between a nonfiction book and its related blog on 1950s kitchens is that I can speak freely here in the first person). Being a highly visual child, I enjoyed looking through these cookbooks with their photographs and charming, now vintage, graphics a few years before I learned to read. When I first started cooking on my own—a step up from the small cakes made in my Easy Bake Oven™—I came to try many of the recipes in these beloved cookbooks.
I had more of a sweet tooth as a child than I do now and my mother was wise to limit sugar in our diets (which might be why I seemed to crave it even more). Once in a while she’d make a treat and chocolate chip cookies were a specialty. I have a particular memory of reaching my wee hand up to the counter, where an array of cookies waited for the oven on a small baking sheet (over twenty years later I brought this aluminum sheet to my first apartment and still have it—it is now quite well-seasoned!). While my mother was doing laundry in the basement I took the opportunity to grab a glob of the rich and buttery dough speckled with chocolate chips. In time I would learn to rearrange the dough somewhat so as to avoid detection (it didn’t work, naturally, as confirmed by my mother years later).
This recipe that my mother used pays homage to the traditional “Toll House” cookies developed by restaurateur Ruth Wakefield in Whitman, Massachusetts in 1939 (who published her own The Toll House Cookbook). Whenever I’ve made chocolate-chip cookies from the recipe on the Nestle’s™ chocolate chip package (which is identical to Wakefield’s), or other recipes with a slight tweak here or there, I’ve noticed that they don’t quite resemble the ones that my mother made when I was a child (as an adult I’ve discovered that few things actually do in life).
In looking through my own copies of several vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks for this project, it occurred to me that the reason for not ever having the recipe “just as Mom made them” is that my mother would have surely used Betty’s variation. With the addition of shortening (I used all butter), less sugar, and a bit more flour and vanilla than Wakefield’s version, you get a somewhat lighter but more flavorful cookie. Here it is, scanned right from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook and made for my two boys, 16 and 14, on their April spring break from school as I was finalizing image captions and all copy for the manuscript for The 1950s American Kitchen. [It was delivered to my editor on April 15th.]
I hope you will enjoy them as much as we did! And happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers in the world, but especially to mine across the miles.
[Stay tuned for a future blog post with more details about the iconic Betty Crocker...]