The Suitcase Lady


March 8, 2016, 8:25 pm

One trait characterizes my entire extended family: thoughts of food occupy a large part of all our brains.

We love to talk about food, shop for it, anticipate it, cook it, share it and eat it. We are even attracted to books and movies where food stars.

So it is not unusual that I plucked a book off my daughter’s bookshelf entitled, Feast Here Awhile, Adventures in American Eating. The book traces the history of food trends and trendsetters during the last half of the 1900’s. Reading it, I started to reminisce about my mother’s tuna, canned pea, mushroom soup and potato chip casserole and my mother-in-law’s whipped cream, fruit cocktail dessert. Food is not immune from the fashions of the moment.

The author, Jo Brans, devoted chapters to the people who shaped what we ate; James Beard, Julia Child, the Silver Palate Ladies to name a few. The first person on her list was fascinating. Although her cookbook has sold millions of copies and is currently in its eleventh printing, the person never existed.

Betty Crocker was created by an ad agency in 1921. “Crocker” was the last name of a retired director of the Gold Medal Flour company and “Betty” sounded warm and cozy. Betty started out answering letters to the company about baking problems, but soon she had a radio program and, by mid century, a television show. In 1945, Fortune Magazine sited her as the second most popular woman in America. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first.

I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book as a wedding present. Affectionately known as “The Big Red”, that cookbook was a life saver to me. I was newly married, learning to cook, on a tight budget and going to college full time. Thanks to Betty’s basic recipes, we ate home cooked, if not gourmet, meals.



By the time our two children came along, I had the luxury of being an at home mom and Julia Child had burst onto the scene. Her shows were a weekly treat and my local Sentry grocery store gave out free copies of her recipes. I was able to improve my cooking knowledge at a wonderful time in America’s culinary history.

All of our past experiences propel us into the present. Would Alice Waters be a food star now if Betty and Julia hadn’t told us to get into the kitchen, start cooking and not be afraid of messing up?


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