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  profile by Nikol Lohr

Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book
Second Edition (1956)
472 pages; sells an authentic reprint of the 1950 edition: $22.99; or try ebay

A few weeks ago, I was trapped at Wal-Mart for 2 hours while I waited for my bad battery to be replaced. What would have been a depressing, wasted afternoon turned sunny when I stumbled across a reprint of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, circa 1950. In addition to the most adorable illustrations ever and mountains of recipes I wouldn't dream of serving, there were scads of excellent tips and the makings for a lifetime of retro-themed cocktail and dinner parties.

Granted, this isn't a book you'll turn to for serious culinary advice. But if you want some post-war charm and delightfully out-of-place and archaic tips ("Every morning before breakfast, comb hair, apply make-up, a dash of cologne, and perhaps some simple earrings. Does wonder for your morale."), or if you need to know how many marshmallows is in a quarter-pound (16) or you're craving liberal nutritional advice (butter "promotes growth" and "builds resistance to disease"), this book will bring hours of joy. Nestled in with all the 50s fun, you'll find plenty of genuinely useful tips and techniques: freezing and food storage guidelines, blanching nuts, caramelizing sugar, radish roses, how to tell if eggs are fresh, and so forth.

And of course, the desserts. Frankly, most days I'll take a simple 50s dessert over those fancy-schmantzy modern architectural desserts--especially if I'm the one stuck preparing it. And don't tell me anyone can make a pie better than Betty. Plus, the naive presentation in the dessert photographs is so endearing. Imagine the opposite of Martha Stewart Living, and you've got the idea.

Best of all, this book is ring-bound and broken up with convenient and cutely-illustrated dividers. Buy the reproduction from Amazon (it's of the first edition and has a different cover, but is otherwise very similar), or browse thrift stores or ebay (there are usually a few dozen of various editions at any given time).

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More cookbook reviews from Nikol:

Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, 1956.
by Regina Cordova with Emma Carrasco
Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking
by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch
The Frugal Gourmet
by Jeff Smith
Lee Bailey's Country Desserts
by Lee Bailey
Maida Heatter's Cakes by Maida Heatter
Street Food by Clare Ferguson

Report Card
Overall: A+

Images: A+
darling illustrations; tons of clumsy photos of techniques and supersaturated, awkwardly-arranged color photos of finished recipes
Ease of Use: A
neatly divided and arranged; binder pages lay flat
Practicality: B
simple overall, but many recipes assume you're a housewife with all day to cook, bake, and clean up
Style: A+
cute and cheerful



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