Thursday, February 11, 2021

A Welcome Respite


Back in the accumulation phase of my life, I collected cookbooks. My mother used to say she read cookbooks the way some people read murder mysteries. I was pretty much the same. I especially liked cookbooks that had historical interest, quirky and unusual cookbooks, and ones that just made you shake your head. The one that described making a tasty sandwich spread out of Crisco shortening comes to mind.

I much prefer the study of history when it pertains to what real people were doing in their daily lives, which is why older cookbooks appeal to me. Spare me the dry accounts of kings, battles, and treaties. I want to know what they ate, what they wore, how they lived. 

A few years ago I enjoyed a book I borrowed from the Howard County Library about the history of Betty Crocker, a culinary expert and personality created by the Gold Medal Flour Company. (Later General Mills.)  It’s a fascinating story, full of all sorts of the historical tidbits that I love. Highly recommended:  Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, by Susan Marks.

So when I noticed that the Howard County Library was offering an online presentation about Betty Crocker I jumped at the opportunity to learn more. Presented by the Harford County Library, it was made available to other libraries as well.

Created in 1921 by a flour company, “Betty Crocker” became the most famous and most trusted advisor to American cooks. In 1950, this fictional character’s brand-new Picture Cook Book hit shelves, with sales that rivaled that of another big book, The Bible and to date, it has sold more than 75 million copies. 

This fun illustrated lecture by historian Leslie Goddard, Ph.D., looks at how Betty Crocker was invented, why the cookbook has endured, and what makes the idea of Betty Crocker so iconic.

Dr. Goddard was well-prepared, informative and entertaining, and the event was a welcome diversion from the seriousness of the day’s news. While some of her talk dealt with things I already knew, there was plenty of new information for me as well as visual and audio visual examples highlighting her talk. It was a brief vacation from pandemic life with all its sadness and stress.

When it was over I came away grateful for the experience.

Have you attended online presentations like this during the pandemic? I know that most of us have endured work Zoom meetings and other online experiences that have drained rather than enriched us. But what about something you have chosen for your own enjoyment? Do any local institutions stand out in their pandemic outreach? I certainly enjoyed the Columbia Orchestra’s online Winter Concert and I see that they have another concert coming up on March 13th.

A tip of the hat to the Howard County Library for the myriad of services and programming they’ve been offering during the pandemic. Have you bought your tickets for their annual fundraiser yet? This year’s event, Serata Virtuale, will be an “online tour of Italy from the comfort and safety of your own home.”There are a variety of experiences and a variety of price-points for participation, so you can choose what works best for you and support the library at the same time. Funds raised will go towards learning activity kits for K-12 students, and Chromebooks and hotspots for residents without internet access.

Who knows, years from now we may be learning from presentations from the library on How We Lived During the Pandemic. What do you think you’ll remember most?


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