Here’s a shout-out to the Home Economics ladies. Not the ones who showed you how to make biscuits and sew bean bag frogs in junior high, the generation of women responsible for the task of creating recipes to entice housewives to purchase products. From the early twentieth century onward recipe booklets were common freebies given away by food manufacturers to encourage people to buy their products. Directed toward housewives, these were also advertised as send-away bonuses on food packaging. This of course would create the need to buy more of the product to cook the recipes, and if the companies were lucky, instill a sense of brand loyalty.
Generally the recipe booklets were illustrated, and foodforfunandpleasure’s lady mascot comes from a particular Tillamook cheese booklet near and dear to my heart. The really fancy ones sometimes featured a photo of the knowledgeable source. As the decades wore on photos of the food became more common, but unfortunately those photos don’t exactly stand the test of time against the Instagram era’s tailored lighting and carefully curated food photography. It is truly the illustrated pamphlets that shine, leaving the authors mysterious to the reader.
Unlike today’s chef culture, these women were not celebrities who one could attach their approval to and follow across product lines. These were people meant to tout the ease of use for particular products and foster a sense of brand alignment. “She’s a mother, just like me.” “Her husband counts on her to provide a well-rounded dinner, just like me!” Often the tone was one of a knowledgeable friend.
Who were these home-ec ladies, really? Was there really a Sue Swanson, or Mary Hale Martin at Libby’s Canned Meats? Or were they just a front for a team of food scientists or male chefs, characters created to give credo a la Betty Crocker?
We may never know.