Cookbooks in the Age of “Mad Men”

Thinking about set designs for Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner had a breakthrough: Don't make everything new. Few people in 1965 had the latest sofas, Impalas, hats, and hairdos. Instead, just like in 2012, they owned a mix of old and new.

It's the same with cookbooks. Mad Men's Betty Francis (formerly Draper) would have used both the season's hot cookbook, along with the same spattered books she'd used for years. Thus, when the school bake sale loomed, Betty would probably have reached for Pillsbury's Best 1000 Recipes: Best of the Bake-Off Collection. The Bake-Off had been a phenomenon since it began in 1949 (Eleanor Roosevelt handed out the $50,000 check to the first winner!), but in 1959 the first contest cookbook appeared, introducing American women to Chocolate Pixie Cookies and Orange Kiss-Me Cake.

Other books that would have been on Betty's counter:

The I Hate to Cook Book
Peg Bracken's whimsical 1960 cookbook sold 3 million copies—it was among the best-loved of its era by remaking traditional recipes with modern shortcuts, all designed to help the housewife get a dinner on the table that was good enough without too much hassle. It's got awesome illustrations by Hilary Knight (who also illustrated the Eloise and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books). Recipes include Stayabed Stew, Immediate Fudge Cake, and Skid Road Stroganoff, which includes directions to let it cook "while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink." Is that Betty or what?

 

Betty Crocker's Hostess Book
We know Betty used this book, because we've seen it in her kitchen. It's a bit of an anachronism: The first edition appeared in 1967, after the date of the Mad Men season 2 episode "A Night to Remember," set in 1962. But I can forgive that, because with its menus for "Gay Supper Parties" and "Classic Company Dinners," the Hostess Book so clearly gave Betty the idea for her show-stopping trip-around-the-world menu, which included gazpacho from Spain and rumaki from "Japan."

 

 

The New York Times Menu Cook Book
The hot new book of 1966. When author Craig Claiborne started as Times food editor in 1957, the "food page" was considered a women's section for housewives to get baking tips. Claiborne transformed newspaper food coverage by championing ethnic cuisines like Chinese and Mexican. Betty wouldn't have been able to resist menus like the large cocktail party (buttered nuts, chicken liver paté, mushroom-stuffed eggs, wild-rice pancakes, cream-cheese pastry turnovers), or the graduation luncheon (fruit punch, salmon eggs Montauk, lemon chiffon cake). Come to think of it, neither can I.

 

See also: CHOW's slideshow Recipes for Your "Mad Men" Party

Former CHOW contributor Joyce Slaton is an editor and writer in San Francisco. She takes her tea with sugar and milk and will sew you an apron if you ask nicely. Follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.