When I was seven, I decided to teach myself how to bake with my mother’s 1958 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook. My mother had friends over one night and they were all sitting in the living room; I came in crying with a saucepan full of cement.
“It’s a rock,” I said. My mother took a look in the pan and was unimpressed. “You used flour instead of sugar–I’ve done that; just try again.” Then she turned to her friends and said, “She is working on her caramel filling.”
My mother knew she had little time and less patience, and so she offered books; Greek Mythology, Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Simplicity Sewing Skills and Betty Crocker. I slapped the Betty Crocker on the table for support and was sucked in full throttle. I read the fine print. It was a Come to Jesus.
In the Betty Crocker test kitchens, they loved their food, and their outfits were full on serious. White shoes, white stockings, white dresses, white hats, and white aprons. There was a buzz of camaraderie, confidence, sensible directions and a tangible deliciousness that floated from the pages into my swelling, seven year old heart.
I now know that Betty Crocker was a sales pitch for Gold Medal flour and all I can say is, it was a damn good campaign. I learned how to make caramel sauce and I memorized the tips.
Tip #1: always bring something unusual to a dish. It was implied that this would keep your man happy. I don’t mind that. It was also implied that it was the to way to make cooking your own. That is vital.
Fast forward to last Saturday night. I was in the homestretch of dessert, which was that apple tart tatin with creme anglaise. Common knowledge calls for a baking apple for this kind of thing. Ditch it. Say what you want about golden delicious, but they are the best for a tart tatin. I would stand up and compete with that. You are also supposed to cook the apples on the stove top for about 30 minutes. No way. Are you making it with apples or applesauce? Make your mind up. 15 minutes tops on the stove to caramelize, before they go in the oven. There are chefs who would close shop if they had no vanilla bean for the creme. I say, keep your boots on; in America, unlike France, we have beautiful extract. Truth: It will never give you what the bean gives, but it will take you halfway. For the other half, my go to Faye Standard, the bayleaf. Throw it in the warming cream along with an unpeeled knob of fresh ginger. Autumn in Anglaise.
Thank you, Betty.