As Americans prep for Thanksgiving, Pictorial has decided to honor our communal gorging by taking a look at promotional recipe pamphlets of days gone by.

Got problems with your biscuits, your pies, your fried chicken? Well, turn to your helpful Aunt Jenny and her Spry vegetable shortening.

According to Stir it Up: Home Economics in American Culture, this friendly figure would appear in the radio program Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, which aired in the mid-morning from 1937 to 1956. In every episode she dispensed wisdom and cooking tips—while very loudly using Spry. That’s because, much like Betty Crocker, she was a corporate creation, imagineered out of thin air to promote Lever Brothers’ Crisco competitor. There were a number of characters like this; it’s just that Betty is the only one who’s still around.

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With her folksy speech patterns (“Good-tastin’ food makes a heap of difference to any family, doesn’t it, ladies?”) and homespun recipes, Aunt Jenny was a pitch woman tailor-made to ease any angst inspired by turning to a mass-produced kitchen cheat like Spry vegetable shortening. And you can get the original why-sit-right-here-and-let-me-help-honey experience in the form of Aunt Jenny’s Favorite Recipes, a showcase for all the ways a housewife could use Spry.

Based on the outfits in the photos and illustrations, we’re looking at something from the 1940s. And reading the copy inside, you can clearly see the 1950s emerging from the primordial ooze of the era. Just some ladies sittin’ ‘round the sewing circle, talking about the best ways to feed our husbands.

What’s striking if you’ve flipped through the ladymags and cookbooks of the late fifties and sixties is just how normal these recipes seem in comparison. Enough to stop your heart, sure, but Americans lived a more active lifestyle back then. Clearly there was an initial period where industrial society invented some fairly straightforward offerings before running out of ideas and dreaming up a dazzling array canned cream-of varieties. Neither of these frostings is particularly distressing from a culinary perspective—even if there is something terrifying about Aunt Jenny’s facial expression.

And these french fries seem perfectly tasty, if completely appalling from a healthy eating perspective. Just “Remember, Ladies!” that you must blanch your fries first. No man is allowed to use this cookbook.

Although, okay, this recipe does call for “canned chicken soup or milk” and pimiento, as well as recommending a mushroom sauce dressing. There’s the 1950s creeping around the corner, again.

No, what’s far more alarming is the sense you get from flipping through this book is that Aunt Jenny is an enforcer of gender norms and if you don’t put down the rivets and slip on some heels, Rosie, she’ll zap you with a cattle prod. Men love apple pies, ergo, here are a plethora of apple pie recipes for you ladies to serve them.

Better drop that book and help with the pie-making, young lady, or you’ll have Aunt Jenny to answer to.

Here she is, blatantly manipulating some poor woman’s ungrateful child. Mom’s BUSY, Elmer, quit yapping about cookies.

If this compels, you can still order a reproduction of the booklet on Amazon. The perfect gift for the bride who can’t cook and doesn’t care!


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.