Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook

1st Edition, 1950

Arguably, the most revolutionary cookbook of the 1950’s was the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, which contained lavish colour photography. While the first edition of the book is no longer in print, there are mixed views on the significance of this illustrated cookbook. There were a substantial amount of photographs but the aesthetic quality was perhaps quite poor. However, the use of food photography in this commercial outlet was significant, marking a rise in production, thus a rise in a need for food photographs. None the less, Betty Crocker was still a significant character in cookery at the time. A fictional character created by the Washburn-Crosby Company in 1921, created as an advertising tool to make the company more personable. Prior to publishing the ‘Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook’ various promotional pamphlets and baking books without colour photographs were released in the 1930’s and 40’s to aid war-time cooking. (Jarvits, J. n.d. [online]) 

Even cookbooks aimed at young cooks started to incorporate photography. Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book (for the Hostess and Host of Tomorrow) in 1955 had step-by-step instructions line drawings and number of black and white shots. “there were beauty shots clearly meant to inspire the young chef—burgers, shakes, french toast. But the printing was poor and I don’t remember being inspired enough to, as the editors suggested, “fill up the family cookie jar.” (Shakely, L. n.d. [online]) While food photography was starting to appear more and more in cookbooks and magazines, it didn’t necessarily mean that these photographs had a better aesthetic quality than the previous illustrations. 

With thanks to Amy Alessio for her knowledge on vintage cookbooks!

Gourmet Magazine

Gourmet Magazine Cover

The first American magazine devoted to food and wine, Gourmet started in January 1941. (2001, [online]) Gourmet covers in the 1950’s tended to feature “a significant piece of serving ware, a floral arrangement, and a textural background, put together with a studied eclecticism that suggested a well-traveled life”. (Dickerman, S. 2006) Not just a food magazine, it suggested ideals in lifestyle post-war.

Conde Nast axed Gourmet magazine in 2009, but you can read more about the magazine here


Colour photography in cookbooks

While the first colour photograph was produced in 1861, colour photography in cookbooks wasn’t used until the 1930’s due to the difficulty of colour printing. (Plimmer, C, 1988, p10)  Colour food photography can be traced back to as early as 1935, (Thomas Perich, S. 2010) when Nickolas Murray first adapted the three-colour carbro process. McCall’s commissioned Murray to create colour photographs for their cooking and food pages. He used the colour carbro process to make rich and colourful photographs of food spreads for the magazine and for other advertisers through the 1950s. Within the context of commercial photography, the rich colours in these images were used to grab the reader’s attention which can be seen excellently in the image below.
Nickolas Murray, Untitled, circa 1935.
The image is very much like Fantin Latour’s painting discussed previously. There are visual similarities in the way lifestyle, status and class are implied in both images and is testament of significant and perhaps even direct influence.
Food photography progressed over a matter of years, where colour food photography was being used not only in single sheet advertisements but in cookbooks as well. Shakely commented that “The earliest cookbooks were for simple palates, records of cooks’ favorites, or the king’s favorites, writ down so that they could successfully be repeated by those who could imagine how they should look and taste when finished. Like any kind of book, the evolution of cookbooks paralleled the progress of printing technology.” (n.d. [online]) While colour photography was still in its early stages in the 1950’s, block prints were frequently used in cookbooks, not actual photographs. Illustrations were popular too and usually a number of black and white photographs were used to accompany the recipes.
A few years later, colour photographs were used in the first edition of Larousse Gastronomique. (Plimmer, C, 1988, p10) It included 36 colour photographs but since it was a large and expensive book, it still contained 1,850 black and white images. World War Two slowed the production of colour photography for many due to cost and there wasn’t a high consumer need for the process. However after the war, there was a boom in ladies magazines, awash with colour advertisements and recipes.