Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stress in the kitchen

Everyone wants to cook well, but we forget how CRUCIAL a good home-baked cake was in great-grandma's times for women's self esteem. At least, that's what advertisers tried to tell them.
This word-packed ad, from 1922, tells a tale headed "From Failure to Success: The Story of a Young Wife Who Thought She Couldn't Cook."
Its chapters describe the terrible food served up by a new bride to her long-suffering husband. How shocking this was then. Working women were expected to leave their jobs when they wed. Housewifery was far more important.
The story coyly begins, "When the friends of Miss Office heard that she was to become Mrs Cook, they began to crack the age-old jokes about newly-wed wives. 'Jack will have indigestion for the first month,' they said."
And so it goes. Her first cake is "very heavy", followed by a doughy Madeira, leaden scones and pastry that is "simply waste of good butter".
Then, oh joy, she discovers "sure to rise" Edmonds Baking Powder. "Oh!" she exclaims. "I've not been using Edmonds! No wonder my cooking was a failure!"
Brimming with exclamation marks and proud smiles, she is shown in her pinny at the ad's end as simpering Jack assures her that her cooking is "just as good as Mother's - and better."
Tradition like this is what makes for enduring brands. This is how old slogans make for mindsets that do not change for years and years and years. This is why, when Edmonds was attacked this month by professional cooks for the inadequacy of its Hot Cross Bun recipe, the brand's owners would not admit to any problems at all.
Just like Jack's wife, they had a "sure to rise" reputation to uphold, even when the buns weren't rising.
But they should beware of wives in pinnies. Put-upon women have a habit of flinging aprons off, going back to work and buying store-bought cakes instead. Or not eating cake at all for health reasons. Or coaxing Jack to do some baking instead.

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