Betty Crocker’s Drum Cake from Her Classic Cook Book for Boys and Girls (1957)

“If you use your cook book often I can promise you real fun and lots of good things to eat,” Betty Crocker told her young readers.  And she was as good as her word.  The last chapter, “Rules,”  which ought to have been first because it introduced the basics of kitchen safety, measuring, equipment, and vocabulary came after the recipes.  The book led off instead with “Extra Special,”  cakes, cookies, candies, and beverages “good things to make for parties—for holidays—for your friends—and just for fun.”   Betty may have been a corporate construct, but she was no fool.. She shrewdly figured more children would be lured into the kitchen to  stir up a batch of brownies than a pan of mac and cheese.  Her  beginners and their sweet-teeth learned right off the bat how to  grease and flour pans, use a spatula to scrape the last of the batter out of the mixing bowl, and test a cake for doneness  with straightforward recipes for chocolate sheet cake, cocoa fudge cake, and yellow layer cake.  Recipes and directions for frosting a cake followed, strategically placed to build confidence before introducing the delectable subsection of party cakes.

.The soldier with the marching side drum in Archibald Willard’s “The Spirit of ‘76” (1876) could have been the inspiration for this drum cake, which would bring the family Fourth of July picnic to a cracking conclusion.   It didn’t have to be made  from scratch: Betty Crocker’ mixes would save energy for the all-important job of decoration.   To imitate the zig-zag rope tensioning around the drum’s chocolate devil’s food shell, a pattern of peppermint sticks and maraschino cherries had to be pressed into the thick glossy coat of pure white fluffy icing.

Could eight- to twelve-year-olds, General Mills’ target audience, actually make this cake? Yes,  because a group of home testers,  eight girls and four boys identified on page 6, cooked every dish.  Tester Bette Anne explained that “We had to say if things were easy or hard and did they taste good.”  Veto power was in their hands. “ If we didn’t like it,” said tester Chris, “Betty Crocker didn’t put it in this book.”   The children’s comments were run above the lower margins and they designate the dishes they would make again, offered helpful hints, identified skills they wanted to polish, and even conceded the vegetable recipes were tasty.  The home testers were real kids who lived in Cranbury, New Jersey, but they would have been at home on Klickitat Street.  They made the book for many of the baby boomers who have hung on to their treasured dogeared, sticky copies.The editorial team that compiled Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls in the decade after World War II saw the kitchen as a space where budget-conscious meals were made with what was on hand.  Dinnertime came once a day, not once a year like taxes. As family members, kids were expected to help out with meal preparation, but they were also invited to be creative in the kitchen.  If a child wanted to surprise the family with a heart cake for Mother’s  or Valentine’s Day, a special shaped pan wasn’t necessary, with an 8-inch round and 8-inch square pan around.  Mother didn’t have to hover because the young baker could be trusted to have enough good sense to get the pans in and out of the hot oven and cut up the cooled cakes with a long sharp knife without accident.   It’s easy to point fingers at the outdated gender roles in the illustrations, like the exclusion of girls from the campfire cooking chapter or the insensitive representation of Indigenous and people of color in this cook book. Fifty-odd years out, I could not help but be struck at how refreshing it was  to see no signs of extravagant consumption signaling wealth and privilege— a batterie de cuisine, countertops full of appliances, a gastronomic library of print and on-line resources, shelves of ingredients from around the world—that so much of today’s more sophisticated home cooking depends upon upon.   Cakes made with butter taste better than ones made with hydrogenated shortening or from a mix, but Betty Crocker’s drum cake from 1957 is still within the means of more people than the birthday cake dreamed up for  a children’s birthday party in The Best of Gourmet (2005).I read and reread my well-thumbed copy of Betty Crocker  until I had perfect recall of all the color plates of the iconic party cakes.  I never made one of them. If the results were likely to fall short of the pictures, I was too intimidated to try.  Even if I hadn’t been daunted by the food styling, I  knew my health-conscious mother would nix the drum cake, because it required hard candy and maraschino cherries, full of sugar and red dye number 2.  She probably would have pointed out that the cake wouldn’t taste as good as it looked and I would have been reluctant to admit she was probably right.  Better to never bring up the subject than to concede the field later.   Or offer a face-saving explanation is that the cake construction gene skipped a generation.  My daughter or nieces down under would tackle a drum cake  in a heart’s beat as child’s play.   All I have to do is ask.

“The Beginning, Progress and End of Man:” Rare Harlequinades of Emblems Acquired

The title page of the J. Deacon edition, a recent purchase by Cotsen, is printed parallel to the folds of the harlequinade. Adam is wearing a fig leaf. (Cotsen unprocessed)

Among the earliest moveable books are harlequinades, whose illustrations metamorphose when the flaps at the upper and lower edges are opened up and down.  The most familiar examples illustrated key scenes in popular pantomimes staged in the late 1760s and early 1770s and a list of these “turn-ups” appeared in the 1775 catalogue issued by print seller Bennett and Sayers, where they were described as “moral and instructive Emblems for the Entertainment of Children” rather than promoting them as the novelties they were.

Calling them “emblems” might have been a tactic to reassure prospective customers that turn-ups  extracted morals from plays regarded as less than improving. This language may also alludes to their sober ancestor that had no connection with the stage, The Beginning, Progress and End of Man, a small illustrated collection of  emblems or “speaking pictures” from the 1650s.  The license of May 30 1650 called it  “a small tract of several foulded pictures…in verse.” Probably written to fit the panels and flaps, neither the illustrations or verse was polished enough to get the attention of print curators or literary critics.  Nevertheless, it has  survived (see below), while the Sayers edition,  “Adam and Eve,” the title presumably taken from the first panel’s subject has not.

Cotsen has acquired another early edition of The Beginning, Progress and End of Man at the  Justin G. Schiller Ltd. Sale at Heritage Book Auctions in Dallas, Texas  December 16 2020.   It is the stated third edition of the text in five panels and the only one with contemporary hand-coloring.   The five  metamorphosing subjects are Adam (to Eve, to mermaid), Abel (to Abel, to Cain killing Abel), the lion (to griffin, to eagle and child) the youth (to heart, to money bags), and man (skeleton).  The block of the rampant lion faces right and has the face of a man that could be Charles I..  Below  is the back of sheet with all the flaps open, followed by a shot of the other side with center five images visible.Dating the Cotsen copy more precisely than between 1671 and 1704 is not possible, given the available information about the publisher.  Two J. Deacons traded from the Angel in Gilt spur street.  The publisher could be either  Jonah Deacon, a broadside ballad monger, who teamed up with P. Brooksby,  J. Blare, and and J. Back to undercut the five Ballad Partners, or John Deacon who also dealt in cheap print from the Angel as well as the “Rainbow, Holborn, a little above St. Andrews Church.”  For now not possible to assign priority to this or the J. Deacon edition at the Bodleian Library

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The Beginning, Progress and End of Man has only begun to attract attention within the last fifteen years.  Malcolm Jones reproduced the British Library’s 1650 edition with flaps closed and a transcription of the text in The Print in Early Modern England: An Historical Oversight (2010) as an early example of “lift-the-flap” pictures.  He correctly connected it to the better known genre of anatomical sheets, but passed over its ties with emblem literature for children.  It seems to have been unknown to the authors of  classic studies on  17th-century English children’s books like William Sloane’s 1955 bibliography, Warren W. Wooden’s Children’s Literature of the English Renaissance (1986), and  C. John Sommerville’s The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England (1992).

Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s articles and monograph Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-ups (2018) on the long history of genres like the harlequinade which are hybrids of books, toys, and games, has put Beginning, Progress, and End of Man on the map. The union catalogue on her website Learning as Play: An Animated, Interactive Archive of 17th– to 19th-Century Narrative Media by and for Children has the most complete census of surviving copies: the one in four panels published by B. Alsop and T. Dunster (1650) at the British Library in the Thomason Tracts and at Pennsylvania State University Library; the five-panel E. Alsop and T. Dunster edition of 1654 at Harvard; and  the five-panel J. Deacon edition ca. 1688  purchased by antiquarian Anthony à Wood at the Bodleian Library.   The details of the Cotsen copy will be sent along shortly.

Reid Walsh’s research also shows that The Beginning, Progress, and End is an intriguing but little understood text that must have been wider circulation than the census of printed editions can possibly would indicate. We know this because of the survival of manuscript copies made by boys and girls in England, North America, and Scotland, none of them labored copies, all of them individual as their creators, who might be considered outsider artists…

Elizabeth Winspear’s four-panel version with a polka-dotted lion (Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Duke University Library).

A Scottish boy’s handiwork from the 1820s.   His lion’s eyes seem to glow.  The bouquet is entirely his.   The baby in the eagle’s claws in the detail below is particularly well-dressed. (Cotsen unprocessed manuscripts)