Kitchen Crushes

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“The whole thing got bigger, and General Mills decided to make it into a cookbook,” says Eric, now 63 and living in Marlboro, Massachusetts. He credits his mother for the book’s guiding assumption that children were capable: The book brims with no-adult-needed instructions for building a campfire, using knives, and staying out of Mother’s way. “Mom believed that children had lots of intelligence but not enough learning,” he says.

Thelma held informal cooking sessions at her home on Cranbury’s Main Street, then sent the children home with mimeographed copies of recipes and a form on which to record their impressions of each dish. “We got fifty cents for every recipe we tested,” Eric says. “I added my loot to savings and bought a bicycle.”

Elizabeth Zingg still uses the potato salad recipe she learned 50 years ago. “Only half of the recipes we tested made it into the book,” she says. “There were some real dogs.”

Even if the rest of the world has not seen the testers since 1957, they see each other occasionally, as, incredibly, 9 of the 12 still live in Cranbury or close by. “I saw Randee the other day,” says Eileen Griggs McGillan, “and Donna lives around the corner.”

Eileen’s copy of the cookbook is inscribed with thanks from Betty Crocker herself. “We thought she was a real person,” she says. “We had so much fun.”

Boy, did we. When I talked to Eric, Elizabeth, and Eileen, I thanked them for the times we spent together, and said that I think of them whenever I am making scalloped potatoes or yellow cake from the book they helped create.

Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls was reissued in 2003, and I bought a copy for my daughter. “Meet Our Home Testers,” it says. At long last, I have.

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