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Betty’s Easter Menu, Then and Now

Created March 3, 2020
classic and vintage betty crocker cookbooks
Ready for an Easter dinner that’ll “bring the family to the table almost before you call them”? That level of anticipation was how you measured a special holiday meal back in 1969—at least according to “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” of that year—and we think it’s still a fair measure today. So, let’s plan Easter with Betty’s sage advice in mind!
In anticipation of spring’s first big celebration, we pulled out a couple of Betty’s classic cookbooks to take a walk down memory lane—and to compare and contrast what planning for Easter looked like 50+ years ago, versus what today’s editors are thinking about as the holiday nears. As we paged through, we found ourselves chuckling over the things that have changed (when was the last time you adorned your ham with marzipan flowers and dyed eggs?) and marveling at how tastes and habits have changed—or in some cases, not changed all that much. Whether then or now, a well-planned menu is the core of a special gathering, so we’re taking a look at what made—and makes—a memorable menu, then and now.

The Menu Then

These Easter menus—an elaborate one and an on-the-quick version—from “Betty Crocker’s Party Cookbook”, published in 1960, are a glimpse into the past that set our imaginations running. It’s a lot to take in: a ham with an ultrasweet glaze and its own potentially frightening-looking bunny décor (beady clove eyes, anyone?), a fruity gelatin dessert with the very questionable title of “mold,” that’s served with a dressing that incorporates mayo, chicken-shaped sandwiches—wow.

menu from vintage betty crocker cookbook

*The pages above come from “Betty Crocker’s Party Book” published in 1960.

Beyond those obvious anachronisms, there are subtler markers of changes in how we eat and think about food. The flavor profiles here are subdued, to put it lightly, with rosemary as the only called-for herb. Home cooks are not just more adventurous and familiar with flavors these days, the spices and seasonings available in most grocery stores are also more diverse. And while the Easter Daffodil Cake actually sounds tasty when you look at the ingredients, the name tells us nothing about the cake’s flavor profile beyond imagining that it must incorporate something yellow. Today, recipe titles are more literally descriptive, so cooks can get an immediate assessment of what the end product will taste like; it’s a change that might seem unremarkable, but points to ideas as big as where we get our recipes, how we talk about food and what we expect of it.

With ideas like those in mind, we took a course-by-course, dish-by-dish look what Easter was then, what it is now, and where the two intersect. Now let’s get to the food!

The Easter Mainstays

What a Ham!

“… A beautiful big pre-sliced ham, one of the happiest choices a hostess can make.” Those words, published in “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook” in 1967, still ring true. It’s the iconic centerpiece dish for the Easter table and it just doesn’t feel right to make a feast without one.

Then: The burnished and glossy ham got to rest on quite the decorative bed, complete with unidentified greens, marzipan flowers and baby blue- and pink-dyed eggs. One thing that caught our eye about this epic roast is the fat cap—it’s thick compared to what’s often seen on tables today. Whether that’s attributable to health consciousness or a change in texture preferences—or both—is up for debate.

ham

*photo from “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,” 1950

Now: Gadgetry is part of our lives, and the kitchen is no exception to that rule. The slow cooker can take over cooking your ham and turn out succulent results. Plus, that set-it-and-forget-it convenience can be a real plus when your oven is committed to baking side dishes or when you want to safely let it cook while you’re attending services. While this honey-mustard ham still features the crosshatch pattern of the 1960s example (a great way to get seasoning deeper into the roast), the flavor profile gets multidimensional sweet-tangy flavor from the combination of honey and pungent Dijon mustard. A little tasteful garnish of apples and parsley, plus additional mustard for dipping, makes a simple but beautiful presentation.

slow-cooker honey mustard glazed ham

Egg Them On

Where goes the ham, also go the eggs, and it’s always been so. Eggs are an integral part of the Easter meal—and their versatility means they can come to the table in countless forms.

Then: The elegant brunch from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” of 1969 featured Quiche Lorraine as the main dish. This ham-and-cheese egg tart is an icon of French cooking, but its popularity peaked a while ago. Perhaps that’s a little something to do with needing to make a crust from scratch, with all the rolling, chilling and fluting that demands, plus two bake times—it’s an undertaking! (Although, we confess, the current Betty Crocker editors have been known to whip one up because, well, this is a recipe that delivers.)

quiche

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” published in 1969.

Now: Yes, having eggs at the table is a general must, but with more people opting to go meat-free in recent times, a vegetarian egg dish is a very welcome addition to the table. Our choice for this season is a Greek-inspired egg casserole, which is filled with herbs and vegetables and gets a good crumble of tangy feta cheese on top. The casserole format is incredibly easy—just two steps!—and the flavor profile looks beyond the classical cuisines that dominated kitchens in decades past, but still feels accessible for the less-adventurous eaters coming to brunch. And with a squeeze of fresh lemon as a final touch, it has all the brightness to match the spring sunshine.

greek egg casserole

The Sides Show

Then and now, springy sides with a variety of colors, shapes and textures round out your well-planned menu!

Where to Start

Because no feast-worthy menu is complete without something to snack on, right from the start.

Then: Carved radishes piped with dip, orange and lime slices arranged like roses and parsnips shaped to look like daisies—this is some centerpiece! It was meant to double as a relish tray, so you could dip and crunch away. But we can’t help imagining that this masterpiece would require you to spend Easter eve staying up late to whittle away at your vegetable basket.

flower basket

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook” published in 1967.

Now: Deviled eggs are a must-have appetizer, right? Agreed. In our endless quest to eat more of them, we’ve made all kinds of deviled egg variations, but this is the one we’re putting front and center this year: Pimiento Cheese Deviled Eggs, which captures the macro-trend of finding inspiration in regional cuisines. Topped with green onions and pimiento peppers, plus a filling with next-level cheesy flavor and a little bit of heat, these Southern-inspired eggs make the meal memorable from the very first bite!

pimiento cheese deviled eggs

Sides are the Spice of Life

Ham might have the spotlight, but everyone knows that sides are where you, as a cook, have the opportunity to make a real scene-stealer. We’ve never met a brunch or dinner guest who didn’t like to sample a little bit of everything, so make as many sides as you like!

Then: It’s not necessarily that the ingredients date this Tossed Green Salad—although we’ll pass on heartburn-inducing slices of raw white onion—but it’s definitely lacking some imagination. Those leafy greens, crunchy radishes and fresh green onions are pulling their weight as seasonal vegetables that are right for the spring occasion—as Betty pointed out in 1967’s, “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook,” “a truly smart hostess is one who knows the special delight (economy, too) of first-of-the-season foods.” But those fresh ingredients deserved so much better than to be coated in a dressing of salt, “grated” pepper, nonspecific vinegar and “salad oil.”

green salad

*Pages above from “Betty Crocker’s Good and Easy Cook Book” published in 1954.

Now: With roasted new potatoes, crisp-tender asparagus, fresh arugula and a shallot-lemon vinaigrette, this salad brings together variations in texture, flavor and even temperature in an of-the-moment way. Plus, it takes Betty’s still-sound advice on seasonal foods and delivers spring’s best on a single platter!

Spring Roasted Potato Salad

Then: On the topic of seasonal vegetables, this recipe for “Peas, French Style” from the 1969 “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” calls for a curious style of steaming that involves nesting peas inside lettuce leaves. In the mid-century heyday of boiling and steaming vegetables, this counted as a creative innovation that added … well, frankly, we’re not sure what.

peas

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” published in 1969.

Now: Roasting vegetables, as a technique, might have been around since time immemorial, but the method has risen to new levels of prominence in the past few years. It’s little wonder why, once you taste this dish—the carrots are perfectly (not overly) tender and they get a little bit of caramelization on the edges for touches of concentrated flavor. The balsamic vinegar-based dressing adds the zing of acid needed to balance it all out.

honey balsamic roasted carrots

Then: Creamy scalloped potatoes, made with two pounds of spuds, peeled, thinly sliced and layered with béchamel, was a labor of love—emphasis on “labor.”

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” published in 1969.

Now: Creamy, cheesy, casserole-form potatoes get a time-saving shortcut that makes it easy to put together an extra side or two. This recipe dresses up Betty Crocker with a little veg and some white cheddar, but it all comes together with just 10 minutes of prep.

creamy scalloped potatoes with ham and peas

Then: Besides sunny fresh-cut daisies, fresh-cut asparagus might be one of the brightest signs of spring! And that’s why this recipe from 1970 is such a heart-breaker: It calls for boiling the asparagus for 8 to 10 minutes. It was a gray and mushy fate that asparagus in no way deserved—despite whatever wizardry went into making this photo look relatively appealing.

asparagus

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Family Dinners In a Hurry” published in 1970.

Now: Roasted asparagus turns out crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and it absolutely shines at the center of this tart. This recipe is the perfect intersection of dressed-up and accessible, a combination of characteristics that’s more and more common in how we eat. Pairing perfectly roasted asparagus with special-treat prosciutto in an attractively rustic, cheese-sprinkled tart made this an instant hit in the Test Kitchens, so you know it’ll impress on your table, too!

Asparagus and Prosciutto Rustic Tart

The Baked Goods

Then: With these Easy Refrigerator Rolls, featured in 1967’s “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook,” there was “no need to knead.” We can’t help wondering, though, if the emphasis on shaping made up for the fact that they were a little bit of a snooze, flavor-wise. And let’s just forget that anyone ever called for margarine in place of butter.

instructions from vintage betty crocker cookbook for shaping rolls

*Image from “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook” published in 1967.

Now: Everything bagel seasoning is, well, everywhere right now, and it’s a trend we absolutely cannot resist. We gave these cloud-soft rolls a generous sprinkle and the result is the only side bread that we want. And, if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you could even shape your rolls using one of the techniques above.

Everything Bagel Dinner Rolls

Desserts That Delight

Sweets are an integral part of Easter, but these days, easy-does-it recipes can help you deliver without a lot of fuss.

On-Theme Treats

Then: Frosting your sweetened yeast rolls so they look like decorated eggs and serving them in an Easter basket might fall on the far side of kitsch today. But this is just one of many examples—from 1960’s “Betty Crocker’s Party Book”—demonstrating Betty’s legendary commitment to a theme.

decorated easter rolls in a basket

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook” published in 1967.

Now: Wowing everyone with ultra-cute Easter treats is much easier with some shortcuts (and Easter candy). These two recipes are achievable with one of Betty’s baking mixes and step-by-step directions from the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens, where they got a chorus of “oohs” and “awws!”

peek a boo peeps bunny brownies
Marbled Easter Egg Sugar Cookie Cutouts

Forever Crazy About Cakes

No matter the decade, we’re Team Cake for life, and stand firm in the belief that everyone at the table will be a little bit happier if you serve them cake.

Then: More than half a century ago, this photo debuted in 1960’s “Betty Crocker’s Party Book” delivering a haul of elaborately decorated eggs to a very prim party.

Easter Basket Cake

*Photo from “Betty Crocker’s Party Book” published in 1960.

Now: Honestly, it’s still a good one (especially with chocolate frosting and chocolate candy eggs). If your holiday needs a little magic, make this cake—and you can skip the pipe cleaner-aluminum foil handle!

easter basket cake

Then: We could spend all day looking back at these gorgeous cakes from “Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining”, published in 1959. We can do plenty of comparing and contrasting, but in all honesty, there isn’t a one of these desserts that we wouldn’t want to eat. And we think they make a good argument for meringue making a big comeback.

old fashioned betty crocker cakes

Now: We can’t—and won’t—stop making beautiful new cakes! This one deepens the coconut flavor by using toasted flakes, and the glossy ganache finish makes it perfectly reminiscent of a chocolate-dipped macaroon.

coconut macaroon chocolate layer cake

We hope this trip down memory lane was a fun look back and readied you for preparing this year’s feast. We’d love to know what you decide to make and how you put your own special spin on Easter.



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