It was a stroke of good luck and a hearty helping of chutzpah that got Patricia Anfinson a job working for America’s First Lady of Food. The year was 1945, and Anfinson (neé Roth), a new home economics grad of the University of Minnesota had just picked up her brother-in-law, a uniformed Air Force officer, from the airport.
Making small talk, he asked the question all new graduates love to hear: “What do you want to do now?” “I’d love to work for Betty Crocker,” she replied. “But Marjorie Husted, the woman who runs the kitchens, is tough. She’s probably got a line of girls dying to work there.”
“Well, why don’t we go see where she works,” her brother-in-law suggested. A few minutes later, they were parked outside the Washburn Crosby headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. “Let’s just park for a minute and go up and look around,” her brother-in-law cajoled. And so up the elevator they went! “Could you point me to Marjorie Husted’s office, please?” her brother-in-law inquired at the front desk and shortly thereafter, there they both stood in Husted’s office.
After Anfinson’s charming relative presented her to the director of the Home Service Department, he left her alone with Husted, a woman known for her no-nonsense, take-charge attitude. “All right, honey,” Husted said. “He got you in the door, and I’m a sucker for a man in uniform, but now you have two minutes to tell me why I should hire you.”
A few minutes later, Husted was escorting Anfinson to the personnel office. She was hired, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pat Anfinson, and husband Ronald, cut their wedding cake on Sept. 8, 1946. She was 23-years-old and had been working for Betty Crocker just shy of a year when they married.
Anfinson entered the Betty Crocker Kitchens in its post-WWII heyday. Working as a staff home economics expert, Anfinson answered customers’ baking quandaries on the phone and by letter, a job she loved. “I remember her telling me how she had to learn how to sign Betty Crocker’s signature,” says granddaughter Meghan Anfinson. “I swear she picked it up, because her handwriting looked practically the same!”
She also pitched in to help hone one of Betty’s best-known masterpieces, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, and contributed her grandmother’s family recipe for Snickerdoodles to the tome. “It’s one of my happy childhood memories,” reads the recipe introduction. “My mother would be baking when we came home from school and we would have Snickerdoodles hot out of the oven with a glass of milk.” Her passion and persistence in getting her recipe in print earned her the nickname Snickerdoodle Lady.
Two short years later, the Snickerdoodle Lady left the home service department to pursue the joys of homemaking at home, instead of in a commercial test kitchen. She still continued to work, as a staff nutritionist at area nursing homes and hospitals. Even with six kids at home and long commutes to small-town hospitals, Anfinson “always made a really nice meal, including a homemade dessert, for my dad when he got home,” says son Scott Anfinson. “Presentation was huge to her,” he recalls. “She was a big believer that a meal tasted better if it looked good.” —Meghan McAndrews
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Favorite Christmas dessert: Although Anfinson liked to brag that she didn’t have a drop of Norwegian blood in her, come Christmas, her cookie trays would brim with Rosettes and Krumkake, in addition to a colorful array of sugar cookie cut-outs, Russian Tea Cakes, trillbies (an oatmeal sandwich cookie with a date filling) and of course, Snickerdoodles.
Hidden talent: Starting in 1969, Anfinson wrote a column called “Sage, Parsley and Thyme” for the Swift County Monitor-News where her husband worked as editor and publisher. For 40 years, she shared favorite family recipes, personal anecdotes, poems she had written or loved, and observations on nature and the seasons. She went on to pen three cookbooks of her own.
Always on: “She’d get phone calls regularly from people in town who were wondering about a recipe or in the middle of a cooking emergency,” says son Scott. “We’d be sitting down for dinner and she’d patiently explain how to do this or that to the person on the phone.”
Biggest point of pride: Seeing her granddaughters together in the kitchen. “She’d say ‘oh, you girls!’ and then start to tear up,” recalls granddaughter Caitlin Anfinson. “Everything we made was always ‘phenomenal’ to her, even if, in reality, it wasn’t.”
Get her family Snickerdoodle recipe >