Some of my readers may know that I’m a collector of mid-century women’s magazines. An accompanying interest is brand name cookbooks. But while a 1963 Joys of Jell-O first edition enjoys pride of place in my collection, it isn’t the brands, the vintage, or even the recipes that draw me like a trout to the lure of these pamphlets.
It’s the copywriting.
I acquired my first brand name cookbook at a Labor Day rummage sale in 1993 at St. Nicholas the Redeemer Church in Los Altos. That’s how memorable a find it was. The book in question – purchased for 25 cents, although, like Visa, it’s priceless – was Carnation’s 1966 volume, “Cooking With a Surprising Difference.”
The surprise, as you might guess, is Carnation evaporated milk. This was the heart of the Mad Men “Lucky Strike: It’s Toasted” era, so of course Carnation isn’t just evaporated milk-in-a-can. No, Carnation is Velvetized.
“Turn out meals that earn compliments for your cooking with Carnation, the Velvetized evaporated milk!” No mere hawking of long shelf life, or freedom from the risks of milk-borne disease. It’s the entire cornucopia of post WWII suburban life that opens before you, the homemaker – and in this genre, “you” is always a Stepford-wifey “homemaker” – when your can-opener bites into the lid of that Carnation can.
“Handy homemakers serve creamy smooth cake toppings for the crowd.” “Mortgage minders discover Velvetized Carnation stretches pennies.” “Managing mothers serve nutritious meals for the whole family with Carnation.” “A smart hostess makes salads light and flavorful with whipped Carnation.”
And there’s no part of the American dream, it seems, that doesn’t need a velvetizing boost.
Honeymooners? “Lazy weekenders use Carnation cooking short-cuts for easy meals…. Discover the difference Velvetized Carnation makes… Serve a delicate Omlette for Two and tender breakfast gems bursting with plump blueberries…Chicken Skillet for Two flies right from the range to dinner!”
New homeowners? “Smart mortgage-minders will discover Velvetized Carnation gives superior cooking results – and stretches pennies, too. Just try Do-Ahead Cheese and Spaghetti …Disguise leftovers from Sunday’s ham for weeknight meals…preside at parties for pennies…. add saucy goodness to corn, peas or beans.”
Celebrating a wedding anniversary? Likely, it’s all because of Carnation. “Let friends discover your food is almost as good as ‘mother’s home cooking.’ But don’t forget to admit Velvetized Carnation has helped you discover a few food tricks of your own.”
Parents? In a phrase that, these days, would be a red flag for a La Leche League attack, “Give them a happy, healthy start in life with Carnation formula.” And when they’re weaned, “Serve them nutritious soups and main dishes made with Carnation when there’s no other solution to the ‘WON’T drink my milk’ problem. Treat them to fun cooking with Velvetized Carnation. It makes picnic franks and chocolate icing something special.”
Even stale marriages – like stale cake – can be revivified with Velvetizing magic. Basic instructions are provided in case you’ve forgotten the honeymoon Omlette for Two recipe.
“Pack the children up for an overnight stay with a favorite aunt, grandmother or neighbor. Send along Sausage and Macaroni Shells and,” with ominous overtones of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, “let friends discover the creamy-goodness of Velvetized Carnation cooking.”
Hubby doesn’t escape the velvetizing onslaught. In copy that conjures images of frazzled copywriters typing frantically against a deadline, their creative souls anesthetized with non-stop infusions of Wild Turkey, Carnation goes all out for the romantic evening at home.
“For friend husband, prepare Crab Rarebit and cold cucumber-celery soup, tune up favorite records and revive the good old-fashioned art of conversation which used to flourish B.T. (that’s before television).”
After they finished the Carnation gig, I can visualize the copywriters tuning into the Million Dollar Movie on TV and hearing:
“Will you tell these fools I’m not crazy? Make them listen to me before it’s too late…Well, it started – for me, it started last Thursday… At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn’t. Something evil had taken possession of the town.”
Yes, it was velvetized.