A century, a pandemic and 13 editions later, Betty Crocker is still your 'helper in the kitchen'

portraits of a woman hung on a wall
The original portraits of Betty Crocker hang inside the Betty Crocker test kitchens in Golden Valley, Minn. The portraits were painted based on a composite of multiple women who worked for the company in the 1920s.
Megan Burks | MPR News
A woman stands holding a cook book
Cathy Swanson Wheaton, executive editor of the new 13th edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, at the General Mills test kitchens in Golden Valley, Minn. She and her team have tested, and she personally has tasted, the 375 new recipes in this latest edition of the kitchen classic.
Tom Crann | MPR News

A new Betty Crocker Cookbook edition is out this week, and the All Things Considered team got the rare opportunity to check out the Golden Valley test kitchens where it came together — sort of.

The book was developed during the pandemic, so much of the recipe testing had to happen in staff members’ homes. And like the rest of us, they struggled to find the ingredients they needed at local grocery stores.

“We were just in our first round of photography for this book when the pandemic hit. We left a batch of kombucha brewing in the cupboard because we were going to be photographing it the next week. We couldn’t come back for three months,” said executive editor Cathy Swanson Wheaton. “We didn’t know, when we opened that cupboard door, what we were going to find.”

Luckily, the batch didn’t explode. And perhaps just as lucky, the Betty Crocker ethos was a good match for the circumstances.

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“She’s never meant to be a perfectionist. She’s meant to be someone that can instill confidence in you no matter what kind of cook you are and sort of be the helper right next to you in the kitchen so no matter what you make, you’ll love how it turns out,” said Swanson Wheaton.

The 13th edition is aptly called, “Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today,” and features helpful resources, like a list tools you need for a functional kitchen or how much liquid is in a wine bottle, for recipes that call for a little wine. And each recipe has been rigorously tested so it will work, no matter if you cook with gas or electric.

But this edition also takes the Betty Crocker brand into a newer, more modern era. You caught that kombucha reference, right? And it responds to consumers’ health, climate and economic concerns with more vegetable-forward recipes and tips for not wasting food, like what to do with that annoying extra hot dog bun in the package.

This book is also slightly more adventurous, dipping its toes into different cultures. When we toured the test kitchen, they were filming a video on dessert tamales.

When asked about the book’s relevance in an era of viral TikTok recipes, Swanson Wheaton may as well have been talking about Betty. The recipes are reliable and with the times, not trying to get ahead of them.