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Monday, January 18, 2010

What Shall I Cook Today?

Well, today I'm not actually cooking. Although, I must say, I did cook my first Pot Roast Dinner in the new house this past weekend. Nope, today, I'm celebrating the debut of Aunt Jenny on national radio. Not my Aunt Jenny, sillies, America's Aunt Jenny, played by Spry radio spokesperson, Edith Spencer.

Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories

Picture it. It's a cold Monday morning in Littleton, USA. The year; 1937, the date; January 18th. The scrubbing, mopping, vacuuming and laundry have been tended to. All is nice and tidy. The ironing board is dragged out; heated and the time has come to tune in the Philco. It's 11:45 AM and Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories is just about to debut on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio broadcast.

What sudsy gossip will we hear today. Is there a young housewife out in radio land who needs a problem solved? Don't fret, the perfect hostess, Aunt Jenny will come to your aid.

In appearance, Aunt Jenny was a slightly plump, grandmotherly woman with bright white hair, thin spectacles, and an ever-present baking apron. Her demeanor was sweet, kind, helpful and almost bizarrely enthusiastic, especially regarding her home cooking and Spry Vegetable Shortening in particular. She spoke in a plain and homely manner, often dropping the ending g of words like cooking. Aunt Jenny’s best-remembered aspect was the long-running radio show, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, which made its debut on CBS on January 18, 1937. The show took the format of a dramatic serial or soap opera, presenting a different story weekly, and running for 15 minutes from 10:45am to 11:00am each weekday morning. The stories featured typical soap opera plots involving the people of a small American town called Littleton. Aunt Jenny herself was not the focus of these stories but served as host and narrator. She also offered cooking instruction, generally in the form of easy recipes which included Spry Vegetable Shortening as an ingredient. (source)

We won't know the answer to any of these soap opera questions until we hear from our sponsor.

Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories featured the people who lived in the town of Littleton. These people had their share of happiness, sadness, romance, and the other good emotional stuff radio soap operas were famous for.  The stories were usually completed in 5 episodes, and a new one would begin the following Monday with different characters.  On the program, Aunt Jenny served as hostess and narrator. 

When the story for the broadcast was completed, Aunt Jenny and program announcer Dan Seymour briefly talked about the latest events in the story; then turned their attention to the recipe of the day.  Of course, the recipes varied from main dish to dessert, but they all had one common denominator--- the services of Spry Shortening.  Aunt Jenny wasn't bashful in the least for mentioning Spry when it came to using shortening.  She stated that no other shortening or baking fat came close in bringing out the flavor of the ingredients as Spry could.  Since Spry was mentioned and talked about frequently between Aunt Jenny and Seymour, the recipe of the day also served as Spry's closing commercial. (excellent resource for show info)

I couldn't find any documentation as to where Littleton, USA might be. I'm assuming since, The Lever Brothers Company was in Cambridge, MA at the time, Littleton must have been on the outskirts.

Procter & Gamble was enjoying great success with its Crisco shortening; that product brought in nearly half of the company's profits in the early 1930s. Lever Brothers thought they could take advantage of the lard substitute market. Delaying direct sales to consumers, Lever Brothers entered the market with artificial lard sold to bakeries. When the Depression brought low prices for lard and butter, the market for lard substitutes dropped. It was not until 1936, when the country was in the midst of a serious shortage of real lard, that Lever Brothers brought out its Spry shortening in the United States. By 1939, after a massive cross-country campaign to demonstrate uses of Spry, the new product had reached sales of 50,000 tons. In three years, Spry sales had reached about 75 percent of the sales of Crisco, which had been on the market since 1910. (Does that mean Crisco celebrates its Centennial this year?) (source)

Aunt Jenny's Favorite Recipes

Aunt Jenny's down home character was played by a woman by the name of Edith Spencer. Her door was always opened to lend a helping hand. According to the Historical Dictionary of American Radio Soap Operas By Jim Cox, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. appealed to the audience of Aunt Jenny's and encouraged them to unite behind the troops during WWII. Actor Richard Widmark was cast in his first role when he joined Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories in 1938.

Cakes are an enticin' dessert--the happy endin' that sends folks from the table smilin' an' satisfied. They furnish quick energy too--lots of it--to help keep goin' an' workin' to win.Be sure to put some cake or cookies in the lunch box every day.

You can do it even with rationin'.

Keep high point expensive butter for table use. Spry gives the finest cakes anybody could ask for--tender, velvety, light as a feather an' so good tastin'.If you have always been a butter-user up to now, I think you'll get the surprise of your life at how wonderful Spry cakes are!


Early in the show, there was an Uncle Calvin. Aunt Jenny's husband who worked for the local newspaper. Naturally, Uncle Calvin always had an endearing word to say about Aunt Jenny's creations.

The following recipe for doughnuts is from yet another undated Spry booklet titled What Shall I Cook Today. It was a toss-up between the donuts and a recipe for Cranberry Apple Pie. I've decided to post the pie recipe for National Pie Day on January 23rd. Enjoy:)

The final episode of Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories aired on Friday, September 28, 1956.

Note: click on any image to enlarge in new window.Psst... Today is also Winnie the Pooh Day! (previous post)

Resources
1. Spry! The Smoothest Sizzling Shortening Ever!
2. Aunt Jenny & Spry @ Ghosttraveller
3. Home Economists Heard On Radio
4. Betty Crocker Hits the Radio Waves (previous post)
5. What is Shortening? (Mae's Food Blog has the answer.)
6. Historical dictionary of American radio soap operas By Jim Cox (available @ google books)
7. Spry Christmas Cookies @ Food Company Cookbooks
8. Spry Marble Cake with Lemon Frosting @ Food for the Hungry Soul