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)

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


  1. "Be sure to put some cake or cookies in the lunchbox every day ..."

    Here, here!

  2. Hey Louise!
    You always take me back to a time when life was simple. Imagine the year 1937. I don't think anyone was thinking about blogging.

    Hey there is Littleton MA. I was just curious when you said MA. Don't tell anyone I live in Massachusetts. Can you believe I spelled it. Kinda like PA which I cannot spell.

    Nice post I don't know where you find all these things.

  3. What a fun look back! And as someone else has already confirmed, there is a Littleton, Mass...

  4. Hi Louise,
    Your write up is wonderful, but you linked to an erroneous claim about "What is Shortening" -- the source you linked says "Shortening seems to get its name from the fact that it shortens gluten strands in wheat by adding fat." This is wrong.

    Molecular theory about gluten strands (20th Century) was way later than the use of the term "short" to mean crumbly, as in the result of baked goods with lots of butter or lard. That use is something like 500 years old.

    Best ... maefood.blogspot.com

  5. What a fun post! I enjoyed reading about Aunt Jenny!

  6. Louise,
    I love this post. I always tell my family I feel like I was born in the wrong time. I think i'm a throw back. I just moved my family to a smaller town looking for a slower pace with 2 1/2 acres. I'm hoping to plant a huge garden this year, we'll see. its time to put the munchkins to work and revert t the little house on the prairie days.. lol life is moving way too fast and its way to short!

  7. I never heard of Aunt Jenny before - I always learn something new from your posts.

  8. You mentioned links about the history of the word shortening -- I had some in my post --
    "A quiet dinner with word study" -- http://maefood.blogspot.com/2010/01/quiet-dinner-with-word-study.html

  9. Louise, your post prompted me to look for a recording of one of the old Aunt Jenny programs. It was fun listening to the show after reading your post.

    I noticed one of your sources was Funding Universe. Don't you just love their food company histories? They are so informative and, to me, make interesting reading.

  10. Your posts offers the most interesting history lessons I've ever heard. Perhaps if my h.s. teachers had your knack of making it interesting I would have paid attention!!

  11. Don't ya just luv it, T.W.?

    Hey Jim. I'm hoping my life becomes a whole lot simpler out here in rural PA. As for Massachusetts, with the exception of Boston, I haven't really spent much time there. I do believe her radio program may have been seasoned with a wee bit of spice from Littleton, MA.

    A character indeed, Sidney!

    I'm guessing on Littleton. I couldn't find substantial documentation, Channon.

    Hi Mae, Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Your post on shortening is so informative. I just looked to see where I put it when I saved it and I found it in my Shortbread file. Thank you so much for reminding me. I'm going to change my link to yours!!!

    That's quite a compliment 5 Star Foodie. Your review of Wynn Casino's restaurant, Alex, was fabulous!!! Thanks for dropping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about Aunt Jenny:)

    I often feel like I was born in the wrong time too busymoms3. That's why I'm delighted to have made the recent move to PA. My house here is much smaller than the I had when my kids were young but oh so much property. You are going to have a ball planted a garden this year. Just remember though, it all sounds good at the beginning of the growing season but...you might think about doing a square foot type garden. It will be more fun and easier for the kids. I do hope you will be sharing in your posts. Thanks so much for dropping by:)

    Hi Pam, I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit. As someone said, she was quite the radio character.

    How cool is that!!! You know Kathy, I searched a searched to find a link for the program and according to what I read on a few sites, they are very rare. Too bad there isn't someway you couldn't share it but I think there would be a problem with copyright. I for one would LOVE to hear it. There's a listing of her radio programs here if you want to take a look....I've been using Funding Universe for years. They often leave little nuggets for further research.

    Thank you so much Julia for your kind words. I'm wondering, do you have a blog? For some reason, your name link doesn't go to it if you do. Do drop by anytime, you just never know what we'll discover:)

  12. So funny! I have never heard of Aunt Jenny.

  13. Louise, this post was priceless! My absolute favorite part was the Spry ad that said "Aunt Jenny starts a bride off right" ... wow, can you imagine the beating a company would get nowadays if they used that line?! But it's SO TERRIFIC! I love that sort of honest, "down-home" feeling. Oftentimes I long for that era again; thanks for presenting it so enjoyably here.

    And on a related note, I think it's a shame that shortening has developed a sort of bad reputation in the last decade or so; it's deemed "unhealthy" and not "chic", when really it has its appropriate use. Hmphf. Just my 2 cents!

    I think a pie is in order to make next Tuesday for National Pie Day ... yum!

  14. I'm glad you got a bit of a chuckle, Natashya. It was fun to post!!!

    I'm delighted you enjoyed this post, nightowlchef. And yes, I agree, companies nowadays would never dream of being so obviously condescending. As for shortening, it amazes me how many people feel the same way as we do and yet when it comes to shortening, few are open enough to admit it. Personally, I think there's a heck of a lot of shortening closet people and while we're on the subject, cigarette smokers too!!! Pie is definitely in order for National Pie Day. However, you better get baking. National Pie Day is this Sunday, the 23rd!!!

  15. OK. I'm fessing up. I remember Spry. And worse yet, I knew who Aunt Jenny was.
    Whichever of your commentors referred to no blogging, there wasn't even TV let alone computers.

    Lord, I am getting old. Scratch that. I AM old.

    Great post!

  16. You're too funny Barbara. Isn't that what's GREAT about the online world of anonymity. Nameless and Faceless:) You're never old to anyone online. It's like the phones use to be, maybe still are, most everyone sounds attractive and young on the phone. Thanks for fessing!!!

    P.S. Here's a good one for you. Three times now, in these comments, I have misquoted the day for National Pie Day. Finally, for those of you baking pies, I've gotten it right; National Pie Day is Saturday January 23rd, 2010!!!

  17. Wonderful post, Louise! I'd heard of Aunt Jenny, but am happy to get to know her better.

    BTW, do you or any of the people reading this know just when that recipe with hamburger patties cooked in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup began?

  18. National Pie Day geez I have never baked a Pie......I have only been cooking up meal recipes maybe its time to try a dessert recipe:) I think you gave me another idea Louise!

  19. Sweet post, Louise! I recognized Aunt Jennie from the last picture but never knew her history. Thanks for telling her story. :)

  20. I need a time when I can watch every commercial and advertising ploy from the older times. They are HILARIOUS, and some of the sexism is so blatant it's ridiculously funny.

    I don't know what the heck Spry is, though.

  21. I really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Thanks for your visit! Great article with wonderful graphics! I've signed on to follow! Have a great day!

  23. I loved your blog today. Brought back so many memories. My grandmother was an immigrant, and every Friday night she baked Apple Pie.. because it was American. She used Crisco (not Spry, although I remember it). She'd bake her pie in a huge rectangular pan--the size of a cookie sheet but deep. The whole family lived within 2 blocks, and they were either there for dinner or stopped by for coffee after. My grandmother lived with us.

    Today on DyingforChocolate.com in honor of National Pie Day, I posted a recipe for Gone to Heaven Chocolate Pie. http://www.dyingforchocolate.com

  24. Thanks Cynthia. I'm afraid I don't know off hand. How soon do you need to know? I won't get a chance to check the books until Monday. I'm going on an overnight business trip tomorrow. (Sunday)

    You go Jim Have Lafun:)

    Thanks Karen. I must check and see what's on the postcard menu ASAP!!!

    You're so funny Sophia:) You couch potato all you want on those golden oldies. As for Spry, it's a shortening. I left a link in the resources which explains it quite well. In the mean time, most times, you can use BUTTER!!!

    Thanks for dropping by Sweet & Savory. I'm delighted you enjoyed this post. Your Savory Salmon looks amazing. Love the addition of strawberries!!!

    Thanks for following Coralie. I do so enjoy your blog too. I kept that Picnic Cake link for Picnic Day in June. Perhaps, you'll be able to play this year. You can "bring" Your Picnic Cake!!!
    She was real in a way,

    Duckie. she just didn't live in Texas:)
    What a lovely story

    Hi Janet. Thank you so much for sharing. Those recipes for pan size Apple Pie are difficult to come by. Now you got me to thinking...Your Gone to Heaven Chocolate Pie sounds simply; heavenly:)

  25. Aunt Jenny is the best! I also saw her promoting drawings and photographs, next to cookbooks. Love this reminder, thanks.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise