The French had a secret for seasoning that Edna Riggs Crabtree wanted to pass along.
“Just try adding a little sugar to all vegetables and most meats,” she told an audience of about 700 local women gathered at the Strand Theater in downtown Carlisle. “Just enough to give the dish an indefinable flavor ... You will be delighted with the difference it makes.”
It was Thursday, Sept. 8, 1932 and Crabtree was finishing her lesson plan for day three of a four-day cooking school sponsored by The Evening Sentinel.
An authority on homemaking and etiquette, she was the Martha Stewart of her day – a traveling expert who offered practical tips and penny-saving advice during the early years of the Great Depression.
Homemakers from as far away as Newville and Shippensburg attended the free school that ran from Tuesday, Sept. 6 to Friday, Sept. 9, 1932. Doors opened at 9 a.m. with musical entertainment provided until 9:45 when Crabtree started a lecture that went on until noon.
As she busied herself preparing recipes, Crabtree would drop hints to add efficiency and to ease the workload at a time when society expected most women to stay at home with daily chores.
That Thursday morning was spent preparing apple gems, fried bananas, stuffed peppers, a frozen cheese salad and a casserole of pork and macaroni baked with onions, apple sauce and bread crumbs.
There was time to review the essentials in making good tea and the proper steps to take to whiten soiled clothes. Women in the audience had plenty of opportunity to ask Crabtree questions. Some were quoted by The Sentinel:
Q: “Is Irish linen equally correct for formal dinners as lace?” A: “There is nothing to surpass fine Damask, but lace is very nice.”
Q: “How do you keep an omelet from falling when done?” A: “Use baking powder in the recipe and start on top of the range and then in the oven. Put the finished product on a warm platter.”
Though The Sentinel encouraged attendees to bring pencils and notebooks, Crabtree would distribute a different free handout each day showing a new batch of recipes, along with instructions on how to streamline tasks. The daily class gave local women the opportunity to exchange cooking secrets and study new methods and appliances
This school was promoted heavily by The Sentinel with daily coverage that included front-page stories before and during the event. The newspaper even assigned a reporter to the Strand to describe each class to readers.
The Sentinel mentioned on Aug. 30 how the theater stage was being converted into a modern teaching kitchen “where the newest ranges, refrigerators and other culinary will be set up.”
Promises were made to build up hype, and the marketing strategy worked. There were 300 women in attendance on the first day of the school – a figure that more than doubled by the third day.
“There will be dishes to interest the most experienced cook in Carlisle, and there will be new labor saving ideas and tools to help the youngest bride over the first difficult months of her housekeeping,” The Sentinel quoted Crabtree as saying. The language used in the stories reflected the tough economic times while remaining upbeat and optimistic.
“I have been especially careful to include ideas which will appeal to women who have been used to having a cook and a dining room maid and now must do their own work,” Crabtree said. “They will hear at the cooking school that the whole country has become thrift conscious. Good dishes may be easily and quickly cooked, delightfully served and yet cost so little that the grocery budget will hardly be dented by the outlay.”
On Sept. 1, The Sentinel pushed the message the cooking school is legitimate news because it will offer local residents tips on “thrift-cookery” and “penny-wise spending.”
“There is news in good biscuits, in a delicious roast, in a salad, or a casserole dinner, which costs a few cents and tastes like a million dollars,” the story reads. “Every day’s session will include a number of new dishes, and the methods of making them. Every day’s demonstration will reveal something new ... newsy ... about equipment.”
The band wagon
Along with thriftiness, Crabtree encouraged readers to support the local economy. She claimed that all the food and equipment used in her cooking school came from local suppliers and manufacturers.
“It would be ridiculous to offer Carlisle housekeepers recipes for which they could not find the ingredients in their home market,” Crabtree said. “Besides I have found the local merchants so well equipped with modern supplies that there has been no need to seek elsewhere for them.”
Apparently an endorsement from Crabtree carried a lot of weight in 1932. There were numerous display ads throughout the newspaper touting how local products were approved for use by the nationally known cooking expert.
Kruger Dairy claimed how its “What Flavor” milk was the exclusive choice of Crabtree during her cooking school. Valley Baking Co. ran her photo in an ad stating appreciation for her selection of Valley’s Certified Bread at 10 cents a loaf. Customers could also buy Valley Pride bread for 9 cents or Liberty bread for a nickel.
The Carlisle Meat Market at 18 N. Hanover St., included mention of Crabtree in its ad for specials it was running. The list included pork chops, lamb shoulders and frankfurters priced at 15 cents a pound and veal chops priced at 19 cents a pound.
This parade of product endorsements did not stop with food. Here are some examples of text from other display ads:
From the Conlyn Jewelry Store at 139 W. High St. – “Sterling Silver is not expensive and it lasts forever. The New Edgeworth Pattern by Gorham is selected by Mrs. Crabtree for Her Model Table Setting at the Cooking School.”
The H.M. Earley store at 114 N. Hanover St. – “Brighter Furniture in Your Kitchen Helps to Make Your Work More Pleasant, That Is Why Mrs. Edna Riggs Crabtree Has Selected Earlys Furniture for The Cooking School.”
The Bowman & Co. department store on South Hanover Street – “Bowman’s are Headquarters for Quality Glassware recommended by Mrs. Crabtree at the Cooking School.”
W.H. Preuss, Strand Theater Building – “Save Money with Frigidaire – The Aristocrat of Electric Refrigerators ... As a woman of wide experience in domestic matters, Mrs. Crabtree’s recommendation of Frigidaire speaks for itself.”
Perhaps the most unusual example of product endorsement run amok was a display ad from Smith Music House, 110 W. High St. It claimed how the RCA Victor radio and record player combination was chosen by Crabtree for the daily music program that played in the Strand Theater during the 45 minutes between when the doors opened and the cooking school began.
The “Everything Musical” store used the cooking school tie-in as an opportunity to market its line of musical instruments available to boys and girls starting the new school year. Prices ranged from $1.87 for a ukulele to $88 for a brand new saxophone.