Career Romances for Young Moderns

Career Romances for Young Moderns were a series of books published from the 1950s-1970s about young women striking out in different career fields. But because these were career romances, the books usually ended when the women gleefully give up their career for a man. The books paint a hilarious picture of a business world that's thankfully out-of-date. They're a little hard to come by today, but can be found in used bookstores and online.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Introducing Patti Lewis, Home Economist

"Introducing Patti Lewis, Home Economist," 1956, by Helen Wells

Main character: Patti Lewis
Career: Home economist, first for the National Electric appliance company, then for Mid-West Flour
Gael's grade: B+, for lively language and more biscuit talk than you can shake a frying pan at.

Trauma #1: While giving recipe presentations ("have you ever tasted waffles with creamed chicken?"), Patti is constantly needled by Jim Wheeler, heir to the Mid-West Flour empire, who dares to mock her chi-chi French rolling pin. No one is surprised but Patti when she finds herself employed by his company and -- duh -- falling for him.
Trauma #2: Patti must improve the sales of Mid-West's biscuit mix or risk the company's future. She does so in part by holding a picnic for the entire town. Because, apparently, if one town likes it, then they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on. One of the questionable dishes served at the event? Chicken shortcake.
Trauma #3: Patti is jealous of Grace Guthrie, heiress to Mid-West's rival, Guthrie Mills, who wants to take over Mid-West Flour and seems to also want to take over Jim. In the end, Patti revamps the biscuit mix with a heavy proportion of soy flour to compete with Guthrie's lower pricing. The Bureau of Human Nutrition (!) likes her new formula so much they sign up for thousands of pounds of it to feed underfed populations and the poor folks on military bases, saying it "meets the high nutrition standards of the U.S. government." And we all know how high those are.

Prince Charming: Jim Wheeler, scion of Mid-West Flour
What's standing in their way? Patti must prove herself by saving his company; she thinks he's in love with a competing flour heiress, apparently the Paris Hilton of her day.
How does he come to his senses? She undercuts the biscuit mix with soy flour to make it cheap, cheap, cheap. His dad shows up and approves of her machinations, and Jim announces "You're going to be my home economist forever, as well as my wife?"

Signs o' the times:
1) A fat girl takes Patti aside at the picnic for diet tips. Among the misinformation Patti imparts: "No water, or very little, with meals. ... Milk [four cups a day] and potatoes were not fattening. ... Eat all of the basic seven foods [butter fats being one of the seven]." And if you think I'm being mean by calling the girl fat, note that the book says "several other fatties consulted Patti this afternoon."
2) For school lunches, Patti recommends sandwiches on raisin or date bread (ham on date bread? mmm...), tomatoes as the equivalent of oranges for snacking, and dates rolled in sugar.
3) The end of the book includes Patti's favorite recipes for such treats as stuffed celery appetizers, tomato cream cocktails, the infamous chicken shortcake, something called shrimp wiggle, and more. These are not exactly gourmet offerings. One, called "frozen peanut balls," is simply ice cream shaped into balls and rolled in nuts. It's obvious that only someone with Patti's years of training could have come up with this.

Quote that says it all:
Patti takes an airplane trip and marvels at the wonder of airline food, circa 1950:
"The tray was placed on a pillow on her lap ... Patti lifted covers and found a cup of crisp salad, piping-hot fried chicken and sweet potatoes, muffins with butter and jelly, melon, coffee, sugar, cream, gleaming silverware, a linen napkin, and a pair of tiny salt and pepper shakers which the stewardess smilingly said she might keep."

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  • At 7:51 AM, Blogger Amanda said…

    That ham on raisin breead thing? I went to a catered press conference locally, and one of the sandwiches on offer was egg salad on raisin bread. I tried one because I couldn't resist. Strange an wrong and not good means I can surely resist in the future.

  • At 8:02 AM, Blogger jo-hanna said…

    Her airline lunch sounds awesome. Now we get trail mix. And all the juice, soda, or coffee you can drink, which may not be wise considering the airplane bathroom situation.

  • At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Sylko said…

    This is an AWESOME site! I remember reading a romance novel my sister had where the girl was redecorating a guest cottage in Carmel. She bought wicker furniture. That's really all I remember. I wonder if it was one of these career romances because I remember a lot of focus on her work. Can't remember the guy at all.

  • At 5:43 AM, Anonymous John said…

    Do you know if the author of this book is the same Helen Wells who wrote the Cherry Ames nursing mysteries? My sister loved those when she was a kid, and I recall that the couple I read were pretty good for a juvenile series.

  • At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Monica said…

    I love how many of the recipes at the end of the book use biscuit mix! You probably know that Helen Wells also wrote the career romance "Flair for People," (the heroine works in personnel) although I don't think it quite has Patti's spark.


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