Introducing Patti Lewis, Home Economist
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."