The EMD Guide to Food from the 1950s: Food Styling and Cookbook Art
The 1950s were a crossover period for cookbooks, when graphics were about half hand-drawn illustrations and half super-saturated photographs, such as the one above. If the aesthetic appears rather commercial to you, that's no mistake: many of the cookbooks from this era were produced by companies to promote their products, most famous of which is the Betty Crocker series for General Mills. Below, we explore the colorful world of 1950s food imagery. (Warning: image heavy post.)
The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, 1950
The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (buy it) was released by General Mills in 1950, although a facsimile edition is now available. The illustrations here largely depict domestic scenes, as cookbooks during this period often gave household pointers and kitchen design tips in addition to recipes. The photographs are mostly of the food itself.
The perfect housewife preparing cookies for what looks like half the neighborhood.
Kitchen design tips combine illustrations and photography. Bonus: a Kitchen of the Future!
Mid-century food was not necessarily the healthiest, and the meat photography often glistens to prove it.
Learning proper knife skills will help housewives maintain their exquisite manicures.
The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook, 1959
Fast forward to the other end of the decade with The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook (buy it), and photography has largely replaced illustrations, although there are some drawings illustrating the recipe pages. The domestic scenes here somehow look more staged that the illustrated ones above, and the food itself looks plastic.
Food styling during this era tended to be overdone: plates look forced and over-garnished, and there tend to be more than one dish per picture, often to the point of crowding. In the picture above, the pie has not only been cut into, but there are crumbs visible; this goes against the general trend towards perfect, untouched, buffet-style spreads. It is often hard to tell whether the graphics are illustrations or overly-manipulated photographs.
Book design was generally in two or three colors, with large blocks of color and line drawings of food. The drawings tend to be of ingredients rather than whole dishes, and are grouped by recipe. Often, ingredients are anthropomorphized, like the fish on the book cover below.