Restoring and preserving the legacy of Agnes White
In April 1945, First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the best-known woman in America. The second was Betty Crocker, the first lady of food.
Though she was a fictitious kitchen expert-created in 1921 to answer cooking correspondence, in 1924 she acquired a voice—that of Agnes White, a Minneapolis home economist for a company later known as General Mills. A kitchen confidante, she was the guiding presence in American homes with the nation’s first radio cooking show Betty Crocker: School of the Air on NBC. Her encouragement for women to try something new in the kitchen was contagious.
White married mining engineer William Tizard and the couple moved to California. They purchased an 1883 Victorian home on 140 acres in Valley Center and installed electricity, indoor plumbing, and a stainless-steel test kitchen. It was here Agnes prepared her famous recipes for 40 years. In 1950, she authored the first Betty Crocker cookbook.
Over the years the house had many owners and though the Betty Crocker story faded, it never died. In a serendipitous moment in April 2018, Marlise and Benjamin Myers purchased the property. They’d frequented an antique store on the property, but little did they know that they’d someday live here. Their new acquisition was christened Brick N Barn.
A designer and engineer for Intuit, Benjamin Myers had restored other properties in North County. He says “giving new life to things neglected is what we love.” Marlise Myers, a travel destination writer for the Union Tribune and author of Fodor’s Travel guides, agrees.
Restoring the property hasn’t been without challenges. According to Marlise “when we took this on two years ago, I don’t think we understood the scale we were dealing with—especially since we’re doing the work ourselves.”
In keeping with the antique tradition, the couple hosts a monthly show with artisan vendors selling crafts, antiques, and food in their rustic restored barn. They sponsor themed events and art and craft workshops. Partnering with a local rescue, the shows also feature dog adoptions.
And in this house, the Betty Crocker legacy lives on. Marlise showcases her love of cooking with homemade breads and ice cream served to workshop participants. A large herb and vegetable garden and fruit trees surround the property. An outdoor clay oven and fire-brick kitchen are used for home cooking. And their chicken coop also houses turkeys, peacocks, and quail. The Myers also envision the creation of a Betty Crocker kitchen and museum exhibit.
A major landscaping project is underway using water-wise plants. When the Myers purchased the property, it seemed everything was dying. Per Marlise “major cleanup efforts and smart planting now allow the property to breathe again.” Future plans include garden pathways, picnic areas near a babbling brook, and a culinary cafe. All bringing the community together to celebrate good food and nature.
Marlise and Benjamin’s philosophy is that “In a step of faith, we grabbed hold of a dream to embrace opportunity, live without regrets, and love without excuses. And with that came a promise to carry on the antique tradition, bring new life to the enchanting property, and above all, make Betty Crocker proud.”
Though Betty Crocker represented the typical happy stay-at-home housewife of a bygone era, Agnes White was anything but. She was a nutritionist, a career woman with her own dreams and aspirations. She masterfully brought Betty Crocker into the kitchens of America and encouraged women to fall in love with creative cooking.
Brick N Barn opens for three days during the first weekend of every month with the next show dates on November 6, 7, and 8, 2020. Visitors can expect to enjoy interactive cooking lessons, baked goods for sale, craft workshops, antique shopping, and more.
Agnes White died in 1979 at the age of 84. If she could see the property today and its vision for the future, she would be very proud.