Encyclopedia Womannica

Tastemakers: Petrona C. de Gandulfo

Episode Summary

Doña Petrona C. de Gandulfo (1896-1992) was a pioneering Argentinian celebrity chef.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan, and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today’s tastemaker was an Argentinian cook, baker and media personality whose cookbook was such a bestseller in her home country that it’s said to only have been outsold by the Bible. Let’s talk about Petrona Carrizo de Gandulfo. 

Petrona Carrizo was born on June 29th, 1896 in La Banda, Santiago del Estero in northern Argentina. She was the youngest of 7 kids.  

Petrona started her culinary career working in a kitchen in Santiago del Estero. There she met her first husband, Atilio Gandulfo. The two married and moved to Buenos Aires. Atilio got a job at the post office and Petrona began work at a company called Primitiva de Gas. 

Petrona’s role there was to talk up the benefits of gas cooking. She made personal appearances at stores to explain why cooking on gas was better than wood or kerosene. The company created a brochure advertising Petrona’s skills and a career was born. 

From the pages of that brochure, Petrona’s next jump was to radio. She became something of a radio star, appearing on a variety of programs to give domestic advice. She began on an old school, long-wave station called Radio Argentina, before moving to Radio Excelsior and then Radio El Mundo. 

In 1933, the first of Petrona’s five books was published. It was part recipes, part home advice and domestic tips. It was very well received, despite the fact that it was somewhat disorganized. Petrona would send recipes to her publishers to add to a previous print in haste. Therefore, pages referred to illustrations that were excluded from later editions. Petrona’s measurements also weren’t particularly consistent, and the illustrations showed massive cakes and pies that are lovely to look at, but unlike anything that her readers could actually afford to make at home. Still, flaws and all, Petrona was a wildly popular author and her books became iconic in Argentine kitchens. 

In an article celebrating the recent re-publication of Petrona’s 1000 recipes in a more orderly and well-edited edition, the Buenos Aires Times compared Petrona’s collected work with the iconic Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book, calling the full compilation “our own national cookery book.”

In 1952, Petrona  first hit television screens and in 1960 she got her biggest break yet when she launched a massively popular cooking show called Buenas Tardes, Mucho Gusto. Long before the Great British Baking Show, Petrona captivated audiences with giant confections, sugar ships and chocolate-tiled homes. After tapings, Petrona often donated her massive baking successes. 

Petrona couldn’t have done all this without the help of her loyal assistant, Juanita Bordoy. Petrona was not known as an easy person to work for. She also interestingly kept her age and her maiden name seriously under wraps. 

Petrona had a heart attack at her home in Olivos and died on February 6, 1992. She was 95 years old. 

Doña Petrona left an enormous legacy. Her books became staples in Argentine households and broke national sales records, beating out famous national authors like Jorge Luis Borges. She inspired a generation of chefs, and led the way for later female chefs and culinary celebrities.

Tune in tomorrow for the story of another tastemaker. We’ll be talking about a pioneer of southern cooking.

Special thanks to my favorite sister and co-creator, Liz Kaplan.

Talk to you tomorrow!