Sweet story about Betty

Did Betty Crocker ever really bake a cake?

My mom sent me an interesting article on Duncan Hines this week – the real fellow, not just the cake mixes. Did you know he wasn’t a chef, but a travelling salesman who liked good food?

He ended up writing a guide for roadside diners, one of the first in America, and that made him a respected name in the food world. His name was put on products as a seal of approval. Back in the 1950s, you would have seen Duncan Hines ice cream as well as cake mix.

I finished the article quite pleased that I had learned a bit of food industry history. It made me wonder about other food characters on brands — were they real or fictional?

Just in case you have an inquisitive mind like mine, here are the answers for a few of the food ambassadors I remember. If nothing else, you can be clever around the water cooler this week.


Duncan Hines’ compatriot in the cake mix world was not a real person, but she was invented by a woman.

Marjorie Husted worked at Washburn Crosby Company where she felt they needed a personality that was “warm” and would help customer relations by personalizing their products.

Betty sounded like a warm name to her, and she chose the surname of a company executive for a touch of authenticity. Washburn Crosby would later merge with other companies to become General Mills.

Betty’s look would change over the years to stay current with the times, but her image was often a blend of characteristics from many people. There have been eight Betty Crocker portraits done in the 81 years that Betty has had a public image.


About the same time as Betty and Duncan, there was a baker in Chicago named Charles Lubin. He named a cheesecake after his daughter and it became a best seller.

He ended up changing the name of his business to “the Kitchens of Sara Lee” and when he was bought out, the corporation followed suit when the products were their best brand – they changed their company name to Sara Lee.

In case you’re wondering, Sara Lee didn’t get into baking; she worked to encourage women in science.


I think most people know this person is fictional. She has become a much less popular character in recent history, as the social acceptance for racial personages turned to disapproval.

However, Nancy Green, the former slave who was hired to be Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo in Chicago did end up with a lifetime contract after her popular stint at the fair serving pancakes to the crowds.

The company changed its name to Aunt Jemima Mills in 1913 (it is now owned by Quaker Oats). Over the years three other women became the face of Aunt Jemima, but now a composite portrait is used, depicting a more respectful character.


Here is a true American immigrant story. Ettore Boiardi arrived in New York to work at the Plaza Hotel kitchens.

He was only 16 years old, but his brother (a maitre d’ at the hotel) put in a good word for him. A year later he was the executive chef. He catered the second wedding of President Woodrow Wilson.

A few years after that, he moved to Cleveland and opened a restaurant, becoming well known for his pasta dishes. He began making take-out kits for his patrons, and well, the rest is history.

The brand name spelling came about because his one problem was that Americans couldn’t pronounce his name. And yes, that really was his face on the label.


“I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…” stuck in my head for much of my childhood. I don’t remember a face to go with the name, but the brand certainly stuck.

Oscar and his brother that had a butcher shop in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. In 1904, they expanded the business and began to use Oscar’s name to promote their products.

The brothers were very conscientious, being the first meat company to volunteer for the meat inspection program in the U.S. in 1906. The company remained an independent family business for almost a century; it was bought by General Mills in 1989 (which was then bought by Kraft Foods).

As a side note, their TV commercials of the 60s and 70s with the wiener song and the also-famous bologna song are some of the longest running ads in history.

Nowadays, companies seem more inclined to look for celebrity endorsements than to have a brand ambassador. I miss all those old characters of my childhood. I don’t really care if I eat the same kind of food as someone famous. I liked feeling that I knew the people behind the food, regular folks like me.

Times change, and so do tastes. My brand ambassadors today are more likely to be farmers. I guess it’s all about respecting where your food comes from.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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