Betty Crocker: America’s Favorite Fictional Cook

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena searches old newspapers to learn more about an icon in American cooking: Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker is a household name that almost everyone in America is familiar with. But do you know who the real Betty Crocker actually is? While her name is attached to a very “real” image of a woman, she – like many other famous food icons – is not a real person, but instead a marketing tool used to sell food products and recipes, and to instill trust in her brand.

How did Betty Crocker come to be such a famous brand? Well, according to author Susan Marks’ book Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, it started with letters sent to the Gold Medal Flour Company. Homemakers would write cooking questions to the company and they in turn would send replies they gathered from their Home Service staff. While the advertising department, staffed by men, sent out the answers to these recipe-related questions, the department’s manager didn’t think women would take cooking advice in a letter signed by a man. Because they didn’t necessarily need a woman to fill a new job, they invented a fictional female character. They provided her with a name, asked current female staff to participate in a contest for the best signature, and Betty Crocker was “born.”*

So what year was Betty born? It might surprise you that she actually predates the 1950s, the decade that most people associate her with. She first appeared in a much earlier decade, the 1920s.

So you’re most likely familiar with products that carry the Betty Crocker image and red spoon logo, but how has “she” influenced American cooking over the years? Aside from answering consumers’ letters, she has been the star of her own radio show, shared recipes, and published numerous cookbooks during her long tenure.

Betty Crocker on the Radio

In the days prior to television – and with the advent of cable channels dedicated to food matters way in the future – Betty Crocker hit the air waves. She brought her cooking advice to the masses by presenting programs on the radio. The actress who portrayed Betty not only provided help to her listeners, she used the advice of older homemakers to pass along cooking tips to her audience.

According to this 1929 newspaper article, the “recipe exchange” was a feature of the Betty Crocker radio broadcast that included readers’ tips and recipes.

article about the Betty Crocker radio show, Riverside Daily Press newspaper article 13 February 1929

Riverside Daily Press (Riverside, California), 13 February 1929, page 10

She not only presented a cooking show, but she conducted a “cooking school” on air. Listeners could “graduate” via Betty Crocker’s radio show. Those who actively participated in all eight cooking lessons would receive a Gold Medal Radio Cooking School diploma at its conclusion. According to this 1926 newspaper article, the “cooking school had many thousands of members all over the United States, ranging in age from 14 to 90 years.” Women could enroll in the school for no fee. Their graduation was a matter of preparing and reporting on recipes. One of the graduates, an 80-year-old woman, had written to Betty Crocker “…and pleaded that she please be allowed to graduate as she had tried so hard and she had never been graduated from anything before in her life.” Like the other culinary students, her diploma was announced over the radio waves.

article about the Betty Crocker cooking school, Evening Star newspaper article 24 January 1926

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 24 January 1926, page 33

Betty Crocker Recipes

Newspapers are a source for all kinds of recipes: those written by newspaper staff, submitted by readers, and found in advertisements. Betty Crocker recipes are no exception and can be found throughout the decades in historical newspapers.

Women who listened to Betty Crocker’s radio show were able to add many new recipes to their repertoire. This one from 1928 is for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies. To show how fool-proof the dessert recipe was, the text exclaims: “Of 278 women trying the recipe, not a single one failed her first attempt!”

Betty Crocker ad for Gold Medal Flour, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

Betty Crocker recipe for Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies, Evening Star newspaper article 15 November 1928

Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 15 November 1928, page 31

During World War II various foods, including meat, were rationed. Betty Crocker recipes addressed those on the home front who needed to feed their families with reduced quantities or food substitutions. In this 1944 advertisement featuring a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding (or “Pig in a Poke”), the text of the advertisement for Gold Medal Flour states: “Betty Crocker offers this ‘meat-extender’ recipe to show you one way Gold Medal ‘Kitchen-tested’ Enriched Flour can add nourishment to your wartime meals.” An image on the lower left reminds consumers that food was integral to the war effort, stating “Food Fights for Freedom” and reminding them to “produce and conserve/share and play square.”

Betty Crocker recipe for "Pig in a Poke," Oregonian newspaper article 30 January 1944

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 30 January 1944, page 41

Betty Crocker recipes were meant to help sell various food-related products. A great marketing tool, they demonstrated how to take Betty Crocker cake mixes and turn the finished product into something special for your family to feast on. Consider this 1960 advertisement that utilizes Country Kitchen cake mixes and transforms them into desserts like Spumoni Cake, Hawaiian Velvet Cake, and Colonial Butter-Nut Cake.

Betty Crocker cake recipes, Oregonian newspaper article 11 September 1960

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 September 1960, page 130

Betty Crocker Cookbooks

Many family historians most likely either have a Betty Crocker cookbook or remember one in their family’s collection.

photo of a Betty Crocker cookbook

Photo: Betty Crocker cookbook, from the author’s collection. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

Today we can download the Betty Crocker Cookbook app, but our elders were able to peruse Betty’s recipes in her cookbooks, such as Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book which was first published in 1950.

ad for a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Daily News newspaper article 29 November 1950

Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, North Carolina), 29 November 1950, page 3

One of the benefits of this cookbook is the fact that it is published as a 3-ring binder which allows its owner to add additional recipes. This 1950 review of the cookbook exclaims: “One of its chief values is that it is looseleaf, enabling the housewife to add clippings from other sources.” The review goes on to explain that the photos and illustrations are helpful aids in preparing the recipes.

review of a Betty Crocker cookbook, Greensboro Record newspaper article 13 September 1950

Greensboro Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), 13 September 1950, page 19

The Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book now referred to as the Betty Crocker Cookbook, is one of 250 cookbooks since 1950 that sport the Betty Crocker name.**

What are your memories of cooking with Betty Crocker? Do you own the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book? Has your grandma passed down her Betty Crocker diploma? Share your memories in the comments below.


* Marks, Susan. Finding Betty Crocker: The secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food. Minneapolis, MC: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Page 10-11.

** “The Story of Betty Crocker.” Accessed 16 June 2015.

Share Your Recipes with Us!

GenealogyBank has a shared group Pinterest board where you can share your old family recipes. If you have a family recipe you’d like to share, send us a Pinterest group board request and you can pin your recipe on our board to share with the community.

Related Food & Cooking Articles and Resources:

The World Was Your Ancestor’s Oyster: Food in Family History

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explores one of her many interests: the connection of food and cooking to family history, revealing how much oysters were part of our ancestors’ diets.

What did your ancestors eat? Is this something you ever ponder? As family historians, the actual everyday activities of our ancestors can help to bring the dates and places we research to life.

In some cases the food our ancestors ate is quite different from what we are accustomed to today. With the lack of refrigeration and transportation, it’s no surprise that there were regional differences in cuisine. Considering the limited ability to transport and preserve ingredients, the variety of what was available to harvest locally, and the food preferences of local ethnic/immigrant populations, it is not surprising that the food that was served in various areas could be extremely different. A specialty enjoyed by those living in one region of the United States was all but unknown in another. While to some extent this is still true of modern cuisine today, as you can travel to different regions of the United States and taste local favorites not served where you live, these food differences are not as dramatic as they were 100 years ago.

So what were some food commonalities? Well there were many American foods that were feasted upon across the regions. One such food that was enjoyed by almost all Americans in the nineteenth century was oysters. Today oysters, depending on where you live, are usually a delicacy because of the price they command. It would also not be unusual to find people who have never even tried an oyster, raw or cooked.  In the nineteenth century oysters were everyday food items that were inexpensive and plentiful. They were the food of the common person.

Newspaper advertisements hint at the massive amounts of oysters available to our ancestors. Consider this 1874 newspaper advertisement from the Oregonian which lists several places to eat and obtain oysters.

Old Vintage Advertisement for Oysters - Oregonian Newspaper  1874

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 16 October 1874, page 5.

Street vendors, oyster houses, saloons, restaurants and home cooks prepared oysters in various, often creative ways. Oysters were served in every way imaginable including ways we are familiar with today like raw and fried. Interesting ways to serve oysters could be found in the era’s cookbooks including pickled oysters, oyster ketchup and one recipe that called for oysters to be served with shortcake.[i]

Consider this newspaper article which provides 11 ways to cook oysters that “if adhered to will bring cheer to the family board.” Note that this article was printed in a Kentucky newspaper—not exactly known today for its seafood. Yet this historical 1913 article tells “how best to serve the succulent bivalve [oysters], perhaps the most universally popular dish of the American table.”

How To Cook Oysters Old Recipe - Lexington Herald Newspaper 1913

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 19 October 1913, section 4, page 3.

There were also “mock oyster” recipes for those who were unable to obtain oysters. These oyster recipes substituted different ingredients for oysters including corn, mashed potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. Women could cook dishes such as “Mock Oyster Soup,” “Mock Oyster Sauce,” “Mock Oyster Stew” and just plain “Mock Oysters.” While the appearance of a “mock” recipe in a cookbook might connote that the item was difficult to obtain or expensive, this was not necessarily so in the case of the oyster.

As oyster beds became contaminated and overfished in the early 1900s, oysters began to cease being eaten as an everyday food and became more of a delicacy. No longer was the oyster part of America’s everyday diet.

To learn more about America’s love affair with oysters see the history The Big Oyster. History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky.

[i] Stavely, Keith W. F., and Kathleen‎ Fitzgerald‎. America’s Founding Food. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, pg. 108. Viewed on Google Books 1 July 2012.

Julia Child (1912-2004)

This week the nation is remembering Julia Child – how much she contributed to our lives and how much fun she was to be with – via her books, newspaper columns, TV Show – The French Chef and interviews.

Julia Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams – this week – August 15, 1912 in Pasadena, California and died this week – August 13, 2004 in Montecido, California. She married Paul Cushing Child over a long Labor Day weekend – 1 September 1946. She had met Paul Child while stationed in Sri Lanka with the OSS during World War II. The OSS is now known as the CIA. For her life’s work she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2003. She was 92 years old.

She is celebrated in Meryl Streep’s new movie – Julie & Julia

and she is in GenealogyBank too – from her numerous recipes; articles about her books & TV series; numerous obituries published in newspapers across the country and her death record in the SSDI.

Cook like Julia Child


North Carolina newspapers 1719-1926, 1988-Today

(Photographer: Marion Post Wolcott.

See what’s cooking in the Wilkins family kitchen … near Tallyho, Granville County, North Carolina … and all the other news recorded in the Tar Heel State’s old newspapers. has North Carolina’s historical newspapers from 1719-1926, 1988-Today.

Click here to search all of North Carolina’s historical newspapers

or click on the titles below to search them individually.

Asheville, NC
Asheville Citizen-Times. 1/1/1999-Current

Chapel Hill, NC
Chapel Hill News. 5/3/2000-Current

Charlotte, NC
Charlotte News. 12/11/1888 – 9/29/1922
Charlotte Observer. 3/13/1892 – 12/31/1922
Charlotte Observer. 1/1/1992-Current

Cleveland, NC
Cleveland Post. 3/1/2007-Current

Durham, NC
Chapel Hill Herald. 1/1/2002-Current
Herald-Sun. 1/1/2002-Current
Raleigh Extra. 6/18/1995-5/25/1997

Elizabeth City, NC
Daily Advance. 11/9/2004-Current

Fayetteville, NC
American. 12/22/1719 – 12/31/1922
Fayetteville Observer. 1/18/1988-Current

Greensboro, NC
Greensboro News & Record. 1/1/1990-Current

Greenville, NC
Daily Reflector. 8/30/2004-Current

Halifax, NC
North-Carolina Journal. 8/1/1792 – 9/11/1797

High Point, NC
High Point Enterprise. 4/14/2007-Current

New Bern, NC
Carolina Federal Republican. 1/12/1809 – 4/25/1818
Morning Herald. 9/17/1807 – 4/30/1906

Newbern Herald. 1/20/1809 – 2/26/1810
Newbern Sentinel. 3/21/1818 – 12/25/1823
State Gazette of North Carolina. 8/9/1787 – 2/20/1799
True Republican. 7/4/1804 – 8/7/1811

Raleigh, NC
News & Observer. 1/1/1991-Current
Semi-Weekly Standard. 8/10/1861 – 3/8/1868
Star. 12/1/1789 – 5/12/1926

Red Springs, NC
Red Springs Citizen. 9/10/2008-Current

Rockingham, NC
Richmond County Daily Journal. 5/3/2003-Current

Rocky Mount, NC
Rocky Mount Telegram. 9/3/2002-Current

Roxboro, NC
Courier-Times. 11/22/2006-Current

St. Pauls, NC
St. Pauls Review. 9/4/2008-Current

Tryon, NC
Tryon Daily Bulletin. 5/14/2007-Current

Wadesboro, NC
Anson Record. 6/19/2003-Current

Wilmington, NC
Cape-Fear Recorder. 11/28/1818 – 4/11/1827

Star-News. 1/31/2002-Current

Winston Salem, NC
Winston-Salem Journal. 11/1/1997-Current

Finding People with Common Names

Finding people with unusual names can be very difficult but it is easy to find them on GenealogyBank.

Today I was looking for Henry B. Platter and his good wife, Rachel (Bittinger) Platter. The Bittingers are my cousins and many of them are from Garrett County, Maryland.

Now, Platter is an unusual name. It would be easy for a search online to bring back every record that spoke about cooking, kitchens, plates or platters.

On GenealogyBank, I was able to instantly zero in on records
about them.

With just a few clicks I was able to find a dozen documents
about the Platter family. I began opening them one by one.
The first hit came from the historical documents and was a pension request by Henry’s wife, Rachel Platter. I quickly discovered Henry had served in the Civil War, a private in Company A, Second Regiment, P.H.B. Maryland Infantry and received a pension of $72 a month (certificate No. 1045070). (This is from: Pensions and increase of pensions for certain soldiers and sailors of the Civil War. Feb 5, 1925: Serial Set Vol. No. 8392, Session Vol. No.A68th Congress, 2nd SessionH.Rpt. 1385).

This is a terrific document – it gave me a lot of details about the family. The record showed that he and Rachel had married on March 12, 1867. That would have been hard to find anywhere else.

It also states that he died on October 4, 1923 leaving her in need of assistance; how long he had served in the Civil War and that his disability was caused during the war.

This document showed that she owned her own home, the value was $500. Perhaps her house looked like this one. It is a picture of her nephew Charles “Wooly” Henry & Sarah (Hoover) Bittinger and their family in front of the family home in New Jerusalem, Garrett County, MD.

It was taken in 1937 just a few years after Rachel Platter had requested a pension. Perhaps Rachel had a similar home.
(Photo by Arthur Rothstein; Library of Congress Photo LC-USF34- 026095-D).

Wow. It’s great that
GenealogyBank has been digitizing so many documents. I never would have found this one on my own. It was easy to find it online at GenealogyBank.

Their names, marriage and death dates, military service; details about their house, their income – bingo, there it was – all this family history in one document.

GenealogyBank added over 42.5 Million family history records last year and added another 2 million just this week. It now has over 216 million historical newspaper articles, obituaries, government and historical documents online. records and documents online.

Give it a try right now. It’s available at a great “get acquainted” rate – only $9.95 for 30 days.

I found documents that gave me the details I needed for my cousins in the back hills of Maryland ….. what will you find?