In my tradition, today is the eighth day of Christmastide; in some churches, it is also recognized as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ and a day of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. But for most of us, it’s just the eighth day of Christmas, and that means eight maids a-milking. When WYgal at the Orange jokingly mentioned that we could all write posts based on the theme of “our” day, I decided to take up the challenge (while ever so grateful that I didn’t have seven swans a-swimming). What follows is my attempt to write a post that combines a bit of history, something light for a day of vacation/recovery/just-another-Tuesday, and addresses the theme of eight maids a-milking (in this case, milking us of our dollars). Bonus inclusion for those who asked: my aunt’s recipe for Aunt Gussie’s Cloud.Betty Crocker
Betty Crocker isn’t actually a real person. She is the brainchild of an advertising campaign developed by the Washburn-Crosby Company, a flour milling company started in the late 1800’s that eventually became General Mills. Gold Medal Flour, a product of Washburn-Crosby, helped to kick-start Betty’s career. She was “born” in 1921, when an ad for Gold Medal Flour was placed in the Saturday Evening Post. The ad featured a puzzle of a quaint main street scene. Contestants were encouraged to complete the puzzle and send it in for the prize of a pincushion in the shape of a sack of Gold Medal Flour. The response was overwhelming; around 30,000 completed puzzles flooded the Washburn-Crosby offices. Many of the completed puzzles were accompanied by letters filled with baking questions and concerns, something the Washburn-Crosby Company hadn’t anticipated. Previously, the company’s small advertising department had dealt with customer mail and questions. The department manager, Samuel Gale, and his all-male staff would consult the women of the Gold Medal Home Service staff with customers’ baking and cooking questions. Gale never felt completely comfortable signing his name to this advice, as he suspected that women would rather hear from other women who knew their way around a kitchen. The pile of questions pouring in from the puzzle contest reinforced the need for a female cooking authority, somebody who could gracefully answer any kitchen questions that customers might have. The department’s answer to this issue was to invent a female chief of correspondence, a fictitious woman they named “Betty Crocker.” Who Was Betty Crocker? (The article at the link includes more interesting details about Betty Crocker, as well as how she has been depicted over the years.)
When I broached the idea of turning my cookies into a business, my family thought I was crazy. They told me I didn’t have any money, education, or experience, but hearing them made me only more determined. I started going into banks and asking for a loan. I would bring my business plan and my cookies, and they would look at the plan and eat all of the cookies and tell me, “Thanks, but no.” I started waking up every morning and telling myself, “Somewhere, there’s a person who wants to say yes.”
This was back in the late ’70s. I kept bringing my cookies and sharing my dreams, and finally I managed to get a loan with 21% interest. I was thrilled. How Debbi Fields Built An Empire From Scratch
Debbie Fields was 20 when she opened her first bakery in Palo Alto, CA in 1977; she sold what had become a national chain in the early 1990s to an investment firm for $100 million. Like so many companies purchased by investment firms, the company was loaded with debt and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008; to avoid bankruptcy in 2011, the company ceded control to its creditors. Since 2013, it has been wholly-owned by Z Capital.
Baker Charles Lubin owned a small chain of Chicago bakeries in the early 20th century. Among his products was a cheesecake named after his young daughter, Sara Lee Lubin. He later changed the name of the business to Kitchens of Sara Lee, and when it was later acquired by the Consolidated Foods Corporation, it became one of the company’s leading brands. Based on that strength, Consolidated Foods adopted the name Sara Lee for the whole corporation. Sara Lee didn’t follow her father into the baking business, but instead has worked to encourage and support women working in science. 12 Food Brands Named for People (and Whether Those People Were Real)
Little Sara Lee grew up and has made her own mark.
She was born to a baked-goods fortune and never thought she would be concerned with getting or giving money. “I liked to be taken care of,” says Sara Lee Schupf, 58, the namesake of the famous frozen pies. Then in the early ’80s, after a devastating divorce, she had to learn to take care of herself and others. She had no work experience and no clue about managing money. With four kids to look after and educate, she imagined her savings dwindling rapidly and, she says, “spent many days in tears.”
But when her father died in 1988, leaving her a comfortable inheritance and naming her the sole executor of his will, Schupf began to evolve into a different woman. She returned to college and earned a B.A. in women’s studies. And in 1992 she started a family foundation with a multimillion-dollar endowment. She wanted the foundation to encourage women in science but was told by research institutions that the more important work was being done by men. Schupf persisted, contributing $1.5 million for a female science professor’s post at Skidmore College in New York State and funding a lecture series and prize for women at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The institute wants to build a women’s health center. “Now they want to know who I know,” she says, laughing, “because they know it’ll be women who fund it.” The power of the purse More and more, it’s women who control the charity (1999 article)
“Mama” Celeste Lizio, an Italian cook whose commercial assurances of “abbondanza” (abundance) prompted millions of Americans to buy Celeste frozen pizzas marketed under her name, has died of heart failure, it was learned Sunday. She was 80.
Lizio lived in Wheaton, Ill., west of Chicago, and died Friday at a hospital in nearby Downers Grove.
A robust woman who never lost the accent of her native land, Lizio sold her food business to the Quaker Oats Co. in 1969, the year after her husband died, but continued to act as a television spokeswoman for the pizzas that were sold in boxes bearing her picture and name.
She was born in 1908 in San Angelo, Italy, and showed her abilities as a pasta cook early on, working in her family’s small restaurant-espresso shop.
“Her own momma took her hands before she came to America and told her, ‘Celeste, one day these hands will feed the world,’ ” her daughter, Clara Melchiorre of Woodridge, Ill., said Sunday. “Her momma was right.”
Married in 1930, Lizio and her husband, Anthony, immigrated to the United States during the Depression and opened a small grocery in Chicago. She would cook in the back, offering free ravioli and lasagna to hungry WPA workers.
In 1937, the couple opened Kedzie Beer Garden, a neighborhood tavern and family restaurant that quickly became known for its bountiful plates of pasta. With her children helping in the kitchen, Lizio prepared all of the food by hand. Her secret, Melchiorre said, was her insistence on using only fresh ingredients.
“She also never measured anything; she weighed all of the ingredients in her hand,” said Melchiorre, who today runs her own pasta restaurant in suburban Chicago.
The Lizios sold the restaurant-tavern after 25 years, and began marketing frozen ravioli, pizzas and other foods in bulk under the name Celeste. Their company eventually supplied more than three-quarters of the Italian restaurants in the Chicago area.
When Quaker Oats bought her out in 1969, Lizio was retained as a national spokeswoman and consultant. Her aid, corporate officials said, was essential to making the pizza, since she had always worked from a recipe in her head. Excerpt from her 1988 obituary
…Debbie’s grandparents, O.D. and Ruth McKee, got their start by selling pre-made cakes out of their car. In 1934, they took things a step further when they purchased a failing bakery. They worked side by side, and little by little their business dreams were realized. Today, over 80 years later, the company is still family-driven, and business decisions, as well as day-to-day operations continue to be overseen by several members of the McKee family.
…It wasn’t until the late 50s that the idea of using little Debbie as the Little Debbie came about, and the company finally got its name and logo decades after its inception.
…Unlike some other food celebrities, Debbie is a real person. Debbie McKee-Fowler is all grown up still very much a part of the family business, currently serving as the executive vice president of McKee Foods. But how did she end up on the box in the first place? Thank packaging supplier Bob Mosher, who suggested the boss should use the name of a family member for a new product launch.
O.D. McKee, Debbie’s grandfather and the company’s founder, quickly decided to use the name of his 4-year-old granddaughter. A photo he had of her wearing her favorite straw hat was used for the brand image but, surprise, he didn’t tell her (or her parents!). Although they weren’t exactly happy with the idea at first, the product was already up and running, and Debbie remained the smiling face of the brand. The untold truth of Little Debbie
Once upon a time Marie Callender—a real woman who launched a food empire out of a tiny shack—was just a girl in search of a job. After answering a help-wanted ad for a local delicatessen, Marie began to bake pies for the shop out of her home, quickly becoming a hit with customers. The deli owner encouraged her to expand her business and begin selling to other restaurants and pie hungry customers.
In order to fund her bakery ambitions, Marie and her husband, Cal, sold their car for $700 and converted a Quonset hut in Long Beach, California, into a wholesale bakery, where Marie churned out pies for her son to sell to area restaurants.
And while that hard work eventually paid off, it was a slow and steady process. Marie and Cal continued their operation with marginal financial success for 16 years, making over 200 cream and fruit pies every day, before Don, Marie’s only child, convinced his parents to open their own restaurant called Marie Callender’s Pie Shop.
The brick-and-mortar location, which opened in Orange, California in 1964, initially sold just pie and coffee, but eventually expanded their menu to include savory items, like soup and sandwiches, from Marie’s own recipe collection. Meanwhile Don Callender, who oversaw the business, worked on expanding the café into additional locations, eventually overseeing 146 Marie Callender’s locations nationwide. In 1986 Don sold the restaurant company to Ramada Inc. for $80 million. Who Was Marie Callender?
Marie Callender died in 1995; ConAgra now owns the frozen food line which bears her name, although most, if not all, of the recipes were not Ms. Callender’s. It was her name and likeness which were licensed from the restaurant chain.
Mrs. Smith’s Pies
Amanda was born Dec. 13, 1860, and died Nov. 2, 1947, according to her headstone in Highland Memorial Park cemetery at Wilson and State streets. She was a widow by the early 1900s, and six of her nine children had died of different illnesses.
Her youngest son, Robert P. Smith, started a lunch counter at the Pottstown YMCA in 1919, the year before he graduated high school. It was there that he began selling “mom’s apple pie.”
…Although Amanda was notoriously private, she became a household name by 1923 with the opening of the first Mrs. Smith’s pie store. The last time Amanda personally baked a pie for sale was in 1925, but the company only grew from there. It was incorporated as Mrs. Smith’s Delicious Homemade Pies, and factories were built along Pottstown’s Industrial Highway, as well as in Easton, Philadelphia and York.
By 1951, Mrs. Smith’s pies were distributed along the East Coast from New Jersey to Washington, D.C.
When the company perfected its technique for freezing pies in 1956, they began to be shipped and sold nationally. The first national television commercials aired in 1967.
The Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Mich., purchased Mrs. Smith’s from Robert’s son, Robert C. Smith, in 1976. [ed. The brand has changed hands several times since then.] How sweet: Mrs. Smith Was Real
Aunt Gussie’s Cookies and Crackers
Back in 1980, Marilyn Caine founded the company under the name Marilyn Specialties. She would bake cookies in her home kitchen every night, and in the morning take the bus to NYC to deliver her delicious cookies to specialty Mom & Pop stores in the city; then 3 months into her venture, Macy’s gave her a big order and that’s how her cookie shop started to grow. Although the company has always been baking specialty cookies (oversize decorative cookies back then), Marilyn always had this idea in mind: to bake “healthier, better for you cookies”, a concept unheard of at the time; she was concerned about some diabetic relatives, so she went back to the family collection of artisan recipes, and started tweaking them, and that’s how Aunt Gussie’s Sugar Free cookies were born. But she did not stopped there; she certainly was a woman ahead of her time, she introduced Spelt, an ancient grain for consumers sensitive to common wheat, and a few years later working alongside with her son David, opened a dedicated Gluten Free kitchen, for the company’s new specialty line. About Us
I haven’t heard back from the company as to why they selected the name “Aunt Gussie’s” for the company. But the name for the recipe I received from my aunt has been around for longer than the company, so I tried to do some research. Yes, Aunt Gussie was Jon Arbuckle’s aunt in the Garfield cartoons. She was old and kind (and disliked by Garfield because of that), but that’s also a fairly recent reference. I do, however, suspect that’s where the name of the cookies and cracker company comes from; their headquarters is located in Garfield, NJ.
I found references to Aunt Gussie in children’s periodicals from the 1850s. She was routinely portrayed as the wise, kindly aunt who was beloved by the children, in part because she was willing to admit her own mistakes. “Aunt Gussie” seems to have been a generic sort of reference that evoked that image, while having no tie to a real person. If anyone has any other ideas as to why a recipe would be called “Aunt Gussie’s…”, please let me know. (To be clear, my aunt was named Maria; the recipe was not original to her.)
Bonus recipe: Aunt Gussie’s Cloud
6 egg yolks
3/4 c. lemon juice
1 env. gelatin dissolved in 1/4 c. water
Grated peel of 1 lemon
6 egg whites
3/4 c. sugar (x 2)
Prepared angel food cake
1/2 pt. whipping cream, whipped and sweetened
In the top of a double boiler, beat the 6 egg yolks, add the lemon juice and stir over hot water until like custard. Add the gelatin that has been softened in 1/4 cup water. Stir well. Remove from the heat and add the grated lemon peel. Cool.
Beat the 6 egg whites until stiff, adding 3/4 cup sugar a little at a time. Fold the cooled custard into the egg white mixture. Tear an angel food cake into small pieces. The cake may be store bought.
In a large angel food cake pan, alternate the cake pieces and the egg mixture. Refrigerate several hours. Turn out on a cake plate and frost with the whipped cream. Refrigerate overnight. Serves 12-16.
NOTE: I copied this recipe from cooks.com, since it is essentially the same as the recipe from my aunt. My aunt, however, always made it in a large sheet cake pan, rather than an angel food cake pan. I have also used a Bundt pan with some success. Additionally, I don’t add the whipped cream frosting, although I do keep whipped cream on hand for anyone who wishes to add some.