The good folks at Libby’s Foods, makers of such delights as lunch tongue, sliced dried beef, ra-goo, chow chow, and potted ham, really outdid themselves when coming up with this idea for what you could do to sexy up pork and beans, which ran in the Saturday Evening Post.

Pour them in green pepper shells!

With tomato sauce, of course!

The recipe:

  • Cut green peppers in half lengthwise, remove seeds, parboil 5 minutes in salted water.
    Drain.
  • Fill with Libby’s Pork and Beans.
  • Bake in hot oven (450 F) until beans are browned.
  • Garnish with parsley.

The ad advised readers to send away for more Libby recipes by mailing Mary Hale Martin, the Libby Cooking Correspondent in Department C-18 at company headquarters.

Down the rabbit hole we go!

So who was Mary Hale Martin?

She put out four books between the 1930’s and 40’s, as well as pumping out a long line of newsletters to eager readers across the United States and Canada.

Here’s one of those, including recipes for such delights as Boston Filling (beans, chopped celery, ketchup, and horseradish), Pineapple Cheese (crushed pineapple and cream cheese), Veal Loaf and Cottage Cheese (there’s olives in there too), and ‘Chili Peanut Butter Special’ (no lie).

maryhalemartinmailer

She was the next best thing to a celebrity, but she was also a complete fiction. Back in the day, with celebrity endorsements expensive and hard to get, food companies made up their own celebrities and put their name to everything related to their brand.

Swanson Foods had Sue Swanson.

Foremost Dairies had Shirley Wilson.

The Postum Company had Carrie Blanchard.

SOS Scouring Pads had Mary Dale Anthony.

Swift and Company had Martha Logan dispensing the wisdom, and Kold Kist had the tag team of Virginia Jarvis and Merrie Ann Farris, and the government even got in on the action; The US Department of Home Economics had Aunt Sammy on staff, sold to the public as Uncle Sam’s wife.

And the Washburn Crosby Flour Company, which would later be General Mills… they kicked it all off when the company ad director, Sam Gale, started noticing a lot of housewives mailing in looking for recipes. He was happy to send them some from the company home economist, but felt weird signing them in his own name, so he created Betty Crocker.

The Author of Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, Susan Marks, says, “You hit on something really big: There was a need. And this need came from women leaving their rural roots, coming to urban centers, moving away from their mothers. …and so they had new appliances, new technology had changed things. So instead of wood burning and coal burning stoves, they had electric and gas ranges. And food was starting to be processed.”

At her peak, Crocker was receiving almost as many letters per day as the President. And every one was answered by someone from the Crocker team.

The weird thing about this fictitious woman is, she was most popular on the radio. She had a national radio show, on which local actresses would read scripts in various regions of the country, pretending to be Ms Crocker.

Today, if you call the Betty Crocker hotline at 1-800 328-6787, you can talk to her. Or someone pretending to be her.

Or a team of people pretending to be her.

Back in Vancouver, this trend had not gone unnoticed, so the Vancouver Sun created a housewife of their own to front their women’s section; Edith Adams.

At her peak, Edith Adams was authoring dozens of books a year, for everything from cooking to home architecture plans. In fact, many of Vancouver’s historic homes (which are now being bulldozed) were built from the same design, right out of the pages of Edith Adams. Those little circular or diamond-shaped porthole windows you see in freestanding Vancouver homes around Mt Pleasant from the post-war years? Those are Edith touches.

At her peak, there was a whole department of fielding inquiries, making public appearances, and publishing books in Edith Adams’ name. There was even an ‘Edith Adams Cottage’ with its own entrance at the Sun building, with an auditorium for the regular cooking demonstrations they’d put on, with ladies queued up around the block.

Edith was ‘retired’ in the early 90’s. Sun staff found a literal eight foot stack of scrapbooks from the old days, with all the articles and recipes saved, and even made a small website publishing recipes from back in the day, before Postmedia killed the site five years ago, and put the stack of archived content into an offsite storage bin.

Pork and beans, children. Pork and beans.

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