Edmonds, Hubbards, Pams – our shelves are full of people immortalised in baked goods and cereals. Josie Adams sets out to discover who they really were, and if they even existed at all.
“Who is Pam?” is one of the most burning questions of our time. She makes jam, baked beans, dishwashing liquid; Pam can do it all. Is she a person, or is “PAMS” an acronym for something more sinister?
Once you pop this can of worms, you can’t stop. The questions keep coming. Who’s the Charlie from Charlie’s Lemonade? Are George and Jo people or chickens? Are the Coen Bros bagels made by the directorial duo behind cult hit Fargo?
I can’t answer all these questions, but I can try. When a man wears a mask too long, it becomes his face. Pams, now, is an aluminium can — but maybe the others can be found.
Edmonds, the rising agent monopolist, is named after businessman and empire-builder Thomas John Edmonds. He invented the baking powder while working in a Lyttelton grocery store, when he noticed the local home bakers were extremely thirsty for big cakes. His recipe went from strength to strength, until he finally launched an advertising campaign that is now a century old: The Edmonds Cookery Book. The book, the powders, all of it are named for him, by him, and in service of him. First published in 1908, this cookbook – a staple of every Kiwi home – was a marketing ploy when it began and still is now. I bet you have one.
Pams was born of a spat between Foodstuffs and the Wholesale Merchants Association in the 1930s. TJ Edmonds (see entry above) removed Foodstuffs from its list of stores they would supply, and the store had to develop its own brand, a home brand, the home brand: Pams.
“Pam’s” was the third choice for a baking powder name, following “Pep” and “Presto,” both of which were rejected. Pep was taken by Kelloggs, and no-one is sure why Presto got the flick. We can only assume because it’s too sexy. “It was unanimously decided by correspondence to adopt Pam’s,” reads an ancient manuscript, scanned by the team at Pams for The Spinoff’s reading pleasure.
The Pams team told us the brand’s origin is lost to history, but one thing they know for sure is that it used to have an apostrophe. This is important because it puts to rest the conspiracy theory that Pams is an acronym. Owing to the apostrophe, the company believes it was named after a person, but which one? All we know is it wasn’t: sorry, Pam Seebold. The mystery of Pams remains.
“Charlie’s started in 1999 when three childhood mates Stefan, Marc, and Simon” – record scratch – who the fuck is Charlie then? I reached out to the company, but had no response. I tried to contact Marc Ellis himself, but nothing. What are you hiding, boys? This mystery could be so easily solved, but they don’t want it so. Who is Charlie, and more importantly: where is Charlie?
George and Jo’s
Sadly, this brand is not named in honour of the first chickens it killed. No, “George and Jo” represent the many farming couples that contribute to an antibiotic-free poultry conglomerate. Brinks spokesperson Colin Agnew says the parent company chose the name “George” because it comes from the Greek word for “farmer”. “Jo” was given even more thought, and was chosen by unanimous collective consent for how well it matched with “George”.
Together, George and Jo symbolise all poultry farming couples. They are patron saints of the chicken flock, watching over every coop, only ever as real as the belief farmers have in them.
This story behind the hamburger juggernaut’s name is simple. Wendy is the daughter of the fast-food restaurant’s founder. You know the drill: father loves hamburgers, father loves daughter, father names the burgers after his daughter. In a weird twist, Dave Thomas’s daughter’s name is actually Melinda Lou. As a child, she couldn’t pronounce this so went by “Wendy.” She is still called Wendy to this day. It’s unclear whether she feels her identity is now inextricable from the hamburger chain, or if she just never learned to pronounce her name. It’s pronounced “HAM-berr-gerr”.
Tetsushi Mizokami was the first-born child in a sweet-making family. He was ready for the grind straight out of the womb, and started working in his parents’ store at the age of five. He breathes desserts; he sweats them; they’re all he knows. It was his destiny to become an international cheesecake icon. After working at and founding several restaurants around the world, Uncle Tetsu finally got the thumbs up from youth culture and his brand took off. The cakes, made with a “specialty Australian cheese,” are named for good ol’ Uncle Tetsu because, like him, they’re medium height and have a strong wobble.
I am pleased to announce that Ernest Adams was an earnest Adams indeed. He came from a family of bakers and birthed a company of them. He ate, loved and shat friendship, which sounds like a bad business model, but Ernest Adams Ltd actually survived the Depression of the 1930s better than most. To get through the dire financial times, Adams proposed a company-wide pay cut including himself. You’d never see a man like that these days. Young upstart businessmen in this day and age bring shame on heroes like Adams.
Adams developed a superannuation scheme for his staff, supported families affected by the second world war, and created such a wonderful environment, and such excellent baked goods, that many employees worked for him until the day they died. Live to work, don’t work to live. Long may the Adams name live (and work).
Tom and Luke
You might know Tom and Luke’s punnets of vegan snack balls from gyms and PR gift baskets across the country. There’s no mystery here. Just as these balls don’t have artificial additives, nor does their name. Just as balls come in pairs, so do their creators. Tom and Luke are as real as the balls’ nutritional value. Luke is a chef and Tom is a personal trainer, and together they’ve come together to make workouts and eating more fibrous for everyone.
Danny Eliahu arrived in New Zealand and found, to his rightful disgust, that no pita bread was commercially available. Like any good gluten-hearted citizen, he solved the problem. Flatbread fans across the country went from zero pitas to being able to walk into a supermarket and go ‘ah, there’s Danny’s pitas’. That Danny sure is a hero.
Danny’s pitas are based on a centuries-old family recipe, and they changed the fabric of New Zealander society forever. Imagine a world where supermarket shelves echo for missing the dusty flaps of traditional pita. That’s not a world I want to live in. Danny, I am honoured to speak your name.
Pairing fabulously with Danny’s pitas is Lisa’s. “Lisa’s is New Zealand for ‘hummus’!” says the brand. It’s not, but the hummus is really good. The Lisa from Lisa’s, Lisa Er, sold her lucrative hummus business in 2002, focusing on creating life-changing recipes using kindness and integrity instead of chickpeas. She’s now a consultant at The Healing Business, the main service of which is teaching Metatron Ascension Technology, and mother to a child named Aslan.
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This is named after George Duncan, the founder and brewer of Duncan’s Beer. I respect a man who names his product after himself. What is this beer? “Mine,” he said. It’s definitely a better option than naming the beer after its illustrator, Dr D Foothead. Apparently, George had been performing for years as a musician under the performance name Dunk, so “Duncan’s” was a natural progression. Dunk’s music is crisp and lively, just like the beers he makes.
Healthy, hearty Hubbards started out as “Winner Foods” in 1989. Ol’ Dick Hubbard slapped his surname on the box after only two years of the cereal being on the market, apparently realising that he, himself, was synonymous with “winner.” Dick Hubbard interrupted the reign of John Banks as mayor of Auckland in 2004, and has an honorary “Doctor of Science,” which was bestowed upon him for services to breakfast. Hubbard both invented cereal and caused his deputy mayor to take sick leave due to exhaustion. Outstanding achievements in two fields.
Maria Smith was the Australian granny who threw busted french crab apples out her window. They blended with a compost pile and burst forth a crisper, greener type of apple. A firm apple, perfect for cooking and decorating open homes. In a fun twist, Smith never lived for the birth of her grandchildren and was, therefore, never a granny. They just called the apples “Granny Smiths” because she was old. Rude.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.