Betty Crocker, whose picture has appeared for some 65 years on various food products of General Mills, Inc., has always been one of the more intriguing figures in the kitchen cupboard. Because she was drawn in a realistic style, she had more credibility than the Pillsbury Doughboy or the little girl who spilled Morton's Salt all over the place. Because her creators had given her no documented past, you could feel free to provide one for her, or several if you chose.

We generally envisioned Betty Crocker as having been married, if only for a short time -- and that's an interesting story or two in itself. Sometimes we imagine Bill Crocker simply disappeared shortly after the wedding, leaving a half-eaten brownie on the kitchen table. At other times we picture Capt. Bill going off to war and perishing over the English Channel while on a pamphlet-dropping mission with the famed 103rd Airborne Advertising Brigade (under the command of Gen. Mills).

sk Betty Crocker chose not to marry again, despite the persistent entreaties of the young pharmacist over on Maple Avenue. Instead, she devoted herself to the advancement of those domestic virtues exemplified by the phrase, "Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees." Over the years, General Mills performed more than a half-dozen il,9p6 sk,2 transformations on Betty Crocker in order to keep her fashionably current. (After the third or fourth of these, the pharmacist gave up in bewilderment.) In all of them, however, she maintained the same benign (and, to be honest, rather bland) demeanor, that of a nice, mature lady down the block who spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

sk,3 Until now, that is. The xi latest Betty Crocker, pictured here, "doesn't look as if she bakes cakes," as Carole Sugarman wrote in The Post recently, "she buys them. Then again, she probably doesn't eat them. At least not after aerobics." That bow she wears is something you associate with women who scurry around catching subways or cabs or making deals. Over a hot stove, it would be a fire hazard. But that probably doesn't matter, because this Betty Crocker is sending out for Chinese food anyway.

And we wonder: how has Betty Crocker, after all these years, suddenly become younger? We're glad we asked -- it's a fascinating story. You see, although only a few people know it, there was a child . . .