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The Food That Built America Recap for Let Them Bake Cake

The Food That Built America Recap for Let Them Bake Cake

-The Food That Built America is focusing on cake this week!

-Back in the day, cake was mostly for the wealthy, except in cases of birthdays and weddings.

-Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker (who isn’t even a real person) are the driving forces behind the delicious dessert that we all enjoy today.

-In the beginning of the 20th century, cake was not an easy dessert to make, Cake mixes were not yet invented, flour was not uniform/easy to use and bakeware wasn’t what it is today.

-After World War I, Gold Medal Flour’s company had a flour surplus. Samuel Gale, the man behind the company Washburn Crosby, put puzzle pieces into bags of flour. Once the puzzle was completed by customers, they would get a prize. However, this led to people baking more and the company receiving letters asking for baking advice.

-Enter Betty Crocker–a fictional character–to help the housewives with their baking woes. The name Crocker came from a retired General Mills executive. Several women came together to answer the letters, including Marjorie Hustead.

-Betty Crocker would soon become a household name, with General Mills becoming a conglomerate for flour companies. Before long, Marjorie would go on the radio as Betty Crocker, giving her a mysterious, appealing aura. In short, she was the hybrid of Martha Stewart and Dear Abby.

-A thousand miles away, a traveling salesman, who was visiting a small town, visits a small diner, leaves his business card for office supplies with his waitress. Unbeknownst to anyone, he would soon become Betty’s biggest competitor, Duncan Hines.

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-While at the diner, he took notes on the food he ate. Duncan loved taking notes on places he ate, including what he liked, disliked and the cost of the food. He impulsively asked to look at the kitchen, which also went into his book, for he wanted to know the sanitary conditions of the kitchen.

-Duncan would self-publish his guidebook, which would soon become a bestseller for the times. For him, it was a passion project rather than a money maker. Despite that, he ended up becoming a household name…..before he even got into the cake game.

-Betty, for her part, was becoming a star in her own estimation. Marjorie noticed that most women could not meet the expectations of making a good cake. She pitched the idea of making cake a foolproof process, but Sam wasn’t sold on the idea just yet.

-Determined to make her idea a reality, she looked through the recipe archives, coming across a Bisquick biscuit mix recipe. She wanted to use this concept for cakes, only to be told she was nuts for the idea.

-However, she is soon able to run with the idea, which leads to a lot of trial and error. Using only water and powdered eggs didn’t work for the vanilla cake, but they hit pay dirt with the ginger cake. It became the first Betty Crocker cake mix to be put on the market.

-Roy Park of Ithica, NY was another struggling businessman, working in marketing for farmers. He decided to figure out a way to convince women to invest in higher quality food products, namely better flour.

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-He got an idea to advertise when he called his wife while she was listening to Betty on the radio.

-During this time, word got out that Betty was a fictional character, creating a scandal for the company. Roy decided to use this opportunity to collaborate with Duncan Hines. At first, Duncan wasn’t interested at all, but soon got him on board, thanks to Roy’s pitch to get good food into the hands of families. However, there is little interest from the farmers.

-General Mills is still dealing with the scandal as they try to get their cake mix out. However, it soon blew over with women standing by her, especially after the cake mix was released. 50 million boxes were sold in the first year.

-Just as Betty and General Mills begin to gain more traction, Pillsbury enters the game with their own chocolate cake mix. They instantly become rivals, with Betty Crocker adding chocolate and vanilla cake mix. However, the flavors don’t exactly work since they end up cracked and dry.

-Duncan and Roy continue to put their heads together to make their dream a reality. Roy wants to get into the cake mix game, but Duncan isn’t interested….until Roy says he has final say in any product that is released. Duncan gives him six months.

-Roy and Duncan begin experimenting with cake mix recipes and creations. Duncan is not impressed with what partner Andre comes up with…until the idea of adding eggs to the mix is brought up. Once the real eggs are used, a new cake mix is born.

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-Duncan Hines’s first cake mix is a devil’s food flavor and soon became an American icon. Women loved it because it made cake baking seem more ‘real’ and Duncan was a household name, dominating the cake mix market.

-Betty Crocker wanted to top Duncan and began experimenting with more flavors and ideas…..and the idea of adding frosting. The Answer Cake is born! They also came out with the cans of frosting in a variety of flavors.

-Thanks to this new invention, cake became a treat to enjoy at any time. People began decorating, adding flavors and found different ways to become creative with cakes.

-Betty Crocker is now the leading cake mix company with Duncan Hines being close second.

-More next week, stay tuned!

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Author: Sammi Turano
Sammi has been a journalist for over a decade, specializing in entertainment, lifestyle, sports and celebrity news. She is the owner of TVGrapevine and Football in High Heels and the Host of Grapevine in High Heels With Sammi.