Left: Kentucky Library and Museum Archives, Right: Flickr/Jamie
In the culinary world, the word “instant” is almost profane. It implies a sort of cheating, a work-around that makes a recipe only half yours. But in the busy worlds of parents and career-minded types, “instant” is a life raft. It is the buoy that keeps us afloat from day to day. “Instant” in these worlds is synonymous with “best friend.”
However, even people who are always on the go shouldn’t have to settle for just fast. The baking process must be quick, but the results should still be high in quality. In short, cutting corners isn’t worth it unless the end product is one you are proud to pass around at the bake sale. Luckily for us, certain brands have stood the test of time and make baking everything from brownies to birthday cakes an easy, streamlined process.
How many times have you ripped open a box of your favorite brand of cake mix, be it Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, without considering what it took to get those handy ingredients all in one place? These two trusted household baking brands have been seamlessly appearing in cupboards and pantries for decades, but how did they get there?
Take a journey with us as we explore the histories of two iconic companies that are equally essential to the mainstream American culinary story. You’ll appreciate Mom’s boxed birthday cakes more than you ever imagined!
Betty Crocker Isn’t a Real Person
Sadly, the story of Betty Crocker is not the tale of a sweet, matronly woman whose cakes and pies were so good that they needed to be introduced to the masses. The reality is slightly less compelling. In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company, a flour-milling outfit, received thousands of responses to a promotion that encouraged consumers to write in and win a pincushion in the shape of their Gold Medal flour bag. Along with the responses were dozens upon dozens of questions about baking. The company created the persona of Betty Crocker to answer the questions, using the surname of William Crocker, a director of the firm who had recently retired.
Duncan Hines Was a Real Person
Kentucky Library and Museum Archives
...But he wasn’t always into baking. In fact, Duncan Hines got his start as a traveling salesman for a print company. The wide range of cuisines he sampled during his constant trips sparked his interest in food.