Minnesota-based businesses

Betty Crocker | Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest | Bundt pans


Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and the Bundt pan are classic Minnesota-based food industries. Photo by Kirsten Reichel.

Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and the Bundt pan are classic Minnesota-based food industries. Photo by Kirsten Reichel.

They have an iconic place in the food industry

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many of the of the food and cooking items we are familiar with have a history behind them that we may not be familiar with. I was surprised at some of the history I read in working on this project so it was an enlightening article for me to compile. The following historical readings are courtesy of MNopedia. The links to these, and many other related stories, can be found in the source line following each article. Kirsten Reichel, HTF Staff Writer

Who was the “real” Betty Crocker?

For many Americans, the name Betty Crocker evokes an image of domestic perfection. From the often-reissued Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to the iconic red spoon logo that bears her signature, Betty Crocker is one of the most recognized names in cooking. It comes as a surprise to some that “America’s First Lady of Food” is, in fact, fictional.

Many creations can be made using the Bundt pan.

Many creations can be made using the Bundt pan.

Betty Crocker got her start not in the kitchen but in the advertising department of the Washburn Crosby Company of Minneapolis. After an October 1921 contest in the Saturday Evening Post, Washburn Crosby received many household questions along with contest entries. Samuel Gale, head of advertising, wanted to answer the questions but felt that the advice should come from a woman. Gale solved his problem by inventing Betty Crocker. Her last name was chosen to honor former company director William G. Crocker. “Betty” was chosen because it sounded cheerful and friendly.

The advertising staff began to answer consumer questions using Betty Crocker’s name and persona. The answers, provided by the all-female home service department, promoted a new kind of cooking. Betty’s answers encouraged standard pan sizes, measurements, and cooking temperatures. She gave advice about how to use new electrical appliances. And she offered homemakers nationwide the chance to receive personal advice from a kindly figure who signed each letter, “Cordially Yours, Betty Crocker.”

In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company bought a faltering radio station and renamed it WCCO. On October 2, the first Betty Crocker Home Service Program premiered on the station. Betty, voiced by Washburn Crosby home economist Blanche Ingersoll, promoted good cooking as the secret to a happy home.

By the following year, The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air was offering listeners a chance to cook along with Betty. In 27 years on the air, over one million people completed the program. By the end of 1925, the two radio programs were on the air in 12 regional markets. While different women voiced Betty in each city, they read scripts in the main Betty Crocker office in Minneapolis.

While Blanche Ingersoll provided Betty’s voice in the Twin Cities, it was another home economist, Marjorie Child Husted, who drove her persona. Husted had joined the Washburn Crosby Company sales team in 1923. She led a team of home economists to create and triple-test recipes to meet the Betty Crocker standard. She also wrote the scripts for Betty Crocker’s radio broadcasts. Husted carefully shaped the public face of Betty Crocker. She arranged for “Betty” to interview Hollywood stars about cooking, their favorite recipes, and their home lives.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Betty Crocker brand responded to the shifting needs of American homemakers. During the Great Depression, she offered tips for household thrift as Husted and her staff worked to create low-cost recipes that would stretch food budgets. During World War II, she advertised recipes for rationing and encouraged patriotic work on the home front. In 1945, Fortune magazine declared Betty Crocker the second most popular woman in America.

Also, during the war, Husted worried that women were not being honored for their work in the home. She developed the Betty Crocker American Home Legion in 1944 to recognize women for their contributions. Husted championed the rights of women in the workplace, criticizing General Mills and other companies for discriminating against their female employees.

The 1950s brought changes for Betty Crocker. The step-by-step instructions of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (1950) helped make it a best seller. In 1954, General Mills introduced Betty Crocker’s red spoon logo that gave cookbooks, cake mixes, and other items the Betty seal of approval. In 1958, the Betty Crocker test kitchens moved from Minneapolis to General Mills’ headquarters in Golden Valley. Tour guides often found themselves consoling guests who had been shocked to find that their cooking heroine wasn’t real.

Betty Crocker’s popularity waned in the later decades of the twentieth century. However, cookbooks, recipes, and products bearing her logo, signature, and portrait continued to be produced. In 1996, a new Betty Crocker portrait was made by blending the faces of 75 contest winners with the previous portrait to create a Betty for the next century.

Goetz, Kathryn R.,“Betty Crocker,” MNopedia, www.mnopedia.org/person/bettycrocker (first published April 20, 2015; last modified Feb. 21, 2017, accessed Dec. 3, 2018).

Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest introduced many new recipes

By Mary Laine MNopedia

In 1949, the Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis celebrated its 80th anniversary. To promote Pillsbury’s Best Family Flour, it created the Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest, later named the Bake-Off, to discover the country’s best amateur bakers and recipes. The winning recipes were placed in Pillsbury flour bags as an incentive for consumers to purchase one of Pillsbury’s premier products.

In 1949, the contest offered entrants six entry categories: breads, cakes, pies, cookies, entrees, and desserts. Hopeful bakers completed entry forms and sent in their recipes. If they included a seal from a Pillsbury flour bag, their potential prizes were doubled.

Pillsbury home economists evaluated thousands of entries and selected 100 finalists after baking and sampling the entries. The finalists’ prizes included a trip to New York City, a room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with breakfast in bed, and $100. They all also won a General Electric Stratoliner push-button range and a Hamilton Beach mixer. The grand prize of $25,000 was awarded after all of the finalists’ entries were prepared and judged. In the first contest year, there was only one division. In 1950, it was split into two divisions: junior (for ages 12 – 18 years old) and senior (for those 19 and older).

Arthur Godfrey and Art Linkletter, wellknown radio and television personalities, hosted the contest in the early years. Eleanor Roosevelt, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Mamie Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Truman were among the celebrities at early contests. Philip Pillsbury, company president and grandson of company cofounder Charles Pillsbury, led contestants to their stoves at the opening of each contest from 1949 until 1984.

Memorable recipes from the Bake-Off include Dilly Casserole Bread (1960), French Silk Chocolate Pie (1951), Tunnel of Fudge Cake (1966), Peanut Blossoms (1957), and Chocolate Praline Layer Cake (1988). Peanut Blossoms cookies, with a chocolate kiss in the center, are still found on many Christmas cookie trays, but the Tunnel of Fudge Cake is probably the most famous. Baked by Ella Helfrich from Texas, it won second prize and was so popular that it created a demand for the Nordic Ware Bundt pan.

In 1969, Edna Walker from Minnesota won the grand prize with her winning recipe for Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs. The recipe was a milestone since it was the first winner to use a refrigerated dough product. Home bakers rushed to make the recipe. Grocery stores in the Twin Cities area soon ran out of cans of Pillsbury Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls, the recipe’s key ingredient.

Perhaps to attract the judges’ eyes, many contestants were creative in naming their entries. Examples from 1954 include Watermelon Tea-Ettes, Pear-adise Chocolate Dessert, Cranberry Coconut Holidainty, and American Piece-A-Pie.

In 1949, there were three male contestants. In 1998, there were 14, which set a record. In 1996, Kurt Wait won the first million-dollar grand prize with his Macadamia Nut Fudge Torte. Twelve-year-old Richard Klecka won the junior division in 1962 with his Cheeseburger Casserole.

The contest evolved as Americans’ food tastes and interests changed. Time available to spend in the kitchen lessened and convenience foods became available. Pillsbury home economists shortened and adapted winning recipes to include Pillsbury products such as cake, frosting, and hot roll mixes and cans of refrigerated dinner rolls and biscuits. In 2013, contest rules required that recipes have fewer than eight ingredients and take no longer than 30 minutes to prepare, not including baking time.

From 1949–1956, the contest was held in New York City. After that, the location changed each year, but never in Pillsbury’s corporate home of Minneapolis. Each year, the hundred winning recipes were published in a cookbook that initially cost 25 cents.

The first contest, in 1949, was so successful that it was held annually until 1976 and then every two years until the 47th competition in 2014. By then, winner selection had evolved along with the recipes themselves. In that year, the public voted online, without tasting the entries, and picked Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters as the winner. The other competitors for top prize were Cuban-style Sandwich Pockets, Creamy Corn-filled Sweet Peppers, and Chocolate Doughnut Poppers. As of 2017, the future of the contest is undetermined.

Laine, Mary, “Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest;” MNopedia, www.mnopedia.org/event/ pillsbury-bake-contest (first published April 3, 2017, last modified May 1, 2017, accessed Dec. 3, 2018).

The Bundt pan: Is there one in your kitchen?

By Alli Hearne MNopedia

Many Americans can recognize a Bundt pan or have one at home. But few know that this iconic cake pan, created by H. David Dalquist, founder of the Nordic Ware Company, is rooted in Minnesota’s Jewish immigrant history. The design for the ring-shaped mold came from a pan called the Gugelhupf, which was brought to the United States by Jewish immigrants from Europe.

Gugelhupf pans were made of cast iron, and each one weighed more than 15 pounds. Jewish immigrants traditionally used them to bake heavy cakes similar to pound cakes. In the late 1940s, in Minneapolis, immigrants lamented not being able to find the pans. Three of them were Rose Joshua, Fannie Shanfield, and Mary Abrahamson from the Hadassah Society of Minnesota, a Jewish women’s volunteer organization.

In 1950, the women approached H. David Dalquist to create reproductions of a pan the Abrahamson family brought to the United States from Germany. The group intended to use them to bake cakes to sell for a fundraiser. Hadassah held fundraisers to pay for schools and hospitals in Israel.

Dalquist owned a small company called Northland Aluminum Products (later Nordic Ware) that manufactured die-cast aluminum Scandinavian kitchen items. He was unsure how successful this old- world cake pan would be in the United States. However, Dalquist was not in a position to turn down business.

Dalquist created a cast-aluminum version of Abrahamson’s pan and sold it to department stores. The Hadassah women decided that selling pans would be a better fundraiser than selling cakes, so Dalquist gave them the imperfect factory seconds.

The word Bundt comes from the German word Bund, which refers to a gathering of people. Dalquist added the “T” so he could trademark the name and also avoid being linked with the German American Bund, a Nazi organization.

The pan was relatively unknown until 1966, when Ella Rita Helfrich of Houston won second place in the 17th Pillsbury Bake- Off Contest. She created a recipe for the Tunnel of Fudge cake, which was made in a Bundt pan with only five ingredients (plus Pillsbury dry frosting mix). The cake formed a soft fudge center as it baked. As the recipe became popular, Pillsbury received more than 200,000 letters from consumers asking where they could find a Bundt pan.

Dalquist’s wife, Dotty, spent hours in the kitchen developing recipes for the Bundt pan. In October of 1969, David pitched the idea for a line of boxed Bundt cake mixes to two Pillsbury executives. Dotty baked the cakes for the pitch, which took place on her husband’s boat on Lake Superior.

The pitch was well received. In 1971, Pillsbury launched the line of Bundt cake mixes that they continued to produce for 15 years.

In 1972, Pillsbury and Nordic Ware partnered to offer a promotion. They gave consumers the chance to buy a box of cake mix and a Bundt pan together at supermarkets for $1.98. Nordic Ware needed to invest in additional equipment to be able to produce enough pans for the promotion. The investment paid off and helped the business grow.

Dalquist said the Pillsbury promotion helped Nordic Ware grow from a small, family-owned business into a medium-sized regional manufacturer and even, to some extent, a national manufacturer.

Nordic Ware continues to produce Bundt pans in the United States, with more than 90 percent of its products still manufactured in Minneapolis. As of 2016, more than 70 million Bundt pans in 100 unique designs have been sold worldwide.

Hearne, Alli, “Bundt Pan,” MNopedia http:// www.mnopedia.org/thing/bundt-pan (first published Jan. 6, 2017; last modified April 3, 2017; accessed Dec. 3, 2018).

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