Many people who blog about their forays into fiber arts and crafts are motivated by an attempt to “get back to” the basics: making their own clothes, reducing their corporate-created consumption footprint and eschewing the fast fashion industry. For related reasons, some also turn their efforts to “get back to basics” to the food they consume.
I was thinking about this the other day when I saw this “Cookie Kit” by Scratch & Grain advertising the “fresh, delicious, made-from-scratch taste.” It is the brainchild of two enterprising young mothers in Portland, Oregon whose “mission [is] to make homemade baking fun and easy.” For this cookie kit, the home baker need only add one egg and two tablespoons of unsalted butter to make “9 to 12 amazing cookies.”
Except its use of “all natural,” “organic” and/or non-GMO ingredients, I’m not sure how the Cookie Kit differs significantly from the various goodies-from-a-box (or bag) offered by companies such as Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines or Pillsbury (all best friends of my mother). Take a peek at the ingredient lists provided by the makers:
Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Fudge Cake: Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Leavening (baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate). Contains 2% or less of: Corn Starch, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono and Diesters of Fatty Acids, Distilled Monoglycerides, Carob Powder, Salt, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum).
During the early years of the commercialization of American home baking (starting in 1930), food scientists created cake mixes where the home baker (mothers were targeted), need add only water. Their surveys/focus groups, however, revealed that the home baker didn’t feel her cake-from-a-box was truly homemade. She had to do more work … hence the food scientists adjusted the mix to require the addition of egg and oil. (Click here to read more on this interesting topic.)
Corporate cake and cookie makers effectively used popular media – radio, TV and print – to reassure the home bakers that the cakes made from their products would be easy, perfect, use “just the good things you’d use yourself,” and create little mess to clean up. In 1949, NBC’s The Light of the World announcer Stuart Metz exclaimed, “Now, even amateurs bake better cakes with Betty Crocker Party Cake Mix than experienced homemakers using their best 2-egg recipes.” (Source)
TV commercials?! Watch this televised guarantee from 1952 by Adelaide Hawley Cumming (hired by General Mills to portray Betty Crocker from 1949-1954) or a commercial where Burns & Allen pitch a Betty Crocker “calico cake” in 1957.
For a long time, using prepackaged mixes of all sorts have been very popular. This advertisement shows what is apparently a woman overjoyed with her souffle made of Jell-O, mayonnaise and eggs. (Click here to see other mid-20th century advertisements for and pictures other mid-century meals.)
Certainly convenience is a significant issue. Who has the time to cook and/or bake everything from scratch when working full-time outside the home, commuting, raising a family, and/or taking classes? Few people, I dare say. Another issue is many households may lack the “essential” ingredients and supplies for basic baking. Thus it is far easier and less time-consuming to make a “homemade” cake or cookies that really aren’t “from scratch.”
My mother used canned and prepacked goods whenever possible; she positively hated to take the time to cook. (Anything remotely domestic or motherly took back seat to her Jehovah’s Witnesses door-to-door work.) Perhaps because I associate canned and boxed goods with the ghastly meals, salads and desserts I was served growing up I have always tried to avoid them.
Yet for those with little time to devote to baking specifically or cooking in general, products like those offered by Scratch & Grain may be the perfect answer. For those with limited financial means, however, the mixes sold by Betty Crocker (or one of similar companies) may be the answer: Scratch & Grain’s cookie mix retails for $7.99 compared to $1-$3 for a commercially prepared cake mix.
Did cake/cookie mixes play a large role in your upbringing? Are they fond memories?