Back to Basics

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.

CookieKit3I 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 CookieKit1Portland, 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:

CookieKit4 (2)

Scratch & Grain Gluten-free Chocolate Truffle Cookie Kit

Cooki (2)

Scratch & Grain Chocolate Chip Cookie Kit







Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Cookie_BCSugar, 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).

Curiously …


1957 advertisement

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.)

BettyCrockerCorporate 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.

BettyCrockerPicFor 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?


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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24 Responses to Back to Basics

  1. Hmmm, I don’t remember these! Maybe they were a regional treat?


  2. MrsCraft says:

    I remember the pink Tom and Jerry cakes with rice cake toppers, they were OK but not as good as homemade. We had them a couple of times a month as far as I can remember.


  3. Yes, a lot of work = a lot of time, so it’s understandable why many people rely on shortcuts. Once we move into our new house I’m planning on making some raised beds but only for growing some vegetables and herbs.


  4. altariel42 says:

    Almost every meal I have is made from scratch, I have to thank Italy food culture for that.
    The next step for me was growing as much as I can on my land and that’s going great! But it’s a lot of work!!


  5. What great ideas!


  6. When people who “lean” on mixes claim it doesn’t take as much time to make it from scratch, I’d guess their kitchens aren’t well stocked. Perhaps they’re including the time to purchase and measure the ingredients.


  7. Klara says:

    Dear Taya,

    I should add, that buying all the ingredients isn’t that complicated. I do it every week two times, and it goes fast. We have about 10 meals that are our fundamentals. The more elaborate ones we only do for birthdays or when we have got a lot of time. Of course we celebrate the shopping for these meals too! I normally avoid recepies where you need a billion ingredients! That’s something for restorants. We are a family, not a restorant!

    About the costs: I don’t really know how expensive or cheap it is to buy fresh food in US. In Germany food is too cheap, but it is not cheap to buy all the “Fertig – Produkte”. We live now at a place where we can go and buy our ingredients in three countrys. In Switzerland nearly everything is extremely expensive, but basic ingredients are much better in quality, and they are affordable. In France it is also not cheap, but the variety is great, meat and cheese is very good. So I know what I want, I bring all this together, and cook solid but very tasty family meals. It is possible, even when there is little time in our lives.

    What I really miss here, is the sourdough bread. Here it is more the white bread, that is prefered. We bring as much as possible whith us, when we go to our family to visit them. And I got a good friend, who is living now in our region. Her family is running the bakery on the corner, were I was brought up. Every now and then, she brings a lot of our Bread, and we can get some. The world is a small place, when you need it!


  8. Talya says:

    There are shortcuts you can use to make a box mix taste more like homemade. Use butter instead of oil and double the amount, use milk instead of water, and add one more egg. Comes out really tasty.

    I love to bake, so I would rather make something from scratch, but a box mix is sooo convenient! I told myself that I’m going to start making ‘box mixes’. Get a mason jar or something similar, and pour the dry ingredients together. Then put it in the pantry. That way- when you want something yummy- all you have to do is add the butter and milk.

    You can do cookies and muffins almost the same way. You can do the dry ingredients and save them, but I rather make up the dough and freeze it. Then all you have to do is thaw, plop on a cookie sheet and bake!


  9. streepie says:

    I grew up in Germany, and my mum also made everything from scratch (and taught me to cook and bake from an early age as well). I work full time, but would never consider using a mix – we grow our own vegetables (more or less successfully), meals are always cooked from scratch, and my husband has started baking our own bread.

    My daughter’s favourite cake takes about as much time to make form scratch as making a cake from a mix 😉


  10. FogKnits says:

    ha ha. I wish my mom would have made that 🙂


  11. I too always loved lefse; my grandmother made the best. Once she settled in the U.S., my mother, however, never made it or any other Norwegian food. That said, there was ALWAYS a stack of Norwegian flat bread on the kitchen table! Other than that … 😦


  12. First, I think of a “young woman” as someone young enough to be my daughter! 🙂 You make a good point that for a beginner baker, buying a kit containing all the ingredients may be more cost effective than buying the ingredients (in much larger amounts) separately! And yes, the history of the commercialization of food in the U.S. is interesting. I still remember the first read of it – in a text for a social history class at the university. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and links, and I hope you attain your goals for the kits!


  13. You were lucky! It was with great gusto that my mother took to the 1950’s U.S. love affair with prepacked, premixed and canned goods. In fact, the can opener may have been the most used item in her American kitchen! In Norway, however, our meals were always from scratch. I always found it so odd that she would buy and serve the canned versions in the U.S.


  14. Cathy says:

    This is fascinating, I had no idea women found the mixes “too simple” at first and felt like they needed to do more! I didn’t grew up on mixes, maybe because here in France it wasn’t that popular ( I think only a couple brands had them and it the taste was really plain.). My mum worked full time and took care of the three of us but she would still cook dverything from scratch. Not fancy stuff, but she taught us really young how to help in the kitchen and we would practise our lessons using cooking recipes ( converting liter to mililiters for example). Now I see a lot of brands selling those mixes, but still not a client, as therés always an ingredient I am allergics to in it.


  15. Taya says:

    First, thank you for calling us “young”! We are both on the other side of 35, although neither of us will admit how far over. This is a great article.

    So much great information. I’ve never seen the advertising campaigns from the 40’s and 50’s, and never knew the history of baking mixes!

    My mother raised me on nothing but homemade, made from scratch, grown in her garden, food. However, she rarely baked, except for Sunday morning coffee cake… Which is my favorite baked good to-date. I have the fondest memories of my brother and I fighting for the last peice of it! In my twenties, my career made it next to impossible to cook from scratch, however I loved every moment of the experience and did it every chance I got. After all, it was all I was raised in! Then came my first child. That changed my world and I wanted to know what was going into his body, and refused to put all the chemicals and artificial ingredients boxed and canned products have in them. This is what motivated me to create the in-between of boxed/canned foods, and making it from scratch, using only healthy, amazing ingredients. Prior to kids, I was a complete food snob. I loved gourmet, fresh meals that tasted amazing, yet had some sort of health benefit. That is what we try to give to others. Amazing products that you still have to make yourself, but without all the downsides (shopping for 15 ingredients, following a recipe to a T, the mess, the time, and the left overs). It does seem more expensive, but if you add up the cost of all the ingredients if you buy them all on your own, our kits are a fraction of the cost. That being said, we’ve always wanted them to sell for about $2-$3 less, and we are getting there! Target sells our kits for only $5.49, and we hope their pricing will drive down others. The more we sell the more we can sell them for less! My personal goal is to get the price point down to $4.99 at most grocery stores. The more stores that sell them, the higher our volume and the more we can demand lower prices from our suppliers. The one thing we hope will become more obvious over the next year is that most of our ingredients are in-fact certified organic. Just a week ago we finally were issued our Organic certificate for all non gluten-free products! We won’t be raising our prices at all, but hope that expensive organic seal helps consumers understand why there is a price difference between us and Betty Crocket (and the alike).

    Thanks again for writing the article! We love being surprised by write ups like this, especially when we have no idea they are coming!


  16. Kim says:

    My mom was 100% Norwegian…Yep, Grandpa Ole came over on a boat when he was 14 and married Grandma Ole (that’s what we called her…also Norwegian) Needless to say I love lefse!


  17. Your children are lucky! In Norway everything we ate was freshly made; in the U.S. my mother used the can opener several times a day! Your family is lucky to have you!


  18. Yes, the Crown Roast of Frankfurters caught my attention too … and not in a good way!


  19. You were lucky! When we were at my grandmother’s or she was visiting us, she spoiled us with home baked Norwegian goodies. My favorite were the oat crackers she made for an after school snack … with a slice of goat cheese – heaven!


  20. Susan McKee-Nugent says:

    OMG, a Crown Roast of Frankfurters…….now that made me shudder!!! No mixes in our house either Klara. I think my mother would have a ‘stroke’ first 🙂 My sisters and I have followed suit,
    as has my daughter! YEA But that was interesting in a morbid sort of way……..


  21. Kim says:

    My mom bless her heart (she passed away in 2007) always made everything from scratch…I remember to this day coming home from school on a rainy day and as I walked in the door she was pulling the most delicious caramel rolls out of the oven…the best ever! I’ll never forget that – she loved to feed us wonderful food. and she baked bread, made donuts from scratch, wonderful chocolate cakes, amazing angel food cake, and the best apple pie ever. And her cream puffs were to die for…To this day I make cookies, cakes and pies from scratch…no mix in a box…no frosting in a can…to me it is very meaningful and delicious to boot. And I think of mom 🙂 yum yum


  22. Klara says:

    No, not at all! I was brought up in Bavaria, Germany with all the tasty sourdough Bred and wonderful Cakes. We really didn’t use any Fix-Products. I’m a mother of four, and I do cook every day a fresh meal from normal fresh vegetables. We prepare two times a week a cake with basic ingredients. I’m a fulltime student, and my husband is working at University a fulltime-Job. So, we really don’t have too much Time, but I don’t want to feed my Family with garbage! Not to mention the huge amount of plastic bags these “Units” are put in! And of course the money spent on it, without knowing, what there really is in… Not for us, not at all!


  23. My mother used to make some sort of rainbow striped cake with diluted jello dripped into a yellow (packaged) cake frosted with a package of pudding mixed with Cool Whip. (Shuddering!)

    Liked by 1 person

  24. FogKnits says:

    I was probably 15 before I realized that a betty crocker cake mix wasn’t ‘made from scratch’ 🙂 LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

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