Tonight’s dessert is courtesy of
The cake you’ll have after dinner
is just like the one Mom used to make. It’ll be round, mostly,
maybe a little lopsided, with a divot in the center from letting
the oven door slam. Like Mom’s cake, your icing will be thick on
top, thin on the sides. And like hers, yours came from a box,
Cake mix. What a concept. So how
did something so revolutionary (in the 1930s) end up in nearly
every kitchen in the country? Read "Duncan Hines" by Louis
Hatchett and find out.
Born in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at
a time when automobiles were new, Duncan Hines was the eighth of
ten children, but the last to live. He seemed to have an idyllic
childhood but when his mother died in 1884, young Hines was sent
to live with his grandparents. It was a decision that changed
Because his grandmother was an
excellent cook, eating became Hines’ "great passion." He
developed a keen palate for fine foods so, as later health
issues took him to the newly-settled West; marriage brought him
to New York; and a sales gig led him to Chicago, he seized every
opportunity to sample various cuisines. Furthermore, Hines and
his wife made it a "hobby" to dine out on weekends and he kept
meticulous notes on restaurants, sanitation, and food.
By late 1935, after trading his
information with other traveling salesmen, Hines’ notes grew to
include 167 restaurants in 30 states. He saw that automobile
travel was quickly becoming popular and he knew that everybody
wanted know where to get a decent meal away so, that year, he
and his wife added a self-published booklet to Christmas cards
and "mailed them to everyone they could think of…"
Beginning with that giveaway, and
until a few years after his death in 1959, Duncan Hines enjoyed
fortune and popularity as America’s foremost restaurant critic.
His was not the first such ratings book, but it was arguably the
world’s most trusted.
So why is the name Duncan Hines
synonymous with cake mix today, and not with the
travel-restaurant guides that Hines first created?
The answer lies with a young
marketer who knew the right things to say…
Huh. Who knew?
Apparently, says author Louis
Hatchett, everybody did, including thousands from around the
world. In fact, he believes, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you
were born before 1955, you knew where to look before you dined.
In "Duncan Hines," Hatchett
describes his subject as a mercurial man who fiercely protected
his reputation but still managed to make money, despite the
Depression and World Wars. The story of this rags-to-riches
salesman is surprising and surprisingly fascinating - perhaps
because Hines is not Hatchett’s only subject. We also get a
sense of time and place, and I liked that.
This book is perfect if you’d like
an unusual (and lively) biography to enjoy while dining,
vacationing, or any time. With "Duncan Hines," you can have your
cake and read it, too.