The 1950’s, the decade in which I was born, seemingly was a lot simpler than 2017.
Crime, for the most part, was kept locked behind closed doors. Yes, there was Dragnet, Highway Patrol, and my favorite, Perry Mason on television. However, the real life drama portrayed daily was how to get rid of the waxy yellow buildup on the kitchen floor or finding the right recipe for tonight’s dinner.
This brings me to the topic of Home Economics, that all-important subject in school. In 8th grade, we had “Gertrude Someone” as our teacher. I recall having to make these ugly green drawstring gym bags with our initials emblazoned on the front. I struggled with sewing then as I do now. I believe I was better at baking for some reason. It seemed somewhat magical to watch our teacher prepare the best smelling creations with precision, session after session, guiding us in the proper techniques of measuring, mixing, testing, table etiquette and more.
During the 50’s and 60’s the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest was in its heyday, as was Julia Child. There was no more fierce a competition than this one! Today, we have many competitions to watch – the Amazing Race, Dancing with the Stars, the Voice, Design Competition etc., but they can’t compare if you’re a foodie. Pillsbury’s Contest is still going strong if you have the proper cable station.
“Since 1949, the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest has inspired tens of thousands of people to submit original recipes and Pillsbury has awarded millions of dollars in prizes. We are currently assessing how this 67-year-old contest comes to life in a relevant way for a new generation of home chefs.” Ahhh, yes we must stay relevant! (Postscript- The biannual Bake-Off now awards a whopping $1 million to the first place winner!)
Their history began in 1949 when Pillsbury’s extravaganza was initially known as the Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest. Contestants flocked to New York’s Waldorf -Astoria Hotel to compete for the chance to win $50,000.To put this monetary amount in perspective, in 1949 an average home cost only $14,500.and a loaf of bread cost 14 cents! Whoa!
Each baker’s creation had to be original and utilize Pillsbury flour, of course. In 2013, the big money came into being as well as the public deciding on the top 100 recipes, casting votes online followed by a panel of judges. In addition, categories were streamlined to just three and accepted in stages. Examples of such categories were: “Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts,”Amazing Doable Dinners,” and “Simple Sweets and Starters.” Other rules applied such as limiting oneself to seven ingredients (excluding salt, pepper, and water). However, today ingredients include a wide array of General Mills products. Other perks include the publication of your original recipe in Pillsbury Cookbooks and winning GE appliances.
Indeed, variety is the spice of life. Some of the Grand Prize winners in the 1960’s – It was all about casseroles such as Dilly Casserole Bread topped with cottage cheese, and a beef-laden Hungry Boy’s Casserole made with dough pinwheels. Enter an attempt at healthy in the late 70’s with the winner being a Whole Wheat Raisin Loaf. As we make our way into the more recent past, pizzazz and sophistication appears with the 2012 entry- a pumpkin ravioli with salted caramel whipped cream!
Other Fascinating Facts
- There were only four male category winners in 1978, 1990, 1992, 2002
- There was only one male champion, Kurt Wait of Redwood City California winning in 1996; Kurt was a divorced Dad who began baking to pass the time. He won after making a macadamia fudge Torte, 460 calories per serving (But who’s really counting?)
- Hosts of the Contest were many and varied – Arthur Godfrey, Art Linkletter, Bob Barker, Willard Scott; Alex Trebek (I’ll bet he gleaned some good Jeopardy questions!); Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and more!
So, if you’re hungry, how about some magic marshmallow crescent puffs, open sesame pie, onion lover’s twist, some fudgy bonbons or loaded potato pinwheels? They’re all for the making and tasting by champions at Pillsbury!
Sorry, no “Killer Chocolate” has taken the Grand Prize…..yet!
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