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Recap: The Let Them Bake Cake episode of The Food That Built America



The Food That Built America

This week on The Food That Built America, we turn our attention to the mouthwatering world of cake. And let me tell you, this episode is a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth. We’re diving into the fascinating history behind how cake went from a luxury reserved for special occasions to a beloved dessert enjoyed by all.

At the turn of the 20th century, baking a cake was no easy feat. Flour quality was inconsistent, baking tools were limited, and there were certainly no convenient cake mixes to be found. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s exactly what happened in the world of cake.

Enter Samuel Gale, a brilliant mind at Washburn Crosby, the predecessor to General Mills. In a stroke of genius marketing, Gale included puzzle pieces in flour bags. Customers eagerly pieced together the puzzles and won prizes, sparking a baking trend and creating a demand for baking tips.

This is where our first protagonist comes in: Betty Crocker. Despite being a fictional construct Betty became the guiding light for homemakers struggling with the intricacies of baking. With her trusted advice and recipes, she quickly became a household name associated with General Mills. Think of her as a combination of Martha Stewart and Dear Abby rolled into one enigmatic figure.


But every hero needs a rival, and that’s where Duncan Hines enters the picture. A traveling salesman with an insatiable curiosity for cuisine, Duncan meticulously documented his dining experiences in his travels. These experiences culminated in a bestselling guidebook that would lay the foundation for his own rise to fame.

Betty aimed to simplify cake-making and draw inspiration from a Bisquick biscuit mix recipe. Despite initial skepticism, her determination paid off when she launched the first Betty Crocker cake mix. This revolutionary product made home baking more accessible and convenient than ever before.

Meanwhile, Duncan Hines teamed up with Roy Park of Ithaca to bring superior flour and high-quality food products to households. Together, they faced challenges and fierce competition as they sought to make their mark in the industry. Eventually, their perseverance paid off with the creation of a groundbreaking cake mix that would rival Betty’s.

Of course, no success story is without its obstacles. Pillsbury entered the market with their own cake mix, presenting a formidable challenge. But Betty was not one to be deterred. She continued to innovate, introducing new cake varieties and even frostings. Her creations, like The Answer Cake, became synonymous with convenience and deliciousness.


The introduction of convenient cake mixes and frostings forever changed the way we enjoy cake. People could now unleash their creativity in both decorating and flavoring cakes, thanks to Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines. These two brands rose to prominence, marking a new era of cake baking and enjoyment for all.

So, next time you’re baking a cake or indulging in a slice of your favorite flavor, take a moment to appreciate the pioneers who made it all possible. Because behind every delicious bite lies a rich history and a legacy of innovation.

The Food That Built America on Sunday March 24, 2024 at 9.00pm


Andrew Martins, reviewer, deep diver, scifi specialist. Thinks Blakes 7 is better than Star Trek. Yes I do go to fan conventions and no I don't dress up. Well okay maybe I do a bit.

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