The Great British (and American) Bake Off!

August 25th 2017 by Hannah Pomeroy

In today’s day and age, if you turned on the television, it would not take you long to find one of the plethora of cooking or baking shows that are available. Whilst the dishes created on these shows can cause us to salivate, or turn our nose up in disgust, we often forget the first stage, the ingredients. Flour and the baking industry is inextricably linked, something I have been reminded of this week whilst continuing to research the world of roller flour milling.
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During this research, I have naturally come across different marketing tools used by companies. One of the most common was to appeal to the prospective baker to convince them that their product is the best and will do the job of cooking that cake or loaf of bread the best. This can clearly be seen in the advertisements from the American weekly journal, The Northwestern Miller. In an edition from February 1925, Town Crier Flour decided to use success in a recent baking competition as a way to advertise their flour. Mrs M. Kupchick had won the capital prize at the Cleveland Retail Grocers Association Annual Food Show with a loaf baked with their flour. This success was partly credited to the ‘skill of Mrs. Kupchick’ however ‘the quality of “TOWN CRIER” was greatly emphasised too. Less useful to this advertising campaign was the fact that Mrs M. Kupchick only managed second place in the pie contest, again using Town Crier Flour. However, this issue was easily redeemed by stating that the reason for her failing to win had nothing to do with the crust but the insufficient filling, meaning that the Town Crier Flour could still come away as the superior flour.

The Northwestern Miller is frequently mentioned by us here at the Archive due to the numerous editions held here. However, what is less mentioned is the fact that from the 1920s onward, one edition a month would actually be entitled ‘The Northwestern Miller and American Baker’. These editions would contain articles pertinent to bakers such as ‘Business Notions for the Baker’; ‘Cost Factors in the Bakeshop’; and ‘The Baker and the World Market’ alongside the usual updates for millers. One of the common features was a ‘Questions and Answers’ section where Mr. A. F. Gerhard, head of the baking department of Dunwoody Institute, would deal ‘with day to day perplexities that trouble the baker’. These issues could vary, for example in the edition from 23 January, 1929, J. K. from Minnesota asked for a formula for chocolate cake doughnuts, whilst M. L. W. wished to know where their recipe for layer cake was wrong (it turned out to be the quantity of milk) and A. L. E. from Alabama sent some of their white fruit cake to be tested on appearance, flavour, and eating quality. Such a service must have been valuable and useful for the subscribers of The Northwestern Miller, and had the added bonus of being available for anyone to use!

Meanwhile in Britain, recipes were also produced and flour was advertised for its baking qualities. In 1864, the McDougall Brothers developed and patented a substitute for yeast making them pioneers of self-raising flour. This was something they promoted and advertised in their recipe books. In the 19th edition from the 1930s, they wrote that ‘the addition of extra raising ingredients is unnecessary’ as all the raising agent needed had already been added. This self-promotion is to be expected from a company recipe book, a fact further enforced by the general hint to ‘Always use McDougall’s Self-Raising Flour’. Other companies and competitors of McDougall’s did the same, for example in the Spillers recipe book produced in 1960, they advised: ‘For best results use Spillers Self-Raising Flour’. Similar recipes can be found in both these books produced by different companies but the key distinction is the inclusion of their branded self-raising flour. Rival companies, rival flour, rival recipes, yet there is room for both of them within the Brian Eighteen Collection where these recipe books can be found here at the Archive.

So from bread to pies; Madeira cake, to sausage rolls; doughnuts to toad-in-a-hole, the Mills Archive and their surprising collection of recipes can fulfil every need!! But for now, I will leave you with some recipes from McDougall’s and Spillers recipe books for you to judge for yourselves!