Rushville Republican

Entertainment

June 17, 2014

Book Review: 'Duncan Hines: How a Traveling Salesman Became the Most Trusted Name in Food'

Tonight’s dessert is courtesy of your childhood.

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, too.

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 his life.

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.

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