Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Baking Mix Day - Bisquick and The Incredible Impossible Pie

Mimi of the French Kitchen in America is hosting an one off event, Baking Mix Day on March 15. The theme is based around using baking mixes like Bisquick and Jiffymix to bake and cook with and she even has a recipe for homemade baking mix. As a good Midwestern girl, I grew up on Bisquick pancakes and shortcakes. The first coffee cake I made was the 90 second to make and 20 minute to bake coffee cake on the side of the Bisquick box.

It seems like Bisquick has been crossing my path a lot the past month or so. About the same time that Mimi announced Baking Mix Day, I was researching the Harvey House for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge #14: Salads. It was while reading the Harvey House Cookbook that I stumbled upon a section of Harvey House influence on popular American convenience foods and discovered that the inspiration for Bisquick came from a Harvey House chef .

According to Bisquick and Harvey House lore, in 1930 a General Mills executive named Carl Smith was traveling on the Southern Pacific (Havery House was the company that ran the food services for railroads from the late 1800 - 1960s) and ordered a late night dinner. He was served a hot meal that included two fluffly and freshly baked biscuits. Mr. Smith realized that the chef had used a pre-made mixture of shortening, baking powder, and flour to make the biscuits. All the way back to Minneapolis, Carl Smith was thinking how he could bring this concept of instant biscuit mix that wouldn't go rancid to every American kitchen. When he got back to Minneapolis, he brought his idea to the test kitchens of Betty Crocker, who is part of General Mills, and in 1931 Betty Crocker's Bisquick was born with the slogan "He Deserves Fresh Bisquick Biscuits Tonight".

Bisquick crossed my path again a few days later when I picked up "Finding Betty Crocker" by Susan Marks at our local public library. I had seen the book a few times at various bookstores and it was on my reading list but there was something about the cover showing every portrait of Betty Crocker that called out to me. There is a whole chapter dedicated to Bisquick and it's influence on 20th century cooking. Did you know that Bisquick was one of the products that helped Betty Crocker earn a service commendation from the US War Department during World War II? Because the Bisquick already had sugar in the mix, the women on the home front didn't have to use their sugar ration to bake pie crust, cakes, and biscuits. Bisquick was also one of the products that started off the great Kitchen Debate between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev during Nixon's 1959 visit to Moscow. Betty Crocker Test Kitchen Demonstrators where showing convenience food advances in the GE model kitchen during the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair. Nixon and Khrushchev were standing looking at a full meal made from Bisquick when Khrushchev made the comment "The Soviet Union doesn't need this type of advances".

The final time Bisquick crossed my path this past month was about two weeks ago. I was on the phone with my mom and we were talking about baking pies (you may remember this year is the year I'm mastering pie making). I told her I remembered this great tasting coconut pie she used to make when I was a kid that had this crunchy top and an almost foamy crust and I wanted the recipe. "OH! You mean Impossible Coconut Pie", my mom said laughing. "Honey, that is on every Bisquick box in the store". You know what....she's right!

Impossible Coconut Pie
From the Test Kitchen's of Betty Crocker

1/2 cup Biquick
2 cups milk
1 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla (I used 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp coconut flavouring)
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and pour into a greased 9" pie dish.

Bake for 50 - 55 minutes until the top is golden brown. Chill and serve cold.

Yummy! Just like Mom's!

If you are interested in the book, "Finding Betty Crocker" by Susan Marks, I heartily recommend it. It is a fascinating look at the myth of Betty Crocker (people still burst into tears at the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens when they find out she isn't real) and the way America cooked in the middle/late 20th century and the marketing of convenience food products. There are some really fantastic early advertisements and some interesting products like an all in one box apple pie mix and of!
Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America\'s First Lady of Food