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Tom Chaney: Not Just a Cake Mix - Duncan Hines of Kentucky
Of Writers And Their Books: Not Just a Cake Mix. Tom says: "The 'Recommended by Duncan Hines' signs are gone, but we all eat better for his amazing career -- both on the road and at home." This column first appeared 2 October 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Tony Hillerman 1925-2008
By Tom Chaney
Not Just a Cake Mix
I vividly recall March of 1948. That is when our family took its first real vacation together after the war. Our departure date was based on the arrival at Dee & Jay Motor Company of our new car. Dad had ordered a brand new DeSoto sedan from Mr. Dunagan. I walked by Dee & Jay on Main Street and peered through the big double doors every chance I got looking for the new car. When it came, we were off to New Orleans - Dad, Mother, Ann, and I, of course. But there was Uncle Bill and Aunt Bur - J.W. and Virgie Edwards, Dad's sister and brother-in-law from Woodburn.
The new car was maroon as was the cover of one of the books Mother brought along -- Adventures in Good Eating by Duncan Hines of Bowling Green. It was our traveling bible. We always tried to eat at a restaurant sporting the little sign out front which read, 'Recommended by Duncan Hines.' Duncan Hines may be responsible for the fact that my most vivid memory of that trip is a wonderful, spicy meal in the French Quarter.
From 1936 until just before his death in 1959 Hines published his list of recommended restaurants from all across the country. Adventures in Good Eating grew out of Hines' 'list' of good places to eat which grew out of his experience as first, a traveling representative of Wells-Fargo and later as a salesman for a series of advertising and printing firms located in Chicago.
Now we have a biography of Hines published in 2001 -- Duncan Hines: The Man Behind the Cake Mix by Louis Hatchett, published by Mercer University Press of Macon, Georgia. The book grew out of a Master of Arts Degree in History at Western Kentucky University.
Mr. Hatchett has produced a delightfully readable account of the life and work of a man who loved to eat and who set the mark for restaurants the nation over.
The standards set by Hines were high. He had fond memories of his grandmother's Warren County kitchen with its two buckets of water, one for constant rinsing of hands, one for cleaning. "More people will die this year from hit-or-miss eating than by hit-and-run driving," he often remarked.
"When he began to explore America's restaurants, he noted there was usually 'good food in the cities, but in small towns and along the highways the average restaurant was a place of dirty tablecloths, crankcase coffee, and pork chops cooked to a cinder.' Once while dining in a roadside inn, he was served 'soggy French fries and battleship-gray beef'; his response was to immediately stand up, pay the bill, and walk out without tasting it. If the food did not look good, it probably tasted worse."
Hines searched for tasteful and appealing meals prepared in spotlessly clean kitchens; served in surroundings that were clean and attractive. Before the guide was published he kept a growing list of such places. Fellow salesmen heading for a new town would contact Hines for his dining suggestions.
The book business began out of his home in Chicago. In 1939 after the death of his first wife he returned to Bowling Green where his business operated out of growing office space downtown and finally to the location on the Louisville Road, 31-W -- now a funeral home.
The first edition listed 475 restaurants. The second edition in 1937 listed 1250 and was printed on higher quality paper with bolder type. In the second edition he included the following note: "PLEASE NOTE. If you find any place listed in this book that should definitely be eliminated from future editions I shall appreciate your advice in detail."
By the second edition he had established his 'Dinner Detectives.' This squad was comprised of twenty-six people from within and without the hospitality industry who kept Hines apprised of their experience of fine dining.
Hines career began with Wells-Fargo stages after two years at Bowling Green Business College. Hines father had a friend, John J. Valentine a fellow Bowling Green native, who was president of Wells-Fargo. Hines continued through the age of rail travel. He learned to drive, and helped to guide the dining tastes of America through the growth of automobile travel.
In 1938 he published his Lodging for a Night which not only rated hotels across America, but helped raise the public image of motels from rather shady cabins known for prostitution to respectable, convenient lodging for the automobile age.
The next October Hines published Adventures in Good Cooking, recipes from many of the recommended restaurants as well as entries from the remembered kitchen of his grandmother.
Hines spoke frequently in many a forum. After he roundly criticized the food in hotel restaurants, he addressed the national hotel association to speak straight from the shoulder on what he perceived to be their problems. He was a guest on radio shows and later television. August of 1943 found him speaking to the Cave City Rotary Club where he reported that even those in the armed forces were using his books.
By the 1950's the company Hines-Park, Inc. was selling kitchen appliances and food items. In 1956 that company merged with Proctor and Gamble -- a company expanding from soaps and shortenings into food items. Hines was satisfied that P&G would continue his high standards.
In 1957 Adventures in Good Eating entered its 50th edition. In semi-retirement in 1958 he was diagnosed with cancer. He died the following year.
The 'Recommended by Duncan Hines' signs are gone, but we all eat better for his amazing career -- both on the road and at home.
Mr. Hatchett has given us a remarkably readable view of that career and life.
Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney
This story was posted on 2013-11-10 00:15:27
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