Hostess before Twinkies

September 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm Leave a comment

Today, the Hostess Twinkie is the poster-cake for processed food that has gone over to the dark side. Some 35 ingredients, rumored to be sprayed into molds instead of baked, reputed to have the shelf-life of hardtack. But this is not how Hostess began.

Once upon a time, ladies would invite their lady friends over for tea. They would wear clever hats and thin gloves and pass fragile cups from which to sip ever so demurely. With the tea, there would be cakes. Any hostess who wanted to impress her friends, and avoid vicious post-tea party gossip, would want to be sure she served only the finest.

And so, the scandal depicted at this c. 1930 tea party: “What…You bought them?”

hostess_boughtthem

The ad’s headline seems ambivalent: is the speaker horrified by the fact that the hostess has purchased cakes for her guests? Or is she amazed that the cakes, having been exposed as store-bought, taste so very good as to belie their humble origins?

The small print rushes to clarify: Hostess Cakes are achieving enviable success because “their flavor..their texture…their dainty appearance have been a revelation to millions of women.” Hostess promises ease, deliciousness, and most important for a generation of women struggling to create the impression of total and effortless domestic mastery, “no baking failures…a cake you can serve with perfect confidence.”

Today we’re all going back to the kitchen to make “real food.” But our 1930s fore-mothers were not so much worried about “real” or “manufactured” or “fake” in their food. What they were worried about was the very real risk that a “real” cake made in their own oven might actually be a disaster. In this context, processed and manufactured food was a solution to a serious social problem. (Of course, you could probably also argue that women wouldn’t have considered this a problem until Hostess Cakes came along and encouraged them to start worrying…)

Of course, it took a generation of chemists and food engineers to transform something like that lovely coconut layer cake into today’s plastic-wrapped snack food. But even today, no one could call a Twinkie or a Ding Dong a “baking failure.”

Entry filed under: WWI to WWII.

Oreos Save the Environment Review: M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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