Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Adventures in Good Eating
Many thanks to Gourmet Magazine for mentioning the New York Public Library's menu and cookbook collection in Kristin Ohlson's piece "A Culinary Card Catalog." It was wonderful to read about other libraries' culinary collections, and Ohlson rightly points to the Kentucky Library & Museum for their wonderful collection of Duncan Hines memorabilia.
I've been fascinated with Duncan Hines for a while now, ever since I learned that he was more than just a name on a brownie mix.
Duncan Hines was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1880. For the first part of his life Hines worked in public relations and in the production and editing of corporate brochures. These jobs demanded a good deal of traveling and the long road trips -- with very few decent food options -- made Hines (always a food enthusiast) into a discerning road food diner.
In order to find the best places to eat on the road, Hines spent months researching, not only the best tasting spots, but also the cleanest and most affordable restaurants. He filled notebooks with his findings and soon, according to Oxford's American National Biography (ANB), other salesmen began to consult Hines' expert opinion on where to go to eat.
In 1935, in order to satisfy the increasing appetite of salesmen looking for a good meal, Hines published a listing of his favorite spots in thirty states and sent it off as a Christmas greeting. The popularity of that list kept the requests for food recommendations coming in, so Hines published a small brochure called Adventures in Good Eating for $1.50, adding more restaurants to the original list and with short descriptions of the food and ambiance.
Hines' favorite spots tended to be small, family-owned, roadside restaurants where cleanliness was of utmost importance. According to ANB, Hines often entered the restaurant through the back, making sure that the entire kitchen was tidy. If a restaurant was clean, affordable and tasty, it was deemed worthy of being included in Adventures of Good Eating, which was published yearly. Those recommendations then allowed restaurants to post a sign in their window reading "Recommended by Duncan Hines." However, if Hines felt that the restaurant's quality had fallen, he would demand that the sign be taken down.
One restaurant that did meet Hines' approval was Sanders Court and Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky. In the 1939 issue of Adventures... Hines wrote, "A very good place to stop en route to Cumberland Falls and the Great Smokies." Hines lists the sizzling steaks, fried chicken, country ham and hot biscuits as the highlights of the 24-hour cafe.
It's been said that the review and endorsement of Sanders Court and Cafe by Duncan Hines helped the restaurant gain notoriety and led to its subsequent success. I'm sure Colonel Sanders himself was most pleased.