The cover of the book, published in 1980. Its foreword begins: "America's Favorites is a time capsule for the 25th century. It presents in formal array 75 of the most popular enduring foods, confections, and beverages of America in our time. Each one is as familiar and beloved as the Statue of Liberty, Whistler's Mother, a Norman Rockwell cover, or a Grandma Moses landscape." Other examples not included here: Goobers, Wheaties, Tony's Pizza, Cheez Doodles, Campbell's Pork & Beans, Spam.
We were just fascinated with food. What do you eat? What are your favorite things? It’s not only how it tastes but how it looks, and how it fits into the context of your life. So much of it goes back to childhood. It’s ingrained in you — you’ve got it in that little unconscious part of you that’s still 5 years old. That child is there saying you really want to have Milk Duds. You want to have truffles too, but the kid still says I want candy.
We decided we wanted to make an art book about food, to show each item in a way that was really attractive and beautiful. Because the people who make these foods — even then — went to a great deal of trouble to make them look appealing, so we wanted to present that aspect of it. We did some research on ingredients, which were sometimes shocking but not as shocking as they are now. There were some foods which I won’t name but which I personally thought were abominable — I wouldn’t feed them to a dog. But Americans weren’t as savvy then about what we consumed.
I think Marshall and I were a little more educated about it, because we paid attention to what we ate and what was in something. We probably consumed potato chips or popcorn, but we had a wider and more selective taste by that time. My mother was always big on good health and good food. She trained us to look at labels, and if there were things you couldn’t pronounce, you probably didn’t want to buy it. Of course that doesn’t usually help — we’re captured.
You can get a lot from the package, and we delved into the various histories of food. We also got information and occasionally beautiful photos from the manufacturers themselves — the ones that were cooperative. Others were so nervous and highly suspicious that they’d get three lawyers on the phone with you. “You cannot use this food,” they’d say. Why not? We weren’t making it look bad, it was just a book about people’s favorites. So from what I recall, we had a couple of generics. One was the gelatin, because we couldn’t use the name Jell-o. We were a very reputable publisher, certainly on the up and up, and we offered every possible bit of information about the book to them, so I don’t know what their reasoning was.
What did you learn during the process that surprised you most?
How old some of the foods were, and how popular they were. Chocolate goes very far back, to the Aztecs, when it was a bitter dark chocolate drink with no sugar in it. The Swiss were the ones that created milk chocolate. Pasta is also ancient. Go to practically any country, and they’ll have some kind of pasta. They may call it something else, and they may not have grains, but they all have pasta. Even the Chinese have rice noodles. You eat what you have, and what makes it the best? Generally it’s whatever your mom made.
We went into the grocery store, and looked for the shelves that were the emptiest. And we asked our friends. What did my husband grow up with? What did he like as a child? Hot dogs, Jell-o, bread. Anyone who we worked with, including the photographers, they all had input because they all had their favorites.
The food manufacturers, if they sent you anything, presented it in the most beautiful advantageous way they possibly could — they would photograph food in crystal goblets. You eat with the eyes first, so it has to look beautiful and appetizing. You look at the photos and think, does that make me want to eat it? Make me want to buy it? It has to be clean and sparkling and lustrous and look so good you want to take it off the page and have a bite.
What was the critical response to the book at the time it came out?
Very positive. No one had seen it done quite like this, and our publisher was such a smart man, he got it immediately. The book was serious in some ways, but also just a lot of fun; here’s a little art book about all the stuff you like, not some fancy French things you know nothing about. This is something you know.
They’d see it as history, as nostalgia, and of course they’d have their own favorite thing to put in. Where’s my favorite? Why didn’t they include Ring Dings? It would be really fun to redo this with modern foods, but the next one, we’ll wait until we can do it in 3-D.
Originator: Hector Boiardi. Date of origin: 1929. Slogan: "A Delicious Hot Meal With Meat" Notes: Signore Boiardi, only 9 when he began as a kitchen apprentice in Italy, worked his way up to be a chef at many famous restaurants in Rome, Paris, and New York. Later, at his own in Cleveland, Ohio, his special recipe for spaghetti and sauce was immediately successful, and he began to sell it for home consumption. His picture still appears on the label of every can.
Originator: Maurice and Richard McDonald. Modified by Ray A. Kroc. Date of origin: 1948.Notes: The original McDonald hamburger patties were made 10 to the pound of beef. The Quarter Pounder, shown here, was introduced in 1971. Experiments were conducted to find the right wax paper to use between the patties. It has to be slick enough so the meat will pop onto the grill and not stick, but not so slick as to make handling difficult. McDonald's hamburgers are found in 6,000 outlets in 25 countries. By 1980, over 30 billion had been sold.
Originator: Borden Foods. Date of origin: Unknown. Notes: Gail Borden patented a process of evaporating milk in 1856, opening the first plant in 1858. On the American Cheese Food package is a picture of Elsie the Cow, who first appeared in cartoon form in 1936. By 1938 she started to get her own fan mail, and in 1939 the first of 15 live Elsies toured the U.S. Elsie appeared at world's fairs, hotels, department stores, parties, and charity drives — later with a husband, Elmer, and a daughter, Beulah, and a son, Beauregard.
Originator: Elmer Doolin. Date of origin: 1932. Slogans: "Truly Krisp and Tender"; "Buy Two and Hide One For You"; "I'll Munch to That"Notes: Young Texan Elmer Doolin purchased the recipe (based on the traditional tortilla), the equipment, and 19 local accounts from a Mexican for $100. He and his mother made the chips in her kitchen. He then put the bagged chips into display racks he had built and persuaded merchants to use them in place of old-fashioned glass jars.
Originator: Colonel Harland Sanders. Date of origin: 1956. Slogans: "North America's Hospitality Dish"; "It's Nice to Feel Good About a Meal" Notes:At age 66, Colonel Sanders began to franchise his method of frying chicken. A personal appearance on a TV talk show made him a national symbol. He was still making commercials at age 88. It's said that if all the Kentucky Fried Chickens consumed in the world were laid end to end, they would stretch 93,000 miles, circling the earth four times.
Originators: Probably the Etruscans. Date of origin: In some form, believed to be prior to the 3rd century B.C. Notes: It was thought that Marco Polo brought Chinese "spaghetti" to Italy, but macaroni-making tools are seen in the frescoes of Etruscan tombs. The Etruscans are now believed to have migrated to Italy from Lydia (in Asia Minor) about the 12th century B.C.
Originator: D&C Flour Co. Date of origin: Regular, 1918; instant, 1945. Notes: Early cookery grouped dumplings and puddings together, probably because both were cooked by steaming. Very early use of the word referred to sausages, as in black pudding or white pudding. Puddings range from Yorkshire pudding, to Sussex, to sweet, heavy puddings like Christmas plum pudding, to the lighter dessert puddings of milk, eggs, thickeners, and flavorings that Americans think of as puddings.
Originators: W. Charles and Gilbert C. Swanson. Date of origin: Mid-1940s.Notes: Swanson frozen dinners were created to help the servantless American housewife after World War II. New dishes were tested in the kitchens of C. A. Swanson & Sons and then submitted for approval to a panel of hotel chefs and 1,200 housewives. The first "TV Dinner" was turkey, the same dish used by the Pilgrims for their first Thanksgiving dinner more than 300 years earlier.
Originator: Elmer Cline. Date of origin: July 13, 1921. Slogans:"Wonder Bread Builds Bodies 12 Ways"; "To Get Wonder Any Fresher You'd Have to Bake It Yourself" Notes: In large houses centuries ago, a butler gave bread to the diners according to their rank — the freshest for the master, down to the stale loves for the lowest ranking. Wonder's package was inspired by the thousands of balloons released into the air at the Indianapolis Speedway.