Sunday, September 24, 2006

More American Than Apple Pie


After recently re-discovering a grand dessert, I'm launching here my campaign to replace apple pie as the American dessert icon with something far more American: the Rice Krispie treat.

Apple pie comes laden with problems. For one thing, apples aren't even native to America:

Apples, as the Europeans knew them, were not native to America. Explorers, Jesuits and Franciscan missionaries, and early European settlers brought seeds and occasionally small trees with them to plant orchards around their new homes. -- www.applyofyourpie.com

Moreover, what other light, apple-filled pastry with a cinammon-y flavor is out there?

Äpfel strüdel

Just look at the image to the right for how transparent this similarity really is. I don't think the greatest generation defeated Hitler so that their grandchildren could goose-step to Axis desserts.

Compare then, the Rice Krispie Treat:

  • 3 tablespoons margarine or butter
  • 1 package (10 oz. about 40) regular marshmallows or 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups KELLOGG'S® RICE KRISPIES® cereal

Note that the recipe includes two registered trademarks -- surely one of the truest signs of American influence. Note also that "Rice Krispie Treat" itself is trademarked.

Foodtimeline offers a short history of the Rice Krispie Treat (and similar treats), starting with the wholly inferior molasses and corn syrup based puffed grain treats from the mid-nineteenth century. You may have had these yourselves -- corn syrup popcorn balls glazed to an enamel like finish, better for use in cannon than as a confection.

Mildred Day, an Iowa State University home economics graduate, went to work for Kellogg and established the new formula --now using marshmallows.

Marshmallows provide an entirely different texture -- instead of rigid and brick-like, the Krispies are held together by a soft, pliable form of raw sugar -- a vast improvment (and also a vast improvement for popcorn balls).

This was improved even further by another American invention -- the perfection of the marshmallow making process:

Alex Doumak, of Doumak, Inc., patented a new manufacturing method called the extrusion process. This invention changed the history of marshmallow production and is still used today. It now only takes 60 minutes to produce a marshmallow. -- foodtimeline.com

This invention brought inexpensive and uniformly sized marshmallows to the mass of new middle-class families that surged during the post-war boom. The uniformity in size was key, since it allowed one to measure marshmallow content without resorting to clumsy weighing techniques -- simply count out your 40 marshmallows. Parents could even use this as a teaching game for their children.

Traditionally, recipes were things shared between generations, passed on from parents to children, or occasionally published in local papers so as to create a kind of local identity. The Rice Krispie Treat forged new ground here as well:

Starting in 1941 Kellogg put the recipe on their packaging. Here then was a dessert where the recipe was passed directly from Faceless Corporate Entity to private citizen, as a result of marketing inventions from another classic American contribution: Madison Avenue. Advertising may have always existed -- but it evolved into a super-powered mutant in the American ecosystem.

The final link in this chain between Corporate giant and hyperactive child was provided by so powerful an American symbol that Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Warlords Expansion, made the supermarket the American civilization's special building (technically, the American special building is a super-version of the supermarket, called the mall; but since they were both invented by America that just doubles up the significance of this icon to American culture). It was through supermarkets that we gained access to both the ingredients and instructions for making this confection.

To sum up:
  • Invented by a home ecs major from Iowa
  • to help fund Camp Fire Girls
  • made with almost wholly trademarked ingredients
  • perfected with Jet-Puffed Marshmallows (TM Kraft Foods)
  • recipe delivered from Corporate Giant, at Madison Avenue command, via supermarket to private citizen

I rest my case.

4 comments:

Martin said...

I agree Steve. Apple pie has had its run and it is time it moved over.

All hail Rice Krispy Treats.

Jaime_sama said...

Yeah, even though I'm into all-natural foods and so forth, I have to admit that Rice Krispy treats are awesome.

However, I confess to having messed up the extremely simple recipe while making them one time. I started out doubling the recipe, and then didn't have enough Rice Krispies to double them. They are less good that way.

Steve Peterson said...

Yah -- you always need more Rice Krispies than you think you need for these. I just keep adding Rice Krispies until they stop sticking.

mmghosh said...

Nice blog, Steve.

And agree with what you say. Unfortunately we also have a similar treat over here - but its hundreds of years old and so unpatentable.