Monday, July 13, 2009

Duncan Hines, America’s first modern food critic and grits at the Old Southern Tea Room in Vicksburg, MS


Duncan Hines, now known for his cake mixes, was a traveling salesman for a Chicago printer in the 1930's, but he was also American’s first modern food critic. At the time there was no interstate highway system in the US and only a few chain restaurants existed. Hines and his wife began a list of several hundred good restaurants that they enjoyed on their travels.



In 1935 he began selling a paperback book, Adventures of Eating, which highlighted his favorite restaurants and dishes that he personally enjoyed in cities and towns across America. The book gained in popularity and favorably recommended restaurants hung signs in their window that read “Recommended by Duncan Hines.” The Duncan Hines endorsement was highly regarded and he could make or break a restaurant’s reputation. His favorable opinion was considered as good as gold.



One of the restaurants that displayed the “Recommended by Duncan Hines” sign was the Old Southern Tea Room in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vicksburg sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi and its Civil War Battleground attracts many visitors each year.


A Pilgrimage is held each year and the gorgeous old antebellum homes on the tour polish their best silver and roll out the red carpet for thousands of visitors. In 1941 the Vicksburg Pilgrimage Committee persuaded Mary McKay, a local southern lady well known for her cooking skills, to manage a tea room as a civic venture for six weeks only with the building and all of its equipment to be lent by the civic-minded. The tea room was a success and Mary McKay kept it going with one hundred dollars credit and a “minus-a-door" stove that cost $7.50. After five years it was debt-free and one of the nation’s most famous restaurants. The Old Southern Tea Room proudly displayed the Duncan Hines sign as well as one from AAA. When Duncan Hines was interviewed on his return from Europe, a reporter asked him what was the first thing he wanted to do. He said, “I would like to go to the Old Southern Tea Room in Vicksburg, Mississippi and enjoy the Stuffed Garden Eggplant and Corn Pudding.”


We lived in Vicksburg in the eighties and loved it. It's a true southern city. There’s a cute story that our friend Rigby Maupin told about grits and the Old Southern Tea Room in Vicksburg’s Junior League Cookbook, Ambrosia. Rigby is a great storyteller and we enjoyed his sense of humor. Seems one morning, according to Rigby, a gentlemen and his family that were touring the city went to the Old Southern Tea Room for breakfast. Apparently the man wasn’t in the best of moods, because when his breakfast arrived he asked the waitress, “What’s this white stuff on my plate?”

“Grits, sir.”

“I didn’t order any grits and I’m not about to pay for them,” he said, getting more irritated by the minute.

“Fine, sir.”

“You apparently don’t understand. I didn’t order grits and I don’t want them on my plate.”

“Sir, no one orders grits at the Old Southern Tea Room. They just comes.”

And with that she flatly refused to take them off of his plate.

By the way, I've been on a short holiday with my husband and we didn't have internet access while we were gone. I missed every one of you and it's so much fun to be back home. While I was gone I read Molly Wizenberg's great book A Homemade Life. She has a friend who says the only reason he travels is for an excuse to eat more than usual. I agree.

33 comments:

  1. I've not been to Vicksburg but love your story.

    Martha

    ReplyDelete
  2. great story the original zagat guide love it

    ReplyDelete
  3. I wonder if there are many tea rooms left? They were, I suppose, mainly for ladies of leisure -- and there are fewer of those around these days. When I was growing up in Tampa, The Cricket Tea Room was a favorite with my mother and my grandmother.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I just love Vicksburg. It just sings of Old South and Antebellum. I had no idea Duncan Hines was a renown food critic, how fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great story....and even better to see you're back!! I missed you terribly!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This Duncan Hines sounds like a blogger! GREG

    ReplyDelete
  7. Too funny (grits)!! Thank you for this lovely story...I luv learning fun foodie history...wish I could travel to Vicksburg :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for this wonderful story! I never knew that there was a real face behind the Duncan Hines brand.

    Loved the grits for breakfast story, how can anybody be so grumpy? "They just comes" reminds me of Venetian polenta, which looks like grits (they make it with white corn meal) and also "just comes" with every meal, or so it seems. ;-)

    Your friend's friend has it right, travelling is indeed a very good excuse to eat more than usual!

    I spied your name on Vicky Lane's blog and simply had to follow the link. I am grateful to have met you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sam-

    I love reading about history! This story was so fun. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

    Hope you had a wonderful time on your trip!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sam, What a lovely & interesting story!

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is right up my food history alley, thanks for posting it, and sorry to hear you had to live with out us for some days!

    I miss you when I have not seen your post too!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I really loved your story. It sounds as though you had a marvelous holiday. I'm glad you're back. You were missed.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I never thought about Duncan Hines being a man! Or a person for that matter!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hope it was good eating on your trip, Sam! I love stories of Duncan Hines (there was a time, when I had no idea there was a man behind the cake mix!) This makes me want to visit Vicksburg.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Sam, nice to have you back again :)

    Interesting story about Duncan Hines, thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  16. What a fun interesting, informative post. It was wonderful all the way through. Sounds like you had a great time away!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sam, Grits are near and dear to my heart for various reasons. First came across them in the sixties, but it wasn't until several years later that I understood and appreciated them. My favorite now are cheese/garlic my wife fixes -- though not often enough.
    And by the way, your clock must have a lot more hours in the day than mine to get so much accomplished. Your blogs (plural) are fantastic and so professional looking. Best to you and Meakin.
    Jerry

    ReplyDelete
  18. Welcome back, and what a fun story!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Sam,
    Glad to have you back. I loved your story about Duncan Hines, the tea room and grits. I'm Southern to the bone, but I've never been too fond of grits. Sorry. I can't help it, but I loved your story. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Great to have you back.

    ReplyDelete
  20. This is a great post! I love reading histories such as these.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Neat history-I never knew who the real Duncan Hines was-just the cake mix : )

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thank you so much for the story and the pictures...very interesting :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Welcome back and I love the grits story. I would love to visit the south....one day, xv.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Welcome back and thanks for a bit of history wrapped in a fun anecdote.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hi Sam

    What an interesting and thoughtful post.

    Thank you very much for your kind comments about my mini meatloaf recipe.

    Regards
    Juno

    ReplyDelete
  26. Grits.......I loved the story. Remember the movie, My Cousin Vinny........ I'll have a grit".........a grit! I always think of that movie anytime I read something about grits. We enjoy grits for breakfast on many occasions at this house~Glad you are back safe and sound!

    ReplyDelete
  27. What an interesting post! I enjoyed learning about Duncan Hines (my favorite cake mix, by the way!) and Vicksburg's Old Southern Tearoom. A beautiful town.

    Sam, I love that you like my hens! My grandmother and baby sister gave me my first one when I got married and moved away from Texas to Tennessee. I loved it. I forgot to take a picture of it as it's in the china cabinet with a poor broken back! I dropped it very early on and glued it back together as much as possible, but there was a missing piece and it, alas, has a hole in it!

    Would love to see your hens or "shickens". Are they majolica? Thank you so, so much for visiting and leaving your comment on Food Gratitude.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Interesting. I didn't know the history of Duncan Hines. I want to visit Vicksburg now!

    ReplyDelete
  29. By the way I changed my site address to https://chowandchatter.blogspot.com
    To match the name ! Love Rebecca

    ReplyDelete
  30. Dear Sam,

    I just gave you an award!!! Why?? Check it out at my latest post!! Please come over & pick it up!!

    ReplyDelete
  31. So we were both internetless together? It is great to be back! I love this post. Who woulda thunk? Love food trivia like this and love the story!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I have truly loved reading your story!

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy reading each and every comment. If you leave a comment with a question or that requires an answer, please leave an address or way for me to get in touch with you. I appreciate your taking the time to visit my blog and I hope you'll return again soon.
Sam