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From the archives: A Report on Duncan Hines, America’s Food Expert

BY CAMILLA STEWART (Originally published in March 1950 in Kentucky Electric Co-op News)

“Yes, that’s about right,” Duncan Hines is telling his wife Clara as she whips up one of his favorite recipes in their all-electric kitchen. (Ladies, just imagine what it’s like to cook for America’s leading food expert!)

Another Kentuckian Has Tasted Fame

“I’d rather have a meal worth remembering than go to Grand Opera,” says Duncan Hines, well-known author and publisher, and our American expert on where to get good food and how to prepare it. After years of being away, Mr. Hines, native Kentuckian, now lives again in his home state, and though he and Mrs. Hines spend three-fourths of their time traveling and “tasting”, the remainder is spent at his electrically-equipped Kentucky home outside Bowling Green. He is a memberof the Warren electric co-op.

Besides his New York office, Mr. Hines also has office headquarters at his home, where five employees help answer the several hundred letters received weekly, and aid in the constant, up-to-the minute revision of his four books, Adventures In Good Eating, Lodging For A Night, Vacation Guide, and Adventures In Good Cooking. These sell at the rate of about a quarter million yearly. Letters, which are all answered, come from everywhere in the world except Russia. “I don’t want any from there, either,” says Mr. Hines.

Public Demand

This unusual profession of being the nation’s food expert grew from public demand. Loving both travel and good food himself, Mr. Hines soon found the two seldom went hand in hand, and so he became interested in finding and listing good wayside eating places for his own use. Soon, he became quite an authority to friends. “My first book really grew out of a Christmas card,” he admits, for after putting his list of approved places on a greeting to special friends one year, demand for more cards became so great, and also so expensive, he was forced in self–defense to publish and sell Adventures In Good Eating.

Such a book is never really finished, for at regular intervals all places listed must be re-checked by himself or trusted volunteer helpers, and new places added in revised editions. All recipes appearing in his cook book must be carefully checked, and most of this is done by Mrs. Hines herself in her electricallyequipped kitchen.

Mr. Hines, who travels “incognito”, never desires a meal “on the house”, but always orders at least four main dishes, sometimes as many as 16, in small portions, and pays full price. But no matter how good the food, he has the strength to limit himself to “tastes” only. No eating place should ever be judged by an impressive outside appearance, he says, but the garbage disposal, rear entrance, and kitchen are of prime importance, and are fully inspected before recommendation. As far back as 1940, it was said that Duncan Hines had done more to lift the level of American cooking than all the cooks in America had done in 40 years.

Best Kentucky Food

“The best food in Kentucky is found in the private homes,” Mr. Hines said, adding that he will always remember the wonderful corn pudding and beaten biscuit his Kentucky grandmother made. A firm believer in “regional” cooking, which is serving as a specialty those dishes best known and suited to a particular part of the country, Mr. Hines lists country ham, fried chicken, biscuit, and corn bread as real Kentucky food. Fried catfish, if properly prepared, can be a Kentucky “special” too. Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, and Boone Tavern, Berea, he rates as top Kentucky eating places.

“Loving Care”

America’s greatest food expert offers us this first-hand advice on cooking. The most important thing in good cooking, he says, is to know “when to put on and take off”, and to give all food you cook the proper “loving care.” Above all, know the correct heat to use. Mr. Hines prefers cooking by electricity because the heat can be regulated and kept at an even temperature. No guesswork must exist, and he recommends using an oven thermometer to check the inside oven temperature with the indicator, as well as a meat thermometer when roasting meat.

“The trouble with women cooks is that they improvise when following a recipe,” he accuses. “Maybe substitute oatmeal for mush, or something else for rice, ending up with an entirely different dish.” He claims that even when a recipe is followed exactly, nothing is ever cooked quite the same way twice, so a recipe should be tried several times before you can be sure you don’t like it. Stirring can make a difference, and he cautions would-be “chefs” to always continue stirring in the same direction, never reversing.

Everything’s Electric

Kitchen equipment plays an important part, with small items, such as measuring spoons, as necessary as the rest. He believes a surprising number of cooks don’t even have measuring spoons. The Hines’ kitchen, which is small but perfect in detail, has all electrical appliances, and stainless steel cooking utensils.

Mr. Hines, with true knowledge of women as well as food, is most emphatic about one thing. Though your kitchen should be clean and ready for inspection at all times, refrain from inviting guests in while the food is underway. Too much talk ruins the cooking! And this might be hard on Fido or Kitty, but absolutely no pets should be allowed inside your kitchen doors!

Housewives, as well as restaurants, should buy top quality food and give it careful preparation before the actual cooking. He believes money saved on cheap-grade items, and time saved on careless preparation, are eventually spent “on visits to the drug store for stomach pills, and finally at the undertaker’s.”

Champion Carver

Duncan Hines, who laughingly claims he’s probably runner-up to America’s champion carver, might owe his skill to a Kentucky grandfather, who was an expert too. Carving is an art, and he says proper carving emphasizes the best flavor of meat and fowls. He tells just how to carve in The Art Of Carving In The Home, included in his cook book, but tips us off briefly by saying, “Just use your head, know the places to cut, and be seated to do it.” He has approximately 50 knives hanging in his kitchen. No one else is allowed to touch any of them. (“What he doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt him,” says his wife!). He believes the first requisite for good carving is a sharp knife, and always keeps an electric knife sharpener nearby, as well as other sharpening implements.

Duncan Hines grows angry at the claiming that every cook at a hamburger stand dons a cap and becomes “the chef”, even though he might be a bad enough cook to poison you. He firmly believes that all cooks in public places should be licensed as are doctors and lawyers.

He has become a true crusader for better eating and food sanitation, and for a fairer deal for the American dining-out public. His sincerity was proved in 1942, when he turned over all stock in his company to the Duncan Hines Foundation, which receives all the dividends, amounting to about 2c per copy, on his books. These profits from the quarter million copies sold yearly, established scholarships at Cornell University, Michigan State College, and the National Sanitation Foundation, for those interested in the hotel and food business, as well as sanitation. Candidates are selected by the schools named.

Author or Farmer?

Though Duncan Hines is undoubtedly author and publisher, he was once told by a visiting census-taker that “the law” said he had to be classed as a farmer, since he owned over four acres of land. To this Mr. Hines agreeably replied, “Well, I do grow two things. I grow weeds, and I grow tired of looking at them.”

Mr. Hines, who upholds American standards of eating, has this advice for those who do the “raising.” “Whatever you raise, raise the best, whether it’s radishes or lettuce for a crisp salad, or beef for a thick 21/2 – inch steak. Good food eliminates worries and anger, and can solve world problems too, and it can begin on your own place.”

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