Perfection Pumpkin Pie

Mmph. Go get a cup of tea, this is a long one.

Here’s the back of the recipe:

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Cream of Tomato Soup
Roast Turkey     Chestnut Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce     Riced Potatoes
Creamed Turnips     Green Beans
Hearts of Lettuce
Sour Cream Dressing
Perfection Pumpkin Pie*

*Recipe on reverse side.

Cream Crest Dairy Products — Phone 6-8322

 
Hmm. Well, there’s a lot to unpack, here. Let’s start with Cream Crest Dairy Products.


Advertisement in the back of the 1937 edition of Elmata, the yearbook of Our Lady of the Elms College, located in Chicopee, Massachusetts, about four miles north of Springfield. Springfield is about 35 miles from Winsted, Connecticut.

While there were lots of places that used the phrase “Cream Crest” as a trademark for dairy goods at one point or another, the only one that used that phone number was the General Ice Cream Corporation plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s about 35 miles from our recipe box in Winsted, Connecticut; so far, so good.

The next interesting bit is is the “Figure 8” bottle collar and the notice that the patent was pending. General Ice Cream Corporation was headquartered in Schenectady, New York, and given that and the shape of this recipe, the patent they’re talking about is probably this one:

 
My guess, then, is that what’s in this box is the detached part of the bottle-hanger identified as “13” in the diagram. While it’s possible the collar could’ve been used at some point after the patent was issued, it was certainly printed between September 14, 1933 and August 28, 1934.

But to really tell this story, you have to go back to the predecessor company of General Ice Cream, a family business: Tait Brothers Ice Cream. Headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Tait Brothers (really, two brothers and a cousin or two) took over their father’s local dairy in the mid 1890s. Then, they started buying milk from other local dairies and turning it into ice cream and ice cream novelties.

Contemporary sources say their ice cream was about 12% milkfat, putting it right beneath the low end of our modern “super-premium” brands that start at 13%, but above the modern government minimum of 10%. In other words, pretty good, by the standards of the day.

From The Day of New London, Connecticut, in a January 31, 1972 feature recounting news from the same day in 1922:

The advent of the “Eskimo Pie” in New London somewhat relieved the unemployment situation, according to the local managers of Tait Bros, and the New Haven Dairy Co. The chocolate-covered ice cream bar was being patented and sold on a royalty basis by ice cream manufacturers. Manager Spencer of Tait Bros. stated that 50 additional employees had been put on steady work in their plant to make and sell the new product.

 

Meanwhile, in Illinois…

Thomas H. McInnerney, President of the National Dairy Products Corporation, testifies before a congressional committee that his company doesn’t have a dairy monopoly. Harris & Ewing, May 3, 1939. From Library of Congress.

Iowa-born Thomas H. McInnerney, a graduate of the University of Illinois and Harvard Business School, started working in the retail dairy business in Chicago in 1923. At the time, most of the dairy business looked a lot like the Tait Brothers: still basically local companies that had only started to explore economies of scale. Of course, until the 1920s, there weren’t many economies of scale to explore, in dairy.

In the 1910s, the Tait Brothers had to freeze their ice cream with ice taken from frozen lakes, and deliver it on trucks carrying the same ice. The cost of shipping ice cream any significant distance would’ve exceeded the market value. But new forms of refrigeration commercialized in the 1920s–including, but not limited to, the refrigerated delivery truck–changed the math, and McInnerney knew it.

With outside investment, McInnerney formed the National Dairy Products Corporation, a holding company that then bought two local Chicago dairy manufacturers, trading stock in the corporation instead of cash. This pattern continued for the rest of the decade, and National Dairy got bigger and bigger.

Two major acquisitions that took place in 1928 were the dairy businesses of the Breakstone Brothers in New York (of sour cream fame) and the General Ice Cream Corporation–the Tait Brothers’ successor company and the one that printed our pumpkin pie recipe. General Ice Cream would retain their name, but they were a subsidiary of National Dairy Products.

In 1930, National Dairy completed an even more important acquisition: the Chicago cheese business founded by Ontario, Canada born James L. Kraft in 1903. It was important not only because Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation provided over $80 million of National Dairy’s more than $400 million in sales by the end of 1930, but because, in the 1960s, National Dairy would change its name to Kraftco, and then Kraft in the 1970s.

A couple of digressions…

First: don’t think that the Phenix corporation, acquired by Kraft before Kraft was gobbled up by National Dairy, was just a hanger-on. They were the corporation that made and sold Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

Second: the story of what happened next to the Tait Brothers is interesting. In May 1929, the Taits turned their old dairy farm in Springfield into an airport, and would go on to start an airline that only operated for a few months in 1930. Most likely, that was because they were trying to bid for a government mail delivery contract that was sewn up by American Airlines; there wasn’t really a commercial passenger air market at the time.

However, also in May 1929, they convinced another set of brothers to relocate from Boston: the five Granville Brothers, who had built and flown a plane over the Boston Harbor. James Tait offered to fund the Granvilles’ tinkering and give them space in a building that had once been a dance hall before it was moved to the farm/airport.

Their planes were iconic, streamlined, and as dangerous as they were fast. They would come to be known as Gee Bees (for Granville Brothers), and even though the company went bankrupt in 1933 and delivered its last design in 1934, when you think of a 1930s airplane, you think of the look of a Gee Bee.

The bankruptcy was a combination of the lousy economy and the nasty tendency of Gee Bees to crash and kill the pilot. That said, one pilot who wasn’t killed was Maude Tait, the daughter of James Tait, who took a leave of absence from her teaching job in 1928 to be come the first licensed female pilot in Massachusetts. For a brief time in the early 1930s, she was the unofficial fastest woman in the sky. (Unofficial because while she recorded the fastest speed, rules at the time required that you beat the previous record by at least five miles per hour; she beat it by four.)

Gee Bee R-1 replica at New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Connecticut. William S. Porter. From Wikimedia Commons.

 

So how did this get in our recipe box?

A horse brought it. Remember that, because the patent was pending, this recipe would’ve been printed in late 1933 or early 1934? General Ice Cream Corporation was still delivering its milk with horses until 1937. From the June 11, 1937 edition of the Schenectady Gazette:

Twelve horses will be pensioned off this week to spend their remaining days leading the “life of Riley” grazing in green pasture land, after giving years of service to hundreds of homes in Schenectady.

These horses and wagons have been replaced by a fleet of stand-up-and-drive motorized trucks. These trucks are the most modern type known to the milk industry, and will cover Schenectady and surrounding towns delivering Sealtest “cream-crest milk” and dairy products.

The General Ice Cream Corporation of this city has completely motorized its delivery system with the purchase of 12 more modern “stand up and drive” milk trucks. This recent purchase makes a total of 15 of these trucks to supply the city with “cream-crest” dairy products. The local company is a unit of the nationwide Sealtest system of laboratory protection. This system brings together the resources of more than 100 laboratories which co-operate in the protection and improvement of dairy products.

 
Oh, right. Sealtest products. Okay, here’s what that’s about.

Remember how the National Dairy Products Corporation went from being founded in 1923 to being the biggest dairy company in America? Congress was a little concerned by the size of the company, and there were rumblings of trust-busting. (The picture of McInnerney, above, is of him testifying at a congressional inquiry in 1939.)

In an effort to reduce the impression that National Dairy controlled every cow from here to Schenectady, they came up with a kind of franchise that launched in 1935: Sealtest certification. Local dairies (mostly their own subsidiary companies, but in the early days anybody could get a franchise) would agree to meet certain standards and pay a fee and get the right to use the Sealtest logo.

As the antitrust fears subsided in later decades and the company that would be Kraft solidified its control of its property, Sealtest ultimately became a Kraft-controlled brand of ice cream, one that continued to exist until the 1990s, when Kraft sold its ice cream businesses to Unilever.

Any questions? No? Well, then, that’s how this Perfection Pumpkin Pie came to be, and…

From a box sold in Winsted, Connecticut.

Perfection Pumpkin Pie

2 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup table cream
2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin (fresh or canned)
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 pt. whipping cream (1 cup) whipped

Beat eggs slightly, add milk and 1/2 cup table cream. Add pumpkin, well drained. Add sugar and seasonings. Blend thoroughly. Pour into uncooked pastry shell and bake in hot oven (425 deg.) until pastry begins to brown (about 10 minutes) then reduce heat to 350 deg. and bake about 30 minutes longer, or until filling is firm. Remove from oven and cool. When ready to serve, top with whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar and dust lightly with nutmeg.

(tested)

“Figure 8” — Bottle Collar
Pat. Applied For



One Comment

  1. Adam, this is so funny and what a long post. I love your approach to the history of food as well as the recipe!

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