Current Research

My research project this summer is working with McKee Foods (which you’ve heard of through their biggest product, Little Debbie) to do a history of sweet cake baking in the southeastern United States.  The McKee family are Seventh-day Adventist and the first McKee to go into baking, O.D. McKee, attended the local Adventist college and took a baking class – called Domestic Science back in the 1920s when he enrolled.  O.D. passed down the story to his family that it was this baking class that got him interested in baking sweet cakes.  So for the summer and fall of this year I will be interviewing bakers families across the southeast and writing their history.

In the bigger picture one wonders if – and if so, why – so many sweet baked goods came out of the south, and in the 1920s through 1930s.  I suspect there are two completely unrelated answers to this.  The first, regarding when, is probably taking place in the large context of the consumer market, growth of discretionary income, etc., that is taking place in the decade prior to the depression.  Of course, why then do we not see these sweet baked goods shutting down during the depression?  I hope to answer this.

The other part of this question is related to geographic location.  Why the south?  My hunch is that, again, the growth of sweet baked goods in the south is in the larger context of southerners eating sweeter foods more generally.  Pralines, Krispy Kreme, sweet tea, all of the colas – all of these come out of the south.  So I will test this hunch and see if the south actually did produce more sweet baked goods companies in the first half of the twentieth century.