It was a long , long time back. Dinosaurs had just about stopped roaming the earth….probably because there was no Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat….
There was however a man called Adams. He had a wife — nah, not Eve. Her name was a more prosaic Betty. Remember them, they will re-enter our story at a dramatic moment.
Cakes— (yes this is a post about cakes! Did you think I’d started writing about dinosaurs now?)
Cakes, had come a long way since their days in early Egypt, when you could have been mistaken them for a block from Tut’s tomb.
But without softly milled flour and chemical leavening agents like baking powder, they were a hearty, hardy and dense treat(?).
You could eat them to keep from starving, or club a guy to death.
Velvet! The word conjures up visions of opulence and luxury, sumptuousness and plenty!
The word velvet first started being applied to cakes in the late 1880s. That’s when flours began to be milled mechanically, with a combination of hard and soft wheats . This resulted in more tender cakes with a fine crumb and a texture described as velvet, to distinguish them from the aforementioned country cousins.
The Devil and the deep Red Sea
Long before the Red velvet cake was born, there was a midnight black cake made with melted chocolate…..a fudgy squidgy affair that disapproving clergymen termed Devils-Food.
In time an adventurous baker substituted natural cocoa powder for the chocolate, and that lead to a reddish-brown cake termed the Red-Devil.
The Big Apple
The turning point was when papa Adams and Betty, who owned Adams Extracts, (didn’t I mention that earlier? Oops!) went on a jaunt to New York City. At the plush Waldorf Astoria, they tucked into a reddish velvet cake, and a light bulb went off in Adams’ head.
He headed back to Texas and sifted through their product line. Boo yah! Red food colour. The FDA had awarded the company approval to sell red food dye in the late 1920s.
What’s red and white and baked all over?
Then the Great Depression hit, in the 1930s. Sales were down. People weren’t splurging on luxuries.
Adams’ marketing brilliance came bubbling up.
Instead of taking the situation lying down, the company came up with a way to use its dye in a novel fashion: a cake that relied on red food coloring and butter extract to create an eye popping confection. Topped with swirls of white vanilla frosting. With a tagline that said “Cake of a Wifetime!”
Sheer genius! One that got people talking. Not just talking, but also buying! And buying into the legend that Red Velvet was a Southern creation.
Adam’s Extracts point of sale posters and tear-off recipe cards was astute marketing.
In time the company went on to launch over 300 products!
And this my friends, is how the epitome of luxury — the Red Velvet cake — was created in the stringent 30s.