Not just for breakfast anymore!

In 1900, Pillsbury held an amateur recipe contest, with $680 in cash prizes going to the twelve best uses of Pillsbury’s Vitos. Introduced in 1897, Pillsbury’s Vitos were the flour-miller’s answer to the boom in breakfast cereals begun by Shredded What and Corn Flakes, a packaged, ready-made, processed cereal product. Advertising proclaimed it “the ideal wheat food, [which] needs to be boiled only and is then ready to serve as a breakfast food.” Ah, but not only as a breakfast food! “It can be served in thirty other ways—breads, cakes, puddings, desserts, etc.” A free cook book, available by mail, showed you how.

Also, according to the packaging, they were sterilized. Yes! “Pillbury’s VITOS, the ideal wheat food, is sterilized. Unlike other cereals, it does not have to be critically examined before using and none need ever be thrown away.”

Fourth prize in the recipe contest went to Pillsbury’s Vitos Cheese Ramekins — individual serving-sized cheese soufflés made with breakfast cereal. What, I ask you, could be more indescribably scrumptious than that?

ad for Pillsbury Vitos

Here’s the recipe, which I know you’d rush right home and make if only you had some Pillsbury’s Vitos:

Put one-half cup Pillsbury’s Vitos, one-half cup milk, and one-half cup water on to boil, and let boil five minutes. Remove from fire and add two-thirds cup grated cheese, and two tablespoons butter. Mix well and add one teaspoon salt, one-third teaspoon mustard, one-fourth teaspoon cayenne pepper, and the yolks of three eggs, well beaten. Beat the whites of three eggs until stiff and dry, and cut and fold into the first mixture. Turn into paper cases or a buttered baking dish, and bake in a moderate oven. The Delineator, June 1903, p. 1091.

magazine ad announcing the contest

The top three prizes, in case you were wondering — and I know you were — went to the following:

  1. Pillsbury’s Vitos Perfection Omelet
  2. Pillsbury’s Vitos Tomato Salad
  3. Pillsbury’s Vitos Risotto

Two things fascinate me about this. First, brand-name packaged processed foods only really hit the grocers’ shelves in about 1890, and already by 1900 Pillsbury had come up with the first ancestor of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, awarding cash prizes to the best (by some standard or other) recipes women could invent that used their products.

The second is that these cheese ramekins are no easy dish. We’re a long way from opening a couple of cans of soup. They’re real soufflés; you have to whip egg whites and fold them into the cereal-and-cheese mixture. The third-place omelet similarly demanded separating the eggs and folding beaten whites into the mixture before cooking (which made it almost, but not quite, entirely unlike an omelet). The common assumption, I think, is that the rise of convenience foods hooked America on convenience. But it didn’t, at least not at first.

Sadly, you can’t buy Pillsbury’s Vitos anymore, but if you want to see the other recipes, with photos, purely for historical value, Google Books can help.

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