Labor day has come and gone, but fall is still a great time for camping. A few weeks ago we stayed at a Forest Service cabin in the mountains. While we did not have a spectacular mountain view, we were surrounded by something even better- bunches of huckleberries at peak ripeness. In between rain showers, we gathered berries to add to our pancakes. That’s only only logical thing to do with huckleberries on a camping trip.
The huckleberries were a bonus, but we were going to make pancakes anyway. It wouldn’t be a proper camping trip without them.
I’m not sure where I acquired this Albers camping handbook from the early 1960s. It’s a small tri-fold pamphlet that was probably tucked inside another cook book. It does not include any recipes, rather it is a checklist to help plan a camping trip. Of course, Albers pancake mix features prominently in camping preparations.
Humans have been making variations on pancakes since ancient times. All cultures have their own version of a simple bread that can be cooked on stones or in a pan over an open flame. In the nineteenth century, American cooks whipped up griddle cakes with wheat, corn, or buckwheat flour leavened with yeast or with chemicals like saleratus (sodium bicarbonate), or pearl ash (potassium carbonate).
That all changed in 1889 when newspaper editor Chris Rutt and his business partner Charles Underwood started the Pearl Milling Company in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Although Underwood had experience in the milling industry, the new company struggled to break into the market against its many competitors. They needed a gimmick – a product with broad appeal that would use a lot of flour. The answer: pancakes. Underwood named their creation “Aunt Jemima” after a vaudeville song.
On a side note: Rutt and Underwood were not astute business men. The Pearl Milling Company was undercapitalized and closed shortly after it opened. They started a new company to market Aunt Jemima Pancake mix, which they sold in 1890 to a competing mill. Quaker Oats purchased Aunt Jemima in 1925 and currently owns the brand, which was renamed “Pearl Milling Company” in 2021 after controversy over racist stereotypes.
Despite the failure of their company, Rutt and Underwood’s product quickly became popular in American households and was soon imitated by competitors, such as Albers Milling Company. Originally from Germany, the Albers brothers immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s. They settled in Portland, Oregon, where they incorporated Albers Brothers Milling in 1901. Within a few years, they opened a second mill in Tacoma, Washington. Their products took gold medals at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1906.
In 1914, the Albers signed an agreement with Carnation Evaporated Milk Company to provide grain feeds for Carnation’s dairy cattle. In what was fortunate timing for the Albers Brothers, Carnation purchased the mill in 1929, ten days before the stock market crash. Nestle purchased Carnation and its associated brands in 1984, and Albers cornmeal and grits are still available today.
My 1960s Albers pamphlet is not designed for those who like to travel light. This is camping in comfort for the whole family. Load up the station wagon and pile up the car top luggage rack. The food list seems long enough to feed a small army. Some items are redundant (do we need instant milk and evaporated milk?), but that’s logical since the whole point is to advertise Albers and Carnation products.
The breakfast menus all recommend Albers products and Carnation Instant Chocolate Drink. There are no lunch or dinner menus. Instead, the back of the pamphlet offers tips for planning the trip (use the checklist, check maps of the area, and know how to use your equipment) and for selecting a campsite (avoid stagnant pools, gulleys, poison oak, ant hills, and rotten logs). It also recommends packing perishable foods in an icebox and to use metal containers to protect food from animals. For seasoned campers, this is all rather obvious advice, but that is beside the point. The goal is to make the emotional connection between Albers Flapjack mix and fun, memorable family activities. Camping and pancakes going hand in hand.