Of Baking Powder and Horses


Dear Readers, how does a simple leavening agent ordinarily used in making light and fluffy cakes take residence in the story of championship American race horses?

Let Miss NiNi share with you the true tale about a well-recognized red and white container that just might hold occupancy within your kitchen cabinet.

It was 46 years after the fact when the tale of a chemical and a four-legged beast began to unfold.
‘What fact was that, Miss NiNi?’ The fact was that the love of a husband for his wife set chemical experimentation into motion, and baking powder was created.

The story goes like this.

Far across the pond in 1843, a British chemist and food manufacturer, Alfred Bird, was experimenting with chemicals in his food lab. Indeed, the bright gentleman had a particular experiment in mind due to an inspiration of a personal nature.

What was the inspiration behind his experiment, Dear Readers? It was his wife. Yes…his wife! Poor Mrs. Bird was allergic to yeast. (wikipedia.org) How could she enjoy baking and even eating leavened breads and sweet treats unless a yeast-free leavening agent was discovered? Miss NiNi would venture to guess that a task such as this was indeed at the top of Mr. Bird’s “Honey Do” list!

Sometimes, “Honey Do” activities benefit not only the “Honey” but also the rest of society. And Mr. Bird’s creation of baking powder has done just that for those of us whose passion is the creation of cookies, cakes, and quick breads!

However, Mr. Bird’s creation was not the baking powder we know today, Dear Readers. It was single acting and worked as a leavening agent in dough but only when a liquid was present.

When baking powder is used in cake baking, most bakers prefer a high-rise end product. Mr. Bird’s creation certainly aided in the health of Mrs. Bird. Yet because of the creation’s single-acting character, it only provided minimal “oomph” in its “Going Up” elevating properties.

At this point in history in 1889, the developing plot traveled across the ocean to America where Mr. William M. Wright and chemist George Campbell Rew took Mr. Bird’s creation a step further by creating a double-acting kind.

Now, what does this mean, Dear Readers? Double-acting baking powder is nearly all that we buy in today’s stores. It contains two different types of acids that react at different times, giving that extra “Oomph” to which we are so accustomed in the baking world. Not only does the gas creation, also known as leavening action, begin when baking powder is mixed with liquid in the dough, but the second type of acid will react by creating gases when the batter is exposed to oven heat. Bakers, you’ve got to love those food chemists!

But, Miss NiNi, ‘how does this all tie in with championship race horses,’ you ask?

The final chapter in my great baking powder saga begins with these words as noted by wikipedia.org.

“Mister Wright and Mister Rew (who was known as the Calumet Baking Powder King) marketed their double-acting baking powder under the name Calumet Baking Powder after the French-derived, colonial-era word for a Native American ceremonial pipe that had been given to the lands now known as Calumet City, IL. A stylized Indian wearing a war bonnet became the trademark of this baking powder company.”

Perhaps, you’ve noticed this design on the red and white container, Dear Readers.

William Wright used the baking powder money to launch his racing stable.

The website, whatscookingamerica.net, goes on to say, “Wright was the master of Calumet Farm, the single most successful racing stable in American history with six Kentucky Derby winners, first near Chicago and later at Lexington, KY, in the heart of the Bluegrass.”

Calumet Farm has produced some of the greatest Thoroughbreds of all time. Colorful silks worn by their jockeys tie in with the baking powder history as noted by drf.com—“The red in the Calumet colors resembled the color on the can of Calumet Baking Powder.”

Dear Readers, the next time you shop the baking aisle in search of baking powder, you will note the red and white container of baking powder that houses a powerful history of man’s creation with the excitement of Thoroughbred racing. And just think…it all began with a probable “Honey Do” list!

Miss NiNi