11 Freshly Baked Facts About Pepperidge Farm

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

No matter how many Goldfish and Milanos you’ve eaten, you may not know how tasty Pepperidge Farm’s history has been. 

1. A Devoted Mom and a Son With Allergies Started It All. 

The Pepperidge Farm story starts in Fairfield, Conn. in 1937. When Margaret Rudkin’s youngest son, John, developed asthma and allergies that made it impossible for him to eat commercially produced breads, the family doctor recommended that the boy switch to freshly baked whole wheat bread with no preservatives. Rudkin had never baked a loaf of bread in her life, but she did what any mom would do and gave it a shot. 

Rudkin’s early returns weren’t promising—she would later joke, “My first loaf should have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution as a sample of Stone Age bread, for it was hard as a rock and about one inch high." Gradually, Rudkin got the hang of baking, and before long, she was cranking out delicious breads. 

2. It Was a Premium Brand Right From the Start. 

Rudkin’s loaves were both tasty and effective—her son showed such improvement from eating the wholesome bread that his doctor recommended Rudkin’s handiwork to other parents of sick children. Before long, Rudkin was selling her bread to Mercurio’s Market in Fairfield. Each of Rudkin’s loaves sold for 25 cents at a time when most bread retailed for a dime, but shoppers were willing to pay a premium for the upstart baker’s wares. 

3. The Pepperidge Farm Name Was an Easy Choice. 

The brand takes its name from the 320-acre Connecticut estate the Rudkins began calling home in 1929. The farm itself was named for an enormous pepperidge tree that stood in the front yard of the home. If you’re not familiar with the pepperidge tree, it’s better known as the black tupelo and also goes by the names “sour gum” and “black gum.” 

4. Pepperidge Farm Was a Real Mom-and-Pop Operation. 

Margaret Rudkin was the baking muscle of the brand, but her husband, Henry, also played a role in the company’s growth. As demand for the bread grew, he converted the family’s garage into a bakery. When a specialty shop in New York City learned of Margaret’s breads and began placing orders, Henry began ferrying 24 loaves of bread with him on his commute to his job at a Wall Street brokerage, stopping in Grand Central Station to hand off the goods. As the company grew, Henry Rudkin left finance to become chairman of Pepperidge Farm’s board. 

5. The Cookies Have a Belgian Flair.

gothopotam, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

After Margaret Rudkin became a bread mogul, she began looking for new opportunities for the company in the early 1950s. Cookies seemed like a logical place to start, and to crack that market, Rudkin had to forge an international alliance. She had tasted a line of sophisticated cookies on a visit to Belgium, and rather than creating new sweet recipes from scratch, Rudkin agreed to license the cookies from Brussels bakery Delacre, and Pepperidge Farm’s Distinctive cookies rolled out in 1955 with longtime favorites like the Brussels and the Geneva

6. Milanos Were Originally Created to Solve a Shipping Problem. 

Not all of the cookies were European creations. In fact, the company’s most famous cookie is all American. As Leon Neyfakh notes in a 2012 Slate piece, the Milano can trace its heritage back to a similarly Italian-themed cookie of the 1950s, the Naples. The open-faced chocolate cookie sounds tasty enough, but when Pepperidge Farm started shipping its cookies nationwide, hot temperatures would soften the chocolate during transit, which mean customers were treated to a brick of melted-together cookies. The solution? Slapping a top on the cookie, rebranding the resulting sandwich as the Milano, and creating a sweet juggernaut.

7. Goldfish Are a Swiss Snack. 

Mike MozartFlickr // CC BY 2.0

Margaret Rudkin’s eye for licensing went beyond cookies. When she encountered a delightful fish-shaped cracker on a trip to Switzerland in the early 1960s, she brought the recipe home with her. In 1962—one year after the Campbell Soup Company acquired Pepperidge Farm—American snackers began munching on Goldfish crackers. The introduction went pretty well—by one estimate, Pepperidge Farm now makes 3,000 Goldfish per second.

8. Pepperidge Farm Played a Key Role in the Apollo 13 Mission. 

Dehydrated ice cream and Tang get all the publicity as astronaut delicacies, but Pepperidge Farm bread came through in the clutch during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. The flight crew took loaves of Pepperidge Farm white, rye, and a special astronauts-only cheese bread into orbit with them. When things went awry, the more complicated space foods that required water to prepare were no longer feasible, so the three-man crew largely survived on sandwiches made using peanut butter, cheese, and various salad spreads. As a contemporary news report noted, “Every slice of bread that went up on Apollo 13 was eaten...Bread was truly an important part of their life support system.” 

NASA must have agreed, because the subsequent Apollo 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions also took Pepperidge Farm bread into orbit. 

9. The Logo Wasn’t Inspired By the Pepperidge Farm. 

The picturesque grist mill in the company’s logo is real, but it’s not a part of the Pepperidge Farm. In fact, it’s not even in the same state. The Wayside Inn Grist Mill in Sudbury, Mass. is a quirky project commissioned by Henry Ford in the 1920s that painstakingly repurposed antique French millstones to create “the first working mill to be built as a museum.” The mill’s association with Pepperidge Farm began in 1952. The company leased the mill, hired a miller, and began using the antiquated equipment to produce some of its flour. The arrangement lasted until 1967, with the mill providing Pepperidge Farm with more than 9000 tons of flour over 15 years and inspiring the company’s logo. 

10. Home Cooks Were Desperate to Get Rudkin’s Secrets. 

Mike MozartFlickr // CC BY 2.0

When the baking mogul released The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook in 1963, she admitted, “Two years ago when some of my friends suggested I write a cookbook, I didn’t give it a serious thought at first.” Listening to her pals paid off in a big way, though. Pepperidge Farm devotees were happy to shell out the cover price to learn Rudkin’s culinary tricks, and Rudkin’s work sold so well that it cracked the New York Times bestseller list, a first for a cookbook. 

11. The Company Tried to Launch Its Own Cookie-Themed Social Network. 

Mike MozartFlickr // CC BY 2.0

In 2007, social media and social networking were still relatively new concepts. Pepperidge Farm wanted in, so the brand took a crack at connecting with women by starting its own social network. As a New York Times story noted, “The centerpiece of the campaign is the Web site, artofthecookie.com, which is meant to help women — the target audience for Pepperidge Farm — improve their social lives.” The network was meant to give women a place to talk about both cookies and their thoughts, but it never took off. Unlike the proprietors of countless other failed social networks, at least Pepperidge Farm had selling Milanos as a fallback plan.

Why Are There 10 Hot Dogs to a Pack But Only 8 Buns?

tacar/iStock via Getty Images
tacar/iStock via Getty Images

Watching competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut cram dozens of hot dogs down his throat would make anyone crave a grilled log of processed meat this summer. But shopping for hot dogs can be a confusing experience. The dogs are typically sold in packs of 10, but the buns are sold in packs of eight. What's behind this strange dog and bun inequality?

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council—yes, there is a National Hot Dog and Sausage Council—there’s a good reason for the discrepancy. For starters, distributors of hot dogs are almost always different from manufacturers of baked goods like rolls. The hot dogs are sold in packs of 10 because producers of meat (or meat-like) products selected that quantity when hot dogs started to sell at retail grocery stores in the 1940s. Oscar Mayer, which led the charge into direct-to-consumer hot dog packaging, sold hot dogs by the pound in accordance with how meat is typically priced. Having 10 dogs that weighed 1.6 ounces each seemed like the ideal distribution of weight.

Bakeries, meanwhile, have standards of their own. Buns and sandwich rolls are usually sold eight to a pack because the baking trays for the elongated buns are typically sized to fit that number. Two sets of four buns come off the tray, which is the reason why buns are often still attached to one another when you open a bag.

These standards were created independently of one another: Bakeries weren’t too preoccupied with hot dogs when they were settling on a four-roll tray standard, and hot dog manufacturers weren’t thinking about how difficult it would be for bakeries to break from their conveyor system to offer 10 buns to a pack.

It can be frustrating if you buy just one or two packages of each, but if you’re hosting a big enough party, the uneven number doesn’t matter. You just need to buy five packages of buns and four packages of hot dogs to have 40 matching pairs. No complicated calculations required.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Two Eco-Minded Kids in England Are Petitioning McDonald’s and Burger King to Nix Plastic Toys

romrodinka/iStock via Getty Images
romrodinka/iStock via Getty Images

Some kids are not content to wait around while the grown-ups sort out the future of our planet. Two of them, 9-year-old Ella and 7-year-old Caitlin, have launched a petition on Change.org requesting that McDonald’s and Burger King stop giving out plastic toys with their kid’s meals, Thrillist reports.

“Children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea,” the British girls wrote on Change.org. “We want anything they give us to be sustainable so we can protect the planet for us and for future generations.” The petition has almost 400,000 signatures so far, and their current goal is to reach 500,000.

McDonald's Happy Meal
McDonald's

Last October, UK environment minister Thérèse Coffey also implored McDonald’s to stop giving out plastic toys, suggesting instead that they develop smartphone-friendly games to accompany the meals. At the time, a UK McDonald’s spokesman acknowledged the importance of reducing plastic waste and cited their promise to switch to paper straws, but countered the assumption that the plastic toys were only used for a few minutes, telling The Telegraph that they “provide many more fun-filled hours at home, too.”

The fast food giant did study the environmental effects of their toys last year and found that they are hard to recycle, since they’re manufactured from various types of plastic. As a result, McDonald’s is researching more Earth-friendly ways to make their toys. A Burger King representative told The Wall Street Journal that it, too, is exploring “alternative toy solutions.”

But according to Ella and Caitlin, “It’s not enough to make recyclable plastic toys—big, rich companies shouldn’t be making toys out of plastic at all.” The young activists themselves recycle as much as they can, and even hung a poster in their window about saving the planet.

You can sign their petition here, and learn how to reduce your own environmental impact.

[h/t Thrillist]

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