Before there was “Top Chef,” before there was “Cupcake Wars” or “Hell’s Kitchen,” there was the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest. The legendary baking competition was introduced in 1949 in honor of Pillsbury’s 80th birthday and as an effort to promote Pillsbury™ Best® flour. At the heart of the Bake-Off was the desire to create an opportunity for American homemakers to not only share their beloved recipes, but to also share the stories that go along with them.
Originally called the “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest,” 1949’s inaugural Bake-Off received thousands of entries from across the country. As we mentioned, Pillsbury Best flour was a required ingredient in all recipe submissions and there were six categories that participants could enter: breads, cakes, pies, cookies, entrees and desserts. If participants submitted a seal from the Pillsbury Best flour they used in the recipe, their prize money could be doubled.
A panel of Pillsbury home economists eventually narrowed the entries down to 100 finalists. Each finalist was invited to the live competition at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City to make their recipe in hopes of winning the $25,000 grand prize.
And the guest of honor at the very first Bake-Off? None other than First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was personally invited by Philip W. Pillsbury to attend the event and assist in awarding prizes.
(Seen above) Eleanor Roosevelt presents an award at the first-ever Bake-Off Contest in New York City, 1949.
Following the event, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote about her experience in her syndicated column My Day: “I think Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury must have felt quite proud when they gave out the other prizes, because it is given to few people in this world to give such great happiness to other human beings…This is a healthy contest and a highly American one.”