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Celebrating the Corn Flake's Centenary

One of my grandmother's standard dishes was a tuna noodle casserole with corn flakes on top, a staple of many American homes in the 1950s. It used not only corn flakes, but canned tuna and a can of cream of mushroom soup. We probably had Jell-O for dessert.

Wednesday marks corn flakes' 100th birthday, and even the most sophisticated cooks probably have corn flakes in their past -- and in their pantry from time to time as well.

Corn flake recipes know no geographical boundaries. The same tuna noodle casserole has been served in homes from east to west and north to south.

Elizabeth Becker grew up in Iowa in a family with six children. She says Thanksgiving with her family wouldn't be complete without sweet potato balls wrapped in corn flake crusts. "This is a recipe that should only be made with several energetic children as sous chefs," she says.

While there is no written recipe, she remembers the procedure:

"Boil and mash sweet potatoes. Cover all sides of a marshmallow with the mashed potatoes and roll the ball around on corn flakes that have been crushed with a rolling pin. Do this dozens of times until you've used up all the sweet potato mash. Place these balls on greased cookie sheets, leaving enough space so they can expand. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour. Serve."

Donelle Hudson grew up in Louisiana where her Aunt Jim made Texas Delight cookies with corn flakes, oatmeal, pecans and coconut. Her mother, an excellent cook, was noted for her corn flake chicken casserole, still a family favorite, Hudson says.

The ways to use corn flakes as something other than breakfast cereal seem to be unlimited. There are more than 100,000 Web sites that feature corn flake recipes. There are recipes for cookies, candies, breads and muffins. Corn flakes are added to meatloaf and cabbage casseroles. They figure prominently in oven-fried chicken and are used as an ice cream topping (with coconut and peanuts).

The first recipe using Kellogg's Corn Flakes as an ingredient appeared on the side of a cereal box in 1932. The company's home economics department developed the recipe -- Kellogg's Corn Flakes Macaroons -- which is available on the Kellogg's Web site.

In 1923, W.K. Kellogg had hired Mary Barber to set up one of the industry's first professional home economics departments to develop recipes using the company's cereals and provide consumer information on diet and nutrition.

Corn flakes were created by accident. With a sixth-grade education and six years as a traveling broom salesman, W.K. Kellogg had gone to work at the Battle Creek (Michigan) Sanitarium where his brother John Harvey Kellogg was the chief physician. The sanitarium was affiliated with the Kelloggs' Seventh Day Adventist Church and, therefore, had a vegetarian kitchen.

The brothers spent years trying to improve the patients' diet. In 1894, while trying to make a wheat-based granola, W.K. accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat to stand for too long. Though the grain was softened and seemingly stale, he went ahead and put it through the usual rolling process. Rather than creating a sheet of dough, each grain came out as a thin flake that the brothers then baked. And so, breakfast cereal was born. In 1906, W.K Kellogg went into the business.

In honor of corn flakes' centenary, public television chef Daisy Martinez has devised a number of recipes using the cereal. There's no tuna noodle casserole.

But somewhere, someone must be making a 100th birthday cake using corn flakes.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR commentator Bonny Wolf grew up in Minnesota and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in New Jersey and Texas. She taught journalism at Texas A&M University where she encouraged her student, Lyle Lovett, to give up music and get a real job. Wolf gives better advice about cooking and eating, and contributes her monthly food essay to NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday. She is also a contributing editor to "Kitchen Window," NPR's Web-only, weekly food column.
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