Baking IS a Science

Pair of Women’s Shoes, 1852

For our Cooking (from) the Books series I tried another recipe from the RIHS collections. My first baking adventure for this series was Miss Davis’ Nut Bread, a handwritten recipe found in a book collected and written by Helen Washburn (MSS 783 sg1). This time I attempted a recipe for oat flour muffins published by the Rumford Company.
Rumford Chemical Works
Rumford Chemical Works (MSS 13 sg 2) was founded in 1854. Initially called Wilson, Duggan & Co. after its founders, the firm established a plant in Pleasant Valley, Rhode Island in 1855. The company was formed for the manufacture of baking and medicinal products, chemicals used in dyeing and printing, and fertilizer. Objections of plant neighbors to the fumes generated by these operations and the need for a river-based supply dock encouraged the company to move to Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1858. At this time, the firm officially changed its name to Rumford Chemical Works. The border between the states also shifted so that the area of Seekonk, Massachusetts occupied by the chemical company became part of Rhode Island.

Illustrated Hand-Book of the City of Providence. Published by J.C. Thomas, 1876. (F89.P9 I2)
Over the next 20 years, Rumford Chemical Works grew to a large network of plant buildings, labs, packaging, and administrative offices along the Seekonk River. The company also managed farms and stores for the company’s workers and their families.
Rumford Chemical Works, advertising card.
The company’s focus turned primarily to baking power and acid phosphate production in the late 19th century. Rumford did return to the production of dyes and fertilizers in the 1920s, along with continued expansion in other food production. Between the 1940s and 1960s the company was sold and new divisions created. In 1966 the company transferred its production of baking powder to their Arkansas plant. In that same year, the Rumford Chemical Works factory in Rhode Island was sold to Essex Chemical Company.
The records of Rumford Chemical Works (MSS 13, subgroup 2) were donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1976. These records along with several histories of and cookbooks by the Rumford Company are available for research at the Robinson Research Center.
For this entry I chose a simple muffin recipe from the Rumford Company’s recipe book Delicious Wartime Recipes, published during World War II.
Wartime cover
Delicious War Time Recipes: That Meet the Requirements of the U.S. Food Administration. Published by the Department of Home Economics of the Rumford Company, 194-. (TX715 .R8)
Help win the war
The recipe book also included tips for substituting scarce food items during the war.
Reading the recipe for Oat Flour Muffins I noticed that I would likely have all of these ingredients in my kitchen already, which is always a drawn when picking out a new recipe!
The instructions do not indicate an oven temperature (not even the ubiquitous “slow” or “fast” guidelines that appear in so many early to mid-century cookbooks). I set my oven to the standard 350-degree F temperature at which I bake most muffins and cookies. The recipe also calls for using a “gem pan”, something I was unfamiliar with. With a bit of internet research, I learned that a gem pan is a small or shallow muffin pan, often but not always made of cast iron. I happened to have what I thought was an odd-sized muffin pan, which I had purchased in Australia (below on the left; a standard muffin pan is on the right for comparison). I always felt it was too shallow for muffins or cupcakes but had made do. In this case it seemed that I had just the right pan for the recipe!
I substituted almond milk for regular milk, but I don’t think that it made a big difference in the final product (I do this in most of my baking). The muffins came out very soft and light, perfect with a bit of blackberry jam or butter. I liked the end result and I might keep this recipe to use as a base for other muffins, adding nuts or blueberries next time.

The Rhode Island Historical Society collections include many  recipe books published by the Rumford Chemical Company. Find them on NETOP.
Rhode Island Women in Action: A Force for Local Food
The Great Uprising: How a Powder Revolutionized Baking
~ Michelle Chiles, Research Center Manager

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