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A small unsweetened or lightly sweetened biscuit-like cake.

Mama Bess is growing fat. I don’t know whether or not it is the fish she eats. She eats a tremendous amount of it… Perhaps it is the Scotch scones. They are very delicious, crumbly, hot cakes, spread thick with butter and jam. She eats two of them without a quiver. Once she ate three… – Rose Wilder Lane to Almanzo Wilder, October 1915

I haven’t seen the original letters and postcards that Laura Ingalls Wilder mailed back home to Almanzo so long ago while visiting Rose in San Francisco and taking in the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). So I don’t know if Laura provided more clues to tell us exactly where she bought those delicious scones. In her well-researched Rose Wilder Lane’s San Francisco, Trini L. Wenninger points out that today, one can purchase scone mix from the very same company who sold them at the Panama Pacific: Fisher, or the Fisher Flouring Mills.

Since 1977, Fisher Original Fair Scone Mix has been part of Conifer Specialty Foods. As one who is grateful for the boxes a fellow Little House researcher sends me every year, I can attest to their goodness and how easy they are to make. While thinking about this blog, I whipped up a batch of scones; a photograph of one is at right. What could be easier than adding water, mixing, shaping, and baking?

Fisher Flouring Mills opened in Washington State in 1911; the Fisher family sold their mill interests in 2000. According to a period newspaper article about the PPIE, “The most popular booth in the Food Products Building was the Fisher’s Blend Booth, where the famous ‘Fisher’s Blend Exposition Scones’ were made and sold to the eager throngs that constantly surrounded the booth. As many as 25,000 of these scones were baked and sold in a single day and during the life of the Exposition more than two million were turned out… When served hot, with raspberry jam between the two layers, these scones [made] a most palatable morsel of food.” (The Seattle Daily Times, January 31, 1916, page 5.)

For five cents, one could purchase a scone. Fisher later included their scone recipe in a cookbook:

Ingredients – 2-1/2 cups Fisher’s Blend flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 6 tablespoons butter, 2/3 cup milk, 1/2 cup raisins, dash salt. To make – Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Add milk and raisins and stir gently just until mixed. Turn out on lightly floured board and knead lightly for 5 or 6 turns of the dough. Divide dough into thirds; pat each third into a 4-5 inch circle. Cut each circle into quarters and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with butter and raspberry jam.

Young Dwight Paulhamus attended the PPIE that March with his father, William Paulhamus, a founder of the Western Washington Fair at Puyallup, Washington. They saw a long line of people waiting to be served “jam on hot biscuits” by a tall man in a chef’s uniform at the Fisher’s Blend Flour exhibit. The purpose of the booth was to interest people in buying Fisher’s flour, made in Seattle. Back home, Paulhamus contacted the Fisher family and arranged for the scones to be sold at the Puyallup Fair, where they continue to be a favorite item today. (Augusta Chronicle, September 26, 1990, page B-8.) For many years, Puyallup scones contained raisins, also remembered by many as an ingredient in the Fisher PPIE scones, but not mentioned in Laura’s report.

It turns out, though, that Fisher wasn’t the only company making scones at the Exposition. While they may have enjoyed Fisher scones, it’s entirely possible that Laura and Rose sampled scones from more than one vendor, or that they only ate scones made by someone other than Fisher.

After attending the PPIE, Laura published an article in the Missouri Ruralist titled “Magic in Plain Foods.” That article was condensed and included in the appendix of West From Home (1974). In her Ruralist article, Laura writes:

…I am sure nobody leaves the Exposition without speaking of the Scotch scones; everybody eats them who can reach them. They are baked by a Scotchman from Edinburgh, who turns out more than 4,000 of them daily. They are buttered, spread with jam, and handed over the counter as fast as four girls can do it. And the counter is surrounded by a surging mob all day long.

As I went from booth to booth, they gave me samples of the breads they had made, with our American flour– the little, bland Chinese girl in her bright blue pajama costume, the smiling high-cheeked Russian peasant girl, the Hindoo in his gay turban, the swarthy, black-eyed Mexican– all of them eager to have me like their national foods. And I must say I did like most of it so well that I brought the recipes away with me, and pass them on to you…

Laura then included a number of recipes, some of which were also included in the Pan Pacific Cookbook, published in 1915.

Laura’s description of “breads from different nations” and people in native costume perfectly describes the Sperry Flour Company’s “Bread of All Nations” exhibit. “Here, there were displays of tiny kitchens in which cooks from many nations, in costume, were at work demonstrating some special preparation of their home lands, in which Sperry products were chief ingredients. The Russian cook offered Petosky meat rolls, aladdi, careniki, perbaly babka, and kasha. The Scandinavian cooks, in gay apparel, offered among other things olands brod and mannagryns kaka… The French offered doughnuts and croissants. The Chinese offered fried seed cakes. Hindu pakauvi was made by a native of India. Hebrew noodle pudding, Japanese tea cakes, and Mexican enchiladas could also be found. Besides watching in every instance how it is done, the visitor may carry away printed directions…” (The Blue Book: A Comprehensive Official Souvenir View of The Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco, 1915, page 62.)

An article in the San Jose Mercury News (January 10, 1915) elaborates on the Sperry exhibit, reporting that the six “kitchen” booths were each presided over by a cook and waiters – usually four pretty girls – natives of many countries, and that the showcased countries rotated throughout the months of the PPIE so that the products demonstrated varied from day to day. There was German Day, Swedish Day, Alaska Day, Mother’s Day, and a hundred other special days dedicated to countries, events, cities, or societies. The booths were a meeting place for visitors of all nations, and interpreters were employed so that cookery lore could be described in the native tongue of cook or visitor.

The Sperry exhibit was advertised as the largest single exhibit at the PPIE and included a three-story mill and a Marshall Continuous Oven, where all the various breads were baked. (The Fisher exhibit employed a Marshall double oven in which to bake its scones.) The Sperry exhibit occupied almost 7000 feet of floor space. In addition to the six booths with varying displays, four were permanent kitchens (shown in the postcard view): one to demonstrate how flour was used in American homes for breads of different kinds. A second kitchen showed how Southern cooks made corn pone, muffins, and cornbread. The third booth demonstrated cereals – their purity, food value, plus new and economical uses. The fourth booth was in the charge of scientists who provided instructions for farmers in the scientific mixing of feed for stock or poultry based on a person’s locality. All the while the rumbling mill turned out over 90 barrels of flour each day, all of which was used in the kitchens. Some sources suggest that many of the food items at the Sperry exhibit were given out for free, something frugal Laura surely would have taken advantage of.

In 1929, Sperry Flour Company joined with General Mills, makers of Gold Medal Flour. Sperry’s recipe for scones was almost identical to Fisher’s, but current scone recipes on the Betty Crocker site are quite different, much sweeter and to be served with whipped cream. But if one believes that Rose and Laura are talking about the “same” scones in their writings, it is probably Sperry scones being described, not Fisher.

To add to the confusion, in her “Mama Bess is growing fat” letter to her father, Rose also mentions what has to be the Quaker Oats exhibit at the PPIE, saying she won’t let her mother go to the scone booth any more; she will go in and bring them out herself (no doubt to control how many will be eaten by limiting the number that are brought out): “[I will] leave her standing by the big guns where they pop the rice. Ever eat popped rice? It’s better than popcorn. Gillette eats it with butter and salt, the same way.”

Popped rice was part of the Quaker Oats exhibit, and the Quaker exhibit was near the Sperry exhibit in the Food Products building. Visitors remembered the “interesting and explosive process” of making the puffed rice, which had been exhibited first at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where popped grains were shot into the crowds on a regular basis. The process was invented by Alexander Anderson, who in the early 1900s experimented with heating cereal grains in sealed tubes, then breaking the tubes open. The heat and pressure caused the grains to “explode” into white fluffy masses. He later developed what were properly called guns or cannons, in which the grain was sealed. These were then placed in ovens, while pressure and heat was injected into the guns. When the gun’s cap was removed, the rice or wheat exploded from the end of the gun. For over forty years, Anderson worked with the Quaker Oats Company, who advertised “the food shot from guns” as a breakfast food to be eaten with cream and sugar.

But in 1915, popped rice was already well known around the world, and definitely in Missouri because of the World’s Fair. The Quaker Oats booth at the PPIE was also busy promoting their oatmeal products, particularly oatmeal scones, sold with butter and raspberry jam. The noon rush at that corner was said to be dangerous to life and limb. Should Rose have left Laura standing by the puffed rice gun, at the place where there were also scones to be had?

By the way, Fisher Fair Scones are said to have about 200 calories per scone. A tablespoon of butter has 100 calories, and a tablespoon of raspberry preserves made with sugar, about 50. Puffed rice, on the other hand, has 50 calories per cup. I have no idea about the fish.


scones (WFH, with letter of October 14, 1915)