The 1990 Pillsbury Bake-Off
When I was a child, my grandmother Mimi and I would see recipes in the grocery store from the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and would speculate about the contest. Neither of us ever thought about entering. Then many years later I actually submitted a simple recipe and found myself to be part of the 1990 Bake-Off. Winning was the furthest thing from my imagination. That was twenty-two years ago; it was a most unexpected event.
“My” Bake-Off took place at The Pointe at South Mountain, resort in the hills outside Phoenix. Had I any idea of what an exceptional event the Bake-Off is, I would have brought my husband Greg with me. Thankfully, I did bring my friend and colleague Priscilla Yee. I had never entered a contest before and she was a veteran. We savored every moment of the very classy three-day event. Alas for Greg, he soon became my 24/7 answering service at home in Petaluma, California.
A unique thing about the 1990 Bake-Off is that it was the last year that the Pillsbury Company was owned by the Pillsbury family. The company was purchased by a holding company out of Great Britain. As the winner that year, I had the special privilege of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury, lovely gentle people of a bygone era. There was much speculation at the contest as to whether this would actually be the last Bake-Off ever. How would the new owners run the company? What would they do about the Bake-Off?
We all have such grand ideas of what it is like to be “famous,” even if that fame is only for a moment in time. The Bake-Off is all about publicity for the Pillsbury Company, so there is great fanfare for the winner as media on all levels spreads the word throughout the land. But what is it really like?
There had been a delay in the schedule the morning the winner was announced. Word was that Willard Scott was waiting for his wig, which had to be flown in by special courier from New York City. That was before Willard decided his head looked just fine without a rug. When my Blueberry Poppy Seed Brunch Cake was unveiled as the winner, I was seated at one of the tables occupied by the one hundred contestants. My legs suddenly felt like limp spaghetti. All I saw between myself and Willard Scott was about a million electrical cords all over the floor, secured haphazardly with duct tape and a set of stairs leading up to the stage. As I attempted to walk normally, my heart beat loudly in my ears. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off being famous!
Did You Get to Ride in a Limousine?
When I was selected as one of the Bake-Off contestants, I was told to bring an extra outfit to wear on the Today Show if I were to win. Well, I certainly was not going to win so there was no point in bringing clothes to wear in New York. Besides, even though I am not superstitious, bringing that extra outfit was for certain going to guarantee that I would not win. So I did not bring one.
The outfit I got to wear on the big day of the Bake-Off, I bought in Santa Rosa, CA at a wonderful store that is long-gone: The Great American Short Story. (I’m short.) It was a long-sleeved blouse and matching, calf-length skirt in a linen-like fabric in a solid color of hot fuchsia. It was a good color for me and the photographers loved it. They told me to wear it in New York as well.
On the plane flight east, I sat in my seat as calmly as possible, accompanied by Marlene Johnson of Pillsbury and a publicist from New York City. All I could think about was my now-seriously-wrinkled skirt and my poor blouse; it was not only wrinkled, but stained in the armpits. I sometimes sweat profusely. This was one of those times, and I discovered the fabric showed water stains. I did not tell anyone of my dilemma as I mentally explored my options.
We arrived at the small, antique hotel near Rockefeller Center at about ten o’clock at night. I was told to get some sleep since we had to be on the set of the Today Show at four o’clock in the morning. The thought was that some sleep might help with the dark circles under my eyes. Me? I was thinking about my skirt and blouse! As soon as I was safely behind my closed door, I called the hotel desk to see if I could get my outfit cleaned overnight. I mean it was New York City after all! No such luck; go to Plan B.
Plan B involved trying to wash the armpits of my blouse in the bathroom sink with the little complimentary bottle of shampoo. The water turned bright pink. The water stains in the arm pits grew. The only thing to do was to wash the whole (dry clean only) blouse…including the big thick shoulder pads. A while later, with the blouse on a hanger, and all the baths towels now hot fuchsia, the question was how to get the thing dry in the next three hours. The little antique hotel had antique radiators. I turned the heat up as high as it would go and then stacked up chairs in order to suspend the blouse over the radiator. The room was now very hot! Had to get naked! Felt like a fool. Can fools be famous? Okay. Now, if I closed my eyes for a while would the dark bags go away?
Two hours later, I concluded that the shoulder pads would never get dry. It’s really hard to remove something like that without scissors but somehow I managed. The blouse was only damp now so, forgetting the bags under my eyes, I retrieved one of the chairs as an ironing board and with my little travel iron, attempted to press the skirt to some degree of wear-ability. All the time, I’m thinking how I’m not very good at being famous. I’m acting more like a little farm girl from Mosquito Lake Road, in Deming, Washington.
Amazingly, the next morning at the studio, I did not look too badly put together. Thanks to the “food stylist” (a new term for me; they come with a portable kitchen in a tackle box), the place smelled like a bakery. Gene Shalit was very friendly as he waited impatiently for a slice of cake, and I actually had fun in my on-camera interview with Bryant Gumbel. However, I had to smile a little later in the day when I talked with my sister. Her vision of the grandeur of celebrity was so contrary to how I had spent my sleepless night. She asked, “Did you get to ride in a limousine?”
The Rest of the Story
I won $40,000 in cash at the Bake-Off, as well as a $10,000 kitchen make-over from Sears. Federal and state income tax collectors took $20,000 of my cash. With two sons in college, the remaining $20,000 was most welcome and gone fast!
In the months after the Bake-Off, we used the publicity locally to raise money for Petaluma Valley Hospital. Pillsbury sent the Dough Boy costume out and my husband and sons wore it in parades and other fundraisers. We had a lot of fun and I felt (and still feel) extremely fortunate in all ways for the marvelous experience.
Several months after the Bake-Off, I was sitting in my office in San Francisco when I received a phone call from my son Brian, then an engineering student at WSU in Pullman, Washington. He said, “Mom, have you seen the newspaper today?” “Not yet,” I replied. “Are you sitting down” “Yes, why?” “Mom, they are going to continue the Pillsbury Bake-Off. And, Mom, the prize will be a million dollars!” And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.
Come back tomorrow to read Part II of this Bake-Off!
To read more about the Pillsbury Bake-Off go to http://www.bakeoff.com/
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