Convict Cookies from the Pillsbury Bake-Off

Hopefully this title caught some people’s attention. And yes, it says convict as in convicted criminal. Read on to learn how an innocent 13-year-old won a prize in the 1952 Bake-Off and then went on to a life of crime.

I needed to make cookies for an event where I work. I decided to try making a prize-winning recipe from the 1953 Pillsbury 4th Grand National Baking Contest (as it was called then). I chose Sour Cream Walnutties baked by 13-year-old Philip Marion Delham of Salt Lake City one of the Junior Division winners in 1952. (Although my book is dated 1953, it naturally has the recipes and winners from the previous year, 1952.) The grand prize that year was given to Mrs. Peter S. Harlib of Chicago for her Snappy Turtle Cookies. She won $25,000, no mean sum in 1952.

The Pillsbury Bake-Offs were a brilliant marketing idea. The contest was conceived to market Pillsbury flour and celebrate the company’s 80th birthday. In addition, after rationing in World War II ended, sugar was now available and women were baking again with a vengeance. Pillsbury wanted to capitalize on this and so devised the contest where all recipes had to use Pillsbury flour.

The  first contest was held in 1949 and it continues to this day. Throughout the 1950s the contestants and their families were flown to New York City and housed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Even the Bake-Off was held at the Waldorf Astoria!

1952 Bake-Off

During the second Bake-Off, a junior division was added to the competition. I loved reading this blog on the history of the Bake-Offs beginnings. Read the blog to get a flavor (no pun intended) of the details that needed ironing out to start the competition and some of the ups and downs. And if you’d like to see video clips of what the contests looked like watch this You Tube Video. I love watching the contestants and their excitement when they win.

So on to the Sour Cream Walnutties. As you know if you read my posts, I love to research the person responsible for the recipe if I can. Thanks to Ancestry.com it’s usually fairly easy, but this one was a stumper. From a newspaper article dated March 16, 1953 we learn that Philip Marion Delham was the youngest contestant (age 13 in 1952) and he lived in Salt Lake City with his grandmother, twin sister and older sister. He learned to cook from his grandmother beginning at age 5. Cute, huh?

I found Philip on Ancestry in the late 1950s living in Salt Lake City. He is listed in the city directory from 1957-1959 living on his own. It says he’s a student and one would presume since we was between the ages 18-20 that he was in college. I can find no earlier census listing for he or his sisters. There aren’t even any Delhams listed in the City Directory! Presumably his grandmother had a different last name.

What I did find was a string of articles about a 23-year-old from Murray, Utah named Philip Marion Delham. He’s called an ex-convict, and he was on the run for shooting and wounding a police officer in Nebraska. The articles said he had been in trouble since the age of 14 and called him an ex-convict so one would guess he’d been in jail before.  Coincidence or is this the same person as the Bake-Off young man? Hard to imagine going from cookies to crime, but the name is so specific, as well as the fact both the younger and older man are from the Salt Lake City area. The last mention of him in the paper is that he was sentenced to 20 years in jail. A sad ending if these are indeed the same young man.

So what about the cookies? Yes, they are yummy though I’m not sure they are award winning. They are super easy to make though. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 c. sifted flour (They of course called for Pillsbury)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup Spry (This is a shortening like Crisco that was introduced in 1936. It was even more popular than Crisco. It’s no longer available, so I took a big gulp and used Crisco)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1 tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt

Blend together the Crisco and the sugar until well creamed

Add the egg and vanilla to the Crisco mixture and beat well

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the sour cream to the Crisco mixture blending thoroughly after each addition

Fold in the walnuts

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet

Dip bottom of greased glass into a mixture of the 1 tbs. sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.

Flatten each cookie with the glass which will coat the tops with the sugar mixture

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes

Remove from pans onto a cooling rack immediately

The cookbook says the cookies are crisp so I don’t think I flattened them enough or left them in a long enough time. They were soft and did have a nice flavor, but not something I’d bake again.

And if there is a Philip Marion Delham out there and you are not the convict, please accept my humble apologies!

One Response to “Convict Cookies from the Pillsbury Bake-Off”

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  1. Bev says:

    Those sound good! Since I can’t have nuts I’d leave those out! even though they’d taste better with the nuts in them. Interesting story if it’s the same person.

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