Don’t overlook the back of the box

Despite the fact that most people look for recipes online these days, food manufacturers still provide those recipes on containers of everything from oatmeal to chocolate chips to sweetened condensed milk and beyond. With hundreds of cookbooks at my disposal, I rarely look at the recipes posted on packages of the products I purchase. However, Hannah Selinger at Eater makes some good points about these recipes, explaining that she uses them as sources of inspiration.

Probably the most famous “back of the box” recipe is for Nestle’s Toll House Cookies (technically, of course, this a is “back of the bag” recipe). Generations were raised on these chocolate chip masterpieces. The Toll House cookie recipe is but one fruit from a tree of recipes put forth by food companies that had in-house test kitchens constantly stirring up new ways to use their products. Some have stood the test of time while others have faded into oblivion.

Selinger also provides an interesting observation that by reading the backs of bags and boxes, “you can track the country’s culinary trends and passions.” She uses as an example General Mills’ Betty Crocker cakes from the WWII era and just after it ended. In order to save on rationed supplies like sugar, the recipe suggested alternative ingredients.

While some of us eschew “back of the box” recipes because we feel that they will be too pedestrian for our elevated palates, Selinger urges us to give the box a second look. “Cooking doesn’t need to be complicated to be valuable,” she reminds us. “There’s value in opening your pantry, reading the box, and doing what it says. In the process, pay homage to the home economists who built the empires of test kitchens, the ones who worked behind the scenes to create things we didn’t know were possible.”

Photo of Toll House chocolate chip cookies from The New York Times Cooking by Ruth Wakefield

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  • fairyduff  on  June 13, 2020

    For my generation, no-one needed to locate their recipe for Chocolate Crackles, a mainstay for children’s birthday parties. You only had to purchase the ingredients, and three of them would list the recipe on the packaging. (Kellogg’s Rice Bubbles, Cadbury Bourneville cocoa, and Copha.)

  • whitewoods  on  June 14, 2020

    I’ve always found the recipes provided by manufacturers to be excellent. I figured that they knew they needed to come up with a good one in order to help keep product sales robust. Back in the 1990s Mom and I had a lot of fun cooking pasta recipes off the back of boxes of A&P’s private label pasta brand, Master’s Choice. Each recipe also had wine recommendations which we diligently followed, because neither one of us knew anything about wine. But they don’t sell that pasta any more–although I was just reading online that it was really Pasta LaBella repackaged. We cooked a bunch of those recipes and enjoyed them, however I don’t remember that any particular one stood out enough or that we cut out and kept any of them.

  • sir_ken_g  on  June 14, 2020

    Even Nestle’s Toll House Cookies can be improved.
    Just increase the chips by half.

  • MarciK  on  June 15, 2020

    There was a back of the box recipe I found on a Tollhouse Crackers box for a cracker spread made from cream cheese, orange juice, sugar, grated orange peel, cinnamon, dried cranberries, and pecans. As I was typing and trying to remember ingredients, I went to search for the cut out of the box and still have it. Thankfully because I didn’t remember all of the ingredients.

  • Jlynnbo  on  June 27, 2020

    My go-to pound cake continues to the Swan’s Down back of the box recipe. Living in the South it is a staple for all fresh fruits with a bit of cream and we also butter it, grill it and top it with a mix of macerated fruit for the perfect ending of a late summer picnic.

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