Warm weather is good for business at Byron H. Smith & Co., Inc., of Bangor, Maine. Homeowners buy paint to spruce up their houses after the rugged Maine winter and homemakers stock up on Bakewell Cream for the strawberry-shortcake season.
The Smith company distributes paint and national brands of health and beauty aids to hundreds of retailers and grocers in eastern and central Maine. Located in an industrial park and housed in a one-story prefab building, it is a wholesaler not at all unlike hundreds of other distributors in places like Tulsa, Okla., and Landover, Md., or anywhere else for that matter.
Except for one thing. Unlike all other distributors of Benjamin Moore paint, or Prell shampoo, Byron H. Smith & Co., Inc., also sells Bakewell Cream.
"It's the only product that is 'ours,' so to speak," says Marjorie Smith, the company's marketing assistant and granddaughter of founder Byron Smith, a chemist who invented Bakewell Cream in the 1940s.
"There's a million Benjamin Moore dealers and Prell shampoo distributors," she says, but only the Smith company has Bakewell Cream.
Lobster and wild blueberries may be the foods that are identified with Maine, but they, unlike Bakewell Cream, are not unique.
Just what is Bakewell Cream? Well, like lobster and wild blueberries, it is a product that has seasonal sales. And, like lobster and wild blueberries, its proponents say it is much better than the alternatives (picking a lobster may be difficult, but nothing like a crab, and cultivated New Jersey blueberries are not worth mentioning).
Bakewell Cream is a powdered leavening agent that can be used in most recipes as a substitute for cream of tartar (though not when beating egg whites for a meringue or angel food cake) or baking powder. Developed because of the war-time shortage of cream of tartar, it is less expensive than cream of tartar. When used instead of baking powder, it results in higher, lighter and tastier no-fail biscuits, according to many who eat the biscuits under strawberries during berry season or with eggs at breakfast during hunting season.
Another advantage is that, since it contains no bicarbonate of soda (which is added during the recipe preparation), it has an indefinite shelf life (unlike baking powder, which contains baking soda). That is definitely an asset to those who leave it in their hunting camps from one fall to the next.
What it does contain is acid sodium pyrophosphate and redried cornstarch in a proportion the company will not divulge, and nothing else.
The Bakewell Cream factory, in the back of the warehouse, is a room that is perhaps 12 by 24 feet and contains a counter top, hopper and machine for filling tins, boxes of empty tins and lids, empty boxes for packing filled tins in case lots and a stack of 50-pound bags of the product. That's it.
It's a one-person operation, when that person is needed.
"We'd like to have one person on it full time," says Smith, but the usual procedure is to put somebody on it "all day" when a "big order" comes in.
What that "somebody" does is pour the bags of powder, which is mixed to specifications in the Midwest and shipped to Bangor, into the hopper, turn on the vacuum that pulls the powder into the filling machine, fill each tin, snap in the lid and put the tins by hand in the cases of 12 or 24.
Bakewell Cream is available in 8-ounce tins for homemakers and 8-pound containers for restaurants. An 11-ounce tin has been discontinued. Sales last year were 80,000 units, mostly in the small size.
Marjorie Smith is thinking bigger, however.
"We would like to market it all over the world," says Smith. Then she laughs. "It's hard," she says. "You need a lot of advertising.
"Until three-four years ago we never advertised, never marketed it," adds Smith, who joined the company five years ago after graduating from college. "It was basically word of mouth, but we see it as having a lot more potential."
What the Smith company (Smith's mother is president and her sister is vice president) has done for starters is hire a Bangor ad agency and arrange for food brokers to handle Bakewell Cream in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
And, expand the line. Coming, "hopefully in the fall," is a biscuit mix, which is basically the recipe on the Bakewell Cream can. "Just add water or milk," says Smith. It eliminates the necessity of buying not only baking powder but also flour.
Until the Bakewell Cream marketing area is expanded considerably, it will continue to be available here only by mail, for $2 per 8-ounce can plus $1.75 postage and handling from Byron H. Smith & Co. Inc., P.O. Box 875, Bangor, Maine 04401. For information on multiple-can orders, and a break on the shipping charge, either write Smith & Co., or call (207) 942-5531.
Since Bakewell Cream retails in Maine for slightly less than $2, the mail-order cost, including UPS charges, may seem a bit steep. On the other hand, it's a long way to Doug's Shop 'n Save in Bucksport and the biscuits are delicious. BAKEWELL CREAM BISCUITS (From the can) (Makes about 20 biscuits)
4 cups flour plus extra for kneading
4 teaspoons Bakewell Cream
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups cold milk
Butter for dotting
Mix and sift dry ingredients. Add shortening and mix with pastry blender.
Add milk all at once, and stir quickly with a fork. Turn out on floured board and knead 5 or 6 times. Roll out 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter. Top each with a little butter. Bake at 475 degrees for 5 minutes.
Turn off heat and leave in oven for 5 to 10 minutes -- until golden brown.
(Note: Many modern ovens are not as well insulated as those of the era when this recipe was written and you may have to leave the oven on for 10 or more minutes for the biscuits to become golden brown.) EVEN BETTER BISCUITS (Makes about 10 biscuits)
2 cups flour plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into 5 pieces, plus extra for dotting
2 teaspoons Bakewell Cream
1 teaspoon baking soda (or 3 teaspoons double-acting baking powder for Bakewell Cream and baking soda)
2/3 cup cold milk
Put flour, sugar, salt and butter in food processor with metal blade and process until crumbly (or mix with pastry blender if not using processor). Add Bakewell Cream and baking soda (or baking powder instead of Bakewell Cream and baking soda) and process for a few seconds.
Mix together egg and milk and add to dry ingredients. Process until dough forms a ball (may need to add more flour). Turn out on floured board and knead 3 or 4 times. Pat out to 3/4-inch thickness and cut biscuits. Dab each with soft butter. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes.