TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA – Among the greatest of the American grocery brand names is Clabber Girl.
Iconic Clabber Girl was born when a Terre Haute, Indiana wholesale company named Hulman Brothers added its own brand of baking powder. They called it Clabber, which is apparently a word for sour milk.
Hulman & Co., founded in 1849, has continued operations to this day, though they no longer have a wholesale business, and brands such as Farmers Pride, Dauntless and Crystal have disappeared.
The Hulman family name (and entrepreneur Tony Hulman) is best known for its association with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the famous Clabber billboard that reads “Five Minutes to Terre Haute, Home Of Clabber Girl Baking Powder.” (By the way, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will celebrate its centennial in 2009.)
A bit of Chemistry 101. In the olden days, folks would often bake with sour milk or vinegar, to activate the baking soda. Baking powder added extra ingredients, to forego that step. The ingredients in Clabber Girl are cornstarch, bicarbonate of soda, sodium aluminum sulfate and monocalcium phosphate.
The company has done a masterful job of expanding the brand. The brand is now not only baking powder, but a culinary school, general store and museum. It also shows the connection between regional brands and tourism.
In this case, the regional brand not only gives a sense of identity to Terre Haute, but the city gives exposure to the brand. It runs a culinary school, called Clabber Girl Culinary Courses, where the product is used. In addition, they also have a Clabber Girl Bake Shop (and tea shop) where goodies are sold that are made with Clabber Girl. Clabber’s Antonia’s Country Store features gifts with an emphasis on those made in Indiana. They sell Doughmakers Gourmet Bakeware (made in Terre Haute), regional cookbooks and and of course Clabber Girl gifts.
Recipes are online at clabbergirl.com.
On their website is a full version of a family letter that attracted patriarch Herman Hulman to Terra Haute. It ought to be read by every American:
O Herman! Herman! Follow my advice. There is still time! You will lead an entirely different life, be a different person, a free man, independent, and a republican who is conscious of his worth and dignity as a man. In this free and happy America, poverty and ignorance do not reign, one can express his opinion freely, and there is no censorship. The laws are good and wealth and well-being reign everywhere… You can act freely in every respect as it becomes a man, without interference (as a republican).