Throwback Thursday – America’s first foodie meets its southern sweetheart, the Duncan Hines and Dolly Parton baking collection

Earlier this year, Conagra brands announced a new limited edition baking collection bringing bakers the best of Dolly Parton’s southern recipes and Duncan Hines cake mix and frostings. The collection has seen immediate success, as America’s favorite southern sweetheart meets the brand established by Bowling Green’s most famous foodie. This is the story of Duncan Hines, the real life man behind the cake mix, and perhaps the world’s first published food and hotel critic.

Born this month in 1880 Bowling Green, exactly 142 years ago, Duncan Hines lost his mother at an early age and was raised by his grandmother. He graduated Bowling Green Business University and became a traveling salesman for a Chicago-based company. In a time before interstate travel and Yelp reviews, Hines traveled the country, dining at off-the-beaten path restaurants and recording his opinions about the experience. He published these into a 1936 booklet, titled Adventures in Good Eating, providing dining advice to future travelers based on his firsthand experiences. The book, for an appropriate expression, sold like hotcakes. Two years later, he turned his motel and hotel-stay records into a published travel guide too.

These adventure guidebooks represented a new fad in American vacation life—with increased affordability of the automobile, more families were taking road trips and looking for travel advice. By the 1940s, Hines was renting “Recommended by Duncan Hines” signs for businesses, based on their ratings in his books. Travelers trusted and looked for the signs anywhere they ate or slept. The Duncan Hines food label was established by 1948, and over 150 food items bore the Duncan Hines name into the 1950s. 

Hines passed in 1959, with his books discontinued by 1962. But the Duncan Hines food label remains a major part of the Conagra food brands. The “Recommended by Duncan Hines” exhibit at the Kentucky Museum bring this foodie’s story to life. His former Bowling Green home and office on Louisville Road is now Hardy & Sons funeral home, but visitors can ask to see the old Hines kitchen. The Duncan Hines Scenic Byway has stops around the Mammoth Cave area. The Parakeet Café, once in downtown Bowling Green on Morris Alley and now the home of Tidball’s, was “Recommended by Duncan Hines.”

The Dolly Parton and Duncan Hines southern baking collection would make for an interesting road trip if visitors were to drive from each’s hometown to the other—Bowling Green to Sevierville, Tenn. We wonder how many spots along the way were once “Recommended by Duncan Hines.”