December 11, 2006

The Maxwell House Sign

I'm a little sad today after reading that Maximus Coffee Group, the new owners of the Maxwell House plant on Harrisburg here in Houston, plan on removing the Maxwell House sign with the little coffee cup.

The plant is a familiar landmark for me, another one that's been there all of my life. We used to pass it on our way to the public swimming pool and later on while visiting junior high friends and whenever we had errands over that way. It's a tangible piece of the past for this Houstonian whose roots are on the east end of town.

Even though they'll still be producing Maxwell House Coffee at the plant, it won't be the same.

And, after all, it's only a sign. The 350 workers employed at the plant probably won't mind, so long as they still have a job to go to every day.

It's just a sign, but that little sign makes a bigger impression upon me as far as brand name recognition goes than do all of the Minute Maid Parks, Toyota Centers and Reliant Stadiums.

Perhaps someone else is nostalgic as well, as coincidentally, a Maxwell House recipe booklet is on its way out the door today.

How to Make Good Coffee (1937, 24 pp) was published by General Foods before they acquired the particular plant I spoke of above. The booklet comes from the Consumer Services Department in Hoboken, NJ, but Houston, Tex is also listed along with Los Angeles, Cal. and Jacksonville, Fla. on copyright page.

The booklet describes in detail how to make coffee using a variety of methods: drip, percolated, using vacuum-type coffeemakers, and boiled or steeped. Two pages describe and illustrate the different kinds of coffee pots.

At the time of printing, two grinds of Maxwell House Coffee were offered: Regular Grind (for percolated or boiled) and Drip Gind (for drip pots). As a kid, I remember being confused about all that grind business, and always had to be reminded which one to get when I was sent to the corner store to get more coffee.

The booklet gives directions and recipes for After-Dinner Coffee, Cafe Au Lait, Iced Coffee, Coffee for 40 Persons, Iced Coffolate, Brazilian Chocolate, and Coffee Desserts, which were Marvel Coffee Pie, Coffee Ice Cream, Coffee Carnival, Louisiana Spice Cake, Creole Butter Frosting and Mocha Walnut Cake.

The booklet is illustrated with small black and white illustrations of coffee pots and the old-style Maxwell House coffee cans like my grandfather used to store nails, screws, nuts and bolts in out in his tool shed.

It also contains The Story of Maxwell House Coffee, a portion of which I've shown below:

"Most famous, most patronized of all fine hostelries in the Old South was the celebrated Maxwell House in Nashville, Tennessee. For over eighty years it was the very centre of social elegance and sumptuous entertaining.

Even in those days of lavish menus and epicurean delights its exquisite table delicacies were favorite topics of conversation. And, what was more important, nowhere else could such delicious, mellow coffee be had! Indeed, from the very moment that Maxwell House Coffee made its debut in the marbled dining halls of the famous old Maxwell House it me with the enthusiastic approval of men and women of the most critical, most cultivated taste. Many were the congratulations that Joel Cheek, its young originator, received. And Maxwell House, the old hostelry itself, achieved new heights of popularity.

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who voiced those famous words "good to the last drop," when, with that celebrated smile of his, he asked if he might have a second cup of Maxwell House Coffee.

News of this wonderful new coffee had spread through the entire Southland. Its fame grew with the years, and today Maxwell House Coffee, so fragrant, so rich in flavor, has become America's favorite fine coffee."

More of the Maxwell House Story (that's not in the booklet):

Joel Cheek, a wholesale grocer, began mixing a special blend of coffee around 1892 which he began selling to the Maxwell House hotel. Cheek and his partner, John Neal, formed the Nashville Coffee and Manufacturing Company in 1901, around the same time they began producing and branding the Maxwell House coffee blend for mass consumption. Their venture was later renamed the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company. The Postum Company purchased the assets of their company in 1928 and changed the name to the Maxwell House Products Company. In 1929 the Postum company name was changed to the General Foods Corporation. Kraft Inc. and General Foods Corporation joined forces in 1989 and become Kraft General Foods, whose name was changed to Kraft Foods Inc. in 1995.

The original Maxwell House Hotel refered to in this booklet, which was located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Church Street in downtown Nashville, was destroyed by fire in December 1961.

If you're looking for a newer version of a Maxwell House cookbook, you can take a look at this one, which was published in 2003.


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