The post-WWII boom in packaged convenience food has brought us a great many things. Some of those things are still with us – like the frozen pizza. Others came to our local supermarkets with a blast of fanfare, only to fade away into obscurity. We recently looked at one of the second kind – Pillsbury’s Space Food Sticks. Today we revisit the topic with another from my suburban childhood: Shake-A-Puddin’!
OK, who remembers Shake-A-Puddin’? Have I finally found a topic so obscure that there is not even a Wikipedia page on it? Possibly. Actually, the whole history of easy pudding mixes is pretty obscure too, so a little backfilling (which is not the same thing as pie filling) is necessary. And no, I am not going to start at the beginning of pudding because that is a complex morass of all kinds of foods, both appetizing and otherwise. For anyone looking for a blogging topic, have at it.
It appears that the first boxed pudding mix was introduced in the U.S. by My-T-Fine in 1918. This type of instant-ish pudding was made possible by the miracle of cornstarch which was a substitute for the eggs that would normally be necessary to thicken the dessert. I say instant-ish because these early versions still required adding milk and cooking atop the stove before chilling caused them to set into a pudding. That brand still exists today, under the umbrella of the Jel Sert Company.
General Foods (Jell-O) and Royal Foods followed with their own pudding mixes, mixes that were staples in American pantries by the 1930s. The Jell-O version was even sold as an ice cream powder at first. Modern versions of these “cook-n-serve” puddings are still available in a limited number of flavors, and the experience gained in my youth tells me that they still offer a taste and texture that is superior to the “true” instant puddings that came later.
Later, as in 1949 when the American Maize-Products Company introduced its new Amazo brand of instant pudding that required no cooking at all. It appears that Royal and Jell-O (and others) were into that market by the early 1950s, which seemed to be the state of the (pudding) art by the early 1960s. But America and the big food companies being what they are, surely instant pudding could be taken to another level.
The problem was this: How do you improve on a process that involves Mom mixing a box of powder into a bowl of cold milk to get dessert for the kids? The answer that the folks at Royal hit upon was to eliminate the middle man. Or in this case, the middle-Mom.
Jell-O seems to have hit on the idea of selling a big shaker to replace Mom and the mixing bowl. Pudding powder, milk, a shaker and some kids were all you needed. Jell-O called it Shake A Pudding, as shown in this ad.
Royal elbowed its way to the title of Pudding Innovation King (something I just made up) when it hatched the fabulous idea that would let kids make their own pudding from a kit. All that was needed was to pour the single-serving pouch of instant pudding powder into one of four included shaker cups, add some cold
milk water, then attach the tightly-sealed lid and start shaking. Or maybe we should say “shakin'” because the product was not called “Shake-A-Pudding” but “Shake-A-Puddin'”. Even the spoons were included.
This early television commercial demonstrates the whole brilliant idea. Kids love pudding. Kids are always looking for something fun to do. And kids often make a mess. How could it not be the idea of the year to satisfy the first two things on that list and eliminate the third? And Mom never had to worry about someone leaving the milk out on the counter (or worse, dropping the glass bottle on the hard kitchen floor. Ask me how I know how bad that could be.)
“Shake Shake Shake a Puddin, Puddin’ Puddin’ Shake a Puddin’ …” so went the advertising jingle from this commercial that remains lodged in my head long after I remember anything about the product. Though I had forgotten that it was sung by Beach Boys soundalikes. Because who wouldn’t want to buy something hawked by the Beach Boys?
In researching for this, I discovered just how hot of a trend shakin’ puddin’ actually was – not even I remembered the Puddin’ Head – which made its shaker in the likeness of the cutely grotesque thing on the package. Who would have imagined that the Colgate-Palmolive company felt the need to jump on this bandwagon? It is amazing to look back at what people thought was a really good idea in 1966 or so.
As with every new food-fad advertised on television, it became my sister and my critical mission to convince our mother to buy it for us. I suspect we sold the convenience and kept quiet about how much fun we were going to have. Mom must have been an easy mark, as I think about it, because we got our Shake-a-Puddin’. Maybe she got ten cents off. Sliding around the slick kitchen floor in your socks as you shook a personal-sized shaker full of creamy delicious pudding – what could be more fun? My recall is that the making of the pudding was more rewarding than the eating of it, but then again it has been a long time since I have partaken.
Then again, even the making of it was not as fun as it looked on TV (which is true of almost everything, as I have discovered through a long and unpleasant learning curve). After about the first five seconds of shaking we would start wondering if it was done. Fifteen or thirty seconds of vigorous shaking is a pretty long time, long enough to figure out that what the Beach Boy imitators were selling us as fun was actually work. Making us learn another early lesson – Mom making pudding for us was a lot less work than shaking it for ourselves.
Mom must have also bought the Jell-O version because I remember one of these big “family size?” shakers hanging around in the back of the glassware cabinet for quite a few years. There is nothing worse than something from a long-forgotten fad reminding you of how silly you were to beg for it every time you open the cabinet to get a glass.
I do not remember this one lasting very long, but it seems that Bill Cosby was still selling the Jell-O version (which was apparently by then just a free shaker cup with a box of instant pudding) in the mid 80’s before he moved on to Pudding Pops. Among other things. Maybe the void left by the demise of Shake-A-Puddin’/Pudding was where all of the customers for Space Food Sticks came from? And perhaps even the most terrible ideas can find life in a well-timed fad – at least in the short term. I would say something about “a fool and his money are soon parted”, but in a case like this the fools were young and persistent while the money was that of the fools’ parents.
Fortunately the product (or at least its advertising) was gone by the time “What’s shakin’? and “Shake Your Booty” became common slang expressions. Those commercials would have been awful.
Photo from Historysdumpster.com
Old product packaging and ads found at random Pinterest pages
Old TV commercials on the YouTube pages as shown when you click the links.