I have soup on the brain lately, so naturally I started wondering about the most famous of American soup companies. Campbell’s!
In 1869, fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson decided to start a canning company in Camden, New Jersey. By 1877, the partners had separated and Joseph Campbell expanded the canning business to include ketchup, salad dressing, mustard, and other sauces.
When Campbell retired in 1894, Arthur Dorrance took over as company president. It was Dorrance who made the Campbell’s brand what it is today when he reluctantly agreed to hire his nephew John, a chemist who enjoyed a challenge. He accepted a low salary and a lack of sufficient lab equipment to help the company figure out a way to improve their product and increase their profits. He realized that if he could eliminate water, soup’s heaviest ingredient, it would be lighter and cheaper to ship. The result was condensed soup, which passed the responsibility of water provision onto the consumer. Hopefully Uncle Arthur showed his appreciation with a big bonus and a wedge of humble pie.
In 1898 Campbell’s adopted it’s classic red and white can design, which has changed very little over 110 years (though I am glad to say it does now come with a pop-top), and sales continued to increase. Under the leadership of William Beverly Murphy during the late 1940’s through the early 1970’s, Campbell’s went public and acquired many new brands, including Pepperidge Farm, Franco-American, V8 vegetable juice, Swanson broths, and Godiva.
I don’t know about you, but Godiva seems a little out of place to me. Maybe Campbell’s thought so too, since they sold it to a Turkish manufacturer in 2008 for $850 million.
Always big proponents of advertising, Campbell’s is well-known for the “Campbell Kids” and their “M’m M’m Good” slogan. What I remember the most from my childhood is the creepy commercial with the alien. Artist Andy Warhol also increased the brand’s iconic status when he incorporated the Campbell’s can design into a series of pop art silkscreens in 1962.
Over time, tastes have evolved enough that nobody considers condensed soup very delicious on its own anymore. More often than not it is used as an ingredient in casseroles, dips and (I have learned) sometimes even cakes…proving that the Campbell’s test kitchen chefs had a whole lot of time on their hands, and a blind belief that there wasn’t anything condensed soup couldn’t conqueror. intrigued by this bold claim, I turned to the ”Surprise Cakes and Cookies” section of my undated but very vintage Campbell’s “Cooking With Soup” cookbook for a sweet recipe.
I found Tomato Soup cake. Pretty straightforward. I didn’t want to make an actual layer cake with the called-for cream cheese frosting, so I added raisins and baked it in a loaf pan instead. I also swapped the shortening for butter. The result was…well…I suppose edible, but not pleasant. Maybe it’s because I know it’s in there, but all I can smell and taste is the metallic tang of tomato soup. Basically it wants to be pumpkin bread…
But it’s not. And I knew it wouldn’t be. I just couldn’t help myself…