As I drove my friend around Denton, she turned to me and said, “Shelly, I have to ask … what are ‘Corn Kits‘?” She was reading the large sign that dominates the south east side of the downtown area atop the Morrison Milling Plant. If y’all have been to Denton, you couldn’t miss it. The big red letters scream against the sky line, “MORRISON’S CORN-KITS.”
I screeched the car to a halt, as my jaw dropped and hit the steering wheel. “Do whut?” I asked incredulously. Then, I remembered that this poor gal was from Alaska and was unfamiliar with some of our culinary delights here in Texas.
For the uninformed, let me tell you: Corn Kits is the name of a pre-packaged corn-bread mix from right here in Denton, Texas. In the 1950s and 1960s, Corn-Kits were a staple of most pantries in this part of Texas. A package of them was the only “recipe” my Momma ever used to make her cornbread or hush puppies. Momma worked all day as a secretary for my Dad … well, actually she practically ran his company. When she got home, she didn’t have a lot of energy left to spend cooking meals for four kids. Like many women of her day, she relied on those pre-packaged meals, because they were fast, cheap, and easy. And, actually Corn Kits make a decent cornbread.
Momma often served “Mexican Cornbread,” which was an odd “cornbread pie” filled with cheese, ground beef, onion, and canned corn. No, it wasn’t all that good, but it’s what she put on the table. I’m not sure why that dish was called “Mexican” cornbread, because I’m pretty sure that no self-respecting Mexican person ever let this concoction pass their lips! I had at first intended to find an on-line recipe and link it here, but Mexican cornbread doesn’t deserve that much effort.
Who am I kidding? My Momma never learned to cook in the first place. If she had she would have realized that making delicious cornbread from scratch is almost as easy as opening that package; you still have to add egg and measure milk so it doesn’t save that much time.
Those Corn-Kits are still manufactured in Denton at the Morrison Mill, which has loomed over the town since 1886 (one of several mills that were in operation in Denton at that time). Originally the plant was called the “Alliance Mill,” and was formed by the local Farmer’s Alliance. I know you can’t read that ad on the left, but click it and it will enlarge. It’s from Denton’s 1890 Business Directory. As you can see, they were pretty darned proud of their flour … with good reason! In 1888, the Alliance Mill entered their “Peacemaker” patented flour in the Texas State Fair at Dallas and won the first premium award. They continued to win with that patent for ten consecutive years … and then were barred from further competition with it! I guess the judges figured that someone else should get a shot at the prizes.
In 1936, E. W. Morrison bought the mill and changed the name to “Morrison Milling Company.” As you can see from the 1954 photo above, he was still banking on that Peacemaker Flour. I’m not sure when they changed the sign atop the building and added “Corn-Kits” to the name, but it’s been there for quite a long time. At one time the sign was neon and the bright red letters illuminated the night sky. I don’t know whether the price of electricity or the cost of maintaining the neon caused them to stop turning on the lights, but I miss them.
As for those Corn-Kits, they are still available on store shelves, but evidently not in Alaska. I’m going to have to package some and mail them off to my friend, Barbara. When she visited, she fell in love with all things “Denton” and even blogged about “Dentoning.” She needs some Corn-Kits, so that she can make a pan of cornbread or a batch of hushpuppies … and if she says she doesn’t know what “hushpuppies” are, then there is no hope for her at all.
Morrison Mill picture: Carruth Studio. Morrison Milling Company, Photograph, ca. 1954; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12425/ : accessed March 07, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library, Denton, Texas.
Advertisement: 1890 Denton Business Review and Directory, Book, May 1890; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21919/ : accessed March 07, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library, Denton, Texas.