Mince Pie

Ah, the life of a rogue bread spread producer.

I know, it doesn’t look like much of a recipe, but it’s an interesting bit of culinary ephemera nonetheless. Here’s the other side:

This box looks identical to the one being held in this 1936 Life magazine file photo; there are other panels from the margarine box elsewhere in the recipe box, but I thought I’d start with the one that had the name brand on it.

The sale and production of margarine had gotten complicated in the U.S. around the 1880s. Massachusetts required that any margarine sold in the state be a color that would have it easily identifiable as something other than butter. In 1894, the Supreme Court upheld this restriction in Plumley v. Massachusetts, distinguishing the facts from other cases that struck down similar state laws on the reasoning that such laws interfered with Congress’ right to regulate interstate commerce.

John F. Jelke Co. Circa 1914, via past2thapresent.blogspot.com.

Instead, the Court took the view that the margarine statute was, in essence, a consumer protection law. Nobody was prohibited from selling margarine; they were merely prohibited from selling margarine that couldn’t be distinguished from butter at a glance. This was the world that Cincinnati native John Faris Jelke entered when he came to Chicago in 1899.

Jelke, like many producers of the day, ended up selling two varieties of margarine: a yellow kind, for distribution in states where the law didn’t prohibit other colors; and a white kind, that could be colored yellow by mixing the margarine with a dye capsule, as explained in the detail from this 1931 advertisement:

Two Styles: Good Luck comes in two styles–“New Style” and “Regular.” The latter is for housewives in the states where white margarine is sold, and color capsules are provided. Capsules may also be had by any who wish to deepen the color of “New Style.”

But that’s 1931. In 1914, selling the margarine and the dye capsule together was still forbidden in many places, and in 1902, the Federal Government started to tax colored margarine exponentially more than white margarine (at one point in the early 1930s, the colored margarine was taxed at ten cents per pound, while the uncolored enjoyed a tax of a quarter of a cent per pound).

Jelke’s efforts to circumvent these laws, however unfair the laws happen to have been, did not end well. Further details from the March 8, 1919 edition of The Chicago Packer, a grocery wholesale trade magazine:

John F. Jelke, Oleo Man,
    Has Sentence Commuted
        By President Wilson.

Chicago, March 7. — Just before President Wilson sailed for France, he commuted the sentence of John F. Jelke from two years’ imprisonment and a fine of $10,000 to 60 days imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. At the same time the sentence of Francis M. Lowry was commuted from a year and a day to 30 days.

Readers of The Packer will recall the case of the government against the John F. Jelke Company which has been hanging on since the summer of 1914 in which the Chicago firm and individuals connected with it were found guilty of conspiring to cause certain interests to evade the tax on artificially-colored oleomargarine. Neither of the men in question have as yet started to serve their sentences.

Wilson’s return to France described in the article was actually the beginning of his declining health; a flu would reduce his effectiveness at the remainder of the Paris Peace Process. by October, a stroke would paralyze him on his left side. For the rest of his administration, First Lady Edith Wilson and the President’s physician would work to obscure the extent of his illness.

As for Jelke, he would die in 1931; his son, John Junior, would take over the John F. Jelke Company and run it until selling it to Lever Brothers in 1948. As for Lever Brothers, they had their own ideas about how to increase the sale of margarine, and in 1959, Good Luck once again turned to a First Family for help (although this time, it was a former First Lady).

Advertisements for Good Luck margarine vanished around 1975.

From the box of G.Y. from Wichita, Kansas.

Mince Pie

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Jelke’s Good Luck Margarine
Ice water
2-1/2 cups mincemeat

Mix and sift dry ingredients. Cut Good Luck Margarine into dry ingredients with knives or dough blender. Add enough ice water to hold the ingredients together. Toss dough onto floured board and cut crust in half. Roll each piece to 1/8 inch thickness. Line pie tin with crust. Fill with mince meat. Cover with top crust. Bake in a hot oven (450 deg. F.). Makes one 8-inch pie.

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