I have spent summers in South Carolina since I was a child. It was there, in a sandwich shop by the beach, that I first heard the story of the birth of Duke’s Mayo. It was an invention of war, in fact, created by a woman named Eugenia Duke and her daughter, Martha. In 1917, the pair began selling sandwiches coated with homemade mayonnaise in the military canteens run by the YMCA in Greenville and nearby Camp Sevier.
The sandwiches, which included high-mayo varieties like chicken salad, egg salad, and chili cheese, sold for 10 cents apiece. They quickly developed a cult among the infantry who were about to be sent to fight in WWI.
Soon Duke’s market area began to expand, and with most of the local men serving overseas, his sales force was mostly female. Over time, Duke went from a self-proclaimed housewife who married at age 17 to the founder of a burgeoning sandwich business that reached local factories and drugstores. According to a story by Duke, “In the spring of 1919, she [sold] over 10,000 sandwiches in one day. ”
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A decade later, Duke “sold his mayonnaise recipe to CF Sauer, who established a Duke mayonnaise factory in the upstate. Eugenia also sells the recipes for her spreads to her accountant, Alan Hart, who establishes a wholesale market for the sandwiches.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For a very long time, Duke’s has remained a popular and recognized condiment in the region. I couldn’t reliably get it in Chicago, where I lived for over a decade, although once I moved to Kentucky it was everywhere. Once, while working for a local magazine, I started a story in which I was writing content for a dozen chef’s refrigerators. At least 10 of them had a pot of Duke’s tucked away among the ingredients, its distinctive yellow cap almost signaling a halo of culinary approval.
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In 2013, Emily Wallace wrote an article for the Washington Post detailing the fanaticism with which some people view the spread. Some wrote fan letters and feverish requests to the factory, which is now located in Richmond, Virginia.
“There was the man on his deathbed in the hospital who asked for a tomato sandwich made with Duke’s,” Wallace wrote. “There was the mother of the bride who, after the business switched from glass to plastic containers around 2005, demanded four glass jars with labels intact to use as centerpieces at her daughter’s wedding. . “
And there was the elderly woman from North Carolina.
“She wrote in hopes of only getting three glass jars, saying she would like to be cremated and have her ashes placed in the containers for her three daughters,” Wallace added.
The company kindly obliged.
But beyond regional pride, what drew such fandom to Duke’s? The answer is simple: the flavor.
Unlike many commercial mayos, Duke’s does not contain sugar, although it does contain both apple cider vinegar and apple cider vinegar. This translates into a distinct flavor, or “twang,” as the company’s promotional materials tout.
“’Twang’ is our way of expressing that hard-to-describe, Southern-inspired ‘something special’ that sums up what Duke’s Mayonnaise brings to the table,” said Stan Richards, Creative Director / Principal of The Richards Group. , which led to a new corporate branding in 2020.
He continued, “It’s a southern thing, an essence and a feeling – all wrapped up and captured in one powerful word.”
The mayonnaise also has a smoky touch, which comes from adding a simple touch of paprika. Much like Japanese mayonnaise brands, including chef’s favorite Kewpie, Duke’s also has a higher percentage of egg yolk over white than most American mayonnaise brands, giving it a richer texture. and richer.
All of this combined makes it the perfect base for a mayonnaise-laden potato salad. In my mind, it’s also the only spread suitable for that tomato sandwich in midsummer. For what it’s worth, the company leans heavily on the tomato season; this year she launched both a seasonally inspired beer with Champion Brewing Company and hosted a weeklong event in Richmond called ‘Hot Tomato Summer’.
Duke’s is also my secret ingredient in what may be a totally unexpected dish: chocolate cake.
I’m not sure which of my grandmothers advised me to use mayonnaise for a softer chocolate cake, but I swear I can tell the difference (but don’t worry, you can’t taste the “mayonnaise”). Come to think of it, that’s not a weird suggestion – most boxed cake mixes require oil and eggs, which are the main ingredients in any mayonnaise worth its salt.
It doesn’t take much. For a typical canned chocolate cake mix, add 1/2 cup Duke’s with the recommended number of eggs and oil. The result is decadent, spongy with just a hint of added flavor. As Duke aficionados would say, there is accent.
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