A big birthday for runner-up in first Pillsbury Bake-Off
Laura Rott of Naperville, Illinois, celebrated her 100th birthday on July 25. So last week, the Pillsbury Doughboy stopped by her home to celebrate that milestone with her.
The Doughboy doesn’t drop by for just anyone’s birthday.
You see, Rott is special.
In 1949, she was the first runner-up in Pillsbury’s first Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest (it would later be named the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest).
Ingredient for success
Rott’s winning recipe was a product of her upbringing. Growing up on a farm in Naperville with nine siblings, she was always taught to not waste anything. So, when no one in her family was eating some chocolate mint wafers in the house, Rott came up with a new way to use them, in a cookie.
Her recipe for that cookie turned out to be surprisingly delicious.
“She came up with this recipe where she hid the mint inside the cookie and put a walnut on top and baked them. She called them Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies because you couldn’t see that there was a mint inside,” says her niece, Marianne Lisson Kuhn. “When they were having the first Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest she entered the recipe and it was selected as one of the 100 finalists.”
At 31 years old in 1949, Rott never could have imagined the impact her Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies would have on her life.
Opening (oven) doors
For a farm girl who rarely travelled, the train ride to New York to compete in the live contest at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel was an exciting experience on its own. And once she arrived in the Big Apple, all of the finalists were treated to live shows, tours and even breakfast-in-bed one morning.
Plus, Rott met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and radio and television personality Art Linkletter, the contest’s host – a moment captured in a photo in our archives.
While Rott may have just missed out on the $25,000 grand prize in that first Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in 1949, her runner-up distinction was still pretty sweet.
She received $10,000, and the electric range oven she used in the contest, which, remarkably she still has in her home today.
By the way, adjusted for inflation, Rott’s $10,000 prize in 1949 would be equivalent to about $100,000 in buying power today.
Kuhn says, while Rott always lived modestly, she did buy herself a new car with her winnings. And, about three years later, she took a trip to Europe (the first time she was ever on an airplane).
Her Starlight Mint Surprise Cookies truly opened doors for memorable life experiences.
Luckily for her family, Rott kept a detailed scrapbook featuring newspaper clippings, photos and personal reflections, highlighting her Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest memories.
Today, at 100 years old, nearly 70 years after her appearance in the first Bake-Off, Kuhn says Rott understandably doesn’t remember or say a lot.
But she did recall to the about 30 family members who gathered to celebrate her with the Doughboy last week that the entire experience in 1949 was “like a dream.”
With Rott’s connection to Pillsbury’s first-ever Bake-Off, and the lasting impact it had on her life and family, Pillsbury enjoyed doing something special to mark her milestone.
“Everyone was so excited about it. It really was fun. The people from Pillsbury were so nice and accommodating,” Kuhn said.
Seeing her relatives of all ages come together with Rott is a reminder that behind every Bake-Off the brand has held, from 1949 all the way to today, there are memorable stories and memorable people behind each recipe entered in the contest.
Happy 100th Birthday, Laura! Thank you for being a part of Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest history.
Editor’s note: Learn all about this history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, here.
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