(reading time approx. 8 minutes)
It was 1936, deep in the depression years. More often not, everyone over the age of five in a family chipped in, working in any way they could. They contributed pennies into the pot for food on the table or any other necessities for living. Collecting newspapers and magazines to sell to the junkyard man was #1 choice for my buddies and me. We also ran errands for the local grocer, and I shined shoes.
Charlie and Minnie Crumpet were young 25-year-old parents of three small children, all under six. They had to survive a hand to mouth existence at that time. I was 10 years old in 1936, and like almost everyone in those days, I remember putting a cardboard inside my shoes each day, to cover the holes in the soles. I also recall the patches of all colors for worn out clothes. As we grew up and out of the old clothes, we passed them on to younger relatives. I was lucky to have two cousins, only a year or so older. I actually waited with anticipation for next year when I would get my their last year’s patched up clothes.
Folks who lived in the 30s will remember hardships that only we, who have been there and done that, will understand. Even movies like the “Grapes of Wrath” failed to depict the total feelings of desperation our parents endured, on a day-to-day basis. The good part is that we, who were young at the time, didn’t really know it was bad. It was all we knew. We didn’t know that there was anything better. That was just the way it was as we were growing up in the thirties.
Charlie Crumpet did odd jobs. He mostly washed windows for people in better neighborhoods who could afford a few dollars. He had to walk almost an hour each way, pulling an express wagon (remember them?) with all his supplies. He carried a ladder, bucket and rags, which his wife Minnie would wash for him each night. Some customers allowed him to keep the ladder and bucket at their houses until he returned the next day. He finally built a “regular customer” list, which kept him busy enough to feed Minnie and three children. He was building a business, until a policeman came to the door one day with bad news. He told Minnie that Charlie fell off the ladder from a second floor window, onto the sidewalk. Charlie died in the fall.
Minnie now had to be the sole provider. She had no job, no money, and three babies under six years old crying every day, “Mommy, I’m hungry”. Could it get worse? It’s shocking what was eaten to fill the stomachs of hungry children. Use your imagination. It was worse.
One morning, Mr. Kroeller the local baker put a sign in his bakery window, “Help wanted”. Minnie saw the sign, immediately went in, applied for the job and was hired. Her job would be working in the store, serving customers with Mr. Kroeller’s very popular baked goods. His recipes were passed down from his father and grandfather before him. This was a little girl’s dream, to work in a bakery. My wife did the same thing when going to high school. She talked about it endearingly the rest of her life.
Minnie Crumpet was an excellent baker herself for her family and friends, and was renown in family circles as the “Crumpet Lady”. She called her special little cakes, “crumpets” for which she had her own special recipe. Her friends and family endearingly called them Miss Minnie’s Crumpets. She baked crumpets for her friends and neighbors and she sold from her house on order. Every nickel and dime had special value in the depression, especially when there was a family to feed with three kids and no husband.
One day there was what she called a “Divine Intervention”. Mr. Kroeller and the baker’s assistant both became ill, and went home early the day before. They could not open the shop. It was up to Minnie Crumpet to take complete charge of the kitchen and the shop. She brought her six-year-old daughter to the shop and had her greet the customers while she baked bread and cakes in the kitchen. There was also her own special pastry, “Minnie’s Crumpets”. Her daughter gave each customer a small piece of the crumpet pastry, about the size of a quarter. Almost everyone chose to buy a supply of crumpets, and the bread. The oven was going all day until closing time. Mr. Kroeller said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep going until I come back to work.”
The next three days, were a repeat of the same activity, but more so. The fourth day, Mr. Kroeller returned to work. At first he was very angry to find out what Minnie had done in his shop. While he was expressing his anger, a customer came into the shop and exclaimed with delight about the new pastry that Minnie had made. She wanted two dozen crumpets for a ladies’ tea party that day, and would come back by 2 PM to get them. “What’s happening”, asked Mr. Kroeller. “What are you doing in my shop?” Minnie explained.
Kroeller’s Bakery became more and more popular as a result of the crumpets. They became a new feature every day. One Sunday morning, a man walked into the store and bought some baked goods, including a dozen crumpets. He explained that he had never seen such an item before, but if the family liked them, he would be back for more. The next day, the same man came into the store and told Mr. Kroeller that he would like to buy the recipe. Mr. Kroeller asked Minnie if he could make the deal for her as her agent. He wanted 20%. She agreed. After some haggling, the deal was closed. Mr. Kroeller, who was 70 years old, wrote himself into the deal for 20% of the initial cash payment.
The immediate up front cash was enough for Mr. Kroeller to close his shop and retire. Mrs. Crumpet didn’t quite know what was happening, but Mr. Kroeller made sure Minnie’s up front money was safely invested for her income. The income from her crumpets came for a few more years until her agreement expired. Several years later she was able to open her own shop and called it Mrs. Crumpet’s Goodies, Candy and Baked Goods.
Crumpets became popular nation wide. They were sold door to door by Duncan’s Bakeries. They featured crumpets in their bakery trucks, seen everywhere, until the day they sold the business and closed shop.
Minnie Crumpet still tells the story to anyone who will listen, about the day when Mr. Kroeller was sick and she made the “crumpets”. Minnie says it was a “Divine Intervention” which engendered Mrs. Crumpet’s millions, “Millions of Crumpets” across the nation. Her eldest daughter, when relating this story always says, “And I helped!”