"The Food That Built America" just finished up last night, and I also reached over 200 likes on Facebook! So as a reward to my new friends and faithful followers, I thought I'd take a look at the Kellogg Brothers, who show up in all three episodes.
Granola was the cereal that started it all. In the late 1870s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg used it as part of his health regimen for his sanitarium patients. Based on a twice-baked unleavened bread made of wheat and oat flour, the cereal was then hammered into chunks and soaked in milk before serving. He initially called it "Granula."
There was just one problem - there already was a "Granula." This was not covered in the History Channel series, but Kellogg was actually threatened with a lawsuit in 1881 by James Caleb Jackson, of upstate New York. Like Kellogg, Jackson was influenced by Seventh Day Adventist Ellen G. White, who advocated for vegetarianism and other health reforms. But at his hygenic water cure spa in upstate New York, Jackson developed "Granula," based on a twice-baked plain graham flour biscuit (graham flour is un-separated ground whole wheat). He rolled the flour-and-water mixture into sheets, which were baked, then broken into pieces and baked again, and then broken into smaller pieces, similar to the Grape-Nuts that C.W. Post would eventually develop. He invented "Granula" in 1863 - fifteen years before Kellogg.
In response to the threat of lawsuit, Kellogg simply changed the name to "Granola."
Both Jackson and Kellogg were likely inspired by simple rusks or zwieback or even hardtack. Dating back to ancient times, twice-baked breads were shelf-stable, durable, and long lasting. Hardtack (sometimes called a "cracker" or "ship's biscuit") was a common sight on merchant vessels and naval ships alike and was common soldier fare from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. Made of just flour, water, and salt, hardtack was, well, hard. It was meant to be softened in coffee, stew, or water before it could be eaten. But its hardness made it the ideal, stable staple for long voyages without refrigeration.
Rusks, on the other hand, were more likely to be made with sugar, butter, and eggs and were much closer to our most familiar modern incarnation - biscotti. Some rusks, like zwieback, were even yeast-leavened sweet breads that were twice baked.
It stands to reason then, that Kellogg's original "Granola" was a mixture of whole grain wheat flour (graham) and oat flour, mixed with water (no salt or sugar), and twice-baked before crumbling into what would become "cereal." Having made hardtack myself, I can inform you that the trick is in the kneading - as you develop the gluten in the flour it smooths out and becomes easier to work and shape (and roll!).
While no known recipe for Kellogg's original "Granola" exists, I did dig up a recipe for "Granula" from the 1906 Inglenook Cookbook, published by the Church of the Brethren, a non-demoninational Christian sect. Apparently hard-baked plain cereals continued their trend of association with religious organizations. You can find more about the Inglenook Cookbook in all its incarnations here. In true, early 20th century style (and like many community-based cookbooks from this time period), the instructions are written in paragraph form.
Get good graham flour, take pure spring or soft water, nothing else, and knead to a stiff dough. Roll and mould as for biscuit (not as thick). Bake thoroughly in a hot oven. When well done, or over done, remove and cool, then cut each piece in halves and put back in a warm baker and dry to a crisp, not brown or burnt. A yellow brown will not hurt. Now crush or break in small bits and grind them as you would coffee. You now have one of the best health foods known. It can be served in various ways. Soaked in good, rich milk is the best way to eat it. Some like to add a little sugar, some a little salt (but don't add salt when you bake it, it spoils the flavor). Some eat it with fruit. It makes a nice cold Sunday dish and is always ready. It can be used in puddings and mixed with bread for dressings. We have made and used this hygienic food for 23 years, and know its merits. The biscuits, or graham crackers, warm from the oven, well baked, with crispy crust, make a delightful bread. We have a small hand mill to grind them. If you cannot get good graham flour, if it is too rough with bran, add a little white flour, or sift the coarsest bran out. Graham made of white wheat is best. - Sister Amanda Witmore, McPherson, Kans.
While granula and similar incarnations continued to be eaten into the twentieth century, what we know as Granola today is not really a direct descendant of Kellogg's granola (or Jackson's granula). In 1900 a Swiss physician named Dr. Maximillian Bircher-Benner developed another type of grain cereal called Bircher-muesli (later shortened to muesli). Adhering to Bircher-Benner's beliefs that raw foods were the most healthful, muesli primarily contains uncooked rolled oats, with nuts, seeds, and fruits added in. Served plain or with milk, it was originally intended as an accompaniment to meals or a light supper, not breakfast.
In 1946, Hollywood health guru Gaylord Hauser published several recipes for "The Bircher-Muesli Breakfast" in his Gaylord Hauser Cookbook. Hauser had studied in Switzerland and was likely heavily influenced by Bircher-Brunner in his own health style, as he often emphasized fresh fruits and vegetables and even juicing. Muesli started to become known among health food enthusiasts after the Second World War, in part thanks to Hauser and others like him who visited Switzerland.
Health guru Adelle Davis, however, is credited with introducing what we know today as "granola" to the masses in the 1960s. Although the Adelle Davis Foundation credits her 1947 book Let's Cook It Right with first mentioning granola, I can't find any reference in my copy. In fact, her short chapter on cereals makes no mention of cold, crunchy cereals like granola and contains just one recipe - for how to cook hot cereals (p. 427-439). Adelle is purported to have introduced granola as a snack, but her section on snacks in her introduction to Let's Cook It Right makes no mention of granola - instead suggesting fruit, milk, cheese and crackers, or nuts as good "midmeal" options (p. 17-22). Regardless of how she introduced it, Adelle is likely one of several people to discover that by combining rolled oats with nuts, dried fruit, oil and honey, you get a delicious crunchy baked snack. Her "grandaddy" recipe is below:
Adelle Davis’ Grandaddy of Granolas
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup each of chopped almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, soy flour, powdered milk (preferably non-instant), and wheat germ.
1 cup warmed honey
1 cup oil, any kind
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Combine honey and oil and drizzle over the dry ingredients tossing and coating. Spread the mixture on 2 cookie sheets and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until golden. Makes up to 12 cups, depending what you add or leave out.
Eventually, people stopped eating granola out of hand and started pouring milk on top and eating in the morning. Of course, these days, modern granola is far more like Adelle's than Kellogg's (or Jackson's) in that it is heavily sweetened and usually quite fattening. But because of its health guru and sanitarium past and its association with hiking and other outdoor pursuits in the 1960s and '70s, we tend to associate it with healthy food, even though it is anything but.
If you'd like to learn more about Gaylord Hauser and Adelle Davis, take a listen to my podcast, History Bites: Full of Pep, the Controversial Quest for a Vitamin-Enriched America, Part 2.
So that's the end of my reward post for making it to 200+ likes on Facebook. MaryAnn - are you satisfied? :) I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon to support this and other food history blog posts, podcasts, videos, and more.
Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.