On this date in 1895 John Harvey Kellogg and his younger brother William Keith Kellogg (normally called “W. K.”) filed an application for a patent for “Flaked Cereals and Process of Preparing Same.” At the time both brothers worked for the Seventh Day Adventist owned Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, John Harvey as chief medical officer, and W.K. as business manager. Both were Adventists, although in mid-life John Harvey broke with the church because his beliefs seemed too pantheistic for orthodox Adventists. For example, in 1901 at an Adventist conference he said:
“Take the sunflower, for example. It looks straight at the sun. It watches and follows the sun all day long, looking straight at it all the time; and as the sun dips down below the horizon, you see that sunflower still looking at it; and as the sun turns around and comes up in the morning, the flower is looking toward the sun rising. It is God in the sunflower that makes it do this.”
Nonetheless John Harvey was a close adherent to many of the health principles of the Adventist church, and was a strong advocate of their belief in the benefits of vegetarianism and the abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, coupled with a vigorous exercise regime. He also believed that most diseases were caused by poor intestinal health and an excess of passion (inflamed by meat among other things). His treatments for the restoration of healthy intestinal flora and flaming passion I will pass over. You can probably guess, but if you really want to know, I recommend the movie The Road to Wellville starring Anthony Hopkins as Kellogg. The diet at the sanitarium created by John Harvey was bland, following the principles of Sylvester Graham, inventor of Graham crackers. Sweet, spicy foods, he believed, excited the passions, and this belief eventually was the basis of a lifelong rift with his brother.
The idea for corn flakes began by accident when John Harvey and W.K, left some cooked wheat to sit while they attended to some pressing matters at the sanitarium. When they returned, they found that the wheat had gone stale, but being on a strict budget, they decided to continue to process it by forcing it through rollers, hoping to obtain long sheets of dough. To their surprise, what they found instead were flakes, which they toasted and served to their patients. The flakes of grain, which the Kelloggs called granose, proved to be very popular, so the brothers experimented with other grains, including corn/maize. According to Kellogg’s official website it was W.K. who perfected the process of flaking corn (hence, for the apostrophe pedant, they are Kellogg’s Corn Flakes®, and not Kelloggs’).
Because of the commercial potential of the discovery, W.K. wanted it kept a secret. John Harvey, however, allowed anyone in the sanitarium to observe the flaking process, and one sanitarium guest, C.W. Post, copied it to start his own company. The company became Post Cereals, and later, General Foods, the source of Post’s first million dollars. This upset W.K. to the extent that he left the sanitarium in 1906 to create his own company, Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (later the Kellogg Company). He added sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable to a mass audience, but this caused a rift between him and John Harvey who opposed dietary sugar on principle. Corn flakes, and other cereals, were an enormous success and the company made millions. W.K. went on to become a fabulously wealthy man (and famed philanthropist), while John Harvey lived out the rest of his life as a modest doctor. The two men never reconciled, although John Harvey wrote a letter to his brother not long before his death seeking to reopen a relationship. However, his secretary, believing that the letter was too demeaning, did not send it. W.K. did not see it until after his brother’s death. Both men died at the ripe old age of 91.
I ate corn flakes as a boy quite regularly for breakfast until my mid-teens when I started to prefer cooked foods. I do not believe I have eaten corn flakes as a breakfast cereal since I was 15. However, I have always been a fan of treats made from corn flakes with chocolate or honey – favorites at picnics and church suppers when I was a boy in Australia. Under my mother’s supervision I first made Honeyed Corn Flakes when I was around 10. They are incredibly simple and quick to prepare (an excellent way to start a boy or girl on the road to a lifetime of passion for cooking). If these do not suit your adult tastes try tossing cornflakes in tempered dark chocolate, spooning the mix into clumps, then briefly refrigerating them until set. Yum! You could store them in airtight containers but mine never get that far.
Honeyed Corn Flakes
4 cups corn flakes
3 oz (90 g) butter
2 ½ oz (72 g) sugar
1 tbsp honey
Preheat your oven to 300° F (150° C).
Spread the cornflakes evenly on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet.
Melt the butter over low heat, add the sugar and honey, and continue to heat until the mixture froths.
Pour the mixture evenly over the cornflakes and toss until the cornflakes are evenly coated.
Place 12 large foil cupcake cups on a separate baking tray and spoon the coated corn flakes into the cups
Put the tray in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes or until the cornflakes are golden.
Leave the cupcakes to cool and harden. Store in an airtight container.