The Albany Institute of History & Art (Institute), founded in 1791 in Albany, New York and one of the oldest museums in the United States, has remained a major cultural resource for the Capital Region of upstate New York to date. Earlier this spring, its exhibition of Len Tantillo’s forty years of history painting offered an extraordinary opportunity to travel back in time in New York’s Hudson Valley, from New York City to upstate. And the Institute’s collaborative project, New York’s Capital Region in 50 Objects, also deserves recognition and much praise.
Inspired by the British Museum’s History of the World in 100 Objects and the New York Times’ History of New York in 50 Objects, the Institute’s staff, in the words of its Executive Director Tammis K. Groft, “felt strongly that the Capital Region–Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga Counties–has made its own significant contributions to national and global history and has an identity as distinctive and exciting as any major metropolitan area.”
It was no surprise for most residents of the Capital Region that a Freihofer’s Window Sign (1945-1959), a letterpress on paper, was one of the 50 objects included in the Institute’s New York’s Capital Region in 50 Objects. (Letterpress printing involves pressing an inked surface onto paper and allows many copies to be produced by repeated direct impression.)
Why a Freihofer’s sign from 75 years ago?
The exhibition, The Capital Region in 50 Objects, was on display for eight months a few years ago (September 19, 2015- April 3, 2016), and a wonderful book was also published by the Institute in conjunction with the exhibition. The accompanying book transformed the Institute’s collaborative project (involving regional historical organizations and museums, libraries, the Times Union newspaper, and community residents), into “a sturdy and durable project” that the Institute’s Tammis Groft hopefully noted at the time would make it “last for many years.”
The book’s explanation for the inclusion of the Freihofer’s Window Sign is concise and informative. Charles Freihofer and his brothers in 1913 built a commercial baking plant, the Freihofer Bakery in the Lansingburgh section of Troy (Rensselaer County), New York, and delivered breads, cakes, and cookies to an ever growing customer base, first by horse-drawn wagons and then by motorized trucks.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a local television station WRGB aired the Freddie Freihofer Show and offered a birthday treat for youngsters who were the in-studio audience for the show: a hat, a box of chocolate chip cookies and a Squiggle. A colleague, now in his golden years, still looks back with nostalgia to a birthday celebration as part of the in-studio audience for a Freddie Freihofer Show.
So it was no surprise that the Albany Times Union newspaper last week published this story on the top of its front page: Supply crunch flattens cookies (on-line, the headline was Where did Freihofer’s cookies go? Iconic chocolate chip cookies will return soon).
According to Times Union reporter, Kenneth C. Crowe II, representatives of Bimbo Bakeries USA explained that the existing inventory of their main packaging suppliers suffered serious damage to their facilities by Hurricane Ida in early September. A statement from Bimbo Bakeries USA representatives noted further that Hurricane Ida “directly affected the production and distribution of several of Bimbo Bakeries USA’s products across the U.S.”
Bimbo Bakeries USA!?
A few years ago, we spotlighted the death of Lorenzo Servitje at his home in Mexico City which had brought renewed attention to Grupo Bimbo, a company which reported more that $14 billion is sales in 2014 and has 130,000 employees and 170 factories in 22 countries that make 10,000 products. Grupo Bimbo, the Mexican conglomerate, operates worldwide with more than 100 trademarks, including Wonder Bread, Sara Lee, Entenmann’s, Thomas’ English muffins, Brownberry, Boboli and, in Britain, New York-brand bagels.
In 1987, the Capital Region’s Freihofer’s Bakery, a family-scale commercial bakery operation with a couple of factories, was transformed into something grotesquely enormous when it was bought by General Foods and then subsequently by Bimbo Bakeries USA.
Users of this website are familiar with the pride we take in our directory of craft bakeries, which is nearing 100 listings of bakeries throughout the U.S., Canada and a couple in Britain and Ireland. We understand that buying bread and baked goods from a craft bakery that uses locally sourced ingredients is pricier than purchasing a loaf of Wonder Bread or a box of Bimbo Bakeries USA “Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies.”
Our review by B.A. Nilsson of James Rebanks’ Pastoral Song, A Farmer’s Journey, spotlighted farmer Rebanks’ candid words emphasizing the huge challenge to convince consumers “that we’re paying unrealistically low prices for food, prices achieved at the cost of the health of the planet.” And I would add at the cost of a human-scale of commercial exchange.
The front page story in the Albany Times Union noting the supply chain issues of Bimbo Bakeries USA just might be another factor to persuade consumers to buy bread and baked goods made with mindfully sourced local and organic ingredients from bakers they can know and trust. At the least, consumers should be on-guard to avoid being misled by the use of trademarks and savvy marketing.
(Frank W. Barrie, 11/4/21)