A baked-in tradition

‘Howdy’ Holmes shares his family recipe — ‘JIFFY’ Corn Muffin Mix — with millions each year.

By April Hall

Family recipes will be served all over the country (and internationally by many ex-pats) at Thanksgiving celebrations this week. Families who produce recipe staples alternate between relaxing as a family and ramping up productivity at the family firm at this time of year.

Howdy Holmes, CEO of the third-generation Chelsea Milling Company, has had the company’s signature product, “JIFFY” Corn Muffin Mix, at every Thanksgiving of his life. After all, it’s his grandmother’s recipe that the company began mass-producing in 1930.

Holmes says his family Thanksgiving dinners in the ’50s and ’60s were “joyful.”

“Thanksgiving is centered around eating, of course, so there was always plenty of ‘JIFFY’ mix to go around,” Holmes says.

The holiday is different now in the Holmes family — it’s smaller, with branches of his family spread out and busy, he says.

There is still plenty of mix to go around today, of course. In the “baking season,” from Labor Day to the end of January, Chelsea Milling produces 1.3 million boxes of the corn muffin mix daily, Holmes says. Each year the company uses 19 million tons of cornmeal.

To keep up with demand, 45 to 75 temporary employees are added in production. All the company’s employees are “family” to Holmes.

In that family spirit, the company has instituted a tasty policy. Employees are allowed to take home four boxes of mix — a week.

“Some comply and some fudge it a little,” Holmes says with a laugh. “I should probably put a camera in that area. We don’t have a security guard or anything.

“Maybe our sales are a little soft locally because so many employees are supplying wonderful ‘JIFFY’ products to their families.”

But even if Holmes, who regularly tours the production facilities, does see someone at shift change with a couple extra boxes, he wouldn’t say anything to embarrass the person. He says he just makes eye contact to “give an eyebrow raise.”

What those employees do with the mix when they get home is not limited to making corn muffins. There are other recipes on the box, and many have been developed and circulated over the last 80 years.

“We get these calls all of the time, and one turned into an article in Bon Appétit,” Holmes says. Said article was titled: “This Cornbread Casserole Was My Family’s Secret Thanksgiving Recipe ... Until It Wasn't.”

The recipe is known by many names (this author has always called it “corn pudding” and also considers “corn soufflé” to be acceptable), but the official title is “spoon bread casserole,” and the recipe can be found at jiffymix.com.

Holmes says that’s not the only recipe that seems to turn into a “secret family recipe.” He has heard about a couple who frequented the same bed-and-breakfast for decades and badgered the innkeepers about how to make their perfect corn muffins. The proprietors finally fessed up that it was really the Holmes family’s secret recipe — a box of “JIFFY.”

Holmes takes it in stride and never gets insulted.

“I don’t think it ever gets higher praise than people using your product or service and calling it their own.”