A Brilliant Concoction

In the early years of the last century, folks in bustling Beeville began getting unexpected knocks at their doors. Upon opening the door, they would be greeted by a smiling youngster holding a bottle of dark brown liquid.

“It’s better than any you’ve tried.”
“Guaranteed to perform.”
“You can use the whole bottle and still get your money back.”

The stuff in the bottle was the work of John Anderson Adams. The result of long research and experimenting in an effort to make his wife happy.

Mrs. Adams was unhappy because of the quality of vanilla extracts. You see, extracts available back then could not be baked or frozen. If the temperature got too high or too low, the flavor vanished. 

Mr. Adams’ new formula could be baked, boiled, or frozen solid without losing its savor. Mrs. Adams was happy and so was the vanilla loving public.
1920s advertisement. Note the cork

Other extracts soon followed. Lemon. Orange. Almond. Banana. Strawberry. Butter. Even pineapple. Adams Best was flavoring desserts across Texas and from coast to coast.

In 1922, Fred Adams, one of those door-knocking youngsters (along with brother Don), bought out his father and moved the company from Beeville to Austin. Fred added a line of food coloring, which would prove fortuitous in the coming depression years.

After the crash of 1929, belts began tightening fast. Those fancy extracts were a luxury that could be done without. But Fred Adams understood that people eat with their eyes first. The look of a dish can make it irresistible. He turned to his mother to create an eye grabbing recipe.

Mrs. Adams came up with Red Velvet cake. 

The recipe cards on the Adams Best store displays pictured a decadent jewel of a desert. Achieving that stunning scarlet hue in a chocolate cake required an ounce of Adams Red Food Color.

Bottles flew off shelves.

This was by no means to world’s first attempt at making a red cake, mind you. Earlier recipes called for reductions of beet juice or relied on the chemical reaction between vinegar, buttermilk and cocoa powder which made a muddy red at best. Adams made it vivid and made it easy.

Mrs. Adams’ Red Velvet cake was a literal bright spot at the end of many a dreary depression meal. 

While other food companies closed  shop during the 1930s, Adams thrived and grew. It didn’t hurt that the Technicolor cake recipe also called for Adams Best Vanilla and Butter Flavor.

The Recipe
Betty Adams’ Original Red Velvet Cake

1 tsp soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbl. vinegar
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. Adams Best Vanilla
1 tsp. Adams Butter Flavor
1 ounce Adams Red Color
3 tbl. cocoa
2-1/2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat vigorously. Add flavors to mixture.

In a separate bowl make a paste of cocoa and food coloring and blend into shortening mixture. Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with buttermilk to mixture.

Add vinegar to mixture with last part of buttermilk. Blend well. Bake in 3-9″ or 10″ pans for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely.

Cover with icing.

Betty Adams Original No-Cook Icing

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 pound box (apr. 3.5 – 4 cups) Confectioners Sugar
  • 1 tbl. Adams Best Vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 5 tbl. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. Adams Butter Flavor (omit if substituting butter for shortening)
    Sift confectioners sugar. Cream shortening, salt, and flavors. Mix in 1/2 of the confectioners sugar. Alternately add in the rest of the sugar and enough milk to get smooth spreading icing.

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