Inventor of Stove Top Stuffing, Dies at 74
NEW YORK TIMES — Ruth M. Siems, a retired home economist whose best-known innovation will make its appearance, welcome or otherwise, in millions of homes tomorrow, died on Nov. 13 at her home in Newburgh, Ind. Ms. Siems, an inventor of Stove Top stuffing, was 74. The cause was a heart attack, according to the Warrick County coroner's office in Boonville, Ind.
Ms. Siems (pronounced "Seems") spent more than three decades on the staff of General Foods, which introduced the Stove Top brand in 1972. Today, Kraft Foods, which now owns the brand, sells about 60 million boxes of it at Thanksgiving, a company spokeswoman said.
Prepared in five minutes on the stove or in the microwave, Stove Top stuffing comes in a range of flavors, including turkey, chicken, beef, cornbread and sourdough. Comforting or campy, Stove Top stuffing is an enduring emblem of postwar convenience culture. Its early advertising tag line, "Stuffing instead of potatoes?" remains in the collective consciousness.
As Laura Shapiro, the author of "Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950's America" (Viking, 2004), said in a telephone interview yesterday:
"Stove Top made it possible to have the stuffing without the turkey, probably something no cook would ever have dreamed of but people eating Thanksgiving dinner might well have thought of: 'Take away everything else; just leave me here with the stuffing!' It's kind of like eating the chocolate chips without the cookies."
Stove Top's premise is threefold. First, it offers speed. Second, it divorces the stuffing from the bird, sparing cooks the nasty business of having to root around in the clammy interior of an animal. Third, it frees stuffing from the yoke of Thanksgiving; it can be cooked and eaten on a moment's notice any day of the year.
In 1975, General Foods was awarded United States Patent No. 3,870,803 for the product, generically called Instant Stuffing Mix. Ms. Siems is listed first among the inventors, followed by Anthony C. Capossela Jr., John F. Halligan and C. Robert Wyss.
The secret lay in the crumb size. If the dried bread crumb is too small, adding water to it makes a soggy mass; too large, and the result is gravel. In other words, as the patent explains, "The nature of the cell structure and overall texture of the dried bread crumb employed in this invention is of great importance if a stuffing which will hydrate in a matter of minutes to the proper texture and mouthfeel is to be prepared."
A member of the research and development staff at General Foods, Ms. Siems was instrumental, her sister Suzanne Porter said, in arriving at the precise crumb dimensions - about the size of a pencil eraser.
Ruth Miriam Siems was born in Evansville, Ind., on Feb. 20, 1931. She earned an undergraduate degree in home economics from Purdue University in 1953, and after graduation took a job at the General Foods plant in Evansville, where she worked on flours and cake mixes. She moved to the company's technical center in Tarrytown, N.Y., not long afterward. Ms. Siems retired in 1985. Besides Ms. Porter, of Copley, Ohio, Ms. Siems is survived by another sister, Rosemary Snyder, of Chicago; and a brother, David, of Milford, Mich.
As a mark of just how deeply inscribed on the American palate Ms. Siems's stuffing has become, there are several recipes, available on the Internet, that promise to reproduce the taste of Stove Top from scratch, using fresh ingredients.
Being such a fan of all aspects of pop culture, it's always sad to me when someone who has become somewhat of an icon to the food industry passes away. It's like hearing that the man who supplied the voice of The Pillsbursy Doughboy (Paul Frees) has passed away.
I know that whenever I had a hankerin' for chicken and stuffing, I often used Stove Top stuffing. And even though I remember the commercials with the tagline "Stove Top Stuffing instead of potatoes," I still made both. LOL! There was always room for me to love both.
Rest in peace, Ms. Siems.