By Mike Walton
Meredith Wilson loved to bake. She started to bake at the tender age of six, and burned her first fingers taking out the muffin from her Easy Bake oven she received at Christmas a few short hours prior. Since that day, the young girl continued to bake for everyone -- everyone except herself. She loved watching people eat the things she made, and hearing the praises and sounds of their enjoyment.
When most girls were hiding Nancy Drew mysteries in their backpacks and faux book covers, Meredith was hiding McCall's Cooking for Two and whatever edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook she could find. Her diaries were more full of recipes than reflections on life and love. When she was nine, she entered her no-bake chocolate dipped Macadamian nut cookies in the Minnesota State Fair under the "open" category, since she was not a member of 4-H. She won the Governor's prize that year and every year since to her 17th birthday except for one -- her sixteenth birthday, in which she did not compete because she was ill, first with the chicken pox and then with the measles.
Meredith recovered from both, and earned a full run scholarship to the University of Minnesota and later a paid internship at General Mills. Before her, "Big G" never paid for anyone's education while they tolled within the granite walls of their corporate headquarters and kitchen during the summers. Meredith had a key to the kitchens, and was encouraged to cook whatever she wanted -- as long as it included an ingredient or two from the food and beverage corporation.
Remember "Pocket Polly", a toy which was made by Kenner (which was a part of General Mills)? Polly was based upon Meredith Wilson. A marketing man observed Meredith cooking in one of the many kitchens and thought that little girls would love a pint-sized version of the little baker.
Standing at all of four foot seven at the age of 20, Meredith became self-conscious about her height and the fact that men were simply not interested in her -- the way she wanted them to be interested in her. Her answer was simply to eat more.
It was not a good move for her. She ballooned to almost 300 pounds before she went into an eating disorder clinic at the U and over two years, returned to around the same weight she was when she received her first check her freshman year.
Meredith was still lonely. Her dates consisted of men who enjoyed her laying out spreads of good tasting, enjoyable foods. Many of them commented that she cooked way better than their own mothers or grandmothers -- or both. Then there were the ones who wanted to date her simply because of her size -- fantasizing that she was way younger than she was. That became old quickly. Then there was Jimmy.
Meredith met Jimmy at a party her senior year. The liquor and marijuana flowed and practically everyone partook. The next thing she knew, she and Jimmy were curled up together on the floor in the laundry room, completely naked and completely out to the world.
It was the night/morning in which her only child was conceived. Meredith graduated top in her department and four months later, Candice was born. She was named for a popular television star of the time with a hit television show. The television Candice told off people, stated her opinion and had a relationship with a handyman.
Meredith wished she was Candice.
Jimmy took off for the oil wells of Texas, away from Minnesota and the harsh weather, the four seasons and the ten thousand lakes. Meredith spent a year -- the first year of Candice's life -- looking for Jimmy but he was not wanting to be found -- and not wanting to be a father.
Meredith was looking for Jimmy for another reason: her child developed allergies. To many of the things Meredith loved cooking with: coconut was first, in which her child broke out in hives and had to be taken to a hospital to have them to clear her windpipe. Then it was nuts, flour, and dairy.
Sitting in her bed one night after a really tough day with her now four-year old, Meredith wanted nothing more than just to find Jimmy and chop off his manhood -- the source of her tough times -- and feed it to him. "I'll boil his nuts too and make him eat those as well..." she thought to herself. She flipped the channels on her cable television and stopped at a cooking channel.
"My child suffers from food allergies," the woman wailed, "and I don't know what to do. Everything I buy has nuts in it, or made from flours he can't have...or something."
Meredith laid the remote on the bed beside her after turning the volume up -- not too loud, or else her child would wake.
"I would love for my child to have a real donut which won't kill him. Something that tastes like a donut. Smells like a donut. Looks like a real one."
It was as if someone hit her on the backside of her head.
Meredith jumped off the bed, walked over to the television set, turned it off and then sat down at her desk. She started writing ideas. Then she stopped.
"What am I doing? I have a child just like hers." She turned the television set back on, and took notes of the late night conversation. She then paid attention to the end credits and quickly wrote down the name of the production company. She went to bed, asking God to forgive her for wanting to remove the male contribution to a wonderful little girl, even though she was not really ready for motherhood.
In the morning, Meredith contacted her friends at General Mills, who were not pleased when she told them of her plans to make "alternative foods for children with allergies." Her true friends however gave her pointers and leads. She found a bread factory in Prior Lake, Minnesota and with pledges and her savings from all of her winnings went to a bank and applied for a small business loan.
She would name the firm "Jimmy's Foods". "He got me in this, he should at least get some of the credit", she thought as she designed the first logo for her new small company. She hired mothers and grandmothers to make small batches of cookies, cakes, and pretzels.
She sent the first box of gluten-free and wheat-free donuts to that woman whose son had never had a chocolate donut before. "The only thing I want," Meredith wrote to the mother, “if for you to take a photo of your son eating one of these and please send it to me. I promise I won't use it for marketing...but rather for inspiration!" Carla and Meredith became great pen-pals; and when computers came along, the two of them emailed each other daily.
Jimmy's Foods did not make too much money; when the Lund's food chain was looking to expand their offerings of foods, they offered to buy Jimmy's Foods complete. Meredith sold them everything except for the recipes to a few items which were passed down from her mom to Meredith...and over time to Candice.
Candice, now twelve, was waiting for her mom to finish preparing her no-bake chocolate dipped Macadamia nut cookies -- the ones which made her a household word in Minnesota. She looked around at all of the various cookies and cakes, labeled with "nut free", "gluten free", "no coconut oil" and "regular". Dressed in one of her favorite long dresses and wearing a tiara -- she wanted to be a "Sugar Plum Princess" for this evening's activity -- Candice smelled the warm desserts surrounding her. She had to sit down -- it was all getting to her.
Candice sat at the table staring at the platter of cookies. She knew she was supposed to wait until company had taken their share, but she just had to have one. As she reached out her small hand, her mother said…"You don't want that cookie, Cookie..."
Cookie was her mother's nickname for Candice.
"Where's my cookies?"
"I haven't made them yet, Sweetie. You would think that someone had invented a nut which crunches like one, but isn't a nut. You can't do peanut butter and -- HEY!" Meredith raised her voice in warning, then added, "And you shouldn't be touching those...remember the last time you did that?"
Candice quickly removed her hands.
"Let's not be doing emergency room visits tonight, okay? And go find your epi-pen so you'll have it just in case."
"Why are you cooking all of these things?"
Meredith smiled and responded, "A special guest is coming to visit. It took me a while to find him, but you're going to meet the person who is responsible for all of this special cooking."
"Grandma Wilson's coming?" Candice's eyes almost popped out of her head. She then remembered, "Sorry...who is it?"
"That's okay, Cookie. Every time I cook something it reminds me of Granny Wilson. She's in the air here...but unless she came back from the grave, it's not her." Meredith looked at her child. Grandmother Wilson was Candice's favorite relative.
"No, it's your Dad -- and his wife Arlene. And she has the same dairy allergy you have... so don't eat all of the cookies, Cookie!" and she grabbed her daughter and held her tight.