My Mother Loved Tea: The Story of Ruth Bigelow and How She Changed the Way Americans Enjoy Tea
by David C. Bigelow (Benjamin Press, 2008)
Reviewed by Amy Cates
When the Great Depression hit New York, Ruth Bigelow’s wealthy clients could no longer afford the services of this talented interior decorator. Her income dwindled, almost simultaneously with the decline of the publishing career of her husband, David.
As Ruth, 50, and David Bigelow Sr., 70, were forced from their respective jobs, they employed their entrepreneurial spirit to identify an industry that would offer them long-term careers. The couple entered the food industry not knowing what they would produce and sell.
Their son, David C. Bigelow, tells the story of how his industrious parents assembled a company that gave Americans a new tea tradition.
The quick success of their first product, Chinese Seasoning, taught the couple about mass production, marketing, and meeting customer demands. But it was their experimentation with a tea recipe that truly launched what would become the Bigelow Tea Company.
When Ruth learned of a colonial tea that included orange peel and sweet spice, she tried to imitate the recipe. A friend who served it at a gathering told her, “Ruth, your tea caused nothing but constant comments.”
As gift shops emerged across the country after World War II and into the 1950s, gourmet foods and Constant Comment formed a niche, and by 1954, several thousand stores were selling Bigelow products.
In the 1960s, the Bigelow brand became the first specialty tea to be displayed along rows of black tea in grocery stores. Numerous special blends have become part of the company’s product line. Over the years, many recipes were developed using tea as a key ingredient, and several, including Earl Grey Royal Cream Puffs and Constant Comment Cake, are included in the book.
My Mother Loved Tea includes a pictorial history of the company in this chronicle of a family’s survival in troubled economic times.