Pablum

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In early-1900s North America, infant and young child mortality was commonplace. Children seemed to have very little resistance to disease, dying of illnesses such as rickets, typhoid and diphtheria. Doctors recognized malnutrition as a prime culprit for much of this heartache.

How to solve the problem eluded the medical profession until 1930 with the invention of Pablum, a pre-cooked, chock-full-of-vitamins, infant cereal that generations of children around the world have loved and eagerly devoured. Adults, on the other hand, have turned up their noses at the mush, likening its taste to that of boiled Kleenex. Pablum and its companion, Sunwheat Biscuits for toddlers, were the brainchild of a dedicated team of doctors and researchers under the leadership of Dr. Alan Brown.

The Toronto-born Brown was an ambitious and educated doctor who had undertaken postgraduate studies in Europe. Upon his return to his native land in 1914, he boasted to John Ross Robertson, benefactor of the Hospital for Sick Children, that he could cut infant deaths at the Toronto hospital in half. The catch? Brown wanted Robertson to hire him as head of the hospital.

In a classic case of put up or shut up, newspaper baron Robertson hired the 27-yearold Brown as a physician in the infant department. Energetic and well liked, though sometimes aggressive, within four years Brown was promoted to Physician-in-Chief of the hospital.

Brown surrounded himself with the best and brightest talent he could attract, including Dr. Theodore Drake and Dr. Frederick Tisdall. Together, these doctors and their teams would re-invent the way babies and children around the world were fed. Nutritional research was a fairly new field. The finely milled cereal babies were being fed — consisting primarily of wheat, oats or corn meal — was routinely stripped of its bran and germ, since whole grain cereal was hard to digest. In essence, all the cereal’s "goodness" was being removed and there was no technology in those days to "add" essential vitamins and minerals back into the mixture.

The same dilemma, how to create a healthy cereal, was the goal of Dr. W.R. Graham at the Ontario Agricultural College, who was searching for a healthy feed for chicks. By combining Dr. Graham’s research with their own, the "Sick Kids" doctors came up with a nutrient-rich toddler biscuit that included ingredients such as wheatmeal, oatmeal, cornmeal, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, bone meal and alfalfa, sweetened with honey. It went on the market as "Sunwheat Biscuits."

However, babies couldn’t chew the biscuits, so the team came up with a cereal that had many of the same ingredients, could be mixed with milk and spoon-fed. The downside was that it required lengthy cooking. This was a major problem in a time period during which there was little refrigeration. Cooked foods that required a long time to prepare were often made in large batches, gathering harmful bacteria before they were consumed.

A recent scientific invention solved the dilemma. The process of drying milk by letting it drip on a red-hot revolving drum and scraping it off, was adapted to the doctors’ cereal to create a flaky white powder that could be kept indefinitely. With the addition of warm milk or water, parents had an easy-to-make, vitamin- and mineral-enriched cereal. Dr. Drake came up with an appropriate name, "Pablum," from the Latin word pabulum, meaning food. Pablum did more than save generations of children from malnutrition. Royalties from its manufacture provided funds used to formally establish the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, whose discoveries contributed to the doctors’ goal of healthier and longer lives for the world’s children.

– BEV CLINE

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19 Responses to Pablum

  1. Carolyn Fay says:

    How interesting. My father (b. 1938) has talked fondly of Pablum. I look forward to telling him that it came out of research at a Canadian sick kids hospital.

  2. Bob Bergeron says:

    me–born 1940 2 younger brothers…was our favorite breakfast cereal until we got to be teenagers. my mother used to warm milk and mix it with the pablum…in addition we would draw pictures on the top of it (like smiley-type faces…tic-tac-toe, etc. using Gerbers baby-food PRUNES!!!
    fond memories of childhood

  3. Is Pablum Cereal Still Available? says:

    Where can I purchase Pablum cereal in the United States? Is it still available?

  4. Is Pablum available for purchase in the US – If so where ?

  5. Mary Ann says:

    When we were younger Pablum was our favorite cereal. Is it available for purchase in the US – if so where ?

  6. LONNIE E STEWART says:

    I was born in 1946 and still savor the aroma and taste of Pablum as a child….I have searched for years to find it on the market unsuccessfully. Is it no longer made? I keep reading quotes that people are still buying it in the world….never a specific lead however. Where can I go ????
    Thanks for your help.
    Lonnie Stewart

    • Gloria K. says:

      I was born in 1946 too and I’m trying to find pablum. It was wonderful.

      • Roland C. says:

        All I can find on line is that Meade johnson was paid to keep it out of the USA because they had 80% of the baby food market. It is available anywhere in Canada but I cannot find a website to order from.

      • Catherine F. says:

        Okay all you Pablum lovers, here’s what I’ve found out. Pablum was bought out by Heintz in 2005. I’ve tried the Heintz version and it is nowhere near as good as the original Pablum (unfortunately). I’ve actually tossed out a box of the stuff because of how much I disliked the taste and texture of it. I have since tried Milupa’s version, and although it’s not Pablum, it has a nice flavour…just doesn’t provide the ‘comfort food’ satisfaction that the real stuff always gave me. How unfortunate we are to have lost such a wonderful product.

  7. jdlaughead says:

    You can buy Pablum anywhere in Canada, it is now made by H.J.Heinz. You will not find it in the USA, because Mead Johnson was Paid to keep it out of the USA, by the other Baby food Companies, as they had about 80% of the market. If you see a can it will say it is a licence product.

  8. Where can l buy Pablum in hamilton ontario Canada says:

    l have looked here & Niagara NY.

  9. Denise1952 says:

    I remember the wonderful aroma of pablum when my mother was preparing it for my younger sister and brother. I’d give anything to be able to experience that scent once again! Is there anywhere in Canada I can order some and have it sent to me in NJ? Thank you.

  10. robert m says:

    How can a proven american children food be banished by a conglomerate? Child’s food is now so expensive, they lock it behind the counter.

  11. Catherine F. says:

    I am 52 years old and still eat rice Pablum! It is my one-and-only comfort food – has been all my life and a box is always in my cupboard. My only sadness is that the original “Pablum” doesn’t seem to be available anymore. Sure you can find Heinz cereal (it doesn’t taste the same, nor does it have the same texture) and Milupa, etc., but I really miss the original product. It’s too bad Heinz had to mess around with something that was already fabulous.

  12. Ca6therine F.,
    What version of the Milupa is most like pablum?

  13. Linda says:

    Born in 1951 I remember how I loved Pablum as a child. I stil have my ceramic baby dish I ate many bowls of Pablum in! I’ve not eaten it in well over 50 years. Recently I began a gluten free diet and bought a box of Hodgson Mill Oatbran all natural Hot Cereal. It’s simple to prepare. After it’s cooked I add a dab of butter, a little good maple syrup, a little half and half and a few raspberries. It is delicious and reminds me of Pablum…but better.

  14. charles grenier says:

    Hi i was born 1941 ..i also have been looking for Pablum for years here in usa,,,WOW it upsets me big time that it was shut out of the usa by another crook …( IMO) in my opinion<,, is there ever any justice in this country,, i am beginning to wonder…TPTB win again , i guess…( The Powers To Be ) is there anything such as what is called the FDA do people really work there ?
    or do they just show up and read the newspaper collect their check at the end of the week …..
    IMO the FDA ( food and drug administration is a joke ( but i am not laughing )

  15. Bill Green says:

    I’m sad that Pablum is no longer available but happy that others enjoyed it as much as I did.

  16. Pingback: Yes, We Have No Bananas

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