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Ruth Siems, 74; Created Stove Top Stuffing Mix

November 25, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Thanksgiving is over, but millions of Americans enjoying leftovers today may have Ruth Siems to thank for the stuffing.

Siems, a retired home economist who invented Stove Top Stuffing for General Foods three decades ago, died of a heart attack Nov. 13 at her home in Newburgh, Ind., her family said. She was 74.

Kraft Foods, which now owns Stove Top, says it sells about 60 million boxes of its stuffing around Thanksgiving time alone. But the quick and easy-to-prepare bread stuffing, cooked "on top of the stove without a bird," is promoted as a year-round alternative side dish: "Stuffing instead of potatoes?" asked an early advertisement.

Siems, who was born in Evansville, Ind., and received a bachelor's degree in home economics from Purdue University in 1953, was a member of the research and development staff at General Foods' technical center in Terrytown, N.Y., when she became the key figure in the creation of Stove Top Stuffing.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 26, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Ruth Siems obituary -- The obituary in Friday's California section of Ruth Siems, the creator of Stove Top Stuffing, said she worked in the General Foods' technical center in Terrytown, N.Y. The correct spelling is Tarrytown.

"It wasn't her idea," Michael Snyder, Siems' brother-in-law, said this week. "The marketing people came to her and said, 'We'd like to invent instant stuffing for poultry,' and she did it. It wasn't easy, either. It took a long time to get it right before they marketed it."

When General Foods was awarded a U.S. patent for what was generically called Instant Stuffing Mix, Siems' name was first among the list of its inventors, who included two of her supervisors and a food technologist.

But, Snyder said, "she was really the one who invented it. She developed the breadcrumb size and letting it stand after you cooked it -- the timing on that for the absorption of the water into the bread crumbs. She was really the one who developed it in the [test] kitchen."

As the patent explained, "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 mouth feel is to be prepared."

Test-marketed in March 1972, Stove Top Stuffing was introduced in March 1973. For her efforts, Siems received a plaque and a $125 bonus.

"We're very proud of her," said Siems' sister, Rosemary Snyder. "It's a very good product, and it was a big success immediately."

Although Stove Top Stuffing was a "big deal," Michael Snyder said, "she was never a braggart or sought any personal recognition. She just kept working for General Foods, working on frozen pizzas and things of that sort and market testing."

Siems, acknowledged in the General Mills house organ as the "key figure in the development of Stove Top Stuffing," received several promotions in the wake of the product's multimillion-dollar success.

But although her jobs improved, author Anne L. Macdonald wrote in "Feminine Ingenuity: Women and Invention in America," Siems "still felt that her employers kept her at least one grade level below male peers with similar education, experience and intelligence -- a situation that she felt was 'par for most women at the Tech Center.' "

When the billionth package of Stove Top Stuffing rolled off the assembly line in 1984, no one thought to send one of the T-shirts commemorating the occasion to Siems, a slight for which she found an appropriate response in the words emblazoned on the back of the T-shirt: "Stuff It."

"She said, 'Those are my sentiments exactly,' " Michael Snyder recalled, laughing at the memory. "She had a good sense of humor."

In 1985, when Philip Morris bought General Foods and decided to retire everyone older than 50, Siems found herself without a job after 33 years with General Foods.

After retiring, Snyder said, "she dedicated her retirement to her church and helping other people and supporting missionary ventures to foreign countries. She also restored a landmark home in this quaint little river town, Newburgh, Ind.," where she died.

Although Stove Top Stuffing was Siems' greatest claim to fame, her brother-in-law said that wasn't the most memorable thing about her.

"It was the person she was, the character she had and the unselfish love she had for her fellow human beings," he said. As an example of that, he said, she befriended a native of Kenya whom she had met at the church they attended in New York and paid to put the woman's two children through college.

In addition to her sister Rosemary, Siems, who never married, is survived by another sister, Suzanne Porter; and a brother, David Siems.

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