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Pullman Pans, Supply and Demand
Linda Goin

There’s been a run on Pullman Pans. I know, because my husband is learning how to bake and he was searching for a pan to create a loaf of sandwich bread. He tried to find a Pullman Pan from every distributor possible, including those close to home and those online and far, far away. Finally, one distributor contacted him to tell him that, although they had listed the Pullman Pan in their online catalog, they were out. They would notify him when those pans became available. Three days later, they sent an email to tell him that his pan was on its way.

At least, that’s the story I heard initially.

I was puzzled by the lack of Pullman Pans. My first knee-jerk reaction was that the world was so poor that everyone was resorting to making their own breads. But, I learned in college to always reject my first reaction to a puzzle. Instead, I should take a shower, think about it, conduct some research, fall asleep and dream about it, then wake up to a solution that may or may not prove to be a world-shaking theory.

I did learn a lot about the Pullman Pan in this process. It did derive its name from the railroad company. According to Wikipedia:

“The name "Pullman" was derived from its use in the compact kitchens of the Pullman railway cars. The Pullman Company is credited with inventing the lidded baking pans used to create the square loaves. Three Pullman loaves occupied the same space as two standard round-topped loaves, thus maximizing the use of space in the Pullman kitchen.”

That Pullman car kitchen also became a prototype for what was known as the “Pullman Kitchen” in apartments, and it also served as a prototype for restaurant kitchens in the late twentieth century. Ironically, with its service to well-to-do patrons, the Pullman kitchen also became a model for fast-food restaurants, with its emphasis on speedy food preparation.

While the Pullman Company today is a mere shadow of its former greatness, its legacy lives on. From speedy lushness to fast food and bread pans…that’s quite a loss in stature; but, I think – after a long shower and a restful nap – that I may have some solutions to this lack of Pullman Pans on the market.

  • Perhaps this Pullman Pan unavailability is a wink of the eye and a nod of the head to the following possibility -- The Twinkie Bankruptcy. How in the world did this company end up filing bankruptcy again? Ah! It could be the economy, and pressing woes about pensions and medical benefit obligations. This company makes sandwich bread. Are fears floating around about empty store shelves? Not with other companies on the shelf…too many competitors to worry about bread loss.
  • Bread-and-butter. Breaking bread. Earning bread by the sweat of the brow. Air, water and bread are three absolutely indispensable things for our survival; maybe fears about losing bread are palpable. Not according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates [PDF]. Food use is projected five-million bushels lower, based upon flour production data recently reported by the North American Millers’ Association for July-September 2011. Seems as though bakers aren’t using as much flour as I would hope.
  • While demand for domestic use decreased, so did American input into the global wheat basket in 2011. Our contribution declined by 30 percent; however, nation's farmers planted winter wheat on much more of their land this season. If farmers get adequate rain or snow in the spring, those added acres would mean more bushels that would tend to increase the supply and lower crop prices. Does that mean that bakers across America knew about this possible overabundance in wheat and were planning ahead? I doubt it. There aren’t enough crystal balls to go around.
  • Is it the health craze? Are people actually becoming more aware of their food products and now are determined to create their own breads? Is that the reason for the run on Pullman Pans? Since it’s not cool to be sustainable, I doubt these reasons as well.
  • Maybe the reason is higher prices at the grocery store, projected to continue to rise throughout 2012. Plus, out-of-work residents have more time on their hands, hence the rise in “extreme home cooking,” where people continue to eat at home to save money. Are they really making their own breads? Maybe, but only if the cost and time seem reasonable.

After mulling all these possible solutions over, I asked my husband what his thoughts were about the subject. He laughed, “Why are you ruminating about this? I was looking for a 9” pan, and there was a shortage. There’s an overabundance of 13” pans.” I was crushed. All along, the lack of a certain Pullman Pan was the result of simple demand and supply, or the relationship that underlies all resource allocation.

Of course, I could ask what he paid for that pan and add up the price it costs to make a loaf of bread compared to the price of a loaf of bread off the store shelf. But, I don’t want to stress about that cost difference right now. Sometimes, it just boils down to the hobbies that we create for ourselves…all in the name of good health and money-saving intentions as well as something to do with our hands when out of work.

Now, it’s time for another nap, perchance to dream about being pampered on a lush Pullman car. I’ll report later on how that bread turns out. If I can screw up my courage, I’ll also report on its cost per slice.

Until later,
Linda Goin

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