Ask a Southerner, and they'll likely have an opinion on which mayonnaise is the best. There's a reason that Duke's Mayonnaise took home the spot for best mayo in our 2017 Food Awards – it has become a Southern mascot with its iconic taste. The secret? There's no sugar in the recipe. There is, however, plenty of zip. The recipe for Duke's dates back all the way to 1917 with a woman named Eugenia Duke. In honor of this Southern spitfire, we sat down with Eugenia's grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren (really!) to hear about the woman and inspirational legacy behind the brand. In her family, however, Eugenia wasn't known for creating Duke's; she was known for inventing mayonnaise.
"She started making sandwiches for the soldiers that were coming through near Greenville [South Carolina] during World War One and everyone loved them – but it really ended up being the mayonnaise on them," said Eugenia's great-great-granddaughter Kaitlyn McGuinness. "At least that's [how the] story goes. So, then she just started selling the mayonnaise. It was almost 100 years ago."
Eugenia started her booming sandwich business in a time where women didn't even have the right to vote – but that didn't stop her from making 10,000 sandwiches in one day.
"My grandmother was making the sandwiches for the soldiers. I guess the fort closed. The war ended and one of her friends said, "Eugenia, quit fooling with those sandwiches. Just make your mayonnaise." So, that's what she did," recalled Eugenia's granddaughter Genie.
Following the war, Eugenia moved out to the West Coast to be with her daughter and son-in-law. And, true to form as a woman who loved to feed those around her, she started another business. It was only when the family returned to South Carolina that they realized what a booming business that Eugenia had started.
"[In California,] no one had ever really heard of it. You can't really find it in the grocery stores. It's kind of rare. Then you come here and it was, like, everywhere," said great-great-granddaughter Erin. "It was interesting to realize [that] everybody [in the South] knows about our great, great-grandmother. In California, people used to tease and think we were making it up. Then, we see her name everywhere [in South Carolina]. It was always kind of cool to walk into the grocery store and realize that there's a member of your family just sitting there on the shelves. You can see her name."