I did grow up with Chex Party Mix. I remember it being part of early holiday celebrations. I can’t say who brought/made it but I do know it was there. I don’t know how it fell out of favor in my family holidays. I am assuming it was after we moved and my mother started taking over the holiday festivities.
What ingredients are in Party Mix?
First off this recipe can be found under many names besides Party Mix such as Chex Mix, Nuts and Bolts, TV Mix, or Snack Mix. The most popular version which is still on the Chex cereal box is a mix of corn, rice, and wheat Chex cereal combined with nuts, pretzels, and bagel chips tossed with melted butter seasoned with garlic and onion powder and Worcestershire sauce. Then it is put in a large pan and baked for an hour while stirring about every 10 to 15 minutes.
Many argue that the recipe on the back of Chex cereal which is called the “original” has taken some liberties. The main point of contention is the bagel chips as these were not invented yet when this recipe was created in the 1950s (spoilers for the next section!). Also, Corn Chex was not part of the Chex cereal line yet as well. After researching many recipes from the mid-century, I can safely say that the original recipe definitely contained either onion salt, garlic salt or celery salt, or a combination of the three. At least one of them appears in EVERY recipe I come across. This isn’t surprising as flavored salts were popular at the time.
Though nowadays, as well as in the mid-century, people created this mix with what they had on hand. According to a 1950s newspaper article the snack mix “is made by toasting together some ingredients for an assortment of tidbits that’s extra crispy and zestily enhanced with seasoned salts. Among them are mixed nuts, miniature pretzel twists, oat cereal resembling tiny doughnuts (otherwise known as Cheerios), small squares of shredded wheat cereal, and dainty checkerboards of rice cereal.” In the 2021 cookbook Disney Villains: Devilishly Delicious Cookbook the sentiment was largely the same when it was said that the “beauty of making your own party mix is that you can make it anything you want it to be. Go with something salty, something cheesy, and something sweet to mix into your cereals- go wild and use candy, popcorn, or parmesan crisps.”
Who and where was Party Mix created?
While this gets largely credited to Chex cereal whose recipe started appearing on boxes in 1954, they were not the first to use cereal as a snack mix. The 1950 cookbook classic Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook features a recipe using Kix cereal that is tossed in melted butter and then sprinkled with salt and parmesan cheese (if desired). Chex Cereal included a similar version in a 1952 ad made with Wheat Chex. Margaret Mead in her 1954 food column writes that a home economist who worked for a cereal company developed this recipe. Though she fails to mention what company. We do know that it was created to sell more cereal. Other cereal companies put out mixes but good ole Chex mix reigned supreme.
So being that Chex Party Mix is the most popular, let’s talk about how their version came to be. Chex cereal was introduced in 1942 by the Ralston Purina Company. By the1950s, the recipe for the Party Mix started appearing on the back of the cereal boxes. According to legend, the Chex Mix originated in St. Louis around 1954 or 1955 (sources vary) from the son of one of the founders. Though I have found ads that have a version of the recipe as early as 1952. It was supposedly a recipe his sister-in-law made. Or it was the wife of a Ralston executive. Or neither. According to a spokesman in 1998, the son of the founder gave the recipe to the advertising department where it came from is not known.
An early Chex Mix Recipe from a 1952 Life Magazine Ad.
When was Party Mix popular?
Why did the Party Mix gain in popularity in the 1950s? The answer is the television. As Americans were gathering around the TV more, snack foods needs changed as they now needed to be easy to eat so one would not miss the action on the small screen. In American Food by the Decades (2011), the requirements for such snacks were that “they could be eaten with your hands, offered a variety of flavors and textures, and were easy to put together.” Articles in the 1950s call the Party Mixes perfect for watching TV or football games, especially with an ice-cold beer.
While I do agree that the TV played a part in the popularity of Party Mixes, I think that it leaves out why it endured for so long. Many articles pointed to how easy and cheap it was to make these mixes that resulted in a large quantity. In a 1954 article, the mixes were called “thrifty, easy to make, easy to keep on hand and so good that the recipe should be incorporated in every recipe collection.” It became the perfect party snack for just these reasons while quickly becoming a holiday party favorite.
Photo from a 1954 Dorothy Dean column that shows how to wrap up Party Mix as a gift.
Because a Party Mix recipe made so much with very little effort or cost, these mixes also became an easy gift to give around the holidays and beyond. I came across quite a bit of articles that called the recipe perfect for presents. Just in 1954 alone, I found three articles calling Party Mix a great gift. In 1965, an article wrote: “Packages of party mix are good to take along as a hostess gift”. Another article in 1969 gave the idea to fill gift items with the party mix such as filling canisters for a housewarming gift, a vase for a friend who likes flowers or mugs for….well you get the idea.
Just like the peanut blossom cookies, Party Mixes are still quite popular today. It is still considered a classic American snack that is still being made for parties and holidays. It even is sold as a premade mix in grocery stores. Chex cereal sales increase in December to create the classic mix. A 1993 article joked that the “history of parties is divided into two periods: Before and After Chex Mix.”
A Chex Party Mix Ad from 1979 found in Ebony Magazine.
Why should I make Party Mix?
So why make this from scratch when premade bags of this stuff are sitting on shelves at the grocery store? Honestly, it just hits differently when made from scratch. Plus if you don’t like an ingredient either leave it out or substitute it for something you prefer. Or put more of the ingredient you do like. It really is a versatile and easy snack to make. If you love low-effort recipes this is the one for you and a 1954 article agrees. According to the article, the recipe is “easy” because “ all you do is stir these biscuits and a few nuts into melted seasoned butter – and pop it all in the oven so that the good garlic-and-butter flavor goes through every bite.” The sentiment still stands today. In the 2012 cookbook Salty Snacks they write: “You can take any vaguely puffy-crunchy cereal, embellish it with kindred ingredients such as pretzel sticks and nuts, toss with a seasoned butter, and bake until toasty. What’s not to love?”.
How do you make Party Mix?
I kept the scope of my recipe testing to the 1950s when Party Mix first grabbed attention. Therefore this recipe will not have the bagel chips or the Corn Chex Cereal. They are easy to add in if one or both of those elements are your favorite. Also, the official recipe from Chex is still on the back of boxes and on the website. As always, take this recipe as a guide and customize it to your own taste.
The ever favorite party snack.
- 3 cups rice cereal squares
- 3 cups wheat cereal squares
- 1 cup peanuts
- 2 cups thin pretzel sticks (optional: break in half)
- 1 stick unsalted butter (8 Tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- Preheat oven to 250.
- In a large roasting pan, mix together the cereal, peanuts and pretzel sticks. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter with the Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder and celery salt.
- Pour over the cereal mix and stir well.
- Place roasting pan in the oven and bake for one hour, stirring the mixture every 10 to 15 minutes.
- Let cool and store in an airtight container.
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“Bite Size Wheat and Recipe Cereals Make Party Mix ”. The Fresno Bee. February 9, 1956.
Cashnelli, Toni. “Party Mixers: Readers Share Recipes for Spicing Up Snacks”. The Cincinnati Enquirer. December 8, 1993.
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Dean, Dorothy. “Party Snacks in Gift Packages Appreciated”. The Spokesman-Review. December 2, 1969.
“Food Offerings Can be Gifted-Wrapped”. The Spokesman Review. December 12, 1954.
“Fruit Crunchies Team with Party Mix Snack”. Fort Worth Star-Telegram. December 11, 1969.
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