Food & Drink

S.C. town creates memorial to the queen of Southern mayonnaise, inventor Eugenia Duke

Duke's Mayonnaise fans, you finally have a place to take a stand: The town of Greenville, S.C., is going to name a popular pedestrian bridge downtown in honor of Eugenia Duke, the sandwich maker and entrepreneur who created the South's beloved Duke's mayo.

Duke’s The Washington Post

The debate over the superiority of Duke's, made in the South, pits fans against stalwart fans of that large national mayonnaise brand, Hellmann's. (Let's just agree to leave Miracle Whip out of this, shall we ?) In mayo circles, Eugenia Duke holds the position of matron saint.

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Mrs. Duke was the wife of Harry Duke, an electrician who came to Greenville as the supervisor of a power plant. At the start of World War I, to contribute to the family income, Eugenia started making sandwiches in her home kitchen and selling them to the canteen at Camp Sevier, about six miles from Greenville.

Her specialties were pimento cheese, chicken salad and egg salad, all mixed with her own mayonnaise. The sandwiches became so popular that she was able to buy a truck for deliveries and expanded her business to textile mills and lunchrooms, eventually opening her own shop in the Ottaray Hotel in downtown Greenville.

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When she started getting requests for the recipes for her sandwiches, she started making the mayonnaise that was the key and selling it. Her mayonnaise was made with cider vinegar, oil and eggs and no sugar, which was rationed during wartime.

By 1929, she was overwhelmed with the demand and sold the product to the C.F. Sauer Co. Now located in Richmond, Va., Sauer still makes Duke's, which is available mostly in the South.

Duke's is still known for its tangy flavor and its lack of sugar, compared to Hellmann's and other national brands.

The Duke family later moved to California, where Eugenia opened the Duchess Sandwich Co. during World War II. She died in 1968 at the age of 90.

The bridge at Wyche Pavilion in Greenville's River Walk, between the Peace Center and RiverPlace, will be named the Eugenia Duke Bridge in honor of Duke and all female entrepreneurs. The dedication ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. March 29.

If you go, pack a picnic lunch. You know what to use to make the sandwiches.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236