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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Canny Cook

As I mentioned earlier in the month, February is National Canned Food Month. It was quite tempting to immerse myself in the science of food processing and packaging technologies in order to properly introduce the effects the canned food industry has had on the American diet. Instead, I've decided to share an interesting little booklet I have titled The Canny Cook News. Normally I would dig deep into the history of canning and uncover resources which would include Nicolas Appert ("The Father of Canning") and perhaps a few tidbits about Auguste Escoffier (It seems Escoffier had his hand in the process of tomato canning.) but, I already attempted to do that on Canned Food Day which was and always is on the anniversary of the birth of Nicolas Appert in October. So today, I simply want to share some recipes from this booklet published in 1930.

The National Canners Association

This issue of The Canny Cook News #6, pays tribute to the winners of what appears to be a recipe contest that was sponsored by The National Canners Association. A quick trip to wikipedia informed me that The National Canners Association was a trade association which was started in 1907. They had been instrumental in the fight for better laws resulting in the passing of the first Food and Drugs Act in 1906. Through the years, the association increased its scope of coverage and in January of 2008 once again renamed itself The Grocery Manufacturers of America. Now according to wiki, the National Canners Association was started in 1907 but The Grocery Manufacturers of America say they had their start in 1908. I only mention this because, The National Canners Association could be celebrating their 100th anniversary if they did indeed begin in 1908 but, that's for them to figure out. We want winning recipes that take advantage of the conveniences of canned food.

Commercial canners did not find housewives as easy to persuade as did bakers. For one thing, the popular fear of tin was widespread. Acid food were mistakenly though to dissolve the tin plating on cans and cause illness. Unscrupulous canners evaded sanitary safeguards and adulterated their products with unwholesome dyes and preservatives...Traveling exhibits were shown to clubs and school children illustrating the dangers lurking in canned foods. One such exhibit was a doll whose dress was tinted with dyes recovered from processed food...Responsible canners who wished to see the business purged of malpractice cooperated in the public fight for better laws...In 1907 they founded The National Canners Association, which was later to establish research laboratories for the study of canning technology...At the same time, can manufacturing machinery was studied and modernized. The cans we are familiar with today, and the machinery to make it, were developed between 1905 and 1908. Three hundred cans, 98-1/2 per cent steel, could be turned out in 1 minute. The same operation that processed the steel sheet gave it its final coating of tin. The top of the can could be crimped on in a way to protect the closing solder from touching the food.The Everlasting Pleasure by Kathleen Ann Smallzried ( 1956 pg. 207)

Okay, I don't want to make the same mistake that Peter Durand made early in his "canning" career. He put the can before the opener. According to The Great Idea Finder website, the tin can was invented almost 50 years before the can opener. "Early cans were mighty fortresses of heavy-gauge wrought iron that often weighed more than the food they contained. Soldiers in the early nineteenth century attacked them with bayonets. As late as the American Civil War, hungry troops resorted to rifle fire to open them. A can of roast veal came with these forbidding instructions: Cut round on the top with a chisel and hammer. (another source) William Lyman is credited with inventing the prototype of the modern day can opener. He had been trying to develop a way of opening cans since 1858 (around the same time that Erza Warner invented a large curved blade style opener which was driven into the can's rim and worked around the edge with such great force that the can opener never left the grocery store as the can had to be opened before it left the store:) William Lyman's first patent (US patent #54929) was for a hook lever for opening jars. His can opener patent (#105,583) was a variation of Warner's and although it had problems, it was used extensively into the 1920's.

The next change occurred on 1925 with the introduction of a jagged wheel for rotating the can by The Star Can Company of San Francisco, CA. This basic idea continues to be used on today's can openers, and was the foundation for the first electric can opener, invented by Philips in December 1931. source

Recipe Contest Winners

The following recipes were declared the winners by the charter members of the Canny Cook Club. The recipes were judged on the basis of palatability, interesting new combinations and ease of preparation.

Luncheon Spaghetti
First Prize
1 can spaghetti in tomato sauce
1 can celery soup
1 can cream style corn
1 small can mushrooms
1 tbs. chopped onion
1 tbs. butter
1 egg well beaten
1/2 c. American cheese, grated
salt, pepper, paprika to taste
Brown the onion in the butter, and add the celery soup, corn, mushrooms and seasonings. Cook slowly for 15 minutes. Stir frequently.
Pour contents of the can of spaghetti into a baking dish, add the egg and cheese, and mix well. Add the other ingredients and bake in hot oven until the mixture is nicely browned. Serve hot as a luncheon or supper dish. Serves 8
Mrs. R. F. Harnell, Washington D. C.

Chicken Loaf
Second Prize
For the Loaf:
1 lb. can boneless chicken, cut fine
1 small can tongue, cut fine
1 small can mushrooms, cut fine
salt, nutmeg, & mace
1/3 canned milk (unsweetened)
1/3 c. almonds, cut fine
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. breadcrumbs
1/3 c. water
For the Gravy to baste:
1 can consomme
3 tbs. catsup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour for thickening
  1. Mix together all the ingredients for the loaf. Blend the seasoning thoroughly. If too dry, add a little more water. Form into loaf, bake in a buttered dish 1 hr. in moderately hot oven.
  2. Mix consomme, catsup, Worcestershire sauce together. Baste the loaf with this several times while still baking. When done, remove the loaf and thicken the consomme with the flour, mixed to a smooth paste with a little cold water.
  3. when ready to serve, cut thick slices of the loaf, add gravy and garnish with currant jelly.
  4. If the loaf is to be served cold, omit the flour in consomme. Soften 2 tablespoons gelatin in 1/4 cup of the cold consomme, add boiling consomme and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon, pour this over the loaf and chill thoroughly. Serve cold garnished with olives and currant jelly. Serves 8.
Mrs. I. M. Epstine, Los Altos, CA

I can't resist, I must include this Navy recipe for "Cracker Hash."

FYI: If you are a wine drinker, you have Samuel Henshall (maybe Henshell) to thank for another indispensable opening device patented in 1895. The Corkscrew.

In 1795, Reverend Samuel Henshell added a metal button between the worm and shaft. This gripped the cork and turned it in the neck of the bottle, making it easier to remove. Henshell’s "Button Screw" began a flood of new inventions with over 400 designs being registered or patented in the 19th century. more info