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Monday, February 4, 2008

Missing the Hitch...

Okay, beat me with a wet noodle. I didn't get this blog uploaded in time for Super Bowl Sunday. I have an excuse, I took a drive through the eastern forks of Long Island. I can do that, especially on a Sunday in February (very few tourists) and more especially on Super Bowl Sunday as I am in "Giant country" and everybody was some place else but not on the east end. So keep in mind, the following was written before the big win of 2008!

Which came first the pigskin or the cart? Hold the line. I don't mean to put the horse before the cart.

I had big goals for today. The other night, I dug out my Monday Night Football Cookbook & Restaurant Guide which was published in 1982. Touch down I thought. I'll be able to share the recipes in the book for my Super Bowl blog. Now bear with me here, I know nothing about football. I mean nothing! I called my son and asked him who was playing, where they were playing and all the assorted questions I thought would help for this blog. After we got off the phone, the first thing I did was look up the Giants in the book to see which recipes I could share. No recipes. Well, it does have recipes but not football recipes, not even Giants' recipes. It has restaurant recipes. I don't why I thought the book was full of football recipes from Monday Night Football shows. Maybe, I should have read the foreword by Don Meredith.

...I always prefer the best. My two favorite foods are chicken fried steak and caviar. One tells you where I've come from. The other, where I've been... There is a lot of room to explore between chicken fried steak and caviar. Over the past 11 years as a member of the Monday Night Football crew, we have all shared, in ABC traditions, a quest for the finest food and drink in NFL cities coast to coast.

So you see, most of the recipes in this book are from Pro Football Cities: Favorite Restaurants & Recipes. Although, quite interesting, not exactly what I had in mind for today. I took a quick look at the restaurant recipes which included Homemade Antipasto Salad and The Reuben Sandwich from Zabar's. Hmmmm.....still not quite what I was looking for today. Time to change books. I finally decided the Heinz Hitch Tailgate Cookin' booklet would do the trick. This booklet was published in 1999 and was free for the mailing. Here are a few words from the inside page.

Two great American institutions-H.J. Heinz Company and the game of football just celebrated 130 years of crowd pleasing performances.

The first official intercollegiate football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers on November 6, 1869. Rutgers defeated Princeton 6 to 4. The game steadily evolved and in 1920 a professional football association was formed. The association was renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922.

No stranger himself to rapid growth in a field of heated competition, Henry J. Heinz founded the H.J. Heinz Company in 1869, when he began selling his first product, Heinz Horseradish, door to door...

Of course, the booklet contains recipes using Heinz products which for today is just fine with me. I'm actually more interested in the Heinz Hitch.

I don't know about you, but the words Heinz Hitch don't exactly lead me to believe a Heinz Hitch is a good thing. I found out differently when I leafed through the pages.

The Heinz Hitch is a living history lesson, a replica of the classic H.J. Heinz Company delivery wagons used in the late 1800s. The regal and striking appearance of eight, one-ton, black Percheron horses against a meticulously painted, fiery-red cargo wagon is what inspired Henry J. Heinz to use this delivery system during the company's early years.

Though no longer carting about Heinz Ketchup or Pickles, the Heinz Hitch continues to deliver. The horse and wagon combination is a headline performer at fairs, parades, and expositions across the country. The Heinz Hitch has become a crowd favorite at high-profile events such as the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Major League Baseball's Opening Day Parade and innumerable festivals across North America.

"Heart power is less than horse power"
Henry J. Heinz

Heinz Hitch

As tempting as that explanation was of the Heinz Hitch, it just wasn't enough for me. I had to hitch my wagon to the WWW and travel further. Well, the first thing I discovered was, the Heinz Hitch no longer attends the "innumerable festivals across North America." The company discontinued the hitch in 2006. In August of 2007, the H. J. Heinz Company announced the donation of the eight Percheron horses, formerly used as part of the Heinz Hitch program, to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) where they will be used to pay homage to fallen soldiers in the ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. The donation also ensured that the horses will be well cared for the rest of their lives. But wait, there's no sense in putting the cart before the horse. Let me see what else I can find. Without getting into a whole biography of Henry J. Heinz, (I'll save that for his birthday in October) it is necessary to delve a bit into the Heinz Company beginnings because indeed, the Heinz Hitch does have its hooves planted in the the delivery of horseradish.

As the H.J. Heinz Company company grew, Heinz and his employees delivered products to customers first with a hand basket and later by pushcart. By the turn of the century, as demand and product line increased, a Studebaker grocery wagon was used. It was pulled by a team of eight Percheron horses weighing more than 16,000 pounds collectively, and was called the "Heinz Hitch." Percheron horses delivered Heinz products this way for the first 60 years.

The 6,800 pound Heinz Studebaker wagon (once among the world's largest hitch wagons in use), which was manufactured in Indiana in the 1850s, was shipped to Pennsylvania by rail. In the late 1800s, H.J. Heinz Co. delivered its first loads of horseradish to grocery stores in the Studebaker grocery wagon pulled by a team of Percheron horses. In 1978, the Studebaker wagon was found in an old storage shed in central Pennsylvania. It had deteriorated with wood rot and rust, and a tree was growing through a huge hole in its floorboards. Heinz purchased it in 1986 and two years later spent $22,000 to have it refurbished. It became a popular attraction at fairs, expositions, and parades throughout the country. A man by the name of John Dryer who had worked for Heinz USA for 32 years before retiring in 1992, was the driver and general manager for the Heinz Hitch Team. He had started the hitch in 1984 with two "Amish word horses strong enough to pull a small huckster wagon during parades. He received $500 an appearance. It soon expanded to six horses. There's a refreshing article about Mr. Dryer by Gretchen McKay, at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

...A love of farmland and the animals that live there is not something one can easily grow up and away from. Just ask John Dryer. Reared on a vegetable "truck" farm in Baldwin Borough, the 70-year-old raised Hereford beef cattle for almost four decades on his 225-acre farm near Avella in Washington County. His farming was in addition to his job as a microbiologist at the H. J. Heinz Co., which he began in 1961...

I've only selected a few pieces from the article but, if you have a few moments, you should really take a look at it. It's a "non corporate" view of the horses, their owners, and their lives.

...Their 6,800-pound antique Studebaker wagon has traveled up to 57,000 miles a year during the last two decades to promote the Pittsburgh condiment-maker's products...At one time the company had 150 head of Percherons delivering its merchandise. Since its first showing at the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade in 1984, the Heinz Hitch has never failed to thrill spectators.
For 32 years, Mr. John Dryer has driven and cared for the horses and wagons designed to evoke memories of yesterday. And now … with the retirement of the Heinz Hitch, it is has become a piece of history. Regardless, Dryer still cherishes the 22 years he and others spent on top of the red wagon while reining in the majestic draft horses. Mr. Dryer has a definite soft spot for these spectacular animals, which can weigh up to 2,400 pounds. "God, it was so spectacular, it was just unbelievable". John Dryer says the departure of the horses is like sending a son or daughter away to college without the promise of future visits. "Good-bye" to Justin, one of the eight Percherons.

Originally from the Perche region of France, Percherons are the only line of heavy horses not originally bred as draft horses. The horses first appeared more than 1,000 years ago and are a cross between Arabian Stallions and Flemish Plow Mares. They were bred specifically to blend power, agility and speed. These attributes made the Percherons favored horses for carrying knights confidently into battle. Today, Percherons are enjoying a renewed popularity among horsemen for their gentle nature, power and control. source

Resources

  • 1. Famed Heinz Hitch Now History (blog)
  • 2. Why is a football called a pigskin?
  • 3. Granny's Killer Tailgate Recipes