Monday, July 27, 2009

Eben Horsford; "Father of American Food Technology"

Rumford Girl
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Eben Norton Horsford, considered "the father of American food technology" who was born on July 27, 1818. Noted for his success in the development of processes for the manufacturing of baking powder and condensed milk, Eben Horsford was inducted into the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame in 2001. (Class of 1838)
Eben Norton Horsford
Before the invention of Horsford's calcium acid phosphate baking powder, some of the methods used to bake perfectly light and fluffy griddle cakes, waffles, muffins, shortcakes and biscuits, incorporated the use of yeast, ammonia, and pearl ash. The development of baking powder, eliminated the need for yeast and the mixing of two separate ingredients (sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar) to produce a stable leavening agent. Rumford's® Baking Powder made the entire process less of a chore while improving the final results.
...The mixing of sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar marked the introduction of baking powder. The action of the two chemicals — initially marketed in twin envelopes — began as soon as they were added to the wet dough or batter. Bakers began buying both chemicals in bulk, but they had to be kept separate to prevent a premature acid-base reaction occurring. This required extra time in measuring. And there was an additional problem as cream of tartar was imported from France and Italy. The supply and price of cream of tartar was erratic depending on the grape harvest. These two factors — that the components of baking powder had to be kept separate and that the availability of cream of tartar was erratic — fueled the search for a more efficient and economical baking powder.

Rumford Chemical Company

In 1854, Professor Eben Horsford became partner in the George F. Wilson Company later renamed Rumford Chemical Works Company of Providence, Rhode Island. The purpose which is best expressed perhaps in one clause of their agreement made at that time:
"building up a chemical manufacturing establishment of respectability and permanency, such as shall be an honor to ourselves and our children, and a credit to the community in which it is located, and which shall afford us a reasonable means of support."New England families, genealogical and memorial By William Richard Cutter (1914)
The business of the Rumford Chemical Works was named in honor of the man who is believed to be the inventor of Baked Alaska and the Rumford Fireplace. His name was Benjamin Thompson, aka Count Rumford an authority on the means of supplying nutritious food, and who had founded at Harvard University a professorship for the purpose of teaching the utility of science, a chair which was occupied by Professor Horsford. Although he didn't actually have anything to do with the manufacturing of baking powder, Horsford named his baking powder Rumford in his honor. The company also used his silhouette on their private die stamps (if you would like more information on Count Rumford and a Baked Alaska recipe, I've left my link below) The business whose name is now a household world in this country from one ocean to the other, was moved from Providence to what was then Seekonk, but which by change of the state line has since become East Providence, Rhode Island.
Horsford named his baking powder Rumford, after Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814), a Massachusetts-born British-sympathizer in the American Revolution who, in addition to serving the Elector of Bavaria and marrying Antoine Lavoisier's widow, left Harvard University an annuity of $1,000 to establish a Rumford professorship. Horsford had been the Rumford Professor at Harvard. Chemical & Engineering News
According to the Horsford Family Papers, 1681-1954:
Rumford Chemical Works, 1852-1892
Letters from George F. Wilson make up the bulk of this sub-series and are arranged chronologically. George F. Wilson co-founded the Rumford Chemical Works and took care of the business of operating the company. Methods of manufacture, development of new products and markets for new products are among the subjects discussed in this correspondence. The Rumford Chemical Works produced Horsford’s chemical inventions. Among the products manufactured and sold were Horsford’s yeast powder, baking powder and cream of tartar used in baking; acid-phosphate used for indigestion; and anti-chlorine used as a bleaching agent.
The company's first product, Horsford's Bread Preparation, was a baking powder containing acid phosphates and was used to leaven bread.
When recipes call for soda and cream of tartar, baking powder may be used by taking the same quantity as required of both, or Horsford's-Bread Preparation will be found excellent. "Milk"' always means sweet milk. "A cup" always means a tea cup, not a coffee cup. Sour milk may always be used instead of sweet, by using soda only. The proportions of rising-powder to one quart of flour are three teaspoons baking-powder, or one tea-spoon soda and two tea-spoons-cream tartar, or one measure each of Horsford's Bread Preparation, or one pint sour milk and one level tea-spoon soda. Practical Housekeeping by Estelle Woods Wilcox (1887)
Horsford's Acid Phosphate
Perhaps, the most popular chemical produced by the firm was Horsford's Acid Phosphate. (image link) Patented on March 10, 1868, Horsford's Acid Phosphate claimed to be the "best tonic for the restoration; relief of mental and nervous exhaustion, and to give one a good appetite." A Serendipitous Drink, in powder form, Horsford's Acid Phosphate was a mixture of phosphate of lime, magnesia, potash, iron, and phosphoric acid. It was taken with water and sugar to make "a delicious and healthful drink." It was manufactured until the early 1940s. I know there's probably some funny faces being made at the thought of Horsford's cure for the "tired brain." I wouldn't get into too much of a huff, if you drink soda, there's a good chance one of the ingredients is phosphoric acid. And you thought all you had to worry about was the sugar content, nay...
When a teaspoon of the product was mixed with a glass of cold water and sugar, the result was a "... delicious and refreshing drink" similar to the present day lemon-lime drinks. This 'tonic' was taken to relieve mental and nervous exhaustion and 'cured' other ailments. It proved to be so popular in the United States, that it was exported to many foreign countries.source
Anyone out there remember the soda fountains at the corner drug store? Well, if you do, there's a good chance you remember being able to order a Cherry Lime Phosphate to drink. You can still make Phosphate Soda Recipes at home using club soda.
Cherry Phosphate
12 oz club soda
2 tsp cherry flavored syrup
2 tsp lemon juice
In a tall glass stir carbonated water or club soda into cherry-flavored syrup and lemon juice. Add ice cubes.

Rumford Baking Powder

Rumford Baking Powder
If you were to do a google patent search for Eben Horsford, Rumford Chemical Works, and Charles Albert Catlin, you may be surprised to discover the massive amount of patents involving the manufacturing of baking powder.These revolutionary discoveries in food science proved to be a method by which calcium and phosphate, which was lost in the process of milling white flour, could now be restored by placing the ingredients in baking powder!
At These works are manufactured culinary and medical preparations of the phosphates, including Rumford Baking Powder, Horsford's Bread Preparation, Rumford Yeast Powder, Horsford's Acid Phosphates, etc. At the time of the beginning of the manufacture of these phosphatic products, under the patent of Professor Horsford, the only virtue of any baking powder, yeast or other preparation for the raising of bread was its power to make the dough light, none of them contributing anything of nutritious value. Professor Horsford's object was to produce a powder that would not only raise the dough, but also supply the nutritious elements so essential to the healthy condition of the human body which are removed from fine white flour during-the process of bolting, and how well he succeeded in accomplishing his object may be judged by the statement of the late Baron Liebig, of Germany, one of the leading chemists of his time, who in commenting upon this preparation said, "I consider this invention as one of the most useful gifts which science has made to mankind. It is certain that the nutritive value of flour will be increased ten per cent by this phosphatic preparation."
Below is just one of the patents issued on January 16, 1883. I've chosen this one for two reasons. 1) It is not as unappetizing as some others I read and 2) Charles Albert Catlin who was a chemist Rumford Chemical Works for more than forty years, published a book titled Baking Powder; A treatise of the character, methods for the determination of the values, etc. with special reference to recent improvements in phosphate powders in 1899. It is available online at the American Libraries website if you're curious.
Be it known that we, Eben N. Horsford, of Cambridge, in the State of Massachusetts, and Charles A. Catlin, of the city and county of; Providence, in the State of Rhode Island, have invented a new and useful Improvement in Process of Preparing Alkaline Bicarbonates for Use in Baking-Powders; and we do hereby declare that the following is a full, true, and exact description thereof. In the manufacture of baking-powders in which bicarbonate of soda and certain acid salts are employed great difficulty is experienced in preparing them so as to prevent the reaction between these elements of their composition through the intervention of atmospheric moisture. Especially is this the case where certain deliquescent acid salts are employed—as, for instance, the acid phosphates. The object of our invention is to render this decomposition less liable of occurrence; and we effect this by investing the individual particles of powder of the bicarbonate with a superficial coating of neutral substance, so that the contact of the acid and alkaline carbonate is prevented until water has been added...
Rumford Bking Powder Girl

Baking Powder Recipes

The recipe below for Rumford Biscuits was published a recipe booklet compiled by Mildred Maddocks; a lecturer at Massachusetts State board of Agriculture, copyright by the Rumford Chemical Works Company, 1911. An anniversary gift from my late husband, I have had this 12 page leaflet as part of my recipe collection for over twenty years. As you can see, it is in excellent condition:) It's a rather detailed recipe so I have scanned it for your enjoyment:)
Rumford Baking Powder Biscuits
The next recipe for Glories comes from the Rumford Recipe Book pictured. It was published in 1913 and compiled by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Lily Haxworth Wallace, and Mildred Maddocks.
Rumford Baking Powder Recipe Cookbook
4 tbs. butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsps. Rumford Baking Powder
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup milk
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy; add the egg, then the salt, cinnamon, baking powder and flour; well sifted together; and the milk alternately with the dry ingredients to form a dough soft enough to be easily handled but stiff enough to keep its shape. Roll between the palms of the hands into very small balls, drop these in a pan containing plenty of smoking hot fat, coo golden brown and cool. When cool, roll in hot boiled frosting, then in a mixture of finely chopped nut meats and seed raisins.

The final scanned recipe is a modern version of Peanut Baking Powder Biscuits. It, comes from a competitor of Rumford Baking Powder; Royal Baking Powder and was published in Best Wartime Recipes Royal Baking Powder. I found it in the 1995 edition of Around the American Table; Treasured Recipes and Food Traditions from the American Cookery Collection of The New York Public Library by Michael Krondl. It too has been scanned for your enjoyment and should open in its own window when "clicked."

Peanut Baking Powder Biscuits
1. History of Baking Powder (@ What's Cooking America)
2. What's the difference between Baking Powder and Baking Soda?
3. National Bicarbonate of Soda Day! (previous post celebrating the uses & benefits of baking soda)
4. Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (inventor of Baked Alaska)
5. New England families, genealogical and memorial By William Richard Cutter (@ google books)


  1. Now I know whom to thank for the marvel that is baking powder and condensed milk! :)

  2. I love condensed milk. I always thought Pasteur had something to do with it though. Thanks!

  3. A little cooking, a little history, a little story...a lot of fun!

    How was your ice cream in a bag at the picnic?

  4. Oh, this man ranks a great man in my book for manufacturing baking powder!
    What would a baker like me do without that precious stuff?
    By the way, there will be a blogger meet-up Thursday night, 7pm...check out my blog for more details! I hope you can join us too! :-)

  5. Hi Veron: I for one sure am glad these "guys" figured all this stuff out for us. Can you imagine having to use Pearlash as Baking Powder??? First you would have to chip some wood. UG

    Hi Andrew: What would a simple cheesecake be without sweetened condensed milk? Boring:) I always thought Pasteur did to. I know for sure Gail Borden had something to with it,though.

    Thanks Marjie. I really appreciate the kind words. I didn't get to do the ice cream in a bag yet but I'm going to try again next weekend. Going camping @ the car races. All grown-ups. I hope we get to doing it!!!

    Hi B&S: I'm sorry I missed the meet-up. I'm going by you right now to get the grits on it. I bet you all had FUN!!!

  6. When i was a little kid, i used condensed milk as my sandwich spread. When i think of that now, i just smile.


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