Monday, August 24, 2009

Happy Can-Opener Day!!!

While I'm quite satisfied with the explanation as to why today is National Waffle Day, I am not so convinced as to why today is also Can-Opener Day or Knife Day for that matter. At least National Waffle Day celebrates the invention of the waffle iron on the day it was patented by Cornelius Swartwout; August 24, 1869. As far as I can tell, Can-Opener Day should be celebrated on January 5th in the US and July 13, in Britain. Why? Well, it was on January 5, 1858 that Ezra J. Warner was awarded patent #19063 titled an "Instrument for Opening Cans."

(google patents)

The can-opener is not without its share of controversy. For openers, the can opener was invented some forty years after the can. Peter Durand invented canned food in 1813. "Why the delay in the invention of the can-opener" you might ask. Simple really, people were just following the directions they were given right on the can; "Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer."

In 1858 Ezra J. Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut, patented the first can opener. An intimidating combination of bayonet and sickle, Warner's invention was nonetheless eagerly adopted by the U.S. military during the Civil War. Household use of the can opener increased when William W. Lyman added a wheel for continuous operation in 1870. Although his design relied on the lid of the can being punctured first, and the opener being specifically adjusted for cans of different sizes, it no longer meant opening a can of peaches was as risky. (source)

It isn't necessary for me to continue the debate as to who was the first to invent the can-opener and to be perfectly honest, that's just fine with me. There's an excellent PDF file available from research pod with contains illustrations and a more detailed look into the history of the can opener. It tells of both Robert Yates and Ezra Warner's inventions. It also explains how "domestic can openers were supplied with cans of "bully beef." If you want to see a better picture of a Bully Beef can-opener, I found one at toolmonger "The webs first tool blog." (Their words not mine:)

Poppy Cannon & The Can-Opener Cook Book

"...Armed with a can opener, I become the artist cook, the massive creative chef."

I missed Poppy Cannon's birthday on August 2, so, I thought I would make up for it by sharing a few recipes from a cookbook by her titled The Can-Opener Cook Book published in 1951. The copy shown is a third printing; 1953.

You may have heard me complain every once in a while about the lack of information available online in regard to authors, especially cook book authors. Such is not the case with Poppy Cannon. Since, I am trying to keep this post short, I will save what I have discovered about her until next year and share it on the day she was born. I will tell you however, she was a huge campaigner of short cut cooking which is quite surprising when you try to imagine that she and Alice B. Toklas authored a book together titled Aromas and Flavors Past and Present. There's a quick reference to Poppy Cannon in this recent article (2004) by Ann Hodgman where she explores the abiding question What's for Dinner "Convenience foods have been doing battle with old-fashioned cooking for half a century. Which side is winning?"

This cookbook solves the problem of those who demand gourmet cooking in short-order time. The menus and recipes show how the hurried and even inexperienced cook, using the prepared mix, the jar, the frozen-food package, or the canned product as a base, can produce delectable, impressive dishes. (The Can-Opener Cookbook)

Selecting a recipe from The Can-Opener Cook Book is surprisingly difficult. This book is a favorite of mine from my collection. When I first opened it, Im sure I heard a snap in my head. I'm not sure if it was because my mind was already in the "can" spirit or if it was the crisp newness of the book. It is in better condition than some of the cookbooks I've recently browsed on the store bookshelves. That was many years ago. It is also one of the books I have anticipated sharing anxiously. You may think it is because of the recipes. In a way it is. What I find most engaging about this book is the Introduction.

Something new has been added to the age-old saga of good eating. America, never before gastronomically renowned despite its wealth of excellent ingredients, burgeoning larders, fertile farm lands, herds and flocks, has developed epicurean interests-but with a difference. Our cooking ideas and ideals have their roots in many lands and cultures, but our new way of achieving gourmet food can only happen here-in the land of the mix, the jar, the frozen-food package, and the ubiquitous can opener.

The introduction is six pages. Perhaps, the best six pages of can opener domestic history in a cookbook.

At one time a badge of shame, hallmark of the lazy lady and the careless wife, today the can opener is becoming a magic wand, especially in the hands of those brave, young women, nine million of them (give or take a few thousand here and there), who are engaged in frying as well as bringing home the bacon.

I relate with the above passage, intimately. When I was growing up in the fifties, we hid our can opener! I kid you not. My father, despised can openers and canned food. Not only did he "forbid" it, he also detested frozen foods, prepared cake mixes, anything in jars with the exception of pickles; no relish! I know for a fact, he pretty much lost the battle. By the time I was in elementary school, things had changed, although, he would never admit it. (We're Italian:) Every pay day for years, under one arm he would have tucked a brown paper bag hiding either canned peaches or canned fruit cocktail. Under the other arm would be a half gallon of Neapolitan Ice Cream. (just plain ol' vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Thankfully, we didn't worry about cholesterol in those days:) Sunday night was My-T-Fine Chocolate pudding night. I can't remember if we were "allowed" to eat it while watching the Ed Sullivan Show or The Perry Como Show. I do remember standing over the stove stirring and stirring so the "boxed" pudding wouldn't burn. And, who could forget licking the spoon and scraping the bottom of the pot?

To the rescue comes the manufacturer of so-called ready-to-serve foods. Actually, at least in gourmet terms, they are not quite ready to serve, but they do provide the basis for any number of prideful, even complicated, specialties...Armed with a can opener, I become the artist cook, the massive creative chef.

You too may be scoffing the use of prepared mixes etc. You may also think the recipes in this book are outdated. Personally, I don't think so. On the contrary, incorporating healthy alternatives has never been easier. As the summer wanes, many are wondering what to do with the fruits of their labor. It's reflected in some of the blogs I visit. Some are canning, pickling, and preserving while others are freezing all sorts of blends in anticipation of a long and cold blustery winter:) My feeling is, as long as I am controlling the ingredients I have available, I can afford to buy the ingredients I crave. If it is less expensive to buy the pre-made pie crust, than it is to "make it from scratch" and time or desire are of the essence, I will buy it. I have a balance.

Escoffier demands over and over again slowly simmered, painstakingly clarified white or brown stock. On the back of every gourmet range, the stock pot never ceased to simmer--that was in the old days. But now, canned consomme or chicken broth provides an admirable answer. For greater economy, bouillon cubes or meat extracts, plus hot water, may be used. (Ed Note: Nay on the cubes.)

Suggestions are also extracted.

In the canned stewed department, there is much that is interesting. Although such stews are notoriously under seasoned to appeal to the average palate...they can be transformed with a rinse of red wine, a clove of garlic, parsley, half a bay leaf, and a flicker of mixed herbs to make something akin to Le Boeuf en Daube as served in France...

The second section of the introduction is simply titled The Recipes. In this section, Poppy Cannon once again illuminates the ease of short cut cooking.

In each case we have tried with a few lines of introduction to explain our reasons for including each particular recipe. We have tried also to describe as well as mere words can the appearance and the flavors of our various dishes. Far too many recipes--fine recipes too--are printed to rest unknown, unnoticed, and untasted within the covers of a book simply because modern authors lack the persipicacity of those old-time ladies who in their handwritten recipes more often than not would title a recipe not merely Veal Loaf, for instance, but Aunt Mame's Special Veal Loaf--very light and fluffy. They might add, "Men of this family have always loved a loaf fixed this way with a hard-boiled egg in the center..."

Many of the suggestions offered for the planning of A Quick Gourmet Meal still hold true today.

Contrast: texture, flavor and color (a smooth and creamy dish must be served along with something crisp; chicken a la king, for example, goes well insdie a ring of julienne potato sticks.) green peas, sliced tomato, golden corn-the rich brown of a grilled lamb chop.) (a bland food requires a piquant accompaniment--a pork chop for example is at its best with something cool and fruity, such as applesauce or pickled peaches.)

Can you tell I'm hungry???
Drama: Drama enters not only in your choice of dishes, silverware, and centerpiece, but also in the napkins, the tablecloth or mats, the color of the candles, the color and shape of the water glasses. All these things can add tremendously to the enjoyment of a meal.

Whenever you plan a meal just for yourselves or for company don't attempt too much. Keep it simple--confine your efforts to one or two dishes and make them very, very good...No matter how simple it is, never try out a new dish on a new audience. Even the greatest of chefs has a dress rehearsal before an important dinner.

I now know why I save pickle juice. I've been know to have at least five jars of pickle juice in the fridge. I would combine them all to make sauerbraten. That reminds me, I haven't made sauerbraten in years. You just heat the vinegar mixtures, just to get the chill out. Set your sauerbraten meat in a big non-reactive bowl and pour the vinegar mixture over the top. I use to buy different pickles just to have a variety of pickle juice. All pickle juices are not the same you know:) Don't forget to have a box of ginger snaps on hand, it makes GREAT sauerbraten gravy!!!

You may not be in the mood for sauerbraten just quite yet. For me, it's one of those meals to serve on a chilly night especially during winter. However, how about this recipe for Spiced Carrot Sticks?

Spiced Carrot Sticks: Once you've tried this recipe you'll never again throw away the spicy liquor from a jar of pickles! Scrape and cut crisp young carrots into strips about 3 inches long and not more than 1/4 of an inch thick. Cover with the spicy vinegar from a jar of pickles and allow to stand overnight in the refrigerator. (If you haven't enough liquid to cover the carrots, stretch it by adding vinegar and water, half and half.) At serving time, Drain and arrange on a plate or serve in a bowl, with or without crushed ice.

 A delightful warm weather soup with an unusual garnish.
You Will Need:
bottled clam juice
canned vegetable cocktail (I prefer the glass:)
Tabasco Sauce
Combine equal parts icy cold clam juice and very cold canned vegetable cocktail (V8?), season with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. At serving time, Serve in glass or china cup or bowl, adding to each portion a spoonful of crushed ice and a spoonful of finely cut, unpeeled cucumber. Note: If you have no ice-crushing machine you can crush ice cubes by placing them in a small canvas bag and hitting several times with a hammer or any other heavy object. 1953 remember:)

Have you ever experienced a Blushing Bunny? "Don't let the whimsical name deceive you--it's a hearty luncheon or supper dish."
You Will Need
condensed tomato soup
sharp American cheese
toast, crackers, or English muffins
Combine 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1/2 cup milk, 1 cup sharp American cheese finely cut or shredded, 1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard, the yolks of 2 eggs well beaten. Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and mixture is thickened. Fold in stiffly beaten whites of 2 eggs. At serving time, serve immediately on toast, crackers, or toasted English muffins. Makes 6 servings. Ed Note: There was a time when it was almost "criminal" to have a child who didn't eat eggs and not to do something about it. Hop in Blushing Bunny!

I never made it to the boat show. I had a minor fall and sprained a ligament in my leg. I did, however, have a friend drive me to PA. YAY PA!!!  What better place to rest:) After, I mosey outside to see how my thirsty plants are doing, you'll find me sitting in my favorite chair with my leg elevated:) Don't worry, I'll still be visiting "the" blogs:) Enjoy Can-Opener Day!!!

1. National Waffle Day @ Mr. Breakfast
2. Cornelius Swartwout
3. Waffle Iron Patented
4. No Waffling-Waffle Day (quick previous post with waffle recipes)
5. First, lever-type can openers @ wiki
6. Research Pod (PDF file)
7. Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon Papers
8. Fruit Cocktail: Does it Suck?
9. Fruit Cocktail Meringue Pie


  1. I love the idea of the can opener as a chic 1950s kitchen tool! I have spent my adult life in search of the perfect can opener!

  2. Today is waffle day and I'm having fish tacos for dinner? What a waste! I shall have to remedy this tommorow!

  3. Love me some waffle. Ha..ha..who knew that even can openers had a day. Thanks Louise, I alway learn something new when I come here to visit!

  4. Are the Belgian waffles not known for being the best in the world ? ;-)

    A can opener is for sure a great invention!

  5. Very interesting to learn that in the fifties, you hid your can opener, hehehe...

  6. I found this a day late. Funny that I wrote about waffles yesterday. Can opener day doesn't really affect me, since I don't use many cans!

  7. I'm so happy I was born during the can opener era or where would I be? Me and a chisel...it's dangerous.

    So sorry to hear you got hurt and never made it. Get well soon!

  8. Really interesting post with lots of information. My mom relied on a can opener for practically everything. It's so strange that a can opener wasn't invented for so long after canned food.

  9. Hi Louise,
    wow lots of great info here, louise...i'm surprised that canned goods before had to be opened at the lid by hammer and chisel...might not look good today on TV cooking shows..
    On the subject of waffles..reading this alone makes me crave for a steamed one..I really love waffles, you know.

  10. Once again another lovely post!

    This part was Priceless!
    "Every pay day for years, under one arm he would have tucked a brown paper bag hiding either canned peaches or canned fruit cocktail. Under the other arm would be a half gallon of Neapolitan Ice Cream. (just plain ol' vanilla, chocolate and strawberry."

  11. Ah T.W., the perfect can-opener much like finding the optimum garlic press, elusive.

    Hmmm...fish tacos, never a waste, unless of course it is Waffle Day. No one will be the wiser if you switch the days, duckie. I won't tell!

    Hi Veron, I'd love me some waffles any day. I'm still looking for the best waffle maker. Any ideas??? I'm glad you enjoyed your visit.

    Belgian Waffles are indeed the best Sidney, plain or topped with enormous strawberries!!! I wonder if the can-opener will ever become obsolete?

    We hid many things in those days, Selba. My father was still living in the 1930s, hehehe...

    I saw those waffles of yours Marjie, Yummee! I don't really use my can opener as often either. However, it's still a handy gadget to keep close by...

    Thanks for stopping Sher, most anyone and a chisel is an accident waiting to happen. Thanks for the well wishes, the swelling has gone down and my hobble has lessened:)

    Hi Gloria, A typical case of the cart before the horse, I suppose. Thanks for stopping...

    Hi Dennis!!! Nice to "see" you. Now, whenever I see them opening a can on TV, I will imagine a hammer and a chisel; so funny:) You can still celebrate waffles in March Dennis or any day for that matter!!!

    Oh Gone-ta-pott, you're too kind. Funny the childhood memories we have stashed within...

  12. Don't forget Poppy Cannon's The Presidents' Cookbook. She was more than can openers!

  13. there's a can opener day, too? :D

    the things i learn from you! :D

  14. I'm so looking forward to posting about Poppy Cannon and you can be sure I won't forget The President's Cookbook although, I don't think I still have a copy:( Thanks, Cynthia for the reminder:)

    hi there acey, thank you so much for stopping. i know you haven't been feeling well and i do appreciate it. what would life be like without a can-opener?

  15. I didn't know that even can opener have their day not until i read your blog. Very informative blog you posted.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise