Posts Tagged Oyster
Necessity truly is the mother of invention, though Napoleon might suggest we rephrase this to say, “the mother of revolution”.
Speaking of revolution, it appears we owe the Emperor some great measure of appreciation for the initiative, and necessity, that led to one of today’s most wide-spread and trusted form of food preservation: canning.
The year is 1795. Napoleon is 26 years old. He is infantry commandant to an army that is engaged in a civil war in a region in west-central France, on the Atlantic Ocean. During this time, he offers a 12,000 franc cash prize (roughly $2,456 or 1,470 one-quart jars today) to anyone who will develop a means to preserve food for his army. It would be too easy to simply claim that the rest is history. It is more complicated than that. Let it suffice to say that Napoleon probably did not give any further thought to this, other than securing a means to keep his men fed. He was a conqueror, after all, not an inventor… or so he thought.
His idea had merit, of course. Creative minds of the time continued to develop it. In 1809, while Napoleon assumed command of his troupes on the shores of the Danube, Frenchman Nicholas Appert realized that food would not spoil if sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight vessel, much like a wine bottle.
Meanwhile, the demand for canned provisions grew along with increased exploration of the world and migrations to the Americas. In New York City, British immigrant Thomas Kensett, established the first U.S. meat, fruit, vegetable and oyster canning facility. The year is 1812.
A year later, Peter Durand, a British merchant, is credited with obtaining the first patent for preserving food using unbreakable containers: tin cans. The first commercial canning factory was subsequently established in 1813, in England.
Though it was clear by now that heating food was a key element in preservation, it took another 50 years before an explanation for canning’s effectiveness could be established, by none other than Louis Pasteur.
What was understood early on, also, was the importance of establishing canning facilities within a very short distance of the point of harvest. This ensured that foods were packed at the peak of freshness. It also served more practical purposes; namely, to minimize cost by reducing transportation and to ensure freshness.
Furthermore, it appears that canning may actually enhance the nutritional value of some foods. For example, according to a 1997 University of Illinois study, corroborated by many subsequent observations, a 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 600% of the Recommended Daily Intake of vitamin A. Conversely, the same amount of fresh pumpkin has only 143%. Canned tomatoes, for their part, contain significantly higher levels of lycopene, a recognized antioxidant, than fresh tomatoes and canned green beans were shown to have a higher fiber content than beans consumed directly upon harvest.
Home canning was introduced in 1858, when Philadelphia tinsmith John Mason invented a practical glass jar for this purpose. These are commonly known as “Ball” jars, named after the early manufacturer, Ball Corporation. Napoleon had passed away 37 years earlier, perhaps unaware of the great conquests he had led by merely seeking to resolve a common problem.
Thus, the one who is generally recognized as the greatest military commander of all time, also happens to be “the father of canning”. Somehow, this accomplishment has not made it to history books, but in truth it offers further evidence of the scope of his abilities as a commander, for isn’t the command of one’s sustenance half the battle?
Here are the ripple effects of Napoleon’s bright idea:
1795 — Napoleon offers 12,000 francs to anyone who can develop a means to preserve food for his army and navy.
1809 — Nicolas Appert, of France, wins prize for devising a way to preserve food by sterilization.
1810 — Englishman Peter Durand obtains a patent for the use of pottery, glass and tin-plated iron in canning.
1812 — A small canning plant opens in New York. It cans meats, oysters, fruits and vegetables in hermetically sealed containers.
1818 — Peter Durand’s tin-plated can is introduced in America.
1819 — Thomas Kensett and Ezra Warner begin to sell products in canned tinplate cans.
1830 — Huntly and Palmer sell cakes and biscuits in decorated cans.
1849 — Henry Evans begins making cans by machine. Production increases from 5-6 cans per hour to 50-60 per hour.
1856 — Gail Borden granted a patent for canned condensed milk.
1858 — Home canning is born. American John Mason invents a practical glass jar for home canning.
1870 — William Lyman patents an opener with a rotating wheel that cuts the top rim of the can.
1909 — Tuna canning starts in California.
1921 — Canned citrus juice begins in Florida.
1926 — Canned ham, SPAM begins.
1931 — Electric can opener is introduced.
1933 — Motor oil is canned.
1940 — Carbonated soft drink canning begins.
1957 — First all-aluminum beer can appears on the market.
1962 — Pull-tabs on beverage cans appear.
1973 — The six-pack is introduced.