December 6, 2013
Next time you are at an all-you-can eat buffet, imagine the food displays without any covering: there are flies in the coleslaw, the man in front of you leans over the spread, breathing heavily. His nose scrunches up as though he might sneeze at any moment. You cringe, but it’s too late. Mashed potatoes are off the menu tonight.
Johnny Garneau is the reason people like this man will never sneeze on your food today.
On March 10, 1959, the restaurateur and inventor filed his patent for the “Food Service Table” later known as the “sneeze guard,” meant to protect food on display from bacteria and other germs that may be spread by sneezing. These days, it’s required by law that retail, self-service food bars have one—nary a salad bar shall be left uncovered.
At the time of his invention, he owned and ran a chain of American Style Smorgasbord restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania—a set price, all-you-can-eat buffet model based off of the the traditional Swedish “smorgasbord,” a celebratory meal, buffet style, with a laid-out table of food. The first example of a smorgasbord in America appeared at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Garneau’s “American Style Smorgasbord” restaurant was one of the first of many self-service restaurants that would pop up in the the United States in the ’50s.
“Being the germaphobe that he was, he couldn’t stand people going down the Smorgasbords smelling things and having their noses too close to the food,” Barbara Kelley, one of five of Garneau’s children says. “He said to his engineers, ‘We have to devise something—I don’t want these people sneezing on the food.”
When the patent was granted (for a term of 14 years), Garneau installed them in each of his restaurants. His daughter Barbara was born the year her father filed for the patent and remembers growing up in the spotless kitchens and dining rooms of her father’s businesses.
“He had that typical entrepreneur mind—he was always thinking of the next great idea.” Kelley says. These common things we use every day, somebody, somewhere had an idea and they had the guts to take it to fruition. My dad was one of them. There wasn’t one thing he thought that he couldn’t make or do.”
At 15, Garneau got a taste for the restaurant business as a “soda jerk” when he began forming dreams of his first restaurant, “The Beanery,” which opened 1949. The six-stool, 20-foot by 15-foot diner served American classics like the hot dog with curb service. By 1952, he opened his first American Style Smorgasbord restaurant.
When the smorgasbord style became less trendy, he turned each of his restaurants into steakhouses called the Golden Spike, the first of which opened in 1954. The railroad theme (there was a toy train set up at the bar that delivered your drink) came from Garneau’s interest in Promontory Summit in Utah, the point that completed of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. At the height of his business, he had six successful restaurants: four in Pittsburgh, one in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where Garneau raised his family, and one in South Florida. Garneau died in May of this year at his home in Florida at age 90.
Garneau’s invention effectively changed the standard for food safety in self-service environments. Even though there isn’t evidence of a direct causation between Garneau’s patent and food-safety initiatives, as far back as the early ’60s, the FDA regulated the presence of food shields. “The 1962 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance and 1976 Model Food Service Sanitation Ordinance also has very similar language,” David Steigman a communications representative of the FDA stated in an email to Smithsonian.com. “Instead of ‘salad bar food guards’, the term ‘counter protective devices’ and ‘salad bar protective devices’ were used in 1962 and 1976 respectively.” The NSF’s Food Service Equipment criteria for the design and construction for “counter guards” go as far back as 1965, and perhaps even earlier.
The most current law, the 2013 Food Code, under section 3-306.11 states that: “FOOD on display shall be protected from contamination by the use of PACKAGING; counter, service line, or salad bar FOOD guards; display cases; or other effective means.”
All 50 states have adopted food codes patterned after one of the six versions of the FDA’s model (1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009, and as of last month 2013), which include requirements for protecting food on display that resemble Garneau’s original design. Though each state’s regulation remains in line with the FDA’s guidelines, it is up to state, local and tribal agencies to regulate and inspect retail food establishments. The degree of coverage and specific dimensions of “food guards” vary. New Jersey for example follows the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Food Guard requirements which state that a sneeze guard must be positioned 14 inches above the food counter surface and must extend seven inches beyond the edge of the utensil on which food is placed.
According to Elizabeth Dougherty, director of inventor education at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there are only about 100 patents filed in the area of food storage, safety and care—a small number when you consider that there are eight million U.S. patents total. After Garneau’s patent in 1959, there have been some innovations in the field with minor changes in the original design.
“The late ’50s does seem to be the era in time when the sneeze guards started to become an object for innovation and invention,” Dougherty says. “Prior to this time, there are very few documented patents in this technology area.”
The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention.” It took a Midwestern restauranteur to realize that without something to protect them, everyone’s favorite buffet foods were defenseless from the attack of a 40 mph sneeze.
December 4, 2013
Italian culinary doctrine – a constitution held up by Italian home matriarchs where infractions can be punishable by no supper or death – is very clear on the subject.
Cheese and seafood shall not be mixed. Ever.
Yet, if you stumble around France long enough you’re bound to find someone who prepares mussels in an earthy blue cheese broth spiked with white wine and garlic. In Chile, you’ll find both millennials and retirees ordering plates of Machas à La Parmesana, clams baked in wine, butter, and a mild-tasting Chilean version of Parmesan. And who can forget social gatherings in the nineties where no party was without oyster dip packed with enough cream cheese to send a marathon runner into cardiac arrest?
If the idea of combining seafood and cheese is such a widely-accepted global phenomenon, why is the concept so distasteful to so many Italian home cooks? And, hey, let’s not just point fingers at Italians here. A lot of people in the United States have adopted this notion, if for no other reason that they’ve heard it since birth.
So where did this commandment originate? One explanation may stem from gustatory common sense: seafood tends to have a more delicate constitution, and those subtle flavors can be drowned out by a heady, assertive cheese. Since cheese is produced by fermenting milk, microbial factors such as molds, enzymes, and friendly bacteria cause drastic changes to the milk’s chemical components and their flavors often become more intense. Cheese also loses moisture as it ages, further concentrating its complex flavors and fatty texture. It’s no wonder cheese can easily overpower seafood’s understated qualities.
Some ocean dwellers are especially delicate — such as flounder, haddock, clams, oysters, and Atlantic shad — and they should be carefully seasoned when cooked. This is why many recipes involving these proteins rely on simplicity; a sprinkling of green peppercorns, a quick lashing of lemon juice, perhaps a pat of tarragon butter. The stronger personalities of some cheeses would stomp out those subtle sweet and salty notes, leaving no flavors behind except for, well, cheese.
Another explanation for this taboo may lie in Italy’s geography. Major cheesemaking regions such as Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy, and Veneto are all largely landlocked. Their regions have a terroir that makes for easy grazing for livestock and, thus, their cuisines are largely accustomed to the addition of cheeses such as Grana Padano, Bra, or Asiago as both a primary and supporting ingredient. Given their distance from the sea, few people in these regions had ready access to a steady supply of fresh seafood (rivers or lakes notwithstanding, and not necessarily always a source of abundance). So, recipes may likely developed over the centuries without giving seafood any consideration.
As always, though, rules are meant to be broken. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t pair fish and cheese. Rather, we’re enthusiastic advocates for smartly coupling seafood and dairy, and in the hands of a skilled chef, recipes combining the two can raise the roof, elevating both ingredients to new heights. “When used correctly, cheese can enhance the flavors of many seafood dishes,” says Dennis Littley, a chef and culinary instructor with decades of experience under his belt. “Those old customs are falling by the wayside as chefs have become more creative with the blending of flavors. One of my most popular specials was a seafood alfredo that included shrimp, scallops and lump crabmeat. It was amazing!”
You don’t need to be a classically trained chef to pair cheese and seafood at home. Consider pizza, where cured fillets of oily, briny anchovies mingle their oils with those of melted mozzarella. Or look to classic dishes such as sea bass with fresh chevré and chopped herbs, bagels with cream cheese and lox, and our personal dinner party favorite, salmon fillets dredged in a Parmesan-bread crumb mixture before being seared in butter. Theses dishes work, and they work well.
And so it seems that seafood and cheese can indeed play nicely. “It’s really about finding a balance,” says Kirstin Jackson, trained chef and author of It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese. “Fish and cheese can be a touchy pairing, but when done right they can be as endearing as an eighty year-old couple walking down the street holding hands.”
Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord are the authors of MELT: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, available now on Amazon and local retailers.
Brigante with Tilapia, Shallots, Spring Herbs, and Fusilli
Tilapia’s subtle sea-life sensibilities are easily drowned out by complicated flavors, though a traditionally seasoned Béarnaise sauce play up the fish’s gentle nature. Here we’ve echoed that experience by pairing shallots, tarragon, and chervil – all classic herbal flavors – with Brigante, a smooth, buttery sheep’s milk cheese that contributes a touch of tang to the dish. Shredded tilapia makes this creamy stovetop mac an incredibly decadent experience without extra weight; a perfect marriage of cheese and seafood.
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1⁄4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
4 teaspoons chopped chervil
1⁄2 teaspoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
1⁄4 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon Blanc
2 small tilapia fillets, about 1⁄2 pound total
8 ounces fusilli
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 ounces Brigante, rind removed, grated
Lemon wedges to garnish
1. In a sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, then add tarragon, chervil, and pepper. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add white wine. Cook, still stirring constantly, until a good amount of the liquid has cooked off—about 2 minutes. Transfer shallots and herbs to a small bowl and return the pan to the stove.
2. In the same sauté pan—do not rinse it—add 1 tablespoon of butter and turn heat to medium. Sauté tilapia fillets for 3 minutes on each side, making sure to get a nice, crispy layer where the fish touches the pan. Transfer to a bowl and shred coarsely with two forks. Set aside.
3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside.
4. To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon—a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave a clear swath. Lower heat to medium-low, add salt, pepper, and sautéed shallots and herbs. Remove from heat and add cheese to sauce, stirring until completely melted.
5. In a large bowl, add pasta to the mornay and toss to coat. Gently fold in the shredded fish; you don’t want to smash it. Serve hot and garnish with lemon wedges.
Alternative cheeses: San Andreas, Berkswell, Shepherd’s way Friesago, Young Mahón
Wine pairings: Musca- det from the Loire Valley (Melon de Bourgogne grape), French Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto or Vermentino from Italy
Additional pairings for the cheese: Lucques or picholine olives, roasted red peppers with olive oil, smoked paprika
Mussels in White Wine Broth with Fourme d’Ambert
Light, tender, and briny, mussels love the spotlight when they’re onstage. In the supporting role, we recommend a flavorful broth that gently hugs each chunk of meat without acting like a prima donna. Here we buddy up our shellfish with Fourme d’Ambert, one of France’s oldest cheeses, to provide licks of earthiness and sweet cream, both of which play up the mussels gently salty qualities. Whoever said blue cheese and seafood don’t mix?
2 pounds Prince Edward Island mussels
8 ounces spiral pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces Fourme d’Ambert, crumbled
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Dash of finishing salt such as Kosher, Maldon, Sel Gris (do not use iodized table salt)
A loaf of crusty bread for serving
1. Soak the mussels in a large pot of cold water for about 30 minutes to coax them to spit out any sand or grit they may have. Toss out the water and cover the mussels again with fresh cold water for another 30 minutes to encourage them to cleanse themselves a bit more.
2. De-beard the mussels by taking their byssal threads (their “beards”) and giving them a good yank until they come off. Discard the beards and set the mussels aside. Toss any mussels that aren’t closed, as these are already dead and not edible.
3. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta through a colander and set aside.
4. While the pasta cooks, place a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and allow to melt. Once the butter begins to bubble a bit add the onion and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the onions have softened a bit.
5. Add the white wine and pepper. Bring to a boil and add the Fourme d’Ambert. Once the cheese melts into the wine, lower the heat to medium and add the mussels. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and cook for about 6 or 7 minutes, being sure to give the mussels a stir after about 4 minutes. Discard any mussels that are closed as these were dead before cooking. (Some may be only slightly open; if you have to debate about whether it’s good to eat or not, toss it. Better safe than sorry.) Remove from heat.
6. Squeeze lemon juice over the mussels and toss together with the parsley and the finishing salt. Spoon the pasta into wide bowls, ladling mussels and broth over them and serve.
Alternative Cheeses: Gorgonzola Dolce, Cashel Blue, Roquefort, Cambozola
Wine pairings: dry Chenin Blanc, sparkling Chenin Blanc, dry Rosé
Additional pairings for the cheese, outside of this recipe: membrillo, quince jam, apple butter
December 3, 2013
Elitzur Eitan has no desire to ever live within pre-1967 Israel. Until 2005, he lived in the Gaza Strip settlement of Gush Katif, which was forcibly evacuated under the leadership of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Now, he lives deep in the West Bank, where he works at a vineyard on Givat Harel, a tiny settlement overlooking the ruins of ancient Shiloh and the red-roofed houses of the modern settlement that shares its name. “Places like this are where Zionism still lives,” he says.
They are also, surprisingly, places where excellent wines are being made. Gvaot, the boutique winery where Eitan works as a foreman, produces some of the best kosher wines in the world. Gvaot, which was established in 2005, produces and sells roughly 30,000 bottles of kosher wine per year. The medals lining the back wall of Gvaot’s tiny tasting room testify to the quality of its products: a 2006 Double Gold Medal in the Terravino Mediterranean International Wine Challenge for making the best wine in the $27-$36.99 category and a 2008 award in the same contest for “Best Israeli Kosher Wine.”
Gvaot has won over Jonathan Livni, the chief wine critic for the mass-market Yediot Ahronot newspaper, and was also a favorite of Daniel Rogov, a prominent Israeli wine critic who died in 2011. Rogov refused to set foot in the West Bank, but he consistently gave high marks to Gvaot’s reds. Livni, a retired military judge who starred in the documentary The Law in These Parts, is a committed left-winger who believes Israel should withdraw entirely from the West Bank. But he nevertheless describes himself as huge fan of Gvaot and a handful of other West Bank wineries, which he says benefit from the region’s high altitude, rocky soil and dry air, characteristics found nearly nowhere else in Israel. “I think good wine trumps politics,” he says. “And there are a lot of good wines from the occupied territories.”
But the vineyards in places like Shiloh are also among the biggest reasons to doubt that the new round of American-brokered peace talks will go anywhere. Secretary of State John Kerry managed to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners, but Netanyahu flatly rejected the idea of freezing construction in West Bank settlements like Shiloh or Givat Harel, even though they are so deep into the West Bank that they would almost certainly need to be evacuated as part of any peace deal.
Gvaot’s chief backer is Daniella Weiss, an activist who has spent decades at the helm of pro-settler groups like Gush Emunim and the Women in Green, arguing, loudly, that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the West Bank. “It’s the soil, the wonderful soil,” she said by way of explaining why Gvaot’s wines were so good, in a phone interview from her home in the settlement of Kedumim, a tiny village in an even more remote part of the West Bank than Givat Harel. “That’s what makes the grapes so special and that’s what makes the wines so special.”
Weiss also happens to be the mother-in-law of Shivi Drori, Gvaot’s chief wine maker, who has a doctorate in plant molecular biology from Hebrew University. “For every person who won’t buy wines because of where they come from, three want to buy it precisely because of where it comes from,” Drori said during an interview last month at the winery. Outside, the vineyard’s sloping trellises of grapes swayed gently in the winds rustling down from nearby hills.
Drori, a soft-spoken man who also teaches at a local university, founded Gvaot in 2005. He had begun planting grapes on Givat Harel years earlier with the initial idea of selling them to other wineries. When the first harvest came in, he found himself reluctant to part with the grapes. “I thought, ‘why lose these very good grapes? We should make a winery of our own,’” he recalled. “So we did.”
Weiss and her husband Amnon provided the millions of shekels Drori needed to get the winery off the ground, and it was successful with critics like Rogov almost immediately. “He succeeded in separating his own beliefs from the professional views he gave to the readers,” Dror, 40, said. “Not all of the critics do.”
But Weiss sees the vineyard as another tool for extending Jewish control over Shiloh and other parts of the West Bank. She believes Gvaot can provide much-needed jobs for local settlers, making it easier for them to stay in the region. More fundamentally, she believes that re-establishing Jewish life in and around Shiloh is a religious obligation.
“Everything that we do is about settling more Jews in Israel,” she says. “We have the homes and we have the people. Now we just need to build more of an economy.”
Weiss’s political beliefs permeate every aspect of the winery. Hundreds of American Evangelicals flood into the West Bank during each wine-harvesting season to work as volunteer grape pickers, but the winery refuses on principle to employ workers who aren’t Jewish.
Lior Amihai, a senior analyst for Peace Now, says that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators broadly agree future withdrawals would be based on land swaps allowing Israel to annex the areas near the Green Line where most settlers live in exchange for giving the new state of Palestine an equivalent amount of terrain that that is currently part of Israel. The problem, he says, is that Shiloh is so remote that Israel would need to give up an enormous amount of terrain to keep it.
“It’s really, really far from the Green Line,” Amihai says. “Israel doesn’t have enough land to swap. There are settlements whose future fate is known, but Shiloh is not one of them. There are no scenarios for a two-state solution in which Shiloh stays under Israeli sovereignty.”
Weiss says she’s not concerned. More than 340,000 Jews now live in West Bank settlements, and she argues that removing even a fraction of them would be politically and logistically impossible. Weiss doesn’t think the current talks stand much chance of success, a position shared, reluctantly, by Amihai and others on the Israeli left. “I call the Green Line the ‘Obama Line,’” she says. “Everything with him is settlers, everything is occupation. The reality is that we’ve become too big to move.”
Weiss has big plans for the winery, including building a restaurant for the busloads of tourists – including large numbers of religious Americans – who visit the winery and usually leave with bottles of red, whites or rosés. She hopes to begin construction this fall and have it open by the next wine-growing season.
Drori, the winemaker, is equally bullish about Gvaot’s future. Like his mother-in-law, he dismisses the chances for a peace deal that would require abandoning his corner of the West Bank. Drori says that he has good relations with the Palestinians living in nearby villages and insists that they are doing better under Israeli control than they would as citizens of an independent state. “The Palestinians are very happy,” he says. “You can see them walking with baby carriages, you see them with iPhones, you see them with satellite dishes. They’re prospering, and I’m quite happy about it. It’s good for us.”
Sitting in Gvaot’s small tasting room, Drori brings out a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, one of Gvaot’s most expensive wines. He swirls the glass around gently, brings it to his mouth, and takes a long sip. He said it was a favorite of Rogov, the wine critic. Then Drori stands up, shakes hands, and heads for the door. It’s just after 11 AM, and he has a busy day ahead. Drori and the graduate students who work in his lab at a nearby university are trying to identify and ultimately recreate the types of grapes that would have existed in the region during Biblical times. “We will have unique Israeli grapes, some for eating, some for wine-making,” Drori says. “Maybe in 3 to 4 years we can actually sit here and have a glass of true Israeli wine.”
This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
November 27, 2013
Americans consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce—Ocean Spray’s official name for the traditional Thanksgiving side dish we know and love that holds the shape of the can it comes in—every holiday season. That’s four million pounds of cranberries—200 berries in each can—that reach a gel-like consistency from pectin, a natural setting agent found in the food. If you’re part of the 26 percent of Americans who make homemade sauce during the holidays, consider that only about five percent of America’s total cranberry crop is sold as fresh fruit. Also consider that 100 years ago, cranberries were only available fresh for a mere two months out of the year (they are usually harvested mid-September until around mid-November in North America making them the perfect Thanksgiving side). In 1912, one savvy businessman devised a way to change the cranberry industry forever.
Marcus L. Urann was a lawyer with big plans. At the turn of the 20th century, he left his legal career to buy a cranberry bog. “I felt I could do something for New England. You know, everything in life is what you do for others,” Urann said in an interview published in the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1959, decades after his inspired career change. His altruistic motives aside, Urann was a savvy businessman who knew how to work a market. After he set up cooking facilities at as packinghouse in Hanson, Massachusetts, he began to consider ways to extend the short selling season of the berries. Canning them, in particular, he knew would make the berry a year-round product.
“Cranberries are picked during a six-week period,” Robert Cox, coauthor of Massachusetts Cranberry Culture: A History from Bog to Table says. “Before canning technology, the product had to be consumed immediately and the rest of the year there was almost no market. Urann’s canned cranberry sauce and juice are revolutionary innovations because they produced a product with a shelf life of months and months instead of just days.”
Native Americans were the first to cultivate the cranberry in North America, but the berries weren’t marketed and sold commercially until the middle of the 18th century. Revolutionary war veteran Henry Hall is often credited with planting the first-known commercial cranberry bed in Dennis, Massachusetts in 1816, but Cox says Sir Joseph Banks, one of the most important figures of his time in British science, was harvesting cranberries in Britain a decade earlier from seeds that were sent over from the states—Banks just never marketed them. By the mid-19th century, what we know as the modern cranberry industry was in full swing and the competition among bog growers was fierce.
The business model worked on a small scale at first: families and members of the community harvested wild cranberries and then sold them locally or to a middle man before retail. As the market expanded to larger cities like Boston, Providence and New York, growers relied on cheap labor from migrant workers. Farmers competed to unload their surpluses fast—what was once a small, local venture, became a boom or bust business.
What kept the cranberry market from really exploding was a combination of geography and economics. The berries require a very particular environment for a successful crop, and are localized to areas like Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Last year, I investigated where various items on the Thanksgiving menu were grown: “Cranberries are picky when it comes to growing conditions… Because they are traditionally grown in natural wetlands, they need a lot of water. During the long, cold winter months, they also require a period of dormancy which rules out any southern region of the U.S. as an option for cranberry farming.”
Urann’s idea to can and juice cranberries in 1912 created a market that cranberry growers had never seen before. But his business sense went even further.
“He had the savvy, the finances, the connections and the innovative spirit to make change happen. He wasn’t the only one to cook cranberry sauce, he wasn’t the only one to develop new products, but he was the first to come up with the idea,” says Cox. His innovative ideas were helped by a change in how cranberries were harvested.
In the 1930s, techniques transitioned from “dry” to “wet”— a confusing distinction, says Sharon Newcomb, brand communication specialist with Ocean Spray. Cranberries grow on vines and can be harvested either by picking them individually by hand (dry) or by flooding the bog at time of harvest (wet) like what we see in many Ocean Spray commercials. Today about 90 percent of cranberries are picked using wet harvesting techniques. “Cranberries are a hearty plant, they grow in acidic, sandy soil,” Newcomb says. “A lot of people, when they see our commercials think cranberries grow in water.”
The water helps to separate the berry from the vine and small air pockets in the berries allow them to float to the surface. Rather than taking a week, you could do it in an afternoon. Instead of a team of 20 or 30, bogs now have a team of four or five. After the wet harvesting option was introduced in the mid to late 1900s, growers looked to new methods of using their crop, including canning, freezing, drying, juicing berries, Cox says.
Urann also helped develop a number of novel cranberry products, like the cranberry juice cocktail in 1933, for example, and six years later, he came up with a syrup for mixed drinks. The famous (or infamous) cranberry sauce “log” we know today became available nationwide in 1941.
Urann had tackled the challenge of harvesting a crop prone to glut and seesawing prices, but federal regulations stood in the way of him cornering the market. He had seen other industries fall under scrutiny for violating antitrust laws; in 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which was followed by additional legislation, including the Clayton Act of 1914 and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914.
In 1930, Urann convinced his competitors John C. Makepeace of the AD Makepeace company—the nation’s largest grower at the time—and Elizabeth F. Lee of the New Jersey-based Cranberry Products Company to join forces under the cooperative, Cranberry Canners, Inc. His creation, a cooperative that minimized the risks from the crop’s price and volume instability, would have been illegal had attorney John Quarles not found an exemption for agricultural cooperatives in the Capper-Volstead act of 1922, which gave “associations” making agricultural products limited exemptions from anti-trust laws.
After World War II, in 1946, the cooperative became the National Cranberry Association and by 1957 changed its name to Ocean Spray. (Fun Fact: Urann at first “borrowed” the Ocean Spray name and added the image of the breaking wave, and cranberry vines from a fish company in Washington State from which he later bought the rights). Later, Urann would tell the Associated Press why he believed the cooperative structure worked: ”grower control (which) means ‘self control’ to maintain the lowest possible price to consumers.” In theory, the cooperative would keep the competition among growers at bay. Cox explains:
From the beginning, the relationship between the three [Urann, Makepeace and Lee] was fraught with mistrust, but on the principle that one should keep one’s enemies closer than one’s friends, the cooperative pursued a canned version of the [American Cranberry Exchange] ACE’s fresh strategy, rationalizing production, distribution, quality control, marketing and pricing.
Ocean Spray still is a cooperative of 600 independent growers across the United States that work together to set prices and standards.
We can’t thank Urann in person for his contribution to our yearly cranberry intake (he died in 1963), but we can at least visualize this: If you lay out all the cans of sauce consumed in a year from end to end, it would stretch 3,385 miles—the length of 67,500 football fields. To those of you ready to crack open your can of jellied cranberry sauce this fall, cheers.
November 25, 2013
A few years back, when she was the director and librarian of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Peggy Baker came across a fascinating document at a rare book and ephemera sale in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a four-course menu for a luxurious dinner at the Hotel Vendome in Boston for November 29, 1894 – Thanksgiving.
Appetizers consisted of Blue Point oysters or oyster crabs in béarnaise sauce. The soup is consumee Marie Stuart, with carrots and turnips; or, a real delicacy, terrapin a la gastronome (that’s turtle soup to you).
The choice of entrees included mousee de foie graise with cauliflower au gratin, prime ribs with Yorkshire pudding, Peking Duck with onions and squash and…a nod to the traditionalists…roasted turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.
Then, salad—at the end of the meal, as they do in Europe—followed by a plethora of desserts: Petit fours, plum pudding with maple brandy sauce, Neapolitan ice cream; mince, apple and pumpkin pie, and almond cake with maple frosting. To round out the meal, coffee or sweet cider with assorted cheeses and nuts.
Baker’s discovery of this belt-busting tour de force sent her on a mission to shed light back on a long forgotten chapter of the history of this holiday; a time when wealthy Americans celebrated their Thanksgivings not in the confines of the home with family, but at fancy hotels and restaurants, with extravagant, haute cuisine dinners and entertainments.
“I was thoroughly entranced, having no idea any such thing existed,” recalls Baker. She began collecting similar bills of fare from other establishments, in other cities.
“It was like an anthropological expedition to a different culture,” recalls Baker, “I wasn’t aware people dined out as a regular annual event for Thanksgiving. It was just so foreign to me.”
Baker amassed more than 40 of these menus, which she displayed at the museum in 1998, in an exhibit called “Thanksgiving a la Carte.” Baker retired in 2010, but the pieces from the exhibit can still be viewed on the Pilgrim Hall Museum website. (PDF)
The reason a Thanksgiving Day spent anywhere but home seems so jarring today, is due in large part to the power of a painting: Norman Rockwell’s 1943 “Freedom from Want”—part of the famous “Four Freedoms” series that Rockwell painted as part of the effort to sell War Bonds. Published on the cover of the March 6, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, the painting depicts a kindly-looking, white-haired patriarch and matriarch standing at the head of the table, as hungry family members—their smiling faces only partially visible—eagerly anticipate the mouth-watering turkey dinner that’s about to be served.
But Rockwell’s idealized Thanksgiving celebration is not the way it’s always been; it could even be argued that the idea of a tightly-knit family celebration at home would have been unfamiliar to even the Pilgrims.
“The meal we harken back to in 1621, is a totally anomalous situation to the way we think about it today,” says Kathleen Wahl, a culinarian and 17th-century food expert at Plimouth Plantation, the living history museum of the Pilgrim period in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “You have about 50 English people whose families were torn apart, by death or distance. It’s like a very modern, make-do family. Family is your neighbors, it’s whoever happens to be in the situation with you.”
Those survivors of the first winter in the New World celebrated the harvest with the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and about 90 of his men. While there were no restaurants or catering halls in 1621, this was about as close as you could come without a waiter taking Squanto and Miles Standish’s drink orders. “The original Thanksgiving dinners was an `out of home’ experience,” Wahl argues. “I think going out is more in the tradition of the 1621 event.”
According to James W. Baker, author of the 2009 book Thanksgiving: the Biography of an American Holiday (and husband to Peggy), part of the celebration has always involved events outside the home. Thanksgiving Day Balls were popular in New England in the early 19th century—although they followed a day that included church services and a meal at home. “The dinner was just one small element along with these other things,” said Baker, “but over the years it’s swallowed up the other things.” The primacy of the meal continues in more recent times. Things like the Thanksgiving Day parade, the high school football game, the local foot race, have all become common holiday events in various parts of the country, but they are usually done in the morning, allowing participants to race home for the family dinner.
It seems to have been during the Gilded Age when the Thanksgiving banquet at the luxury hotel or restaurant first became popular. This coincided with a general movement into fashionable new restaurants by the upper class. “Before then, you stayed home because you didn’t want the riffraff to see what you were doing,” says Evangeline Holland, a social historian who writes about the late Victorian and Edwardian periods on her website edwardianpromenade.com “But with the rise of the nouveau riche, people in England started dining out at restaurants and Americans followed suite.”
What better day to flaunt what you had than on Thanksgiving? “With the Gilded Age, everything is over the top,” says Stephen O’Neill, associate director and curator of collections at Pilgrim Hall Museum. “Thanksgiving is very much a celebration of abundance, so I think they sort of used that as an excuse to promote these extravagantly large dinners.”
The affairs were held at such famous, luxury hotels and restaurants as the Vendome, Delmonico’s and the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Even luxury cruise ships got into the act, offering elaborate Thanksgiving Day dinners to their seaborne passengers. The upper crust in smaller communities had them, as well, usually at the fanciest place in town.
The Waldorf, which opened in 1893, probably gets the prize for the most outrageous celebration. In 1915, the hotel erected an elaborate, mock “New England barn” in its grillroom for Thanksgiving Day—complete with, if the press reports are true, live animals and a dancing scarecrow. Well-heeled, urban diners feasted and danced, paying an odd tribute to the rural, New England roots of the holiday. As garish as it may sound today, the event was a smash.
“The Thanksgiving Day revel attracted one of the largest crowds that ever attended an affair at the hotel,” gushed The New York Times.
What changed all that? Baker thinks it was the combination of Prohibition in the 1920s and the Great Depression of the following decade. While some restaurants continued to offer grand Thanksgiving Day dinners, the practice had declined to the point that by the mid-20th century, as Rockwell’s painting suggests, it seemed almost un-American to have Thanksgiving Dinner anywhere but around grandma’s table.
“When my father came back from World War II, he was going to have nothing but the full homemade Thanksgiving dinner around the family table,” recalls Peggy Baker with a laugh. “He did relent enough to let my mother buy a pie from the store…that’s only because she wasn’t good at making pies.”
But some say that in the 21st century, dining out on Thanksgiving could be in again. In a 2011 survey, the National Restaurant Association found that 14 million Americans dined out on Thanksgiving; and anecdotal evidence suggests that more restaurants are open for the holiday, to accommodate greater demand.
“It is still a very domestically oriented holiday,” O’Neill says, “but I think now, especially with smaller families or families that are spread out a lot, it is much more fluid and adaptable. Whether it’s at the family home, or someone else’s home, or a restaurant, it’s now more of a ‘let’s just sort of have a big dinner’ holiday.”
Although probably not one with turtle soup and duck liver on the menu.