The 20th century brought enormous changes to our way of life. It was the century of great inventions and marked the beginning of an era of technology and innovative entrepreneurs that affected every aspect of our way of living.
This was especially true of our eating habits and began an era when the entrepreneurs in agriculture and the manufacturers of food seized the opportunity to develop new and better products. Most of these products were not developed in laboratories and test kitchens but by creative geniuses whose inventive minds were responsible for foods that made life for the American homemaker simpler and resulted in great products that are still enjoyed by millions.
We salute and give thanks to those pioneers for their foresight and ingenuity. Such giants in the food field as Milton Hershey, George Washington Carver, J.L. Kraft and Clarence Birdseye changed the way Americans cook and eat.
Along with such wizards as the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell, there are hundreds of gifted entrepreneurs who made contributions to the food industry during the early part of the 20th century.
One of the most commonly accepted foods on the shelves of super markets today came into use in 1897. Jell-O was invented by Pearl B. Wait (a man, by the way) in LeRoy, N.Y. where he was a carpenter and cough medicine manufacturer. He failed at marketing the gelatin dessert and sold it to the founder of the Genesee Pure Food Company in 1902. After an intensive advertising campaign Jell-O became a staple on American tables.
Long before the Pilgrims came to the New World, Native Americans were drying beans, soaking them and seasoning them with deer fat and baking them in clay pots. Baked beans became a staple for the newcomers but it fell to Burnham and Morrill, a canning company in Portland, Maine to make canned baked beans available to the public. B and M Baked Beans were made according to recipes handed down from those early settlers in New England. Since its introduction in 1927 this method has continued, and B and M beans remain the top seller in the country.
The National Biscuit Company started off the century, when in 1902 they introduced animal crackers. Late in the 19th century there were several bakeries that produced the child-friendly sweet but it was the National Biscuit Company that made them available throughout the country. They were originated by German immigrants who brought the recipes with them from Europe.
One of the most popular products that remains a staple on pantry shelves is Bisquick. This convenient food was originated in 1930 when a General Mills salesman named Carl Smith was a passenger on a train. In the diner he enjoyed a delicious meal that included freshly baked, hot biscuits. When he confronted the chef he was told the dry ingredients were made beforehand and kept in the refrigerator, ready for the wet ingredients to be added. General Mills developed its own recipe, and the product became an immediate success, a success that continues some eighty years later.
Later in the century other products were developed that are now staples in almost every household. More than 50 years ago Saran Wrap, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Spam, Gerber’s Baby Food, Eskimo Pies and Lipton’s soup were just a few convenient products that have made cooking easier and more efficient.
Along with great foods and accessories, kitchens are now modern marvels where the 21st century cook is able to provide their families with delicious and nourishing meals.
Q: How does one split a coconut and reserve liquid.
— Mimi, Naples
A: Carefully and patiently!
Opening a fresh coconut: When picking up a coconut (hopefully from your own yard), select those that are heavy for their size and full of liquid. Shake the coconut and if it sloshes easily, so much the better. Remove the husk with a sharp axe; some coconut mavens run over them with a car. Pierce the coconut’s eyes (the three soft indentations on the top of the shell) with an ice pick or screwdriver. Drain off the coconut water. Place the drained coconut in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. This causes the meat to shrink slightly from the shell, making it easier to crack open. When removing the coconut from the oven, wrap it in a towel and hit it a few times with a hammer. The shell will break into several pieces. Carefully dislodge the meat from the pieces of shell and remove the thin brown skin with a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler.
Grate and use immediately, refrigerate or freeze. There is a great deal of fat in coconut and it will spoil quickly. The average coconut produces about 3 to 4 cups of grated meat.
Fresh coconuts are available at most supermarkets, and the husks are already removed.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For comments and information regarding today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.