Who Needs A Hot Meal And A Great TV Show?
Sixty-three years ago, two great American traditions were changed forever: watching TV and eating dinner. Thanks to the invention of the “TV dinner”, Americans could step away from the stove and leave the home cooking to someone else!
This week’s Wednesday bookmobile travels back to a time when all of your food was served on one nice aluminum tray!
Yes, delicious meatloaf, green beans, tater tots AND a chocolate brownie could be served in a beautiful tin plate – so you could settle down and enjoy a nice night of TV – America never looked back!
As time went on, Swanson knew they had to expand your culinary horizons, leading to “TV dinner” trips around the world!
Now, why am I telling you all this? Because there is a great book all about the man who led us to this “frozen food on a tin platter place”!
Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man
Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us “Cod”, “Salt”, and other informative bestsellers, it’s the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process revolutionized the food industry and American agriculture.
Here is what Amazon says:
“Kurlansky…places Birdseye in the same category as Thomas Edison: amateurs who got curious about a problem, played around with it (sometimes for years) and eventually figured it out. Birdseye had many more interests than frozen foods, writes the author; he invented, among other things, a kind of light bulb and even a whaling harpoon.”
It was in the North that he began to wonder why foods frozen there—naturally—tasted so much better than the frozen foods back home. He discovered, of course, that it was quick-freezing at very cold temperatures that did the trick. He eventually invented the process that produced vast amounts of good frozen food, but then had to wait for the supporting infrastructure (transportation, storage, etc.).
Kurlansky tells the exciting tale of Birdseye’s adventures, failures and successes (he became a multi-millionaire) and his family, and he also offers engaging snippets about Velveeta, dehydration and Grape-Nuts.
Swanson’s TV Dinners!
And of course, the world was never the same once Swanson mass produced three-course dinners for a generation unwilling to take the time to cook!
Birdsye’s frozen vegetables were the reason for THIS:
Without Birdseye’s breakthroughs, the whole concept of frozen ANYTHING tasting edible when it arrived on your plate was unlikely, but thanks to him, Swanson could continue to refine, expand, and “upscale” their efforts, to a ravenous America:
I love books about food and food history – and there are books about EVERYTHING: Potatoes, eggs, beef, oysters, wine – all of it.
I have posted about terrific food books before – great cookbooks by Michael Ruhlman – serious food books like “Fast Food Nation” – and memoirs like the terrific Patricia Wells book…
My wife and I took a cooking class at her home in Provence – what an adventure! You can read about it here:
The Author of “Birdseye”, Mark Kurlansky, has also written a number of great books about food…
I love his book on Birdseye, and here is a look at two of his other great food books!
Cod: A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World
Yes, a fish DID impact the story of America – and this terrific biography gives this great fish its due!
Here is how Amazon describes the book: “A delightful romp through history with all its economic forces laid bare, Cod is the biography of a single species of fish, but it may as well be a world history with this humble fish as its recurring main character.”
Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas?
Cod–frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod.
As we make our way through the centuries of cod history, we also find a delicious legacy of recipes, and the tragic story of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once their numbers were the fate of the universe.
This Cod history is fascinating for a number of reasons, like the fact that America was discovered long before Columbus, but the fact wasn’t share in order to protect the great cod fishing…
This was my first Kurlansky book, and I loved it.
This book led me to his next one, involving an ingredient that was also instrumental in making Cod such a worldwide favorite…
Salt: A World History
Here is what Publishers Weekly had to say about this book:
Only Kurlansky, winner of the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing for Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, could woo readers toward such an off-beat topic. Yet salt, Kurlansky asserts, has “shaped civilization.”
Although now taken for granted, these square crystals are not only of practical use, but over the ages have symbolized fertility (it is, after all, the root of the word “salacious”) and lasting covenants, and have been used in magical charms. Called a “divine substance” by Homer, salt is an essential part of the human body, was one of the first international commodities and was often used as currency throughout the developing world.
The book is populated with characters as diverse as frozen-food giant Clarence Birdseye; Gandhi, who broke the British salt law that forbade salt production in India because it outdid the British salt trade; and New York City’s sturgeon king, Barney Greengrass.
Throughout his engaging, well-researched history, Kurlansky sprinkles witty asides and amusing anecdotes.
So here now, is the through line to all of this: Cod became the world’s most popular fish because it was salted and shipped everywhere: the book Salt tells the story of how Salt created all kinds of new food, including, as it says, the story of Claernce Birdseye…
Thanks to Kurlansky, and this week’s Wednesday Bookmobile, you can dig right in to these great books about the food that has transformed the way we live!