The Elusive Perfectly Roasted Cup

My family is obsessed with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The ubiquitous pink and orange logo is emblazoned in my memory. Grandpa Andy’s routine consists of a daily walk to the nearest Dunkin’s — about 500 yards from the house he built — for two cups of medium regular. Those cups sit on the counter until the moment comes to zap one in the microwave for a minute before he sits down with the daily crossword. His affection for the beverage is so well known that people bring him souvenir coffee cups from all over the world. His collection now contains over 2500 unique cups. The irony? He always drinks his coffee out of Dunkin Styrofoam, never out of a ceramic cup.

So when I flew the coop at the age of 18, the best coffee I’d ever had was a Dunkin iced hazelnut extra extra. Now, not an insignificant number of years later, I can’t even bring myself to drink the stuff. What changed? Sure, my tastes have changed. But back then, that’s all that was available in the small city I called home. These days, the proliferation of specialty coffee shops has fundamentally changed how the world consumes coffee. Innovations in coffee consumption are at the heart of this transformation.

Coffee History, In Brief

The roasting and brewing of coffee didn’t change much between the 1400s and late 1800s. From Yemen to China to Ethiopia, the process by which green coffee beans were converted into the dark, caffeinated liquid was pretty much the same: small batches of dried beans were cooked in a pan over a source of heat, then pulverized and steeped in hot water.

That all changed in 1880s, when Jabez Burns patented his coffee roaster.

coffee-roaster-patent

Suddenly, coffee could be roasted in volume. At the same time, the industrial revolution introduced workers to unnatural sleep patterns and long hours. While coffee roasters previously had paid particular attention to sourcing good quality coffee beans, producing in large quantities to satisfy the needs of workers resulted in lower quality roasts. The invention opened a new market from which iconic brands such as Folgers and Maxwell House emerged.

Then, in 1890, an inventor from New Zealand named David Strang created instant coffee, and (in my opinion) the quest for the perfectly roasted cup took a huge leap backwards. I know some people swear by instant coffee. But instant coffee is a poor substitute for the real thing. Despite this, the popularity of the freeze-dried substance grew. It was sent overseas with the troops during the two world wars, and it became a staple in many households throughout the century. This was known as The First Wave of coffee.

Coffee Consumption

Folgers and Maxwell House may be the most well known mass producers of coffee, both instant coffee and the traditional kind. And up until the 1950s, most coffee consumption was done at home, in sit-down restaurants or on the fields of battle. But then came the second wave of coffee, with the introduction of the quick stop coffee shops like Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s Coffee, and Starbucks. It might not be fair to put all those in the same category, and depending on your loyalties, you might be offended by this notion. Peet’s Coffee is known to have been the first to rediscover, if you will, that coffee—depending on the origins and roasting methods—could have nuances in flavor. It was also at a Peet’s coffee that many Americans first encountered espresso and the myriad drinks that have since proliferated.

With this second wave, the emphasis shifted from the need for mass production to the desire for a better cup of coffee, and retail prices rose in conjunction with it. This lead to inventions such as the French Press coffee maker, the moka pot, the Mr. Coffee automatic coffee maker, and (my personal favorite) the Chemex.

The moka pot. From Wikicommons.

The moka pot. From Wikicommons.

CHEMEX from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

CHEMEX from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

Chemex is my favorite because it was invented and is still produced in a town I consider a second home, Pittsfield, MA. It also, until recently, produced the best cup of coffee I have ever tasted.

The Third Wave

Last year, I discovered a coffee shop in Portland, ME, called Speckled Ax. It’s a specialty coffee shop where the owner, Matt Bolinder, is the roaster and also the main importer. He is part of a growing trend of coffee aficionados who will travel the world looking for the best coffee beans to bring home and roast. The third wave, according to Climpson and Sons, well-known coffee experts,

“…is focused on craftsmanship; where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries and roasting is about bringing out unique characteristics of a bean. …third wave is in the throes of achieving the same level of detail and understanding from bean to cup that wine connoisseurs have demanded for decades – farm, harvest, processing style, roast date, coffee variety and tasting notes.”

At Speckled Ax, and countless other small, independent shops popping up around the country, the emphasis is on creating a unique cup of coffee, unparalleled in flavor, color, texture, aroma, etc.

The quest for the perfect cup has lead to many innovations in roasting and brewing. At Speckled Ax, for example, Matt Bolinder roasts his coffee beans using wood fire—“Our object is to complement the distinctive flavors inherent to our select coffees with the subtle aromatics that only a wood fire can impart.”

On the brewing side of things, I recently came across a process called “Steampunk” at a coffee shop here in Washington, DC called La Colombe. This process produces the best cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted, using beans selected with utmost care by Todd Carmichael, a celebrity in the coffee world. The Steampunk process takes concepts as old as coffee brewing itself, and aims to use modern technology to achieve the perfect cup.

Steampunk Press.

Steampunk Press.

But can there really ever be a perfect cup of coffee?

No. No there can’t be. Perfection is impossible. But I’d love to be proved wrong.

Inventing the Modern Organic Farm

As I sliced into a perfectly ripe, farm-fresh, red tomato, thoughts of a hot summer day flashed in my head. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than a juicy, salty, sweet tomato when the August sun is high in a cloudless sky. But it was late May, the temperature was a cool 45 degrees, and this wasn’t a typical tomato. It was grown during the coldest months of winter on a windswept peninsula off the coast of Maine, and it wasn’t grown using pesticides or chemical fertilizers. And guess what? It tasted absolutely divine.

Organic tomatoes.

Tomatoes just like these German Johnsons can be grown year-round in an unheated greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the word ‘impossible,’” says Eliot Coleman, the pioneer farmer behind this tomato. It’s a fascination that has lead Coleman to invent, create, and innovate tools and techniques that have taken on the “impossible” in organic farming. His innovations have been instrumental in changing the way people grow food through the coldest winter months. Indeed, without Coleman, the White House probably wouldn’t be growing greens in December.

American consumers’ eating habits are changing, and the latest iteration of the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Bill reflects that. It’s considered to be one of the most progressive farm bills to come out of Washington in decades. With significant growth in spending on local and regional food systems (from $10 million annually to $30 million), and a new emphasis on organic foods, the 2014 Farm Bill—signed by President Obama in February—goes a long way to supporting the small farmer. Many of the ideas proposed in the bill find their roots in the early organic revolution of the 1960s, which was lead, in part, by Eliot Coleman.

As the son of a Manhattan stockbroker, Coleman came to farming by happenstance. After graduate school in Vermont, he found himself teaching Spanish at a college in New Hampshire, where he met his first wife, Sue. One day while shopping in a general store, Eliot came across the book, “Living the Good Life,” by Helen and Scott Nearing. Struck by the Nearing’s experience living “off the grid” in mid-coast Maine, Coleman was inspired to seek out a similar adventure of his own. He and Sue left New Hampshire in 1968 with $5000 in savings and bought a piece of property from the Nearings in Harborside, Maine. There, with not a structure in sight, some of the least ideal soil for growing crops you could want, and nothing but a few hand tools and boundless energy, the Colemans began what would eventually become Four Seasons Farm, and a new organic year-round farming philosophy emerged.

But Eliot Coleman wouldn’t say that there was anything innovative about the way he approached organic farming. He’d say that it was simply an extension and adaptation of farming techniques that were practiced throughout Europe and the Americas prior to the advent of industrial farming. The old ways of doing things emphasized ecosystem management to be successful: compost, crop rotation, and naturally occurring soil nutrients.

“Using compost and natural systems to grow food was so simple,” he says. “The world’s best fertilizer, compost…is made for free in your backyard from waste products. The soil, the natural world was giving me everything I needed as inputs for this system. This place really is well designed, isn’t it? And it’s only because an awful lot of people haven’t been paying attention to [the fact that the natural world is well designed] is why we have difficulties.”

But what makes Eliot Coleman innovative is that he views with disdain and skepticism many cutting-edge trends in farming, such as relying on chemical fertilizers, monocrops, and industrial-scale tools. Central to his (innovative) philosophy is that there is much more value in diversity and sustainability.

Coleman began his farm by clearing the land by hand and working to make the rocky, acidic soil more balanced and fertile. It was a slow process, one acre giving way to two acres and so on—a process that continues to this day. Along the way there have been countless challenges, giving Coleman many opportunities to be creative in finding solutions.

For example, how do you weed between 30-foot rows of lettuce quickly and without breaking your back? This was a problem Eliot took on headfirst, and he devised the Collinear Hoe:

Hoe.

The Collinear Hoe, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a garden and farm supply company that Eliot Coleman works closely with to develop his ideas into production models. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Watch Eliot Coleman demonstrating how to use the Collinear Hoe here:

Or, how about a quick way to incorporate the right amount of compost within your soil so your compost isn’t too deep or too clumpy? Well, hook up a cordless drill to a tiller with small tines and you get Coleman’s “tilther.” What used to take 25 minutes now takes five.

Tiller mixing compost into soil.

Eliot Coleman prepares a bed in the garden using his invention, the Tilther, to mix compost into the soil. Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Mr. Coleman shares Benjamin Franklin’s belief that “As we benefit from the inventions of others, we should be glad to share our own…freely and gladly.” So, he was never interested in obtaining patents for his inventions. He just wanted a tool that would make farm work a little easier. Any ideas he had, he gave to an engineer or manufacturing company so that they could perfect the tool or product. That way, Eliot and his farmer friends could all benefit from it.

Perhaps his most significant contribution to commercial organic small-scale farming is the moveable hoophouse. The latest iteration is the New Cathedral Modular Tunnel, a structure that allows users to grow crops in progression with the seasons. When one area of the garden needs to be covered, the tunnel or greenhouse is lifted by 4 people and moved, or pushed along tracks that run the length of the fields. This invention is what allows Eliot to grow juicy red tomatoes all year long.

Putting up frames for modular greenhouse.

Eliot Coleman poses with his daughter Clara Coleman at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. The two have just completed framing part of the 14’ Gothic Modular Moveable Tunnel, based on Mr. Coleman’s designs. September, 2013 Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds

The latest innovation Mr. Coleman has helped usher is a tool called the Quick Cut Greens Harvester, which, like the tilther, uses a cordless drill as its motor. Most exciting about this invention, which makes harvesting fresh salad greens much easier than the old method of cutting by hand, was that it was invented by a 16-year-old named Jonathan Dysinger, who visited Four Season’s Farm and was encouraged and inspired by Mr. Coleman to pursue the idea.

Watch Eliot Coleman demonstrate the harvester here:

Eliot Coleman’s contributions to small-scale and organic farming are numerous. From his philosophy to the methods and tools used to make it a viable business option, rejecting the conventional and daring to try the impossible are hallmarks of his work and legacy.

Sources: 

http://www.johnnyseeds.com

http://www.fourseasonfarm.com

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/homestead-pioneers-land-zmaz71sozgoe.aspx#axzz2wbxeImNx

Disputed Culinary Invention Locations

The invention of Poutine is claimed by Warwick, Quebec. The ice cream sundae was created in Ithaca, NY. Frog Legs are a uniquely French delicacy. These are universal truths, right? Actually, the origins of these dishes are all in hot dispute. At least four Quebec communities say they invented poutine and several U.S. locations claim they invented the ice cream sundae. Finally, evidence of the first cooked frog legs was found in England. Mon Dieu!

There is intense community pride in inventing a culinary dish, especially if it becomes iconic for a country. After all, food is as representative of a culture and its people as music, architecture, and historical objects. UNESCO, which is a branch of the United Nations is primarily known for designating World Heritage sites, also compiles a list of intangible heritage, which they define as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.” Culinary traditions are considered a type of intangible heritage, and listed foods range Northern Croatian gingerbread to broader categories such as the Mediterranean diet and Mexican cuisine.

Poutine—French fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce—has become an iconic Canadian dish. In a 2007 CBC/Radio-Canada viewer survey of the greatest Canadian inventions of all time, poutine was ranked number ten, beating the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, and the paint roller, among other items. The province of Quebec gained prestige as the birthplace of one of their nation’s iconic dishes. Obviously there is a lot at stake for the place that invented it, not only in terms of local pride but also marketing power and potential big business. Unfortunately the restaurateur who invented poutine is in dispute.

Some dish disputes are intense, albeit good natured. The ice cream sundae has several claimants for its birthplace; the top two contenders are Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. These cities are fighting a “Sundae War.” In 2006, the Ithaca Visitors Bureau offered free sundaes on Sundays for the month of July. The Two Rivers City Council responded with a “resolution formally challenging the city of Ithaca, New York’s claim to be birthplace of the ice cream sundae.”  They also encouraged Two Rivers residents to send postcards to Ithaca’s mayor—postcards with a photo of the Two Rivers historical marker that relates the history of the birth of the sundae in a rhyme:

“Ice cream sundaes are sweet …and they give you the shivers.
Just remember they started right here in Two Rivers!”

Ithaca responded with its own historical plaque and declared victory by providing the oldest written advertisement for an ice cream sundae.

Note that being the birthplace of a culinary dish is not always desirable. The English have mocked the French for hundreds of years for eating frog legs, derisively calling them “Frogs” and “frog eaters.”

So there was shock and disbelief across England when archeologists found the burnt leg of a toad at a site in Amesbury dating from 6250BC to 7600BC. This is the earliest evidence of a cooked toad or frog leg, predating evidence in France by a full eight millennia.

As long as people invent new culinary dishes that may become icons of their cities, states, and countries, the importance of their birthplaces cannot be underestimated. And for those places of invention already in dispute, they can take comfort in diners enjoying their iconic dishes and debating which place prepares it best (another debate entirely). Bon appetite!

Sources:

http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00002

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/23/dining/23pout.html?_r=2&

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/06/nyregion/06sundae.html

http://www.historyextra.com/news/britons-were-eating-frogs-legs-8000-years-french

The History of the Nineteenth Century in Caricature by Arthur Bartlett Maurice and Frederic Taber Cooper, pg 91

Innovating New Traditions

As Thanksgiving approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to traditions—national traditions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and our own personal traditions, which in my family means kielbasa and apple pie, going to the local Christmas tree farm, and my family members pretending to be shocked when I decline a serving of carrots for the 28th year in a row. (And, of course, my mother’s mashed potatoes, over which I rhapsodized in a previous post.)

Woodcut of a turkey

Woodcut, The Marchbanks Calendar–November by Harry Cimino. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

We all have traditions, but where did they come from? When we deep-fry the turkey or add a spiral ham to the menu, it may not seem particularly innovative. But the technology behind these yummy traditions had to come from somewhere. While doing some Thanksgiving-inspired Googling, I came across this fun video from History on the invention of deep-fried turkeys, turduckens, and honey baked hams:

While we may not know who invented the deep-fried turkey, we can take a look at Harry Hoenselaar’s patent (#2470078A) for an “apparatus for slicing ham on the bone.” Hoenselaar’s invention was ingeniously created out of various objects found around his home—a pie tin, brackets, a hand drill, and a broom handle, to name a few. The patent application reads:

In the meat industry there is a large market for sliced meats, particularly for ham slices, but the bone construction and the shape of a ham is such that no wholly satisfactory method of slicing it exists. This statement also applies to legs of lamb and other like cuts of meat.

It is an object of the invention to provide a method and a machine for slicing ham and other joints, which are of exceptional efficiency in operation. Another object of the invention is to prepare ham for the market in a new and superior form.

Millions of spiral cut hams are sold every year, so I believe we can safely say that Hoenselaar accomplished what he set out to do—create an “efficient” ham.

Patent drawing of the ham slicing machine.

Patent drawing by Harry Hoenselaar.

So whatever your traditions are this Thanksgiving, enjoy the holiday!

And remember, when frying a turkey, safety first!

Innovating to Avoid Turkey Trauma

On Thanksgiving, Americans consume about 46 million turkeys. The key to serving a perfect bird is getting the interior to just the right temperature. Too low and you risk getting sick from the undercooked meat. Too high and it’s likely to be dry.

About 30 million turkeys are sold each year with built-in pop-up timers designed to tell cooks when the bird has reached that magic temperature. Today, the pop-up timer market is dominated by Volk Enterprises, founded in the 1950’s by Anthony Volk. When he returned from serving in World War II, Volk began working in a turkey processing plant, which led him to invent a variety of turkey-related products, and ultimately, to start his eponymous company.

Before he invented his pop-up timer, Volk worked with his brother Henry to create a device called the Hok-Lok, which helps to bind the turkey together. The wire contraption, which is meant to be left on the turkey even during cooking, keeps the drumsticks right alongside the turkey breast, and helps make the breast look plumper. Basically, it keeps the whole bird together and looking nice. Though the company has since innovated on the design and created new binding products out of different materials, the Hok-Lok is still used today.

Patent drawing for the Hok-Lok, a Poultry Trussing Device

Patent drawing for the Hok-Lok, a Poultry Trussing Device

After the Hok-Lok, Volk went on to develop a turkey thermometer, but he wasn’t the first to do so. In the 1960’s, a group from the California Turkey Producers Advisory Board began thinking about how to gauge when a turkey was done—but not overdone. The Board was receiving complaints about turkeys being too dry, which they attributed to overcooking. The group began brainstorming ways to combat this, and came up with the idea of an insertable thermometer.

Diagram of a pop-up turkey timer

How a pop-up timer works (via How Stuff Works)

In 1971, after prototyping various solutions, the group filed a patent for a Thermal Indicator “particularly suited for use in indicating temperatures attained by a heated body such as an article of food….” The Indicator was inspired by ceiling sprinklers that activate when they reach a certain temperature. The turkey thermometer consists of four parts: an outer tubular casing, an inner piece that pops up when the appropriate temperature is reached, a spring, and a small amount of metal at the bottom of the tube. The inner pop-up piece is situated in the metal, which is solid before cooking. The metal melts as the turkey cooks, releasing the inner piece and allowing it to pop up.

Patent drawing for the first pop-up turkey timer

Patent drawing for the first pop-up turkey timer

The group established the Dun-Rite Manufacturing Company to make the devices, but in 1973, sold it to 3M. 3M refined the design and continued to make the timers until 1991, when it sold that part of its business to none other than Volk Enterprises.

In the 1970s, Anthony Volk invented his own turkey thermometer. A reverse of the pop-up timer, Volk’s Vue-Temp thermometer was designed to stick out when the turkey was raw and to sink into the bird as it cooked. The design seemed to confuse consumers, however, and Volk soon abandoned that design to develop his own pop-up timer, which was similar to the Dun-Rite/3M device. (It was so similar, in fact, that 3M sued Volk Enterprises in the 1980s for patent infringement. The suit was ultimately settled, however, and both companies continued to produce the timers.)

Patent drawing for Volk’s first Disposable Cooking Thermometer, the Vue-Temp

Patent drawing for Volk’s first Disposable Cooking Thermometer, the Vue-Temp

Though Volk Enterprises dominates the built-in turkey timer market today, there are also pop-up thermometers that can be purchased independently of a bird. The most innovative (at least aesthetically)? This thermometer that is actually shaped like a turkey. Its drumsticks pop up when the meat is done.

Pop-up turkey thermometer shaped like a turkey.

Via Food Beast

Tailgating: Grilling, Drinking, and Inventing

With summer winding down, most people are looking forward to cooler fall temperatures. However, a new season of football is just heating up and you know what that brings: tailgating.

Tailgaiting

Photo via bishs.com.

Tailgating is a time-honored tradition of gathering together and celebrating one’s team before, during, and—if everyone’s still standing—after a football game. Literally, the term “tailgate” refers to the back part of a truck or heavy duty vehicle. Tailgating, or a tailgate party, is therefore what happens when people socialize around the open tailgate.

Now, as anyone who has been to a sporting event knows, tailgating is where it’s at. Meeting up with friends to reminisce over last year’s wins (or losses), trash talking the other team, and imbibing a few tasty beverages are all part of the festivities.

So what tailgating inventions are out there?

Let’s start with the main event of tailgating—eating and drinking. The Tailgate PartyMate was invented by a fan who was tired of having to haul tables to prepare food, in addition to being frustrated that he never had enough room for everything. So, he invented a table system that hooks onto the trailer hitch of a truck. No more having to haul cumbersome tables or deal with too little space!

a table system hooked onto the trailer hitch of a truck

Photo via tailgatepartymate.com.

Now, the second most fun thing about a tailgate party is all the great games to play—washertoss, horseshoes, wiffle ball, and more. But what happens if you want to enjoy the refreshments and play a game at the same time? That’s where the Scorzie comes in. This handy invention keeps your drink cool and keeps your game score tallied, all in one convenient place.

A drink koozie that keeps score for you.

Photo via scorzie.com

And then there’s what Popular Science Magazine calls “the sports fan’s dream”: a totally tricked-out grill. Lance Greathouse, a dental-laser repairman, invented a grill that’s a “fire-spewing, beer-chilling machine that can drive from one parking-lot party to the next.” Apparently, he had seen tailgating setups that included separate components, but never combined them all together. So, from out of his head popped his tailgating monster, which has a grill and refrigerator on opposite ends, with a satellite stereo, MP3 player, speakers, and a live TV feed of what’s cooking in between. Add on a steel cylinder that shoots fireballs into the air for fun, and I’d say you’ve got your Sunday afternoon all set.

A grill that also has a refrigerator, sound system, and fire-ball shooting abilities.

Photo via popsci.com

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this year’s gridiron extravaganza. Bring on the grilled meat and the fireballs. Bring on the games and keeping score and keeping drinks cool. Bring on hooking stuff up to the back of the truck and making even more space for mom’s seven-layer dip. Looks like I’ve got plenty of inventions to help me enjoy my football games.

Innovations in “FOOD”

A few nights ago, my friend Corinne was making dinner and realized she didn’t have a steamer basket large enough to accommodate the head of cauliflower she was preparing. After a few minutes rummaging around in cabinets and drawers, she rigged up this:

corinnes invention

And it worked! Brilliantly, I’m sure she’d want me to add. “Hey, you should probably put this in the Smithsonian,” she said. (I tend to get that a lot from friends and family.)

It got me thinking. The kitchen is definitely a place of invention. We’ve discussed food-related inventions before here on Bright Ideas—innovations in coffee, the invention of cup holders, a gadget that might just let me finally recreate my mom’s famed mashed potatoes, and the stories behind three frozen treats. But what other food innovations reside in the collections at the National Museum of American History? Here are five invention stories from our food exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950 – 2000. (There are so many more!)

1.  Food Television Programming

Julia Child’s The French Chef debuted on public television in 1963. Its successful ten-year run inspired a model for a flood of new cooking shows and culinary stars throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, a new cable channel, Television Food Network, turned cooking and food shows into twenty-four-hour entertainment—a round-the-clock affirmation of Julia’s instinct that demonstrating omelette-making would appeal to viewers.

Martha Stewart and Mario Batali.

Martha Stewart and Mario Batali, 2007. “Martha Stewart Living” first aired in 1993.
Batali, who joined the Food Network in 1995 starred in “Molto Mario” beginning in 1997.

2. The Ring King

Krispy Kreme of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been making doughnuts since 1937. In the 1950s as the company expanded to a small chain of stores, it sought ways to ensure a consistent and profitable product. They created a dry doughnut mix and developed a machine that automated the doughnut-making process. The Ring King Junior formed, fried, turned, and cooled about sixty dozen doughnuts per hour, reducing labor costs.

ring king

3. Ready to Eat Carrots

Engineer and inventor, Joseph T. Listner was early to recognize the appeal and convenience of bagged, ready-to-eat vegetables. In 1959, he designed and built a one-of-a-kind machine that sliced raw carrots into sticks. The machine enabled a small-scale producer like Listner, Inc., in Wallington, New Jersey, to slice an estimated one million pounds of carrots in sixteen years of operation.  Listner sold his bagged carrot sticks and cole slaw to stores, including the Grand Union supermarket chain.

Listner made his slicer with components from other machines.  Although the carrots still had to be peeled by hand, the machine automatically trimmed them to uniform sticks.

carrot machine

4. New Materials, New Tools

Using materials developed before and during World War II, manufacturers created a variety of new equipment and appliances for postwar cooks.  New plastics, non-stick-coatings, and pyroceramic glass were among the most successful.  Tupperware, Teflon, and Corning Ware housewares took their place in many American kitchens next to old reliable glass jars, and cast iron and aluminum skillets. Brand-new electrical gadgets consumed ever greater amounts of counter space.

A Coring Ware dish, a Teflon-coated Bundt pan, a Rival Crock-Pot and a Veg-O-Matic.

1. Corning Glass Works formulated a glass ceramic material in the 1950s that withstood extreme temperatures. A single Corning Ware dish could be used for cooking, freezing, and serving food. 2. Bakeware pioneer Nordic Ware was one of the first companies to apply Teflon to its products, including its signature Bundt cake pan. 3. Patented in 1975, the slow-cooking, electric Crock-Pot with a removable insert allowed busy home cooks to start dinner before they left for work, and return home to a fully cooked meal. 4. The Veg-O-Matic food slicer, invented by Samuel J. Popeil, debuted in 1963 and was sold by his son, Ron, via late-night television. The device is best remembered for his iconic sales pitch—“It slices! It dices!”

5. White Zinfandel

Zinfandel was one of the grapes associated with cheap jug wines widely produced after the repeal of Prohibition. During the replanting of California’s vineyards in the 1960s and 1970s, acres of Zinfandel were ripped out to make way for the new darlings of the vineyards, Cabernet and Chardonnay.

One vintner who kept his Zinfandel grapes was Bob Trinchero of the Sutter Home Winery, who used them to produce a dry, rosé-style wine. In 1975, while his grapes were fermenting, the yeast died before the wine’s sugar was converted to alcohol. He decided to try selling the resulting slightly sweet pink wine. Many Americans still had a “sweet tooth” for wine, and his “blush,” called White Zinfandel, was a runaway hit.

Bottle of white zinfandel and a bumper sticker praising the wine.

This is one of the first bottles of White Zinfandel made by the Trincheros of Sutter Home Winery in 1975. They named it Oeil de Perdrix, or Eye of the Partridge. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms later rejected the name, so this new wine became, simply, White Zinfandel. The bottle is on load to the exhibition from Trinchero Family Estates and Sutter Home Winery. Below is a bumper sticker.

Note: Photos were taken in the exhibition and text is pulled from exhibit labels.

Just like Mom’s: Will an Invention Finally Reveal Her Secret Ingredient?

My mom makes the best mashed potatoes. The best. I’m sure your mom’s are good, but not this good. (Ok, I guess I can admit that I’m probably a little biased here.)  And I love mashed potatoes. So I find it incredibly frustrating that I have thus far been unable to recreate my mother’s mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes.

These are not my mom’s mashed potatoes. By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This conversation has been had more times than I can count ever since I moved 350 miles south:

“Mom, seriously, how do you make them so good?”
“Well, I use whatever I have. If you have some sour cream you can add that.”
“Ok, well how much sour cream?”
“I don’t know, Kaitlin, whatever seems like the right amount.”

So with that not-exactly-precise recipe, I attempt, over and over, to make my mom’s glorious mashed potatoes. And every time, despite claims from my boyfriend that they taste just fine or even really good, they always fall flat to me.

The Motherspoon.

The Motherspoon. Will this gadget finally explain my mom’s recipe-less cooking to me?

But maybe technology is going to finally allow me to faithfully recreate Mom’s mashed potatoes. Cruising Pinterest the other night, I stumbled across a kitchen gadget by Electrolux called The Motherspoon. The gadget is explained as such:

“Basically what happens is that you and your mom buy your own pair of Motherspoon and register onto a dedicated platform for file sharing. So when your mom cooks her recipe and uses the spoon to taste her food, the sensor laden spoon picks up the ingredients and deciphers the recipe. When you put it on its cradle, the spoon loads the recipe to the sharing platform so that you can access it, even if you live miles apart.”

Is this the answer to my mashed potatoes angst? I don’t know that I’m going to rush out to get this gadget, but I will admit that I’m completely intrigued at the idea of technology showing precisely how my mom makes hers so delicious. But in the end, Mom’s mashed potatoes are as good of an excuse as any to make the trip home, and I think I’ll be ok never really knowing if her secret ingredient is a few teaspoons of onion powder or—as she claims—love.

At the London Eye.

Me and my mom in London, when my family visited me there for Christmas in 2008. And yes, I made her make me mashed potatoes.

Starting the Day Right: Coffee Innovations

While I can’t remember the first great cup of coffee that I ever had, I can certainly remember the last.  It was brewed here in our offices earlier this week with freshly ground coffee beans, the perfect amount of cream & sugar, and a strong caffeine kick that cleared my early morning brain fog.

Latte.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

After reading an article recently about the history of coffee making, I realize that I owe the pleasure of that enjoyable cup of coffee to a series of coffee related innovations, some that date back to the 15th century.  There’s the first coffee shop, which opened in 1475 in modern day Turkey; the percolator which was invented in 1818 by a metal craftsman; and the first paper coffee filter, invented by Melitta Benz around 1908.

But what I find even more fascinating are the very eccentric and somewhat quirky coffee related inventions that are popping up all over the world.  These include the coffee condiment stick, which contains pre-measured cream and sugar; the ‘Coffee Car’, a British vehicle that runs on discarded coffee grounds; and my personal favorite, the Handpresso, a portable espresso machine.

Coffee beans.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m sure that I also speak for my fellow coffee addicts when I say that I look forward to innovation that continues to improve both the delivery and quality of our beloved ‘liquid gold’.