Category Archives: History

E-Z Pop

In the 1950s, Benjamin Coleman of Berkley, Michigan, invented a fuss-free method of making popcorn. The popcorn was packed in its own pan and had a foil tent that expanded as the popcorn popped. If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that description is Jiffy Pop, you could be forgiven for the error, since it became better known, but Coleman’s product, marketed by the Taylor Reed Corporation, was called E-Z Pop.

Five years after E-Z Pop hit the market, inventor Frederick Mennen of LaPorte, Indiana, created a similar device and called it Jiffy Pop. American Home Products bought Mennen’s creation in 1959, and soon took it national. Not too surprisingly, Taylor Reed sued, because the products were so similar. Initially, they won the suit, but it was later overturned. Apparently, the two products were just enough different to satisfy a judge. E-Z Pop began to fade from the scene. (In all fairness to Mennen, almost every invention in history had lots of people working on the same idea at the same time. Nothing arises in a vacuum. Popcorn was popular and making it more accessible was on many minds.)

Though E-Z Pop vanished, a few of us remember the name (my mom even remembers buying it) and the ads, which ran into the ‘60s. Playing on the rhyme of pop and bop, E-Z Pop used a jazzy presentation for their creation.

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National Corn Fritter Day

Corn Oysters were sufficiently iconic in the Midwest of the mid-1800s that I include a recipe in my book Midwest Maize. But the fritter recipe sounds like a fun treat. Think I’ll try those out. And who knew there was a Corn Fritter Day? Remarkable.

Foodways Pilgrim

Everything has a day…..even

 Corn Fritters

Today!

Corn Fritters

1 can corn 2 teaspoons salt
1 cup flour 1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon baking powder 2 eggs

Chop corn, drain, and add dry ingredients mixed and sifted, then add yolks of eggs, beaten until thick, and fold in whites of eggs beaten stiff. Cook in a frying-pan in fresh hot lard. Drain on paper.

Farmer, Fannie Merritt. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1918; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/87/.

Fannie Farmer 1918 11thed

And Corn Fritters have

aliases.

Why??? Why, are they ashamed of being corn? Or is the fritter part too frivolous? Do they just want to be taken more seriously?  Or is it role-playing, cos-play for fritters??

They are also known as….

Corn Oysters

CORN OYSTERS

        Mix well together one quart grated sweet corn, two tea-cups sweet milk, one tea-cup flour, one tea-spoon butter, two eggs well…

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When Corn Salad is not Corn Salad

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So said Romeo’s Juliet. Good thing—because names can be confusing, varied, colloquial, or misleading—as with corn salad. Of course, if you’ve read Midwest Maize, you already know that “corn” means “dominant cereal grain,” so you won’t be surprised by that revelation in this article. But interesting to see how things get named, and how they spread, and how a weed can become valued.

Foodways Pilgrim

Valerianella locusta illustration by Thomé (1885) showing the plant, flower, and seed.

There is plant called

corn salad

Ackersalat02

Which is not the same thing as a

corn salad

Corn_&_Beans_(15392776377).jpg

See?

Not the same thing at all.

Corn Salad also goes by Mache, Doucette and Raiponce …yes, that translates to Rapunzel!

Fairy_Tales_From_The_Brothers_Grimm_Rapunzel_3_By_Walter_Crane Walter Crane illustration of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Was she so named because her hair grew like a weed?

Evidently, it’s called corn salad because it’s a weed in the corn – which is any grain back in England. People use to gather it in from the fields,  and not actually grow it in their gardens. Ordinary people, that is.

Thomas Jefferson grew it in his gardens at Monticello.

Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800) Thomas Jefferson – not ordinary

Louis XIV also grew it in his garden

Louis_XIV_of_France Louis XIV – the Sun King – very NOT ordinary!

I’m really tired of KALE

kale

So perhaps Corn…

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History

Windmill Island—back of the organ

In the previous post, I showed the Amsterdam street organ. I mentioned that it was a bit like a player piano, and this video shows the punched “pages” that create the music. Also visible is the electric motor that now runs the machine. Originally, however, it would have been cranked by hand. So a lot more work in 1928 than it is now. Note that the costumed interpreter briefly covers her ears; the organ is surprisingly loud, and that appeared to be the reaction over everyone when it first started playing. But now you’ll know how it works.

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Windmill Island

In April, when a speaking engagement necessitated a drive through western Michigan, I took the opportunity to visit Holland. While the Dutch settled a number of places in the U.S., the greater part of Dutch settlers in the mid-1800s headed for this part of Michigan. I was too early for the tulip festival, but there were still a few things I wanted to check out, including Windmill Island.

Windmill Island is the location of DeZwaan, the only Dutch-built windmill in the U.S. DeZwaan is 250 years old. It was originally built in the Netherlands, where it spent most of its existence grinding grain before being dismantled and brought to Holland, Michigan.

The handsome windmill is the centerpiece of a 36-acre park that is planted extravagantly with flowers (fortunately, many of them blooming in April).

The buildings are not numerous but are all constructed in Dutch style. These offer gifts and food for purchase and history to learn. But the main thing to do is stroll through the gardens and visit the windmill. As I crossed from the entrance to the Post House, I noticed a couple of very interesting trees. A sign identified them as Dawn Redwoods (and looking them up later confirmed this). I loved these odd, many-branched trees.

Dawn redwoods and Dutch buildings

I wandered through gardens filled with daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, and headed for one of the classic Dutch drawbridges that makes it possible to cross over to the windmill.

DeZwaan across the canal

I mentioned my interest in food history to one of the costumed interpreters at the windmill, and she excitedly said I had to meet Alisa. She phoned the front office and found that Alisa was in, and she headed over to the mill. Alisa is Alisa Crawford, the miller at the windmill. Alisa has the remarkable distinction of being the only Dutch-certified millers in the United States, and the only woman in the Dutch millers’ guild. We spent a fair bit of time talking about food history and Dutch history and her experiences and training.

Alisa is also the author of the authoritative book on the historic DeZwaan windmill. It’s a handsome book, and if I weren’t downsizing right now, I’d have bought it on the spot. (However, if you’re not downsizing, and you’d like to have a copy—it’s titled DeZwaan and the author is Alisa Crawford. Check it out. Some great food history in the book.)

Finally parting company with Alisa, I wandered over to the row of buildings were Delft china and Dutch cookies are for sale, and where one can wander through a recreation in miniature of the Island of Marken in the Zuidersee. Learned that Peter the Great lived in the Netherlands for a while, learning the ship-building trade, to take back home to Russia.

Delft china in gift shop window

I ended my visit with a stop by the wonderful, old Amsterdam street organ. This once popular form of entertainment is something of a cross between a pipe organ and a player piano. A costumed interpreter came out to tell us (me and two other visitors) about the street organ: built in 1928, long used on the streets of Amsterdam, but given to Holland, Michigan after World War II, as thanks for American help during the war. We listened to it play, and I was astonished by how loud it was. But as the guide noted, it had to be heard over the crowds on a bustling city street. Delightful way to end my visit.

Amsterdam street organ

 

 

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2017 Eric Hoffer Award

The Eric Hoffer Awards for 2017 were announced yesterday. This is an award designed to recognize exceptional writing from small, academic, or independent publishers that don’t usually get the attention that the big publishing houses get. While Midwest Maize didn’t get the top prize, I was awarded an Honorable Mention, which, given the thousands of books submitted, is still gratifying.

Eric-Hoffer-Award-Seal.gif

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Language, Literature, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Recipe, Thoughts, Uncategorized

St. Louis: Missouri History Museum

The day after my presentation in New Haven (at the wonderfully restored Old School), I was on my way, this time heading an hour west, to St. Louis—and another speaking engagement. Even when I only have a short amount of time in a place, I always try to see something local that is of interest, and on this trip, it was the Missouri History Museum. The front of the museum, as one approaches, is imposing and classical, but as one circles the building in search of parking, the new addition behind this older part of the building comes into view.

The Museum is in Forest Park, which was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair, so it is fitting that one wing in the old building had an exhibit of that fair. The fair celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. One is reminded by photographs and informational posts of what an astonishing feat it was to create the fairground: a river had to be rerouted, an extensive sewer system had to be build, and what was essentially an entire city had to be built. It took 10,000 laborers to construct it all.

A placard informed me that the fair featured “the most extensive representation of goods from the Eastern Hemisphere ever found at an international exposition.” There were more nations represented than at any previous World’s Fair. Everyone wanted to show the world what they had to offer, as the economy was becoming global. The largest exhibit was of the Philippines, covering 47 acres and with a thousand Filipinos on hand. Remarkable.

It was not a huge exhibit, but it was packed with information. I continued on, past Thomas Jefferson and into the main hall, where the Spirit of St. Louis hung overhead. Into a fascinating, temporary exhibit on Route 66, which was “main street through Missouri.” St. Louis was the largest city on Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles.

An interior doorway frames the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the older part of the museum.

The second floor affords a close view of the Spirit of St. Louis.

Then upstairs to the Anheuser-Busch Gallery, which highlights the remarkable and difficult early history of St. Louis. There were fires, cholera epidemics, floods, earthquakes (New Madrid Fault)—all of it even harder for the city’s pre-Civil War slave population. But there were also energy and success, and the city grew. Again, a remarkable amount of information packed quite attractively into the available space. It was a good reminder that everywhere has a rich past, and there is more to know than we will ever be able to take in.

Charred walls and an antique fire wagon are reminders of the Great Fire of 1849 in St. Louis.

Then across to the McDonnell Douglas Gallery, which covers St. Louis from 1904 to 2000, though with a concentration on the ‘50s and ‘60s.

A vintage Airstream Trailer celebrates the increased mobility of Americans after WW II.

Then, feeling wonderfully exhilarated by all I’d learned, but also weary from a busy day, I headed to my hotel, to put my feet up for a while before my presentation that evening. But a good day.

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