From Factory To Kitchen:
Technology in Food Production
On The Rails:
tenderer, because cattle which rode to market instead of walking to it did not develop such tough muscles; tastier, because the same lines that carried cattle north and east also carried grain with which to fatten them south and west; cheaper because they lost less weight between pasture and slaughterhouse. 1
Eventually the cattle wouldn't make that ride - not alive anyway. After The Civil War, many cities banished the slaughterhouses that existed within their limits, sometimes in residential districts. The unsanitary conditions, the blood and the stench, would no longer be tolerated, much to the dismay of local butchers who were losing their time-honored tradition. Two Chicago meat entrepreneurs, however, worked to handle this problem and in so doing, sealed the national meat market. Gustavus Franklin Swift and Philip Danforth Armour followed a parallel course in convincing a railroad line to move their already processed meat on refrigerated cars that they would build themselves. Now the cattle could be slaughtered in the centralized and efficient processing system of Chicago and be shipped as chilly carcasses to eastern and other markets. 2
In The Factory:
Flour processing was also changing around the time of the Civil War. A shift towards white flour had begun in the 1840s when the Hungarians (leaders in flour technology) replaced rotary millstones with rollers in their flour mills. The rollers squeezed the inner part of the wheat kernel from its coating, in effect getting rid of both the bran and the germ. Bakers liked this elimination because wheat germ, while nutritious, contains oil which makes the flour go bad in just a few weeks. The shift to white flour was sealed in 1870 when the Hungarians started to use porcelain flour mill rollers, producing the finest, whitest, and most longlasting flour yet. By 1881, all of the mills in Minneapolis were using porcelain rollers.5
Interestingly, this process of getting rid of the bran led to a problem at the Pillsbury plant - and to a solution. In the past excess bran had been dumped into the Mississippi, no use having been found for it. With the increase in flour production and the consequent increase in bran waste, the bran problem was "acute". The idea was hatched to experiment with feeding the bran to 15 scrub steers to see if they would like it. Like it they did, even becoming agitated when the bran ran out one day. Whatsmore, and more importantly, the bran-fed beef wasn't bad either. In 1892, Pillsbury sent out its first shipment - 6 carloads - of commercial feed. 6
In The Store:
Once the process to mass produce cardboard boxes was developed in 1879, goods could be placed directly in cardboard boxes and shipped as units to the stores to be sold. Cardboard boxes were sturdy, stackable, and sanitary. The pioneers of mass production discovered another benefit to cardboard: it was sturdy enough to print a brand name and a logo right on it. In 1899, the In-er-seal carton was patented and The National Biscuit Company started to ship out their products in small, individual units for customers. Each little box was like a commercial for the product, for the company, for the company's cleanliness, trustworthiness. "The ability to create a totally packaged object - sealed, branded, and only opened after it had reached the consumers home - closed the circle of bulk retailing... by eliminating the middleman." 8
In The Kitchen:
The importance of the shift from hearth cooking to use of the range or cookstove cannot be overstated. This development altered American cookery methods and meal planning, while at the same time relieving the housewife or cook of multiple backbreaking chores such as lifting and moving heavy iron cookware. Perhaps most importantly, the introduction of the stove brought technology into the kitchen and as the century progressed, a continuous stream of updated and improved appliances became available.... 10The stove not only allowed you to cook more things at once, it performed other functions that made life easier. On this ideal cooking stove with all possible attachments, you could "keep 17 gallons of water hot in the reservoir, bake pies in the warming closet, warm sadirons underneath the back cover, bake bread in the oven, roast meat in the tin roaster and make tea on a top burner or under the baking cover." 11 Hot water for washing, irons for ironing, and bread baking, all at the same time. Of course, this involved intensive management of dampers and the heat source, be it wood or coal. Management itself became an art form.
Cooking also became more of an art form and a profusion of gadgets sought to help the cook or housekeeper save time and energy in her tasks. Gadgets and utensils that had previously been handcrafted or hand-forged were now produced in bulk. Many were cast-iron or factory made wooden examples and most had clamps, turn-cranks or action gears. Mrs. F. L. Gillette's and Hugo Ziemann's 1887 White House Cookbook included a list of items found in a properly equipped kitchen. "An ingenious housewife will manage to do with less conveniences," the book explained, "but these articles, if they can be purchased in the commencement of housekeeping, will save time and labor, making the preparation of food more easy - and it is always economy in the end to get the best material in all wares..." 12
1 Waverly Root and Richard de Rochemont, Eating In America (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1995), p. 152.
2 Ibid., 209.
3 Ibid., 190.
4 Stuart Thorne, The History of Food Preservation (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986), p. 18.
5 Root, 231.
6 Philip W. Pillsbury, The Pioneering Pillsburys (New Jersey: Princeton University Press for The Newcomen Publications, 1950), p. 19-20.
7 M.M. Manring, Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemimah (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1998), p. 63.
8 Ibid., 64.
9 Ellen Plante, The American Kitchen 1700 to the Present (New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc., 1995). p. 43.
10 Ibid., 70.
11 Ibid., 43.
12 Ibid., 101.