This show is all about food history. I interview people who know a lot about different food history topics. I also cover recipes from the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. I can't think of a better way to connect to the past than through food. Enjoy the show!
Snake Oil Salesmen: How Patent Medicines Changed Food Forever (Part 2)
This week’s episode is all about what happens when snake oil salesmen become doctors in dangerous ways. These pseudo doctors became a main reason the FDA was formed and given teeth to go after harmful medicine. Today we are going to talk about the dangerous medicines of the 1800s and early 1900s. We will also discuss some of those medications that have stuck around to today.
The Formation of the FDA
In the late 1800s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a special division assigned to investigate food fraud and pharmaceutical claims. The Division of Chemistry in the USDA later became the Bureau of Chemistry. Harvard Washington Wiley was appointed Chief Chemist in 1993. Wiley became a major activist for food and drug regulation.
The public supported these movements due to journalists that did their part to get the horrors of food and drug production out to the general public. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, was one of these major publications during this time. I also have to add that it is a horrifying book about the meat packing industry.
In 1901 a diphtheria vaccine that had been developed was tainted with tetanus. These vaccines were distributed and led to the deaths of 12 kids in Missouri. This, and other incidents like it, led President Theodore Roosevelt to sign the Pure Food and Drug Act into law in 1906. This law was also known as the “Wiley Act” because of Wiley’s activism. This act formed the Food and Drug Administration.
Pure Food and Drug Act
This act gave the government and law enforcement some teeth in handling allegations regarding food fraud and false claims made by those who produced patent medicine. The act prohibited the interstate transport of food that had been adulterated. There were similar penalties for adulterated drugs where the strength , quality or purity of the active ingredient wasn’t clearly listed on the label. However, they still lacked the authority to do much more than that.
If you remember back to last week’s episode, the Bureau of Chemistry examined Snake Oil and concluded that it had violated the Food and Drug Act because it contained no actual snake oil.
Journalists and consumer advocacy groups continued their relentless assault on products that were allowed under the 1906 legislation, but were in reality quite dangerous to humans. There were worthless cures for diabetes and tuberculosis, a mascara lash lure that caused blindness and I’m not kidding you, radioactive drinks. However, none of these complaints were able to produce legislation with enough support to get through congress. However, that all changed in 1937.
Snake Oil Salesmen At Their Worst: Elixir Sulfanilamide
In 1937 the S. E. Massengill Company created their own preparation of sulfanilamide using diethylene glycol as the solvent. Diethylene glycol, or DEG, is poisonous to humans and other mammals. The company’s chief pharmacist and chemist, Harold Watkins, was not aware of this. Elixir Sulfanilamide was born.
Remember at the time there were no regulations on drugs and pharmaceuticals. There was no oversight from the government. Animal testing was not required by law before drugs were released, so these harmful effects weren’t widely known. Harold Watkins mixed raspberry flavoring into the drug and they were off to the races.
In September 1937, the company began distributing the medication. By October 11, the American Medical Association received a report of several deaths related to this new medication. The Food and Drug Administration began an extensive search for a cause. They discovered that the DEG solvent was responsible for the f...
Snake Oil Salesmen: How Patent Medicines Changed Food Forever (Part1)
I’m sure you have heard the term “snake oil salesman.” However, have you ever stopped to wonder how that term came to be? Snake oil salesmen got their name from Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment. It was mineral oil that had been mixed with various herbs and compounds. It was marketed as a cure for a variety of joint and back pain. For good measure Stanley thought he’d pitch his snake oil as providing instant relief from frostbite, bruises, sore throat, and bug and animal bites. A well known ad for the product said, “Good for everything a liniment ought to be good for.”
With claims like these it is no wonder that Clark Stanley had a successful venture on his hands. He wasn’t the first, and he wasn’t the last. However, his snake oil became a common term for medication that boasted outlandish and fraudulent claims. While doing little, if anything, of real benefit to the recipient.
Snake Oil Salesmen Go to Court
In 1916, Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment was tested by the government’s Bureau of Chemistry. This was a government agency that was a precursor to the Food and Drug Administration. It provided limited value for its cost. It contained mineral oil, 1% fatty oil, capsaicin from chili peppers, turpentine and camphor.
Stanley faced federal prosecution for distributing mineral oil in a fraudulent manner as snake oil. There was nothing involving snakes in his oil. Stanley pleaded no contest to the charges. The judge accepted his plea and he fined him $20. In today’s money that would be around $470. He basically got off with nothing but a slap on the wrist.
Snake oil is a prime example of a patent medicine. This was a concoction that was put together and had claims of tremendous benefit to those who would take it. This is a topic that has come up again and again as I’ve researched other episodes. A lot of soda that we know and love today started as a patent medicine. Coca Cola, Dr Pepper, Pepsi, 7 Up and Root Beer all have roots in promising tremendous health benefits for nothing more than a sip of the product.
The First Patent Medicines
Patent medicine originated in England. The name originates from the letters of patent that were granted by the English Crown. After patent medicine came to America, few producers actually sought patents. As time went on, the term “patent medicine” began to describe any medicine sold over the counter.
Early colonial life proved that no one could escape the reach and popularity of these early patent medicines. Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Bateman’s Pectoral Drops and Hooper’s Female Pills were very successful in early America. Some, like Bateman’s Pectoral Drops maintained popularity well into the 1900s. The original patent for these drops was granted by King George I in 1726.
Of course, it didn’t take long for Americans to understand the vast potential and financial success that could come with development of patent medicines. Successful inventors enlisted the help of savvy marketers to get their products noticed by the public.
Patent medicines were one of the first major product categories that the advertising industry promoted. Advertising often promoted these medications as a cure to multiple ailments. They emphasized exotic ingredients and were often endorsed by experts or well known celebrities. This influx of medication showed that no disease was beyond a possible cure.
So how did this craze start? The very first letters of patent given to an inventor of a secret remedy was issued during the late 17th century. The patent ensured that the medicine maker had a monopoly over his particular formula.
Food Superstitions: A Few Ways Food Is Bringing Bad Luck
Food superstitions are fun myths that are rooted deep in history. Some of them go far enough back to be woven into our DNA and cultural identity. Today’s episode is going to do a deeper dive into several of these food superstitions and their background.
To quote the great Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious but I am a little stitious.” Food superstitions are fascinating. Most cultures have their own unique variants. As we head into the new year, I couldn’t think of a better topic than to discuss several interesting superstitions involving food.
Food Superstitions Behind Apple Peels
Are you single and ready to mingle, but you just wish you had a little hint on who to look for? Next time you eat an apple, try peeling it first. Try to make a strand of peel as long as you can until it breaks. Then take the peel and toss it on the counter. Whatever letter that peel resembles is the first letter of your true love’s name.
Apples have a few other superstitions. In the Jewish new year, people dip apples in honey to symbolize the hopes of a sweet year to come. Also people believed that if you cut into an apple and counted the seeds, it would predict how many children you’d have.
Eggs and Egg Shells
Eggs are symbolic of many things There are also many food superstitions around them. Farmers used to spread broken eggs into their fields hoping to grow an abundant crop. If you happen to crack an egg that contains two yolks, it is a sign that someone you know will be getting married or having twins. Finally, when cracking an egg make sure you crush the eggshell after. There is a superstition that says a witch will gather up the pieces, set sail and cause terrible storms at sea. Do you really want a severe oceanic storm, and any fallout from it, weighing on your conscience?
Did you know that if you slice open a loaf of bread and see a large air pocket that it means someone will die soon? The hole in the bread represents a coffin. Also, hot cross buns have an interesting history rooted in superstition. Anytime you bake bread you should cut a cross into the top of your loaf. Otherwise the devil will sit on it while baking and ruin your loaf.
There is a fascinating french superstition about placing a loaf of bread upside down. If a loaf is placed upside down on a table, it invites bad luck. I dug deeper into this one and it is fascinating. It dates back to the Middle Ages and public executions.
Public executions were often scheduled at a time when most people were going to be out and about. The purpose behind the execution was to make an example after all. The executioner was often busy prepping his tools for the execution and was unable to go to the market to buy bread. Bakers didn’t want to have to tell a man with an axe and no problem with killing why they ran out of bread. So bakers began to turn a loaf upside down. Patrons recognized this loaf as the executioners loaf and no one would touch it.
The executioner could go in the shop, grab their loaf and be on their way. Custom allowed them to take whatever they could hold in one hand free of charge. No one ever argued with him.
There are few things on this earth more comforting to me than Chinese noodle dishes. Whether they are in a soup or stir fried, they always warm my soul. In China, long noodles symbolize a long life. You should never ever cut your noodles. Doing so means that you are cutting life short. You should instead slurp those long noodles and be careful not to break them. This is a problem for me because I often find myself cutti...
The History of Gingerbread Houses: A Christmas Classic
The history of gingerbread houses is fascinating. This time of year always makes me think of the treats of the season. Nothing screams Christmas like a gingerbread house. I have great memories growing up of making simple gingerbread houses. I remember being nice and warm inside while the snow was falling outside. However, our gingerbread houses were not made from gingerbread. We used graham crackers instead of gingerbread. My siblings and I had a blast. I think more candy ended up in our mouths than on the houses. Furthermore, I t was a lot of fun. Gingerbread houses are everywhere this time of the year. Have you ever stopped and wondered why?
A Fascinating Gingerbread Legend
There is a fascinating medieval Christian legend that expands the account of the birth of Jesus. It also sheds some light on how gingerbread houses relate to Christmas. In this legend, there were four wise men that set out to visit the baby Jesus. However, one of these wisemen got sick and ended his journey in a city in Syria. A local Rabbi watched over and cared for him during his illness. The Rabbi told him of the prophecies that foretold a great King who was to come to the Jews. Furthermore, the prophecies stated that he would be born in Bethlehem. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means house of bread.
This Rabbi had a custom with his young students of making houses of bread to eat over time to remember these prophecies and the Messiah that was to come. However, when it came time for the wiseman to leave, he left his kingly treasure with the Rabbi. You might be wondering what this treasure consisted of? Ginger root!
The wiseman suggested that the Rabbi grind up the ginger root and mix it in with his bread. In a very literal sense, the gingerbread house was born.
The Real History of Gingerbread Houses
Now I have to remind you, this was a legend and not a historical record. However, this legend is a great story that must be told when the history of gingerbread houses is discussed. This story came from a greek document from the 8th century. It is presumed it was Irish in origin and translated into Latin.
Gingerbread as we know it today came to Europe in the 11th century. Crusaders brought back ginger and other spices from their wars. It didn’t take long for these exotic spices to find their way into bread. Monks in Franconia, Germany were recorded as shaping gingerbread into various shapes in the 13th century. Shaping gingerbread was slow to catch. However, it eventually grew in popularity and spread through Germany and into Europe at large.
Special bakers were tasked with baking gingerbread. They held a special place in various bakers guilds. In the 17th century only professional bakers were allowed to bake gingerbread except for Christmas and Easter. During these holidays anyone was allowed to bake gingerbread.
Before we had gingerbread houses, gingerbread took a variety of shapes. However, these weren’t your mother’s gingerbread men. These were elaborate works of art made by these master bakers. They were painstakingly detailed. Hearts, stars, soldiers , babies, trumpets and animals were just a few of the shapes that made their way to specialized gingerbread shops.
1800s to Today
Gingerbread houses made their appearance in Germany in the early 1800s. However, historians are split on how gingerbread houses came to be. Furthermore, some historians believe that gingerbread houses were inspired by the Grimm Brothers tale of Hansel and Gretel. That after the story was published, German bakers started making detailed gingerbread fairy tale houses. Other historians believe the Grimm Brothers were speaking about s...
What Are Victory Gardens: Hidden Heroes of WWII
Today’s episode is all about food rationing and victory gardens during WWI and WWII. Have you ever wondered what a victory garden is? During WWI and WWII, there were serious food shortages in Europe. Overnight a generation of farmers and producers were called into military service. Their fields and farms became battlefields. The food that was produced went to feed the soldiers and support the war effort. It was a tough time.
The US government did their part by sending food to their allies and troops overseas. They asked citizens to do their part by reducing consumption on a number of different items. Food rationing was in full swing. The government pitched rationing as a heroic thing for citizens to do.
Food Rationing Leads to Victory Gardens
I have a cookbook from the early 1900s that is one of my favorites, Foods That Will Win The War: And How to Cook Them. The reason I love it so much is because it was war propaganda. World War I was in full swing when this cookbook was published in 1918. The intro shows fruits and veggies in abundance. It says:
“This is what God gives us. What are you giving so that others may live? Eat less wheat, meat, fats, sugar. Send more to Europe or they will starve.”
This book goes on to provide recipes for wheat, meat, fats and sugars, but it gets creative in the approach. It also gives an interesting snapshot into the household dietary life of WWI households. In the section on meat it talks about meat as red meat. It recommends scaling back meat dramatically and instead of having red meat twice a day, a household should find other substitutes. It then mentions chicken, fish, dairy products, nuts and beans as substitutes.
Don’t Eat Sugar, Eat Corn Syrup Instead
In their section on sugarless desserts it is apparent they are speaking of refined granulated sugar. When I looked at the table of contents and saw that it had a section on sugarless desserts I was intrigued. What kind of desserts are there and can they possibly be good without sugar? My fears were laid to rest when I saw that everything was sweetened with molasses or.. drum roll… corn syrup!
This cookbook said, “Study attractive ways of serving food. Plain, cheap dishes can be made appetizing if they look attractive on the table.”
This book highlights the reality of war and what we were facing here at home. The truth is, people were starving in Europe. America was a land of seemingly endless resources and consumption. The simple ask was to scale back. Change how you are eating and you will save lives.
During this time, the government had many campaigns to highlight the importance of food conservation and helping the public see that by cutting back on these necessities, they were directly contributing to the war effort. This leads me to victory gardens.
So What Are Victory Gardens?
A victory garden was a fruit, vegetable or herb garden that was planted on a private residence and public parks in the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain during WWI and WWII. These gardens provided food for the growers and relieved strain on the food supply. The idea was to make produce purchased by the government cheaper, allowing the government to pay less and use the money saved on other parts of the war effort.
Victory Gardens also had a tremendous morale boost for those who participated. They gave the average citizen something they could do to contribute to the war effort. As a result they were rewarded with fresh, locally grown, produce.
During WWII around one third of the vegetables produced in th...
Who Is Marie Callender: The Queen of Pie
Who is Marie Callender? We’ve seen the pies in the grocery store, but many are surprised to know Marie Callender was a real person. Her story and history are a rags to riches tale that would make any American proud. Today we are going to dive into the history behind the legendary Marie Callender’s pie.
Birth and Early Life
Marie Callender was born in 1907 in South Dakota. Her family was poor, but was never afraid of hard work. Early in her life they picked up all of their possessions and made the move to California searching for a better life and more economic opportunity. In 1924, Marie met Cal Callender. The two really hit it off and were eventually married. At the time of their marriage they were both 17!
For much of their early married life, Marie and Cal struggled financially. There always seemed to be more month than paycheck. They had one son, Donald. The family worked a series of odd jobs trying to keep food on the table.
Marie answered an ad at a local delicatessen that was looking for part time help. She got the job and settled right in preparing salads and simple hot meals. The additional pay was a welcome sight for the family. However, they still struggled mightily to make ends meet. The owner of the deli started a snack bar and asked Marie if she’d bake pie for customers. Here is where things start to get interesting.
Pie, Pie and More Pie
Marie was excited about her new role. She loved to bake pie and was really skilled at it. The customers also loved her pie. Business was good. However, Marie quickly realized there is a big difference baking a pie here or there for your family and keeping a snack bar fully stocked. The hours were long and the labor was grueling. She finally came to the conclusion that she was sick of hauling giant bags of flour around, and quit.
The owner of the deli was disappointed. He urged Marie to go into business for herself. If she made pie, he’d become a steady customer. Marie gave it some thought and decided to take the plunge. The family had virtually no capital to start a business. Marie and Cal sold the one possession they had, the family car.
They paid some bills and were left with $700 to fund their dream. The Callenders purchased an old oven and three rolling pins. In 1962, they rented a small shop and got busy. The race was on. Marie and Cal needed to sell enough pies each month to keep from going bankrupt. It was hard work and in its early years the business grew at a snails pace. Don dropped out of college and decided to help his parents out with the pie shop full time. This proved to be a major turning point for the business.
Free Pie and Coffee to All First Time Customers
Don had a brilliant idea. To increase traffic into the pie shop, he suggested they offer a free slice of pie and coffee to all first time customers. The promotion caught on quick and spread like wildfire. They had a line of eager customers that was three blocks long. Turns out all Marie needed for a successful business was for people to taste her pie just once. This promotion led to many of these people becoming frequent customers.
Marie had another great idea. She moved the pie oven to the window overlooking the street. As people would pass by, they could see the pie baking in the window. This gave them a sense of inclusion. They felt that they were part of the process.
By 1964 business was booming. Marie added soup and sandwiches to the menu. The Callenders made a great team. Marie and Cal would man the kitchen and Don would handle the marketing. By 1985 they had 119 restaurants across 11 states. Marie said,