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A perfectly ripe tomato is a classic summer joy. But did you know that the growing of tomatoes has ties to many aspects of our history and culture? Curator of Agriculture and the Environment Debra Reid uses our collections to reveal the many facets of the tomato.


The tomato -- a little fruit -- has big lessons to teach.

Double image showing two young girls and a boy among staked tomato plants

Tomatoes Growing in a Home Garden, circa 1915THF252180

First, yes, that’s right. Tomatoes are, biologically, a fruit – a berry that matures on a flowering plant. As this circa 1915 stereograph explains, “at first they were only small green things that grew where the blossoms dropped off.” Yet, the small green fruit grew into a plump, juicy “culinary vegetable,” considered such because of its low sugar content. (For example, processors transformed the fruit into a spicy vegetable sauce – catsup! – the savory contrast to sweet fruit sauces like apple butter.)

The image above shows a boy named Bob and his two sisters amidst the tomato plants they raised from seed, proudly displaying plants loaded with fruit. The Keystone View Company included an educational message on the back of the stereograph to engage children with growing fruits and vegetables. Bob and his sisters planned to share their finest tomatoes with others during their school garden show. They became role models for other students sprouting seeds and planting seedlings and then weeding and watering their crops.

By growing tomatoes, these children learned about domestication, the process by which humans select seed from bigger or tastier fruits or from plants that survive a disease or a drought. They cultivate these seeds (planting, weeding, harvesting, saving seed, and replanting year after year). This results in cultivars, each with different shapes, textures, colors, flavors. Over generations, humans have created more than 10,000 tomato cultivates by saving seed from their best tomatoes.


Why do tomatoes come in so many different shapes, sizes and colors?

Woman in period clothing bending over a wheelbarrow containing tomatoes and white eggplants
Tomatoes in the background and white eggplant in the foreground of the wheelbarrow. Photograph by Debra Reid, taken Saturday, August 15, 2020, at the kitchen garden at Firestone Farm.

Evolution resulted in distinctive varieties, but humans have also picked good-tasting fruits to propagate. (See how many different cultivars this proud gardener grew in the mid-1940s!)

The historic gardens in Greenfield Village include heritage cultivars documented in historic sources and saved through traditional seed saving. Three tomatoes often grown at Firestone Farm (pictured above) include Red Brandywine, Oxheart and Yellow Pear.

As demand for quality seeds grew during the second half of the 19th century, commercial seed businesses flourished. Companies such as Hiram Sibley & Co. contracted with growers to produce seed in clearly marked packages for customers to purchase. In addition to illustrations of the cultivar, the packet included descriptions of the qualities of the fruit, as well as best practices of cultivation (often in more than one language).

Tomato seed packet with tomato illustration on front & text on back
Hiram Sibley & Co. tomato seed packet, “Early Acme” cultivar, 1880s. THF278980/THF278981

Noted plant breeder Luther Burbank (1849–1926) crossed varieties to create hybrid cultivars that did not exist in nature. He sought disease resistance as well as a meaty tomato that had more pulp than seed – the meatier the tomato, the heartier the sauce! Some of Burbank’s varieties are still sold today.

Seed packet with photo of tomato on front and text on back
Charles C. Hart Seed Company "Burbank Slicing Tomato" seed packet, circa 2018 THF276144/THF276145

Twentieth-century concerns about food quality and nutrition led to the popularity of seeds like “Double Rich,” which were certified organic and yielded tomatoes with twice the Vitamin C!

You can learn more about organic cultivation and its relationship to the plant breeding process from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Organic Integrity Database, and about biotechnology, including hybridization, from this USDA glossary.


Have you ever wondered who grows the tomatoes sold in cans or bottles?

Fancy-shaped blue, gold, red, and white label with a picture of a tomato and text
Product label for tomato catsup by Heinz, Noble & Co., 1872-1873 THF117246

Anyone with yard space enough can grow tomatoes. Yet, by the time home gardeners like Bob and his sisters planted their crop in the early 20th century, many urban Americans wondered what a vine-ripened tomato tasted like. Why? Because tomatoes could be easily processed into affordable packaged products, and most urban consumers paid clerks in general stores to pick tomatoes off the canned goods shelf.

People in a field picking tomatoes into crates
Workers harvest tomatoes at a Heinz tomato farm near Salem, New Jersey, 1908 / THF252058

Companies like the H. J. Heinz Company contracted with farmers to meet the demand for canned goods and catsup. Their production far exceeded the yields of home gardens. Heinz ensured success by growing seed tomatoes from which the best seeds became the basis for the next year’s crop. The company maintained a network of greenhouses to start the plants that growers put in the ground.

A rapid, careful and organized tomato harvest and transport led to high-quality processed foods. A sense of urgency dictated the harvest season, which began with careful picking and packing of the delicate and perishable fruit in special crates and baskets. It continued as laborers moved the full containers from fields to shipping points. Specially designed wagons and baskets reduced stress on the ripe fruit during transit. Only the best tomatoes made the journey to H.J. Heinz plants. Laborers discarded damaged fruit into barrels and packed others into baskets for shipment.

Several sailboats at dock, all filled with baskets of tomatoes
Shipping tomatoes by boat, H. J. Heinz Company, Salem, New Jersey, circa 1910 THF292108

Transporting tomatoes from truck farms to Heinz processing plants sometimes involved sailing vessels loaded with ripe fruit. At the height of harvest, barges carried loads of tomatoes from farms to processors. Growers in Salem, New Jersey, used the Salem River, a tributary to the Delaware River, to send crops to processing centers near large east coast markets, including Philadelphia and New York.


Mass production of tomatoes did not make home gardening obsolete.

African American man squatting by plant in field
Man inspecting tomato plant in Victory Garden, June 1944 / THF273191

In fact, times of economic hardship increased the general public’s interest in growing their own tomatoes. During the Great Depression, Henry Ford dedicated 1,500 acres of Ford Farms land (between Birmingham and Flat Rock, Michigan) to vegetable gardens. Ford Motor Company employees could sign up to tend a garden plot and retain the produce. Interest in growing tomatoes remained high during World War II, largely through the U.S. government’s Victory Garden program.

Home-grown tomatoes could even be symbols of resistance. George W. Carver encouraged farm families to grow tomatoes for the table as a strategy to strengthen their position, economically and socially.


Tomatoes have legal, ethical, and policy implications.

Red flag with white circle in middle containing stylized black eagle and text "FARMWORKERS AFL-CIO"
United Farm Workers Flag, circa 1970 / THF94392

Tomatoes have been at the heart of economic conflict between growers and laborers. California growers produced 85 percent of tomatoes canned in the United States by 1940. The larger the fields, the more urgent the need for laborers to harvest a crop that quickly moves from maturity to rot.

Most large-scale growers relied on migrant agricultural laborers at harvest time. They worked for wages determined by the grower and did not receive protection under legislation passed during the New Deal that established minimum wage, maximum hours and workers’ compensation. Instead, growers had legal protection to hire agricultural laborers for wages below the legal minimum and were exempt from compliance with maximum hour and overtime regulations. This meant that laborers had to work until the perishable crop was completely harvested.

Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 news report, Harvest of Shame, increased attention to the plight of U.S. agricultural laborers along the East Coast. Then, in 1965, Filipino-American laborers, members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, launched a strike to protest pay and working conditions. Latino pickers, members of the United Farm Workers Association, joined with them, and began a five-year strike in and around the grape fields of Delano, California. Consumers increasingly sympathized with the laborers on whom growers of other perishable crops depended.

Large red farm machine in museum exhibit
FMC Tomato Harvester, 1969 THF151662

Mechanical tomato harvesters became commercially viable in the context of this successful strike. When the FMC Corporation introduced its Cascade Tomato Harvester, Model 69W, in 1969, it advertised the machine as the savior of a multi-million-dollar crop and the preserver of the American people’s eating habits. The machine did not eliminate humans from the picking process, but it sped it up. FMC explained that it “picks a crop at the rate of nine tons per hour and cuts the cost of handpicking by 40 to 50 per cent.” Crews who operated the machine included a driver, a mechanic, and ten to twelve individuals who rode on the machine and removed debris from the picked tomatoes. This machine carried crews through midwestern fields, last on a farm near Grant Park, Illinois, between 1983 and 1990, which produced for the Heinz catsup factory in Muscatine, Iowa.

Changing harvesting practices required changing the form of tomatoes, too. Mechanical engineers believed the shape of San Marzano tomatoes would suit harvester belts. Plant breeders spent 30 years cross-pollinating tomatoes (including the San Marzano) to create a new hybrid that tolerated mechanical harvesting. In addition to uniform size and firmness, the fruits had to all mature at the same time on one plant, and they had to come off the vine easily.

Could scientists really slow the aging process? Microbiologists at Calgene, Inc. began research with that goal in mind in 1981. Their work paid off by 1988 with the “first commercially available genetically engineered whole food,” the Flavr Savr™ tomato. Genetic modification had shut down a protein that ripened fruit. It resulted in a tomato that could “last up to four weeks in a non-refrigerated state” (Martineau, pg. 4). An assessment of safety of the genetically modified tomato published in 1992 determined that the Flavr Savr™ remained a tomato and was food. (It bears mentioning that genetically modified tomatoes tend not to be listed in the Cultivated Plant Code because they derive from lines still being developed.)

Book page with text
Page from Safety Assessment of Genetically Engineered Fruits and Vegetables: A Case Study of the Flavr Savr™ Tomato from The Henry Ford's library.


Hungry for more on this little fruit with big impact?

Two women in period dresses and bonnets examine a tomato plant in a garden with unpainted picket fence in background
The Acme tomato in the Firestone Farm garden, August 21, 2018. Photograph by Debra A. Reid.

The Henry Ford has resources to help you explore the complete tomato trajectory to date.

You can….

Sources

  • Charles, Daniel. Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food. Perseus Publishing, 2001.
  • Dreyer, Peter. A Gardener Touched with Genius: The Life of Luther Burbank. Rev. Ed. University of California Press, 1985.
  • Hersey, Mark D. My Work is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver. The University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  • Martineau, Belinda. First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr™ Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Food. McGraw Hill, 2001.
  • Redenbaugh, Keith and William Hiatt, Belinda Martineau, Matthew Kramer, Ray Sheehy, Rick Sanders, Cathy Houck, and Donald Emlay. Safety Assessment of Genetically Engineered Fruits and Vegetables: A Case Study of the Flavr Savr™ Tomato. CRC Press, 1992.



Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

#THFCuratorChat, food, by Debra A. Reid, agriculture

White Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box featuring a green and red rooster, c. 1995
This 1995 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box (96.34.3.13) features Cornelius Rooster, a popular character logo since the late 1950s. THF302682

Perhaps it could only happen in western Michigan: the combination of religious fervor, fertile soil to grow grains that could be transformed into easily digestible breakfast cereals, and the spirit that one could accomplish anything with hard work and determination. Out of this world came John Harvey (J.H.) and William Keith (W.K.) Kellogg—two brothers who would transform the way that Americans ate breakfast. They were, unfortunately, often at odds. And they didn’t work alone. But, through their persistence and combined efforts, the dry cereal flakes they perfected would start a breakfast revolution.

Into the early 20th century, the American breakfast was often heavy, starchy, salty, and fatty—laden with leftovers from last night’s dinner, like cured meats, day-old biscuits, and lard-fried potatoes. No wonder that one of the most common complaints of the time was “dyspepsia”—a term that applied to a medley of stomach ailments, including constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and indigestion. For the sick and the elderly, lengthy cooking of porridges or gruels was the only morning-meal alternative.


Postcard showing Seventh-day Adventist Tabernacle, 1914, a red brick building with a steeple and many arched windows.
Seventh-day Adventist Tabernacle, Battle Creek, Michigan, 1914 (99.146.39). THF316219

The Kellogg brothers—John Harvey (1852-1943) and his younger brother Will Keith (1860-1951)—grew up in the close-knit community of Battle Creek, Michigan, a center for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Members of this homegrown Christian religious sect not only believed in the connection between spiritual and physical health, but also that healthy living depended upon maintaining a nutritious vegetable- and grain-based diet.

Seventh-day Adventist leaders Ellen and James White hand-picked J.H. Kellogg to run their medical and health programs in Battle Creek, and ultimately sent him to the prestigious Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. It was during his morning rush to classes at Bellevue that he began thinking about creating a nutritious, ready-to-eat cereal.

Drab green cover of Dr. J.H. Kellogg textbook, First Book in Physiology and Hygiene embossed with black circular design at top
In 1888, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg authored this book (29.1119.14), aimed at explaining to young people, “in clear and simple language,” the structure and functions of the human body as well as his personal philosophy for healthful living. THF183317

Upon returning to Battle Creek in 1876, Dr. J.H. Kellogg assumed leadership of the Whites’ Western Health Reform Institute. But his vision was much larger than theirs, ultimately leading to his breaking ties with his Seventh-day Adventist backers. With the able (but underappreciated) assistance of his brother, Will, to run the business end of things, Dr. Kellogg turned the Whites’ once-modest institution into the grand Battle Creek Sanitarium. Nicknamed the San, this “university of health” would become a world-famous health resort, catering to the rich and famous (including Henry Ford) as well as the truly ill. At the San, Dr. Kellogg would profess and put into practice his long-held philosophy of “biologic living”—that is, the belief that correct eating and drinking, plenty of exercise, hydrotherapy, and the abstinence of tobacco would lead to a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Postcard of Kellogg’s corn flakes packing room, c. 1935, with women in white dresses and hair coverings packing corn flakes boxes into large cartons
Corn Flakes loom large in this postcard (94.82.4) showing the packing room at the Kellogg’s plant, about 1935. THF320131

The true origin of corn flakes is difficult to trace, as competing versions of it have been offered by Dr. Kellogg’s wife Ella (whose dedicated assistance was integral to the San’s food operations), his brother Will, other family members, and San employees. All agree, however, that it started with Dr. Kellogg’s correct hypothesis that a grain-based cereal would be easier to digest if the grain’s starch was broken down through a pre-cooking process. (Ironically, nutritionists now agree that easy digestibility is less healthful than the slower-to-digest high-fiber cereals that are so popular today.) Hours of experimentation and a little accidental fermentation finally led to the creation of an easily digestible flaked cereal made of wheat. Patients at the San loved it and mail-order demand (usually by former patients) soon exceeded supply. Dr. Kellogg felt that he had accomplished what he had set out to do.

Recipe booklet cover for “Tested Battle Creek Health Recipes,” 1928, showing a woman and two children cooking in a kitchen
Recipes for health foods that Dr. J.H. Kellogg served his patients at the San were featured in this 1928 booklet (95.174.22) aimed at the general public. THF17004

But his younger brother Will was far from done. Will saw a raft of competitors scrambling to introduce their own—often very similar—flaked breakfast cereals and making money off of their original idea. Whereas his brother, the doctor, was satisfied with continuing to produce healthy, nutritious foods for his niche group of patients, Will saw an opportunity to market a light, healthy breakfast cereal to a much larger public. After helping his brother rebuild the San following a devastating fire in 1902, he bought the rights to the flaked cereal and struck out on his own.

Will immediately made some changes to the initial cereal his brother was serving at the San. He replaced the wheat with cheap, plentiful, better-tasting corn, and added (to his brother’s horror) malt, sugar, and salt to make the cereal more palatable to the general public. In 1906, Will Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company and the cereal we know today as Corn Flakes was born.

Postcard of Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flake Company factory, 1914, showing several red brick buildings, a water tower, and an American flag in the foreground
A postcard (99.146.41) of the Kellogg’s factory in 1914. THF316221

Will’s business acumen kicked in, as he embraced ever more sophisticated forms of advertising and packaging, as well as the most up-to-date machinery, factory practices, modes of communication, and distribution networks. By adding his signature to the front of each cereal box, he guaranteed the quality of his products to the public while also—once and for all—staking his claim to them. By 1909, the company was producing and shipping 120,000 cases of Corn Flakes every day!

Kelvinator ad, 1925, showing a woman in an apron at a refrigerator and text explaining “kelvination”
The popularity of dried cereal flakes for breakfast was in part due to improvements in both safe-to-drink milk and electric refrigerators (as shown in this 1925 ad, 2019.0.3.1) to keep the milk cold. THF290841

During Will’s active years of running the company—from 1906 to 1939—Kellogg’s became a national and ultimately global brand. These years also coincided with the growth of self-service grocery stores—in which name brand products and eye-catching packages were key to customer purchasing decisions. The success of Kellogg’s cereals was also aided by improvements in safe, pasteurized milk and the increasing popularity of electric refrigerators to keep the milk fresh.

Several mailing envelopes and folded fabric showing elf head and torso with “Snap!” printed on chef’s hat
In 1949, consumers who sent in a Kellogg’s Rice Krispies box top and 15 cents could receive this Snap! cloth doll kit (72.177.618.1). THF300027

Through Will’s leadership, the company continued to embrace new methods of advertising—cereal box coupons and giveaways, catchy jingles and character logos, colorful print ads, recipe booklets, and radio advertising. By 1939, Kellogg’s controlled over 40% of the ready-to-eat cereal business in the United States and over 50% of the business outside the U.S.

Gray plastic toy submarine, 1954, along with brown cardboard box with mailing label showing Kellogg’s as sender
The owner of this 1950s U.S.S. Nautilus submarine toy (2015.35.47) remembered sending in 25 cents and a box top from either Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks or Sugar Corn Pops to receive it through the mail. THF183318

After Will stepped down, the company continued the aggressive marketing for which it had long been known. TV commercials and sponsorships replaced those previously on radio. Facing stiff competition from other cereal companies after World War II, Kellogg’s veered from its traditional reputation for healthful cereals and introduced a succession of sugar-loaded cereals for the new Baby Boomer market. Iconic new character logos helped promote them, like Tony the Tiger (introduced with Sugar Frosted Flakes in 1952) and Toucan Sam (introduced with Froot Loops in 1963).

Brown and yellow cover of recipe booklet, Bran for All Occasions, “featuring Kellogg’s bran cereals,” ca. 1982, showing a barn and field
The interest in “natural foods” in the 1970s and 1980s included healthful grains that, ironically, Kellogg’s had initially promoted—like those in the bran cereals featured as ingredients in this circa 1982 recipe booklet (92.256.9). THF296229

For Kellogg’s and other cereal companies, pre-sweetened and classic cereals would dominate the market during the 1950s and 1960s. But, in 1972, following a trend toward more “natural” foods, a little-known company named Pet, Inc., achieved breakout success with its Heartland Natural Cereal. Mainstream cereal companies scrambled to introduce their own versions of “natural” cereals, including Kellogg’s contribution, Country Morning Natural Cereal (1975–80). The trend toward more healthful and nutritious cereals brought Kellogg’s full circle back to its roots and continues to be popular today.

Blue Kellogg's Frosted Flakes Breakfast Cereal box, 1994-1996, with orange-and-white “Tony the Tiger” and picture of racer Bill Elliott
The front of this 1990s Frosted Flakes box (96.34.3.15) both features popular character logo Tony the Tiger and alludes to Kellogg’s sponsorship of NASCAR. In keeping with the times, this pre-sweetened cereal also claims to be fat-free, cholesterol-free, and include nine essential vitamins and minerals. THF302680

Too few people today recall the names of the two Kellogg brothers who started the breakfast revolution with their toasted flake cereal some 120 years ago. But it is impossible to ignore the legacy of their contribution. Through their lifetimes, Dr. J.H. Kellogg promoted healthful living, while his brother, W.K., convinced consumers that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Meanwhile, the familiar character logos and advertising jingles for which Kellogg’s has long been famous remain in our heads and hearts.

For more reading, see: The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, by Howard Markel (2017) and The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch, by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis (2011).


Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, fondly remembers watching all those Corn Flakes commercials when Kellogg’s sponsored her favorite pre-teen TV show, The Monkees.

Michigan, food, by Donna R. Braden

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Keystone Stereograph #149 “Harvesting Celery Blanched by Boards, in Michigan’s Famous Celery Fields, Kalamazoo, Mich. THF 145691

What comes to mind when you think of celery (Apium graveolens L. var. dulce)? The essential ingredient in chicken soup, an attractive tomato drink garnish, a low-calorie and healthy snack (with peanut butter added!), or all of the above? The low-calorie nutritious vegetable (in the same family – Apiaceae -- as the herb, parsley) can also lead you on a journey through local history, consumer demand, patent medicine promotion, and commodity chains that spanned the globe.

The ancient Greeks and Romans harvested seeds from wild celery, also called smallage (Apium graveolens L. var. secalinum). It grew best in temperate climates and in moist soils. The plant stalk and leaves had curative properties and seeds had a strong flavor and scent when dried and when processed into essential oil. Europeans included celery seed into tincture recipes in pharmacopeia and cultivated the crop in gardens by the mid-1600s. Over centuries plant-breeders created celery varieties with taller tastier stalks. Thus, celery shifted from a landrace (a plant evolving in a location over time) to a market garden crop by the mid-19th century. Celery growers in the Grand Rapids area helped make it an international commodity.

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Kalamazoo Celery Company, How to Grow Celery, 1886

The Celery Fields near Grand Rapids, Michigan
Agricultural stories start with land access (or lack thereof).

The introduction and expansion of celery cultivation in west central Michigan began in the decades following removal and confinement of indigenous people. Maps indicate the rapid changes that occurred as lands once tended by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi became the property of Euro-Americans.

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John Farmer published this map in 1831 and marketed it as “The Emigrant’s Guide; or, Pocket Gazetteer of the Surveyed Part of Michigan.” It included “An improved map of the surveyed part of the Territory of Michigan.” THF136462

The wetlands that once sustained indigenous agriculture became a commodity that other entrepreneurs used to build a celery empire. The map that J. H. Young produced in 1835, “The Tourist’s Pocket Map of Michigan,” implies a leisurely pursuit, but instead, developing land into productive farms consumed time and money, and it required brute force. Yet, settlement equated to “progress” and economic growth in the expanding nation and in the territory of Michigan.

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J. H. Young, “The Tourist’s Pocket Map of Michigan,” 1835. THF136466

Celery Entrepreneurs
Different individuals, all migrants to the area, receive credit for launching the celery enterprise. George Taylor, a Scottish market gardener, reputedly introduced commercial celery growing in the United States when he settled in Kalamazoo in 1855.

Other individuals, all well-heeled citizens of the area received credit as celery pioneers. Joseph Dunkley, an immigrant from Somersetshire, England, established celery fields by 1866 north of Kalamazoo and began shipping his crop via rail in 1880 to eastern and southern markets. Glenn Douglass Stuart received most acclaim -- “Were the lovers of this esculent herb to have a voice he would be crowned what he is already, ‘The Celery King’.” Stuart arrived from Gowanda, New York, via Oberlin, Ohio, in 1883, and by 1892 his biography in the 1892 Portrait and Biographical Record claimed that his firm (based in celery) employed one-quarter of the Kalamazoo population.

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Joseph Dunkley’s nursery business, Kalamazoo, Michigan,Portrait and Biographical Record of Kalamazoo, Allegan andOttawa Counties” (1892), pg. 935.

Lands further west developed as celery fields later. Celery pioneer George Hudson introduced the crop to Grand Haven around 1878, according to the 1892 history of Ottawa, County, Michigan. Hudson immigrated from Devonshire, England, worked as a market gardener in New York, and a lumberman in Spring Lake before settling down to celery in the Grand Rapids area.

Advertisement of George Hudson, “Historical and Business Compendium of Ottawa County, Michigan” (1892), pg. 30; with information on Mr. Hudson (pgs. 192-193).

Immense fields of celery thrived by 1880, and dominated in celery production to the 1940s, earning two cities on both ends of the celery zone the names “Celery City” (Kalamazoo) and “Celery Center” (Hudsonville).

Laborers in the Fields
While some immigrants received accolades for establishing the industry, other individuals received little recognition for the labor they performed. Families who migrated from The Netherlands did the bulk of the work turning wet soils into fertile celery fields between Kalamazoo and Hudsonville. Stereographs and postcards depict the intense physical labor that farm owners and laborers performed.

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Keystone Stereograph #149 “Harvesting Celery Blanched by Boards, in Michigan’s Famous Celery Fields, Kalamazoo, Mich. THF145692

Growing Celery
Before celery growing became concentrated in the area near Grand Rapids, market gardeners raised the spring vegetable and sold it directly to customers in public markets. The May 15, 1849 issue of The Michigan Farmer included growing directions from an English gardener. He advised planting the seeds in January in a greenhouse (and following with additional plantings in February and March to stagger harvests and meet market demand). Then growers should transplant the seedlings to the garden and protect the plant with a “hand glass.” Growers then earthed up the celery, setting the plants in trenches and hilling the soil around them to shield stalks and leaves from the sun. This reduced the acidic taste and stringiness of the stalks.

Such intensive cultivation practices yielded a crop that met the demand of wealthier customers seeking a spring tonic. A speaker explained the advantages of celery to members of the Kalamazoo Agricultural Society in 1850 -- celery was “peculiarly acceptable because it comes when our horticulture has no other fresh supplies to offer us.” The only other vegetables available at the time included potatoes, turnips, and cabbage. Such intensive

After Harvest
Wealthier families displayed the fresh leafy celery stalks in glass vases like this one. The vase held chilled water that helped keep celery stalks fresh during formal dinners. Diners consumed the carefully cultivated stalks raw.

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Celery Vase, 1820-1840. THF 168522

The cost of celery declined as mass production and marketing reduced the cost per bunch. This shifted celery from a delicacy to an essential vegetable for a growing non-gardening population.

Celery after harvest, took other forms.

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Product Label for Celebrated Celery Sauce by Heinz & Noble, "Put Up Expressly for Family Use," 1871. THF117109

Product marketing often featured larger-than-life products derived from celery.

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Heinz wagon with Celery Sauce advertising, circa 1879. THF 117121

Celery, the vegetable grown around Grand Rapids, attracted the attention of health food entrepreneurs like Dr. Vincent C. Price (1832-1914). He purchased Tryabita Celery Food Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1902 and operated it as Price Cereal Food Company. He also produced and marketed Dr. Price’s Wheat Flake Celery Food as essential for the health of vegetarians and the infirm.

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Advertising Poster, "Dr. Price's Food, Nature's Food for Man, the Only Wheat Flake Celery Food," circa 1910. THF 96676

Celery growers in the Grand Rapids area helped establish the crop in Sanford, Florida, in 1895. Growers planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. By 1898 they started shipping their crop via refrigerated railcars to northern markets including Philadelphia and New York City. California growers also established celery fields from Kalamazoo stock by the late 1890s, but their harvest reached market during the fall, thus theoretically avoiding direct competition with other growing areas.

Celery did not appear on lists of common garden vegetables because creating a tasty crop required more work than most hobby gardeners wanted to commit to the crop. Thus, celery did not usually appear in photographs or graphic arts that depicted garden baskets laden with potatoes, beets, cabbage, turnips, and other vegetables. This poster from World War I proves an exception, featuring a schoolboy with a healthy bunch of celery in his basket (on the left side, between the onions and the beets).

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World War I Poster, "Raised 'Em Myself in my U.S. School Garden," circa 1918. THF112810

As salads became a more common element of American dinners, fresh celery gained more visibility. This advertisement for Heinz vinegar (an essential salad-dressing ingredient) included a bunch of celery, along with another relatively new addition to American dinners, iceberg lettuce (behind the celery and the vinegar bottle).

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Advertising Layout Drawing for Heinz Vinegar, 1924. THF292743

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Celery reached consumers in packing crates. Storekeepers usually displayed the crop in the crate, as this image of J. F. Ryder’s Market in Maine, shows.

Grower cooperatives helped expand markets during the early 20th century. The Celery Growers of Michigan existed at least by 1935, the year that growers specified six standard packages for celery. This container was a "square" at the ends (8 inches by 8 inches) and it held celery bunches laid flat that were 10 inches to 18 inches in length.

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This “square” packing crate likely came full of celery from the farm operated by Ralph Schut, a descendant of Dutch immigrants in Georgetown Township/Hudsonville, aka “Celery Center.”
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Historically, celery was much more than a garnish in your favorite tomato-juice drink.

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Heinz Tomato Juice Advertisement, “Talk About Your Aristocracy!,” circa 1935. THF252238

Why are there more tulips in Holland and the Grand Rapids area today than celery? Growers responded to disease affecting their crops and increased competition reducing their market dominant by concentrating their resources on horticulture. Many celery growers already had green houses and operated nurseries, so they diversified their production by adding bedding plants and flowers to their market crops.

The region’s celery history remains visible through the Celery Flats Interpretive Center in Portage and in celery fields managed by grower-members of the Michigan Celery Cooperative, founded in 1951.

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

by Debra A. Reid, Michigan, food, agriculture

What measures do you use to judge whether food is “healthy”? What connections do you see between healthy food and healthy communities? Today the concept of “food security” links nutritious food to individual and community health. This blog features historical resources in the collections of The Henry Ford that help us explore the meaning of “food security.” Many relate to the work of Black agricultural scientist George Washington Carver with Black farm families in and around Tuskegee, Alabama, between the 1890s and 1940s.

What Does "Food Security" Mean to You?
A big meal often symbolizes food security. You can almost smell the roast goose (once preferred to turkey) and taste the fresh apples, oranges and bananas in this centerpiece on a family’s holiday table!

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Family Seated at Dining Table for a Holiday Meal, circa 1945. THF98738

But does having a big meal on special occasions mean that a person, a family, or a community is “food secure”?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) explains that a person is “food secure” if they have regular access to safe and nutritious food in amounts required for normal growth and development and in quantity and calories needed to maintain an active and healthy life.

Students at this South Carolina school all appear healthy. This implies that they have access to a quantity of nutritious food necessary for normal growth. It also implies that they consume it consistently which helped keep them healthy and better able to complete their schoolwork.

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School Teacher and Her Students, Pinehurst Tea Plantation, Summerville, South Carolina, circa 1903. THF115900

Historically, many farm families raised much of the food they needed to survive, including meat, vegetables, grains, and fruit. The Mattox family farmed their own land, and they dedicated time and energy to tending their garden and raising their own beans and sweet corn (as pictured in this photograph). Being responsible for your own food supply required careful planning and hard work year-round because families had to grow, process, preserve, and then prepare and consume what they (and their livestock) ate. As long as everything went according to plan, and no disasters arose, a family might be food secure.

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Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village, 1991. THF45319

Many factors led to food insecurity. This indenture for three orphaned children, William (7 yrs old), Dennis (5 yrs old) and Henry (18 months old), specified that they receive “a sufficiency of food.” What did “sufficiency” mean? Consuming calories might provide energy to work, but calories alone did not (and do not) ensure a healthy life. Furthermore, being unfree made these indentured children dependent on someone else who might have other ideas about what “sufficiency of food” meant.

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Indenture for "...Colored Children Named William, Dennis & Henry," July 20, 1866. THF8563

Cotton and Food Insecurity
Southern farm families often grew cotton as their cash crop. Farm families could not eat cotton though the seed yielded byproducts used in livestock feed, and oil that became a popular cooking ingredient. Landowners and tenant farmers could strategize how much cotton to grow, and could plant corn to feed their hogs, and could dedicate land for a garden. Yet, many families across the rural South, Black and white alike, farmed cotton, and they received a share of the crop they grew as payment for a year of labor. Owners expected these sharecroppers to focus their energy on the cash crop – cotton - and not spend valuable labor on raising their own food. Instead, families became even more economically insecure by buying inexpensive food on credit.

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Picking Cotton, Louisiana, 1883-1900.
THF278896

Many sharecroppers and agricultural laborers in the South lived on a diet of meat (pork), meal (cornmeal) and molasses (processed from either sugar cane or sorghum) – the 3M diet. While pork in its many forms (including lard sandwiches) and cornbread with molasses provided much needed calories, the 3M diet did not deliver nutrients needed to maintain health. Niacin deficiencies led to the debilitating disease, pellagra, which afflicted impoverished people across the South and beyond.

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Trade Card for Silver Leaf Lard, Swift & Company, 1870-1900. THF225588

Inadequate supplies of food, and diets lacking in nutrients, undermined food security. Racism also undermined access to adequate foods. Graphic arts advertising southern staples often reinforced racist stereotypes rather than reality – that Black women often held positions of authority as Black cooks who prepared meals for others who could afford fresh foods and a varied and nutritious diet.

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Advertising Poster, "Old Fashion Molasses," circa 1900. THF8044

Improving rural health required a revolution that reduced the dependency on cotton and increased the types of crops grown for market. George Washington Carver, the first Black American to hold an advanced degree in agricultural science, used his knowledge to try to convince farmers to improve soils to increase cotton yields, but to also raise additional crops such as sweet potatoes and peanuts.

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George Washington Carver's Graduation Photo from Iowa State University, 1893. THF214111

George Washington Carver’s Work with Peanuts
Many associate Carver with peanut butter, but his relationship to peanuts far exceeds peanut butter.

A man in Montreal, Canada, secured a U.S. Patent for peanut candy – a paste sweetened with sugar – in 1884. At that time George W. Carver had been living for five years in Kansas working as a cook and laborer. Between 1886 and 1888, after being refused entry into a college in Kansas, Carver homesteaded near Beeler, Kansas.

Alabama, the location of Tuskegee Institute, where Carver went to work in 1896, ranked fourth in peanut production in 1900 behind Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. Farmers in these states raised most of the raw product that Northern food processors like H.J. Heinz dry roasted and ground into peanut butter. This Heinz peanut-butter packaging features a blond blue-eyed girl in a grain field holding lilacs. This did not accurately represent southern farm families raising the high-quality crop that Heinz depended on for its “choicest peanuts.”

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Trade Card for H.J. Heinz Company, “Mama’s Favorites,” circa 1905. THF215296

As consumer demand for peanut butter increased, production increased. Nutritionists understood the value of peanuts and of peanut butter as an inexpensive source of plant-based protein, fats, minerals and vitamins. Farm families could eat their own home-grown peanuts but could also find a ready market for them.

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Women grinding peanuts into peanut butter at Heinz. THF292973

Tuskegee, Alabama was located just north of the peanut-growing region of southeastern Alabama. Carver set about to convince Black landowning farmers in and around Tuskegee to take advantage of the market opportunity. Orchestrating a more complete overhaul of cotton-dependent Alabama agriculture required convincing white landowners to free sharecroppers from requirements to grow only cotton. Others sought a revolution in civil rights through legal means. Even though many criticized the self-help message, families who ate better could channel new-found energy toward securing civil rights and social justice.

Carver appealed to his constituents in writing. He linked concerns about health and nutrition to economic independence in his May 1917 pamphlet, “How to Grow the Peanut.”

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Bulletin, How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption, 1917. THF213329

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Carver described the peanut as having “limitless possibilities.” The “nuts possess a wider range of food values than other legumes.” THF213331

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Carver described 105 ways to prepare the peanut – ground, boiled, roasted, and as a main ingredient in soups, salads, candy, and replacement for chicken, and other meats. THF213335

Crop Innovations
Carver applied his life-long fascination with plants to identify crops in addition to the peanut that had the potential to displace cotton. He used this weeder to collect specimens. He studied their molecular composition, extracted byproducts, and devised new uses for them.

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Weeder Used by George Washington Carver at Greenfield Village, 1942; Gift of Henry and Clara Ford. THF152234.

Carver promoted crops through short publications that stressed financial and food security.

Some crops occurred naturally, the wild plum, for instance, which landowning farmers might have on their property but that they undervalued as a food source.

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Bulletin, “43 Ways to Save the Wild Plum Crop,” 1917. THF288049

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During World War I, Carver promoted crops that Alabama farmers grew, but that could be processed into alternatives to wheat flour. THF290275

During the 1920s, Carver urged farmers to grow even more crops that they could eat, such as sweet potatoes.

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How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes, 1925. THF37735

During the 1930s, as economic conditions worsened during the Great Depression, Carver published a pamphlet focused on growing the tomato, a vitamin- and mineral-rich food source.

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Bulletin, “How to Grow the Tomato and 115 Ways to Prepare it for the Table,” 1936. THF288043

Carver, Food Byproducts, and Food Security  
Carver’s research into plant byproducts and new foods from farm crops caught the attention of Henry Ford.

Carver and Clara and Henry Ford corresponded about topics as practical as gravy made from soy and peanut flour, and as personal as digestive systems.

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Letter from George Washington Carver to Clara Ford, March 19, 1940. THF213553

Henry Ford recognized Carver’s inspiration by naming the Nutrition Laboratory in his honor on 21 July 1942.

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George Washington Carver and Edsel Ford at the Carver Nutrition Laboratory, Dearborn, Michigan, 1942. THF213823

Peanut Oil: A Byproducts Many Uses
Carver explained that peanut oil (separated from peanut paste) was “one of the best-known vegetable oils.” You can see oil, sitting atop the peanut paste, if you look for “natural peanut butter” at your local grocery store. Food chemists experimented with how to prevent the oil from separating from the ground peanut paste. Preventing separation requires hydrogenation, which changes the chemical composition of unsaturated fats and turns them into saturated fats. Heinz drafted advertisements to promote the new hydrogenated peanut butter to consumers as this example indicates.

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At Last! No oil on top. THF292249

The varied uses of peanut oil that Carver promoted increased market opportunities for impoverished farmers which increased their food security. To that end, Carver experimented with peanut oil as a rub to relieve the discomfort that polio patients suffered. While science could not link the peanut oil itself to positive benefits, the process of messaging the oil into the patient reduced pain by manipulating the muscles.

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Photographic print, Austin Curtis, George Washington Carver, Henry Ford, Wilbur Donaldson and Frank Campsall Inspect Bottles of Peanut Oil, Tuskegee Institute, March 1938. THF213794

Healthy Communities
Building healthy communities started with individuals but grew through collective effort. Farm families, schools, businesses, church groups, and investors each committed resources to the cause. National intervention furthered local goals. The 1946 National School Lunch Act increased access to good food for all school children, not just those who could help themselves.

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Photographic Print, Cafeteria at George Washington Carver School, Richmond Hill, Georgia, circa 1947. THF135671

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

#THFCuratorChat, George Washington Carver, food, by Debra A. Reid, agriculture, African American history

Refrigerated rail transport revolutionized meatpacking and other agricultural industries by broadening the markets for fresh produce. Refrigerator cars enabled farmers in regions with extended growing seasons, such as Florida and California, to market perishable foods across the country--greatly expanding agricultural production and allowing people in cold climates to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

Serious experimentation with ice-cooled refrigerated railroad car design began in the 1860s. At first, refrigerator cars primarily shipped meat from Chicago to cities in the eastern United States. But by the late 1890s, refrigerated shipping of all kinds of perishable foods by railroad had become big business. When this refrigerator car was built in 1924, there were 150,000 such cars in use.

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Fruit Growers Express Company, a pioneer in refrigerator car service, operated this car from 1924 until 1971. THF68309

This car was built and operated by Fruit Growers Express Company of Alexandria, Virginia, a pioneer in refrigerator car service. To cool the car, laborers loaded blocks of ice through roof hatches at each end into two large bunkers. Fans driven by the car’s axles helped to circulate the cool air. Mats of felted flax or cattle hair lined the floor and walls of the car to insulate delicate cargo against both hot and cold temperature extremes.

Ice melted quickly in refrigerator cars, despite their clever design. Fruit Growers Express and other refrigerator car companies maintained a nationwide network of ice-making and ice-loading facilities to support their business. They carefully coordinated transportation schedules and labor, because to prevent spoiled cargo, trains had to reach icing stations on time and workers had to be available to move food to market quickly once it reached its destination. Special trains made up entirely of refrigerator cars were sometimes given right-of-way priority over other traffic.

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Refrigerator car companies carefully coordinated transportation schedules and labor to prevent cargo from spoiling before delivery to market. THF145082

Mechanically cooled refrigerator trucks began to replace rail transport for perishable goods after World War II, but The Henry Ford’s refrigerator car had a lengthy career. Following a rebuild in 1948, it remained in service until 1971. Today, in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, it serves as an example of a railway innovation that revolutionized American agriculture.

railroads, food

Florida oranges on grocery store shelves in Minnesota. Fresh blueberries from Chile at fruit markets in New England -- in the middle of winter. Beef processed and packaged in Texas purchased and consumed by families in the Carolinas. Whether we realize it or not, our relationship with food is directly dependent on the transportation industry. And it has been for nearly 200 years.

“As the U.S. became more urbanized, the demand for fresh food shipped over long distances increased,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. Before widespread adoption of refrigerated railcars after the Civil War, such variety of eats was unfathomable. People ate what was grown in their immediate area. Farming was a local endeavor. “Refrigerated cars revolutionized the agriculture industry,” said Anderson. A growing desire to move processed and packaged beef hundreds of miles, rather than a whole herd of living cattle, sparked the larger movement to cool things down inside the railcars.

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At first, refrigerator cars primarily shipped meat from Chicago to cities in the eastern United States. THF110235


The Henry Ford has a refrigerator car, built in 1924 for Fruit Growers Express, in its collection. Cooling was provided by ice, loaded through roof hatches into large compartments at each end of the car. Fans, driven by the car’s axles, helped to circulate the cool air. “I consider our Fruit Growers Express car to be the cornerstone of our food transportation collection,” said Anderson. “Refrigerator cars like this changed the American diet, permitting fresh produce and meat to be shipped anywhere in the U.S.” Discover how West Coast fruit growers marketed their produce to the new markets opened up by refrigerated rail transport in this blog post.

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Refrigerator cars enabled farmers in regions with extended growing seasons to market fresh produce, like California grapefruit, year-round across the country. THF295680

And while we’re talking about moving fruit and keeping it fresh, ponder this: When McDonald’s introduced sliced apples to its menu in 2011, it quickly became the largest purchaser of apple slices at 60 billion pounds per year. Give some thought to who grows all those apples and how they get where they need to go.

This post originally ran in the June-December 2015 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine

railroads, agriculture, food

This Father’s Day treat dad to two favorite dishes from our chefs at The Henry Ford – pulled pork from A Taste of History and pioneering cookbook author Fannie Farmer’s macaroni and cheese.

A Taste of History Pulled Pork
This true summertime favorite will take a little extra time, but it is so worth it. This will freeze and reheat well, so you can have many meals from it.

1 cup chili powder
½ cup ground cumin
½ cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground oregano
½ cup kosher salt
1 boneless pork shoulder (pork butt), about 8 pounds                    

Mix the dry ingredients together to make a spice rub. (This rub can be used to season almost anything that goes on a grill.) Generously coat the pork on all sides with the spice rub, then wrap it in plastic and refrigerate overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the meat in a covered baking dish, Dutch oven or roasting pan, leaving plenty of space around the meat. Add warm water until the pork is almost half submerged (the amount will vary according to the dish used). Bake for 5-6 hours or until fork-tender. If there is any doubt, let it cook longer. Once out of the oven, drain the liquid, reserving it for the barbecue sauce (recipe below), and let pork cool on the counter until easier to handle, about 1 hour. Using forks or tongs, shred the pork, but not too fine. Remove any large fat pieces.

A Taste of History Pulled Pork Barbecue Sauce

¼ cup olive oil
16 ounces sliced onions
2  12-ounce cans plum tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup molasses
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
½ cup prepared mustard

While the pork is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pot and cook the onions until tender. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour, whisking often. Add the reserved liquid from the cooked pork, first pouring off the fat from the top. While the barbecue sauce is still hot, pour it over the shredded pork and mix it in. Cover and keep warm until served.

Serve the pulled pork on your favorite burger buns, a baked potato, cornbread or by itself. Bread and butter pickles are a perfect side.

Fannie Farmer Mac and Cheese
½ pound butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound elbow noodles
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided


mac-and-cheese
Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt butter in large saucepan. Add flour to butter, cooking until a very light tan while stirring constantly. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently simmer for 15-20 minutes until flour taste is gone. Meanwhile, cook the noodles in salted water until tender; drain well. Combine the hot noodles, milk mixture and 2 cups of the cheese. Put into baking pan and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake until cheese is lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes, depending on desired crispness. Enjoy immediately. It will also hold nicely for an hour if kept warm. 

recipes, food

Many of us have been baking a bit more than usual while staying at home. So, let’s take look at how America’s favorite cookie, the chocolate chip, was born.

Before we get to chocolate chips, let’s talk chocolate. It’s made from the beans of the cacao tree and was introduced by the Aztec and Mayan peoples to Europeans in the late 1500s.  Then a dense, frothy beverage thickened with cornmeal and flavored with chilies, vanilla, and spices, it was used in ancient ceremonies.

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Map of the Americas, 1550. THF284540

Colonial Americans imported cacao from the West Indies. They consumed it as a hot beverage, made from ground cacao beans, sugar, vanilla and water, and served it in special chocolate pots.

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Chocolate Pot, 1760-1790  THF145291

In the 1800s, chocolate made its way into an increasing number of foods, things like custards, puddings, and cookies, and onto chocolate-covered candy. It was not just for drinking anymore!

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Trade Card, Granite Ironware, 1880-1890 THF299872

Today, most Americans say chocolate is their favorite flavor. Are you a milk or dark chocolate fan? My vote? Dark chocolate.

Cookies were special treats into the early 1800s; sweeteners were costly and cookies took more time and labor to make. Imagine easing them in and out of a brick fireplace over with a long-handled peel.

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Detail of late 18th century kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen for yourself with this virtual visit.

As kitchen technology improved in the early 1900s, especially the ability to regulate oven temperature, America’s cookie repertoire grew.

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Detail of 1930s kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen yourself with this virtual visit

mousse
Until the 1930s, baking chocolate was melted in a double boiler before being added to cookie dough. Check out this 1920 recipe for Chocolate Mousse from our historic recipe bank.   

Then came Ruth Graves Wakefield and the chocolate chip cookie. Ruth, a graduate of the Framingham State Normal School of Household Arts, had taught high school home economics and had worked as a dietitian. 

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Image: "Overlooked No More: Ruth Wakefield, Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie" from The New York Times

In 1930, 27-year-old Ruth and her husband Kenneth opened a restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts called the Toll House Inn. The building had never been a toll house, but was located on an early road between Boston and New Bedford. The restaurant would grow from seven tables to 60. 

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Toll House Inn business card, 1930s. THF183299

A quick aside: our 1820s Rocks Village Toll House in Greenfield Village. Early travelers paid tolls to use roads or cross bridges. This one collected fares for crossing the Merrimack River.   

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Rocks Village, Massachusetts toll house in Greenfield Village. THF2033

With Ruth Wakefield’s background in household arts, she was well-prepared to put together a menu for her restaurant. It was a great location. The Toll House Inn served not only the locals, but people passing through on their way between Boston and Cape Cod. 

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Toll House Inn business card, 1930s. THF18330

Over time, Ruth’s reputation grew, and the restaurant became well-known for her skillful cooking, wonderful desserts, and excellent service.  On the back of this circa 1945 Toll House Inn postcard, a customer wrote: “…down here two weeks ago & had a grand dinner.” 

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Toll House Inn postcard, about 1945. THF183298

Ruth Wakefield, curious and willing to experiment, liked to create new dishes and desserts to delight her customers. The inn had been serving a butterscotch cookie--which everyone loved--but Ruth wanted to “give them something different.”

About 1938, Ruth had an inspiration. She chopped up a Nestle’s semisweet chocolate bar with an ice pick and stirred the bits into her sweet butter cookie batter.  The chocolate bits melted--and didn’t spread, remaining in chunks throughout the dough.    

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Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125196

Legend has it that the cookies were an accident--that Ruth had expected to get all-chocolate cookies when the chocolate melted. One of those “creation myths?” A great marketing tale? Ruth was a meticulous cook and food science savvy. She said it was a deliberate experiment.

The marriage of sweet, buttery cookie dough and semisweet chocolate was a hit--the cookies quickly became popular with guests. Ruth shared the recipe when asked. Local newspapers published it.  And she included it in the 1938 edition of her “Tried and True Recipes” cookbook.

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The Toll House, Whitman, Massachusetts, circa 1945. THF183297

Nestle’s saw sales of its semisweet chocolate bar jump dramatically in New England--especially after the cookie was featured on a local radio show.  When Nestle discovered why, they signed a contract with Ruth Wakefield, allowing Nestle to print the recipe on every package. 

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Nestle’s truck, 1934. Z0001194


Nestle began scoring its semisweet chocolate bar, packaging it with a small chopper for easy cutting into morsels. The result was chocolate “chips”--hence the name.   

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Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125194

In 1939, Nestle introduced semisweet morsels. Baking Toll House Cookies became even more convenient, since you didn’t have to cut the chocolate into pieces.

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Toll House Cookies and Other Favorite Chocolate Recipes Made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate, 1941. THF183303

Nestle included the Toll House Cookie “backstory” and the recipe in booklets promoting their semisweet chocolate. 

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During World War II, Nestle encouraged people to send Toll House Cookies to soldiers. For many, it was their first taste of a chocolate chip cookie--its popularity spread beyond New England.

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Advertisement, "His One Weakness, Toll House Cookies from Home" November 1943. 
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The homemaker in this 1940s Nestle’s ad celebrates her success as a hostess when serving easy-to-make Toll House Cookies. Chocolate chips would, indeed, soon become our “national cookie.” 

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They Never Get Enough of My Toll-House Cookies!, 1945-1950. THF183304

Chocolate chip morsels were a great idea, so other companies followed suit.

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Recipe Leaflet, "9 Famous Recipes for Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Dainties," 1956. THF295928

Other delectable treats, like these “Chocolate Refresher” bars shown in this 1960 ad, can be made with chocolate morsels. The possibilities are endless.

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Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels Advertisement, "Goody for You," 1960. THF43907

More from The Henry Ford: Enjoy a quick “side trip” to this blog about more American chocolate classics.

Holiday baking is a cherished tradition for many. Chocolate chip cookies are frequently a key player in the seasonal repertoire. Hallmark captured holiday baking memories in this ornament.

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Hallmark "Christmas Cookies" Christmas Ornament, 2004. THF177747

The museum’s 1946 Lamy’s Diner serves Toll House Cookies. Whip up a batch of chocolate chips at home and enjoy a virtual visit

Cookie dough + chocolate chips = America’s favorite cookie! It may have been simple, but no one else had ever tried it before! Hats off to Ruth Wakefield!

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Toll House Cookies and Other Favorite Chocolate Recipes Made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate, 1941. THF183301

After all this talk of all things chocolate, are you ready for a cookie? This well-known cookie lover probably is!

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Cookie Monster Toy Clock, 1982-1986. THF318447 

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

women's history, #THFCuratorChat, entrepreneurship, recipes, food, by Jeanine Head Miller

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THF293101 / Stock Crate Label for an Unknown Brand of Asparagus, 1906-1966

With asparagus season in full swing, we’ve searched  our Historic Recipe Bank and Eagle Tavern Cookbook for spring menu inspiration.

Our first recipe, Cold Asparagus Salad with Sesame Seeds, is from the 1997 edition of The All New Joy of Cooking. Since it came out in 1931, The Joy of Cooking has become the essential culinary bible for many, with generations of home cooks learning to cook from it. The Joy of Cooking has been revised over the years, with its fans championing their favorite editions.

See more recipes from various editions of this well-known cookbook in our Historic Recipe Bank.

Our second recipe, Asparagus Pie, comes from our culinary team at The Henry Ford and takes its cues from Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village.

Try both of these recipes at home and share how they turned out.

Cold Asparagus Salad with Sesame Seeds (4 to 6 Servings)

Whisk together in a small bowl:
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2½ tablespoons sugar

Toast in a small skillet until golden brown then immediately stir into the dressing:
4 teaspoons sesame seeds

Place in a large pot of boiling water:
1½ pounds asparagus, peeled and cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces

Cook for no more than 1½ minutes for thin asparagus or 2½ minutes for thicker. Immediately drain and refill the pot with cold running water until all of the heat has left the asparagus. Drain again and dry thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until the salad is cold, about 1 hour. Toss with the dressing and serve.

Eagle Tavern Asparagus Pie
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon whole butter
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 eggs
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
9-inch pie shell

Clean the asparagus, removing and discarding woody ends; trim the rest to ½-inch pieces.

Heat oven to 350 F. In a skillet over medium heat, heat butter. When hot, add asparagus and partially cook for 4-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Whisk together sour cream, cheese, eggs and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper.

Place the cooled asparagus on the bottom of the pie shell and add the whisked egg mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until set and golden brown. Allow the pie to rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

recipes, food

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Hobo Bread, ingeniously baked in a can, brings the vagabond tales of the resourceful American hobos to your home. The Henry Ford lives to tell the innovative and compelling stories of American life through artifacts, exhibits and even food. Whether for breakfast, sandwiches or as a dessert, this original recipe allows you to enjoy an American tradition that once turned strangers on the track into family.

Ingredients
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups raisins
- 4 teaspoons baking soda
- 4 teaspoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups walnuts
- 4 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions
1. Pour boiling water over raisins; let cool.
2. Stir in baking soda and other ingredients.
3. Fill 3 greased and floured 28-ounce cans to half full (remove paper labels from cans before starting the baking process).
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to an hour.
5. Cool and remove from cans.

Yield: 3 loaves

recipes, food