(top black & white photos) Thanks to the genius of Clarence Birdseye (my new hero) we can have fresh vegetables all year round. (the rest of the images) Lima Beans: putting the suck in succotash since, well, I’d say the beginning of time.
Lima beans. A tough vegetable. Growing up, I had my share of questionable veggies that I’d eat. But, in my family of 17 brothers and sisters, I have come to realize that we were foodies before it became fashionable. Dad and Mom were always “creating” eclectic dishes. So I ate, and learned to pretty much eat everything. For all of you who know me, I love food with a few exceptions. Lima beans (they should be used as filler in bean bags only), maple frosting and sweet potatoes. Now other than that I am pretty much good to go with all kinds of food. Now you see why my posts reference running! This past weekend I was doing some shopping, I love shopping on Saturday mornings for the samples and wandered into the frozen food aisle. I was amazed at all the things that are frozen – breakfast sandwiches, chicken, desserts, and Mexican foods. And there it was – Birdseye brand. I grabbed my frozen corn, and headed home. My curious brain had me on the internet when I got home, and sure enough, I got reading about Clarence Frank Birdseye II, born Dec 1886, considered the founder of the frozen food industry. Being a man crazed with temperatures, thermal processing, and PIA Jobs, I met a new hero (minus the lima beans). Here’s some fun facts from Wikipedia – enjoy.
- Clarence Frank Birdseye II(December 9, 1886 – October 7, 1956) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, and naturalist, and is considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food
- He was born in Brooklyn, New York, the sixth of nine children of Clarence Frank Birdseye I and Ada Jane Underwood – (nine kids – he gets it – eat or go hungry).
- Birdseye attended Montclair High Schoolin New Jersey, and due to financial difficulties completed only two years at Amherst College, where his father and elder brother had earned degrees. He subsequently moved west working for the United States Agriculture Department.
- Birdseye began his career as a taxidermist. He also worked in New Mexico and Arizona as an “assistant naturalist”, a job that involved killing off coyotes. While in Montana, he captured several hundred small mammals, removing several thousand ticks for research, and isolated them as the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
- Birdseye’s next field assignment, was in Labradorin the Dominion of Newfoundland (now part of Canada), where he became further interested in food preservation. He was taught by the Inuithow to ice fish under very thick ice. In -40 °C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh. He recognized immediately that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador, and saw that applying this knowledge would be lucrative. (His journals from this period, which record these observations, are held in the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College).
- Conventional freezing methods of the time were commonly done at higher temperatures, and thus the freezing occurred much more slowly, giving ice crystals more time to grow. It is now known that fast freezing produces smaller ice crystals, which cause less damage to the tissue structure. When ‘slow’ frozen foods thaw, cellular fluids leak from the ice crystal-damaged tissue, giving the resulting food a mushy or dry consistency upon preparation. Birdseye solved this problem.
- In 1922, Birdseye conducted fish-freezing experiments at the Clothel Refrigerating Company, and then established his own company, Birdseye Seafoods Inc., to freeze fish fillets with chilled air at -43 °C (-45 °F). In 1924, his company went bankrupt for lack of consumer interest in the product. That same year he developed an entirely new process for commercially viable quick-freezing: packing fish in cartons, then freezing the contents between two refrigerated surfaces under pressure. Birdseye created a new company, General Seafood Corporation, to promote this method.
- In 1925, his General Seafood Corporation moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where it employed Birdseye’s newest invention, the double belt freezer, in which cold brine chilled a pair of stainless steel belts carrying packaged fish, freezing the fish quickly. His invention was subsequently issued as US Patent #1,773,079, marking the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry. Birdseye took out patents on other machinery, which cooled even more quickly, so that only small ice crystals could form and cell membranes were not damaged. In 1927, he began to extend the process beyond fish to quick-freezing of meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.
- In 1929, Birdseye sold his company and patentsfor $22 million to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company, which eventually became General Foods Corporation, and which founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company. Birdseye continued to work with the company, further developing frozen food technology.
- In 1930, the company began sales experiments in 18 retail stores around Springfield, Massachusetts, to test consumer acceptance of quick-frozen foods. The initial product line featured 26 items, including 18 cuts of frozen meat, spinach and peas, a variety of fruits and berries, blue point oysters, and fish fillets. Consumers liked the new products and today this is considered the birth of retail frozen foods. The “Birds Eye” name remains a leading frozen-food brand.
- On Nov 3, 1952, Birdseye officially sells its first official bag of frozen peas (likely much to the delight of my young mother – too bad they learned how to freeze lima beans.)
- In 2005, Birdseye was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Today, Birds Eyeis an American international brand of frozen foods owned by Pinnacle Foods in North America and by Nomad Foods in Europe. Moms across America continue to give their kids lima beans – thanks Clarence!