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Crunchy Triscuits go back 110 years

By Karen Bjornland
Monday, December 30, 2013

Got Triscuits? As you crunch that cracker, consider this crumb of trivia:

In 1903, before most people had cars and telephones, they were eating Triscuits.

National Biscuit Company made the whole-wheat wafers in Niagara Falls and boasted in their ads that they were “Baked by Electricity.”

If you are looking for ideas for what to put on your Triscuits, go to brands.nabisco.com. At the end of this column, you’ll also find my recipe for “Mom’s Quick Cheese Ball & Triscuits.”

I got curious about the crackers on a recent visit to the exhibit “What’s for Dinner?” at the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls.

Near the gallery entrance, a glass case is filled with packaged foods and snacks that have long histories, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Oreo and Barnum’s Animal Crackers.

“Can you guess when each product originated?,” the label says.

“What’s for Dinner?” is a delicious, bite-sized, 150-year history of American eating habits, from 1870 to 1930.

I found out that the first American cookbook appeared in 1796, but until the mid-1800s, Europeans turned up their noses at “American cuisine.”

They lost their haughty attitudes a few years later when they visited New York City and dined upon fresh oysters, clams and pineapples and an array of American candies.

With ships sailing around the world and a railroad criss-crossing the country, bananas, coconuts and other exotic foods found their way into American kitchens.

Have you ever eaten squirrel? Probably not.

In the early 20th-century, everyone from paupers to presidents regularly ate wild game, including our ol’ gray squirrel.

At the Chapman, you can see recipes for broiled squirrel and squirrel stew in the New Lucille Cookbook of 1906.

Rabbit apparently was even more popular, as there are instructions on how to roast, fry, fricassee, curry or make a pie of your local bunny.

On the wall, pictures from Mrs. Berton’s Book of Household Management, 1812, instruct women on the proper serving dishes for wild birds with names like snipe, teal, plover, widgeon and landrails.

While the meat was often wild, the dining room was rigid and regulated. There were rules for seating, silverware and conversation.

No one seemed to be concerned about their sodium intake.

A “salt shovel,” which could carry a teaspoon of the stuff to your plate, is just one of the obsolete serving tools shown in a glass case.

Did you know that it was the Civil War that got people eating food that came in cans? After tinned food was served to soldiers, the entire nation got hooked on it.

By 1870, Americans were consuming 30 million cans of food annually, most of it corn, tomato and beans.

Campbell Soup Company and H.J. Heinz got their start in 1869, Maxwell House followed in 1892.

After “What’s for Dinner?,” I topped off my visit with a self-guided tour of the Chapman’s historic Victorian house, where Zopher and Catherine DeLong once lived with their children.

Every winter, the home is adorned Victorian-style for Christmas, and this year, visitors are asked to imagine that the DeLong family is planning a train trip to Washington, D.C. for the New Year’s Day Open House at the White House, where Ulysses S. Grant was president.

The house and its holidays decorations are open for tours through this Sunday.

The year was 1872. The family would have to wait 30 more years for Triscuits.

Did they have cheese balls in Victorian days? I don’t know. But my mom has been serving this concoction since the 1970s.

Mom’s Quick Cheese Ball & Triscuits

8-oz. package of cream cheese (can be low-fat)
1/2 cup of blue cheese crumbles
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 box Triscuits, any kind
sheet of waxed paper

Take cream cheese out of fridge for a few hours, warming to room temperature. With a wooden spoon, smash cream cheese and blue cheese together in a bowl. In the bowl, use your hands to shape cheese mixture into a ball. Spread chopped walnuts on waxed paper. Roll the ball over the walnuts so the surface is studded with nuts.

Refrigerate for an hour. Serve with Triscuits.

 
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