A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANNING AND CONCRETE SHIPS

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Napoleon is credited with saying: “An Army marches on its stomach.”  In 1795 Napoleon offered a Food Preservation Prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could improve upon the food preservation methods of the time.  Military campaigns were often limited to the months of summer and fall because of the limited availability of food to feed large armies.

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Nicholas Appert, a French confectioner and brewer, reasoned that if wine could be preserved in glass bottles, any type of food could be preserved in glass jars, as long as the seals did not leak.  He spent more than a decade perfecting his process.  Appert preserved meats, vegetables, even milk, by cooking it first, placing it in thick glass jars-leaving air space, sealing the jars with corks, wax and wire and wrapping them in canvas to guard against breakage.  He would then process the jars  in boiling water for to 12-18 hours.  Reading this, we can safely say, we would have not been canners in the late 1700’s.  He sent two dozen varieties of his preserved food to the French Navy-whole chickens, roasts, stews, vegetables, eggs.  The Navy’s response:  while the sauce in the beef was “a little weak”, nothing spoiled and all was flavorful. He once preserved an entire sheep.  It must have been quite a jar.  What makes Appert so remarkable is that he had no knowledge of bacteria or the role it played in causing food to spoil.  It would be more than 50 years before Louis Pasteur would discover that foods spoiled because of bacteria.  He was awarded the prize and started the first successful canning factory.  He also published the first cookbook on food preservation, L’Art de conserver les substances animales et végétales (or The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances).  Even with that title, it was a bestseller of its time.

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In the early 1800’s food was first preserved in tin cans (hence the term canning ) by a British inventor, Peter Durand.  Food preserved in tin cans was not mass produced until the beginning of the 20th century, for a reason that took both of us by surprise-the can opener.  Prior to the invention, in 1855, of the can opener, tins of canned food were opened using a hammer and chisel.   We would have starved.

THE CONCRETE SHIPS OF KIPTOPEAKE

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

We took a field trip to the Eastern Shore to have lunch, do a little shopping and to see the concrete ships.  We live in a city that is home to the largest naval base in the world, the home of NATO, and one of the biggest ports on the East Coast.  We see big ships all the time.  But a ship made of concrete that floats is more than we can wrap our minds around.  Concrete that floats.  It baffles.  There are 9 concrete ships forming a barrier reef off the coast of Cape Charles in Kiptopeake.  No matter how long we stared at them, no matter how many times someone said “ships of steel float, why not concrete?”, we just keep thinking, “it’s concrete, cement mixed with steel, ferrocement-it shouldn’t float”.  But they do.  And they have been since the late 1800’s when ferrocement was first used to build barges.

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The nine ships of Kiptopeake were built during WWII by McCloskey & Company as part of a fleet of 24 ships commissioned by the United States Maritime Commission in 1942. The ships were built in Tampa, Florida at the incredible rate of one per month.  Each ship bears the name of a pioneer in the science and development of these concrete ships.  Two were sunk as blockships for the invasion of Normandy.  The others were used as supply ships until the end of the war.  These nine were declared surplus and towed to Kiptopeake to serve as a breakwater.  Judging from aerial views of the shore line, they have served with honor just as they did during the war.

You can learn more at www.concreteships.org

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THE MENU:  CHEESEBURGERS ON THE GRILL, GRILLED ASPARAGUS, MIXED GRAIN SALAD WITH DRIED CHERRIES AND ARUGULA, CHEESECAKE WITH LEMON CURD (FROM THE RELISH MAGAZINE)

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6 Responses to A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANNING AND CONCRETE SHIPS

  1. lillianccc says:

    Thanks for this mini history lesson! I had no idea canning went so far back. As for those concrete ships, I can’t really get my head around how that works out but I’m guessing either they mixed it with something else to make it float or there’s a very strong base that keeps it up. And as always, the food looks fabulous. 🙂

  2. it is hard to understand those ships. pretty amazing though that someone figured out how to made concrete float.

  3. TBM says:

    Wow the food looks great and I would so love to have a cheeseburger. And I loved the history lesson. We take things for granted today and I never thought about the history of canning. Turns out to be interesting.

    • We do take things for granted. it took him over a decade to find the process. we did wonder how he knew if it worked or not…we wouldn’t have wanted to be the taste testers during the first few years.

  4. Love this, don’t know that I have ever learned so much from a post…what a great story. Your blog is wonderful I hope you get in touch with Generation Fabulous or Better After 50, I think they would both love your work.

  5. Thank you so much. We will. Taking some time off soon to check it all out.

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