The Tin Can Changed Food Habits

Mar 20, 2017

It's the bane of alley cats, de rigueur decoration for newlyweds' cars, and the primary device behind many children's first telephone. But, according to The Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, it's also the greatest influence ever on the food habits of the civilized world. It's the tin can.

For those of us used to modern conveniences, it's hard to imagine what life was like before the invention of the tin can.

In the winter months, for example, people had no access to seasonal fruits and vegetables. Consumers bought food from bulk containers into which dirt and bacteria could be easily introduced. Soldiers and sailors were forced to subsist on food that was, by today's standards, downright rotten.

All of that started to change in 1810 when English inventor Peter Durand was awarded the patent for the first tin can. Just two years later the first commercial canning factory opened in England.

But it was here in the United States that the tin can really got rolling, thanks to William Underwood -- he of deviled ham fame -- who was the first to introduce the concept to this country.

Though the English invented the tin can and the Americans popularized it, the father of canning was actually a Frenchman. He was Nicolas Appert. A skilled cook with experience in brewing, distilling and pickle making, he won the 12,000-franc prize offered by Napoleon for the development of a method for preserving food for his armies. But his technique did not involve cans. He used glass containers, initially champagne bottles.

These days canned foods suffer from a reputation for being second rate, but that's unfair. There are lots of canned foods -- like beans, pumpkin and tomatoes -- that are perfectly acceptable for cooking.

If you use them in judicious amounts, with fresh ingredients, there's no reason why a recipe which uses tinned foods can't be uncannily delicious.

+++++Clam Linguine+++++

This recipe, adapted from the Mealtime.org website, puts four different canned ingredients to use in a classic pasta dish that’s good enough for company.

  • 1 pound linguine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz. each) diced tomatoes (no salt added)
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 can (2.25 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
  • ½ of a 2 oz. can of flat anchovies, drained, oil reserved
  • 2 cans (6.5 oz. each) chopped clams, drained, juices reserved
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil

Heat oil over medium heat, add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, wine, olives, anchovies, reserved clam juice, and pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Add clams, anchovy oil, onions, and basil. Simmer until heated through. Cook and drain pasta and toss with sauce.