And what a year it has been! But Sarah, you say, a year? Didn't "The Food That Built America" only come out in August? Why yes, dear reader, it did. But the magic of television isn't created overnight. And it was exactly on January 16, 2019 that the dear folks hired by the History Channel to do the production of that wonderful series sent me an email through this very website.
Although I have been on television before, this was my first interview of this length and professionalism. It took place on a frigid January day in a Brooklyn warehouse equipped with a very noisy heater. So it was off during filming. My 2 pm interview was constantly interrupted by the air brakes and backing-up beeps of the trucks that still visited the industrial area where we were filming. At one point you could see my breath on the air. But dear reader, it was so FUN. There were two cameras, one on a track to my side, which was a bit intimidating. The other was affixed with a mirror so I could see interviewer Thaddeus in the reflection (he was sitting to the side of the camera) and look right into the camera while appearing to look him in the face. Which made things much easier and less intimidating, to be honest. There were also about 10 people in the room with us, but of course they were so quiet it was easy to forget they were there. Thaddeus asked me lots of interesting questions, and I did my best to give good answers and, my specialty, lots of fantastic context to all the topics they were discussing. On several occasions, I even managed to repeat myself after each truck interruption without losing too much of the original quote. In all, I'm pretty proud of how I acquitted myself.
My only regret is the World War I context - Thaddeus didn't make it clear in his questioning that they were going to be talking primarily about the businesses during WWI, so my responses were all about the regulations on individual Americans. Had I realized, I could have pontificated at length about the impacts on food businesses and retail during the war. Oh well. No one's perfect.
At any rate, a friend who teaches Family and Consumer Science (or FACS, as it is often called) told me the other day that FACS teachers around the country were using "The Food That Built America" in their lesson plans. And every couple of months another person I went to high school with or I know through work takes the time to mention that they saw me on TV, which is always fun. Although, sadly, I did not receive payment for my interview (as I'm sure few of the other interviewees did), I did get a free train ride and a car to pick me up, so that was nice.
If you haven't seen "The Food That Built America" yet and you have cable - check out the History Channel from time to time - they seem to be replaying it quite frequently. Looks like they removed the online screening from The History Channel website, sadly.
BUT! If, like me, you do NOT have cable, you can purchase or rent the episodes through Amazon Prime. As an Amazon affiliate, if you purchase anything from this link, I will get a small commission.
Have you seen "The Food That Built America?" What was your favorite part?
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"The Food That Built America" just finished up last night, and I also reached over 200 likes on Facebook! So as a reward to my new friends and faithful followers, I thought I'd take a look at the Kellogg Brothers, who show up in all three episodes.
Granola was the cereal that started it all. In the late 1870s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg used it as part of his health regimen for his sanitarium patients. Based on a twice-baked unleavened bread made of wheat and oat flour, the cereal was then hammered into chunks and soaked in milk before serving. He initially called it "Granula."
There was just one problem - there already was a "Granula." This was not covered in the History Channel series, but Kellogg was actually threatened with a lawsuit in 1881 by James Caleb Jackson, of upstate New York. Like Kellogg, Jackson was influenced by Seventh Day Adventist Ellen G. White, who advocated for vegetarianism and other health reforms. But at his hygenic water cure spa in upstate New York, Jackson developed "Granula," based on a twice-baked plain graham flour biscuit (graham flour is un-separated ground whole wheat). He rolled the flour-and-water mixture into sheets, which were baked, then broken into pieces and baked again, and then broken into smaller pieces, similar to the Grape-Nuts that C.W. Post would eventually develop. He invented "Granula" in 1863 - fifteen years before Kellogg.
In response to the threat of lawsuit, Kellogg simply changed the name to "Granola."
Both Jackson and Kellogg were likely inspired by simple rusks or zwieback or even hardtack. Dating back to ancient times, twice-baked breads were shelf-stable, durable, and long lasting. Hardtack (sometimes called a "cracker" or "ship's biscuit") was a common sight on merchant vessels and naval ships alike and was common soldier fare from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. Made of just flour, water, and salt, hardtack was, well, hard. It was meant to be softened in coffee, stew, or water before it could be eaten. But its hardness made it the ideal, stable staple for long voyages without refrigeration.
Rusks, on the other hand, were more likely to be made with sugar, butter, and eggs and were much closer to our most familiar modern incarnation - biscotti. Some rusks, like zwieback, were even yeast-leavened sweet breads that were twice baked.
It stands to reason then, that Kellogg's original "Granola" was a mixture of whole grain wheat flour (graham) and oat flour, mixed with water (no salt or sugar), and twice-baked before crumbling into what would become "cereal." Having made hardtack myself, I can inform you that the trick is in the kneading - as you develop the gluten in the flour it smooths out and becomes easier to work and shape (and roll!).
While no known recipe for Kellogg's original "Granola" exists, I did dig up a recipe for "Granula" from the 1906 Inglenook Cookbook, published by the Church of the Brethren, a non-demoninational Christian sect. Apparently hard-baked plain cereals continued their trend of association with religious organizations. You can find more about the Inglenook Cookbook in all its incarnations here. In true, early 20th century style (and like many community-based cookbooks from this time period), the instructions are written in paragraph form.
Get good graham flour, take pure spring or soft water, nothing else, and knead to a stiff dough. Roll and mould as for biscuit (not as thick). Bake thoroughly in a hot oven. When well done, or over done, remove and cool, then cut each piece in halves and put back in a warm baker and dry to a crisp, not brown or burnt. A yellow brown will not hurt. Now crush or break in small bits and grind them as you would coffee. You now have one of the best health foods known. It can be served in various ways. Soaked in good, rich milk is the best way to eat it. Some like to add a little sugar, some a little salt (but don't add salt when you bake it, it spoils the flavor). Some eat it with fruit. It makes a nice cold Sunday dish and is always ready. It can be used in puddings and mixed with bread for dressings. We have made and used this hygienic food for 23 years, and know its merits. The biscuits, or graham crackers, warm from the oven, well baked, with crispy crust, make a delightful bread. We have a small hand mill to grind them. If you cannot get good graham flour, if it is too rough with bran, add a little white flour, or sift the coarsest bran out. Graham made of white wheat is best. - Sister Amanda Witmore, McPherson, Kans.
While granula and similar incarnations continued to be eaten into the twentieth century, what we know as Granola today is not really a direct descendant of Kellogg's granola (or Jackson's granula). In 1900 a Swiss physician named Dr. Maximillian Bircher-Benner developed another type of grain cereal called Bircher-muesli (later shortened to muesli). Adhering to Bircher-Benner's beliefs that raw foods were the most healthful, muesli primarily contains uncooked rolled oats, with nuts, seeds, and fruits added in. Served plain or with milk, it was originally intended as an accompaniment to meals or a light supper, not breakfast.
In 1946, Hollywood health guru Gaylord Hauser published several recipes for "The Bircher-Muesli Breakfast" in his Gaylord Hauser Cookbook. Hauser had studied in Switzerland and was likely heavily influenced by Bircher-Brunner in his own health style, as he often emphasized fresh fruits and vegetables and even juicing. Muesli started to become known among health food enthusiasts after the Second World War, in part thanks to Hauser and others like him who visited Switzerland.
Health guru Adelle Davis, however, is credited with introducing what we know today as "granola" to the masses in the 1960s. Although the Adelle Davis Foundation credits her 1947 book Let's Cook It Right with first mentioning granola, I can't find any reference in my copy. In fact, her short chapter on cereals makes no mention of cold, crunchy cereals like granola and contains just one recipe - for how to cook hot cereals (p. 427-439). Adelle is purported to have introduced granola as a snack, but her section on snacks in her introduction to Let's Cook It Right makes no mention of granola - instead suggesting fruit, milk, cheese and crackers, or nuts as good "midmeal" options (p. 17-22). Regardless of how she introduced it, Adelle is likely one of several people to discover that by combining rolled oats with nuts, dried fruit, oil and honey, you get a delicious crunchy baked snack. Her "grandaddy" recipe is below:
Adelle Davis’ Grandaddy of Granolas
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup each of chopped almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, soy flour, powdered milk (preferably non-instant), and wheat germ.
1 cup warmed honey
1 cup oil, any kind
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Combine honey and oil and drizzle over the dry ingredients tossing and coating. Spread the mixture on 2 cookie sheets and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until golden. Makes up to 12 cups, depending what you add or leave out.
Eventually, people stopped eating granola out of hand and started pouring milk on top and eating in the morning. Of course, these days, modern granola is far more like Adelle's than Kellogg's (or Jackson's) in that it is heavily sweetened and usually quite fattening. But because of its health guru and sanitarium past and its association with hiking and other outdoor pursuits in the 1960s and '70s, we tend to associate it with healthy food, even though it is anything but.
If you'd like to learn more about Gaylord Hauser and Adelle Davis, take a listen to my podcast, History Bites: Full of Pep, the Controversial Quest for a Vitamin-Enriched America, Part 2.
So that's the end of my reward post for making it to 200+ likes on Facebook. MaryAnn - are you satisfied? :) I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon to support this and other food history blog posts, podcasts, videos, and more.
I was so pleased to be featured in the History Channel miniseries, The Food That Built America. It's a great mix of history and drama, with talking heads like me interspersed with quite wonderful reenactments of the famous personalities featured in the show.
But a Facebook comment made me realize, that most people don't know these stories at all! The History Channel has featured some of them as articles on their website, but I thought, why not put together a bibliography for folks who wanted a deeper dive?
Here are some of the books by authors featured in the show, as well as a couple of others that give great context to the period. (Please note that I am an Amazon Affiliate and will receive a small commission from any books published from these links.)
The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek by Howard Markel (featured talking head).
For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast (featured talking head).
The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner (featured talking head).
H is for Hershey by Heather Paterno (featured talking head).
Selling 'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food by David G. Hogan (featured talking head).
Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet by Harvey Levenstein. Essential reading for understanding American food at the turn of the 20th century.
Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee by Bee Swinson. An eye-opening look at food before regulation.
Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky.
Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams Paperback by Michael D'Antonio
American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post by Nancy Rubin Stuart
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I thought it would be fun to compile a few "further reading" options for those who loved the show.
Some historian friends and I always joked about who among us would be on the History Channel or CSPAN first. I always thought it would be someone else, but I think I might win this round. As a rule I try not to say no to media requests, although I can't always respond to every one. But way back in January, 2019, I got a request I couldn't refuse. The History Channel came knocking and so down to New York City I went to record a several hour on-camera interview in a VERY chilly warehouse in Brooklyn (the heater was very loud, so it had to be off. Luckily I had a small space heater to help keep me warm).
The miniseries is called "The Food that Built America," and is about the role of iconic food companies from the 19th century who are still around today and who have had an impact on how Americans eat in the last century or so. I was extremely pleased to be able to give lots of context about late 19th century and early 20th century eating habits, including rationing and food preservation during the two World Wars.
The 3-part miniseries airs Sunday, August 11 through Tuesday, August 13, 2019 on the History Channel. You can learn more here: https://www.history.com/shows/the-food-that-built-america
Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.