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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Curiosities - Part II

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 27, 2008


This week I want to inform you of the history and background for three more "curiosities," a subject I began last week.


Today, it is Oreo cookies, pork and beans, and donuts.


All three have complex and varied histories, and different sources provide different information.


Today's Oreo cookie was introduced on March 6, 1912 in New Jersey as the "Oreo Biscuit," and was intended for the British market.


It was originally a mound shape, and had either a lemon or cream filling.  Lemon was dropped in the 1930s.


In 1921, the name was changed to the "Oreo Sandwich," changed again in 1948 to the "Oreo Crème Sandwich."


In 1952, the current shape was introduced with the Nabisco logo stamped into the chocolate cookie.


The name of the cookie has several possible origins.


The National Biscuit Company was formed in 1898 from the consolidation of the American Biscuit Company, the New York Biscuit Company, and the United States Baking Company.


Adolphus Green, the first chairman of Nabisco, loved the classics and "Oreo" is similar to the Greek word for "mountain," the first shape of the cookie.


Other possibilities are the French word "Or" meaning gold, as the first packaging was gold in color.


Perhaps the "re" came from the cream in the cookie, and the "o" from chocolate.


The donut also has several options for its origin.


One story says that it was introduced by the Dutch settlers to North America as "olykoeks" meaning oily cakes, as one of the many desserts traced to the Dutch.


Hansen Gregory claims to have invented the donut shape on a ship in 1847, punching the hole to allow better baking of the center.


Author Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to doughnuts being made in her book "Farmer Boy" set in 19th century America.


The first documented mention of doughnuts was the 1809 "History of New York" by Washington Irving, where he describes, "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts."


The modern use of "donut" rather than "doughnut" took place in 1929 in an article in the "Los Angeles Times" where the columnist is making fun of poor spelling in America.


The 1939 World's Fair sealed the use of the shorter spelling of donut.


And yes, the donut hole was formerly added back into the pile of dough, or the machine didn't actually produce a bit of dough; until someone found that it could be sold separately.


Several manufacturing firms claim "Pork and beans" today, but the first mention seems to be in the 1832 cookbook, "American Frugal Housewife," where a recipe calls for beans, pork, and pepper.


The mass introduction of pork and beans came from cold warehouse owners from Indianapolis named Gilbert and Hester Van Camp.


He introduced cans of pork and beans sealed with solder and provided to Union troops in the American Civil War in 1861.


Their son, Frank Van Camp expanded the product and added tomatoes and served them hot.


By 1895, Campbells's Soup Company and H.J. Heinz had joined in the production of this popular product.


And how about the little chunk of whatever that seems to be in every can of pork and beans?


It is actually a piece of pork that has almost cooked away in the process.


Pork and beans are actually cooked in the can, and it melts down to that small piece that you find when you open the product.


So, were you glad that you asked, or was this too much information?