Professional pea podding

Today was, basically, a wash out. The rain didn’t stop. So we did. As Mirinda said at lunch time, “I’m glad we had such a busy day yesterday.”

We did pack most of our stuff up and take it to the house. This is in preparation for my move on Thursday to Canary Wharf for the weekend. However, that was about it for the day.

Of course, when I’m stuck in a house because of rain I tend to research whatever I’m working on while Mirinda reads (or sleeps). Today I was tempted to work on the Thames Ironworks but for some reason, my mind kept wandering back to that eccentric vicar from yesterday, Mr Massey. This led me to read about other eccentrics, none of whom came even close to the amazing Massey and his insanity.

I decided to wander off a bit and discovered some stuff about canning. So, given that we didn’t do enough to warrant a blog post today, I’m going to talk about canning instead.

In 1820, preserving food in cans began. This was due to an English chap called Peter Durand. He had quite a lucrative customer too. He sold his cans of food to the navy. I’m sure they loved food that could travel all over the world and stay fresh as well as the benefits to their crews who could remain scurvy free.

And Pete’s canning process was accepted and adopted everywhere, almost instantly…as you’d expect. I need to back up a bit here. Actually, Pete didn’t invent the process, rather he improved it. The first person to invent a method of preserving food in an air tight vessel was a Frenchman called Nicolas Appert. The only problem with Nick’s invention was that he used glass jars. Glass isn’t that good at being transported. Pete used wrought iron. Much easier and a good deal less fragile.

That’s all well and good but it took around another 30 years for the can opener to be invented. People used a hammer and chisel, bayonets, rocks, anything they could to get inside the cans but it was 30 years before an effective method was invented. Mind you, the first can opener wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you’d use in a kitchen. It was rather big and unwieldy.

It was a few more years (1870) before the household can opener was invented by William Lyman. So it took 50 years! Extraordinary. Imagine putting up with bashing the heads off tin cans for 50 years before inventing something that made it really, really easy. That sounds like sand eating behaviour to me.

For the uninitiated, sand eating behaviour relates to observed behaviour in a population of macaque apes on Koshima Island, Japan. The group eats, among other things, sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes are in sand. The dominant females started washing the sand off their’s while the stupid males decided that was not necessary and continued eating sandy spuds.

Since first hearing about this, in our house anyway, we refer to anyone who can’t escape the fact that they have always done something in such and such a manner and see no reason to change regardless of any improvements in the area as ‘sand eaters.’ The thousands of people who kept smashing open their cans of food were, I’m afraid, sand eaters.

But, moving along from the desperately stupid to the miraculously odd. Amanda Theodosia Jones thought she could speak to the dead. In 1869 she moved to Chicago because the dead told her to. While in Chicago, still under the direction of the spirits of the departed, she invented, in 1872, a vacuum canning process for preserving food. (She also invented an oil burner but that’s not as interesting.)

As well as discussing engineering problems with the spirit realm, Amanda was very much into Women’s Suffrage and, in 1890 opened the Women’s Canning and Preserving Company. The company only employed women who were also the shareholders. Amanda, it seemed, did not get on with everyone and so left three years later. The company, though, was quite successful and managed to last till 1921.

Amanda was also a poet. This is what she’s mostly known for, which is a shame when she was clearly a brilliant engineer. It’s also a shame she heard voices in her head but then again, most geniuses are a bit mad.

This brings us nicely onto the subject of canning peas in Wisconsin. Apparently, before machines were introduced to pluck the pods from the ground and strip the delicate little peas out of them, women and children were employed for the task. Suddenly machines were invented to make the process very much easier and more cost effective than the early pick and pluck method. And this is where it gets irritating.

For some reason, it was fine for women to go out into the pea fields all day and pick and pluck but as soon as someone had invented a machine to do it, the ladies were made redundant and men took over. This happened, to a great extent, in Wisconsin and led to the mass unemployment of thousands of women (and children). It seemed that once the men had taken over the running of the machines, all the women could do was sort out the peas from the grit on the conveyor belt leading to the canning area.

Actually, I’m being a bit unfair. It seems that the women also fitted the tops on the cans before they were soldered in place. It had to be women, apparently, because the men were useless at it. And, it seems, that the most important labour saving device in the pea canning industry was the automatic pea podder which was invented by a woman. She was Madame Faure, a French woman who invented the device in 1883. Clearly she was working on getting rid of a rotten job but ended up getting rid of a lot of jobs.

Interestingly, she invented her podder because manual pea podding in the country was difficult because of a lack of willing hands to pod. Prior to her invention, peas would be grown near big population centres so a workforce could be easily sourced. Naturally, this would reduce the amount of peas available…which reduces the customer base for canned peas…which is why a machine had to be invented.

And that is my sermon for today. Remember the humble pea podders in the fields and the poor sailors bashing their wrought iron cans, the next time you pick up a tin of soup.

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1 Response to Professional pea podding

  1. hat says:

    I am glad someone did invent the opener I would hate to have to bash a tin of soup I would lose all the stuff inside it. That was very interesting its amazing the amount of women that did invent things and the men that treated them like idiots with no brains.
    love mum and dad xx


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