From the library…

Today, we bring you an article written by one of our wonderful volunteers – Len. You will often find Len guiding in the house here at Charlecote on Sunday’s. He has a great interest in our library and here tells you a little about one of the books…

Nicolas Appert – The Art of Preserving. 1811

The Charlecote library is full of surprises and finding this entry in the catalogue was one of them – yet this book changed for ever the way we all feed ourselves. Appert discovered how to bottle food substances which led in turn to the process of canning.

Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach. No matter how well trained or how brave the troops they needed to be properly fed if they were to win battles. Food was only plentiful in season and soon perished if it had to be transported over long distances. Food could be preserved by drying, smoking or salting but the results were not always tasty and, through lack of fresh vegetables, troops developed a skin and gum disease called scurvy which could prove fatal. It particularly affected those undergoing lengthy maritime voyages. (Scurvy is due to a deficiency in Vitamin C necessary in the synthesis of collagen). Herbal remedies had been known since antiquity but it was the naval surgeon James Lind who experimentally proved in 1753 that it could be treated with citrus fruit although it was several decades before the Royal Navy acted on this.

Napoleon persuaded the French government to award a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could find a way to keep food fresh over a period of many months and the winner was a confectioner and chef, Francoise Appert (1752-1841).

In 1795 Appert had been asked by a dairyman how he might keep his milk fresh and Appert conceived the idea of bottling it and then heating the bottles in boiling water for a short time. The dairyman found he could keep his milk fresh for the two days that was required to transport it to market in Rouen. What Appert had discovered was a process that would be rediscovered by Louis Pasteur which is known as pasteurization.

Appert then spent 15 years preserving meat, fruit and vegetables and found the process was just as successful as with milk. He carried out his process in thick, wide-mouthed glass jars, sealing them with cork and sealing wax and the bottle wrapped in canvas to protect it during immersion. He determined how long to keep the contents immersed in the boiling water so that the contents were thoroughly cooked. As a publicity stunt he once preserved an entire sheep! (Damien Hirst is just so retro…!)

Appert was awarded the Napoleon prize in 1810 and millions of bottles of food were prepared for Napoleon’s army. Glass bottles were easily broken so other containers were sought. Iron cans were tried, but the acid in many foods caused it to corrode which gave the food a bad flavour or even poisoned it. That problem was solved in 1810 by a British inventor (of French origin). Peter Durand lined the iron cans with tin and so the modern process of canning was developed. However, it was 45 years before the can opener was invented by Robert Yeates so troops had to resort to opening cans with their bayonets or by hitting them with rocks to split them!

Chapter Headings
Letter of the Minister of the Interior
Certificate of the Board of Arts
Letter to General Caffarelli from the Council of Health
1. The art of preserving
2. My rooms
3. Of bottles and Vessels
4. Of corks
5. Of corking
6. The means of distinguishing defective bottles Description of the author’s process
7. Boiled Meat
8. Gravy
9. Broth or Jelly
10. Round of Beef, Fillet of Mutton, Fowls and young Partridges
11. New-laid eggs
12. Milk
13. Cream
14. Whey
15. Vegetables
16. Green Peas
17. Asparagus
18. Windsor Beans
… and so on for 59 further chapters.

Len Mullenger, Volunteer Room Guide (Sundays)


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