Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, September 14, 2006


Page 11



Was It Van Camp’s Wife Who Added the Tomato to Beans?

...And When Was A-1 Sauce Really Concocted?




I’ve received an e-mail with more information on the development of Van Camp’s beans, the canned product featuring pea beans floating in a tomato sauce. It comes from Robert R. Smith of Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. He’s a former broadcaster and station manager, and is a great, great nephew of Hester Van Camp.

As I’ve noted, ConAgra, which owns the brand, says this on its website:

“Van Camp’s roots began with Gilbert Van Camp and his wife, Hester. Back in 1861, they canned fruits and vegetables in their family store in Indianapolis….Gilbert’s son, Frank, discovered that pork and beans taste better when mixed with tomatoes and served hot. He began marketing his new product and even sold them to Union troops during the Civil War.”

The website pinpoints 1861 as the date the product was created. And, as noted here, the story can’t be accurate. In 1861, Frank had not yet been born.

A 1952 version is that about 1880, when Frank was 16, he received a crock of pork and beans from his mother” and, “[w]anting more flavor, he poured some of the [company’s] catsup on the beans and discovered the fine flavor of the mixture.”

Smith says in an e-mail:

“Family, and other sources, say that the recipe came from Gilbert’s wife Hester (Raymond).

“She modified an old Raymond family recipe by adding tomato sauce.”

A subsequent e-mail, in response to questions I posed, adds: “I do not know for certain when Hester started making beans with tomato sauce but my guess is that she started when she and Gilbert opened their grocery store (which they called “The Fruit House”) in downtown Indianapolis around 1861.”

He goes on to say:

“The fact that Gilbert and Hester moved to Indianapolis and opened their store in 1861 raises questions how a start up small grocery could begin immediately supplying the union Army with enough Pork and Beans.”

A third e-mail contains this afterthought:

“[H]ere is some speculation on my part. Perhaps the contract that the Van Camps had with the Army was for Camp Morton which was located in Indianapolis. The Camp was opened in April of 1861 as a training site for new Indiana recruits. The site was the old Indiana State fairgrounds and was selected by Adjutant General Lew Wallace who would later write ‘Ben Hur’ and other books. Lew Wallace was born and educated in Brooklyn, Indiana in Franklin County, where...Hester and Gilbert lived.”

Casting doubt on the claim that serving beans in a tomato-based sauce was a Van Camp innovation is this passage from Reah Tannahil’s book, “Food in History”:

“Baked beans in tomato sauce are rated today as one of the most popular canned foods ever developed. Among the traditional dishes that inspired them was the Bostonians’ Sunday dinner or beans long simmered with pork and molasses and eaten with brown bread and homemade ketchup.”

In my Nov. 18, 2004 column, I recited that A-1 sauce had been concocted by royal chef Henderson William Brand—and proclaimed “A-1” by the king of England, George IV. That information was derived from old ads for the product, including one from 1906 that accompanied the column.

Based on seemingly reliable sources, I said the date of creation of the sauce was 1824 and that it had been marketed since 1831. An e-mail yesterday from Jonathan Lutkowski, senior associate brand manager for Kraft Foods, indicates that doubt has arisen in their quarters as to the accuracy of that information, long believed true. Lutkowski says they’ve come across an ad which appeared in the London Evening Post on July 26, 1881 which says: “This celebrated SAUCE was invented by Mr. H. W. BRAND (formerly of the Royal Household) in 1862, when he was cook and co-manager of the cuisine at the International Exhibition in Hyde Park.”

He asks if I had any information that could shed light on this. Well, I found that an application for a trademark on “The A1 International Sauce,” filed in the U.S. Patent Office on June 1, 1895 by the British owners of the brand, recited: “This trade-mark has been used continuously in business by us since the year 1862.” (The words “in business” would seem to refer to sales in Britain since the product does not appear to have been sold in the U.S. until decades later.) In response to an initial denial of registration, James L. Norris, attorney for Brand and Co., declared in a letter of June 24 that “[t]he mark has been used in commerce since 1862...,” without the modifier “by us.”

The 1895 owners bought the brand in 1873, and it’s possible that their predecessors did start marketing efforts earlier than 1862...but the patent application should bolster suspicions that they didn’t.

I’ve also heard from Shane K. Bernard, historian and curator for the McIlhenny Company, maker of Tabasco Sauce. I’ll get to his communique next time.

Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company

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