Canned Peach Salad to “Heighten Appetites and Brighten Meals”

Napoleon's reward for portable food for his army led to the invention of canned goods.

Napoleon’s offer of a reward to anyone who could create portable food for his army led to the invention of canned goods.

Blame the invention of canned food on Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1795, the French general – who proclaimed that “an army marches on its stomach” – offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could come up with a way to provide his troops with portable, non-perishable food. The winner, Frenchman Nicholas Appert, collected the prize in 1809 for his method of heating food and sealing it in airtight glass jars. The following year, Englishman Peter Durand patented a similar technique to preserve food in cans. Then armies – as well as sailors, pioneers, and travelers of all kinds — began to sustain themselves on canned fish, tomatoes, peas, and corn. According to Family Life in Nineteenth Century America, a New York factory produced the first commercially canned peaches in 1819. In 1856, Gail Borden patented condensed milk, which nourished American city dwellers as well as Federal troops during the Civil War, and can still be found today in pantries around the world.

Salad bookFast forward to 1959, the publication date for Good Housekeeping’s Book of Salads, which I bought for 50 cents at a flea market in western New York. Back then, the enlightened public had not yet made a mockery of canned fruits and vegetables. Canned food was considered convenient and modern.

Since I live in an urban area with extensive access to fresh, air-freighted produce, I tend to sneer at canned goods, even though I used to devour the bowls of fruit cocktail for breakfast. So I found myself surprised by my visceral attraction to the summery aroma and beach sunset orange of canned cling peaches in the peach-grapefruit salad recipe I made. Yes, I know fresh fruit contains more nutrients. Yes, I know the canned syrup adds unnecessary sugar. Still, I found the contrast of tart grapefruit sections and sweet peaches, crunchy greens, and a spark of lemon juice just what I needed to chase away the bleakness of three snowstorms in one week.

Grapefruit Peach salad

Good Housekeeping Peach-Grapefruit Salad (1958)

Serves 4-5

About 4 cups salad greens
1 large grapefruit, peeled and cut into sections
1 1/2 cups drained canned peach slices
2 tablespoons salad oil (I used olive oil)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Dash salt
Dash sugar
Flaked coconut (for garnish)(I used chopped almonds since I didn’t have any coconut)

  1. Place the salad greens on a platter or divide among four serving plates.
  2. On the greens, arrange grapefruit slices alternating with peach sections.
  3. In a small jar, combine the oil, lemon juice, salt and sugar. Cover and shake well to blend.
  4. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad. Garnish with coconut or chopped almonds.
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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