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.
Fast 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.
Good Housekeeping Peach-Grapefruit Salad (1958)
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
Flaked coconut (for garnish)(I used chopped almonds since I didn’t have any coconut)
- Place the salad greens on a platter or divide among four serving plates.
- On the greens, arrange grapefruit slices alternating with peach sections.
- In a small jar, combine the oil, lemon juice, salt and sugar. Cover and shake well to blend.
- Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad. Garnish with coconut or chopped almonds.