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In his brief history of canning and other means of preserving food, Colin Spencer points out that “food imports up to the nineteenth century had always been limited to foods such as dried fruits and spices, which could travel distances without spoilage; the problem with other foods was how to keep them free of harmful bacteria” (282; all quotations come from this page).

Nicolas Appert, a Parisian confectioner who in 1804 received a medal from Napoleon for the potential military applications of his work, “discovered that he could preserve food by putting fresh food in glass jars, standing the jars in hot water to expel air and then hermetically sealing them with alternate layers of cork and wax.” Appert's discovery “radically change[d] world economy and trade” — and the kinds of food available in Great Britain, particularly to members of the middle classes.

Here are some other steps in the nineteenth-century development of canning and other forms of food preservation:

1810         Peter Durand, an Englishman, patents the tin can, which “was lighter, cheaper and more amenable to being shaped, while it could conduct heat more efficiently than glass and would not be vulnerable to breakages in transport.”

1820s        Donkin & Hall, which buys Durand’s patent, supplies the British navy with canned meats.

c. 1849      Crosse & Blackwell open a factory in Cork, Ireland, to can salmon.

1850s        Canned condensed milk sold in America and Switzerland.

1860s        The American civil war confirm's Napoleon's belief that canned food provided a “a convenient way of getting a quick nutritious meal inside a fighting soldier.”

c. 1868      Fruit canning begins in California.

1870s        Canned meat imported to the U. K, from the United States, Australia and Argentina. “Canned salmon from Columbia and Alaska was exported all over the world.”

1871         Fray Bentos founded in Argentina.

1876         “Fray Bentos Corned Beef first appeared in 1876 and soon became popular with the working classes as it could be sliced and placed between bread as a packed lunch.”

1880         A firm in Maine first produced cans of pork’n’beans.

1880          Frozen foods: S. S. Stratchleven carries frozen mutton and beef to England.

1880s        “Tinned peaches, apricots, pears, cherries and pineapples were part of the store cupboard in middle-class kitchens and became integral to quick desserts” (282).

1895         H.J. Heinz of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania creates the recipe for baked beans in tomato sauce, but this long-time staple of British cooking does not catch on at first.

1902         56 lbs of meat are consumed annually for each person in the U.K. (British farmers produce less than half the meat consumed.)


Gideon, Sigfried. Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. New York: Norton, 1969.

Spencer, Colin. British Food: an Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Last modified 16 September 2015