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Who Made That? PB&J, Brunch, Diet Soda, And More

The New York Times Magazine’s “Who Made That?” has documented the origin of food and drink inventions. Here is a selection.

Bottle Service
Two promoters at the Tunnel in Chelsea, Mark Baker and Jeffrey Jah, changed the downtown club scene in New York in the early ’90s by selling bottles of liquor at V.I.P. tables; they imported the notion from a club in Paris where Baker says bottles of Polish military vodka were passed off as brand-name booze. In other words, the price gouging has long been part of the idea, even before the 1,000 percent markups, and the 20 percent gratuities and the multi-thousand-dollar minimums to reserve tables. (One Las Vegas club offers $250,000 bottle service that includes a 100-pound 30-liter bottle of Jay-Z’s favorite Champagne.) In its early days in New York, though, bottle service “was an amenity, not a moneymaker,” Jah says. A bottle was priced for the number of cocktails it would pour. Willy Staley

Breath Mint
The ancient Egyptians placed pellets of boiled honey, frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon on their tongues. The Romans chewed parsley. Medieval men sucked fig-sized gobstoppers made of clove and cardamon. Victorians favored Sen-Sen, licorice bits marketed as “breath perfume.”
But mint lozenges were reserved for medicine. Altoids, invented in the 1780s, were sold as a stomach calmative through the 1800s, for example, and Formamint, a “germ-killing throat tablet” from Europe, arrived in America in 1911. (The sham medicine was named for its active ingredient: formaldehyde.) The breath mint was truly born in 1912, when a candymaker in Ohio named Clarence Crane used a drugstore’s pill press to create a candy for summer. He punched a hole through the middle of his confections and named them for their nautical look-alikes, Life Savers. The first flavor, Pep-O-Mint, was advertised “for that stormy breath.”
Samira Kawash, the author of the coming book “Candy: A Century of Panic and Please,” attributes the success of Life Savers to Edward J. Noble, a onetime traveling book salesman With J. Roy Allen, a friend who’s mother partly footed the bill, Noble bought Crane’s business in 1913 and pushed the candy eagerly. “It was a genius of product presentation,” Kawash says. “The prohibition movement was gaining steam, along with the idea that you had to hide the evil vapors of liquor on your breath. They came up with the idea of selling it in drinking establishments.”
After his Mint Products Company became a multimillion-dollar enterprise, Noble bought and developed a television network to break up a monopoly. His American Broadcasting Company continues to this day. Marnie Hanel

Brunch
Though the meal originated with Englishmen coming home from the morning hunt and wanting heavy food—the first published reference to brunch appeared in British magazine called Hunter’s Weekly in 1895—it didn’t catch on in the United States until the 1920s, according to Farha Ternikar, a sociologist and author of the coming “Brunch: A Global History.” Through the ’30s, celebrities and upper-class people hosted brunches in their homes. The Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York had a brunch menu in 1941. “Breakfast parties” and cookbooks with brunch recipes became popular in the ’50s.
What Ternikar calls brunch’s “second heyday” came in the ’70s and ’80s, when church attendance dropped and disposable income increased. The cheapness of eggs and brunch’s residual social status made it an attractive alternative to going out for dinner. And even as the menu changed—we no longer yearn for fish dishes like shad roe or finnan caddie, which were common in the ’40s and ’50s—the meal retained its unconventional air. “It was built on this idea of having real tradition,” Ternikar says. “If you want cupcakes and eggs, you can have cupcakes and eggs.” Maya Lau

Diet Soda
Nathaniel Edward Yorke-Davies, the Dr. Oz of his day, might have been the first to propose artificially sweetened soda as a cure for corpulence. In his book “Foods for the Fat,” published in 1889, Yorke-Davies suggested soft drinks for plus-sized patients—who included the Prince of Wales and William H. Taft—but warned against “aerated waters that contain sugar, such as lemonade, ginger beer and their allies.” In their place, the doctor offered recipes for sodas made with “saccharin tabloids” and a slice of cucumber. But the mass marketing of “diet” soda didn’t emerge until a better-tasting sweetener called cyclamate received approval from the Food and Drug Adminitration in 1951. The first modern diet soda, sold as “No-Cal” ginger-ale, was developed for a Brooklyn hospital in 1952. Royal Crown’s Diet Rite arrived in 1958 and had a national impact; Coke and Pepsi soon followed their own original low-calorie brands, Tab and Patio. Daniel Engber

PB&J
“Trying making little sandwiches…of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste, whatever brand you prefer, and currant or crab-apple jelly,” Julia David Chandler wrote in November 1901 in The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. “The combination is delicious, and, so far as I know, original.” This is the earliest reference to peanut butter and jelly, and it appeared before the ingredients were widely available—you might have had to grind your own peanuts. It would be a while before the sandwich would become a hit among those it’s most associated with: children. That happened later, after peanut butter became available in jars in supermarkets and was marketed to children in the 1930s. (The invention of sliced and packaged bread in 1928 also increased the sandwich popularity.) Jon Krampner, the author of “Creamy & Crunchy,” a history of peanut butter, says that PB&J satisfies three American desires: it’s sweet, it’s nutritious, and it’s quick. That combination of qualities might be what promoted New York board of education officials, thorough a W.P.A. project in the late 1930s, to provide peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as part of a free-lunch program in schools. Maya Lau

Salad Spinner
In August 1973, Jean Mantelet, founder of French kitchenware company Moulinex, received a U.S. patent for “a spin dryer…which will be convenient for use by housewives, particularly for drying salads.” The device, already patented in France, used centrifugal force, spinning the greens in a colander enclosed inside a plastic bowl. French homemakers no longer had to dry salad greens by wrapping them in a dish towel or shaking them out the window in the wire basket.
Mantelet was well known in France for his labor-saving slicers, graters, beaters, mashers and grinders. But it seemed doubtful that his salad dryer would find much of a market in the United States. So few Americans ate leafy greens that the problem of how to dry them after washing them was not much of a problem at all.
But by the late ’70s, a mania for fresh produce was sweeping the nation. Salad bars proliferated, and what was once a dressing-slathered side dish was now a meal. In 1978, four years after the first salad spinners showed up in U.S. stores, Americans snapped up a half-million of them. “It was the perfect melding of period and gadget,” Bee Wilson, a food historian, says. Today the salad spinner may be falling out of favor, as more people buy prewashed lettuce in bags. Dashka Slater

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