Who Invented Crackers?
Did you know that crackers were invented in New England? That's right: They're a New World creation, not a staple brought to America by early settlers.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, a source of Yankee prognostics and wisdom since 1792, both crackers and their predecessors were born in New England. In 1792, John Pearson of Newburyport, Massachusetts, made a cracker-like bread product from just flour and water that he called "pilot bread." An immediate hit with sailors because of its long shelf life, it also became known as hardtack or sea biscuit.
But the real evolutionary moment in the life of the cracker came in 1801 when another Massachusetts baker, Josiah Bent, burnt a batch of biscuits in his brick oven. Oops! The crackling noise that emanated from the singed biscuits inspired the name—crackers—and a bit of Yankee ingenuity, as Bent set out to convince the world of the product's snack food potential. By 1810, his Boston-area business was booming. And, in later years, Bent sold his enterprise to the company we now know as Nabisco. Did you know that name evolved from National Biscuit Company?
Crackers are everywhere these days, of course: There are more than 35 different flavors of Triscuits! But some New Englanders still enjoy making crackers the old-fashioned way. The Almanac featured tips and recipes from New Hampshire author Joan Harlow, whose book, The Harlow's Bread & Cracker Cookbook, has everything you need if you'd like to hear that crackling sound emanating from your own oven.
Sample Recipe for Ugly Crackers
To make these old-fashioned crackers, you'll need:
- 6 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of sesame seeds, crushed or toasted
- 1 Tablespoon of salt
- 1 Tablespoon of baking powder
- 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 2 cups of milk
Stir the dry ingredients together, cut in the blue cheese, then add milk. Shape dough into a ball, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. Roll the dough out cracker thin (that's super thin!), place sheets of dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, then cut a grid pattern to make squares. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 350°F for 8-10 minutes. Watch for the crackers to turn golden around the edges.
More New England Food Inventions
Yankee food ingenuity extends far beyond the humble cracker. This is the land, after all, where lobsters were elevated from sustenance for prisoners to sought-after delicacy.
Here's a look at a few of the most notable foods that originated in New England:
- The Hamburger: According to lore, Louis Lassen invented the hamburger sandwich in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1900, and you can still order an old-school burger cooked on the original grill when you visit Louis' Lunch.
- Marshmallow Fluff: Archibald Query invented Fluff in his Somerville, Massachusetts, kitchen in 1917. Would you believe he initially sold the gooey substance—without which the oh-so-New-England Fluffernutter sandwich would not be possible—door to door? Entrepreneurs H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower bought Query's recipe for $500 in 1920 and turned Fluff into a commercial success. More than a century after its invention, Somerville celebrates its culinary claim to fame each September with a What the Fluff? Festival.
- Moxie: Love it or hate it, the official soft drink of Maine has a taste like nothing else. Maine native Dr. Augustin Thompson first marketed Moxie Nerve Food in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1876 as a cure for everything from paralysis to insomnia. The bitter beverage, made with gentian root, got a boost from carbonation, and by 1884, Moxie was being sold in bottles and at soda fountains. Give this invention a try while you're in New England: It drinks best icy cold.
- Coffee Milk: Credit goes to Providence, Rhode Island's 19th-century Italian immigrants for laying the grounds for the state's signature beverage: milk swirled with coffee syrup. Lincoln, Rhode Island's Autocrat has been the leading maker of commercial coffee syrups since the 1930s, and coffee milk is easy to make at home or to find on diner and coffee shop menus throughout the Ocean State.