What's in a Name?

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

These names have probably all ended up in your shopping cart at some point, but how well do you know their origins? Let's take a look at the names behind some of our favorite groceries.

Kellogg's

Kellogg's brand cereal
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Seventh-day Adventist brothers Will Keith and John Harvey Kellogg stumbled across a tasty process for flaking corn while working at Michigan's Battle Creek Sanitarium. The brothers were looking for a vegetarian diet that would work with the Seventh-day Adventist principles, and when they realized the cereal could be a healthy breakfast food, they took their development commercial in 1897.

In addition to being a major philanthropist, W.K. Kellogg also became a big deal in the Arabian horse industry. The ranch he opened in Pomona, CA gave rise to a number of famous horses, including the one Rudolf Valentino rode in the film Son of the Sheik.

Post Cereals

Fruity Pebbles
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The rivalry between Post and Kellogg's on the cereal aisle is intense, but it's got nothing on their personal differences. Post Foods were the brainchild of Charles William Post, who had the idea for a line of cereal products...while eating the Kellogg brothers' creations at the Battle Creek Sanitarium! (As the story goes, W.K. Kellogg was famously secretive about the corn flaking process, but his brother John would let anyone hanging around the sanitarium watch.) Post founded Postum Cereal Co. in 1895, and in 1897 he introduced Grape Nuts.

Post was a bit of a character once he became wealthy. In 1907 he snapped up 200,000 acres of Texas ranchland to create a utopian community he called the Double U. The Double U had a gin and a textile mill, but it didn't allow drinking or brothels. Within seven years the town was ready to incorporate, at which point it changed its name to Post. Post, TX now has around 3,700 residents and is the county seat of Garza County.

Pepperidge Farm

Goldfish Crackers
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In 1937 Margaret Rudkin had a problem. The youngest of her three sons had asthma and severe allergies, and whenever he ate commercially processed foods, he got sick. A doctor convinced Rudkin to feed the boy a diet that consisted mostly of fruits and vegetables, but she eventually decided to bake the tot some stone ground whole wheat bread. The first attempt at the bread wasn't great – she later joked, "My first loaf should have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution as a sample of Stone Age bread, for it was hard as a rock and about one inch high" – but Rudkin kept trying until she nailed the recipe.

Rudkin then convinced a local grocer to carry her bread at the then-exorbitant price of 25 cents a loaf, more than twice what normal bread cost. After some haggling, he finally agreed, and her baking found quite a following. Rudkin named her baking company Pepperidge Farm after the Fairfield, CT estate where she and her family lived. The farm itself was named after a giant old pepperidge tree that grew on the property.

Campbell's Soup

Campbell's tomato soup
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Andy Warhol's favorite canned good got its start when Joseph A. Campbell and Abraham Anderson founded the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company in 1869. The men sold condiments, soups, jellies, canned tomatoes, and other pantry staples. Things didn't really take off until MIT-educated chemist Dr. John T. Dorrance convinced Campbell's general manager – who also happened to be Dorrance's uncle – to hire him. Dorrance wanted to play with the chemical constitution of Campbell's products so badly that he took a meager $7.50 a week in salary and agreed to pay for his lab equipment out of his pocket.

Campbell's tiny investment in Dorrance paid off. In 1897, Dorrance hit on a way to revolutionize the soup industry by condensing half of the water out of the canned product. Less water meant that it was much lighter to ship the soup, a huge boost to the company's bottom line. The red-and-white color scheme came about the following year after executive Herberton Williams attended a Cornell-Penn State football game. Williams was so struck by the Cornell player's red-and-white jerseys that he suggested the company's soup cans use the same combination.

Tombstone Pizza

Tombstone Pizza
Zepfanman.com, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The creepy name has a funny story. Back in the early 1960s, brothers Joseph "Pep" and Ronald Simek ran a bar on the outskirts of Medford, WI. Since their tavern was across the street from a cemetery, they named the place the Tombstone Tap. Pep Simek supplemented the bar's dime-a-glass beer offerings with homemade pizzas, and his creations grew so popular that other local bars asked if Pep would whip up a batch of pizzas for them, too. Pep and Ron joined together with their wives to start making pizzas for other restaurants and bars, and they named their wares Tombstone in honor of their own tavern.

Quaker Oats

Quaker Oats
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Here's a shocker: Quaker Oats wasn't founded by a Quaker! In 1877 mill owner Henry D. Seymour read an encyclopedia article on the Quakers and decided that the traits described in the article – integrity, honesty, and purity – were all good qualities for his fledgling company's oats to have. He trademarked the name for his Ravenna, OH mill's business, and in 1901 Quaker Mill Company merged with three other oat mills to form the Quaker Oats Company.

Claussen Pickles

The famously crunchy pickles actually arose from a bad situation. In 1870, farmer Hans Claus was stuck with a crop of cucumbers he couldn't seem to sell. Rather than let them go to waste, he pickled the unwanted stock and sold the cucumbers. Soon, his business took off, and he never had to waste another cucumber.

Hans Claus made his pickles the traditional way where the cucumbers went into brine and then underwent heat processing. Claussen's famous cold treatment for its pickles actually didn't come around until the 1960s when Claus' great-grandson Ed Claussen perfected a way to make refrigerated pickles that retained their crunch.

Wrap Yourself in the Sweet Smell of Bacon (or Coffee or Pine) With These Scented T-Shirts

adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images
adogslifephoto/iStock via Getty Images

At one point or another, you’ve probably used perfume, cologne, body spray, or another product meant to make you smell like a flower, food, or something else. But what if you could cut out the middleman and just purchase scented clothing?

Candy Couture California’s (CCC) answer to that is “You can!” The lifestyle brand offers a collection of graphic T-shirts featuring scents like bacon, coffee, pine tree, strawberry, and motor oil. If you have more traditional olfactory predilections, there are several options for you, too, including rose, lavender, and lemongrass. There’s even a signature Candy Couture California scent, which is an intoxicating blend of coconut, strawberry, and vanilla.

candy couture california bacon shirt
Candy Couture California

According to the website, CCC founder Sara Kissing came up with the idea in 2011 while working in the e-commerce fashion industry, and her personal experience with aromatherapy led her to investigate developing clothing that harnessed some of those same benefits. The T-shirts are created with scent-infused gel, which “gives off a delicate, mild smell—just enough to boost your mood.”

So you don’t have to worry about your bacon shirt making the whole office smell like a breakfast sandwich, but you yourself will definitely be able to enjoy its subtle, meaty aroma whenever you wear it. The shirts are also designed to match their scents—the chocolate shirt, for example, features chocolatey baked goods, while the coffee shirt displays steaming mugs of coffee.

candy couture california chocolate shirt
Candy Couture California

The fragrances don’t last forever, but they’ll stay strong through 15 to 20 washes before they start to fade. CCC recommends using unscented detergent so as not to conflict with the shirt’s aroma, and you can further prolong its life if you’re willing to wash it by hand.

Prices start at $79, and you can shop the full collection here.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

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