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The Industries of Scotland
Manufacture of Preserved Provisions


ONE of the most troublesome characteristics of articles used for food is their liability to decomposition. Flesh of all kinds is peculiarly prone to speedy decay; and, though vegetables are on the whole more durable, yet most of them also soon become unfit for food. Prior to the beginning of this century, no mode of preserving animal food on a large scale was known save that of salting. Consequently, when vessels set out on a voyage that was to last beyond a few days, their crews had to be provided with stores of salted meat. Now, though salt preserves flesh from putrefaction, it deteriorates to a certain degree the quality; and persons who are compelled to use much salted meat without fresh vegetables are liable to attacks of scurvy and other affections of the fluids of the body. When salt is applied to fresh meat, a saline liquid or brine is deposited in the vessel. This is due to the power which the salt possesses of extracting from meat a large portion of the water or other soluble matter which enters into its composition. On analysing it, the brine is found to contain all the ingredients of a concentrated infusion of flesh; while only fibre is left for the salt to pre-serve. Salting, consequently, destroys to a great extent the nutritive properties of the flesh; and when the brine is poured off as waste, it really carries with it more than half the nourishment contained in the meat. Until a recent period, it might be said that more British seamen were destroyed by scurvy, originating in the want of vegetable food and in the constant use of salted provisions, than by all other causes combined. When Lord Anson reached Juan Fernandez with the Centurion, the Gloucester, and the Tryal, his united crews of 961 men had been reduced by that terrible disease to 626, of whom only a small number were fit for duty; and during last century a Spanish ship was picked up at sea with all her crew dead from scurvy. Cases of this kind might be multiplied to show the loss of human life entailed by want of means for preserving provisions in a fresh state. The cause of the disease was well enough understood, but a preventive was long sought in vain; and it must have been a dismal thing for a ship's crew to take their departure on a long voyage with the thought that few of them would see the end of it.

To such a height did scurvy attain in the navies and merchant shipping of Britain, France, and other countries, that the attention of the Governments was seriously roused to the importance of doing something to remedy the terrible evil. The French Government took the initiative by offering, in the year 1809, a premium for the invention of a process for preserving meat, so that it would remain fresh for any length of time, and in any climate. In the following year, M. Appert came forward to claim the prize; and, after due investigation, he received L.480 for the invention of a mode of preserving both animal and vegetable matter by subjecting them to a certain degree of heat, and then sealing them up in air-tight vessels. The principle of Appert's system of preserving was known and practised in this country for years before he was made famous as the supposed discoverer of it; but those who were acquainted with the process did not realise its importance, or dream of the application which he made of it.

Before giving an account of the modes of preserving provisions now practised, it may be interesting to note briefly some of the simpler methods of "curing" animal and vegetable substances which were practised before Appert's time, and are still followed in -some cases. Heat, moisture, and air are the influences which chiefly contribute to produce decomposition; and when either of these is got rid of, under certain conditions both animal and vegetable substances are rendered proof against putrefaction. When heat is expelled to such a degree that the juices of flesh and vegetables become frozen, decomposition is impossible. Meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables may therefore be preserved for any length of time if they be completely frozen. The remains of animals of a species believed to have been extinct since the advent of the human race have been discovered in a state of entire preservation embedded in the ice mountains of Siberia. It had long been customary to boil and pickle with vinegar the salmon caught in the Scotch rivers before sending them to London and other distant places; and a boiling-house was an essential department of the more remote fishing stations. The late Mr Dempster of Dunnichen, who about the middle of last century did much to encourage native industry, recommended the use of ice instead of fire as a preserving medium; and some experiments were so convincing by their results, that the boiling-houses were abolished and ice-houses erected. Freezing operates as a preservative by sealing up the fluids, and preventing their undergoing chemical action. Extracting the fluids is an equally effective mode of warding off decay. The hot winds which prevail at certain seasons in many parts of the world have the power of evaporating with great rapidity the fluids from inanimate bodies; and the remains of travellers who have succumbed to the scorching blast have been found years afterwards perfectly dried and free from any trace of decomposition. The North American Indians prepare the meat which they carry on their hunting expeditions by removing the fat, cutting the flesh into stripes, and exposing it to the action of the sun and air, so that it becomes quite hard, and may be kept for a considerable time without losing its nutritive properties. This food the Indians call "pemmican." A somewhat similar process has been tried in South America on a large scale, and "jerked" beef has within the past few years been sent to this country in large quantities; but notwithstanding the exceedingly low prices asked, people have not taken to it kindly. Fish, after being salted to a certain degree, and dried by exposure to the sun and air, are rendered safe against decomposition for a considerable time. Many kinds of fruit and vegetables may be preserved by simply hanging them in a dry place. Another method of preserving animal and vegetable substances is by excluding the air from them. Eggs may be protected against decomposition by covering the shells, which consist of porous earthy matter, with any substance that will completely shut out the air. A coat of strong spirit varnish will make an egg keep for years. While some alterations were being made on. a church in Italy, three eggs were found embedded in the lime of the wall; and though they had remained in that position for 300 years, they were perfectly fresh, retaining their natural odour and flavour. The eggs owed their preservation to the fact that the mortar in which they were embedded prevented contact with the air. Confectioners in this country preserve eggs for weeks in a solution of lime. Immersion for a moment in boiling water will also preserve eggs. By contact with the heat, a film in the albumen in the egg is coagulated, and so becomes an air-tight envelope within the shell. The principle of excluding air is that now generally employed in preserving provisions on a large scale. The efficacy of acid gases in preserving fish and flesh has been known for many years. The most familiar illustrations of its use are hams, red herrings, and "Finnan haddies." Wood and turf give off pyroligneous acid during combustion, and becoming incorporated with the substance of the fish or flesh, the acid enables it to resist decomposing influences. Sulphurous acid has at various times been brought into notice as a preserving agent; and quite recently Dr Dewar of Kirkcaldy has demonstrated its importance in this respect.

M. Appert claimed to have discovered—"First, That fire has the peculiar property not only of changing the combination of the constituent parts of vegetable and animal productions, but also of retarding, for many years at least, if not of destroying altogether, the natural tendency of those same products to decomposition; secondly, That the application of fire in a manner variously adapted to various substances, after having with the utmost care, and as completely as possible, deprived them of all contact with the air, effects a perfect preservation of those same productions with all their natural qualities." The operations by which fire is made available as a preserving agent are stated to be—first, enclosing in bottles the substance to be preserved; secondly, corking the bottles with the utmost care; thirdly, submitting the enclosed substances for a greater or less length of time to the action of boiling water in a water-bath; and fourthly, withdrawing the bottles from the water-bath at the period prescribed. In practice it was found that in many cases the bottles broke during the boiling process, while in others the corks were found ineffective for excluding the air; so that a large proportion of the substances sought to be preserved was lost. Still the invention was hailed as a great advance towards a much-desired object, and, as such, was promulgated by the French Government. In 1811 an English patent was taken out for Appert's process of preservation. The patent was purchased for L.1000 by Messrs Donkin, Hall, & Gamble, who, in 1812, erected an extensive preservatory at Bermondsey. It is stated that, after a series of experiments made by the patentees for the purpose of testing the accuracy of the process, and ascertaining how far it might be made applicable in a general way for victualling the maritime service occasionally with fresh meat, they found that the system of preservation, so far as it had then been developed, was too defective and uncertain in its results to be made the vehicle of any safe or profitable commercial enterprise. They then made some experiments with vessels of tin, and these were so successful that the art of preserving food was reduced to a certainty. No sooner was the possibility of preserving provisions demonstrated by this firm, than the ships of the navy and of the East India Company were supplied with some of the prepared food; and soon a happy change became apparent in the health of those on board. Emigrant ships were subsequently ordered to carry certain proportions of preserved meats, and now no vessel sails on a voyage that is to extend beyond a few days without having such stores in the lockers. The meat-preserving trade has assumed large dimensions; and the method adopted by Messrs Donkin, Hall, & Gamble is that now followed (with certain modifications in the details of the process) in the great preservatories which supply the shipping of all nations.

The meat-preserving trade was introduced into Scotland in 1822, when Messrs John Moir & Son began business in Aberdeen. There are now nine establishments for the manufacture of preserved provisions in the country. Of these five are in Aberdeen; and it may be said that the granite city enjoys a more wide-spread fame for its preserved meats than it does even for the produce of its quarries— indeed, it would be difficult to discover a place to which civilisation has penetrated where the delicacies sent out from the Aberdeen and other Scotch preservatories are not well and favourably known. The pioneer firm in the trade was founded by the late Mr John Moir, father of the present senior partner. The firm began by preserving salmon for exportation, and subsequently added meats, soups, game, fish, and vegetables. The trade made slow progress for a time, as public prejudice had to be overcome, and a market had to be created. Once the thorough efficacy of the mode of preservation adopted was proved, a demand at home and abroad sprang up, and new manufactories were erected. Messrs Moir have well maintained their position in the trade; and their establishment is the largest of the kind in the country. They have an extensive connection with India, China, and Australia, and supply a large proportion of the provisions required by vessels sailing from London, Liverpool, and Glasgow. During the Crimean war they executed several large contracts for the British and French Governments. The quantity of preserved meat produced by the firm is about 2,500,000 lb. a-year. They employ a large number of workpeople. Messrs D. Hogarth & Co. were the second firm in the trade at Aberdeen. They carry on a considerable business both at Aberdeen and at Deptford. Among the younger establishments may be mentioned that of Mr Alexander Forbes, Canal Terrace, which was erected in 1860. Mr Forbes has already acquired a prominent position in the branch of industry to which he has devoted himself, and is already favourably known in the home and foreign markets. The other preservatories in Aberdeen belong respectively to Mr Morton, and to Messrs Marshall & Co. Besides these there are three firms engaged in salting meat. Altogether, upwards of 500 persons are employed; and the average annual value of the preserved provisions manufactured in Aberdeen is about L.221,000. The business is still increasing, though the only advantage Aberdeen possesses as a seat of the trade is that of having been the first town in Scotland and one of the first in Britain that engaged in it. The other meat-preserving establishments in Scotland are at Leith, Glasgow, Peterhead, and Burntisland. The last is a small experimental concern.

In 1837 Messrs John Gillon & Co. established a provision preservatory in Mitchell Street, Leith. From a small beginning the place was rapidly extended until it became what it still is—one of the largest establishments of the kind in the country. The trade-list of the firm contains about 500 varieties of preserved meats, soups, vegetables, fish, game, &c., and shows the almost unlimited application of the mode of preservation which is employed. To describe the processes to which the various kinds of foods are subjected would be a tedious task, and it will suffice here to note in a general way what may be seen going on by visitors to the establishment. The preservatory occupies a large but irregular range of buildings, some of which are three and others four storeys in height. Almost the whole of the ground floor is devoted to offices and stores for the completed goods. In the stores hundreds of thousands of canisters painted of a uniform red are piled in bins. Each canister bears a label, which, besides indicating the contents, describes the mode of preparing them for the table. Samples are shown of meats which have been in the premises for twenty or thirty years; and sonic prepared milk brought home from the Crimea is to be seen on the shelves. When the preserving processes are carefully gone through, the only thing that can affect the articles preserved is damage to the canister. If the canisters were indestructible the contents would remain good for any number of years. On ascending to the first floor the first stages of the work of preservation may be witnessed. A large number of oxen are used weekly, and the carcases of these are brought in dressed from the public slaughter-houses. The sides of meat are laid upon benches, and after being divided into pieces of convenient size have the bones taken out. A selection of the parts is then made. Certain portions are preserved for roasting, some for boiling, and others for mincing. The roasting is done in an oven of peculiar construction, capable of turning out a thousand small roasts at a time. The roasts are put into tins, with the gravy, have lids soldered upon them, and are then subjected to the preserving process, which is conducted in the upper floor. In the preserving-room is a range of oblong iron tanks with double bottoms. These are partially filled with oil or water, into which the canisters are lowered on a frame or gridiron. By turning steam into recesses in the bottoms of the tanks, the contents are heated. After a certain time the canisters are raised out of the tank, and a small puncture is made in the lid of each. Through this opening steam flies off with great force, carrying with it all the air that was enclosed in the case. At a particular moment, before fresh air has begun to enter the canisters, the apertures are closed by a drop of solder, and the operation is complete. When the canisters are raised from the bath the ends are bulged outwards by the expansion of the air and moisture within; but when they cool, after the tapping, the ends assume a slightly concave form, owing to the pressure of the atmosphere. In all cases this is what takes place, whether the articles preserved be put up in a cooked or in a raw state—the air is driven off by heat, and shut out by closing the aperture made to allow it to escape. Essence of beef constitutes what may be called the speciality of the firm. It is prepared from the first gravy or juice which exudes from the meat in the process of cooking. Professor Christison thus notes its peculiarities:—"The meat-juice contains only 6 per cent. of solids. As a mere nutrient, therefore, it is much in the same category with beef-tea. Sixteen ounces of beef-tea, made with the contents of one tin, yield only 114 grains of solid extract. It contains no fibrin, no albumen, no gelatine. It does not even gelatinise, on exposure to the air, for days. It is ozmazome with the salts and sapid and odorous principles of meat, and materially different from all boiled extracts. I should add that no good beef-tea can be made so cheap as with this preserved meat-juice. A tin of four ounces makes sixteen of strong beef-tea." Mutton and chicken juices are prepared by the same method as that of beef. Minced meats are cut by a steam-machine capable of turning out 4 cwt. an hour.

The soups and vegetables are cooked in a series of huge hem`.- spherical boilers, which are clustered in the centre of one of the upper rooms. Here, too, the heat is applied in the form of steam, which is admitted into the double casing of the boilers. Along one side of the room are arranged eight boilers constructed on the principle of Papin's digester. They are used to extract the fat and other nutritive substances from the bones, and the flesh attached to them. These substances have always been regarded as of high value, and Papin invented his digester in 1681 for the purpose of extracting them. The fat from the marrow-bones, under the name of marrow fat, is extensively used for cooking fish, making stews, pastry, &c.

After the bones are taken out of the extractors, they are still of some value, and are sent to the bone mills, from which they come forth as phosphate of lime—a fertilising agent much used by agriculturists. From the hoofs of the oxen and sheep prussiate of potash, or hartshoru, is made, but not at the preservatory. Nothing is lost; but much that would be wasted under the usual domestic modes of treating food is saved, and turned to profitable account. It is by economising the material that the prices are so low, and that persons may obtain, in some cases, the preserved provisions at a cheaper rate than they require to pay for the same articles in an unprepared state. The term "in season," as applied to articles of food, may be said to have been abolished by this meat-preserving process; for there is no delicacy that may not be had in a perfectly fresh state on any day in the year.

It is unnecessary to go further into detail so far as the preparation of the various kinds of food is concerned; but there is one department of the preservatory which merits notice, as illustrating the effect which machinery of the simplest kind exercises in saving manual labour. In order to make the tin canisters by the usual method, more than 100 tinsmiths would be required; but this part of the work is accomplished by machines worked by men and lads, who can learn the business perfectly in the course of a few weeks. Messrs Gillon & Co., in conjunction with an Aberdeen firm, purchased the patent for canister-making machinery from an American inventor. The sides of the canisters are cut to any size by a guillotine apparatus, and bent in another machine. The ends are stamped out, and have their edges raised by dies. Then there are appliances for soldering the parts together. Many thousands of canisters of various sizes are thus made weekly, without the aid of regularly bred tinsmiths.

The ships of some of the Arctic expeditions were supplied with provisions prepared by Messrs Gillon & Co., and nearly all the European Governments have at various times received supplies from them. During the Crimean war their preparations were extensively used in the hospitals, and on board the war-ships of Britain and

France; and the troops of the Abyssinian expedition were provided with a considerable quantity. It is a remarkable fact that South America and Australia are among the best markets for preserved meats, in both of which countries companies exist for the purpose of preserving beef and mutton for the European markets. British residents in India depend largely on preserved provisions for their meals. Scotchmen abroad insist on having haggis at all their national festivals, and many "chieftains of the pudding race" are sent out in a preserved state by Messrs Gillon & Co.


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