Eating the Past: New Jersey and the origins of Campbell Soup
Hi, I'm Tammy Proctor. If you are like me, you have at some point in your
life just opened a can of Campbell's tomato soup, grilled up a cheese
sandwich, and made that an evening meal. The perfect mix of comfort
food and easy preparation.
But have you ever considered the origins of Campbell Soup, it's iconic red
and white label, or the recipes that require soup as an ingredient? I mean, who
hasn't had green bean casserole at a family gathering or church social?
It might surprise you to know that Campbell Soup is headquartered in the
Garden state in Camden, New Jersey, where the company was founded in
the aftermath of the Civil War. The two entrepreneurs that began the
company married their specialties – one was a fruit merchant who also
made preserves, the other was a tinsmith interested in commercial
Together they started a company to can fruits, vegetables, and
preserves, and under subsequent leadership in the 1890s, the Campbell
Soup company launched the products we know today.
First, in 1897, they devised a recipe for condensed soup, in which much of
the water was removed before canning, which allowed for smaller cans and
Second, they launched their iconic red/white soup label in 1898,
later adding the signature of one of the founders and an image of the
company's bronze medal from the Paris exhibition in 1900. Their innovative and
aggressive advertising, especially with the Campbell kids cartoon characters, put
the brand on the map in the early twentieth century.
But back to soup as a comfort food and casserole staple. Canned soup's
origins in the nineteenth century is tied to a couple of important
historical developments. Campbell Soup and other food manufacturers
relied on a relatively new process of safely canning food in tin cans
that was born in France during the Napoleonic wars.
This process allowed for canned condensed milk by the 1850s as well as a
number of canned meats, beans, and vegetables by the 1860s. Thus, when the
Civil War broke out in 1861, union forces relied heavily on northern manufacturers
For canned goods to feed their mass armies on the move. Those same
soldiers got a taste for canned foods, creating a larger market for
tinned goods after the war.
So, by the time that Campbell began hawking its condensed soup to
consumers at the turn of the century, tinned goods were a household
staple for many Americans. Subsequent periods of war –such as world
War I and World War II—along with the Great Depression and other
dconomic downturns, led many families to rely on inexpensive canned
condensed soups for family meals.
The company promoted the use of soup in cooking other dishes by publishing
cookbooks with soup-based sauces and casseroles. Our library at usu holds a
number of these cookbooks, and i grew up cooking from the 1966 Campbell Soup
cookbook that we had in my house.
I'd like to end the episode with one of the beloved recipes that uses
Campbell Soup, but it is hard to choose. Cream of mushroom soup is the
key to green bean casserole and crockpot swedish meatballs, and many
of us have probably used soup to make tuna casserole.
Instead, i will put a copy on the website of a recipe for tomato soup cake,
which first appeared in the 1920s and continues to be a popular cake in parts
of the country. This spice cake has changed over the years, but the main
Ingredient remains a can of condensed tomato soup (not the low sodium
kind!) and cupboard spices. Try it for yourself if you've never had it. Some
people call it "magic" cake for a reason.
So get out your can opener and open up a can of soup for a trip through
New Jersey's history.
For a link to a recipe for "magic" tomato soup cake from the 1966 Campbell
Soup cookbook I grew up with, please visit the u-p-r dot o-r-g website.
Stay tuned next week for another episode of eating the past focused on these