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Gail Borden’s Meat Biscuits

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In the days before mechanical refrigeration and other modern means of preserving foods for long periods of time–in other words, for most of the world's history–long journeys, whether by ship, horse, carriage, or shank's mare, could prove hunger-inducing undertakings. Gail Borden Jr. helped change all that.

Born in New York state in 1801, Borden arrived in Galveston in 1829. In Texas, he farmed, took over from his brother Thomas as surveyor for Stephen F. Austin's colony, laid out the city of Houston, and prepared the first topographical map of Texas. He also tried his hand at politics and publishing. But inventing would prove his forte.

In the late 1840s, Borden found that boiling beef down to an extract, mixing it with flour, then baking it resulted in a light-colored "biscuit." Made without salt or other flavoring, the biscuit was virtually tasteless, but a cook could add any seasoning desired and use it as a base for soup, stock, gravy, and pies.

Borden set up a plant in Galveston and marketed his Meat Biscuits worldwide, with some success: They accompanied a party of forty-niners heading west; a sea captain bought 1,500 pounds for his ship's stores; the American explorer Dr. Elisha Kent Kane took a supply on two Arctic expeditions. The product even won an award, at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. But when he failed to receive hoped-for military contracts, Borden (who had moved back to New York to be nearer the centers of trade) turned his attention to condensing other foods, such as milk, fruit juices, and coffee. His condensed milk, named Eagle Brand in 1866, gained everlasting fame. The Civil War created a lucrative demand for it, and after the war, it quenched the thirst of many a cowboy on trail drives.

Though he lived elsewhere after 1851, Borden had family and business connections in Texas and spent his last few winters in the state. He died in January 1874 in the Colorado County town named for him.

Read 3385 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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