Americans have enjoyed low-cost, mass-produced food products for generations, and these corporate brands still maintain a secure place in our pantries. In recent years, though, there has been a renewed interest in doing things the “old way.” Attention to the process and craft behind the production of food and drink can be found everywhere from online catalogs to the shelves of small specialty markets and superstores. One of the biggest advantages of small-batch, craft food products is the transparent path from farm to table. Sure it’s trendy to want to know where your food comes from, but it certainly isn’t a new concept.
One of America’s most iconic food products, gracing the tables of approximately 97% of the country’s kitchens and restaurants is ketchup, and numerous gourmet brands are being marketed to today’s foodies. Though the saga of our favorite condiment began in Imperial China, a more recent history may be more relevant to our modern taste. The familiar tomato-based version of ketchup made its American debut in the early 1800s, and adapted to tastes and trends over the years. The sales totals of the T.J. Heinz Company of Pittsburg had reached $2.5 million by 1908. Little wonder that local entrepreneurs took notice.
The T. A. Snider Preserve Company, founded in Cincinnati, was a booming producer of ketchup in 1906, and had opened a production facility in Walton. According to a feature piece in the Boone County Recorder, the company was operating with a staff of 100 that same year. The coed workforce was divided into the ketchup (or catsup) and chili sauce divisions, each producing 50- 100 barrels of finished product daily.
Perhaps the location was chosen for its proximity to farms, as the sauces were made from local Boone County tomatoes, grown in Walton, Verona and Glencoe. The demand at Snider’s was high, with 8,000 to 10,000 bushels processed per week. Nearby farmers grew anywhere from 200 to 400 bushels per acre, and delivered their crop to be peeled and processed on-site. Modern culinary craftsmen understand the value of fresh, local products, but Snider’s operation followed this path a century ago.
The company had its bottling house in Cincinnati, where the final product was packaged and sent to market. Back at the Walton facility, the seeds, which had been removed before the tomatoes were processed, were barreled and shipped to a seed company in Michigan; there was little waste in production. Snider’s Preserve Company was a success and began to outgrow its craft-size operation, to keep up with growing demand. Snider’s expanded throughout the country and became a nationally recognized brand, remaining in business for over 100 years.
By Hillary Delaney, Local History Associate