Ever since its debut on McDonald’s menus in 1981, the McRib has been a popular Golden Arches staple. Throughout its sticky existence, the McRib has garnered adoration from fans so strong that they’ll drive hundreds of miles for their favorite sandwich. The “McFib” has also earned its share of revulsion, confusion, and most of all, curiosity.
Let’s talk about some often-overlooked historical tidbits that remind us food can be large-scale terrifying, can wreak havoc on entire cities, and can claim lives on a massive scale. These are some of the world’s strangest food-related disasters – and some are more recent than you might expect.
The idea of a tank of molasses randomly bursting and flooding the streets with the sticky, sweet substance sounds pretty hilarious.
Truth is, it was nightmarish.
It happened in Boston on January 15, 1919, and it had been coming for a long time. A tank of molasses owned by US Industrial Alcohol had been leaking for a while. It held 2.5 million gallons, and the design was flawed from the beginning — it was never built strong enough, and collapse was inevitable.
Since molasses is a non-Newtonian liquid, that kind of quantity under that pressure would have behaved more like a mudslide or lava flow than molasses out of a bottle in your kitchen.
The 15-foot wave raced through the streets at around 35 miles per hour, and people were swept along with it. Those that survived suffered broken bones and disfiguring injuries and it was months before the bodies of the 21 dead were recovered. Cleanup efforts weren’t helped by the fact it was unseasonably warm when the tank burst, and the molasses hardened as temperatures plummeted.
History Today says it took 87,000 man-hours of work to haul, chisel, and saw away the hardened molasses that covered everything — including those who were unfortunate enough to be in the path of the tidal wave.
A truly astounding food discovery, this incredibly well preserved vacuum sealed can of pemmican and chocolate stood the test of time. The first true long-term storage survival ration, it was ahead of the rest of the world’s packaged military food technology. Back then, (and for many years after) it was the most advanced packaged/processed food in the world. In this video, we take a look at US Rations (Used by the AEF) of 100 years ago, their history, and find out how well the US Army Emergency Ration holds up over time.
I read somewhere recently that recipes for pound cake appeared in cookbooks dating all the way back to the 1700’s, which made me wonder, how in the world did they ever make a decent one, without the benefit of electric mixers? Turns out they didn’t.
There is no fully formatted, printable, written recipe being published on Allrecipes for this experiment. I’m going to list the ingredients below, and you saw how I did it, but I highly recommend you use an electric mixer.
Classic Pound Cake (Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf)
1/2 pound (1 cup) soft, room temp unsalted butter
1/2 pound (about 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) white granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla, optional
pinch of salt
4 large eggs or 1/2 pound by weight after cracking
1/2 pound (about 1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
– Bake at 350 F. for about 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
The history of ramen features cameos from The Yakuza crime syndicate, the U.S. Army, and a businessman who turned a simple idea into a worldwide convenience food. Ramen is so much more than a cheap and filling meal. In this episode of Food History, we break down ramen as a cultural and historic artifact whose evolution continues today.
You’ll hear from a ramen lover who spent two years working in a Japanese ramen shop, and you’ll learn why ramen was practically outlawed in the years following World War II.
Nachos are a deliciously cheesy contradiction. Recipes for nachos run the gamut, from the simple to the preposterous. They were invented in Mexico, by a Mexican, but they’re not exactly Mexican food. Some of the food science that makes them possible has been around for thousands of years, but one of the most ubiquitous nacho ingredients has only been available since a development in the 1970s. Like a good dad joke, nachos are corny yet oddly comforting. This episode of Food History dives into the historical, scientific, and culinary journey that gave us this bar food favorite. You’ll learn why one group of researchers looked to corn to explain the rise of vampire myths, and how Na3C6H507 gave us the nacho cheese you’ll find at bowling alleys and ballgames.
At age 19, the Marquis d’ LaFayette arrived in the Colonies on board the frigate, L’Hermione. He was to change the course of America’s war for Freedom. Chef Staib travels back to the port of La Rochefort, France for the final phase of reconstruction and to discover what drove LaFayette to become Washington’s Major General. Chef Staib makes calf livers in Calvados with apples, potato gratin, poached leeks in vinaigrette, dandelion salad with lardons, a salad of mussels, barley, artichokes and tomatoes and the famous “floating island” dessert.
Regarding the 1 gallon of beer–it’s not like the admiralty wanted to be overly generous with alcohol, but they had no choice because the ethyl alcohol acted like a preservative to extend shelf life and it prevented microbial growth. Any other liquids they tried to bring aboard ships became spoiled and made the sailors sick. This included fresh water which could cause dysentery and diarrhea due to microbial growth inside the water barrels. As far as I know the ship beer was very weak with low alcohol content–just enough to provide antimicrobial properties. It was not the pilsner we drink today (2 pints and you are loaded).
Cooked this and added some chopped sausages and bacon. It was heaven on earth.
The popularity of spam began in World War II, but its prevalence has persisted to this day despite changing tastes and competitors.
If you’re on the “paleo diet,” you’ve probably been avoiding wheat and potatoes, but a new study published last week indicates that humans have been eating starches for more than 100,000 years!
The chain of full-service Mexican restaurants once had 120 locations, but was down to one after a series of bankruptcies. The last standing location in Norwood, Ohio recently shut down.
Bonanza was founded by Dan Blocker, a star in the TV western with the same name. It was one of the earliest discount steakhouse chains that were founded in the ’60s. The chain grew to a whopping 600 locations before its decline. There are less than 10 left standing, including this one in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Hot ‘N Now
A popular fast food chain in the mid-eighties, Hot N’ Now sold incredibly cheap burgers, fries, and drinks. This is the last remaining location in Sturgis, Michigan.
Uncle John’s Pancake House
Once a national chain, the pancake joint is a relic of the 1960s. The only location that survived is in Toledo, Ohio but that changed when a brand new one opened up in California.
The root beer-based drive-in used to have over 350 locations around the country, but now only 13 survive including this one in Chrisman, Illinois. Their root beer is sold in specialty soda shops.
The chain specialized in roast beef sandwiches, similar to the popular Arby’s. There were 500 locations open in the 1980s but only five remain today, including this one in Harlan, Kentucky.
The chain was a combination of gas station and souvenir stores that also sold hot food at some locations. What started as a roadside pecan stand in Georgia turned into a 300 chain operation that sold T-shirts, hot dogs, and pecan candy across the U.S. After falling on hard times in the 1970’s, many of the locations shut down. Today, there are 82 Stuckey’s open, but many of them aren’t branded like they used to be. This vintage location is found in Johnston City, Illinois.
The Ohio-based chain once had 400 locations, but franchisees lost their rights to the name when the company was sold in the 1980s. A few Red Barn franchisees changed the name of their restaurants to ‘The Farm’ and continued on as a burger and fried chicken joint. The last operating ‘The Farm’ location is in Racine, Wisconsin.
Similar to Waffle House, this chain of breakfast restaurants is now down to its last five locations.
These discount steakhouses were very popular in the 1960s, but as tastes and ownership changed, the chain shrunk down tot 52 locations. This one is located in Lima, Ohio.
The chain imitated the Big Boy business model and was prominent in the south. Its parent company also established Long John Silver’s and Fazoli’s. Most Jerry’s were converted to Denny’s in the ’90s, but some are still open in Kentucky.
The family restaurant chain was made with a business model similar to that of Cracker Barrel. Locations were positioned close to highway exits and offered guests home-style meals along with a small gift shop. They used to be found all over the eastern U.S., but now only three remain. Pictured above is the Williamstown, West Virginia location.
The Irish-themed dining chain once had 288 locations across the U.S. After the recession, Bennigan’s shrank down to 15 restaurants between 2008 and 2018. This one in Midland, Michigan recently closed down. However, the brand seems to be making a resurgence and has opened a few new stores over recent years.
Bonanza Steak and BBQ
The only remaining restaurant in the steakhouse chain is the result of a failed attempt to start a new chain that would reinvent the Bonanza brand.
The chain of art deco burger and ice cream restaurants had 120 locations back in the ’80s and ’90s. Today, seven locations remain in business.
There were once 340 locations across the U.S. and Canada, but now only 28 remain including this one in Hannibal, Missouri.
At its peak, Druther’s had over 200 locations all over Kentucky and surrounding areas. Originally called Burger Queen, many of the restaurants were converted to Dairy Queens in the ’90s. This is the last remaining location in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
Azar’s Big Boy
The chain ran through small regional operators who would buy into the Big Boy system and put their name in front of the words ‘Big Boy’. The loosely affiliated chains constituted a national Big Boy chain until the whole thing crumbled in the ’80s. There are still a few hundred in operation, but they are controlled by two separate companies. Only one Azar’s Big Boy is left in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The unique bar and grill style restaurants featured seating in jail cells and antique cage elevators. There were 36 Darryl’s across the south, but all but one closed down due to bankruptcy. The last standing location is in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Over 2,000 Blimpie sandwich shops used to be found in strip malls and food courts across the country. After a losing battle with the popular Subway sandwich chain, only 200 Blimpie shops remained.
Sign Of The Beefcarver
The small regional chain of cafeterias in Detriot and Chicago had twenty locations at one point. Now there’s only one located in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Former KFC CEO and Kentucky governor John Y. Brown established the burger joint. There were once 100 locations, but only three remain in business. This is the downtown Louisville restaurant.
In the ’50s and ’60s, Horne’s had 55 locations along highways selling gas, souvenirs, and food. A slowing economy and fuel shortages forced all but one location to close down in the 1970s. The last location is in Port Royal, Virginia.
Back in the 80’s, a lot of simple chains attempted to bring fast food eateries back to its roots by creating drive-thrus with no inside seating. Central Park used to have 100 locations that sold food for really cheap prices. The chain has less than ten restaurants today, including this popular location in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The seafood fast food chain was named after the English character Arthur Treacher. There were once 800 locations across the country, but after the 1970s, it narrowed down to only a handful in Northeastern Ohio. This location is in Cuyahoga Falls.
There used to be 80 Happy Chef locations across Minnesota and both the Dakotas. Each one had a giant talking chef statue in the front. Today, only one remains in Mankato, Minnesota. Apparently, it’s a popular spot for the elderly.
The fast-food chain was named after Kewpie dolls, which were popular in the 1920’s. It had over 400 locations open at the beginning of World War II, but fell into decline in the 1960’s when modern fast food restaurants started taking over. Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas has said that Kewpee had an influence on the food at Wendy’s. Today, there are five locations open, including this one in Lima, Ohio.
Lone Star Steakhouse
The steakhouse chain that once had 265 locations across the country is now down to just three restaurants. This is one of the remaining restaurants in Crestwood, Illinois.
Chef Burger Chef used to be the second largest restaurant chain in the U.S. after McDonald’s. Mismanagement led the owners to sell out to Hardee’s parent company in 1982. The last restaurant to sell Burger Chef food is The Chef located in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Dog N Suds
This chain used to have 650 locations when drive-in dining was in its prime. Today there are about 14 locations still open, including this one in Muskegon, Michigan. Dog N Suds makes all of its own soda flavors, including their popular rootbeer.
This was Marno McDermott, the founder of Chi Chi’s, first attempt at selling Mexican fast food. There were around 80 locations in the midwest when the brand was sold to Pepsico. The majority of the locations were converted into Taco Bells. Today, there are four Zantigo locations around the Twin Cities.
Maryland Fried Chicken
The chicken chain founded in Florida still has several locations open in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The MFC pictured above is the last standing location north of the Mason Dixon line in Imlay City, Michigan.
York Steak House
Nearly all of the discount steakhouse locations that were popular in the 1960s closed by the 1980s. The last remaining restaurant stands in Columbus, Ohio.
The first restaurant opened in 1968 as a fast food eatery with burgers, chicken, and sandwiches. The chain was essentially founded by the Marriot Corporation, who sold the rights over to Hardee’s parent company. There are 25 surviving locations owned by longtime Franchisee Pete Plamondon. This is one of the locations in Cumberland, Maryland.
The chain was named after the fictional ranch from the TV show ‘Bonanza’, and also imitated the Bonanza steakhouse chain. Eventually, they were owned by the same company and successfully merged together. There are still about 60 Ponderosa locations around today, including this one in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
B-K Root Beer
This drive-in chain was built around its famous root beer recipe. At its peak, there were 238 locations across the Midwest but only about 15 locations remain including this one in Western Ohio.
The regional fast-food chain once had 31 units in Ohio and Indiana. They claim to be the first to use a double drive-thru configuration. This is the last Clancy’s in business today, located in Sidney, Ohio.