The history of Scott County and the tomato go back over 100 years. The first canning factory was founded in 1894 in Underwood and another factory was built in Vienna in 1895. The Scottsburg canning factory was built in 1899. The Lexington Canning Co was organized in the late 1890’s and the Austin Canning Company was formed in 1899. The Leota Canning Company also operated a cannery in the early 1900’s. Over the years with the advent of more efficient machinery, trucks and better roads, only the larger and most efficient canning factories survived or were bought out by others.
In the mid 1900’s Indiana was the largest producer of canned tomatoes in the United States and produced the highest quality of tomato and many of those tomatoes were canned here in Scott County. Of all the tomatoes packed by the Morgan Canning Factory in the mid 1900’s, none were packed as tomatoes, but made into tomato soup, tomato juice, puree, catsup, tomato paste and other tomato products. Yet, tomato juice was a fairly new product.
One of the Morgan Packing Co. trucks in Austin, Indiana
A hundred years ago if you had wanted a glass of good tomato juice, you would have had to visit the plush and swanky French Lick Springs Resort and Hotel. Louis Perrin, a chef at the old French Lick resort, perfected the tomato juice that we know today in 1917. Prior to this, women in Indiana had been making juice in their homes but discarding the pulp and seeds which resulted in a thin, watery and slightly sour drink. Chef Perrin first served tomato juice in the dining room to the nation’s wealthy and socially elite as a specialty of the house while the guests were dressed in their formal attire. It was served in delicate crystal in a setting of heavy silver on fine white table linens. As consumption and request for this new drink grew, the hotel began canning tomato juice at the end of summer to complete requests until the next season. Soon the hotel began selling the juice to friends and neighbors. It was just a few years before demand outweighed their capability to produce. A larger scale production was needed.
In the 1940’s, Morgan Packing Company had one of the largest fleet of trucks in the United States. Over two-thirds of the U.S. was served by this fleet of trucks as the operation radius was over 1200 miles in any direction from Scott County. Therefore, Scott County tomatoes were known nation-wide.
The tomato has come a long way since the 1700’s when the Europeans that settled this country believed that tomatoes were poisonous due to a nickname “poison-apple”. The true source of the poison was the lead-filled pewter plates that leaked the lead when mixed with the acid from the tomatoes. These pewter plates were mainly used by the aristocracy; whereas, the poor used wooden plates. Tomatoes were thus considered a food of the poor.
Tomatoes – mmmm. I believe I will have a bacon & tomato sandwich for supper tonight. – Wanda S. – Librarian & Genealogist