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Grim's Grub: The greatest thing since Betty White

How an invention by a jeweler in 1927, 5 years after Betty White was born, created something you most likely have in your pantry right now.

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Betty White at the ceremony for Valerie Bertinelli Hollywood Walk of Fame Star at Hollywood Blvd. on August 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA
Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder may be the greatest inventor in food history.

You might not know his name, but you know his work. And chances are you have sung its praise a time or two.

Rohwedder is famous as an inventor, though he began as a jeweler. He was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1880, where he got into his first career as a jeweler.

He started as an apprentice, but after his 1900 graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry with a degree in optics, he immediately became a jeweler.

Rohwedder became owner of not one, but three jewelry stores in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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Rohwedder's work on watches and jewelry endeared him to a love of machinery. He enjoyed working with the gears and metals that made clocks and watches tick, and before long he tried his hand at inventing his own machines.

He quickly came up with a machine he knew would make it big. He sold his stores and invested in developing blueprints and manufacturing prototypes for his historic invention.

Rohwedder spent years creating several different designs that failed to meet his needs. He lost everything in 1917, when his prototypes, blueprints and the Monmouth, Illinois, manufacturer were completely lost in a fire.

With all his work and money gone, Rohwedder could have given up, but he returned to the drawing board. It took him years to gather investments and polish his designs.

In 1927, lightning struck and Rohwedder finally had a workable product: an automatic bread slicing machine.

One of his biggest challenges in inventing the automatic bread slicer was realizing nobody would want sliced bread if it was stale. So he had to include a function to automatically bag the bread for freshness.

Rohwedder sold his first bread slicing machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri, a year later. In July 1928, the company sold its first line of "Kleen Maid Sliced Bread," which was an instant hit.

Within a year, Rohwedder could hardly keep up with demand from bakeries everywhere.

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Unfortunately, Rohwedder had to sell his company in 1929 with the arrival of the Great Depression. The company that bought him out kept him on as a vice president and sales manager.

While sliced bread was instantly a hit, it only became more popular when Wonder Bread made its own machine and began marketing and promoting its own brand of sliced bread.

Already by 1933, sliced bread surpassed unsliced bread in sales. Ever since, people have measured greatness based on the fruits of Rohwedder's work, making him one of the most important inventors in food technology.

Stuffed French Toast Pockets

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A pile of these finger size French toast pockets will make kids, and adults, forget French toast sticks even exist.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

  • 12 slices white bread, as fresh as possible with crusts removed to make squares
  • 18 ounces strawberry jam (or use other jams or pie fillings)
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 caps vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Powdered sugar to taste
  • Syrup
  • Oil for cooking

The night before making, combine the eggs, milk, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon in a bowl and whip until uniform. Allow this to rest overnight so the flavors mingle.
Using the back of a knife or other flat item, lightly imprint a line in the bread from one corner to the other. Do not cut the bread or compress this line too hard. Leaving about 1 centimeter of space around the cut edges, add a dollop of jam or pie filling on one half of the bread.

Fold the bread along the line and use a fork to crimp the open sides, being careful to keep the filling inside. Pour some French toast batter into a shallow, small plate. Coat each side of your French toast pocket.

Place the pocket into a pan with a shallow layer of oil on the bottom over medium high heat (this might also work with a deep fryer or air fryer). Add more French toast pockets to the pan. Do not overcrowd.

Turn the pockets when browned (these cook fairly fast). Remove when the batter is cooked throughout and both sides are browned. You might consider tilting them so the seams and sides are cooked as well.

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Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a small dipping cup of syrup.

Italian Veggie Panini

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The crunchy, sweet vegetables in this Italian panini are just a little slice of spring.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

  • 2 slices white bread
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cucumber, zuchini or spring squash, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 very thinly sliced mild red onion
  • Small bunch of fresh basil leaves
  • Marinara sauce

Clean two heavy cast iron skillets, including the bottom of one (alternatively, you may use an aluminum foil buffer). Place both skillets on the stove over medium high heat.
Preferably the night before, combine the powdered garlic, melted butter and salt. Combine the Parmesan, mozzarella and Italian seasoning blend.

Use a brush to butter one side and the crusts of one slice of bread. Place the buttered side down on one skillet. Sprinkle half of your cheese mixture on the slice of bread, then layer slices of cucumber, green pepper, tomato, onion and basil leaves (do not overuse the basil). Add the remaining cheese mixture followed by the second slice of bread.

Apply the butter mix to this bread on the top and crust. Place the second cast iron skillet on top of the sandwich (use a piece of aluminum foil if necessary) and press down to flatten the sandwich. Try not to squeeze all of the filling out.

Slice diagonally and serve with a marinara dipping sauce.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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