Friday, 9 October 2015

Clarence Birdseye and that ubiquitous fish finger …



What a lovely name Clarence has … and he is Birdseye the second … his father being the first Clarence Frank Birdseye – however the second was the inventor, entrepreneur and naturalist, who became credited as being the founder of the modern frozen food industry.


Clarence Birdseye
Birdseye (1886 – 1956) was born in Brooklyn and began his career as a taxidermist, travelling as an ‘assistant naturalist’ to places in the States.  He was sent off in 1912 to Labrador, Canada, where he became interested in food preservation by freezing, especially fast freezing.


An illustration of ice-fishing
in Norway (c 1904)

He was taught by the Inuit how to ice-fish under very thick ice.  
In -40 Deg C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh.  He also noted that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of a lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador … he set about applying his knowledge.






Traditional Qamutik (sled)
of the Inuit

He established his own company, which he sold, with his patents, for $22 million to Goldman Sachs and what was to become General Foods in 1929 – he continued to work with the company. 




Captain Birds Eye and packet of fish fingers.


They then founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company.  Who would have thought that the name 'Birdseye' would become the name of a corporation.





This is a Bird's Eye to me!
In the UK after WWII there was an abundance of herring from which Clarence Birdseye made herring fish fingers.  To test the market he produced a control product made from cod:  so we had “herring savouries” v “cod sticks” – the public chose the cod … which confounded the company’s expectations. 




Fish fingers, tomato sauce and chips

Here endeth the tale of how fish fingers came about in the UK …. which still confounds the experts as being the most popular frozen food purchased, cooked and eaten …





Goujons with tartare sauce


… so much so that it’s gone upmarket appearing as ‘goujons’ – a somewhat more delicate way of serving bread-crumbed fish.






The original Capn ... and a new actor
We had a tv ad here in the 1960s promoting fish fingers by Captain Birds Eye – played by John Hewer … the 50 or more ads were incredibly successful, playing in seven languages and 15 countries.




The Captain was killed off … ‘life slipped through his fingers’ – prompting an obituary in The Times in June 1971.


Labrador, where the concept all began

It didn’t last long … he was re-instated in 1974 – with another notice in The Times: ‘Birds Eye, Captain.  Now returned to these shores, a revitalised man.  Wishes to deny premature reports of his demise previously recorded in these columns.  Will shortly address the nation …’




There have been other changes – but the fish finger will live on … they are tasty, nutritious, quick and convenient … and provide protein, fish and probably tomato sauce for your youngsters (or oldies!).  We eat apparently 1.5 million of them every day …


Fish Fingers for the adults

Here’s to you Mr Clarence Frank Birdseye for your foresight of bringing frozen food to the masses … I can’t say I have eaten very many in my lifetime … very probably less than 200, maybe even fewer … I do eat fish cakes occasionally.


I’d better post this on a Friday!

The idea for this post came from some information found in the Waitrose Weekend magazine.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

43 comments:

beste barki said...

Hello Hilary, once again learned so many interesting facts from your post. How Birdseye learned to freeze fish is an amazing story.

Janie Junebug said...

I apologize to Clarence, although he's not with us, because I've never liked those frozen fish fingers or frozen fish toes or frozen fish knees. They just don't taste like much. But, as always, I enjoy the information. No doubt, I'll be at a party someday and the entire crowd will be confused about Clarence Birdseye, and I'll be able to tell them his life story.

Love,
Janie

Elephant's Child said...

Like you, I am not a big fish-finger consumer. Loved learning about the background though.
I am particularly tickled that the revitalised Captain BirdsEye paraphrased Mark Twain.
Great post - thank you.

D.G. Hudson said...

I remember eating a lot of them too, called fish sticks and from a kid's point of view, they were the early equivalent of chicken fingers and easier to dip in the ketchup. . .in the south we cooked our fish rolled in cornmeal and fried which gave them a crispier taste while adding extra fat . . .with hushpuppies, not chips.

Now I want fish and chips. . .another UK snack/meal. Is it still wrapped in newspaper?

Mason Canyon said...

Fish stick Friday was always a favorite when I was in grade school. Love learning the background of the fish and the company.

Out on the prairie said...

Very interesting topic. I used to eat a lot, but lost my yearn as I grew older. they were a popular item for school lunches.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Interesting stuff, Hilary. I think fish sticks were better when I was a kid. They actually tasted like fish back then, but most of the ones on the market now are too full of breading. Either that, or my taste buds "grew up." At any rate, frozen products had a huge impact on the way we eat, but I still prefer fresh. (Such a snob.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never knew that's how frozen Birdseye dinners began.
Sorry, frozen fishsticks are still disgusting. All that fatty breading.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Beste - thanks I just thought the information was so interesting, as we so often don't know how organisations or brand start up.

@ Janie - poor old Clarence! I was never too keen on them either .. but the other fast foods are far worse. Glad you enjoyed the information though - and it's the useless snippets that can stir up a conversation ...

@ EC - it looks like we're all in the same mode - not fish finger fanatics. I was fascinated by the background ... I hadn't realised it was a Mark Twain paraphrased quote .. I think I got it from Wiki ...

@ DG - they weren't around when I was a kid .. and not having children - I never suffered them: but I've had to when I've been in others' houses.

Actually cornmeal has been promoted quite often over here in recent years and I used it for squid ... but far too moorish - so I have that sort of thing when I go out, but not at home. I didn't know what the hushpuppy was - now I do ...

Yes some posh fish shops sell their fish and chips in newspaper (specially prepared paper!) - others do wrap the purchase in newspaper ... more as a cult thing - Food Safety is very protective now ...

@ Mason - Fish Stick Friday .. I don't think we had fish fingers at school - but I'm probably too old for them ... they weren't around.

It's fun isn't it - the back story ...

@ OOTP - I'm sure many did enjoy fish fingers growing up or in student digs at Uni or college. I have fish-cakes (decent ones) as an emergency back up supper which I can have with spinach, tomatoes etc ...

@ Susan - they were probably plain fish as you say - and not the mashed up versions of things we get today - which are then breaded.

I much prefer and almost always buy fresh fish ... but the market did change with the introduction of the frozen food industry didn't it ...

@ Alex - I thought it was interesting enough to put it into the blog. I agree fish fingers are not pleasant - sadly too many people love them and feed their family on them.

Cheers - and am glad the content 'amuses' you ... Hilary

Lynn said...

When I first saw his name - I wondered if he was connected to the frozen foods company. And indeed he was! Love this post - thank you.

Suzanne Furness said...

Well who would have thought the humble fish finger had so much history. I must confess I do enjoy them occasionally - especially as a fish finger sandwich! Thanks for another interesting post, Hilary.

bazza said...

My grandchildren love fish fingers. We get them in a local farm-shop and they come from a place in Norfolk and are made of real fish, not processed! They aren't too bad either.
In the book & film East of Eden the James Dean character loses the family fortune by trying to transport a trainload of frozen vegetables across the United States. I used to wonder if that was based on Clarence Birdseye - now you have shown that it wasn't. Lovely post!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Lynn - he has a wonderful name doesn't he ... but I always think about the little flower. It was fun finding out how frozen fish came about - and how Clarence took his company to the forefront.

@ Suzanne - I know .. I was so amused by the story - I felt I needed to post about it. Fish Finger Sandwich - each to his own!! That I've never tried. Glad you enjoyed it ...

@ Bazza - well your fish fingers sound quite wonderful and yes I'd happily eat those. I enjoy the fish-cakes I get from our local farm shop - but they're an emergency supply in my mind!

I didn't know about the East of Eden story line .. how interesting - James Dean though .. another matter!! It might not have been based on the history of the frozen fish finger - but I bet there was some correlation in Steinbeck's thought processes.

Thanks for commenting .. and am glad you were also amused by the history. Cheers Hilary

rosaria williams said...

Thanks for this lovely bio of Captain Birdseye, a friend of many, especially small children and their parents who appreciate the nutrition and convenience he provided.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Hilary,

Such and interesting post. It amazes me how these mega corporations started. And Birdseye, creating the first frozen fish sticks is pretty amazing.

I used to eat lots of them as a kid, but I rarely eat processed foods now. But I must admit with a bit of tartar sauce on the side, these "fingers" are certainly tasty....

Sorry I haven't been visiting lately. Just SO busy with the rehab of my loft and still seeking a place in the sun. The temps here in Chicago dropped a bit, but will be warming back up tomorrow. But I know winter will be in full force by the time I move into my loft around mid November. November is ALWAYS the beginning of the winter here...

Have a great weekend!

M. J. Joachim said...

Such an interesting story about how the frozen food giant was started. We see them all the time in the freezer section, and now we know why. Nothing better than a good fish stick sandwich...thanks for the wonderful post, Hilary :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Rosarai - yes the adverts were wonderful weren't they - I didn't see them often .. but the character caught our attention. In the old days they certainly had nutrition and definitely the convenience.

@ Michael - I was fascinated finding out about Clarence Birdseye and his corporation - more so his working out how fresh frozen fish could be! That was clever.

I know people still love fish fingers .. but like you I rarely eat processed food - much prefer fresh.

No worries about the visiting - when I saw what you were up .. I quite understand - peace of mind re where you live etc .. comes first. Just hope the tide has turned for you and all will now go well.

@ MJ - so good to see you here - and now you can let everyone know as you purchase your frozen stocks!

Thanks for being here .. cheers Hilary

TexWisGirl said...

naturalist - that made me giggle. :) we call them fish sticks here. too neat on the history!

Christine Rains said...

What a great story! I had no idea that's how frozen foods came to be popular. I have heard of Birdseye, though, and I even have some frozen veggies in the freezers with his name gracing them. :)

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I may be the only one in the world ??? that likes fish sticks. It was a childhood thing. I appreciate Mr. Birdseye for all of his frozen input. He definitely made the world better.

A Cuban In London said...

Right, so this is the guy I have to thank for my dinner last night! :-) Thanks. That was such a brilliant post.

Greetings from London.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Theresa .. it's the right word (I hope!) - Naturalist ... but could so easily make us laugh out loud .. thanks! Fish sticks - I gather ... and so pleased you enjoyed the history.

@ Christine - loved the photo of your son and his Grandmother ... but am so glad you enjoyed the back story - and have some of their products in the freezer.

@ Teresa - not exactly the only person in the world - but you are amongst many kids, and not many adults - apparently according to the commenters!! Yes I'm sure many families are very grateful for Mr Birdseye ... he's made lives easier if nothing else!

@ ACIL - well yes if you had frozen fish ... but am delighted you enjoyed the post and info ...

Cheers to you all ... perhaps we should salute with a fish stick or fish finger ... Hilary

Milo James Fowler said...

Birdseye -- I like that name. Does he know the Gorton Fisherman? Looks delicious.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I could almost swear I've seen Birds Eye in groceries here, but I'm probably getting mixed up from going shopping with my DIL while I was there. Lovely history lesson, Hilary. Oh gads, just saw the map! Of course I've seen it in the stores in New Brunswick.

Marja said...

That was interesting. So they are actually good for you, these fish fingers. That's great because I love them. My kids used to love them too and have had a lot of them.
I recognise the brand so they must have had them in holland as well

Bish Denham said...

What a interesting bit of information and history. Of course I knew about Birdseye's "invention" of frozen food, but I had no idea he was so important to the food chain in the British isles!

Gattina said...

I declare Mr. Birdseye to my hero !! What would I do without frozen food ?? Very interesting to read, I didn't know that !

cleemckenzie said...

I knew nothing about this man, and yet I must have eaten tons of his frozen products. His peas ! I love those. How interesting to find out what lead this man to create his frozen foods. Thanks Hilary.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I never knew Birdseye was an actual person. I usually think of it in relation to frozen vegetables rather than fish.

Patricia said...

My kiddos loved fish sticks (fingers) when they were younger. Our city makes a fabulous salmon or halibut pattie which is easy to cook and we often have one for breakfast. Monsanto has introduced Frankenfish, Modified salmon, into the food chain here and we no longer eat much seafood of any kind.

Birdseye was an interesting fellow and some of his know how also went into the war efforts and preserving lots of food. General Mills loved his enthusiasm for processed foods.

Nice work here and I feel better knowing this info this morning. Happy Day ahead and looking forward to your next post.

My 6 year old computer just really passed over yesterday - I had to purchase a new one and we are at the move point - a week without Internet is ahead.

Murees Dupé said...

I am very grateful for frozen foods. They do come in handy when one doesn't want to cook. I loved fish-fingers as a kid. But as a grown up I couldn't stand the taste. Personally, I think they started making the fish fingers (where I live) from fish scraps and not actual fish fillets anymore. Just a thought. Have a lovely week, Hilary.

Nick Wilford said...

It's funny to think of Birdseye as a real person. I do think fish fingers are a good introduction to fish for kids although the taste isn't much. The frozen food history was interesting!

Chrys Fey said...

Taxidermy...shivers.

I love frozen food. I don't know what I'd be eating most days if we didn't have it.

After reading this post, I'm craving fish and chips now. I have the chips but I'm missing the fish. lol

Denise Covey said...

This was amazing to read the history of Birds Eye. Who didn't eat frozen fish fingers when they were a kid? Do people still eat fish on Friday? I guess we'd all be better off if we ate it every day! Now I want fish tonight! :-)

Sara C. Snider said...

Interesting story behind the name that I had only thought of as a corporation, like you say. I used to love fish sticks as a kid (except when finding the occasional bone, yuck), but I haven't had them since then. Frozen veggies are a staple for me nowadays though (although we don't have Birdseye here in Sweden).

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Milo - I hadn't heard of Gordon Fisherman - and he seemed to have started earlier ... fascinating! Good name too ...

@ Joylene - well you have Birds Eye in the States and Canada where you are, as you realised - a global brand!

@ Marja - well they were good in the good old days when people up country or out in the country away from the coast couldn't get fresh fish .. at least fish became available. I think we should dry heat them - as frying them in fat wouldn't do us much good. I'm sure the brand is 'everywhere' .. as such!

@ Bish - I found the info fascinating too .. and learnt how frozen fish (the way we have it c/o Capn Birdseye) came about ...

@ Gattina - ah now I know your food habits ... I hardly eat any frozen food ... but I love to cook. Glad you enjoyed the info ...

@ Lee - we all see a brand or an ad icon .. but then the idea and creation behind the scene is usually quite fascinating. Frozen peas are one of my dislikes for some reason .. I'll eat them, but very rarely buy them. His background was so interesting ..

@ Susan - I hadn't realised Birdseye was an actual person - I knew Capn Birdseye was an ad gimmick .. but knew no more - it was fun finding out. Fish fingers are pretty ubiquitous over here ... though frozen veg too fill the chillers.

@ Patricia - yes I gather it's fish sticks and not fish fingers in your neck of the woods. Your patties sound like the fish cakes I get from our local farm shop - as my back-up supply if I'm late in ... We have crab sticks - that are no more crab than all other foods ... shredded fish with crab spray ... they smell revolting and taste foul. Depressing .. chemicals don't do any of us any good. I eat a lot of salmon ...

I'm sure he was instrumental in helping with the War effort and opening the doors for frozen foods - they have improved ... though some concoctions are horrible!

Oh dear about the machine ... but good luck with the move, hope it all goes smoothly.

@ Murees - yes I occasionally have frozen foods, but not often. I know many people love them. I'm sure you're right .. some foods are very processed -even mincing up the pieces and reconstructing them to look like 'whatever' ... but you have lovely fresh fish in Cape Town and surrounds. There are some good quality fish cakes probably ...

@ Nick - yes .. his name doesn't quite match his product does it. Fish fingers certainly helped hugely with a balanced diet in our early days ... now I suspect some brands aren't so good. Glad you enjoyed the history .. fun wasn't it.

@ Chrys - I know .. but we wouldn't know what some animals looked like if there hadn't have been taxidermists ... I can understand with a large family you having lots of frozen food. Fish and Chips is always good ... I suspect you'll be having it soon ... just need to pop out for some of Mr Birdseye's products!

@ Denise - I was fascinated by the history .. and I'm sure most of us had fish fingers growing up - not sure I did, but my younger brothers did.

Yes - the institutions .. hospitals, canteens, care homes, nursing centres - fish is on the menu on a friday. I eat a lot of fish .. but at the moment had a penchant for some mince ... so have a stew ready!

@ Sara - Sweden must be full of wonderful fish .. and lots of frozen too in the cold of winter. It's what's behind the name - that was so interesting here. Frozen veggies are so much better now-a-days ... I expect you've your own Nordic brand.

Cheers everyone - I thought this post would amuse you ...

Diana Wilder said...

I never realised that BirdsEye frozen foods were named for an actual human. And now I confess that I use fish sticks to make Fish Tacos - quite the treat!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diana - I know and I'm not sure I realised still I started looking up to research for the post ... Wonderful name he has "Clarence Frank Birdseye".

I'm sure your fish sticks work really well making Fish Tacos ... I thought you'd mentioned something else - I don't think I'd be a fan!! - but am delighted you enjoy them ... and now you can natter about dear Clarence.

Thanks for commenting and Cheers Hilary

Jeffrey Scott said...

I've never been a big fish lover, but I do eat occasionally. Here in Wisconsin, Friday Fish Fry's are a big thing. I still don't go very often and rarely purchase myself. But I do occasionally. But if I do, I HAVE to have tartar sauce.

Or even better - Fish Fingers and Custard! YUM!!!!

Susan Scott said...

The Captain had a birdseye view of things for sure ... a most interesting fishy tale thank you Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jeffrey - thankfully I love fish .. but preferably fresh, which we can get on these shores and into our countryside. It's interesting how Friday's are fish days for so many people. I have to have more than one day a week for fish! Tartare Sauce is a must - I agree ...

Fish fingers and custard ... now you've turned my stomach - separately = wonderful!

@ Susan - the Cap'n certainly had an eye for a good business venture - and something that was fun to write about (and thus learn about) ..

Thanks to the two of you .. cheers Hilary

mail4rosey said...

That is interesting that he came up with the idea from the ice fishing. I liked hearing the history behind the start-up of the corportation. I bet his familyl likes his fast thinking too... he's secured them for generations!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rosey - this slipped in to be moderated ... so now it is! It is an incredible story ... and I loved finding out about it ... so I'm delighted you enjoyed the back story ... and yes we are still eating them ...

Cheers Hilary