Have you ever wondered how it is that corn from the field turns into the crunchy flakes you spoon up with your milk each morning? Or why it is that Shredded Wheat can have only one ingredient, whole grain wheat, and yet look nothing like it? The answer, in both cases, is 20th century industrialization.
One of the pivotal innovations in the way we prepare and package ready-to-eat foods came with the invention of the puffing cannon, a machine for heating up and pressurizing starchy foods to the point where they would explode into substantially larger, puffier shapes. It was, in effect, applying the familiar popcorn-making technique to the full range of other starches: rice, wheat, corn, lentils, and the like. The puffing gun was later superseded by more advanced machinery, but it's now being brought back — on the basis of a Kellogg brothers patent filed near the turn of the century — by Dave Arnold, the founder of a new Museum of Food and Drink in New York City.
Arnold's goal is to enlighten people about the processes and history behind the seemingly mundane things we put on our plates and in our bowls on a daily basis. The puffing gun his team has reconstructed is certainly not dull, being capable of turning its contents into a fine mist when the pressure and heat toggles are dialed up to the max. It'll see its first public exhibition as part of New York City's Summer Streets initiative this Saturday, when the locals will get a chance to experience some food history for themselves.