Born in 1886, Clarence Birdseye had a naturalist’s inquisitiveness, a love of food, and a strong business streak. At the age of ten, he was stalking and exporting live muskrats and coaching himself taxidermy. He studied science in college, but had to drop out for financial reasons. Forced to provision himself, he joined various scientific voyages that took him to remote places, including Labrador, where he spent several years in the fur trade.
The long Labrador winters also taught him what it was to crave fresh food, and introduced him for the first time in his life to frozen food that tasted good.
On all these trips he liked to experiment with whatever fresh food was on hand. In the Southwest, he ate slices of rattlesnake fried in pork fat. From Labrador, he wrote letters home that described exotic meals like lynx marinated in sherry, porcupine, polar bear meat and skunk.
Up until the 1920s in America, it was the food of last resort. But in Labrador he learned from the Inuit how to fish trout from holes in the ice and watch it freeze instantly in the air, which registered at 30 degrees below zero. And when it was cooked, it tasted like fresh trout. It was the same with their meat and game, which they kept fresh for months in hard-packed snow. Birdseye’s quick-freezing process actually ended up creating 168 patents! These covered not only the freezing technique but also the packaging, type of paper used, and related innovations.