Been & Going

[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Fun Exploring a Cave

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Jersey Joe and his friends explore Crystal Cave in Eastern Pennsylvania, but come up with more creative names for the formations inside.

THE 411

What: Crystal Cave

Location: Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Discovered: 1871

Cave Temperature: 52°


This was a fun roadside attraction to check out.  I’ve seen the signs on I-78 advertising it for years.  The tour itself, took about an hour, after watching a 20+ minute introductory film.  If you’re in Eastern PA, it’s a great place to take the family.


[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Know Your Pittsburghese

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Pittsburgh has a language all it’s own.  Can a visitor figure out what the locals are saying?  Jersey Joe and Joel play the game of Know Your Pittsburghese ‘n at!


THE 411

Name: Pittsburghese

What: local dialect spoken in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania


It’s a very unique accent that I’ve only really found in that area.  If you cross to Eastern PA and Philadelphia, they have a completely different accent and dialect.

It’s fascinating how various parts of our country have accents all of their own.  Maybe I should try this game in a southern state or two!!!


[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] Are You a Johnny Bull?

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Are you a Johnny Bull?  My grandmother explains this depression era saying and Jersey Joe tracks it’s origin.

THE 411

Name: Johnny Bull or John Bull

What: term used for a rich British person

Used: 17th century – 20th century


An interesting term from British and American past that is rarely used.  It shows the early power of the media as the term migrated across the sea and was spread around in the US via newspapers.

johnny bull mini

[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] America’s First Celebrity Chef: Chef Boyardee

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His face dots millions of cans of pasta and pizza sauce.  At one time or another, we’ve all opened up a can of enjoyed his cuisine.  Chef Boyardee, with his tall white cap has fed American’s for almost a century, but he’s not just a face on a can – he’s America’s first real celebrity chef!


Ettore “Hector” Boyardee was born in 1897 and arrived in the United States from Piacenza, Italy in the early 1900’s.  It didn’t take him long to find a job and in 1915 at age 17, he was running the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.   Having such a prestigious job also scored him the gig of catering President Woodrow Wilson’s wedding reception!


He then headed west to work at the Hotel Winton in Cleveland, Ohio.  While working there, he met and married his wife.  But, he was tired of working for others and wanted a restaurant of his own.  In 1924, he opened Il Giardino d’Italia and his cooking became the talk of the town.  Hungry Clevelanders would line up for hours around the block to get in the door.  His food became so popular; he would package his spaghetti and meatballs in milk jars for customers to take home.


After making a good bit of dough with his take home meals, he decided he could sell his pasta to the masses.  Only four years later in 1928, he and his brothers would create the Chef Boyardee Company and move to Milton, Pennsylvania, (now just a few minutes off of Interstate 80.)  The central Pennsylvania climate allowed for more fresh tomatoes and mushrooms to be used.  They also dropped the Italian spelling to make it easier for Americans to pronounce.  At his plant, he invents a meatball making machine that’s still in use today!


Assortment of Chef Boyardee products in the canned goods aisle in a typical grocery store.

Assortment of Chef Boyardee products in the canned goods aisle in a typical grocery store.

His products are such a hit that they caught the attention of the U.S. Military.  During World War II, his company was contracted to produce canned meals for the troops overseas.  The plant goes into full production 24/7 to keep up.  His war efforts earn him a Gold Star, the highest honor a civilian can earn.


After the war, instead of cutting back on production, he sold the plant to American Home Products so that everyone could keep their jobs.  He continued on as a consultant and also starred in commercials for his products.  It was these commercials that can officially give him the title of America’s first celebrity chef.



Long before Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay, Emeril, and Giada de Laurenties became fixtures on our TV’s, Chef Boyardee was starring in commercials for his products since the days of black and white television.  He generally went off the air when he retired in 1978, but anyone who grew up before that time, knew who Chef Boyardee was, and not just from his line in the grocery store.



In 2000, ConAgra Foods of Omaha, Nebraska purchases the product line and they continue to manufacture his canned goods to this day.  To celebrate the chef, the company erected a statue in his honor at the Omaha plant.


Chef Boyardee statue at the ConAgra plant in Omaha, Nebraska.

Chef Boyardee statue at the ConAgra plant in Omaha, Nebraska.

THE 411


Name: Chef Boyardee


What: America’s first celebrity chef


Active: 1924-1978


Known for: canned product line in grocery stores




Chef Boyardee microwave meal.

Chef Boyardee microwave meal.



I was always a fan on his ABC’s and 123’s with meatballs and regularly keep a can in the cupboard.  Not only are they good, but also a must have in case of an emergency or long term power failure.  As a kid, this was my go to food when we would lose power after a big snowstorm in the country.  They are good either heated or right out the can!  The Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce was always so much better than the rival, Spaghetti-O’s.  To me, Spaghetti-O’s always tasted like the can.


I had no idea he was a real guy until I just happened to come across a random fact on the web.  I always figured he was just a mascot kind of like Mr. Clean or the Jolly Green Giant.  It’s neat to see that he was indeed real and is a true American success story.  I just hope at some point they bring back his old Tic Tac Toe’s or Pac Man Pasta!  (Yes, I used to eat those as a child.)


Like the old commercials say “Thank Goodness for Chef Boyardee!”

Check out this guy's awesome Halloween costume... yes, he's a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli!

Check out this guy’s awesome Halloween costume… yes, he’s a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli!

Image credits – Michael Carian, cfinke, Friscocali, Jimmy Emerson DVM, Roadsidepictures & Scutter

[Kicking Back with Jersey Joe] The Great Ketchup Challenge: Could You Tell the Difference?

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Heinz, Hunts, or generic?  We all use ketchup, but in a blind taste test can you tell the difference?  I assembled a panel of 9 friends and co-workers and put them to the test.


Ketchup or catsup is a delicious red sauce made primarily of tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar.  Generally used as a condiment for hot foods such as French fries and hamburgers, it can also be used as an ingredient to add additional flavor when cooking.

ketchup taste test 1

The first form of ketchup (I’m not calling it catsup) was originally made in 17th century China, where it was a brine for pickled fish.  The sauce was discovered by English explorers a century later and then made it to the new colonies in the United States.  The Chinese pronounced it kay-chap, but when the English got a hold of the sauce, it was changed to our common word, ketchup.


While there are many variations on the recipe, the American tomato version was first created and published by Sandy Addison in 1801.  The English version used at that time contained anchovies!


As the 19th century went on, the popularity of ketchup skyrocketed.  Being made and sold by local farmers, Americans could eat the sauce without having to worry about the shelf life of tomatoes.


In 1876, the Heinz foods corporation was the first to launch a mass produced ketchup to stores and advertised it as “Blessed relief for mother and other women in the household.”  Years later, after concerns over sodium benzoate, Heinz changed the recipe to remove the controversial preservative.  Ketchup now has an additive, usually xanthan gum, which gives it a thinning property.  The harder you slap or shake the bottle, the more liquidity it will become, allowing it to be removed easily.  Once it is no longer in motion, the ketchup will return to a more solid, thicker state.

ketchup packets

Heinz ketchup main rival in the United States in Hunts.  Hunts started out as the Hunts Bros. Fruit Packing Company of Sebastopol, California in 1888.  It wasn’t until the 1930’s after a company takeover they decided to focus on canned tomato products and prepared tomato sauce.


As with most common household products, most stores have their own private label generic brand products.  For this taste test, I went with Shop-Rite brand generic ketchup, but the store name was not disclosed until after I finished the test.

ketchup taste test 2

I placed a small serving of each in secretly labeled clear plastic cups and then gave one cup each to my panelists.  7 of them tried the ketchup with standard French fries, 1 with sweet potato fries, and 1 ate some off a knife because we ran out of fries.


I asked three simple questions:


  1. Pick your favorite
  2. Tell me which is Heinz, Hunts, and the generic brand
  3. What brand do you usually buy?


They each first picked their favorite.  The brand was not disclosed at this point, but here’s what they chose:

favorite ketchup



Heinz                            3

Hunts                           3

Generic                        3


It was split right down the middle.  Not even the lottery has these kinds of odds!


“I was really stuck between Hunts and generic,” said Mike from Jersey City, New Jersey.


But, when I asked them what brand they usually buy:

 brand usually purchased



Heinz                                   5                      2 incorrect

Hunts                                  0                      2 incorrect

Generic                               3                      1 incorrect

Doesn’t buy ketchup     1


Three of the panelists missed identifying their favorite brand in the blind test.  One Heinz buyer picked generic and one picked Hunts.  One generic buyer picked Heinz as their favorite.  One Hunts buyer picked generic, while the other picked Heinz.  The third Hunts panelist said he usually doesn’t buy ketchup.


That means that 33% of those taking the taste test could not identify their favorite brand.


“Heinz is the gold standard in ketchup,” said Max from Cranford, New Jersey.


When asked to name which brand was which, based on flavor, here’s how many out of the 9 panelists got the brand correct:

correctly identified



Heinz                            5

Hunts                           4

Generic                        5


More than half of the panelists correctly picked both Heinz and the generic brands.  3 panelists got zero correct, while 4 guessed all three correctly.


Many of the comments they made stated that Heinz has a distinct flavor and texture.


My ketchup taste test underway.

The ketchup taste test underway.

“You can tell one is sweeter and one is saltier,” said Jeremy from Bayonne, New Jersey.


“The generic is watered down,” said Michael from Los Angeles, California.


Our test can conclude that the generic brand is pretty darn close to as good as Heinz, the most indefinable product.  When I did the test, I felt that the generic had a very strong flavor and I was surprised when I mixed it up with Hunts in my blind taste test.  I always buy Heinz and was able to easily identify that.  But, the generic really did have a strong flavor and I did like the taste of all three brands.


But, when you look at the ketchup aisle in the store it can be a bit overwhelming.  While there may be only a few select brands to choose from, there are dozens of different varieties.


On some bottles ketchup is labeled as “fancy,” meaning it contains a higher amount of tomatoes and solid concentration, beating FDA standards.


In the Philippines, ketchup is actually made from bananas and has been since World War II, when there was a shortage of tomatoes.  To compete with tomato ketchup, it is dyed red.


The number 57 on a Heinz bottle means nothing.  Founder Henry Heinz simply thought the number was lucky.  There are more than 60 Heinz products on store shelves.

ketchup taste test 3

Should you refrigerate ketchup?  An open bottle will last one month in the cupboard, but an open bottle in the refrigerator will last up to six months.


Most ketchup sold in stores contains a large amount of sugar.  Something may people forget when they are on a sugar restrictive diet.

 ketchup taste test 4

For quick comparison, according to the bottle, 1 tablespoon of ketchup from each the three tested brands contains:




Heinz                                  20

Hunts                                 25

Shop Rite generic         15




Heinz                                  0g

Hunts                                 0g

Shop Rite generic         0g




Heinz                                  4g

Hunts                                 4g

Shop Rite generic         4g

ketchup taste test 5

THE 411


Name: ketchup or catsup


What: tomato based condiment popular in the United States


First recipe in US: 1801


First sold commercially in US: 1876




It’s Heinz all the way for me and I was easily able to identify it during my blind taste test.  (Yes, I admit I got the other two confused…)


However, you may want to try this test yourself and see if you are purchasing what you and your family really like.  You could even collect some sample packets that are given away at restaurants and see which you like best.


Image credit – David Copeland