WOULD YOU like to know how the juice gets inside a chocolate-covered cherry? Or see a room full of horseradishes? Or watch peppercorns dance? If the answer is "yes," the place to go is Baltimore, where some of the city's food manufacturing firms conduct tours of their facilities.
A tour of Baltimore as a commercial food manufacturing center properly begins at the "Top of the World," the observation deck of the World Trade Center Baltimore, a thin columnar building that sits on the Inner Harbor between the aquarium and Harborplace.
A $1 elevator ride to the 27th floor reveals a panorama of activity. Large cranes quickly unload and load ships that can often be seen departing even before their arrival is announced in the local paper. Every year an average 4,000 vessels travel between Baltimore and 300 ports in 125 countries with almost 7 million tons of food.
Sugar, much of it destined for the Domino plant nearby, is a major import as are bananas, coffee, wine, chocolate, beer, molasses, tea, nuts, honey, oil, spices--about 60 food products in all, according to the port administration. Grain, spices and peanuts are among 80 different kinds of food exported.
Turning from the harbor, the view is a grid of factories and warehouses, commercial and residential areas separated by endless railroad tracks. This vast land-and-sea transportation network established the city as a food processing center that early in its history was known for canneries, as well as steel, fertilizer and chemical plants.
Today there are still scores of food firms here, many family-owned and operated for generations, some of which are open to visitors--among these McCormick's spice plant, Tulkoff's horseradish factory, the Eagle (Old Town) Coffee Co., Moore's Edgemonte Candies and Seagram's. Owners and employees alike are friendly, proud of their role in the local economy, and love showing off.
The exhibit, incidentally, also features working models of ship navigation equipment. There are horns that toot, whistles that blow and plenty of flashing lights. Then back down the elevator to tour the factories: McCormick's
Provided reservations are made in advance, visitors--about 30,000 a year--are welcome to share the spectacular view from the company's yellow brick building on Light Street, across the street from Harborplace. During the company's free, 1 1/2-hour tour a smiling guide explained that a glad hand to guests was one of C.P. McCormick's many dictates to his employees through the years.
McCormick & Company, Inc. boasts of still having descendents of Willoughby McCormick, who founded the company in 1889, in its employ and in 1921 C.P., a nephew of Willoughby, chose the site of new corporate headquarters specifically to overlook the harbor. C.P., she said, began his career as a traveling salesman. When he called on factory owners, he was often forced to wait in dank, cold hallways--and sometimes people forgot he was there. C.P. swore then, the guide continued, that his firm would forever welcome guests with a cup of hot tea, the company's own, of course.
The tea, and cookies, are served following the showing of a videotape entitled "The Wonderful World of Flavor." Because of safety and health regulations, the tape substitutes for a walking tour of the plant's 65 assembly lines.
On tape, history and legends of the spice trade are interspersed with vignettes of contemporary processing operations. Spice jars cavort across the screen on machines that look like ferris wheels. Peppercorns are graded according to size by a gyrating sieve that makes them tumble and dance in time with a lively march. Vanilla beans are steeped in alcohol and the resulting liquid gurgles gracefully through cylindrical tubes before splashing into its familiar brown bottle.
When the guide reappears she is dressed in Elizabethan garb. Because Shakespeare's England was C.P.'s favorite era, she wears period costume to lead the way through the headquarters of the grocery products division, set in a corridor lined with Tudor and Early Renaissance facades. One office resembles Ann Hathaway's cottage, complete with thatched roof.
A visit to the board room reveals a display of the firm's products, accompanied by a useful discussion on the home care and handling of spices. The recommendations:
* Store spices in a cool, dry place. Avoid shelves near the stove or in direct sunlight.
* Keep paprika and chili powder in the refrigerator.
* Spices will remain useable indefinitely. However, spices do not improve with age. The oils that give flavor escape when exposed to air, heat or moisture and deteriorate over a long storage period. Check the color and aroma of spices after a year to see if they're losing their potency.
* The amount of spice you use may increase as you cultivate a taste for it. For starters, the company offers visitors a free spice and herb chart, also available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the address given below.
On that note, the tour concludes in the test kitchen, where employees from all over the plant come to taste test the corporation's line of convenience foods. Tulkoff's
A little farther from the harbor is Tulkoff's horseradish factory. Started in the 1930's by Harry Tulkoff, proprietor of a fruit-and-vegetable company on Lombard Street, the company is now operated by sons Sol and Martin and a handful of their family members. Someone in the family will lead a personal tour of the bottling and warehouse operations.
"We like to get to know our customers," Martin Tulkoff says, "because we feel it is people who bought their first horseradish from my dad, people who got to know our family, who really built our business."
"We'll even provide gas masks," he added, though it's really not necessary. The pungent flavor and scent of horseradish is derived from oil released through enzyme activity when the root is grated. Unfortunately, the sight--and smell--of this ritual is off limits. "Sorry," Martin Tulkoff said, "No one is allowed into the processing rooms except our employees, the health department inspectors and the rabbis, in order to preserve the trade secrets of our washing and grinding methods."
Nevertheless, the factory is still one of the few places where horseradish is ground, at the rate of 15 to 20 tons daily, and it does offer the unusual opportunity of entering a well-chilled room piled floor to ceiling with brown-bagged horseradish tubers.
A small museum area features wall murals of old Lombard Street, several 1930 grinding machines and early product labels. Visitors also learn the reason for this root's mysterious name--and it has nothing to do with horses. "Horseradish is a member of the mustard family," Tulkoff says. "The German word for it is meerrettich, or sea radish. Meerrettich became mareradish in English, and finally, horseradish." Eagle (Old Town) Coffee
While Tulkoff's bills itself as one of the largest horseradish factories in the nation, no similar claim is made for the Eagle Coffee Company. Nick Constantinides, the third generation of his family to be president, tour guide, part-time coffee roaster and even floor sweeper at Eagle, estimates that the firm is one of 40 or 50 small, independent roasters in the United States. It sells about a million pounds of coffee a year, having almost doubled its volume this year, due to the growing popularity of fresh coffee beans.
Constantinides will show the huge, gleaming roaster that turns green beans brown, or black, depending on the desired flavor, at a temperature of 900 degrees. He'll show the difference between beans grown in one country or another. His brief lecture on brewing techniques--given over a free cup of coffee--is spoken calmly, but with an intensity that reflects passion. Moore's Edgemonte Candies
Far from the city's center, in a tidy residential neighborhood, Jim Heyl makes "homemade" candies in the basement of the neat flower-decked bungalow where he grew up. In fact, mom and dad still live there. The 63-year-old company produces about 30,000 pounds of hand-dipped chocolates, molded chocolate figures, fudge and novelties a year. It employees a handful of neighborhood women who have become expert at molding chocolate, fondant or nougat, and they're eager to demonstrate these skills for guests. They'll even share professional secrets:
How, for instance, can you distinguish between a chocolate-covered peanut crisp and a pineapple chunk? Every candymaker has his own symbols to identify flavors, and Heyl shows his. How do chocolate-covered cherries receive their liquid center? "Contrary to popular opinion," he said, "no injection is necessary." Maraschino cherries are first coated with a special type of confectioner's sugar, then dipped in chocolate. "After a few days," he continued, "the heat from the chocolate and the acidity of the cherries converts the sugar into a syrup."
The company offers many tours and lecture demonstrations to community groups because it only sells its products through fund-raising activities. Scouts, hospital volunteers and social club members are among its salesmen. Each receives a lesson on how the product is made, its ingredients and advice on community fund-raising techniques. Seagram's
The Baltimore plant of the Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., has a machine that fills over 240 bottles of whiskey, gin or vodka in a minute. According to Sue Zolnick, a company official, the machine is highlight of the company's free 1 1/2-hour tour that includes its barrel warehouse, bottling facilities, quality control lab and shipping department. Because of the recession, the plant is not distilling at this time. However, the guides explain how it's done and what ingredients are used to produce various liquors. There's a lot of walking around the plant. Part of the tour is outside, she warned, so visitors are encouraged to dress appropriately for the weather. Upon return to the main office, those over 21 are be sent away with a small bottle of a company product. To Plan Tours
Top of the World, World Trade Center Baltimore, Md. 21202, (301) 837-4515. Open weekdays and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays during the summer, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $1 for adults, 75 cents, children and senior citizens.
McCormick & Company, Inc., 414 Light St., Baltimore, Md. 21202. Tours scheduled at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by reservation only. For more information call (301) 547-6166.
Tulkoff's Horseradish Products Co., Inc., 1101 S. Conkling St., Baltimore, Md. 21224. Tours of Tulkoff's may be arranged through Heritage Tours, Ltd. The agency includes the factory on its ethnic eating tour of the city. However, other groups will also be accommodated. For more information, call the agency at 362-4367.
Eagle Coffee Co., Inc., 1019 Hillen St., Baltimore, Md., 21202. Twenty-minute tours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, may be arranged by calling 621-5540 or (301) 685-5893.
Moore's Edgemonte Candies, 3004 Pinewood Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21214. Groups of about 10 people, with children over the age of 10, may arrange a visit. The tour includes a slide presentation of cocoa production and processing. Call (301) 426-2705.
Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc., 5001 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, Md., 21203. Tours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors must be 12 years or older. Groups of less than 10 will be accommodated at any time. Larger groups should make reservations by calling (301) 247-1000.