Yes, the frozen-food guy really was named Clarence Birdseye (1886–1956), and the story of his adventures is another satisfying dish from the remarkable menu of the author of Cod (1997), Salt (2002) and other treats.
Kurlansky (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris, 2010, etc.) places Birdseye in the same category as Thomas Edison: amateurs who got curious about a problem, played around with it (sometimes for years) and eventually figured it out. Birdseye had many more interests than frozen foods, writes the author; he invented, among other things, a kind of light bulb and even a whaling harpoon. He also grew up in a world that seemed to have limitless resources—no worries about plundering the planet. He killed creatures with abandon for decades, many of which he enjoyed eating, including field mice, chipmunks and porcupine. His curiosity also made him fearless. He conducted field research on Rocky Mountain spotted fever (collecting thousands of ticks), and he lived in the frigid Labrador region of Canada (and took his equally fearless wife and their infant). It was in the North that he began to wonder why foods frozen there—naturally—tasted so much better than the frozen foods back home. He discovered, of course, that it was quick-freezing at very cold temperatures that did the trick. He eventually invented the process that produced vast amounts of good frozen food, but then had to wait for the supporting infrastructure (transportation, storage, etc.). Kurlansky tells the exciting tale of Birdseye’s adventures, failures and successes (he became a multi-millionaire) and his family, and he also offers engaging snippets about Velveeta, dehydration and Grape-Nuts.
The author notes that Birdseye knew that curiosity is “one essential ingredient” in a fulfilling life; it is a quality that grateful readers also discover in each of Kurlansky’s books.