Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook (1970) and Simple French Food (1974) profoundly shaped American food trends in the 20th century—mostly behind the scenes. They inspired Alice Waters as she launched Chez Panisse, igniting a fresh California cuisine revolution. She, James Beard and Julia Child would all make regular pilgrimages to Olney’s hermitage dwelling in Provence to dine with this genius of the palate.

Success spawns copycats. The culprit here is Richard Nelson’s American Cooking (1983). It is filled with recipes copied verbatim from Simple French Food (and other cookbooks). When food journalists uncovered Nelson’s pilfering, a plagiarism firestorm ensued. But did his blatant recipe copying violate U.S. copyright laws? The answer is nuanced.

Careless recipe gathering derailed Nelson’s once promising career. This post examines the merits of a copyright lawsuit Olney filed to protect his professional reputation.

Continue Reading The Recipe Copyright Title Bout of the 20th Century: Olney vs. Nelson vs. Beard

Bourbon Pecan PiePecans are a microcosm of Americana.  “As the Stuart Pecan Company would brag in 1893: ‘We [Americans] have rightfully a monopoly upon the nut.’”[1]

Wild pecan trees proliferate in riverine ecosystems coursing through the southern United States.  Their domesticated, often patented counterparts now satisfy huge consumer demand for these indigenous nuts, once vital to tribal commerce.  Indeed, the name pecan is derived “from an Algonquin word meaning, loosely translated, ‘a nut too hard to crack by hand.’”

Close scrutiny of my favorite bourbon pecan pie recipe offers some unusual insights regarding the importance of plant patents, what copyright originality means as applied to classic recipes, and chef brands tarnished by the #MeToo social movement.  This post cracks open these peculiarly American socio-legal issues.

Wild versus Patented Pecan Trees

To delve into a pecan pie, one must understand its progenitors.  Wild pecan trees tower over other trees as a “climax tree species.”  In record time, this wild hickory plant (Carya illinoinensis) morphed into pecan cultivar orchards that dominate landscapes in Georgia, New Mexico, and other non-native states.

The pecan, however, remained “a wild plant for a much longer time than any other commodified fruit or nut primarily because its wild variety happened to bear fruit that tasted supremely domesticated.”

From the commercial grower’s perspective, applying orchard techniques to cultivate pecans in ecosystems far removed from their natural habitat creates a host of profound production issues.

  • Pecans do not grow true to seed, so grafting trees is the only way to ensure nut quality and consistency.
  • Pecans do not “mast” (i.e., bear nuts) every year, or even every other year sometimes. In addition, an orchard of cultivated pecan trees can take at least eight years to begin masting “at full throttle and as many as fifteen years before they reach peak production.”
  • Domesticated pecan cultivars are susceptible to a host of plant viruses and pests that their wild counterparts can avoid in their natural habitats.

Many of these grower issues can only be solved through inventing or discovering pecan tree varieties with new attributes.  In this regard, one inventor rules this market space: Dr. Darrell Sparks, who is associated with the University of Georgia.  His book, Pecan Cultivars:The Orchard’s Foundation (1992), is the leading authority in this field of commerce.

Sparks’ latest discovery, a pecan tree named ‘Tanner,’ will soon issue in 2018 as his seventh U.S. patent.  He describes its novel contribution:

‘Tanner’ is distinguished from other pecan varieties known to the inventor due to the following unique combination of characteristics: Consistent and acceptable fruit production, small fruit cluster, early nut maturity, large nut producing mammoth kernels with excellent color and high resistance to scab fungus . . . and moderate resistance to black aphid . . . .  ‘Tanner’ will fill in a niche for large nuts similar in size to ‘Desirable’ but with the advantage of earlier maturity and high resistance to scab.

Plant patents tend to have long gestation times, and ‘Tanner’ is no exception.  It originated in 1995 through crossing a ‘Desirable’ pecan tree cultivar as the seed parent with a ‘Pawnee’ cultivar as the pollen parent.

Continue Reading A Bourbon Pecan Pie Fest of Plant Patents, Copyright “Originality” and Soiled Chef Brands