The truth behind the juice: How tomato juice became a drink

FRENCH LICK, In. (WDRB) -- Luxury in the middle of rural southern Indiana.

For close to 200 years, French Lick Resort has been the spot for getaways and business meetings.

In the summer of 1917, with a bunch of businessmen in his dining room, Chef Louis Perrin, had some big problems brewing in the kitchen.

"I like to call this Chef Louis' most fortunate culinary crisis," said Steve Rondinaro from the resort.

The patrons wanted OJ, but the chef was fresh out of oranges.

"We don't grow many oranges here in southern Indiana, but we do have tomatoes," he said.

The chef improvised-- mashing up tomatoes, straining the seeds, adding some sugar and salt and pouring it into a glass.

"(The) businessmen said, hey this is pretty good," Rondinaro explained.

Tomato juice, the drink, was born. People suddenly became tomato crazy. A glass of the red drink was the talk of the town.

"It goes from zero in 1917 to 1921. They're selling 4,000 gallons a year," said Orange County historian Travis Tarrants.

The resort couldn't keep up. Manufacturing plants began opening to produce mass amounts.

"They quickly got a plant in Paoli, IN. They got other plants in Marengo, IN and Hardinsburg, and then they finally opened a plant in Cloverfield, Kentucky," Tarrants said.

The craze was short lived. No one filed a patent for the chef's recipe.

"Other bigger corporations had taken over," Tarrants explained.

Presumably those bigger companies were V8 and Red Gold. As a result, locally-made tomato juice was squashed.

As for Chef Louis, his story now serves as an interesting tidbit of Hoosier history in French Lick that visitors love.

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