While writing A History of Food in 100 Recipes, author William Sitwell discovered three forgotten food heroes.

1. Thomas Coryat: Helped popularize the fork

William Sitwell William Sitwell (Simon Brown)

Thomas Coryat is a great hero of mine. In 1611 he left the British shores and traveled around Europe. He was tired of London, and he took himself around Europe, Italy, Spain and France. He was a pretty intrepid traveler. He was so intrepid actually, that they kept his shoes hung outside his local village church for about 150 years before someone stole them.

He was in Italy and he discovered two things. The first thing he came across was an umbrella, which he had never seen before. He took the idea of that back to England and everyone laughed at him.

The other thing he discovered was a fork. He had seen these Italian gentlemen in a little tavern using a fork. For hundreds of years up until the early 17th century and beyond, people just used bread to mop up their food, knives to cut it up, and then they just shoved it into their mouths with their fingers. He saw this fork, he took it back to the U.K., told his friends about it, wrote about it in his book Coryat's Crudities and everyone laughed at him. He was known as Furcifer, which is an old English word for pitchfork.

It then took about 200 years for the fork to actually catch on. People thought it was just a pointless, effeminate, unnecessary part of getting food into your mouth.

2. Denis Papin: Inventor of the pressure cooker

Denis Papin in the 18th century worked for the Irish physicist Robert Boyle. In Papin's spare time, he started experimenting with what he called a steam digester or engine for softening bones. This was basically an early pressure cooker.

He reckoned that this would be a wonderful device to help the poor cook meat and make meat more palatable. He said also that you could use it for making drinks, it wouldn't give you a hangover. He managed to produce puddings out of this thing.

He produced this amazing book, which I saw and held in my hands in the British Library. But poor old Papin was ignored by The Royal Society when he presented his ideas and he died in a pauper's grave. About 10 years later, someone patented his own ideas and made a fortune from it.

Spaghetti à la Campbell From A History of Food in 100 Recipes: Spaghetti à la Campbell

3. Clarence Saunders: Founder of Piggly Wiggly

A History of Food in 100 Recipes A History of Food in 100 Recipes

Clarence Saunders is one of the great figures from food history because in the early part of the 20th century, he invented the modern supermarket.

He was brought up in Massachusetts. He was a poor man who had very little money -- his mother died when he was young and his father was a laborer, a bit of a profligate, a bit of a drunk. This guy had a very poor upbringing, but then he found his métier working in little grocery stores. When he was in his early 20s, he saved up some money and wanted to start his own store.

What's really interesting is that he was coming back from Indiana one day when he was on the lookout for new store formats. The great problem he had when he was starting up was the business' inefficiencies -- people would come at lunchtime, queue up and they'd be served by men in white coats who would hand them goods. For the owners of these business, they were rushed off their feet at lunchtime, but the rest of the day their staff had nothing to do.

He was on this train coming back from Indiana. The train slowed down and he was thinking, "How am I going to fix this problem? I'm not making any money." He looked out of the window and as the train slowed down, he saw a pig farm. It suddenly occurred to him when he saw a mother sow with six little piglets. He thought, "That's it, self-service."

Three months later Clarence Saunders invented Piggly Wiggly, which is still a chain of supermarkets in this country. He became a millionaire. He made an absolute fortune. He was obsessed with the pig. He built a pink palace clad in pig-inspired pink render. He put a bowling alley in there.

The problem is he also went bust because some very unscrupulous traders on the New York Stock Exchange shorted him on his stock. He decided that he wanted to buy all his stock back. He bent and broke a few New York trading rules. He went bankrupt and was barred from trading and barred from using his own name.

He dusted himself down and came back with a new format, a new store which was called Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Stores. You can tell how angry he was. That didn't go very well.

He invented a thing called Keedoozle, which is a bit like those arcade games where you put money in the slot and the hand puts something on the conveyor belt. He thought that way people could stand on the streets, put money in and you wouldn't have any staff. But the problem was that all the contraptions broke down -- everything smashed and didn't work.

Keedoozle Keedoozle, the grocery store of the future (michaelwfreem)

He was a man ahead of his time. On his deathbed he invents a thing called Foodelectric. This was a device whereby he said you can have less staff because it's an electronic machine that will read little barcodes -- he didn't call them barcodes -- on packaging, so you can scan it in and pay a computer. People said that will never happen. Now of course that's how so many of us shop these days, we self-scan.

Clarence Saunders was a great figure and without him, we wouldn't have the modern format of the supermarket. But then perhaps he also precipitated this immense slide into consumerism, food packaging and processing food, factories, and this massive growth in how we eat today.