The Fantastic History of Food - Ep 26 - The Giant Frog Farming Swindle

Primer: In this podcast episode of The Fantastic History of Food, the host Nick Charlie Key shared an interesting history of frogs. You may consider eating frogs as yucky but frog meat is considered a delicacy in different parts of America. It is during the Great Depression in the 1930s that an enigmatic but enterprising businessman, Albert Broel, came along to whip up a fervour about giant bullfrog farming. Read on for this fantastic history about the food that we eat.

The Setting

The Great Depression in America

  • Depressing time to live as jobs were lost and fortunes faded into nothing

  • People were starving

  • Enterprising business people see opportunity because they saw people as easy targets for fly by night money-making schemes

  • One of them was Albert Broel

Eating frogs

  • Sounds strange - might even suppress a gag reflex

  • But this has been a delicacy in Southern USA - viewed the same as chicken or beef

  • No one had thought to cultivate and farm frogs though

  • In the 1930s, people were looking for anything to put food on the table, so when pamphlets appeared around Louisiana to raise giant frogs and sell for $5 a dozen (~ $100 in today's money), it gets people excited

The promise of great fortune

  • The company behind the pamphlets was the American frog canning company, owned by Albert Broel

  • Just need a small pond and a few breeding pairs of frogs, thousands of tadpoles will be born and grow to become frogs that can be sold for $5 a dozen

  • Pamphlet claimed that wild frog populations were dwindling and the demand for frog meat far outweighed the current supply

  • To start, just need to buy a copy of a book by Albert Broel on how to raise frogs, sign up for a course and send the first breeding pair of frogs to the company

Who is Albert Broel?

Introduction to the man himself

  • Larger than life personality, a real-life Jay Gatsby or Don Draper

  • He claimed to be a member of the extended Polish royal family, son and heir to the aristocratic house of Broel-Plater

  • Went to America during WW1 after he was wounded on the battlefield in his homeland, now modern-day Poland

  • Before the war broke out, he attended a medical school at the insistence of his father

  • Thereafter he was conscripted into the army as a Captain in the Russian cavalry (Poland was still a part of the Russian Federation) to fight against the German forces

  • In one fateful conflict, Albert's entire company of 200 men were wiped out, but he survived and was taken prisoner by the Captain of the German unit

  • Turned out to be his cousin, who helped to treat his wounds and sneak him out of the prisoner of war camp to be smuggled out to America

  • His mother was French by birth and was an important influence on his interest in frogs

His obsession with Frogs

  • In a book he wrote in the 1950s, called Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit, he mentioned that his mother went through a period of illness and the only food she could stomach was frog meat

  • She credited this with saving her life

  • Albert credited her mum for teaching him about the virtues of eating frogs

His Interesting and Strange Life

Medical practice

  • Arrived in Chicago to further his medical education, but decided to study an alternative healing practice known as Naprapathy instead

  • Open a naprapathy and diet practice but had no license to practise medicine, despite his seven different diplomas from seven different medical schools

  • Got fined $100 after his office was raided by City Health officials

American friendship society

  • Founded another new enterprise - a monthly newsletter for paid personal ads for people seeking a romantic partner

  • Also sold a variety of books and techniques to help people find love. These books are sold at $1 each, ranging from teaching people how to woo others through mental telepathy to playing the Hawaiian guitar due to the sexy appeal to potential partners

  • Mainly viewed as a laughing stock by society until a serial killer named Harry Powers used the personal ad services to lure women, cash it on their cheques and murder them

  • Harry Powers is dubbed the Bluebeard of quiet Dell, went on to take the lives of more than 5 victims.

  • After that incident, nobody dares to use the service anymore and Albert was forced to shut it down, but not before walking away with $1.6 million dollars in today's money in a little over 4 years

Not an heir

  • During this time, Albert's name was prominently in the news because of the murder scandal

  • A Russian woman recognised a picture of him and claimed that Albert was not an heir to any Polish fortune or the son of a Count, but was a servant boy to the Broel-Platter family all along until his move to America

  • Albert adamantly denied these claims

  • In more recent times, Bonnie Broel - Albert's daughter - travelled to his father's ancestral home to search for proof of his claims. She found no records of his birth nor any evidence that the Broel-Platter family ever had a son, but remains adamant that her father was who he said he was

The alleged kidnapping

  • In 1932, Albert was found dazed, babbling incoherently besides his flaming car in Detriot

  • Claimed that he was beaten by and kidnapped by 2 men who set his car on fire. Also produced a note from the kidnappers as evidence

  • Police investigated and found that the note had been typed on Albert Broel's typewriter and together with other clues, suggested that Albert was the one who staged the kidnap

  • Nobody was charged for this and nothing more came out of it

The Bullfrog Farming Craze

American frog canning company

  • After the kidnapping incident, he started experimenting with a 100-acre farm in Ohio to begin his frog farming operation

  • Adjusted the climate just right using a greenhouse and perfected his canning methods for frog's legs in Jan 1933

  • Later in the year, he went to search for a better climate to grow the frogs and settled on Louisiana because of the swampy marshes

  • Business boomed and he started running ads that there was not enough supply to keep his canning plant in operation

  • Albert was sowing the seeds of what would become a frog farm craze

Bullfrog farming craze

  • Albert was now the nation's largest individual producer of frog's legs and he published frog based recipes in the local newspapers

  • E.g. barbecued frog sandwiches, giant bullfrog omelette, American bullfrog pie, giant bullfrog gumbo

  • He believed that frog farming is the new frontier in farming

  • Sold people the vision and the promise of wealth, but also sold the instructions on how to reach it

  • He started advertising in popular magazines to sell his frog breeding courses, making around $47 - $57 each

  • US Department of Agriculture came in, saying that over the past 15 years, thousands of people had attempted to breed frogs on farms, but they had only heard about 3 people successful enough to make a profit

The challenges of frog farming

  • Albert brushed that aside

  • The real challenge is that everything from snakes, lizards, birds, fishes and even bigger frogs want to eat the frogs at different stages of their growth

  • 10,000 to 20,000 eggs can be devoured in one shot

  • There are also fungal diseases that can wipe off the whole population

  • The other problem is 1 pound of food will produce 1/3 pound of frog's meat - and the food that frogs eat have to be live and moving, so a lot of resources had to be spent just to feed the frogs live food

  • Chickens take 9 weeks to reach marketable size, but frogs need 2-3 years, hence it is cheaper to hunt wild frogs than to farm them

The End

  • Due to the challenges of frog farming, and that Louisiana passed a law outlawing the hunting of wild frogs, the supply lines for his canning business dwindled and began to die down

  • The majority of frog meat now comes from wild frog hunting, not from farming

  • Albert was eventually indicted by the US Postal Service for mail fraud because of the outrageous claims made by his brochures

  • He fought the charges and over time, the case lost steam and he was not charged

  • Up to this day, his daughter Bonnie believes in her father's sincerity

  • However you think of Albert Broel, he at the very least left us with a good recipe for giant bullfrog gumbo

All information presented above is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice. Summaries are prepared by The Reading Ape. While reasonable efforts are made to provide accurate content, any errors in interpreting and summarizing the source material are ours alone. We disclaim any liability associated with the use of our content.