Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yes, We Have No Bananas

The sweet yellow banana found in our super markets is the descendant of a mutant plant that was found growing in a Jamaican plantain field, in 1836. The new banana could be eaten without cooking. Jean Francois Poujot, the owner of the field, quickly began propagating the new banana.

The new banana strain grew in popularity. It was a favorite at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, selling for a hefty ten cents each.

Romans ate bananas, but they were lost to Europe when trade with Africa collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire. Bananas were one of the things that 15th Century Portuguese explores brought back to Europe, reestablishing the African trade in bananas. Soon they were being cultivated in the New World.

All the banana's in the supermarket are of one strain--the Cavendish. The 1923 song, "Yes, We have No Bananas" was written when the Gos Michel (Big Mike) banana was being lost to a fungus that spread through the worldwide mono-culture fields of the Gros Michel. The same fungus, the Panama Disease, is now destroying the Cavendish fields. The fate of the banana is yet to be known. Will science win this round or will it once again be "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

Friday, September 14, 2012

GI Joe & The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Did you know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served on machine sliced bread was a staple of WWII military meals? It provided a fast and nutritious meal, with a sugar boost, in cold camps. Many of the soldiers liked the sandwiches so much that they continued eating them when they returned to the states after the war.

Next time you have a PB&J sandwich, take a bite as a salute to the men who served as WWII soldiers.

Pancakes a Favorite for 9,000 Years

Call them pancakes, griddle cakes, or flapjacks; this mixture of flour, milk, eggs, and oil has been a pipping hot, mouthwatering favorite since the first days of farming. The mixture is a tasty way to utilize the resources generated by farming. Archaeological evidence proves we humans have been eating pancakes right from the beginning of farming 9,000 years ago.

The word flapjacks may conjure up an image of a chuckwagon and cowboys breakfasting, on a summer prairie morning with cows lowing in the background, in your imagination, but you would be wrong. Flapjacks are a name first applied to griddle cakes in Tudor times. Shakespeare mentions them in his plays. The Greeks ate pancakes they called tiganites over 2,600 years ago. Nearly every culture has a similar recipe. The pancakes spread along with farming.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dogs and Cats or Puppies and Kittens

Ever wonder why the young of cats and dogs are called kittens and puppies, or why a young swan is a cygnet? After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the French language of the conquering Normans began to mix with the Germanic language of the conquered Anglo-Saxon population. In the case of animals kept as pets, when there were two words for the same animal, the French word gradually began to take on the exact meaning of the young of the animal, while the Germanic word gradually came to denote the adult animal, making for a more specific method of speaking of the animal at different stages of its life. English became such an exact language because of this differentiation process, as new words entered English from other languages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of Books and Underwear

It is perhaps a strange link, but books, and the paper they were made of, could not becomes widely available until the wearing of underwear became commonplace. Inexpensive paper was made of cotton and linen rags, cut into small pieces and pounded into pulp by waterwheel powered trip-hammers. Worn out underwear was purchased by the rag and bone man and sold on to the paper mills.

Underwear began to be more widely worn, as trade revived and clothing began to be made of richer fabrics colored with exotic dyes, during the Renaissance. The cotton and linen underwear protected the expensive clothing from sweat stains and odors, in an era before detergents and chemical dry cleaning.

It is an odd thing, but the pages of that rare Renaissance book were probably a bra, undershirt, or petticoat in their first life.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Royal Flush

The royal family of France lived in absolute splendor in the Palace of Versailles, from 1682 to 1789. There was a room with a bath for the king and another for the queen. There wasn't a single toilet, only chamber pots. These were in such short supply that soon even the most tidy men began to urinate on the palace stairs.   Lots of grandeur, but not enough planning for a large court.

In contrast, Queen Elizabeth had a flush toilet before 1600. Though chamber post were preferred by most until the Regency, when plumbing improved.

Pardon My Flemish

When one of those four letter words slips out at a bad moment, people often say, "Pardon my French." The truth is that most cuss words and certainly the f#@* word is of Flemish origin. The words entered English from Flemish sailors. Cuss like a sailor is right. They were taking wool from England to be dyed and woven in Flanders (currently known as Belgium), in such cities as Bruges. The woolen cloth would then be sold to other countries, including England. Wool was long the major product of England.