23 November 2010

Thankful For Foods New & Old:

When I lived in the Garden State, harvest season was the highlight of the year. The last tomatoes are brought to the farm stands, the corn finishes ripening, and the bright pumpkins swell in the fields.

The Harvest, Robert Zund (1827 - 1909)

Few people ever consider the historical circumstances that allow us to enjoy these fruits and vegetables around the world today. Most people know that Amerindians cultivated corn (maize) for thousands of years, and introduced it to the Europeans who arrived on America's shores in the 15th century. However, corn wasn't the only "New World" vegetable to impact Europe.

For instance, though tomatoes are today considered an integral part of Italian sauces, the British and North American British colonists refused to eat tomatoes for years because they erroneously believed them to be poisonous (only the leaves are toxic). Anyone who has been hiking or enjoys the outdoors probably has heard that brightly colored berries are typically bad to eat. The vibrant fruit of the tomato made some Europeans nervous, so when Spanish explorers brought back seeds from Tenochtitlan around 1519, the British only cultivated them as decorative plants. Obviously since the Spanish had seen the Amerindians eat the tomato with no ill effects, the fruit caught on quickly in Spain, with Italy following closely behind. The myth of the poisonous tomato persisted among the British and Americans until less than 200 years ago.

Ripening Tomatoes 4, Cindy Revell (Contemporary)

Were you aware that the Irish didn't farm potatoes until recently? Native to Peru, the potato is first mentioned by Spaniard Pedro de Cieza de Leon in 1540, when he writes that the native peoples have, in addition to maize, another "plant that supports a great part of their existence: the potatoes...." After making its way around Europe, Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) first brought the potato to Ireland when he planted them at his estate near Cork. The new crop gained so much in popularity that "cooking any food other than a potato had become a lost art. Women hardly boiled anything but potatoes" [Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1962]. This dependence on the potato directly lead to the starvation of millions when the blight destroyed nearly all the potatoes in Ireland.

Gathering Potatoes, Jules Bastien-Lapage (1848 - 1884)

Perhaps the crop most associated with autumn is the pumpkin. We make pies and soups from it, roast the seeds, and even fry the blossoms. While pumpkins today are grown on every continent save Antarctica, they are believed to have been first cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago. In addition to using pumpkins as food, Amerindians would pound the tough rind into strips and weave it into mats. Colonists first created the pie when they hollowed out a pumpkin and filled the inside with milk, honey and spices, then set the squash in the fire to cook.

Gathering Pumpkings: An October Scene in New England, ca. 1860

This was original posted at Mark & Stephanie's excellent and healthy blog, You Are What I Eat.

12 November 2010

A Simple Matter of Etiquette...

Because I am of a certain age, I receive wedding invitations, wedding shower invitations, and baby shower invitations. This started about the time I turned 18, and downpour has yet to let up.

There are a few things that have never failed to upset me, and I can’t imagine why any self-respecting person would do them.

Don’t get me wrong; many of my friends have sent baby shower announcements and wedding invitations that were lovely, and even if I tried, I wouldn’t find fault. But there are always a few…

At a former job in Florida, a coworker had a baby shower for her second child. Everyone was invited, and had brought gifts. When a girl friend and I showed up, the mother of the mom-to-be handed us envelopes. She told us to address them to ourselves, as they were for the Thank-You notes to be mailed later.


The interesting part is that
nobody ever received any Thank-You notes at all. Some people even spent a lot of money on lavish gifts.

But Laura, the price of the gift shouldn't matter.

You're right, but those people should have at least received the Thank-You notes that they had already addressed to

An out-of-state friend was having a wedding shower. The friend who was throwing it for her was someone I did not know. This person sent a wedding shower invite to me, and enclosed two different Registry Cards. In addition, there was a hand written note saying, “If you can’t make it, here is the address where you should send the gifts.”

Do I really need to go into detail about the obvious rudeness here? Needless to say, no gift was sent (I did bring several gifts to the wedding itself, and I paid a crazy amount in travel expenses, so I think I did the “good friend” thing sufficiently).

I take personal offense at Registry Cards.

Etiquette Fail.

I don’t mind if a person is registered somewhere, but proper etiquette dictates that I call a friend, relative, or the person throwing the wedding/baby shower to find out that sort of information.
(By the way, it is horrible etiquette to throw your own shower. It means you are pathetic, and have no friends.)

Registry Cards included in invitations means one of two things:
  • “I am inviting you because I want a gift from you, and I don’t trust your crappy taste in picking out something nice for me.”
  • “I know you are too cheap to bring a gift, so I’m reminding you of your friendship duties.”

It does not mean, “I enjoy our friendship, and I would love for you to share in my special day.” That’s what the original invitation meant.

Have you ever heard of the money dance? This is right up there with the money tree on my list of pet peeves. At another wedding*, men had to pay money to dance with the bride. Not only had the men paid money to travel to the wedding, paid money for hotel expenses, paid money for gifts, and paid money for tuxes, they now had to pay to dance with the bride? Woe unto those who didn’t have cash on them!

I could write a whole book on wedding/baby shower stupidity, but there are already several out there, as well as several reliable websites letting us know the proper way to behave.

Of course, I’m perfect, just as my blog readers are perfect, and none of us will ever do any of those things.

*I've been to a remarkable number of weddings.