28 October 2011

As If You've Seen A Ghost:

I have never (to my knowledge) seen a ghost. I don't know that I've heard one. However, I do know several otherwise normal friends who firmly believe they've interacted with the supernatural. Therefore, I believe that there must be something to their stories.

Do they have active imaginations, or is there something creepier to blame?

I'm sure everyone here has seen a Ghost Photograph. Generally, this consists of a photograph of a graveyard with weird lights, or a shadowy face in a window of a rambling old house. These days I'm reluctant to trust ghost photographs because PhotoShop is so user-friendly.

Then an idea struck me - what about antique or vintage ghost photographs?

Here are some that I've found. Sometimes double exposure could be the cause, but there are others where such an explanation doesn't make sense.

Look in the back seat.

Famous old ghost photograph of "Brown Lady of Rayham"

This one was originally deemed to be a double exposure, but then someone discovered that the women didn't take any photographs of young children on that roll of film.

And here's my favorite, because it's the least likely one to have been faked (though I'm always open to any scientific explanation):

Taken in 1919, this ghost photo of a RAF squadron from World War One has an extra ghostly face in the picture. It is believed to be Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic who had been accidentally killed by an airplane propeller two days before the pic was taken. His funeral took place on the day the photograph was shot. Members of his air squadron recognized his face with ease and believe he must have shown up for the haunted picture, unaware he had passed. Freddy's ghostly apparition appears behind the airman in the top row, fourth from the left.

What do you think?

14 October 2011

More Than Decoration: The Humble Pumpkin

As the moon waxes full over the scattered frost of the yard during these crisp October mornings, one's mind wanders to the warm colors and spicy flavors of Autumn.  In the United States, the pumpkin is the quintessential element of Fall decorating and baking.  But why limit our gourd to pies and lanterns one time each year?  Our ancestors found a multitude of uses for this versatile plant.
Gathering Pumpkings: An October Scene in New England, ca. 1860
Pumpkins, like many of our favorite vegetables, originated in North America and cultivated by American Indians for thousands of years.  Prehistoric peoples created two lineages of the gourd; one was grown in Mexico, and the other, considered a subspecies by some, along the east coast of the United States.  The pumpkin was roasted over fire, and pieces were pounded into strips to create mats.  

Pumpkins prefer warm, moist environments, and the first Spanish explorers likely encountered them in Florida and Central America.  They named them calabaza, and by the early 1700s both black and white farmers around St. Augustine, Florida, were actively growing them (may have been as early as late 1500s).

The English settlers brought with them to the New World their custom of carving squash into lanterns. These settlers, both Spanish and English, consumed pumpkin raw, roasted, cooked in a stew or soup. Some of the first European colonists filled the pumpkins with honey, cream and spices, then set them in the fire to cook.  This may be the origin of pumpkin pie.  During the late 1700s and early 1800s, New England farmers fattened cattle, hogs and horses on pumpkins during the winter, though they advised to place some salt on the flesh first, otherwise the animals may not find it appetizing.

La Récolte des citrouilles à la Bastide de Malvalat by François Marius Granet (1775-1849), 1796

Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone.

Poem from 1630, published in the Collections of Massachusetts Historical Society, 1838

Medicinal uses:  
  • In a 2007 study, pumpkin was found promote regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells.  
  • The seeds also contain omega-3 fats and zinc, which may promote prostate health.

Here's my recipe for simple pumpkin soup.  Feel free to share your own pumpkin recipe.