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Posts Tagged ‘Miscellaneous’

Tomato Literacy

My mom once observed that a bad tomato is better than no tomato at all. Mom’s love of tomatoes in any form, but especially fresh tomatoes, was epic.

I like a nice, juicy tomato, too, but I don’t eat the things regularly. Most store-bought tomatoes are awful, and growing my own is too much trouble. Unlike Mom, I believe no tomato at all is better than a bad tomato.

The tomato is an oddity. It’s a berry of the plant Solanum lycopsicum, botanically classified as a fruit, but used as a vegetable.

In case your tomato literacy is lacking, allow me to do some enlightening.

Tomatoes are among the 2,700 species of the nightshade family of flowering plants. Nightshades range from vines to shrubs to trees to ornamentals to a number of food crops — among the latter being tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

All nightshades contain alkaloid compounds in varying amounts, manifesting in the form of poisons, stimulants, psychotropic drugs, and medicines. Fortunately, all nightshade food crops contain only trace amounts of alkaloids and are harmless.

That fact, however, did not prevent many Europeans and Americans in olden times from coming to the erroneous conclusion that tomatoes are poisonous. A few hundred years ago, most people believed eating a tomato meant certain death.

Tomatoes originated in Central and South America among the Incas and Aztecs, and Spain introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 1500s. By the time they became known in England, the myth of the poison tomato already had taken hold.

One reason was an influential book by English botanist John Gerard (1545-1612). In the book, Gerard made the scholarly declaration that, yes, eating a tomato will kill you instantly.

As you probably know, science wasn’t very scientific back then — largely a mixture of guesswork, mysticism, and sometimes a dash of religion. But folks at the time didn’t know that. Thus, when the great scientist Gerard said eating a tomato would kill you, most people believed it.

Eventually, of course, the truth came out. The myth was exposed, and slowly, tomatoes were welcomed into society.

A story is told that in 1820, a distinguished citizen of Salem, New Jersey, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, played an important role in changing America’s mind about tomatoes.

The story is unsubstantiated, as well as suspiciously apocryphal, but it makes the point with great panache.

The following account is from “The Story of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the Tomato” as preserved by the Salem County Historical Society.

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Col. Johnson announced that he would eat a tomato, also called the wolf peach, Jerusalem apple or love apple, on the steps of the county courthouse at noon. That morning, in 1820, about 2,000 people were jammed into the town square. The spectators began to hoot and jeer.

Then, 15 minutes later, Col. Johnson emerged from his mansion and headed up Market Street towards the Courthouse. The crowd cheered. The fireman’s band struck up a lively tune.

He was a very impressive-looking man as he walked along the street. He was dressed in his usual black suit with white ruffles, black shoes and gloves, tricorn hat, and cane.

At the Courthouse steps he spoke to the crowd about the history of the tomato. He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun.

“To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing and to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now.”

There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite.

A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention; they were all watching Col. Johnson as he took one bite after another.

He raised both his arms, and again bit into one and then the other. The crowd cheered and the firemen’s band blared a song.

“He’s done it!” they shouted. “He’s still alive!”

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Prior to the event, Johnson’s doctor predicted that “the foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis from all the oxalic acid.”

Most of the onlookers, it was said, fully expected Colonel Johnson to drop dead on the spot. Wagers, in fact, were placed on the exact moment of his demise.

And, although the reports are unconfirmed, there was talk that Colonel Johnson himself collected handsomely on a series of side bets.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson (1771-1850), soldier, statesman, judge, horticulturalist, historian, and gentleman farmer.

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More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

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The Questions…

1. What is the oldest active volcano on earth?

2. What are the world’s number one and number two fruit crops?

3. Where and when did the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history occur?

4. What’s the difference between jam and jelly?

5. What do the writer Edgar Allen Poe and the singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common?

The Answers…

1. Mt. Etna on the island of Sicily. Its first known eruption was in 1500 BC. It has erupted 200 times since then, the most recent being on May 22, 2020.

2. Number one, grapes. Number two, bananas.

3. Galveston, Texas, 1900. Between 8,000 and 12,000 people died.

4. Jam is made by crushing the fruit and adding the gelling agent pectin. Jelly is made by crushing the fruit, discarding the solid parts, and adding pectin.

5. Both married a 13-year-old first cousin.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Sharks belong to a subclass of fish (along with sawfish, skates, and rays) whose skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. Cartilage, the stuff your earlobes and nose are made of, is lighter and more flexible than bone. Exception: a shark’s teeth, like yours, are made of calcified dentin.

● The longest highway in America is U.S. Route 6, which runs 3,199 miles from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Bishop, California.

● Brigham Young had 27 wives.

● In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto was played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. (The dog’s weekly salary was $125. Most of the Munchkins were paid from $50 to $100 per week.) After the huge success of the film, Terry’s name officially was changed to Toto. She appeared in 13 films.

● The favorite alcoholic beverage of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom from 1837 until her death in 1901, was a mixture of single malt Scotch whisky and claret.

● In making the 1969 film The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah’s production team expended some 90,000 rounds of blank cartridges. This is said to be more ammunition than was used in the entire Mexican Revolution.

● On February 9, 1964, evangelist Billy Graham broke his long-time rule against watching TV on Sunday by watching the first appearance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

● Symbolically, drawing a circle around the earth at the equator creates the northern and southern hemispheres. Likewise, drawing a circle around the prime meridian creates the eastern and western hemispheres. Africa is the only continent with land in all four hemispheres.

● The London Underground, the city’s rapid transit system, has a station below Buckingham Palace that could evacuate the royal family in an emergency.

● The aboriginal people of Australia developed two types of throwing sticks for hunting: boomerangs, which are aerodynamically designed to return to the thrower, and kylies, which are non-returning. Typically, boomerangs were used to frighten game birds into taking flight into nets, and kylies were used to hit and bring down targets.

● In badminton, the shuttlecock can reach speeds of nearly 200 MPH.

● In 1958, In anticipation of Hawaii and Alaska becoming states, a high school teacher in Lancaster, Ohio, asked his students to design a new 50-star flag. The design submitted by 17-year-old Robert Heft (1941-2009) earned a B-. The teacher said it lacked originality.

Nevertheless, Heft sent the design to his congressman, and in 1960, it was chosen out of 1,500 submissions as the official new U.S. flag. The teacher retroactively raised Heft’s B- to an A.

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Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories…

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Dopey, Sneezy et al

As you may know, the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was Hollywood’s first full-length animated film. Based on an 1812 German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, the movie was a great success and won awards aplenty.

The movie focused more on the dwarves than did the original story, because Walt Disney wanted to take advantage of their potential for humor and emotional appeal. Although the dwarves in the original story were not individually identified, an obscure Broadway play in 1912 gave them names. Disney ignored that and chose new ones.

The Disney names were Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy, Dopey, and Doc. Except for Doc, their leader, the dwarves were named for a distinguishing characteristic.

The seven names were selected by a process of elimination from a list of about 50 candidates. Among the rejected names: Baldy, Gabby, Sniffy, Lazy, Tubby, Shorty, Wheezy, Burpy, Jaunty, and Awful.

Mr. Disney wisely decided not to name one of the Seven Dwarves Awful.

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Neighborhood Jerk

Through most of the 1980s, my family lived in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville. Our house was on a cul-de-sac, and our back yard was adjacent to four other back yards. This created a large, pleasant green space behind the houses consisting of lawns, shrubs, and trees.

Another nice touch was that the five back yards were mostly private; no house had a direct view of any other. You saw kids playing and people doing yard work, but no more.

I liked all the neighbors just fine, except for one. He was a jerk. Too many times, we would hear him in his back yard, sometimes drunk, yelling profanities at someone in the household. Most people avoided him, but he made no effort to fit in anyway.

One Saturday afternoon, while peering out our bedroom window, Deanna said, “Would you look at what that fool is doing.”

I looked. It was the jerk in question, in the process of setting fire to a large pile of dry brush in his back yard. To our dismay, the pile of brush was not in the open, but under a canopy of trees. We hurried out onto the back deck in alarm.

The brush caught fire quickly, and almost immediately, the flames climbed into a pine tree. We could hear the sizzling and crackling. Deanna ran to the phone and called the fire department. Mrs. Jerk probably did the same.

Minutes later, the firemen arrived. They waved aside the jerk, who was impotently using a garden hose on the inferno, and put it out.

He lost two pine trees and a small hardwood. His house easily could have gone up.

What a jerk.

The deck from which we watched the conflagration.

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National Jerk

In 1796, the renowned American portraitist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned by the family of George Washington to create a painting of the former president, who then was 65. The painting turned out to be exceptional, but Stuart’s behavior in the matter revealed a clear lack of character.

Throwing the Washingtons a curveball, Stuart left the painting unfinished, which allowed him to retain legal possession. For years thereafter, he made and sold copies of the painting for $100 a pop.

Still, even unfinished, the painting was widely recognized as a masterpiece and probably Stuart’s best work.

After Stuart died in 1828, the painting was moved to the Boston Athenaeum, a distinguished private library. Today, known as the Athenaeum Portrait, it is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

If the painting seems vaguely familiar, that’s probably because it was the model for Washington’s likeness on the one dollar bill.

Gilbert Stuart, world-class jerk.

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Socialism is a scare word they [Republicans] have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.

Harry Truman, 1952

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Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.

W. C. Fields

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Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.

George Orwell

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Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

Truman

Wiesel

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This Just In

COLUMBUS, OHIO — The website Change.org is hosting a petition calling for the City of Columbus to be renamed Flavortown in honor of celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

The petition was launched after the city announced plans to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus outside city hall, as well as to change the city seal, flag, and other symbols to remove references to the explorer who subjugated and killed countless indigenous people.

The petition says renaming the city Flavortown would honor both Fieri, who was born there, and “Central Ohio’s proud heritage as a culinary crossroads.” It also says the name Flavortown “would be superior to its current nomenclature.”

GRANDVIEW, WEST VIRGINIA — A West Virginia woman whose husband told police she fell to her death from an overlook at New River Gorge was found hiding at home in a closet. She and her husband were arrested on charges of conspiracy and giving false information to the police.

Earlier this year, the woman pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges regarding a “pill mill” operation and faced up to 10 years in prison. Police said the couple faked her death to avoid sentencing.

After several days, of searching the area below the Grandview Overlook, police obtained a search warrant and subsequently found the woman.

In June, she was sentenced on the fraud charges to 3-1/2 years in federal prison. In August, she and her husband were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice and are awaiting trial.

LOUISA, VIRGINIA — Police have arrested one of two men accused of stealing beer from a convenience store while wearing hollowed-out watermelons on their heads to hide their identities.

The 20-year-old man faces charges of misdemeanor larceny of alcohol and misdemeanor possession of alcohol by an underage person. Police say they expect to arrest the second suspect soon.

A customer at the convenience store said she thought the disguises were “innovative, but ridiculous.” She said the work of preparing the watermelons and the mess of wearing them was “kind of crazy,” when ordinary bandanas would have sufficed.

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The Questions…

1. What is the technical difference between poultry and fowl?

2. The medical condition sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, better known as brain freeze or an ice-cream headache, is caused by eating or drinking something cold too quickly. Physically, what happens to cause it?

3. In the 1960 film Psycho, what did director Alfred Hitchcock use to simulate blood in the famous shower scene?

4. What is the most profitable commodity sold in supermarkets?

5. What is a diastema?

The Answers…

1. The word poultry describes domesticated fowl.

2. Behind your nose are nerves that are highly sensitive to pain, probably designed to protect your brain. Scientists think brain freeze is a case of those nerves objecting to the cold.

3. Hershey’s chocolate syrup diluted with water.

4. Dog food.

5. A gap between the upper front teeth.

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