Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. -Mark Twain.

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Banana Republic

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Besides being a retail store, a banana republic, actually has a much more significant meaning.  The famous American writer, O. Henry, coined the term when writing his book, Cabbages and Kings, inspired by his time in Honduras. Technically, a banana republic is a small country that depends on a single export and a servile dictator.  More specifically, a banana republic, it is a common pejorative political science and economics term that describes collusion between state and particular monopolies where the result is often private profit and public debts.  In other words, a banana republic is a corrupt government that accepts kickbacks from corrupt businesses.  The businesses get to use public lands to grow a main export crop, such as bananas, and collect the profit, but leaves the public to pay for the damaged lands.  Banana republics are most commonly countries of Central and South America.

You might wonder why bananas are such a significant fruit, but according to an article in the New York Times on the topic, bananas are the fourth most commonly consumed food in the world behind rice, wheat and milk.

In the 1950’s, the president of Guatemala was overthrown by the US government for trying to regain power from the US banana export company, United Fruit that effectively governed the country in those days.

The 1928 Banana Massacre was a massacre of workers who were on strike in Columbia, refusing to continue working for United Fruit until working conditions improved.  The Columbian army was sent to squelch the strike after the United States threatened to invade with the Marine Corp. if the Columbian government did not act to protect United Fruit’s interests.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude on this topic and included a fictionalized version of this massacre.

Sandwich

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Without a doubt, the sandwich is the best food ever created, well, since sliced bread, as luck would have it. The namesake of the sandwich was indeed the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. He liked the sandwich because it kept his hands clean as he played cards, which had delicate paint on them in those times. Montagu was a fervent gambler.

On another note, James Cook, the explorer, was the first European to find the Hawaiian Islands. He named them Sandwich Islands after Montagu, who was then the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.

Pita

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Is there ever a word connection that is so obvious that when you finally put it together it’s like…duh!  That’s what happened with pita and pizza.  I learned they have the same word origins.  And when you look at a pizza crust it is indeed just large pita bread. They both come from Latin pinsere meaning to pinch, a word meant to describe their flat forms.   

Tartar

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Can you follow this outrageous history?  Tatars are an ethnic group of people who live in the modern day Volga region of Russia and the surrounding areas.  They are considered a sect of the Turks.  They were once followers of Genghis Khan.  Needless to say, in those days, surrounding territories disliked them.  Instead of calling them Tatars, a name given by the Tatars themselves, Europeans began to call them Tartars, influenced by the word for hell in Medieval Latin, tartarus.  “In the present danger of the Tartars either we shall push them back into the Tartarus whence they are come, or they will bring us all into heaven” read a 1270 letter from St. Louis of France. 

Tartar sauce refers to the Tatars, but like French fries, the Tatars didn’t have anything to do with the invention of this sauce.  Steak tartare (tartare being French for tartar) is a raw meat dish to be served with tartar sauce. 

Cream of tartar is a powder made up of ‘tartaron’,which is Greek for the sediment inside wine casks, a white mineral known scientifically as Potassium bitartrate.  The white build up on teeth, tartar, is named after this.  Catch that?

Pictured above is the current Miss Russia who is, you guessed it, Tatar.

Birds Baked in a Pie

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If you want to bake parakeets into a pie you should refer to the 1598 Italian cookbook, Epulario or the Italian Banquet.  Back in those times hosting a banquet was no small task.  In addition to providing delicious and exquisite food for your guests, you were also supposed to entertain with theatrics, often using the food as a prop. 

One such theatric is documented in the poem Sing a Song of Sixpence.  Remember that nursery rhyme?

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye,

Four and twenty blackbirds

Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened

The birds began to sing—

Wasn’t that a dainty dish

To set before the king?

  Putting live birds in a pie and then cutting it open to create a fluttering marvel was just one of the many strange ways hosts had to “keep up with the Jones” back then.  Below is a recipe that these hosts of yore may have referenced (or probably their kitchen staff).  It calls for 3 parakeets or 6 finches.  Notice that the last line instructs the host to offer real dessert for the guests in addition to the performance dessert so they don’t feel made fun of.   

 

Make the coffin of a great Pie or pasty. in the bottome whereof make a hole as big as your fist, or bigger if you will. let the sides of the coffin be some what higher then ordinary Pie, which dome. put is full of flower and bake it, and being baked, open the hole in the bottome and take out the flower [flour]. then having a Pie of the bignesse of the hole in the bottome of the coffin aforesaid. you shal put it into the coffin, withall put into the said coffin round about the aforesaid pie as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold besides the pie aforesaid. And this is to be done at such time as you send the Pie to the table, and set before the guests: where uncovering or cutting up the lid of the great Pie, all the Birds will flie out. which is to the delight and pleasure shew to the company and because they shall not bee altogether mocked, you shall cut open the small pie and in this sort tart you may make many others, the like you may do with a Tart.

 

Quiz

What wine word refers to the blood of Jupiter? Put your answers in the comment section.

“In the large cities that received new Americans, there flowered a golden age of restaurants, manned by the available talent from abroad and fueled by the restless wealth of the newly rich.”

David Joseph Schwartz

 

Get the Farmer Out of the Mud

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Recently, while driving through the Hill Country of Texas, my friend quizzed me about the signs that we were seeing with the abbreviations FM and RM. On our route from Dallas to the small town of Mason, we passed FM 1121, for example. I had no idea, assuming it had nothing to do with the radio. She explained that in Texas they have tons of FM and RM roads meaning farm-to-market or ranch-to-market. The farm-to-market roads are more narrow and winding than the surrounding highways. According to a Texas Montly article from April 1983,

The first farm-to-market road was opened in 1941. FM 1 extended only three miles into the Piney Woods, and the farmer wasn’t even the main beneficiary—the road led to the Temple Lumber Company sawmill at Pineland—but the prospect of paved roads in the backcountry was enough to stimulate one of the major lobbying campaigns in Texas history. Its slogan was “Get the farmer out of the mud,” and its success was assured in 1949 when the Legislature guaranteed permanent funding for new farm-to-market roads.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas is the only state in the union to have roads of this kind of road designation.

Jigger

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Everyone who learns that the little double-sided cone used to measure a shot is called a jigger has a reaction of disbelief. Is this a bad joke? But no, alas, common terminology has all bar tenders of America measuring hard liquor for our cocktails in jiggers. The most likely etymology of this term points to the word chigger, a common parasite. Since the jigger is the smallest measurement of liquid commonly found in a kitchen, just 1.5 ounces, it shares its name with the tiny mite. Jigger is also used to describe the smallest mast on sailing ships, known as the jiggermast. So it seems that chigger, started meaning things that are small, like the mite, and changed to the word jigger.

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