Frog legs have never really appealled to me. I can see that they might provide useful protein as well as pest-control services to a rice farmer, but as a delicacy? Not for me. That doesn’t stop the rest of the world though: somewhere between 100 million and 400 million frogs end up in international food trade each year.
I learned that from an article in The Conversation, which reported on some research into frog hunters in Turkey. Right now, the harvest of Anatolian water frogs is unsustainable, with a 90% chance that local populations will become extinct by 2050. That would rob the area of an important source of income. The research points out that reducing the number of frogs killed each year would actually increase the total catch and would be sustainable; good news for the frog population, the trade in frog legs and people who like to eat internationally-traded frog legs.
This is a turn-up for the books. While experts have long agreed that the citizens of ancient Pompeii would have known about citrons and lemons, the question of other citrus fruits, including oranges, has not had a clear answer. As Dorian Fuller explains,
“Despite plausible textual sources, it is always hard to translate ancient terms into botanical species, especially in Citrus fruits that are so variety-rich, prone to both hybridization and frequent somatic mutations.”
In other words, Citrus is “suggestible and promiscuous” as Helena Attlee, author of The Land Where Lemons Grow, puts it.
Nevertheless, the answer is now a lot clearer. Fuller has just published an interesting piece explaining the significance of a recent journal article that something very like a mandarin orange was present too, judging from its pollen.
How it got there is the new mystery.
The evolution of marmalade
Rome these days is studded with bitter orange trees, which a few of us turn into marmalade and a great opportunity for refugees.
Occasionally, as I stir the bubbling pan, I have wondered about why in English, marmalade always connotes a sweet preserve of citrus while in so many other European languages it can be of any fruit. Now I know, thanks to an article Luigi found about the History of Marmalade from the people who organise the Marmalade Awards.
Well, I thought I did, but the article doesn’t actually explain why the usage differs as it does. It does, however, explain a whole of of other things, like the basic link between marmalade and malomellum, or quince.
Some homemade sourdough under that marmalade
All sorts of explanations have flitted by to account for the rise of home bread baking during the pandemic. Food insecurity alone doesn’t explain enough. The supermarkets were devoid of flour and yeast, not of bread.
Robyn Cutright, an associate professor of anthropology and Latin American studies, has turned her attention from “the impact of imperial conquest on rural communities” to the impact of Covid-19 on domestic behaviour.
In her view:
Self-isolated cooks perceive shortages of yeast and lack access to their usual range of prepared foods. Layoffs, furloughs, and economic uncertainty pose economic constraints. Cooks have more time at home to feed sourdough starters, prepare dough, and bake bread. The social organization of labor has changed under quarantine too. Household units are more isolated and self-contained by social distancing. Work, school, and leisure all take place at home for many families, collapsing distinctions between public and private spaces, and between career and family labor.
Which is embedded in a long article about changes in diet and cuisine over archaeological time. Come for the sourdough, stay for accounts of the Jequetepeque Valley in Peru, the southwest US and Çatalhöyük, in Turkey.
Beyond Covid: bread with an eye on the future
Rupert Dunn launched Torth y Tir — Welsh for “Loaf of the Land” to become the first Peasant Bakery in the UK, carrying out the entire process from saved seed to baked loaf. He shared an account of the build-up to opening day, and it makes for fascinating reading. As does the Torth y Tir website.
I’ve no idea whether Covid-inspired baking will stay at its current levels once the disease is more under control. I hope at least some people do continue, having discovered that baking bread is satisfying in so many more ways than assuaging hunger. Even more, it seems possible that the pandemic will give a boost to the regional grain economies that were starting to flourish before the disease boosted our awareness of the fragility of existing food supply systems. It doesn’t have to be completely integrated, the way Rupert Dunn has organised Torth y Tir. Farmers could be farming, millers milling, bakers baking, eaters eating — independent but interconnected.
Did you take up bread during lockdown? Will you be continuing?
All the best, and take care,