Newsletter items this week are a bit like fondly-remembered London busses; you wait for ages and three arrive at once. Coffee and wet markets get a reprise, although there are also some newer topics.
A date with history
Previously, in the Methuselah date story: around 50 years ago archaeologists excavating Masada in Israel dug up a small pile of date seeds. In 2008, to most people’s surprise, one of those seeds — roughly 2000 years old — germinated and was named the Methuselah date. Like its namesake, it proved to be male. Date male and female flowers grow on separate plants, so wails and lamentations accompanied far-fetched plans to tinker with Methuselah.
Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith and Hannah
And it came to pass that in recent years another 32 well-preserved date seeds were set to germinate. And lo, six of them did germinate, and their names were given as Boaz, Eve, Jeremiah, Jonah, Judah and Uriel, and they too were of ancient lineage. And when they came of maturity and revealed unto others their gender, Eve became Adam, and Jeremiah became Hannah and Judah in her turn became Judith.
And Hannah brought forth flowers in their beauty, and the researchers carried the male seed from Methuselah unto Hannah’s flowers and the flowers swelled and were ripened. Then the researchers plucked of the fruits and tasted, and said: “The honey-blonde, semi-dry flesh had a fibrous, chewy texture and a subtle sweetness.”
The New York Times has the story, and there is a bunch of really interesting science behind some of the conjectures.
Yes we can
One of the most fascinating talks at this year’s Dublin Gastronomy Symposium was Lindsay Middleton’s ‘No One Wishes to Say that You are to Live on Preserved Meats’: Canning and Disruptive Narratives in Nineteenth-Century Food Writing. Fascinating, but not for the faint of heart, as Lindsay took us through the early history of canning in Victorian England, replete with scandal after scandal caused both by the novelty of the technology and the desire of sketchy investors to make money.
How Did We Can? is a new digital exhibit from the USDA’s National Agricultural Library. It covers “the evolution of home canning practices” with no nauseating detail at all, which is a shame. Still, it does contain a lot of historical information with links to the complete documents. Talk of a “resurgence in home canning” seems to come to an end in 1975, although the most recent update to the USDA’s guide to home canning was in 2015. Most noteworthy changes: some tomato varieties are no longer considered acid enough to can without additional acid, and canning in an actual tin is no longer covered.
The future of coffee drinking
Jennifer Ferreira, at Coventry University in the UK, has written Coffee, coronavirus and the uncertain future of high street cafe culture. It’s a thorough, useful summary of how covid-19 affected coffee consumption in the UK, and many of the conclusions one might have reached from the comfort of one’s armchair. Kudos though for going further and crunching some of the numbers.
A lot of people say they are not as likely to return to their former frequency of visiting coffee shops, for fear of contracting the virus, but in one survey, a third of the respondents said they intend to visit more often, “because they wanted to support local businesses and also because they felt more connected to their local communities since lockdown. This raises a question about whether the future of the coffee shop industry is less tied to the areas around offices and commuter hubs, but more to the residential areas where people are now spending more time.” I wonder, will there really be the traffic to support a coffee shop in residential areas?
The future of food safety
“Supermarketization” is apparently the correct word for what is happening in many countries as they become richer, and one of the things that concerns many observers of the process is that a bad supermarket may be a riskier proposition for food safety than a good wet market. A new analysis in China bears that out.
Lita Alita and colleagues used official food safety reports by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) to look at pesticide residues as a marker of vegetable safety. Overall, Chinese vegetables are somewhat risky, with “excessive pesticide residue“ detected in 10.2% of the samples. Supermarkets are safest, with excessive residues in 5.7% of samples. But wet markets are significantly safer than other small-scale retailers, with 7.2% versus 18.9% samples with excessive pesticide residues.
The study offers some suggestions as to why this should be, none of which I find terribly convincing. Their conclusion, I do.
[W]et markets are capable of supplying safe vegetables to the urban consumer, especially in underdeveloped areas that are not yet covered by supermarket chains. Supermarketization is not the only strategy to enhance the safety of vegetables because wet markets may be effective as well.
You must remember this
If you are into the whole culinary memoir thing, Cynthia Bertelsman, building on the work of Jessica Esperanza, has compiled a bibliography of food and culinary memoirs for your reading pleasure. Cynthia says she wants to hear about books that aren’t on the list, which I hope means she will curate it into the future. Me, I’m off to write Quince: my membrillo memories. Or maybe I should do Zizania to Ziziphus: my life on the far frontiers of edible diversity. Would anyone read Xylella: a losing battle?
Take care, and stay safe.