(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

“Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way”*…

The U.S. boasts an impressively vast array of agricultural and botanical species. In an attempt to document that fact, The United States Department of Agriculture collected over 7,500 botanical watercolour paintings of evolving fruit and nut varieties in its Pomological Watercolor Collection, assembled between 1886 and 1942…

Independent publishing house Atelier Éditions is now revisiting this documentation of American pomology with the release of its latest book: An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts. “I came across the collection a few years back while researching botanical artworks,” says Pascale Georgiev, editorial director of Atelier. “There was such potential for a book with this collection, and it fits with our way of building archival or collection-based volumes.” The book is a biophilic wonder, with beautiful images of fruits popping with gentle colours and careful watercolour work. Accompanying them are often texts by well-versed experts, giving a fascinating insight into the agriculture behind the produce.

“We only produce and consume a handful of varieties today, mainly hybrids that cater to our desire for a certain sweetness, juiciness, smoothness, even specific shapes and lack of seeds,” says Pascale on the importance of the book’s current publication. “In some respects, the collection is a time capsule, and a reminder about the importance of diversity and conservation,” she adds…

Joey Levenson in discussion with Pascal: “We talk to Atelier Éditions about its new Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts,” in @itsnicethat. More at Atelier Éditions.

Vandana Shiva

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As we fancy favorite fruits, we might carefully compose a birthday greeting to Pierre Athanase Larousse, the French grammarian and lexicographer, born in Toucy on this date in 1817.  In 1856 Larousse and his partner Augustin Boyer published the New Dictionary of the French Language, the forerunner of the Petit Larousse.   On December 27, 1863 the first volume of Larousse’s masterwork, the great encyclopedic dictionary, the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle (Great Universal 19th-Century Dictionary), appeared.

The cover of the first Larousse French dictionary (1856)

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Then, in 1938, the Larousse publishing house published an encyclopedia of gastronomy, Larousse Gastronomique edited by Prosper Montagne.

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And Happy Mole Day (or to be more precise, October 23 at 6:02 pm, in honor of Avogadro’s number: 6.02 x 1023 items are in a mole — it’s the chemist’s version of a dozen)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 23, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”*…

Tim Flannery considers George Monbiot‘s (@GeorgeMonbiot) new book, Regenesis, in which Monbiot argues that neither the industrial farming that become our norm nor the most rapidly spreading alternative farming methods can help save our food system from impending crisis…

What will we be eating in the future? Will it be wholesome, locally grown organic produce or some Soylent Green–like nightmare food? The only certainty, George Monbiot argues in Regenesis, is that we cannot continue to eat what we eat today. Climate disruption will see to that. And even if climate impacts are less severe than some project, industrial agriculture and the so-called global standard diet it creates are environmentally unsustainable and are destroying the planet’s soils so rapidly that we already stand on the brink of a worldwide catastrophe. We have, Monbiot warns, a very brief period in which to reshape our food systems…

[There follows a fascinating (and chilling) diagnosis of the challenge, and a consideration of possible answers…]

Humans have been farmers for only around 10,000 years. Before that we were hunter-gatherers, and the planet could sustain just a few million of us. Then we moved down the food chain by harvesting the seeds of the grasses that fed the great herds. With that innovation, many millions could be nourished. But the agricultural system that produced the grain was damaging to the environment. We now face the prospect of one further leap down the food chain to bacteria. The benefits could be enormous. Yet we have fetishized our food so thoroughly that it’s difficult to think of a yellow powder made of dried bacteria as being healthy, fresh, and good for the planet. Perhaps the first person to hand out baked cakes of crushed grains at a barbecue serving mammoth and bison steaks to Paleolithic big-game hunters faced the same problem…

It’s Not Easy Being Green,” in @nybooks.

A pair of shorter-term views that raise some of the same issues (and conflicts): “The U.S. diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to get Americans eating healthier” and “The next threat to global food supplies.”

* Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

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As we contemplate comestibles, we might note that National Procrastination Day was yesterday.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 7, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise”*…

The story of a fabulous fruit and of the Californian who made it widely available…

The most nutritious known fruit, the avocado — a mostly evergreen member of the laurel family — is a ghost of evolution that should have grown extinct when the animals that fed on it and disseminated its enormous seeds did. Mercifully, it did not. Ample in Europe and North American during the Ice Age, it somehow managed to survive in Mexico and spread from there. But even more impressively, it managed to survive its own self-defeating sexual relations — the botanical equivalent of the human wire-crossing Eric Berne described in his revelatory 1964 classic Games People Play.

Bald of petals though the tree’s small greenish blossoms may be, they are an example of “perfect flowers” — the botanical term for bisexual blooming plants, which can typically self-pollinate. The avocado, however, is far from reproductively self-sufficient due to an astonishing internal clock, which comes in two mirror-image varieties.

In some cultivars — like the Hass, Pinkerton, and Reed avocados — the blossoms open up into reproductive receptivity in their female guise each morning, then close by that afternoon; the following afternoon, they open in their male guise. Other cultivars — the Fuerte, Zutano, and Bacon avocado among them — bloom on the opposite schedule: female in the afternoon, male by morning.

This presents a Pyramus and Thisbe problem across the wall of time — while both partners inhabit the space of a single tree, they can’t reach each other across the day-parts and need to be pollinated by trees on the opposite schedule…

Ever since humans have cultivated Earth’s most nutritious fruit, they have tried to help the helpless romancer with various intervention strategies — grafting, planting trees with opposite blooming schedules near each other, even manually pollinating blossoms of the same tree.

The world’s most beloved avocado — the Hass — is the consequence of human interference consecrated by happenstance in the hands of a California mailman in the 1920s.

[There follows the remarkable tale of Rudolph Hass, whose avocados bring in more than a billion dollars a year for growers, accounting for four fifths of the American avocado industry.]

Today, every single Hass avocado in every neighborhood market that ever was and ever will be can be traced to a single mother tree grown by a destitute California mailman in 1926 — tender evidence that every tree is in some sense immortal, and a living testament to how chance and choice converge to shape our lives

Rudolph and Elizabeth Hass in front of the mother tree

Chance, Choice, and the Avocado: The Strange Evolutionary and Creative History of Earth’s Most Nutritious Fruit,” from @brainpicker in @brainpickings.

See also: “Here too it’s masquerade.”

David Fairchild

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As we peel and pit, we might recall that it was on this date in 1837 that John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, a pair of successful Worcester chemists, began manufacturing Worcestershire sauce, a savory flavoring that capitalizes on umami. Their condiment, which was broadly available to the public the following year, faced down scores of imitators to become the dominant brand, which it remains.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 28, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Mustard: Good only in Dijon”*…

France is facing a widespread dearth of Dijon mustard; Emily Monaco explains…

Take a wander down any condiment aisle in France these days, and you’ll notice a pervasive absence between le mayo and le ketchup. Since this May, France has faced a widespread dearth of Dijon mustard, leading one French resident to advertise two jars for sale to the tune of €6,000 or about £5,000 (since revealed to be merely in jest). The shortage has incited expats (this author included) to not-at-all-jokingly smuggle squeeze bottles of Maille back into the country from places like the US to get their fix, while author and Paris resident David Lebovitz even resorted to hunting his jars down at a local gardening store, of all places.

While French news outlets wasted no time in attributing the shortage to the war in Ukraine, the real story is a whole lot spicier than that.

Omnipresent on French tables, Dijon mustard, made by combining brown mustard seeds with white wine, is a beloved condiment that provides a counterpoint to rich, hearty dishes thanks to its acidity and heat. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a slice of crisp-skinned roast chicken, the ideal way to jazz up a simple ham-and-butter sandwich and an essential ingredient in homemade mayonnaise.

That the condiment is so anchored in France’s Burgundy region – of which Dijon is the capital city – is thanks to the historical co-planting of brown mustard seeds with the region’s renowned grapevines, a practice introduced by the Ancient Romans to provide the vines with essential nutrients like phosphorous. Monks continued to cultivate mustard in this fashion for centuries, and, in 1752, the link between Dijon and mustard was cemented thanks to Dijon local Jean Naigeon, who married the seeds, not with vinegar, but with verjuice – the juice of unripe wine grapes historically used to add a pleasantly sour flavour to recipes in regions inhospitable to citrus…

But the truth is that despite its historical link the to the region, Dijon mustard has been delocalised for quite some time.

After Burgundian farmers largely abandoned mustard cultivation in favour of higher-paying crops decades ago, moutardiers (mustard makers) began looking further afield for the tiny seed at the root of the condiment that launched 1,000 “Pardon me, sirjokes. Their mustard seed needs were chiefly met by Canada, which produces about 80% of the world’s supply. But this winter, Canadian-grown mustard also dried up, when, after several years of declining production had reduced stores, dry summer weather obliterated the Canadian crop, sending mustard seed prices skyrocketing threefold.

Though the shortage was not caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was exacerbated by it, impacting Dijon mustard makers “indirectly”, according to Luc Vandermaesen, CEO of mustard producer Reine de Dijon. Rather than the brown seeds required for Dijon, Ukraine predominantly produces the white variety used in yellow and English mustard. Given the conflict, producers less tied to specific mustard varieties turned to Canada’s already meagre supply, intensifying the shortage.

Inadvertently, this all shed new light on the discrepancy between the name “Dijon mustard” and where it’s made. After all, unlike Champagne or Roquefort, the “Dijon” in Dijon mustard refers to a specific recipe and not to a geographic region protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) designation, which regulate products like wine, cheese and even lentils with an iron fist…

A spicy tale: “Why there’s no ‘Dijon’ in Dijon mustard,” from @emily_in_france in @BBC_Travel.

* Gustave Flaubert

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As we spread it thin, we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that the Reverend Samuel Henshall was awarded the first patent for a corkscrew.

His idea was to incorporate a button between the shank & the worm. Its purpose was to compress and turn the cork once the worm was fully inserted, thus breaking any bond that might exist between cork and bottle.

Henshall’s improvement to the simple direct pull corkscrew was no doubt a winner. His design
was produced well into the 20th century in a vast array of different styles…

Antique & Vintage Corkscrew Guide

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 24, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Plants can’t move, yet the insects come to them and spread their pollen”*…

A canola plant damaged by heat and drought in Saskatchewan, Canada last July

The impact of climate change on agriculture is much discussed– but mostly at the level of yields. Carolyn Beans looks into what a warming planet means for fertilization and reproduction…

… heat is a pollen killer. Even with adequate water, heat can damage pollen and prevent fertilization in canola and many other crops, including corn, peanuts, and rice.

For this reason, many growers aim for crops to bloom before the temperature rises. But as climate change increases the number of days over 90 degrees in regions across the globe, and multi-day stretches of extreme heat become more common, getting that timing right could become challenging, if not impossible.

Faced with a warmer future, researchers are searching for ways to help pollen beat the heat. They’re uncovering genes that could lead to more heat-tolerant varieties and breeding cultivars that can survive winter and flower before heat strikes. They’re probing pollen’s precise limits and even harvesting pollen at large scales to spray directly onto crops when weather improves.

At stake is much of our diet. Every seed, grain, and fruit that we eat is a direct product of pollination…

Farmers and scientists are increasingly observing that unusually high springtime temperatures can kill pollen and interfere with the fertilization of crops. Researchers are now searching for ways to help pollen beat the heat, including developing more heat-tolerant varieties: “Pollen and Heat: A Looming Challenge for Global Agriculture,” from @carolynmbeans in @YaleE360.

* Nahoko Uehashi

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As we try to stay cool, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that chlorophyll– the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis in plants– was first synthesized. The feat was accomplished by Robert Burns Woodward, the preeminent synthetic organic chemist of the twentieth century, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965 for this and other syntheses of complex natural compounds (including Vitamin b12).

Robert Burns Woodward
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