Seaweed as Food, Fodder, and Fuel

Brown seaweed
Images from An Introduction to the Study of Seaweeds (1895)

Shell-entangled, bright-hued seaweed,
From what mermaid-haunted bowers
Wert thou cast? did rude waves tear thee
From thy beauteous sister flowers?

Or did glittering star-fish tempt thee?
Did the Nautilus say, Come?
Did they whisper ‘neath the crystal,
Of a fairer, brighter home?

–S.E. Tonkin, “Seaweed” (1866)

Michael Innes’s 1977 mystery novel Honeybath’s Haven sees eccentric artist Edwin Lightfoot drowned in a saline pool of cultivated seaweeds. A pet project of Lady Munden, a fellow inmate of the retirement home in which Lightfoot lived, the pool is thick with great sea tang, whose stems are “as thick as a cable,” and sinewy bull-head kelp. It was this latter plant that proved Lightfoot’s undoing. So ensnared did he become in it, a policeman at the scene noted, that “the body had to be cut out of the stuff.”

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Life Aquatic (A Brief History of Ponds and the Foods Found in Them)

Pond landscape painting ivan shiskin
Ivan Shiskin, Pond (1881)

Old pond,
leap-splash—
a frog.
—Bashō

On summer weekends I swim in a nearby pond. Its water is as dark as Darjeeling tea, the hue owing to the pond’s bed of decayed leaves and organic matter cast off from the masses of trees and plants ringing its banks. The resulting sludge teems with microbes, insects, and all the other minute creatures that feed the snakes, snapping turtles, and bluegills I see as I do my lonely laps. Plants likewise feast on the nitrogen and phosphorus present, and as they grow, flower, and die, they themselves become part of the ooze. Its this virtuous cycle of rot and rebirth that makes ponds and other bodies of water throngingly alive.

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Horseradish: A Condiment Rooted in Tradition

Sit down, gentlemen, and fall to, with a good hearty appetite; the fat, the lean, the gravy, the horseradish as you like it – don’t spare it.  — William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)

Originating in the warmer climes of western Asia, horseradish has since become a favorite condiment of the decidedly cooler climes of Central and Northern Europe, where it is cherished for its peppy, pungent flavor. The 1901 edition of the South Australia Journal of Agriculture reports that the zesty root grows “on a considerable scale in various parts of Bohemia,” favoring  “a deep, loose, strong soil, with plenty of moisture,” which “is considered the most suitable.”

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