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.
—Basho

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

Roasted Corn with the Bearded Lady of Coney Island

The loneliness of the bearded lady — who does it concern besides the lady herself? No one really, save perhaps a curious soul or two. Journalist Joseph Mitchell was one such soul. In his 1940 piece on Jane Barnell (aka Lady Olga), America’s most famous bearded lady,  he writes that she “occasionally considers herself an outcast and feels that there is something vaguely shameful about the way she makes a living.” Hirsute since infancy, Barnell was put on exhibition shortly after her fourth birthday, when her parents sold her to the Great Orient Family Circus. Her stint with the outfit marked the beginning of a long career, during which she appeared in at least twenty-five circuses and sideshows.

Continue reading