Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living, by Henry Theophilus Finck is part of HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter XI : GASTRONOMIC AMERICA
In the preceding pages I have neglected no chance to expose our shortcomings, not with any muck-raking intentions but in order to show in how many ways we could profit by following the example set by European nations.
It is now time to raise our flag and do a little patriotic boasting. There is a gastronomic America as well as an ungastronomic America; we have unequaled opportunities for producing the best of nearly everything, and if we utilize those opportunities, recognizing the all-importance of Flavor in food, in its various stages from the field to the grill and the table, we can easily become, within a few decades, a leading—perhaps even the leading—gastronomic nation.
In the present chapter and the following one I purpose to dwell on some of the delicacies for the enjoyment of which at their best Europeans must come to America.
SWEET CORN AND CORN BREAD.
Probably the most characteristically American thing a summer visitor from Europe will see in our dining-rooms is the eating of green corn off the cob. To be sure, he might see the same thing in visiting the Hindoos or South Africans; but they are imitators, we the originators of this delectable habit.
In saying "we" I mean Americans in the broadest sense of the word, including the red Indians. It was they who first cultivated corn, in the central part of our hemisphere. From there it came north, and Columbus took it to Europe, whence it reached the other continents. They call it maize in Europe, mealies in South Africa. In England "corn" means wheat, in Scotland oats, those being their principal crops respectively. In America the main crop still is, as it was twenty centuries ago, Indian corn, which therefore is of all things edible the most thoroughly American. Three cheers for corn!
In Italy, two-thirds of the rural population subsist mainly on corn, which is, however, eaten nearly always as polenta (mush), alone or with cheese, fish, or meat; whereas we have on our tables an almost endless variety of corn and corn products.
The red man set the example. He ate green corn. He made a mush of ripe corn, pounding it, either parched or unparched, into a coarse meal. He mixed it diversely with pumpkins, nuts, berries, and other foods. Succotash is an Indian name which we borrowed from him, together with the dish it denotes—beans and unripe corn cooked together. The site of Montreal was once an Indian cornfield. In the "dreadful winter" of 1620-21 the colonists in Plymouth bought "eight hogsheads of corne and beanes" from the Indians, who taught them "bothe ye manner how to set it and after how to dress and tend it."
Yet the most imaginative Indian could never have dreamt of how amazingly their successors on the soil would multiply the uses of corn, for the table and for countless industrial uses. We now have cook books concerned solely with corn foods.
Mark Twain's appetizing list of the American dishes he missed in Europe, to which reference was made in the first chapter of this book, includes five made of corn: pone, hoe-cake, green corn on the ear, green corn cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper, and hominy. Among those he surely would have mentioned also, had he happened to recall their merits at the moment, are samp, gruel, hulled corn, or lye hominy, Indian pudding, hasty pudding, pop-corn, succotash, Boston brown bread, griddle cakes, johnnycake, mock oysters, cream of corn, Kentucky corn dodgers, and cornmeal gems.
Welcome as all these specialties and many others are on American tables—fried mush and hominy are particularly to be commended to those who know not how tasty they are for breakfast, or as a dinner course, occasionally, in place of the everlasting potatoes—none of them—not even genuine pone—is quite so luscious as green corn.
It may not be "elegant" to eat sweet corn off the cob, but that is the only way to get its full Flavor. There is delicious fragrance in the juicy cob, too, and in the bosom of your family it is permissible (and decidedly advisable) to suck it. Sugar cane and oranges are not the only things that are best when sucked.
American horticultural ingenuity has achieved wonders in developing varieties of sweet corn with new refinements of Flavor. A few years ago C. D. Keller, of Toledo, Ohio, originated a new kind which he called the "Howling Mob," which "peculiar but apt name," in the words of Mr. Burpee, "refers to the vociferous demand for the ears when Mr. Keller takes them to market."
Great, indeed, is the demand in American markets, homes, and hotels for green corn, and much ingenuity has further been expended in rearing early and late varieties so as to make the season as long as possible. Between the early Malakoff, from Siberia, and the late Country Gentleman, there are dozens of desirable varieties the characteristics of which are described in the catalogues of our seedsmen. The last-named has long been considered the sweetest of all kinds, but the new Golden Bantam is a formidable rival. Its color, which makes it look like ordinary field corn, is against it, but those who have once tasted it, sing its praises forevermore.
It is related that the Rev. Sidney Smith's parishioners did not want him to visit America for fear that the allurements of canvasback duck might tempt him to remain. Sweet corn, also, might have alienated his patriotic affections. Covent Garden, to be sure, sometimes offers so-called green corn, but England has too cool nights and not enough sunshine to develop the Flavor of this vegetable.
Even in America, where it grows to perfection, pains must be taken if one wants to get that Flavor at its best. All who have lived in the country agree with Dr. Wiley's dictum that "there is only one way to eat Indian corn. That is to go out just before sun-up and harvest the ears, and have them boiled for early breakfast. To people in cities who have never eaten freshly harvested Indian corn, such an experience would be a revelation."
Not only do corn cobs that are kept a day or two before eating lose much of their precious fragrance, but, as the same eminent chemist informs us, "corn which is perfectly sweet and delicious at the moment of harvest, has been found to lose half of its sugar within twenty-four hours."
Those who find sweet corn indigestible do not know how to eat it. If a sharp knife is pressed on each row of kernels the skin—which is the indigestible part—is cut and remains on the cob.
While the demand for sweet corn is ever on the increase and fortunes are made by those who grow or handle the best—that is, the most agreeably flavored—sorts, the foods made of ripe dried corn are not eaten so generally as they ought to be, at least in the Northern States.
It is desirable that everybody should know the interesting reason for the fact, known to all, that the South is more addicted than the North to the eating of dishes made of corn.
That reason is very simple: corn bread in the South is made of meal which has more Flavor than the meal sold in the Northern States, and is therefore more appetizing and wholesome.
Why is its Flavor better? Because it is made of ground corn from which only the indigestible hulls have been removed by bolting, whereas in the making of meal for Northern markets, the millers remove also the germ which contains the fat and most of the Flavor of corn, besides its most important mineral contents. They have contrived a diabolical machine known as the "degerminator" for the special purpose of bolting out the germs, that is, the very heart and soul, of the corn.
If I add that, in the words of Dr. Charles D. Woods, Director of the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station "from the manufacturer's standpoint the removal of the germ does not represent a loss, as it is used for the manufacture of gluten feeds—so important for live stock—and corn oil, which has many industrial uses and is used to some extent as a salad oil and as a culinary fat"—the reader will begin to suspect one reason why the millers market cornmeal from which its most valuable constituent has been removed.
But there is another reason for this dastardly crime and that is that "the germ lowers the keeping quality of the meal because its abundant fat easily becomes rancid."
In other words cornmeal made for sale in the North is denatured deliberately in order that the miller and the grocer may not run the risk of having a few sacks of it spoil on their hands occasionally! The consumer is not considered at all.
Ungastronomic America has meekly submitted to this outrage, largely because the facts of the case are not generally known. Gastronomic Americans, whose numbers are increasing rapidly, will insist on their rights, refusing to buy cornmeal from which most of the Flavor has been eliminated, and the North will in time eat as much corn bread as the South.
Personally, I agree with those who think it even more tasty than wheat bread. The only advantage wheat has is that, with yeast or baking powder, it can be made into a lighter and more porous loaf; but this advantage can be neutralized by baking the corn bread in thin cakes; and corn bread thus made is far more digestible than loaves of wheat bread as ordinarily made in America. A good quality of it is also much more easily and more quickly made at home. Soldiers and campers prefer it, partly for this reason. "It has been said," writes Dr. Woods, "that johnny cake is a corruption of journey cake, and that corn bread was so called because it could be so easily prepared on the road."
GRIDDLE CAKES AND MAPLE SYRUP.
Our breakfasts, more than other meals, are made delectable by diverse corn dishes. Corn flakes, properly made are more flavorful than any others, and of all the varieties of griddle cakes, so dear to the American palate, none quite equals those made of corn. If these are at present seen less frequently on bills of fare than are wheat, rice, or buckwheat cakes, it is because of the way in which cornmeal is usually deprived of what most appeals to the palate.
Griddle cakes made of wheat are widely known as flannel cakes. I have never eaten any woolen stuff, but I imagine it might taste a good deal like the average "flannel" cake, though it would be much lighter. The French and German pancakes are far superior to our wheat cakes; but even to these I prefer the American corn griddle cakes, for which the whites of egg have been beaten stiff and added gradually; and I bask in the proud consciousness that my preference is thoroughly patriotic.
The liking for buckwheat cakes is to me a mystery and always has been, although as a boy I used to eat them with rich sausage gravy, which made them palatable. Buckwheat cakes are not eaten so much as they used to be, so maybe I am not alone in disliking them. For the gratification of those who do like them I quote from the New York "Sun" a characteristically American communication from "Middle Aged":
saw in a store window to-day a sign "New Buckwheat," so I know people still eat buckwheat; but I doubt if it is as much eaten as it was in years back, say in the days when I was a youngster.
We always had buckwheat cakes for breakfast. Mother, sometimes father, used to stir the batter the night before in a curious tall, round, straight sided, brown earthenware pot with a handle on it, which was sacredly reserved for that purpose. I have never seen anywhere at any time another pot just like that one; and then it was set in just the right spot by the kitchen stove, for the batter to rise through the night.
In the morning they thinned this batter out just a little with water and then they fried the cakes; in our house on a long double griddle that covered two stove holes and on which you could cook two or three cakes at a time.
Every morning in winter we had those buckwheat cakes, light as a feather, and with them we always had sausages or pork chops; and such sausages and pork chops I have never seen since. Sausages, not as you see them nowadays as big around as a cigar and filled with some sort of pasty material, but big sausages stuffed with meat chopped coarse and that burst open when you fried them as if anxious to reveal to you their delightful, savory richness—I hope it is given to you to be able to recall such sausages; and pork chops from pigs country raised on nearby farms, a delight to the taste and always tender.
Whichever we had that morning, whether sausages or pork chops, we ate the sausage or the pork chop gravy on the cakes. Really the recollection moves me. My smiling mother—Heaven bless her!—never stinted me on the cakes; she gave me all I could eat. My father when I asked him for another sausage would sometimes ask me good-naturedly if I didn't think I had had enough; but he always handed over the sausage. And now, if you won't think I am quite a pig, I would like to say that I used to eat the last plate not with gravy but with butter and molasses on them; later we came to have syrup. And this sort of breakfast never did me any harm. There is a popular delusion that the ostrich has the hardiest of all stomachs, but really his would not for a moment bear comparison with that of the growing, outdoors boy.
The serving of sausages and pork chops with griddle cakes is not so customary as it used to be; usually the cakes, whether wheat, buckwheat, rice, or corn, are now eaten with some kind of syrup.
The syrup served with our griddle cakes is as characteristically American as the cakes themselves, or as the endless variety of cereal breakfast foods, one or the other of which nearly every American eats daily, with cream and sugar, and which foreigners know nothing about.
Strictly speaking, a syrup is "the direct product of the evaporation of the juice of a sugar-yielding plant or tree without the removal of any of the sugar," whereas molasses is "the saccharine product which is separated from sugar in the process of manufacture." Commercial "syrup" is usually a mixture of syrup, molasses (of which there are many grades) and other things. Much of it is injurious to health, and housewives who wish to see nothing unwholesome on their breakfast tables should read what Dr. Wiley has to say on this subject, on pp. 472-482 of his "Foods and Their Adulteration."
The sap of sugar cane and sorghum is usually good and safe, besides being American. Even more so is the sap of the maple.
George Washington and Bret Harte were not more thoroughly and exclusively American than is the Acer saccharinum, or sugar maple tree. Europe nor any other continent has aught to match it. The sugar made from its sap is one of the delicacies discovered by the American Indian. The early white settlers learned from him how to make it, and for many years it was the only sugar they had. It was "dark and ill-tasting" compared with the best modern product.
In their appeal to the sense of taste all sweet syrups are alike. It is their fragrance, their Flavor, that makes us prefer some kinds to others. The Flavor of maple syrup has been much improved, and is still being improved, by perfecting the methods of tapping the tree, gathering the sap, boiling it, and storing the sweet product.
Uncle Sam has not neglected this important branch of national gastronomic industry. His chemists have been at work to ascertain the causes of the souring of the sap under certain conditions, and to explain why the later runs do not have so pleasant a Flavor as the earlier ones. They have found it in the action of micro-organisms.
While I was writing this chapter I received from Washington Farmers' Bulletin 516, a brochure of 46 pages in which the making of maple syrup and sugar is fully discussed, with detailed directions for securing the best-flavored product. As in the making of butter, many things have to be done and many avoided to get the best results, but they are worth the trouble.
The demand for genuine maple sugar is great, and would be much greater still if adulteration were not so much practised. In 1910, according to the U. S. Census Reports, the maple syrup production of the country was 4,106,418 gallons, and in addition to this there were made over 14,000,000 pounds of maple sugar.
In that year Ohio led all the States in the production of maple syrup, followed by New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire. In many other States it can be made in paying quantities. Farmers are advised to attend to this industry as a source of extra income. In the Bulletin just referred to, attention is called to two important economic considerations: "The season of production comes at a time of the year when little or no other work can be done on the farm, thus allowing the aid of the family and farm help for the boiling and manufacture. Moreover, since the sugar bushes as a general rule are situated on hilly country that would not be suitable for any other crop, these two items could hardly be placed at a high value in a table of costs."
Every farmer who lives in a State and region where the sugar maple prospers should secure Bulletin 516 through his representative in Washington. By attending strictly to the matter of delicate Flavor, not only can the industry be enormously increased at home but foreign markets can easily be won. Adulteration must, however, be severely curbed. Under present conditions American epicures do not put their faith in grocers but get their annual supplies early every year direct from the producer. It is best when freshly made, and unless put in cans and sealed while still hot it gradually loses its Flavor. Syrup made of dissolved maple sugar is often used, but it is less delicately flavored than that which is made at once from the sap.
Many a time have I thanked Heaven that I was brought up in the country. How I pity those persons who, in the days of their youth, had no chance to kneel before an Acer saccharinum, as I did in my Missouri days (only a few miles from Mark Twain's birthplace, by the way) and drink in the nectar as it trickled through the spout into my mouth. It was more glorious even than it was some years later to suck fresh Oregon cider from a barrel through a straw.
APPLE PIE AND CRANBERRIES.
Is pie as thoroughly American as maple syrup, griddle cakes, and corn bread?
An American is likely to answer "Yes," while an Englishman might say "No."
In the English "Who's Who" the "recreations" of most of the eminent men and women of the time in Europe and America are referred to. Had Théophile Gautier lived to be included in that volume, he would have probably named among his favorite recreations "reading the dictionary," to which he is said to have been much addicted. I could never quite see the fun of this diversion till I made the acquaintance of Murray's wonderful Oxford dictionary, which traces the meaning and history of every word back through the centuries.
Nothing, surely, could be more interesting, for instance, than to read in this work that the first reference to apple pie, so far as known, was as far back as 1590, when Greene, in his "Arcadia," wrote the line: "Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes"—thus proving himself, as I may add, an epicure as well as a poet and a lover.
On another page we read: "The pie appears to have been at first of meat or fish; doubtful or undefined uses appear in 16th century; fruit pies (also called, especially in the north of England and Ireland, in Scotland, and often in the United States, tarts) appear before 1600, the earliest being Apple-Pie."
Were these apple pyes the same as the American apple pie of our day? I doubt it. If they had been, the Britons of our time certainly would make the same kind, but they don't. Their substitute for our fruit pie is the tart, which has only one crust and is otherwise different.
Even if it could be proved that we got our fruit pie from England, shape, contents, and all, I still would claim it as a national American dish—American by right of conquest, improvement, and country wide use. Millions of American families eat it daily, at lunch or at dinner. The poet Emerson even ate it at breakfast, and when a guest refused it, he was surprised and exclaimed: "What is pie for?"
You can make a fruit pie in the American style in Great Britain or on the Continent, but you cannot duplicate its excellence, for the simple reason that European fruit is rarely as tasty as American fruit.
It must be admitted that in the making of a light, digestible crust most American cooks could learn a lesson from foreign pastry cooks, who would advise them, among other things, to partly bake the lower crust or glaze it with white of egg before the fruit is put in. But, after all, the Flavor of the fruit is the all-important thing, and in that the American pie is supreme.
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, in his eloquent sermon on apple pie, exclaimed: "But, oh! be careful of the paste! Let it be not like putty, nor rush to the other extreme and make it so flaky that one holds his breath while eating, for fear of blowing it away. Let it not be plain as bread, yet not rich like cake."
Has ever an English divine paid such attention to pie? No; the apple pie is ours, as much as our flag.
But alack and alas, the apple pie is often insulted and maltreated in its own bailiwick by being over-seasoned. Beecher called attention to the fact that "it will accept almost every flavor of every spice," and he mentioned nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon as among those which it is permissible to use.
"Permissible," yes, but most inadvisable. You may say it is a matter of taste, and that you have a right to put as much nutmeg, cinnamon, or lemon extract into your pie or your apple sauce as you please. If you make it for yourself and your family, yes; but not if you make it for a restaurant. The spices named are penetrating and monopolistic; even in small quantities they obliterate the natural Flavor of the apple, or at least modify it in a way obnoxious to those true epicures who like their fruit dishes au naturel, just as they like prime cuts of butcher's meats without obtrusive sauces, and sausage mild-flavored, without the screaming sage or too much pepper.
Nutmeg is the spice with which our apple pie is most frequently alloyed. An alloy is defined as "anything that reduces purity or excellence." If you put nutmeg into apple pie or sauce, you make it taste always the same, be it made of European or American fruit or of this or that variety of apples. Now, to an epicure the best thing about apple pie or sauce is that when served without spice it retains the peculiar Flavor of the kind of apple it is made from.
To go to your grocer and buy "cooking apples" is almost as bad as to ask for "cooking butter." The best butter and the best apples should always be used in the kitchen—if you can afford to buy them. If you cannot, eat oatmeal and prunes.
To those who have refined palates it makes a world of difference whether their apple pie and sauce are made of "cooking apples" or of Gravensteins, Red Astrachans, Newtown Pippins, or Spitzenbergs. Each variety—and dozens of others might be named—has its own special charm; and the same is true of pies and sauces made of other fruits.
In the baking of pumpkin pie, which, next to that made of apples, is perhaps the most characteristically American pie, mace (which is derived from the covering of the nutmeg seed) or some other spice, is not only permissible but commendable; while mince pie, which we borrowed from the English but eat probably oftener than they do, is such a jumble of condiments—sugar, raisins, currants, almonds, apples, lemon and orange juice and peel, molasses, suet, quince jelly, and other things ad libitum—that it makes little difference what you add in the way of mace, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, or other spices within reason. Time was when caraway seeds, saffron, rosewater, ambergris, and other impossible things were added. As made now, mince pie is as agreeable to most palates as it is indigestible. I am told it can be made so as to be easily digestible, but I "hae ma doots."
Some years ago mince pie was dignified by being made the subject of a political squabble in Washington. Dr. Wiley wanted a definition of "normal mincemeat," and thirty manufacturers were summoned to testify. Evidently some of these manufacturers were making mincemeat without the chopped meat which is an essential ingredient of the best home-made article, for they engaged a trained lexicographer, Prof. C. D. Childs, of the University of Pennsylvania, to prepare a treatise on mince pie, in which it was demonstrated that mincemeat does not necessarily contain meat.
The definition in Murray's Oxford Dictionary is "a mixture made of currants, raisins, sugar, suet, apples, almonds, candied peel, etc., and sometimes meat chopped small; used in mince pies"; which shows that in England, also, meat is not always an ingredient. It is only fair to consumers, however, that the law should compel the manufacturers to print the ingredients in each case on the label. Mince pie with meat is certainly better than mince pie without.
Perhaps I erred in saying that pumpkin pie is, next to apple pie, the most characteristic American pastry dish. It certainly is not more so than cranberry pie.
The cranberry is not exclusively American, like maple syrup, terrapin, and canvasback duck, for it grows in some parts of Europe; but it remained for American epicures to discover its rare gastronomic merits. It took genius to do this, for in its natural wild state the berry is excessively astringent and acid. But it had a Flavor that made an irresistible appeal and invited further cultivation. Particularly agreeable is the Oxycoccus erythrocarpus, a variety which grows in the mountains of Virginia and Georgia. The European berries, though they used to be abundant in England, were neglected because of their inferior Flavor, and England now imports cranberries in large quantities from the United States, as do France, Italy, and Germany, chiefly for tarts.
Cape Cod is now the chief camping ground of the cranberry. It has been doubled in size by cultivation, and its Flavor improved by enriching and draining the soil, and in other ways. The annual production is about three million bushels. Thanks to the growing demand for them, bog lands which were worth $5 an acre now sell at $300 to $700 per acre.
The darker the berry the richer the flavor. Once upon a time I wrote a book on Romantic Love and Personal Beauty in which I tried to prove that brunettes are more beautiful than blondes. I am not sure that I succeeded—there are certainly some ravishing exceptions!—but in the matter of foods there can be no doubt that as a rule the dark are finer than the light colored.
Does not Boston, the center of American culture, give its name to brown bread, and does not Boston prefer dark eggs to the anemic white ones favored in New York? Does any one who has had the good sense to buy "rusty" oranges and grapefruit deny that they are sweeter and more fragrant than the light yellow ones? Ask any epicure if he does not think the second joint of a fowl is more savory than the white meat. Bread which has a deep brown crust is more tasty than pale crumb. Crackers toasted brown are more appetizing than crackers untoasted. English rusks, German zwieback, Italian breadsticks, are they not all brunettes? Do not all vegetables, fruits, and berries darken as they ripen and develop their flavor?
The darkest cranberries therefore are the ones you want to buy. And be sure that your cook in preparing cranberry sauce or jelly presses the pulp through a sieve to remove the indigestible skins. It is only when they are cooked whole and candied with an equal weight of sugar that the skins may be left on them.
TURKEYS, GUINEA FOWL, AND GAME.
Cranberry sauce is in America associated inseparably with turkey, and the turkey is another of our gastronomic specialties.
Benjamin Franklin argued that the turkey—which is surely a finer bird than the eagle, less vicious, and infinitely more useful—should have been adopted as the emblem of the United States, for it is a truly indigenous and national bird. In Franklin's day "the log cabin of the pioneer was surrounded by these birds, saluting each other in the early morning from the treetops."
Those were gala times for hunters and epicures, when wild turkeys used to fly in flocks of hundreds!
They owe their name to the notion, once current, that they came to Europe from Asia. But it is now established beyond doubt that they are aboriginal Americans. It did not take the Spaniards long to find out their value, for, little more than a quarter of a century after Columbus discovered this Continent, they took some of the birds across the sea to their own country and thence the turkey soon made its way to other parts of Europe. Records show that in England, in 1541, the turkey was enumerated among the dainties, while in 1573 it had become the customary fare of the farmer.
"The turkey is beyond doubt one of the finest presents the New World has made the Old," wrote the best-known of French epicures, Brillat-Savarin; and in his "Physiologie du Gout" he has a chapter in which he proudly relates how he shot one of these birds. It was in 1794; he was visiting a friend at Hartford, Connecticut, who took him out hunting one day, after having treated him on the previous evening to a dinner one course of which consisted of the entirely American corned beef, which the eminent epicure found "splendid."
They shot some fat tender partridges and seven gray squirrels, "which are highly esteemed in this country"; then he had his chance at the turkey, bagged it, took it back to Hartford and had it cooked for some guests who kept exclaiming: "Very good! Exceedingly good! Oh, dear sir, what a glorious bit."
Though he had a high opinion of his own judgment in matters gastronomic, Brillat-Savarin was much pleased when a friend of his, M. Bose, who lived in Carolina, contributed to the "Annales d'Agriculture" of Feb. 28, 1821, an article which confirmed his own judgment as to the superiority of the American turkey to the bird as reared in France, attributing this superiority to the fact that the American turkey roamed the woods freely and thus gained a finer Flavor than the domesticated bird has.
Unfortunately, it took American poultry raisers several generations to realize the full significance of this fact. All was well so long as there were plenty of wild turkeys, the flesh of which was of perfect savor, especially during the autumn, when they lived largely on pecan nuts. All was well, too, so long as the farms were few and scattered, and there was interbreeding of wild and domesticated birds. But the time came when the turkeys degenerated, owing to excessive inbreeding and too close confinement. It is only within a few years that farmers have begun to heed the advice that "it is better to send a thousand miles for a new male than to risk the chances of inbreeding," and to restore to the turkey his forest freedom.
It is this semi-game quality of the best turkeys that make them so dear to the epicure. Brillat-Savarin's verdict is that the turkey, "though not the most tender, is the most tasty of all the farm fowls,"—and few will disagree with him.
For the benefit of the rapidly growing number of farmers who increase their income by raising turkeys, I will cite the words of an expert which sum up the philosophy of the subject:
The flavor of all turkeys raised by careful farmers within five or six years is much finer than in the run down stock raised by old fogy farmers. The improvement in flavor has also been accompanied by an increase in size and tenderness. This is due to the admixture of the strain from wild turkeys from Canada and the South and the Southwest and to the modern system of keeping the birds out of doors as much as possible and giving them opportunities for getting plenty of mast and the seeds of wild and cultivated plants and pure water from brooks and streams kept clear from noxious plants and sewage.
Birds thus reared bring fancy prices—a point to which I shall recur in the next chapter under "Feeding Flavor Into Food."
It has been customary for a long time for patriotic persons to send to the President of the United States choice turkeys for the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Woodrow Wilson received one in December, 1912, from Kentucky which weighed forty-three pounds and had been nurtured "as befits a King Gobbler," on sweet chestnuts, with celery and pepper to improve its Flavor.
The Guinea fowl is another bird which must roam wild to do well, and which consequently has a gamy Flavor, like the semi-domestic turkey. Though not an aboriginal American, it has become acclimated. It is an African cousin of the turkey.
In his useful treatise on "The Guinea Fowl and Its Use as Food" (Farmers' Bulletin No. 234), Dr. Langworthy states that in Jamaica and some other regions the Guinea birds "have gone back to their wild state and are hunted in their season as game birds. They are also well known as game birds in England, where large flocks are sometimes kept in game preserves."
On the continent they are more domesticated and are raised in large numbers for the markets of France, Austria, and Germany. What we want in our markets, however, is not the domesticated Guinea fowl so much as the half-wild. We have plenty of other good barnyard birds, including the savory squab, but we are woefully short of game, and the Guinea fowl, more than the turkey, comes to the rescue. While the mature bird has its own gamy Flavor, the chicks resemble young quail, and the eggs are a good deal like the highly valued plover eggs. Even the domesticated birds retain a surprising number of their wild traits and on this bird, therefore, we may have to depend largely for our game of the future.
To the deplorable condition of our present game market I referred briefly in the chapter on Germany, where they do things so much better. In New York, quail (so abundant until a few years ago) are now imported from far-away Egypt, and grouse from Scotland, while prices have gone up like rockets.
In Louisiana alone it was computed that over 4,265,000 game birds were killed in the season 1909-1910. Mrs. Russell Sage's generous gift of $150,000 secured Marsh Island as a refuge for the wild fowl. Others have helped the cause, and the Government's efforts are thus summed up in Circular No. 87 of the Bureau of Biological Survey:
For purposes of administration the bird reservations are grouped in six districts: (1) The Gulf district, including 10 reservations in Florida, 4 in Louisiana, and 1 in Porto Rico; (2) the Lake district, including 2 in Michigan, 2 in North Dakota, and 1 in Wisconsin; (3) the Mountain district, including 12 in the Rocky Mountain States, South Dakota, and Nebraska; (4) the Pacific district, including 3 in California, 4 in Oregon, and 8 in Washington; (5) the Alaska district, including 8 reservations; and (6) the Hawaiian district, including 1 reservation. Wardens are stationed on the more important reservations and the National Association of Audubon Societies ... coöperates actively with the Department of Agriculture in protecting the birds.
There is a special periodical, the "Gamebreeders' Magazine," devoted to the task of replenishing our stock of wild animals, which was for so many generations one of the chief assets of Gastronomic America. There are also Breeders' Associations which are planning to make American game, feathered and unfeathered, abundant once more. No one can ever bring back the large flocks of wild turkeys, the pigeons that darkened the skies, the herds of countless buffaloes; but we can at least bring back in part our former abundance of some kinds of game by following European methods.
The Government is also ready to help by supplying, without charge, birds to be liberated and allowed to multiply in various places. Our native birds are, of course, best adapted for this purpose, but what can be done with imported birds is shown in Farmers' Bulletin No. 390, in which Henry Oldys of the Biological Survey tells the interesting story of how the Chinese and English pheasants have been made to feel at home in Oregon and in other States, where they have become permanent additions to the game list.
"Deer Farming in the United States" is another valuable Farmers' Bulletin (No. 330), by D. E. Lantz. Its object is thus summed up:
As a result of the growing scarcity of game animals in this country the supply of venison is wholly inadequate to the demand, and the time seems opportune for developing the industry of deer farming, which may be made profitable alike to the State and the individuals engaged therein. The raising of venison for market is as legitimate a business as the growing of beef and mutton, and State laws, when prohibitory, as many of them are, should be so modified as to encourage the industry. Furthermore, deer and elk may be raised to advantage in forests and on rough, brushy ground unfitted for either agriculture or stock raising, thus utilizing for profit much land that is now waste. An added advantage is that the business is well adapted to landowners of small means.
Mr. Lantz is convinced that, with favorable legislation, "this excellent and nutritious meat, instead of being denied to 99 per cent. of the population of the country, may become as common and as cheap in our markets as mutton."
LOBSTERS, SCALLOPS, CRABS, AND FISHES.
Every inch an American is the Homarus Americanus. There are not so many inches of him as there used to be, but that makes him none the less precious. The Pilgrim lobsters "five or six feet long," ascribed to New York Bay in the days of Olaus Magnus, are now classed as a myth, but four-foot lobsters (measured from the tip of the claws to the end of the tail) have been caught. Such a giant weighs about thirty-four pounds.
The American lobster was originally found only on the eastern coast of North America. These lobster grounds some seven thousand miles, including the curves of the shore, were the finest the world has ever seen. In Canada alone a hundred million lobsters have been captured in a year.
In one respect the lobster differs strangely from other creatures of sea and land. Like the eel, he is a scavenger of the deep, but while the eel is often offensive to the taste because of this feeding habit, the lobster is always sweet. "Nothing could be more offensive to the human nostril," writes Dr. Francis Hobart Herrick,"than the netted balls of slack-salted, semi-decomposing herring, which are commonly used as bait on the coast and islands of Maine, but by the wonderful chemical processes which are continually going on in the laboratory of its body, the lobster is able to transmute such products of organic decay into the most delicate and palatable flesh."
Were it not for this alchemistic marvel the most plutocratic restaurants in the United States, especially those which cater to the persons who sup after the theater, would never have become known as Lobster Palaces. The lobster served in these places, plain boiled, broiled, à la Newburg, and in other ways, is one of those characteristic American foods which foreign epicures not only envy but enjoy, though they cannot have our crustaceans as fresh as we do.
It has been well said that "the story of the lobster in its progress from the fisherman's pots on the Maine coast to the grills and silver chafing-dishes on Broadway is the whole story in miniature of the high cost of living under an artificial economic condition." The lobsterman gets a little over ten cents a pound. "The wholesaler doubles the price, the retailer trebles it, and in the end the restaurant-keeper marks it up 1,000 per cent. above the first cost, charging patrons $1.50 a portion for what the lobsterman was paid a tenth of that sum."
To this extortion I, for one, refuse to submit. In the market you can buy a lobster for one quarter to one-third the price charged in most restaurants. You can make sure he is alive—never buy a dead lobster, though they say he is safe to eat if his tail is curled and springs back when pulled. To kill him by plunging him in boiling water may seem cruel, but is no more so than other ways, and is certainly infinitely less so than the usual way—which should be forbidden—of letting him perish slowly in a barrel, or on ice.
Canned lobster is a food a wise man avoids, though, to be sure, he runs perhaps no greater risk in eating it than in consuming many other things, tinned or untinned. Millions of dollars' worth of canned lobsters, crabs, and salmon are eaten every year.
A new American delicacy hails from Canada: lobster rarebit, a compound of certain parts of the lobster which had previously been thrown away as waste by the canners. The annual output of canned lobster by the Eastern Provinces of Canada now amounts to about ten million cans, worth about $3,000,000. Lobster rarebit, which is said to be a highly appetizing delicacy, easily digested and nourishing may, it is believed, in time equal the money value of canned lobsters. Consul Frank Deedmeyer, of Charlottetown, gave these details at the time when lobster rarebit was first introduced:
Canned lobster, as known to the trade, consists of the meat taken from the claws and the tail. The whole of the body proper is now rejected by the packers, and it has heretofore been used in the maritime Provinces of Canada as a fertilizer. In the rejected portion is found a crescent-shaped meaty layer to which the tail is attached and the liver. Lobster rarebit is a compound of this meaty layer, of the liver, and of the roe, to which some spice is added. The first named of the components used is the fattest part of the crustacean; the liver, glandular, is large and retains a high percentage of bile. The number of eggs found in a lobster is estimated from 5,000 to 40,000, according to size. The three ingredients are mixed in these proportions: Six-tenths meat, three-tenths liver, and one-tenth roe.
While the efforts to propagate the Atlantic lobster have met with scant success on the Pacific Coast there are other marine delicacies to console those who dwell on the shore from Southern California to Washington and British Columbia; among them the abalone of Catalina, which makes delicious soup, the razor clam and monster specimens of other clams in Washington waters, oysters, huge crabs, and above all, crawfish.
Lunch Bill of Fare of a Popular New York Restaurant
In Oregon, the crawfish abounds in creeks and rivers, varying in size with the volume of the river. One of my favorite amusements as a boy used to be to sit on the bank of a creek taking care of several lines, to the ends of which were tied pieces of meat. No net was needed; the crustaceans were so abundant and so hungry that they refused to let go when lifted out of the water, and often I landed six or more fastened to the same piece of meat. Our favorite picnics were those for which we took along no food—only a kettle and a handful of salt. The crawfish did the rest. They are more tender and succulent than lobsters, and even more delicate in flavor.
St. Louis disputes with Portland the honor of being the greatest crawfish-eating center in the United States. The Mississippi River crawfish has made St. Louis famous among epicures. Until a few years ago, the "Republic" of that city informs us, "the waters around St. Louis on every side fairly swarmed with this fresh-water relation of the lobster. Every pond, slough, and back water was full of them. All the creeks and pools were their homes. Their little mud 'chimneys' dotted the creek bottoms and lined the banks of the ponds and sloughs. Hundreds of joyous St. Louisans struck out for the open on every holiday, armed with a pole, a few pieces of liver, and a dip net, bent on their capture. They caught so many that they brought them in by the sackful. Thousands of the little crustaceans were eaten every day of the season. From April until after the snowfalls of November every real St. Louisan ate a few crawfish every week."
In 1910 this abundance had diminished to such an extent that a mandate was issued by the State Fish and Game officials which put a stop to angling in the city's waters. The crawfish multiplies so rapidly, however, that it will doubtless soon replenish the waters, and once more there will be parts of St. Louis and other cities where the evening air will be "laden with the unmistakable odor of boiling crawfish."
Of the great variety of crabs peculiar to our waters the one which most appeals to epicures is the "soft shell," which, when very soft, is eaten skin, bones, and all. But wait—there is another kind, still more delicate and toothsome—the oyster crab. It dwells within the mantle chamber and feeds on the juices of the oyster. No wonder it tastes good. Fortunately, it is not one of the many enemies of the bivalve, being quite harmless. Its scarcity, combined with its diminutive size, makes it a luxury comparable to the old Roman millionaire's dish of nightingale tongues.
A foreigner looking at an American bill of fare is struck first of all by the number of ways in which oysters are listed: raw, stewed, fried, steamed, baked in the shell, scalloped, creamed, and so on; and by the fact that the locality from which the oysters that are served raw are supposed to come is named—Blue Point, Shrewsbury, Rockaway, Buzzard's Bay, Cape Cod,Norfolk, Saddle Rock, etc. In this matter there is, to be sure, much deception. It has become customary, in particular, to give the name of Blue Point to any small oyster, and to call any kind of large size a Saddle Rock; while many a worthless floated oyster masquerades under the name of the juicy and delicious Lynnhaven.
The oyster cracker, and the soda cracker in general, is an American specialty which Europeans will doubtless adopt some day as tasty, nutritious and easily digested additions to the dietary. As sold now, in dust and moisture-proof packages, they will easily find their way to foreign stomachs.
Clam chowder, steamed soft clams, and raw Littlenecks are among the delicacies an American misses in Europe.
As for our scallop, Paderewski thinks it is the best edible thing America produces. Many other epicures doubtless agree with him.
As seen in our markets the scallop is simply the abductor muscle of the bivalve. The remainder of the body is thrown away or used as fertilizer, though much of it is tender and of fine Flavor. Nor is this wastefulness the only cause for complaint. The best scallops are small; they are expensive, and the dealers, knowing that by soaking them they can bloat a pint of them till they fill a quart, subject them to this "freshening," which as thoroughly takes all the marine Flavor out of them as "floating" takes it out of the oyster. In this condition, too, they spoil sooner and become dangerous to eat. I agree with F. Powers that "a man who soaks scallops and then offers them for sale should be imprisoned."
The scallop dredgers were among the first to take advantage of the new parcel post, which enables them to send the unspoiled mollusc to any one within a reasonable distance.
Concerning our fishes it is easy to say that the finest-flavored are the shad, the whitefish, the Chinook salmon, the rainbow trout; but when you happen to be eating a baby bluefish or a Spanish mackerel just out of the water, you may change your mind for the time being; you are sure to do this, also, if you happen to be in New Orleans and eat fresh pompano as prepared by a Creole cook. The sheepshead, the smelt, the catfish, the sturgeon, the halibut, are excellent; and so is the swordfish, which is far too little known among gourmets. Its flesh might be more tender, but it has a fine Flavor, suggesting a combination of salmon and halibut.
It is for the cod, however, that I wish to plead most earnestly. Some persons (usually persistent smokers, or individuals whose sense of smell is not well developed) maintain that the cod is "tasteless." As a matter of fact it has a subtle but most delicious Flavor which, when the fish is fresh, reminds me of the flesh of crawfish.
At present (1913) the cod enjoys the advantage of being the only fish, with the exception of trout, that can be bought alive in the markets of New York. "Live cod," when listed on restaurant menus, is in great demand. It is not always equally good, however, because much of the "live cod" is really live hake, which is far inferior in Flavor. The substitution of haddock for cod is less objectionable. Much of the salted and dried fish which goes into the typically American codfish balls, is also cod in name only. Dealers who use benzoate of soda or other chemicals to preserve it, give elaborate directions for soaking them out. It is needless to say that this soaking process also takes out all the Flavor.
VEGETABLES STEADILY GAINING GROUND.
Historians are usually so deeply interested in all the petty details of politics that such trifles as the food which keeps us alive gets no attention at all. Macaulay was a laudable exception. Another is Macmaster. In the first volume of his "History of the People of the United States" he remarks that a century ago tomatoes, cauliflower, and eggplants were not to be found at the corner grocery; oranges and bananas were a luxury of the rich; and there were no cultivated varieties of strawberries or raspberries. Of apples and pears there were plenty, but "none of those exquisite varieties, the result of long and assiduous nursing, grafting, and transplanting, which are now to be had of every greengrocer."
In Boston, at that time, "beef and pork, salt fish, dried apples and vegetables, made up the daily fare from one year's end to another." "The wretched fox grape was the only kind that found its way to the market, and was the luxury of the rich." "Among the fruits and vegetables of which no one had then even heard are cantaloupes, many varieties of peaches and pears, tomatoes and rhubarb, sweet corn, the cauliflower, the eggplant, head lettuce and okra."
To-day, how different the situation! In the catalogues of the seedsmen more than fifty kinds of vegetables are listed, and of each kind a dozen, or several dozen, distinct varieties are offered for sale. Yet these varieties represent only a very small proportion of the vast number that have been created.
In his instructive book on Plant Breeding, L. H. Bailey has a chapter on one of the most deserving of American originators of new varieties of vegetables, N. B. Keeney, of Leroy, New York. Mr. Keeney was at one time raising sixty-five varieties of garden peas and sixty-nine of beans, thirteen of the latter of his own originating, including the stringless kinds which have been introduced throughout the country by Mr. Burpee, and which are one of America's greatest achievements in plant development. The Professor was told by Mr. Keeney that fully three thousand varieties and forms of beans had been discarded by him as profitless!
In the same volume Professor Bailey informs us that the date of the first fruit book is 1817. "In 1845, nearly two hundred varieties of apples were described as having been fruited in this country, of which over half were of American origin." In 1872 the number of varieties described was 1823, and in 1892 American nurserymen offered for sale 878 varieties of apples.
Among the vegetables which have been varied and improved by American breeders are the squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, celery, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, potatoes, and eggplants.
One vegetable, Brussels sprouts, has not been improved but greatly impaired by some man (whether an American or a European I do not know) who crossed it with cabbage, making the sprouts larger but less finely flavored and also less digestible.
As I wrote of tomatoes, which are of American origin, in the chapters on France and Italy I have only a few words to add.
It is an odd fact that although we can claim this succulent vegetable as one of the New World blessings, it was in the Old World, in the Mediterranean countries that its gastronomic value was first fully realized. In the United States, as in England and Germany, there seems to have been a prejudice against it because of its belonging to the same family as the deadly nightshade.
Much ingenuity has been expended in creating new varieties and prolonging the season. It is a most unfortunate circumstance that some of our most important vegetables are killed by the slightest frost. This is true of squashes, pumpkins, potatoes, beans, cucumbers, melons, and tomatoes. Knowing that Luther Burbank had succeeded in making apple-blossoms frost-proof, I once asked him to please do the same for tomatoes. He shook his head and replied that that was beyond his powers, because of their semi-tropic origin and habits.
Yellow tomatoes are not so much used (except for preserves) as they deserve to be. They have a very fine Flavor of their own. In regard to red varieties, it may be well to warn the breeders not to go too far in their efforts to create "beefsteak" varieties by reducing the seed pulp to a minimum. It is in that pulp that the richest Flavor is found, and the seeds do not appear to be indigestible.
Like the tomatoes, celery belongs to a family of poisonous plants and was also for a long time considered poisonous, which is doubtless the reason why it is only within comparatively recent years that it has come so much into demand. To-day it is raised all the way from Florida to Michigan, where it flourishes, particularly in the muck-bed area.
Celery is not indigenous to our soil. It has been used in Europe for centuries, but in the kitchen rather than as an ornament of the dining-room. In Italy, France, Germany, it is treated as a pot-herb, for flavoring stews and soups, the unbleached plant being preferred because of its more powerful Flavor; but all celery tops and leaves are useful for this purpose; they certainly do much to give zest to soups and stews.
So far as known England was the first country to appreciate the charm of blanched celery. In a book called "The New World of Words," published by a nephew of Milton in 1678, we read that "Sellerie is an herb which, nursed up in a hot-bed and afterwards transplanted into rich ground, is usually whited for an excellent winter sallad."
We also use it to some extent as a salad, but it needs no vinegar for pungency, and most of us prefer to eat the stalks plain, cum grano salis. Few who eat it this way know that it is much more digestible if the stalk is broken in pieces and the fiber stripped off. Stewing softens the fibers. Cooked au jus, celery is almost better even than raw. If I had the choice of a dozen vegetables at dinner, I would more often than any other choose celery au jus.
Raw celery is seen so much more frequently on the table in this country than in any other that it may be virtually considered an American specialty. Nowhere else is it so crisp and tender, or so eagerly craved. It is a nerve tonic, and we need nerve tonics.
While melons are not indigenous to America, many of the choicest varieties of cantaloupes and watermelons are creations of our growers. Nowhere in the world will you find anything to surpass in sweetness and fragrance the Emerald Gem, the New Spicy, or the Rocky Ford, most luscious of all.
The New World's most important contribution to other countries, so far as nutritive value is concerned, is the potato. How Ireland and Germany, in particular, could have ever got on without this vegetable, it is difficult to imagine.
Sweet potatoes also are of American origin. They have been slow in making headway in Europe because they do not, like the white potato, grow in almost any soil and climate. Farmers' Bulletin No. 324 is devoted to sweet potatoes. Its author, W. R. Beattie, of the Bureau of Plant Industry, remarks that "as a commercial truck crop the sweet potato would be included among the five of greatest importance, ranking perhaps about third in the list. As a food for the great mass of the people living in the warmer portions of our country the use of this crop is exceeded by hominy and rice only." In the Philippine Islands it is at certain seasons almost the only food available for the lower classes. There are many varieties, the soft, moist kinds being richer in Flavor than the others. These are preferred in the South where a mealy sweet potato would not be eaten.
THE FRUIT EATERS' PARADISE.
Many a time, in contemplating the conditions described under the heading of "Ungastronomic America," have I wished I lived in Europe; yet, every time, my gastronomic allegiance to the Stars and Stripes is cemented again by the contemplation of the glorious fruits we produce. This feeling is the stronger because I had the rare good fortune to grow up in an Oregon apple orchard. Oregon apples gave me my college education, and my sturdy health, too, for nothing is more wholesome than apples, and from my eighth to my eighteenth year I ate more apples than anything else. In our orchard of many hundreds of trees there were scores of varieties, some of which I would no more have thought of eating than a raw potato. Not that they would not have found a ready sale in any market; but at home they were rejected because of their inferiority in Flavor to the Gravenstein, the Red Astrachan, the Baldwins, the Northern Spy, Yellow Newtown and Green Newtown Pippins, Winesap, Roxbury Russet, White Winter Pearmain, Swaar, Seek-No-Further, and the Rambo, juiciest of cider apples and good to eat out of hand.
We also used to peel and cut up apples for drying. Very few people know the most delicious way to eat apples. We knew it. Turn the wheel of the peeler round two or three times; that removes the skin; then keep on turning till all the pulp has peeled off into your left hand. Raise your head, drop into your mouth the pulp of the apple and you will know the meaning of the word Flavor. And the best of it is that if eaten that way, raw apples are not indigestible for anybody.
Thirty-two years after these glorious feasts had come to an end I was pleased to get for review E. P. Powell's delightful book, "The Country Home,"and to find that that eminent connoisseur's ideas regarding the best American apples coincided in the main with my youthful convictions. I cannot too strongly urge my readers to get that volume and enjoy Mr. Powell's remarks—written con amore as well as with the knowledge of an expert—on the kinds of apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, and other fruits which it is most advisable to raise on American farms, and what is the best way to do it. Strawberries, gooseberries, currants and blackberries have a chapter to themselves, for of all these there are distinct American varieties—and under the heading, "Tons of Grapes," the author gives pages of appetizing information about the fruit which, next to apples, is a prime article of diet. He shows how you can manage to have grapes six or seven months every year, and tells what are the best varieties to grow. Every farmer and owner of a country home should raise grapes. "It is cheaper and better food than meat and vegetables, and they never tire of it. I recommend that you go out before breakfast and sample a half-dozen sorts; repeat the experiment before dinner, and if the digestion is poor, take nothing else for supper."
Grapes are nothing if not American—that is, some grapes are. They are indigenous to the soil, growing wild nearly everywhere, from the extreme south to the banks of the Androscoggin in Maine, where I have often picked them.
A curious and important difference between grapes in America and in Europe is noted by Professor Bailey in his "Sketch of the Evolution of Our Native Fruits." The American grape—that is, the ameliorated offspring of the native species, "is much unlike the European fruit. It is essentially a table fruit, whereas the other is a wine fruit. European writings treat of the vine, but American writings speak of grapes." Yet it was not till the middle of the nineteenth century that "the modern table use of the native grape began to be appreciated and understood."
That grapes were not brought from Europe to America is absolutely certain. Long before Columbus, there came across the sea Leif, who, in the words of Justin Winsor, "found vines hung with their fruit, which induced Leif to call the country Vineland." In New England, Edward Winslow wrote in 1621 that "here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also."
Professor Bailey's book is largely devoted to the men who improved American fruits—men who, as he justly intimates, deserve commemoration quite as much as persons who are distinguished in military operations. But while we, as a nation, have reason to feel proud of the achievements of these men, a great deal more remains to be done. Professor Bailey does not say which of our Eastern grapes he considers the best, but I am sure he would agree with me that the Delaware has a finer Flavor than any other kind, and of the four chief American grapes the Delaware is the only one "which gives any very strong evidence of foreign blood." This point has been disputed; but it is certainly true that "the types we grow are yet much inferior to the Old World types." Our Concords, Niagaras, and Catawbas, in particular, are capable of great improvement in the matter of Flavor. Fortunes are in store for growers who will take the hint.
It is well to bear in mind that there are varieties, such as the Iona, Eldorado, Brighton, Worden, Hayes, and Lindley, which, though not to be found in our wretched markets, are delicious. They are enjoyed by owners of country residences and their guests, even though city folk are unaware of their existence.
Altogether, the American grapes have given rise to some eight hundred domestic varieties, about one hundred of which may be found listed in catalogues.
Flavors cannot be transplanted. European grapes grown in America get a different "taste," and the wines made of them have not the same bouquet. A few exceptions there are, notably the muscatel grape, which is almost as delicious in California as it is in Spain. But as a rule it is a waste of money to attempt to duplicate European fruits. Many millions have been spent in vain efforts to do this. To succeed, we must be American.
Long ago we learned to enjoy our game and our many varieties of distinctive sea foods of unique Flavor. Our native vegetables, wild nuts, fruits, and berries, we also appreciated, but these still offer limitless opportunities for improvement of their qualities—a proceeding which pays better than importing things European. Our nuts, among them the hickory, pine, and black walnut, are delightfully racy of the soil. They, too, are as American as the Indians, and wherever possible their intermarriage with our domesticated fruits and berries is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Our wild crab-apples, for instance, of which there are five types, while excessively sour, have a superabundance of flavor. By transfusing their blood into the domesticated apples we can eliminate the excess of acid and give to many of our big apples a richer aroma.
The persimmon is one of our native fruits of unlimited possibilities. Heretofore, our markets have been supplied chiefly with the Japanese kaki, raised in California or Florida. It is a delicious fruit, but there are native varieties which in the opinion of some are even finer than the Japanese. Ordinarily the wild American persimmon is as sour and astringent as a crabapple, fit only for the 'coon and the 'possum. But there have been enthusiasts whose belief in the future of our persimmon amounted to a passion. One of these was Bryant, "whose zeal as a cultivator and whose interest in fruit-growing were almost as great as his poetic enthusiasm." To Professor Bailey he expressed his belief that the finest persimmons of the future would be grown in the alluvial meadows of southern Indiana.
While the persimmon is as delicious as the banana, the demand for it has not been so great as it will be when the public learns that this fruit has the finest Flavor and is most wholesome when it looks like an overripe tomato which no one would buy. An Italian pushcart man used to smile when he saw me approaching. He knew I would pick out those which were so soft that they could be taken home only in a paper box. "Ah, you know, you know!" he used to say, pleased that his best things were not left on his hands by the uninformed multitude.
As a boy I used to enjoy hugely the May apple—a plum-shaped fruit growing on a low plant. What was my indignation when, some years later, I began to study botany and found in Professor Asa Gray's text book a description of that fruit, ending with the words: "Eaten by pigs and boys." I promptly made up my mind that if adults do not relish this luscious fruit they have something to learn from pigs and boys.
Another Southern fruit, abundant in Missouri, which greatly pleased my boyish palate, was the pawpaw. Professor Bailey says that most people do not relish its flavor, nor does he believe that it will be possible to awaken much interest in this fruit. Mr. Powell, on the other hand, pays it a high tribute. He sees "no reason why this delicious fruit, a sort of hardy banana, should not be grown everywhere in our gardens."
Those are the words of an epicure. I am sure the pawpaw has a great future. To many it may be an acquired taste, but so are olives, and the most appetizing of all table delicacies, Russian caviare. I thank my stars that I always took naturally to such things; it has added much to the pleasures of life. So far as pawpaws are concerned, it will be easier to persuade skeptics to try to learn to like them if they are told that their juice is considered by medical men a great aid to digestion. Papain is much used as a substitute for soda mints.
It is safe to say that in no other country has the Government done so much as ours has to advise and aid those who raise foods and those who prepare them for the table. In the preceding pages reference has been made to dozens of Farmers' Bulletins and other publications containing the results of experiments, made at the cost of many millions of dollars, with a view to informing the public on those matters. Every State and Territory now has its own Agricultural Experiment Stations. Primarily, the aims of these stations are of course agricultural and economic; in the last analysis, however, what are all the Bulletins issued by them but so many lessons in national gastronomy?
A few years ago the Department of Agriculture boldly invaded the kitchen itself, providing excellent lessons in the arts of preparing and preserving good food, in such bulletins as "The Care of Milk and Its Use in the Home," "Bread and Bread-making," "Food Customs and Diet in American Homes," "Care of Food in the Home," "Economical Use of Meat in the Home," "Preparation of Vegetables for the Table," "Composition and Digestibility of Potatoes and Eggs," "Cereal Breakfast Foods," "Food Value of Cottage Cheese, Rice, Peas, and Bacon," "Cheese and Its Economic Uses in the Diet," "Varieties of Cheese," "Fish as Food," "Sugar as Food," "Beans, Peas, and Other Legumes as Food," "Poultry as Food," "Use of Fruit as Food," "Nuts and Their Uses as Food," "Canning Vegetables in the Home," etc.
For farmers, truck gardeners, and those who market foods, there is a still longer list of Bulletins, Circulars, Experiment Station Reports, and other Government publications. To mention only a few of them: "Potato Culture," "Sheep-feeding," "The Sugar Beet," "Asparagus Culture," "Marketing Farm Produce," "Care of Milk on the Farm," "Ducks and Geese," "Rice Culture," "The Apple and How to Grow It," "Grape Growing in the South," "Home Fruit Garden," "Home Vineyard," "Cheese-making on the Farm," "Cranberry Culture," "Squab Raising," "Meat on the Farm: Butchering, Curing, Etc.," "Importation of Game Birds and Eggs for Propagation," "Strawberries," "Turkeys," "Canned Fruits, Preserves, and Jellies," "Cream Separators on Western Farms," "Raspberries," "Tomatoes," "The Guinea Fowl," "Cucumbers," "Maple Sugar and Syrup," "Home Vegetable Garden," "Celery," "Poultry Management," "Sweet Potatoes," "Onion Culture," "A Successful Poultry and Dairy Farm," "Bees," "A Successful Hog and Seed-Corn Farm," "Manufacture of Butter for Storage," "Butter-making on the Farm," "Facts Concerning the History, Commerce and Manufacture of Butter," "The Cultivation of Mushrooms," and many more.
These valuable monographs were prepared by experts, mostly specialists, women as well as men. Distributed free when first published, they are afterwards sold at cost price, usually a nickel apiece; few of them cost more than a dime. Full lists, with prices and general instructions can be obtained by sending a postal card to the Superintendent of Documents at Washington. There are separate price lists of documents relating to agriculture, dairying, food and diet, irrigation, soils, wild animals, fishes, health and hygiene, poultry and birds, etc.
In addition to all these documents there are many papers in the Daily Consular and Trade Reports containing valuable information on foreign foods and methods of marketing, gathered by the Consuls at the Government's request.
The supplying of information on everything relating to foods is only one phase of the Government's gastronomic activity. Another consists in calling attention to neglected edible plants. On this subject one of the experts of the Bureau of Plant Industry says:
What we call weeds are no more so than other plants that we term vegetables. Weeds are vegetables, and our so-called vegetables were once upon a time no more than weeds. The classification results from a matter of habit. We are slaves of habit, and because we are so it has not occurred to us that we could eat anything but just the old list of vegetables our ancestors have eaten for generations. But now we are having our eyes opened and are beginning to peer into fence corners and back yards and wild pastures for new and wonderful foodstuffs that we have heretofore regarded as just weeds. It is a bit mortifying that because of this preconceived idea we have let most nutritious and valuable foodstuffs go to waste under our very eyes, while perhaps we were wailing that we had little to eat and that vegetables were too expensive and so on.
Among the plants thus neglected, but which, if properly improved and marketed, would enrich truck farmers, are yellow dock, dandelions, milkweed, golden thistles, mallows, purslane (recommended by Thoreau), poke shoot, red clover, sorrel, hop shoots, yarrow, leek, and lupines.
A third gastronomic function of our Government is the importing of foreign fruits and vegetables that promise to add agreeable variety to the American dietary. For this purpose experts are sent to all parts of the world to find and bring home new plants which are then acclimated in accordance with the latest scientific methods.
David Fairchild, one of these gastronomic explorers, has repeatedly given in the "National Geographic Magazine" fascinating glimpses of the activity of the Bureau of Plant Industry in this direction. What he says about the date is particularly suggestive.
Search through the deserts of the world has revealed the fact that the dates of our markets are only one or two kinds of the vast number of varieties known to the Arabs and others whose principal food is the date. "Those we prize as delicacies are by no means looked upon by the desert dwellers as their best." The search has brought to light, among other desirable kinds, "the hard, dry date, which Americans do not know at all, and which they will learn to appreciate as a food, just as the Arab has."
In 1906 no fewer than a hundred and seventy varieties of dates had been introduced, and many of these are now growing successfully in Arizona. The time will come when we can have the choice of as many different kinds of dates in our markets as we have now of apples and pears. And this experiment with dates is, as Mr. Fairchild says, something that "private enterprise would not have undertaken for decades to come."
Experiments by the Bureau of Plant Industry are being carried on also in Porto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal Zone. It makes one's mouth water to read what Mr. Fairchild writes, for instance, of the mangosteen. There are at least fifteen edible species. "It has a beautiful white fruit pulp, more delicate than that of a plum, and a flavor that is indescribably delicate and luscious, while its purple-brown rind will distinguish it from all other fruits and make it bring fancy prices wherever it is offered for sale."
The mango has for many years tried to secure a place in our markets, but the specimens supplied—usually from worthless seedling trees—have given it a bad name.
The Government office of Pomology has been cultivating the infinitely superior Mulgoba mangoes of East India, "fit to set before a king," and will probably, ere long, add this to the list of marketable delicacies. In India there are mangoes of all sizes and flavors, some of which Americans of the future will no doubt enjoy.
The United States Government has, furthermore, gone into the business of creating entirely new fruits, and valuable varieties of nuts, particularly pecans, on which the Department of Agriculture has specialized. Great improvements in corn, wheat, and other cereals have also been made at the Government's Experiment Stations, not to speak of stock breeding, some of which has a gastronomic value. Nearly every volume of the "Year Book" of the Department of Agriculture has a chapter or two on this subject, and some of the papers have been reprinted separately.
Probably the two most important of the new creations are the tangelo and the citrange—new names for new fruits which seem destined to become as common in our markets as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit.
The tangelo is a hybrid of the tangerine orange and the pomelo (grapefruit). There are several varieties. It is described as being sweeter than the pomelo, but more sprightly acid than the tangerine. It has the loose "kid-glove" skin of the latter fruit. "The characteristic bitter flavor of the pomelo is considerably reduced but remains as a pleasant suggestion of that popular fruit." I have had no opportunity to try this novelty, but Professor Bailey pronounces it "an excellent dessert fruit and an interesting and valuable acquisition."
Of the citrange, also, there are several varieties, the Rusk, Willits, and Morton. They are the outcome of an attempt to combine the hardiness of the worthless trifoliata orange (citrus trifoliata) with the sweetness of the common orange. The Morton is very near to a sweet orange; while the Willits makes a good drink and replaces the lemon for culinary purposes. The Rusk "makes a very delightful citrangeade, a good pie, and excellent marmalade and preserves. For the latter uses it may ultimately be grown extensively."
BURBANK'S NEW FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.
As a creator of new plants useful to mankind as superior foods, or because of their beauty, no man is the peer of Luther Burbank, of Santa Rosa, California. In the words of David Starr Jordan, president of the Leland Stanford University, "Luther Burbank is the greatest originator of new and valuable forms of plant life of this or any other age." "He is all that he has ever been said to be, and more," says Professor Bailey of Cornell University, America's chief authority on horticulture; and the leading foreign botanist, Hugo de Vries, of Amsterdam, admits that "in all Europe there is no one who can even compare with Luther Burbank. He is a unique, great genius."
That last sentence explains Mr. Burbank's supremacy. He has, it must be admitted, enjoyed unique advantages. The climate of California has been in his favor, enabling him in some cases to raise more than one crop in a year and to operate on a larger scale than any one else has ever done. Of fruits alone, for instance, he has had under test at one time "300,000 distinct varieties of plums, different in foliage, in form of fruit, in shipping, keeping, and canning qualities, 60,000 peaches and nectarines, five to six thousand almonds, 2,000 cherries, 2,000 pears, 1,000 grapes, 3,000 apples, 1,200 quinces, 5,000 walnuts, 5,000 chestnuts, five to six thousand berries of various kinds, with many thousands of other fruits, flowers, and vegetables."
Such advantages, however, would not have enabled Mr. Burbank to make his marvelous improvements along all the lines hinted at in the quotation just made.
The world owes these choice gifts to the fact that he is a genius, an artist, an epicure, and an enthusiast, as well as a plant breeder.
"The most obvious truth which strikes one when he attempts to make a reflective or historical study of the improvement of our native fruits, is the fact that in nearly every case the amelioration has come from the force of circumstances and not from the choice or design of men.... What has been called plant breeding is mostly discovery; or, in other words, so far as the cultivator is concerned, it is accident," writes Professor Bailey, in his "Sketch of the Evolution of Our Native Fruits." In another of his books, "Plant Breeding," after stating that in 1892 American nurserymen were offering 878 varieties of apples, he adds that "it is doubtful if one in the whole lot was the result of any attempt on the part of the originator to produce a variety with definite qualities."
These remarks apply to the methods of plant breeders in general. But there are exceptions, and Luther Burbank is the most important of them by far. True, he also had to rely on accident, such as the discovery of a California poppy with a small crimson spot, which he gradually enlarged till the whole flower was crimson; and it is for the purpose of taking advantage of lucky "accidents" that he raises plants in such unprecedented numbers. But chance is only one of his assets. He has in his mind a mental pattern, which "is made just as real and definite as the pattern of an inventor, or the model of a sculptor," as his biographer remarks.
In other words, his imagination conjures a fruit improved along a definite line in Flavor, color, size, or keeping quality, and he then proceeds to hybridize till he has achieved the ideal he has in his mind, though it may take a decade or longer to do it.
In one of Mr. Burbank's bulletins there is a picture of John Burroughs sampling the "Patagonia" strawberry in its originator's garden at Santa Rosa. In this berry Mr. Burroughs discovered "a wonderful pineapple flavor" and pronounced it the most delicious strawberry he had ever tasted. It is claimed for it that it is an exceptionally good keeper, and that it can be freely eaten by those with whom the common acid strawberries disagree. It is the result of a full quarter of a century's patient experiments. For twenty years Mr. Burbank had, as he frankly admits, tried in vain to improve on the finest berries in the market. Knowing that all our best strawberries have descended wholly or in part from one of the Chilian varieties, he got one of his collectors in Chili, some years ago, to send him seeds of wild strawberries from the Cordillera and from the Coast regions. Among the plants which grew from these seeds he found some that promised to be of great value when crossed with the best American and European strains. With his usual Edisonian patience, he experimented until "among the very numerous seedlings under test was found this unique berry, which was at once recognized as the grand prize."
In this little genealogical tale we have an excellent illustration of that "judgment as to what will likely be good and what bad" which, in the words of Professor Bailey, is "the very core of plant-breeding," and in which "Burbank excels." The Burbank bulletins give many similar instances; and in view of the fact that his rivals and others have belittled his labors, it is proper that he should plead his own cause. His bulletins call attention to some of the results of his methods as compared with those of other plant-breeders. Here, for instance, is a fact for his detractors: "Nearly 95 per cent. of the new plums introduced since 1890, now catalogued as standards, originated on my own farms, although nearly four times as many new varieties have been introduced by other dealers. Most of the introductions of others are not now generally even listed."
The Burbank plum, which was introduced less than twenty years ago, is now perhaps more widely known than any other plum, the world over; but, he says, "hundreds of better plums have since been produced on my experiment farms."
The Burbank potato is now the universal standard in the Pacific Coast States and is gradually taking the lead in the Middle West. It originated at Mr. Burbank's home place in Massachusetts in 1873, and was subsequently much improved by him in California. As H. S. Harwood remarks in his admirable book on the career and the achievements of Mr. Burbank, "New Creations in Plant Life" (the Macmillan Co.), "he has had four main objects in view in the work: A potato with a better flavor, one with a relatively larger amount of sugar, one that will be a larger size and all of the same uniform shape and size, and one that will better resist diseases and be a larger yielder than any potato now known." In all these points he has succeeded; never, anywhere, have I eaten potatoes so mealy, so digestible, and, above all, so rich in Flavor as Burbank's. When first introduced in California, in 1876, "old potato growers would have none of it, because it was new and because it was white. You will have to hunt a long time to find red potatoes now," writes Mr. Burbank. J. M. Eddy, Secretary of the Stockton Chamber of Commerce, stated in 1910 that in San Joaquin County 4,750,000 bushels, or 95 per cent. of the entire output, were Burbank potatoes; and according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture the Burbank potato is adding more than $17,000,000 to the farm incomes of America alone.
"Corn is America's biggest crop. To add only one kernel to the ear of corn means a five million bushel crop increase.
"In the best corn States, corn grows from eight to ten feet high, and bears an average of slightly less than two ears to the stalk.
"During the past summer Luther Burbank, on his Santa Rosa experiment farm, has grown corn sixteen feet in height, bearing thirty-two ears to the stalk."
These statements are cited from the prospectus of the Luther Burbank Society issued in the year 1912, relating to the twelve superbly illustrated volumes to be published in which the Burbank discoveries or inventions (nearly 1,300 in all) are described with full directions as to how his methods can be applied on every farm, in every fruit orchard, in every truck or home garden, to the delight and profit of thousands.
One of Mr. Burbank's absolutely new creations is the pomato. It is the evolution of the potato seedball, heretofore absolutely useless, except for experimenters. "It first appears," says Mr. Harwood, "as a tiny green ball upon the potato top, and develops as the season progresses into a fruit the size and general shape of a small tomato.... It is delightful to the taste, having the suggestion of quite a number of different fruits and yet not easily identified with any particular one.... It is fine eaten raw out of the hand, delicious when cooked, and excellent as a preserve."
Some years ago Mr. Burbank wrote in regard to his new plants that every one "has proved better than those known before in some new quality, in some soils and climates. All do not thrive everywhere. Please name one good fruit or nut that does."
The last two sentences are directed at those of his critics who triumphantly point to cases of failure of his new products in this or that locality. Judgment has to be used; "certain varieties which are a success in one locality may be, and often are, a complete failure a few miles distant, or nearby on a different soil or at a different elevation."
The Burbank Crimson Winter Rhubarb has been offered by unprincipled dealers in the cold Northern States, though they must have known that it could not prove successful there. For this new type the claim is made that it is the most valuable vegetable introduced during the last quarter of a century. So many fortunes have been made with it in California and Florida that it has been named "The Mortgage Lifter." The chief forester of the Government of South Africa reports that at Cape Town, where all other rhubarbs had been a failure for two centuries, the Burbank Crimson Winter variety proved to be a complete success. Yet Mr. Burbank now has a still further improved variety, the Giant, which excels the original Crimson Winter Rhubarb "at least 400 per cent."
The list of delicacies for which American—and foreign—epicures are indebted to this inventor includes many other vegetables, berries, fruits, and nuts. He has not only improved the Flavor of the blackberry, but taken away its thorns. He has created a genuine new species by uniting the blood of the blackberry with that of the raspberry. The phenomenal berry now in such great demand on the Pacific Coast, was evolved from the dewberry. Burbank's Himalayan yields four times as much by weight as any other berry, and keeps twice as long; hence it has become "the most profitable shipping berry."
Everybody likes quince jelly and marmalade, but it remained for Mr. Burbank to create the pineapple quince, which can be eaten out of hand like an apple. For his improved cherry fabulous sums have been paid in Eastern markets—over three dollars a pound in one case.
"Cauliflower is only cabbage with a college education," said Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson. What Luther Burbank is doing besides creating entirely new fruits and vegetables, is to give the older ones a college education. He has grown, to cite his own words, "several millions of new fruits ... in the constant effort to eliminate faults and substantiate virtues."
Burbank's Formosa plum blends at least fifteen different varieties in its origin. It is "unequaled in quality," free from all disease, and keeps remarkably well. Another of his new plums is practically without a pit, while a third has the flavor of a Bartlett pear. Into another he has bred "a delicious fragrance, so powerful that when left in a closed room over night the whole apartment will be delightfully saturated with the odor." The new Nixie plum has, when cooked, the flavor and appearance of cranberries. It is described as "the forerunner of a wholly new class of fruits," and as having an "almost incomparably delicious" flavor, which it owes to the blood of the wild Sierra plum.
Some of Mr. Burbank's prunes excel the best of the French; and his plumcot is another of the entirely new fruits he has given the world. In creating this, he bred together a wild American plum, a Japanese plum, and an apricot, making a fruit which differs in flavor, color and texture from any other kind. There are already several varieties of it.
Of his successful experiments in "educating" nuts three may be mentioned. He has made chestnut trees bear at the unheard-of early age of a year and a half; he has created a "paper shell" walnut; and, what is more remarkable still, he has removed from the walnut the disagreeably bitter inside skin which makes it indigestible because of the tannin in it.
Grapes have not been neglected. In the summer of 1911 I asked him if he would not undertake to educate some other grapes grown in California to the level of the Muscatels and at the same time give the Muscatel a thicker skin to make it better able to stand transportation to the East. He answered in a letter dated July 25, that he was "at work on several of the California grapes to give them better flavors, thicker skins, and better keeping qualities; and," he added, "I assure you that I am having good success. They are not yet ready to send out."
The Newtown Pippin is one of the finest apples, but he has a descendant of it which is a far better bearer and has "an added aromatic fragrance." There are improved peaches, too; also, many beautiful flowers new to the world; but of flowers this is not the place to write.
Is it not strange that this unselfish wonder-worker, whose object is not to make money (except for the purpose of enabling him to go on with his experiments), should have met with so much hostility? Yet he declares that the greatest inconvenience or injustice he has met is not misunderstanding, prejudice, envy, jealousy, or ingratitude, but the fact that purchasers are so often deceived by unscrupulous dealers who, misusing his name, foist upon the public hardy bananas, blue roses, seedless watermelons, and a thousand other things, including United States Government thorny cactus for the Burbank Thornless.
On this point Mr. Burbank has reason to write with a feeling of mingled pride and resentment. In 1896 the first scientific experiments for the improvement of cactus as food for man and beast were made on his farms. Eight years later, when these costly experiments were crowned with success, the Department of Agriculture spent $10,000 in searching for a thornless cactus like those already produced by Mr. Burbank. The result was a failure; the "spineless" cactus sent out were not spineless, not safe to handle or feed to stock, while the fruit was "seedy and poor."
The Burbank improved cactus, on the other hand, is free not only from the long spines but from the even more harmful microscopic spicules. It is therefore "as safe to handle and as safe to feed as beets, potatoes, carrots or pumpkins." The new thornless varieties will produce a hundred tons of good feed where the average wild ones will yield only ten tons of inferior fodder. It can be grown on millions of acres of deserts where no other edible vegetation can be raised, and as it is possible to produce a thousand tons of feed on a single acre, the imagination conjures up the time when beef will once more be as abundant, as good, and as cheap as it was in the days of unlimited pasturage.
The leaves or slabs are valuable as food for other farm animals, including poultry.
The fruit, also, is produced in enormous quantity and is likely to become as important in our markets as bananas and oranges. The cactus bearing the best fruit is not yet quite spineless, but the fine bristles on the fruits are easily removed with a small whiskbroom before picking. Burbank's 1912 Spineless Cactus bulletin lists more than a dozen varieties cultivated for the fruit, and fifteen varieties raised for forage.
The cactus fruit "can be produced at less than one-tenth the expense of producing apples, oranges, apricots, grapes, plums, or peaches." There is never a failure in the crop, and the fruit can be stored like apples. It will oust the injurious "fillers" and adulterants now used by manufacturers. Excellent jams, jellies, syrups, marmalades and preserves can be made of cactus fruit at a minimum cost. For candies and for pickling, also, it can be used to advantage, and "the juice from the fruits of the crimson varieties is used for coloring ices, jelly and confectionery. No more beautiful colors can be imagined."
Mr. Burbank takes a keen delight in his new plants, and like other artists, he likes to know that you really see and feel what he has done. When we visited him in the summer of 1909, in company with John Burroughs and the California poet, Charles Keeler, nothing seemed to please him more than the proof we gave that we were actually familiar with his creations, by our comments on the improvements he had made in his crimson and crimson-and-gold California poppies and the wonderful Shirleys since we last raised them, the previous summer, in our Maine grounds. I felt like Parsifal in the enchanted garden. We had a chance to stroke the spineless blackberry and cactus, and to taste various kinds of berries and fruits more luscious than any that mortals have eaten since the Garden of Eden was destroyed.
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Finck, Henry Theophilus. 2021. Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living). Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61719/61719-h/61719-h.htm#XI
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