Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘food’

11 DECEMBER, 2012

A Secret Illustrated History of Coffee, Coca, and Cola

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What America’s premier anti-drug autocrat has to do with Bach and helping Coke import illegal coca leaves.

On the heels of the year’s best picture-books and the question of what makes a great one comes A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola (UK; public library) by Ricardo Cortés, the illustrator behind the irreverent modern classic Go The Fuck To Sleep. This fascinating and beautifully illustrated piece of visual journalism, six years in the making, traces the little-known interwoven histories of coffee, the coca leaf and kola nut, Coca-Cola, caffeine, and cocaine, within a larger subtext of the role of prohibition in modern culture.

Like most recreational drugs, cocaine got its start as a medical aid, and like many modern psychological fixations, it goes back to Freud. Cortés explores its cultural evolution and the eventual synthesis of coke into Coke:

At first, experiments with cocaine were confined to medical practice.

In 1884, Sigmund Freud began to use it as a treatment for depression. He was enthralled by the ‘magical substance’ and enthusiastically introduced it to colleagues and friends, including an oculist named Carl Koller. By then, cocaine’s numbing effect had been observed on the tongue. Koller tested cocaine as a regional anesthetic; first on the eyes of animals and then his own. His discovery was a medical revolution.

Previously, surgeries were performed with general anesthesia or none at all. Ether and chloroform allowed severe operations without pain, although with significant risks from inducing unconsciousness. As the first true local anesthetic, cocaine opened the practice of surgery to previously impossible procedures.

Cocaine’s popularity spread to other branches of therapy, and its use quickly grew beyond anesthesia and melancholia.

Cocaine eased toothaches and labor pains. It was said to cure fatigue, nervousness, impotence, even addiction to the opium poppy’s alkaloid morphine. ‘Coke’ could be purchased in asthma medicines, snuffs, and tonics like Coca-Cola — ‘The Brain Workers’ Panacea,’ touted to relieve mental and physical exhaustion, was first sold in
1886.

But as a lover of letters, I find the most fascinating part of the book to be the prolific correspondence between legendary Bureau of Prohibition anti-drug kingpin Harry J. Anslinger, who spent 42 years pioneering and enforcing anti-narcotic policies in America, and Coca-Cola executive Ralph Hayes, which Cortés uncovered in the course of his research. These documents, spanning several decades of friendly exchange, reveal Anslinger’s instrumental role in helping Coke not only to import coca leaves legally, an activity otherwise illegal in the US, but also to do so with exclusive rights.

The book is partly a response, but mostly a stubborn yet thoughtful retort to critical reactions to Cortés’s 2005 science picture-book It’s Just a Plant: A Children’s Story of Marijuana and sarcastic comments about whether teaching kids about cocaine would be next.

Cortés ends with a wonderful throw-back to an obscure Bach cantata about coffee, displaying the composer’s uncommon sense of humor:

The cat won’t stop catching mice,
and young ladies will hold to their coffee. Mother loves her coffee,
Grandmother drinks it, too.
Who, in the end, would scold the daughters?

“Although I caught a buzz last year as the illustrator of Go The Fuck To Sleep,” Cortés tells me, “my real interest is studying the evolution of legal and cultural taboos against inebriates (especially biota).” And, indeed, it shows — A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is as thoroughly researched and absorbingly narrated as it is charmingly illustrated.

Images courtesy Ricardo Cortés / Akashic Books

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23 NOVEMBER, 2012

How to Use Your Turkey Leftovers: 13 Ideas from F. Scott Fitzgerald

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“Not one but has been tried and proven — there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald — literary legend, master of the muse, deft hatemail responder, star of early book ads, and one amazing dad — was also an unsuspected gourmand. After those favorite recipes by favorite poets and Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe, here come 13 irreverent ideas for how to use your turkey leftovers, found in Fitzgerald’s 1945 collection of essays, notebook excerpts, and letters, The Crack-Up (public library):

TURKEY REMAINS AND HOW TO INTER THEM WITH NUMEROUS SCARCE RECIPES

At this post holiday season, the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material. Some of the recipes have been in my family for generations. (This usually occurs when rigor mortis sets in.) They were collected over years, from old cook books, yellowed diaries of the Pilgrim Fathers, mail order catalogues, golf-bags and trash cans. Not one but has been tried and proven — there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.

Very well then. Here goes:

  1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
  2. Turkey à la Francais: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.
  3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.
  4. Turkey Mongole: Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton, from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed. Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.
  5. Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.
  6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.
  7. Turkey à la Crême: Prepare the crême a day in advance. Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace. Wrap in fly paper and serve.
  8. Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.
  9. Feathered Turkey: To prepare this, a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compel anyone to eat it. Broil the feathers and stuff with sage-brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up. Then sit down and simmer. The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat.)
  10. Turkey à la Maryland: Take a plump turkey to a barber’s and have him shaved, or if a female bird, given a facial and a water wave. Then, before killing him, stuff with old newspapers and put him to roost. He can then be served hot or raw, usually with a thick gravy of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol. (Note: This recipe was given me by an old black mammy.)
  11. Turkey Remnant: This is one of the most useful recipes for, though not, “chic,” it tells what to do with the turkey after the holiday, and how to extract the most value from it. Take the remnants, or, if they have been consumed, take the various plates on which the turkey or its parts have rested and stew them for two hours in milk of magnesia. Stuff with moth-balls.
  12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.
  13. For Weddings or Funerals: Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride’s cake. Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer. Now we are ready to begin. Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place. As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive. The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men’s side pockets.

There I guess that’s enough turkey talk. I hope I’ll never see or hear of another until—well, until next year.

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21 NOVEMBER, 2012

Marilyn Monroe’s Turkey Recipe

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How to cook a bird like Norma Jeane.

After last week’s favorite recipes by favorite poets, here comes some occasion-appropriate bird preparation to mark Thanksgiving from none other than Marilyn Monroe, found in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (public library) — the same volume that gave us Monroe’s remarkable unpublished poems.

Handwritten on a piece of insurance company stationery in 1956, the recipe is meticulously detailed, noting every step and every last ingredient. Monroe even took care to specifying the quality of the produce needed.

Fragments is fantastic in its entirety — a treasure chest of surprising, stirring glimpses of the profound humanity of a woman too frequently and too tragically misunderstood and dehumanized by unapologetic objectification.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.