The Ginger Kick

 

There are some cocktails gaining popularity the past few years which get a kick from ginger beer, among them the vodka-based Moscow Mule and the rum-based Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Ginger beer doesn’t deliver its kick by way of alcohol, since nearly all ginger beer available commercially now is non-alcoholic, but from the spiciness of ginger, which is more pronounced in ginger beer than in its tamer cousin, ginger ale. People almost never confuse ginger ale with any kind of alcoholic brew, probably because of their long familiarity with the product. They know it’s just soda pop, the one they often drink to settle their stomach when they’re not well.

"Mush-Fakers" and Ginger-Beer Makers (6795271398)
From Volume 1 of Street Life in London, published in 1877, with photographs by John Thomson and articles by Adolphe Smith. The man on the left is a street vendor peddling ginger beer, among other items. The man on the right is a “mush faker”, or umbrella mender.

 

Ironically, the ingredients in ginger that people count on for settling their stomach, the gingerols, are present in the most popular ginger ales only in vanishingly small homeopathic quantities. Stronger flavored ginger ales, and especially ginger beers, are more likely to have gingerols in quantities sufficient for an effective dose. Whatever people are gaining by drinking most ginger ales medicinally, they are getting it from some factor other than the amount of actual ginger in the drink. This is a turnabout from where things stood between ginger ale and ginger beer over on hundred years ago.

Up until the late nineteenth century, there was only ginger beer, all of it alcoholic to some extent, and especially popular for centuries in England after that country had secured supplies of ginger, a subtropical plant. When pharmacists started producing soft drinks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ostensibly for the medicinal benefits, one of the first flavors they produced was ginger ale, a toned down version of ginger beer. Ginger ale really took off in popularity during Prohibition, when people naturally drank quite a lot of spirits and they discovered what a wonderful mixer ginger ale made. In the United States at least, ginger beer was all but forgotten.

The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14767191365) (cropped)
A 1948 advertisement for Canada Dry Ginger Ale in The Ladies’ Home Journal. The nightclub scene depicted in the inset emphasizes the popular use of the product as a mixer for cocktails.

Consumers have rediscovered ginger beer in the last ten to twenty years as they have also opened themselves up to alternatives to other mass produced products like the sodas and beers of multi-national corporations. Ginger has also generated interest as an anti-inflammatory home remedy, for treating arthritis and, again, for digestive complaints. The difference now is that many consumers recognize the amount of ginger in the typical mass market ginger ale is not enough to be medicinally worthwhile, homeopaths excepted. This has driven some consumers to the niche market of ginger beers, with their higher amounts of actual ginger, sometimes mixed with other spices, and consequently stronger flavors. Along the way, the drinkers of alcohol among them, unmoved by the lack of alcohol in their newly discovered ginger drink of choice, have found that mixing it in cocktails and punches which would normally call for ginger ale can deliver a more flavorful kick than ginger ale, and maybe a healthier benefit, which if negligible when mixed with alcohol, could perhaps come into play the next day if the drinker is out of sorts.
— Izzy

 

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A Corny Time of Year

 

October is corn harvest time in much of the United States, and popcorn has this month dedicated to it in all its glory. The sweet corn harvest was earlier, in August and September, but for field corn and popcorn, October is typically the month when farmers cut the stalks. The Harvest Moon was on October 5th, and at the end of the month corn and corn stalks figure in Halloween decorations and celebrations. Corn will have a part in the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, too, though for Christmas its part will fall mostly to strings of popcorn for garlanding Christmas trees.

 

Popcorn is made from a special variety of maize, called Zea mays everta, the special popping characteristic of which Native Americans may have discovered long ago when some kernels fell near a cooking fire. It was a long time between that discovery and the one in the 1960s by Orville Redenbacher and his business partner, Charlie Bowman, of a hybrid strain that popped more reliably and twice as large as earlier popcorns. The “gourmet” description added to the packaging of their product was purely marketing. In the meantime, popcorn had become a favorite snack food in America by the early twentieth century and had even become ingrained in popular culture, with the merchandising of Cracker Jack caramel corn and peanuts in a box with a prize, and the baseball song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, which included a reference to Cracker Jack.

ShineOnHarvestMoon1908BayesNorworth
“Shine On, Harvest Moon” sheet music cover from 1908, with corn shocks included in the artwork. This songbook standard was written by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. Norworth also co-wrote “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the same year, with Albert Von Tilzer.

The biggest boost to popcorn sales came from movie theaters, even though theater owners initially resisted selling popcorn in house because of the low brow connotations of the snack. Popcorn was cheap, and movie theater owners in the first few decades of the twentieth century sought a slightly higher class clientele. That changed during the Great Depression when theater owners took concession sales away from independent vendors out on the sidewalk and brought the selling of high profit items like popcorn under their own wing in the lobby. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that popcorn sales saved many a movie theater from bankruptcy during the darkest years of the Great Depression.

 

The next big boost to popcorn sales came in the 1980s with the simultaneous advent of home video rentals and the widespread appearance of microwave ovens in homes and, with them, microwaveable popcorn. Suddenly people could save money on a trip to the movie theater and still enjoy a facsimile of their favorite movie theater snack at home. There have been health concerns about both movie theater popcorn and microwaveable popcorn, each for different reasons. Lately there have also been alarms about the use of neonicotinoids, implicated in honey bee deaths and colony decline, as a seed coating for planted popcorn. The good news is that popcorn has not been swept up in the GMO madness.

Cracker jack newspaper ad 1916
1916 newspaper advertisement for Cracker Jack.


The Swedish Chef grooves to the tune “Popcorn”. For an added treat, turn on the captions.

The best tasting popcorn and the healthiest might have been the batches people cooked up themselves on their stove tops at home in the days before they gave in to the tempting convenience of microwaveable popcorn. It’s still possible to make it that way, of course, and it is really not that difficult. The home cook also has the advantage of controlling the amount of butter and salt added, the two ingredients that turn popcorn from a relatively healthy snack into a not entirely healthy one. What makes the concept of home cooked popcorn even more attractive and plausible is the addition to the home entertainment system since the 1970s of video recorders and DVDs, all with associated remote controls featuring pause buttons. No more rushing to pop up a snack during a commercial break! Take some time to relax and do it right.
― Izzy

 

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Hopheads

 

The craft beer industry has expanded since the 1980s from a handful of breweries to thousands, increasing consumer choices along the way and boosting local economies over the profits of huge corporations. In the 1970s, the brewery industry in the United States was diminishing to fewer choices for consumers as small, local breweries went out of business or were bought out by larger competitors, and their distinctive brands of beer disappeared.

The effect could be seen in national television advertising of the time, where only a few big brands could afford to compete. Even the beers on sale that did not appear to be sub-brands of the major players were not much different than them in flavor and makeup, only in price, usually being cheaper knock offs. To get a taste of something different and a little better in the late 1970s, American beer drinkers turned to European imports. The beer market had become like the wine market, where American brands were viewed as okay for everyday drinking, while the European product was considered superior in quality.


That started to change in the early 1980s with the startup of some local craft breweries that eventually gained national prominence, notably Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada in northern California. American beer drinkers once again had a choice among domestic varieties, even as the biggest national brands became more than that, expanding into multinational corporations. The return of local and regional breweries, and in a few cases breweries that reached a national market, added consumer options because the new breweries were not interested in competing with the multinational outfits in producing the same old watery lagers.

Narrenzunft Tettnang Hopfennarr Narrentreffen Meßkirch 2006
A figure decorated in representations of hops at a festival in Germany in 2006. Photo by Andreas Praefcke.

A funny thing happened, however, on the way to a new land of craft breweries specially tended by artisans who labored as much for their own enjoyment as that of their appreciative customers. For one thing, the big multinationals took note of the new phenomenon, also known as competition, and decided that unlike how they had bought up small competitors in the decades before the 1980s and subsumed the competitors’ operations within their own, they would now ride the craft brewery wave by retaining all the packaging, logos, and lingo of the smaller outfits when buying them out. Consumers would be none the wiser as they made their selection in the store, and when they got home and cracked open one of their favorite “craft” beers they still might not notice the difference, despite changes in brewing and bottling facility practices, particularly if the consumer’s taste buds were swayed more by psychological factors than by honest opinion.

The other thing that has skewed the craft beer movement is the tendency for snobs and macho men to take over and ruin the fun for some of us. The same culture that has made spicy food its domain seems to appeal to a minority of brewers and beer drinkers who always want to competitively up the ante on the hoppy bitterness of craft beers. That wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the unfortunate side effect that these people tend to be snobs with undue influence on some consumers. “It’s so bitterly hoppy that it’s undrinkable,” the brow-beaten craft beer supporter complains. “Drink it and enjoy it, or you’re a philistine,” exclaims the snobby beer person, a category that didn’t exist until twenty years ago.

Beer Wars, a 2009 documentary by Anat Baron that examines how the big breweries have co-opted the market share of many smaller breweries.

Such people have been around for ages, trying to belittle others who are susceptible to their nonsense, all so that they can then feel more exalted in their self-proclaimed expertise. They’re usually men, and they have haunted wine circles in this country long before beer became a drink of anyone other than the common people. You can find them in restaurants which specialize in spicy foods, such as Thai, Indian, or Mexican, always advocating for heat regardless of flavor, because that’s the manly thing, you sissy. In a somewhat different way, they are also familiars of the online gaming community, and of computers in general, and long before that, when know-it-all males were still accustomed to getting their knuckles dirty with grease, the world of automobiles and mechanical contrivances.

Never mind them. The great thing about the craft beer movement of the last thirty years is that there are brewers now producing beers for every taste. If you still can’t find what you like, then the staple lagers of the big multinationals will always be available. Drink those if that’s your thing. If you do like the beers of the craft breweries, though, and you like the idea of supporting smaller businesses, please do read the fine print around the back of that cardboard six-pack package to make sure your dollars are going where you intend, and not into the coffers of the big watery lager breweries, pretending to be what they’re not.
― Izzy

 

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Drink Your Fill

 

With the arrival of hot summer weather, people give more consideration to how much water they are drinking. It’s peculiar that such a basic survival and health issue has received as much medical and layperson attention as it has in the past forty years. It appears to coincide with the rise of the bottled water industry. Before that, people had a common sense approach to drinking water, as in drink when you’re thirsty, and drink a lot when you’re sweating. Not much too that. Certainly not enough to warrant the expenditure of millions of dollars in studies.

 

Ljubljana (7893964904)
Dog drinking from a fountain in Ljubljana, Slovenia; photo by Marjolein from The Netherlands.
One practice that has thankfully been mostly discarded in the past twenty or more years is the idea that restricting water intake helps lose weight, particularly during vigorous exercise in high heat and humidity. That boneheaded practice used to be the norm in outfits like football teams and military boot camps, though now it is suspiciously difficult to find evidence of it on the internet. Memories of survivors and their anecdotal evidence will have to do. The idea behind restricting water intake of a person who needed to lose weight was that a good portion of that weight was water. Sweat away the pounds! In reality, as opposed to just dreaming stuff up, there is more water weight in muscle than in fat.

 

Your body does a very good job of telling you what you need. When you’re outside working or exercising in 90 degree weather, with a heat index over 100 degrees, and you are pouring sweat, and your body is telling you to drink – nay, guzzle – some water, why would you let a moronic theory tell you otherwise? Would it make more sense if the moronic theory was proposed by a coach? a drill instructor? how about someone wearing a white lab coat and carrying a clipboard? Do you think your dog or cat would hesitate a second to listen to those people before lapping up copious amounts of life-giving water? How much more or less sensible are you than your dog or cat?

 

Fat tabby cat drinking water from a pond-Hisashi-01
Fat tabby cat drinking water from a pond; photo by Hisashi from Japan.
Thank goodness that nonsense is all behind us, or should be. Now it seems the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, with the silly recommendation about eight glasses of water a day. That recommendation appears to have arisen from bottled water industry executives whispering in the ears of select scientists and doctors. Ever since, there have been an awful lot of people striking poses with their high profile branded water sippy bottles. It gets to be like an article of clothing with a visible logo, announcing to all and sundry that you are a fitness-minded person with class. Sippy sippy all day long, eight glasses worth.

 


In this collection of Oompa Loompa songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa Loompas didn’t address water drinking, but their common sense, didactic advice would have been welcome if they had.

What really matters, again, is what your body tells you. Your age, body type, and regular level of physical exertion are trying to tell you things, too, though sometimes a doctor’s advice may be required for you to properly hear what they are saying. Common sense, listening to what your body wants and responding to it, and a plentiful supply of cool, pure water ought to keep you safe and healthy in the summer heat. Pain doesn’t always mean gain; sometimes it means maybe you should be sensible and take a break in the shade.
― Vita

 

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Please Leave It at the Door

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

― Excerpt from The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). This is the poem inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

 

Summertime is here in the United States, regardless of the timing astronomers would like to impose on it with their solstices and equinoxes. For many of us, summer starts with Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. And for many of us, hot summer weather has us searching for a cooling alcoholic refresher that is light and may even have some beneficial vitamin C floating in it. Sangria!

 

Sangria is not a kind of wine, though one may get that impression from some bottled varieties at the grocery store. Sangria is in fact a wine punch, and that is what is packaged in the bottles. Most people prefer to make up their own Sangria by combining ingredients from the wine aisle at the grocery store, the produce section (especially citrus), and possibly the soda aisle. Some will make a side trip to the liquor store for brandy, cognac, or other spirits to add depth and punch to their Sangria. The possibilities with Sangria are enormous, and in summertime it seems the rules relax for a lot of things in life. Make a batch that suits you and keep it chilling in a pitcher in the refrigerator.
Ambersweet oranges
‘Ambersweet’ oranges, Citrus sinensis, a new cold-resistant variety; photo by the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There are some problems here that you should be aware of in our times of racial purity, and you would do well to take note of them. Let’s take the last item first – refrigeration. You are probably okay there because while no single person can be acclaimed as the inventor of refrigeration, the numerous contributors all appear to have either Anglo-Saxon or Germanic heritage. So far, so good.

Looking at the liquor store offerings, we get into murkier territory. To begin with, alcohol as a word originates from Arabic, which is strange considering the Islamic prohibition of alcohol. Next, brandy and cognac come from France, so no good there considering the Frenchies reluctance to back us in our military adventures. Unlike the British, the snooty French ask too many uppity questions. If you want to spike your Sangria, stick with Kentucky Bourbon or Tennessee Mash, or maybe some backwoods Moonshine.

You ought to be okay with soda, but be careful of things like Canada Dry ginger ale and some of the Mexican sodas which are produced with Caribbean sugar cane instead of good old American high fructose corn syrup squeezed from – what else- corn, also known as maize. The Indians introduced us to maize, but let’s not get into all that. We have done them one better at least by introducing Roundup-ready corn into the food supply.

The citrus fruits you may want to include in your Sangria, well now there’s a puzzler. Oranges, while they are currently grown in Florida or California, originated in southern China or southeastern Asia. That’s a thorny problem. The same goes for lemons and limes, which also originated in the same area of the world populated by little yellow and brown people speaking gibberish, possibly anti-American.

If you are to remain racially pure then, there’s not much you can do with Sangria, regardless of the multitude of recipes available. Now we come to the base of the Sangria, which is by definition some sort of Spanish or Portuguese wine. Using anything else, like German wine, would not really be Sangria, at least not in spirit (so to speak). But while the Spanish are pure bred, unlike the Mexicans who are mostly an unholy mix of Spanish and Indian known as Mestizo, with their short stature, brown skin, and Otherness, the Spanish are still not entirely with us. They used to be better, when Generalissimo Francisco Franco was in charge. But since then, not so much. Their wines for Sangria are therefore suspect. Take that under advisement.

The amount of varieties out there serves no other purpose than to test your mettle. It’s hot. You’re sweaty after a long day outdoors. Sangria in its multitude of varieties generously contributed from around the world is not for you. If you were to enjoy it all, you would have to ask that the little brown and yellow skinned peoples leave it at your door, and then scuttle away quietly before the neighbors noticed. Maybe cold lager beer from central Europe is the answer to your summer sweats, if only it weren’t for the fact it’s history can be traced back to beginnings in the Middle East. Those devilish Wogs, at it again!
― Izzy

 

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