Why We Like Red or Green

Found this in a 1992 New Yorker article about chiles and New Mexican cuisine.

According to scientists who have studied the effects of fiery food, a very hot chili sends the nervous system into a state of panic, and the brain reacts by flooding the distressed nerve endings with endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers—a sort of friendly morphine. The sudden shot of endorphins is what transforms the pang of hot food into pleasure, and also what makes it considerably more tolerable after the first few bites.

The article, by Jane and Michael Stern, is not available online.

First posted here May 2, 2008.

How Long?

From a good article on aging, Mine Is Longer Than Yours by Michael Kinsley in The New Yorker, April 2008:

If a hundred Americans start the voyage of life together, on average one of them will have died by the time the group turns sixteen. At forty, their lives are half over: further life expectancy at age forty is 39.9. And at age sixty-three the group starts losing an average of one person every year. Then it accelerates. By age seventy-five, sixty-seven of the original hundred are left. By age one hundred, three remain.

Johnny Appleseed

Disney Johnny Appleseed

Jonathan Chapman, born in Massachusetts on September 26, 1775, came to be known as “Johnny Appleseed.” Chapman earned his nickname because he planted small orchards and individual apple trees across 100,000 square miles of Midwestern wilderness and prairie.

Chapman, sometimes referred to as an American St. Francis of Assisi, was an ambulant man. As a member of the first New-Church (Swedenborgian), his work resembled that of a missionary. Each year he traveled hundreds of miles on foot, wearing clothing made from sacks, and carrying a cooking pot which he is said to have worn like a cap. His travels took him through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana.

Library of Congress

But here’s what makes Johnny Appleseed interesting:

MICHAEL POLLAN: It turns out Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, was a real historical figure who played a very important role in the frontier in the Northwest territory. And I also found out that the version of Johnny Appleseed I learned in kindergarten was completely wrong, had been Disney-fied, cleaned up and made very benign. He’s a much more interesting character. The way I figured this out was I learned this one botanical fact about apples, which is, if you plant the seeds of an apple, like a red delicious or a golden delicious, the offspring will look nothing like the parent, will be a completely different variety and will be inedible. You cannot eat apples planted from seeds. They must be grafted, cloned.

GWEN IFILL: And they’re not American fruit.

MICHAEL POLLAN: They’re not, no. I learned it comes from Kazakhstan and has made its way here and changed a lot along the way. And so the fact that Johnny Appleseed was planting apples from seed, which he insisted on– he thought grafting was wicked– meant they were not edible apples, and it meant they were for hard cider because you can use any kind of apple for making cider. Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus.

Online NewsHour interview for Pollan’s Botany of Desire, June 29, 2001

Pass the Cranberries, Please

For some reason earlier today NewMexiKen got to thinking about his very first day of work. It was Thanksgiving 1960. The place was the Cliff House restaurant in Tucson. At the time, the Cliff House was considered one of the best restaurants in town — great menu plus a wonderful view of the city from its foothill location on Oracle Road. The chef was known simply by his first name, Otto.

Thanksgiving was a very busy day at the Cliff House. I started at noon and got off sometime around 10:30. I was the dishwasher’s second assistant. The dishwasher, who on a regular shift worked just by himself, needed all the help he could get on Thanksgiving. He sprayed the loose residue off the plates and out of the cups and glasses and loaded the racks to go into the machine. The first assistant took the clean dishes out of the machine and got them back into circulation. My job was to clear the trays as the busboys brought them in, scraping the uneaten turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes off the plates into the garbage pail. For more than 10 hours. For $1 an hour.

I did well for my first day of work, being reprimanded only once — by Otto himself, no less. I was throwing out the uneaten dinner rolls instead of returning them to the bread warmer. In chefly like fashion he blew his top, but calmed down when he realized no one had told me differently (and I was a nice deferential kid whose mom was a waitress).

As the day went on into evening, however, this fine restaurant developed a mini-crisis. The Cliff House ran out of cranberries. Now there is one thing a restaurant must have on Thanksgiving and that is turkey. And there is one thing a restaurant must serve with turkey and that is cranberries (or cranberry sauce). And someone had miscalculated and none was left.

It was the dishwasher’s second assistant who saved the day. As the dirty dishes came in from the dining room I not only rescued the dinner rolls, I now also recycled the cranberries. From each plate I corralled the dark red glob and scraped it into a bowl. Periodically Otto would come over and switch out my trove with an empty new bowl. He’d take the cranberries I had reclaimed and scoop them (not so generously as earlier) onto some eager gourmand’s plate.

Amazingly I still love cranberries (especially cranberry relish).

First published seven years ago.