Friday, August 17, 2007
I'm a fan of trivia and useless information. So when I happened upon Don Voorhees' The Book of Totally Useless Information -- I was fascinated.
Want to know why Scottish Highlanders wear kilts? Why boxing 'rings' are square? Or maybe What is Fahrvergnugen?
Its all in there, including some tidbits maybe I'd rather not know or had never thought to ask. For example, "Why don't you ever see cashews sold in the shell?"
I'd never thought to ask.
Just the mention of cashews takes me rushing through time back to the candy store on the square in Lima, Ohio. They had fresh roasted nuts of all variety and the best -- the very best cashews I've ever tasted. Mom could drag my brother and I out in zero weather, make us stand for hours while she shopped, going in and out of the various shops that lined Main Street. If we got antsy she'd just remind us that our LAST stop was the 'nut shop.'
I have no idea what the name of the establishment was, but the aroma was decadent. A mixture of chocolate and nuts and oil and salt and nougat and salt water taffy and peanut butter. Ohhh I'm drooling on the keyboard as I write this.
But Mr. Voorhees got my attention with the statement: "Cashews are in the same plant family as...."
Are you ready?
"Poison ivy." That would be the family of Anacardiaceae.
He explains why this nut is never in the shell:
"The oil that surrounds the shell is very irritating to the skin and can cause blisters."
It certainly sounds like poison ivy!
And he continues: "This makes the harvesting of cashews nasty work. Trying to shell these obnoxious little nuts at home would also be a difficult task. Even roasting the shells causes a noxious smoke to be given off."
Ever raked up a big pile of leaves and stuff in your yard and set it on fire (before fire laws of course!) and discovered that you'd burned some poison ivy? Ever had an internal case of poison ivy from breathing those smoky fumes. Ohhhhh not pleasant, not at all. Some have died from such an experience.
"Another interesting thing about cashews is that they can help prevent tooth decay."
Wow, who knew?
"The oil in the nut is so powerful that it inhibits the growth of plaque-producing bacteria."
Maybe toothpaste makers missed the boat and should have made cashew flavored instead of mint flavored tooth paste.
I suppose you still want to know the kilt, boxing ring and Fahrvergnugen answers.
The Scottish kilt started out as a multi-purpose garment out of necessity. Poverty and scarcity of wool made this large rectangular piece of cloth especially popular. About 15x5 foot in size and called a philabeg, the cloth wrapped around the waist and the remainder went up over the shoulder to be pinned in place. It gave unrestricted movement and could also be pulled over the head and shoulders during bad weather or used as a blanket for sleeping outdoors. Mr Voorhees goes into more detail, but this should give you a start into kilt lore.
As for the boxing ring: Well, he doesn't answer that question very well. He gives a kick-butt history of boxing in only a few paragraphs, but leaves it you as to why the term ring was used. My guess is that in early days there was no seating except for the fighters. Thus, much like a fight on the playground, the audience gathered around in a circle to watch the fighters go at it.
It is interesting to note that the term boxing has nothing to do with the boxlike ring. "It is derived from the Middle English word for slap or strike -- box. In England, thrashing someone is still referred to as 'boxing their ears.'"
And Fahrvergnugen: remember the old 1980s VW advertisements? Well this word basically means the pleasure of driving from the German words fahr meaning drive and vergnugen meaning pleasure. Sorry, I had hoped it was more exciting than that, too.
Not everything we don't know is all that worth knowing -- but cashews related to poison ivy -- amazing. I wonder who the first person was to discover the cashew, and how he or she survived the experience! Or better yet, after their fingers blistered and swelled, why did they stick the nut in their mouth? Food foragers were wickedly courageous people!