Dietribes: Strawberries


A truly international fruit, the modern strawberries we feast upon today come from an accidental hybrid of North and South American species by way of Europe in the 18th century, although many varieties of the plant were enjoyed as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. Here are some facts and figures relating to this most beloved berry:

1. William Butler (1535-1618) once said, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." Apparently many people agree, because Americans eat 3.4 pounds of fresh strawberries a year, plus another 1.8 pounds frozen. California produces 75% of the nation's strawberry supply, yielding 21 tons of strawberries per acre among the 23,000 acres of strawberries planted in California each year. Strawberry fields, indeed, forever.

strawberry-shortcake.jpg 2. Daring to show its seeds on the outside, the strawberry is no sissy fruit "“ one serving (roughly eight berries) has more vitamin C than an orange. On the softer side, it also happens to be the namesake of everyone's favorite resident of Niceville.

3. Fans of this delectable fruit are in good company. France's King Louis XI held a poetry competition to compose the best ode to the Strawberry. The winner:

"Quand de juin s'éveille le mois / Allez voir les fraises des bois / Qui rougissent dans la verdure / Plus rouge que le vif corail / Balançant comme un éventail / Leurs feuilles a triple découpure."

["When the month of June comes in, go and see the wood strawberries blushing red among the greenery, redder than bright coral, their three-lobed leaves spreading like a fan."] June is an excellent time to consume strawberries, although in the U.S., May is National Strawberry Month.

4. The French are big fans of the strawberry, even attempting to trademark its scent. (The company who attempted failed, but did manage to trademark the scent of freshly cut grass.) Farther back, Thérésa Tallien, a powerful figure during the French Revolution (nicknamed Our Lady of Thermidor), used to take baths full of strawberries "“ allegedly 22 pounds of them "“ for the beautification of her skin.

5. Strawberries figure prominently in literature and in lore. In Othello, Desdemona's handkerchief is decorated with images of the fruit. Despite being considered a symbol of Venus because of its heart shape and red color, strawberries are sometimes seen negatively, as in the case of Anne Boleyn, who is rumored to have sported a strawberry-shaped birthmark on her neck that some claimed proved she was a witch.

6. Used medicinally in the past (including its leaves and roots), the strawberry has been said to soften skin, whiten teeth, and alleviate symptoms of infections, gout, diseases of the blood, fainting and melancholy, probably because (as we now know) strawberries contain antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and a hearty dose of Vitamin C.

If you think you are the master of strawberry-related facts, try our vintage quiz.

Dietribes will appear every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Dietribes: Cabbage

• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.


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