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Dietribes: A Little Cherry History

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Cherries are everywhere in our cultural landscape—from Cherry Coke to Chekhov's famous "The Cherry Orchard" to Mary Poppins, where the Banks family lived on Cherry Tree Lane. And who can forget about old George Washington and that whole chopping thing? (Whether it's true or not, we all remember!) Cherries are everywhere, so let's find out a little bit more about this fragrant fruit.

"¢ Cherries share their genus, Prunus, with almonds, peaches, plums and apricots, and can grow in nearly every climate and condition in the world (including, apparently, the tundra). Edible cherry varieties originated primarily in Europe and western Asia. Although around 75 percent of world production originates in Europe, the United States also produces a number of species, with which you can acquaint yourself here.

"¢ My personal introduction to cherries came with the Maraschino, probably the most fake-but-still-edible "fruit" to exist, or as this article puts it, "the artificially flavored brine cherry, survivor of red dye cancer scares, that sits at the bottom of a Manhattan cocktail or at the summit of an ice cream sundae." Maraschino cherries were developed at Oregon State University in the 1920s, and the school still offers a course in the matter: Food Science and Technology 102—the Maraschino Cherry. Food for thought!

"¢ You may have seen the link I posted Saturday of a time-lapse video documenting cherry blossoms in Brooklyn. This type of tree came from one of several varieties originally given as a gift from Tokyo to the United States as a symbol of friendship. In fact, the Japanese also sent cherry trees to the State of Utah after WWII. The cherry was selected as the state fruit of Utah in 1997.

"¢ Bing cherries are the most popular variety in the US, with trees producing large, sweet fruit and wonderfully fragrant white flowers. The exact details of Bing's origin are not clear, but it was named in honor of a nursery foreman (and possible cultivator) by the name of Ah Bing. The first tree came from the seed of another new variety, Republican, in 1875. Today there are over 1000 varieties of sweet cherries, but Bing still tops the list both in popularity and production.

"¢ Cherries are not only tasty but also may have some incredible health benefits. Studies at the University of Michigan suggest that tart cherries can alter factors linked to heart disease and diabetes. Another study suggests tart cherries fight jet lag, and possibly arthritis.

"¢ Cherries are not without their myths. According to some accounts, President Zachary Taylor died July 9, 1850, after getting sick from eating cherries and milk at a July 4 celebration. It's been long believed cholera was the cause, but that still has not stopped generations of maternal warnings against the deadly cherries-and-milk combination (just like Pop Rocks and soda, your stomach will obviously explode). You have been warned!

spoonbridge.jpg"¢ For more fun with cherries, check out the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture—a landmark at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by husband and wife team Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The cherry alone weighs 1,200 pounds. Learn more about how it was made here. Also try your hand at the International Spitting Competition. The current World Record stands at around 100 feet.


"¢ Reward yourself after a long day and snuggle up to an easy-to-make natural heating pad filled with cherry pits. Dried cherry pits retain heat and can be used to make heating pads or bed warmers.

So what's your favorite way to eat a cherry? Any delectable recipes to share?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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

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Dietribes: Cabbage
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• 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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