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Dietribes: Salt Water Taffy

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• First, some mythology: as one story goes, in 1883 a huge storm hit Atlantic City (this isn't the spurious part!) and flooded the boardwalk and the shops, including a whole stock of taffy. When a young girl asked for some, shopkeeper David Bradley jokingly said, "grab some 'salt water taffy.'" Today some recipes for salt water taffy do still call for a teaspoon of salt.

• Don't believe that? Here's another explanation: it's probably due to the proximity of the water to the boardwalk. That fact was used as an early marketing tactic: Joseph Fralinger, known for popularizing taffy, sold "salt water taffy" to sunbathers and tourists as a souvenir (early correspondence from Fralinger refers to the taffy as "Ocean Wave," "Sea Foam" and eventually "Salt Water Taffy"). The results were, of course, a hit!

• James' Salt Water Taffy, a rival of Fralinger's, may be gone from the Boardwalk, but it is not forgotten: the storefront receives a premiere spot on the "Boardwalk Empire" set (Fralinger's is now part of James' Confections).

• Consider it "public domain": In the 1920s "original" salt water taffy was trademarked by John R. Edmiston, who immediately asked the larger taffy companies to share in their profits thanks to the trademark. He was, of course, sued. In 1923 the Supreme Court ruled that the taffy had been around too long and used by too many people to provide royalties.

• The Boardwalk's two biggest taffy rivals, Fralinger's and James', set aside their differences during World War II in order to share their taffy first with the armed forces overseas and then to the wounded servicemen at local hospitals. With the lack of sugar, their factories were sometime shut down for a few days for their regular costumers, but both stores felt it was more important to do their part for the men on the front first (salty and sweet!)

• In the 1920s, salt water taffy was at the height of its popularity. More than 450 manufacturers were making and/or selling the candy at that time.

• Taffy has remained popular: Frank Sinatra holds the record for the largest single mail order: more than 500 boxes of James's taffy went to his friends and relatives the morning after his first performance at Resorts International in 1978. But not everyone is a fan: In 1979, both Resorts and Caesars casinos offered bused-in gamblers a choice of a souvenir box of saltwater taffy or $5 in quarters. Nearly all the gamblers took the money.

• In 1993, Arthur Gager III, a Fralinger descendant, wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of saltwater taffy on the Boardwalk, with the world's longest outdoor taffy pull. But unfortunately, hot sun and muggy humidity reduced the taffy to a gooey mess.

• In better conditions, how is taffy usually made? Pulling taffy aerates it, or incorporates many tiny air bubbles throughout the candy making it lighter and chewier (yum yum).

• Honestly I'm not sure that I've ever had salt water taffy! At least not in a long time. What about you guys? And what are your favorite flavors?

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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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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