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Dietribes: A Pocket Full of Rye

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• Rye is a hardy substance. It can grow in poor soils with less sun and at higher altitudes than wheat, and it can thrive through dampness and drought. The bread made from rye also lasts longer. And for some, it is a spiritual thing.

• George Washington had a much-loved recipe for rye whiskey that combined rye, corn and malted barley (in 1799 it was the most profitable part of his plantation). In 2011, his distillery was reopened briefly to produce 600 bottles of the famous mixture at a price of $95 each (and a limit to two per customer) for those who wanted a literal taste of history.

• Rye fields are also good for creating some amazingly creative crop circles.

• Speaking of the work of the devil, could rye have led to the Salem witch trials? Rye (as a cereal or as a bread) can be infected with ergot, a fungus which invades developing kernels under warm and damp conditions - known to have been the case in Salem at the time. "Convulsive ergotism causes violent fits, a crawling sensation on the skin, vomiting, choking, and--most interestingly--hallucinations.  The hallucinogenic drug LSD is a derivative of ergot."

• Is rye a better alternative to wheat? In a study done in 2010 it was found that mice that ate wheat gained significantly more weight than mice on a rye diet. "A possible explanation would be that wheat prompts a higher insulin response than rye, which means that the cells in the body can store more fat. The fact that rye contains more soluble fibers than wheat also plays a role, since they probably prevent the uptake of fat and other nutritional substances in the intestine."

• This may be my favorite Dietribe fact of all time: "Pumpernickel, 'a coarse, dark, slightly sour bread made of unbolted rye', is from German, as one might expect. The word was originally used in German as an insulting term for anyone considered disagreeable. Its elements are pumpern (to break wind) and Nickel (a goblin; devil; rascal), originally a nickname from Nicholas. Pumpernickel, in other words, literally means 'farting bastard'."

• What exactly is the significance of the "pocket full of rye" in "Sing a Song of Sixpence"? Essentially just what you would expect: an ingredient for making bread, cake or pie crust. But the rest of the nursery rhyme's meaning may not be what you remembered ...

• As of 1985 (so we can assume that it has increased dramatically since then), 7500 copies of Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" checked out of the public libraries in Chicago had never been returned.

• A book billed as the sequel to "Catcher in the Rye" has been banned from release in the US.

• Are any of you partial to rye bread? Do you find pumpernickel indigestible? Can you really distinguish the difference between rye whiskey and bourbon? Do tell!

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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