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Adams Extract

How Red Velvet Cake Got Its Name

Adams Extract
Adams Extract

For all you red velvet cake lovers out there, I’m about to blow your mind: red velvet cake did not get its name from the bottle of food coloring you dump into the batter. I know. Contain yourself. Here’s what really happened.

During the Great Depression, families were using less food colorings and extracts. They were just one more unnecessary expense that could be cut out. While the savings was good news for penny-pinchers, it was not-so-great news for the Adams Extract company. To counter slumping sales, folks at the company came up with the Adams Red Velvet Cake recipe, a concoction that used red food coloring and butter extract instead of the traditional ingredients. Before food coloring become the popular way to make the cake scarlet, the hue was much more subtle and was caused by the way vinegar, cocoa, and buttermilk reacted together. The “velvet” comes not from the color of crushed velvet, but from the smooth texture of fine cake crumb.

Adams’ ploy worked. The new brilliantly-colored cake was a hit with households across the country, and the fact that the recipe was offered on free recipe cards at grocery stores everywhere didn’t hurt either. So, there you have it: the popularity of red velvet cake is the result of a clever marketing ploy. And who can resist that tagline of a bygone era: "The cake of a wife time."

One (incorrect) take on the invention of the red velvet cake is that the Waldorf Astoria Hotel created it in the 1920s and graciously provided the recipe when a customer asked. She later received a bill in the mail for $350, prompting her to distribute the recipe to anyone who would take it. Sounds awfully similar to the Neiman Marcus cookie, doesn’t it?

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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