“The History of the Apple Tree” — Henry David Thoreau

“The History of the Apple Tree”


Henry David Thoreau

from “Wild Apples.”

It is remarkable how closely the history of the Apple-tree is connected with that of man. The geologist tells us that the order of the Rosaceae, which includes the Apple, also the true Grasses, and the Labiatae or Mints, were introduced only a short time previous to the appearance of man on the globe.

It appears that apples made a part of the food of that unknown primitive people whose traces have lately been found at the bottom of the Swiss lakes, supposed to be older than the foundation of Rome, so old that they had no metallic implements. An entire black and shrivelled Crab-Apple has been recovered from their stores.

Tacitus says of the ancient Germans, that they satisfied their hunger with wild apples (agrestia poma) among other things.

Niebuhr observes that “the words for a house, a field, a plough, ploughing, wine, oil, milk, sheep, apples, and others relating to agriculture and the gentler way of life, agree in Latin and Greek, while the Latin words for all objects pertaining to war or the chase are utterly alien from the Greek.” Thus the apple-tree may be considered a symbol of peace no less than the olive.

The apple was early so important, and generally distributed, that its name traced to its root in many languages signifies fruit in general. [Greek: Maelon], in Greek, means an apple, also the fruit of other trees, also a sheep and any cattle, and finally riches in general.

The apple-tree has been celebrated by the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians. Some have thought that the first human pair were tempted by its fruit. Goddesses are fabled to have contended for it, dragons were set to watch it, and heroes were employed to pluck it.

The tree is mentioned in at least three places in the Old Testament, and its fruit in two or three more. Solomon sings,—”As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.” And again,—”Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples.” The noblest part of man’s noblest feature is named from this fruit, “the apple of the eye.”

The apple-tree is also mentioned by Homer and Herodotus. Ulysses saw in the glorious garden of Alcinous “pears and pomegranates, and apple-trees bearing beautiful fruit” (kai maeleui aglaokarpoi). And according to Homer, apples were among the fruits which Tantalus could not pluck, the wind ever blowing their boughs away from him. Theophrastus knew and described the apple-tree as a botanist.

According to the Prose Edda, “Iduna keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnarök” (or the destruction of the gods).

I learn from Loudon that “the ancient Welsh bards were rewarded for excelling in song by the token of the apple-spray;” and “in the Highlands of Scotland the apple-tree is the badge of the-clan Lamont.” Continue reading ““The History of the Apple Tree” — Henry David Thoreau”

Inside the Machine (Book acquired 6.25.2015)


My crappy iPhone pics aren’t doing justice to these images from Megan Prelinger’s Inside the Machine (glossy pages are hard to photograph). Book is out in August from W.W. Norton—their blurb:

A visual history of the electronic age captures the collision of technology and art—and our collective visions of the future.

A hidden history of the twentieth century’s brilliant innovations—as seen through art and images of electronics that fed the dreams of millions.

A rich historical account of electronic technology in the twentieth century, Inside the Machine journeys from the very origins of electronics, vacuum tubes, through the invention of cathode-ray tubes and transistors to the bold frontier of digital computing in the 1960s.

But, as cultural historian Megan Prelinger explores here, the history of electronics in the twentieth century is not only a history of scientific discoveries carried out in laboratories across America. It is also a story shaped by a generation of artists, designers, and creative thinkers who gave imaginative form to the most elusive matter of all: electrons and their revolutionary powers.

As inventors learned to channel the flow of electrons, starting revolutions in automation, bionics, and cybernetics, generations of commercial artists moved through the traditions of Futurism, Bauhaus, modernism, and conceptual art, finding ways to link art and technology as never before.

A visual tour of this dynamic era, Inside the Machine traces advances and practical revolutions in automation, bionics, computer language, and even cybernetics. Nestled alongside are surprising glimpses into the inner workings of corporations that shaped the modern world: AT&T, General Electric, Lockheed Martin.

While electronics may have indelibly changed our age, Inside the Machinereveals a little-known explosion of creativity in the history of electronics and the minds behind it.


Continue reading “Inside the Machine (Book acquired 6.25.2015)”

A Coffee Chronology


Giving dates and events of historical interest in legend, travel, literature, cultivation, plantation treatment, trading, and in the preparation and use of coffee from the earliest time to the present

(From William H. Ukers’s All About Coffee, 1922)

900[L]—Rhazes, famous Arabian physician, is first writer to mention coffee under the name bunca or bunchum.[M]

1000[L]—Avicenna, Mahommedan physician and philosopher, is the first writer to explain the medicinal properties of the coffee bean, which he also calls bunchum.[M]

1258[L]—Sheik Omar, disciple of Sheik Schadheli, patron saint and legendary founder of Mocha, by chance discovers coffee as a beverage at Ousab in Arabia.[M]

1300[L]—The coffee drink is a decoction made from roasted berries, crushed in a mortar and pestle, the powder being placed in boiling water, and the drink taken down, grounds and all.

1350[L]—Persian, Egyptian, and Turkish ewers made of pottery are first used for serving coffee.

1400–1500—Earthenware or metal coffee-roasting plates with small holes, rounded and shaped like a skimmer, come into use in Turkey and Persia over braziers. Also about this time appears the familiar Turkish cylinder coffee mill, and the original Turkish coffee boiler of metal.

1428–48—Spice grinder to stand on four legs first invented; subsequently used to grind coffee.

1454[L]—Sheik Gemaleddin, mufti of Aden, having discovered the virtues of the berry on a journey to Abyssinia, sanctions the use of coffee in Arabia Felix.

1470–1500—The use of coffee spreads to Mecca and Medina.

1500–1600—Shallow iron dippers with long handles and small foot-rests come into use in Bagdad and in Mesopotamia for roasting coffee.

1505[L]—The Arabs introduce the coffee plant into Ceylon.

1510—The coffee drink is introduced into Cairo.

1511—Kair Bey, governor of Mecca, after consultation with a council of lawyers, physicians, and leading citizens, issues a condemnation of coffee, and prohibits the use of the drink. Prohibition subsequently ordered revoked by the sultan of Cairo.

1517—Sultan Selim I, after conquering Egypt, brings coffee to Constantinople.

1524—The kadi of Mecca closes the public coffee houses because of disorders, but permits coffee drinking at home and in private. His successor allows them to re-open under license.

1530[L]—Coffee drinking introduced into Damascus.

1532[L]—Coffee drinking introduced into Aleppo.

1534—A religious fanatic denounces coffee in Cairo and leads a mob against the coffee houses, many of which are wrecked. The city is divided into two parties, for and against coffee; but the chief judge, after consultation with the doctors, causes coffee to be served to the meeting, drinks some himself, and thus settles the controversy.

Continue reading “A Coffee Chronology”

Recipe for Florida Orange Wine from The White House Cookbook (1887)


Wipe the oranges with a wet cloth, peel off the yellow rind very thin, squeeze the oranges, and strain the juice through a hair-sieve; measure the juice after it is strained and for each gallon allow three pounds of granulated sugar, the white and shell of one egg and one-third of a gallon of cold water; put the sugar, the white and shell of the egg (crushed small) and the water over the fire and stir them every two minutes until the eggs begin to harden; then boil the syrup until it looks clear under the froth, of egg which will form on the surface; strain the syrup, pour it upon the orange rind and let it stand over night; then next add the orange juice and again let it stand overnight; strain it the second day, and put it into a tight cask with a small cake of compressed yeast to about ten gallons of wine, and leave the bung out of the cask until the wine ceases to ferment; the hissing noise continues so long as fermentation is in progress; when fermentation ceases, close the cask by driving in the bung, and let the wine stand about nine months before bottling it; three months after it is bottled, it can be used. A glass of brandy added to each gallon of wine after fermentation ceases is generally considered an improvement.

There are seasons of the year when Florida oranges by the box are very cheap, and this fine wine can be made at a small expense.

More drink recipes from The White House Cookbook.

“Sun Worship. The Sources of Hallowe’en”

“Sun Worship. The Sources of Hallowe’en” is the first chapter of Ruth Edna Kelley’s The Book of Hallowe’en (1919)

If we could ask one of the old-world pagans whom he revered as his greatest gods, he would be sure to name among them the sun-god; calling him Apollo if he were a Greek; if an Egyptian, Horus or Osiris; if of Norway, Sol; if of Peru, Bochica. As the sun is the center of the physical universe, so all primitive peoples made it the hub about which their religion revolved, nearly always believing it a living person to whom they could say prayers and offer sacrifices, who directed their lives and destinies, and could even snatch men from earthly existence to dwell for a time with him, as it draws the water from lakes and seas.

In believing this they followed an instinct of all early peoples, a desire to make persons of the great powers of nature, such as the world of growing things, mountains and water, the sun, moon, and stars; and a wish for these gods they had made to take an interest in and be part of their daily life. The next step was making stories about them to account for what was seen; so arose myths and legends.

The sun has always marked out work-time and rest, divided the year into winter idleness, seed-time, growth, and harvest; it has always been responsible for all the beauty and goodness of the earth; it is itself splendid to look upon. It goes away and stays longer and longer, leaving the land in cold and gloom; it returns bringing the long fair days and resurrection of spring. A Japanese legend tells how the hidden sun was lured out by an image made of a copper plate with saplings radiating from it like sunbeams, and a fire kindled, dancing, and prayers; and round the earth in North America the Cherokees believed they brought the sun back upon its northward path by the same means of rousing its curiosity, so that it would come out to see its counterpart and find out what was going on.

All the more important church festivals are survivals of old rites to the sun. “How many times the Church has decanted the new wine of Christianity into the old bottles of heathendom.” Yule-tide, the pagan Christmas, celebrated the sun’s turning north, and the old midsummer holiday is still kept in Ireland and on the Continent as St. John’s Day by the lighting of bonfires and a dance about them from east to west as the sun appears to move. The pagan Hallowe’en at the end of summer was a time of grief for the decline of the sun’s glory, as well as a harvest festival of thanksgiving to him for having ripened the grain and fruit, as we formerly had husking-bees when the ears had been garnered, and now keep our own Thanksgiving by eating of our winter store in praise of God who gives us our increase.

Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit, lends us the harvest element of Hallowe’en; the Celtic day of “summer’s end” was a time when spirits, mostly evil, were abroad; the gods whom Christ dethroned joined the ill-omened throng; the Church festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ coming at the same time of year—the first of November—contributed the idea of the return of the dead; and the Teutonic May Eve assemblage of witches brought its hags and their attendant beasts to help celebrate the night of October 31st.

Watch Discovering Electronic Music, a 1983 Documentary about Synthesizers and Sampling

Detail from Ward Shelley’s Matrilineage, A Painting that Charts Women Painters through History


(See the whole thing).

George Washington’s Rules of Civility

(Non-manuscript, more legible version).

Kill Anything That Moves (Book Acquired Sometime in December 2013)


Blurb for Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, new in paperback:

Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by just a few “bad apples.” But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of official orders to “kill anything that moves.”

Drawing on more than a decade of research into secret Pentagon archives and extensive interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors, Turse reveals for the first time the workings of a military machine that resulted in millions of innocent civilians killed and wounded—what one soldier called “a My Lai a month.” Devastating and definitive, Kill Anything That Moves finally brings us face-to-face with the truth of a war that haunts America to this day.

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” — Donald Barthelme

“Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” by Donald Barthelme

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn’t pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he’d think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we’d have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn’t begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he’d always been fond of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a “delaying tactic” and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. “Be reasonable,” he said to Colby. Colby said he’d try to think of something a little less exacting.

Hugh was worried about the wording of the invitations. What if one of them fell into the hands of the authorities? Hanging Colby was doubtless against the law, and if the authorities learned in advance what the plan was they would very likely come in and try to mess everything up. I said that although hanging Colby was almost certainly against the law, we had a perfect moralright to do so because he was our friend, belonged to us in various important senses, and he had after all gone too far. We agreed that the invitations would be worded in such a way that the person invited could not know for sure what he was being invited to. We decided to refer to the event as “An Event Involving Mr. Colby Williams.” A handsome script was selected from a catalogue and we picked a cream-colored paper. Magnus said he’d see to having the invitations printed, and wondered whether we should serve drinks. Colby said he thought drinks would be nice but was worried about the expense. We told him kindly that the expense didn’t matter, that we were after all his dear friends and if a group of his dear friends couldn’t get together and do the thing with a little bit of eclat, why, what was the world coming to? Colbv asked if he would be able to have drinks, too, before the event. We said,”Certainly.”

The next item of business was the gibbet. None of us knew too much about gibbet design, but Tomas, who is an architect, said he’d look it up in old books and draw the plans. The important thing, as far as he recollected, was that the trapdoor function perfectly. He said that just roughly, counting labor and materials, it shouldn’t run us more than four hundred dollars. “Good God !” Howard said. He said what was Tomas figuring on, rosewood? No, just a good grade of pine, Tomas said. Victor asked if unpainted pine wouldn’t look kind of “raw,” and Tomas replied that he thought it could be stained a dark walnut without too much trouble.

[Read the rest of “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby” here].

The Sopranos Debate Christopher Columbus’s Cultural Legacy (NSFW)

Also, Howard Zinn on Columbus Day.

[Editorial note: Yeah. I know. I post this like every Columbus Day. I still like it though].