Author Archives: justinross

German Fermented Vegetables

An interesting tradition my mother recalls from growing up is that when she and her family visited the (paternal) grandparents, the Rahenkamps, her grandmother would always serve some kind of relish or pickled item along with the evening meal.  Since the Rahenkamp family is of German descent, this is not surprising – one can hardly imagine German food without thinking of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.  However, Germany is only one of many countries where these types of foods exist.  In fact, most if not all cultures prepared and ate at least one of these items at one time or another.  Unlike the prosperous free world today where we think of these items as condiments that we add to our food because they are tasty, past cultures kept these foods, which were originally fermented, out of necessity.  Fermentation was a way to preserve foods for months without refrigeration, and to make foods that are hard on the bowels (like raw cabbage) more digestible.  Adding salt to vegetables to prevent mold growth, and allowing the bacteria and yeast in the local environment to take over, our ancestors could preserve items for long trips and cold winters.  The friendly microbes in the vegetables (or fruits or milk or other foods) break down the sugars and convert them to acids as a defense mechanism, producing a complex, sour flavor.  Eating such foods fortifies the immune system and gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria, and the acid and enzymes released during fermentation aid in the digestion of the rest of the meal.  My informant, my mother, believes that her grandmother served these relishes as part of the tradition of using them for good digestion.  Unfortunately, most pickled items seen today are not fermented, but merely canned in vinegar (including those my great grandmother used).  They carry none of the health benefits and are sterile instead of crawling with friendly microbes.  The real fermentation process actually increases nutrients – sauerkraut, in fact, was used to prevent scurvy on long voyages across the Atlantic, due to its high vitamin C content and its ability to keep for months without spoiling.

Annotation
  The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, by Jordan S. Rubin, page 10, concurs that “Every sauce and condiment has its beginnings as a fermented food and throughout history has always been healthy.”  Several fermented foods are mentioned, including ketchup, which is credited to the Chinese, who began it as a fermented fish brine.

“Eat garlic and see it rise, Eat onions and forget what happened.”

My informant heard this proverb in Lebanon, his home country.  He did not recall the first time he heard it or who he heard it from.  He said it is simply an Arabic folk saying that he picked up from friends and family.
This is not the first proverb I have heard that speaks of onions and garlic as aphrodisiacs.  Unfortunately, my informant was uncertain of the exact meaning of the second line of the saying.  It could mean that eating onions causes one to lose his erection, or that onions cause poor memory.  My reaction was to interpret “forget it” as something like “it won’t be going away for days.”  In effect, “garlic works, but onions work better,” was my immediate interpretation.  On the other hand, it could be a mnemonic (much like our “yellow on black, venom lack; black on yellow, kill a fellow”) for remembering which of the two related herbs is the one that does the trick.  As it rhymes in Arabic (Toum, bikoum, Basal, hasal), the proverb incorporates an element of appropriateness, one of the features of most any joke; and obviously, the proverb is for humor and entertainment rather than any kind of edification or instruction.

Off-color Gambling Joke

A bank teller is greeted one day by a woman who wants to make a large deposit – approximately $3 million.  The woman’s demeanor and clothing do not suggest a person of great wealth, but for such a large amount of money, the teller thinks that the woman should be treated especially well, and that he should take extra steps to make her feel secure in making the transaction.  Thus he goes to get the manager.
When the manager returns, he greets the woman and she hands him the checks.  When he reads them, he is wide-eyed and asks, “Just out of curiosity, do you mind if I ask what business you run?  It seems you are very successful with it…”
She replies, “Oh, I made the money off of bets.”
“What?”
“I made the money betting.”
“You mean betting, as in gambling, like at the casino?”
“No, I just make big bets with people.”
“Your friends?”
“Anybody.  For instance, I’ll bet you $100,000 that one of your testicles is blue.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“No, I’m serious.”
The bank manager is wary, as obviously the woman has been successful with her betting, but on the other hand, he is absolutely certain that neither of his testicles is blue.  Just to double check, he unzips and takes a quick peek while standing behind the counter so no one sees it.  Sure enough, both sides are totally normal.  So he accepts the bet.  “Sure, I’ll take you up on your bet.”
“Alright, but we’ll need to wait until tomorrow to verify who wins the bet.  I want to bring in my lawyer to make sure there are no legal issues and that the loser pays the winner fairly.  I’ll bet you that after 2 o’clock tomorrow, one of your testicles will have turned blue.”
Confused and still somewhat shocked by the proposal, the manager thinks briefly about it and they agree to the bet.  He cannot imagine her being able to do anything to cause one of his testicles to turn blue.
When the manager awakes the next morning, he does another check.  Still normal.  At work, he nervously anticipates the arrival of the woman and her lawyer at 2 o’clock.  Every now and then, he takes another peek at himself to make sure both testicles are still normal.
At 2 o’clock, as planned, the woman and her lawyer arrive.  The manager quickly checks one more time, and taking them aside, he excitedly tells the woman that he has won the bet.
“Do you mind if I check to make sure?” asks the woman.
Nervously, the manager gives her permission, eager to receive his $100,000 reward.
As the manager unzips for her and she inspects, the lawyer suddenly begins to shout loudly in anguish and bang his head against the wall.
“Is he alright?” the manager asks.  “What’s the matter?”
“He’s fine,” she replies, “I bet him $1 million the other day that I could get the manager of this bank to drop his pants for me while he stood there watching.”

 

his was an Internet joke that my informant received from a friend of his.  My paraphrase is actually slightly less graphic than the original version of the joke.  It is a complex joke which could strike different hearers as having different thematic implications.  When I heard the joke, I picked up the idea of female outsmarting male and that of the lawyer being humiliated.
The joke also features multiple oxymorons, or “appropriate incongruities, ” which according to folklorist Elliot Oring, are the backbone of a joke’s humor.  The rich woman’s strange ability to make millions from betting is the first apparent incongruity.  This is followed by her assertion that one of the bank manager’s anatomical members is blue, an obvious falsehood.  Finally, the lawyer’s emotional eruption seems strange and unexplainable.  All of these incongruities are readily corrected and made appropriate, however, by the punchline, delivering a triple dose of somewhat off-color humor.

Recipe – Baccala (Cod Fish Stew)

The following recipe is from the Italian (paternal) side of my family.  The principal ingredient is salt cod or baccala.  This dish was served on Good Friday every year before Easter.  Though my paternal family, who are mainly Catholics, do not abstain from meat as part of the tradition of Lent any longer, their ancestors did.  Fish, however, was not counted among the other meats, and was allowed during Lent.  This recipe would have been one of the last served before the breaking of the fast on Easter Sunday.  According to my informant, the salting and aging of the fish improves the flavor.  This celebratory dinner likely helped to mitigate whatever sense of deprivation anyone (at least fish lovers) felt during the meatless fast.  My family also ate the same dish after the midnight Mass at Christmas (!!!).

Baccala (Cod Fish Stew)

Heat:
1/4 c. vegetable oil in a Dutch oven

Add:
sliced onions:    4 large sliced
potatoes:     6 large peeled & cut in chunks
tomatoes:    2 large cans
1 piece of salted codfish which has been soaking 48 hrs. to get the salt out, changing the water frequently

Boil until potatoes are almost done.  Add the rest of the cod fish.

My informant added: “I buy around 1 lb. [of salt cod] at the Italian store.  This makes a great stew, but only I like it of my siblings!!”

UFO Sighting

Both my mother and sister claim to have witnessed a UFO several years ago while driving home from a Target store which is only about a mile from my house in Marietta, Georgia.  It was late and dark outside.  Through the front window, my mother saw a pair of white lights approaching the intersection outside of the Target.  She recalled that the object, which she definitely believed was a craft, was extremely low in the sky – she said maybe the height of a telephone pole.  She could make out a boomerang shape as it moved overhead, where to her amazement, it hovered in absolute silence.
While my mother will admit being uncertain as to the craft’s identity, she suggested that it was some form of secret military technology; in particular she indicated that the craft she saw resembled the stealth fighter she had seen in photographs.  This is one popular interpretation of unidentified flying objects, and it is a viable explanation for many such sightings, perhaps including this one.  Together with this idea of futuristic military (human) technology, it seems the idea of super-advanced alien technology forms the overwhelming majority of the public sentiment on the subject of UFO’s throughout the US and most of the free world.  Though many UFO witnesses (and many who hear second hand) ascribe a spiritual nature to their experience, these interpretations and others are far outnumbered by those that focus on the future and progress of the human race.  While my mother does not believe in aliens and simply gave an honest account of what she witnessed, people of other cultures would probably have provided vastly different explanations.