vrijdag 28 februari 2014

Cartography by a Four year old

When growing up in such a household it was only to be expected that the four year old in the house has started to make maps. Lots of them. There is always the sun at the top, a horizontal line which is the road and crosses or scribbles for houses. The one in the middle is a map he made from the house to the supermarket. He then led us, map in hand, without a wrong turn to the supermarket and back so we can only conclude that the map was correct. For perspective: the images below are from the almost six year old and from the just turned two year old. 

donderdag 27 februari 2014

Foraging in Scotland in 1871 and The pacific in 1943

The copy of Edible Wild Plants of Scotland (F. Buchanan White, 1871) on Archive.org begins at page 22 so I don't know what is missing but these words from the introduction are a high-trumpeted claret call to graze the bonny hills. It reminds me of this earlier fragment from Gilbert White.

[I]n civilized nations, it is the naturalist — not the mere classifier of species, nor he who gathers together a collection of objects of natural history as he would a collection of postage stamps, coins, or old china, but the true lover of nature — who is the chief inheritor of this love of the wild freshness of the earth's morning, still lingering on the mountain's side, in depths of the primeval forest, or amidst the waves of ocean. And thus it seems to me that to the naturalist, wild flowers and fruits will always be more beautiful and attractive than all the richest treasures of the garden. 

But a comparison should scarcely be made, perhaps, between wild fruits and those which have become subject to man. The whole character of the latter has become changed; the bitter has been made sweet, and the small large - all freedom has been lost.
 Of a completely different time and tone is Emergency food plants and poisonous plants of the islands of the Pacific by Elmer Drew Merrill, issued in 1943, technical manual published by the US War Department. The images are from that book.

dinsdag 25 februari 2014

Guestimate the Cuisine / The Jamie Oliver Switch [map your recipe]

Last weekend I started to experiment with a new function in Map your Recipe

The new option is called 'Guestimate the Cuisine' and as you would expect it tries to work out the culinary style of the recipe. Is it Italian or Chinese? Mexican or Moroccan? French or Indonesian? It works by comparing the ingredients in the recipe against the essential ingredients of ten types of cuisine. The result is expressed in a percentage of style. There is some obvious overlap in ingredients (many different cuisines rely on coriander and garlic) and some cuisines are more alike then others even though the actual recipe will taste completely different. 

I will be adding new cuisines (suggestions welcome) and tweaking the parameters but already I am quite surprised that it seems to work with a certain amount of reliability: it does distinguish Chinese from Italian food. For some recipes it gives several guestimates and these I think are a useful way to understand relations between cuisines. An Thai dish recognized as partly Indonesian makes more sense than a Greek dish recognized as 40% Mexican.

 Like everybody else I greatly admire the works of Jamie "whack it all in there, absolutely delish" Oliver. Map your Recipe reveals many of his recipes to be all over the place both geographically according the scheme of Vavilov as in taste. I created an evaluation function that based on the outcome of the cuisine guestimation will determine if a recipe could have come from Jamie Oliver. Remarkably the first recipe I tried, a "Thai chicken laksa mildly spiced noodle squash broth" produced the above result. Or in the words of the great bard: "yeah!?"

woensdag 19 februari 2014

Iraqi recipes on the map

recipe above resulted in the map below.  

The Kabset Baitenjan results in this map:

As said before: Map you Recipe makes no claims about originality and does not endorse food crop nationalism. But what immediately strikes me about these two recipes is a total absence of ingredients associated with the Middle East that includes staples like barley, figs, lentils, alfalfa, pomegranates, quinces and fenugreek. 

If you take an Italian or Indian or Chinese or Ethiopian dish you will nearly always find an ingredient associated with the region apart from the source of carbohydrates (wheat/rice/potatoes). But not here. 

I am not saying it means anything but I would like to offer the theory, 98% in jest, that in the deep past these dishes started out as foreign food and became naturalized. What would be Nebuchadnezzar equivalent to Jane Austen's curry? Think of it as Babylonian fusion food enriched with the later and inescapable potato.

zondag 16 februari 2014

Why look at Wild Plants

Flowers are for insects and the flowers you buy from the florist are eugenic monstrosities that in an entomological episode of Snog, Marry or Avoid would get a 100% avoid rate.

Street plants, real plants, have beauty not for their flowers but for the variation of their strategies, the history of their travels and the intricacies of their survival. You do not study urban wild plants to find rarities, though you wouldn't want to miss them, and you never tire of the common plants. The only goal is to learn about what is out there. 

Plants are outside and so must you be. 

Plants are everywhere and so can you be.

Early on I met a woman with verifiable botanical skills, "she knows her plants". This was at a plant finding expedition near a train station and after taking the first corner we came across a grassy sloped patch with a rosette she, Oh Shock, did not recognize. That is how enormous you can find the world in one little, secluded and everyday place. That is when I learned that the study of wild plants is a process that takes a lifetime. So I take it slow and don't worry about not knowing the name of a plant. It will come to me.

The study of wild plants begins with identification but that is only the way in. Once you know its name you know you can recognize it next time you see it. Once you have seen it twice you can enter into the history (where is it from) and the geography (why is it here) of the plant itself and the place it grows in. 

Plants watcher are a nerdy bunch and they have collected data, described places and wrote travel guides for centuries. You know things have gone wrong when you rate a book for the inclusion of plant lists. 

My favourite book is the "New Atlas of Dutch Flora" that gives the historic distributions for 1500 individual plants.

But I could not do without many other books, especially the books that take you back to the Utrecht of 1843 or to the Terschelling of 1886 or the Amsterdam of 1975. Often the archaic language alone works miracles.

To speak about plants as a way into something else is all good but the pleasure of seeing a plant is what drives it.

I have not yet used the words 'nature', 'environment' and 'ecology' but they enter the story as well, somewhere.

Plants are just a tiny aspect of urban life but their study gives so much context in so many ways to my surroundings  that I now can't imagine ever forsaking it. 

vrijdag 14 februari 2014

Communist world literature

"The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature." - The Communist Manifesto

Found in this article on world->global literature. 

- We now have international one-sidesness and narrow-mindedness.  

- How does EthnoPoetics relate to this stunning insight from1848?