The Lost art of Aspic

Flavors pop in this raspberry walnut combination in honey aspic was made from gelatin, fruit, nuts, a teaspoon of honey, and a half cup of water.
Eggs, celery, dill, red peppers and salt flavor this savory aspic.

Recently I wandered into the Detroit Institute of the Arts to take in their newest exhibits. As always, they were impressive, but a trip to the third floor and the displays on late 17th century France left a lasting impression. Specifically, a computerized rendition of an aristocratic multicourse meal and the use of aspic in nearly every course had me wondering–what ever happened to aspic? The last I’d thought of it was a 70s album titled Lark’s Tongue in Aspic--the title being a reflection of the enormous waste associated with the greediest people consuming an esoteric portion of beautiful creatures.

A trip down aspic memory lane reveals much about this touted dish, which fell from aristocrat grace as soon as it evolved into Jell-O. Aspic is a gel made from boiled bones or shells. Veal, pigs, and seafood were popular sources of aspic. Aspic making was a time consuming process back in the day but provided a collagen rich medium to suspend and preserve savory and sweet items. Chemically, the bones are broken down into collagen fibers which hook up with each other, not as bone strands but as a cross linked gel. Click here for more information and drawings. It’s a little like making slime or Silly Putty, but this process is much older and unlike the slime or putty–which you’d never want to eat– gelatin is full of useful amino acids. It’s nutritious.

Aspic artistry lent itself to colorful displays that were bursting with flavor–and zero carbs holding it together. It could even be applied to individual bites as a thin preservative coating because aspic seals out air and bacteria.

Along with the aspic came the mold, and the gorgeous display of a shimmering aspic packed with a mixture of delights. Even into the 60s, when aspic gently fell into unpopularity, these molds were proudly hung in the kitchen of many homes.

According to this excellent article, aspic inched towards mass production and lost snob appeal when chemist Peter Cooper devised dried, prepackaged, easy to dissolve gelatin in 1845.

Fifty years later, he sold his patents to a cough syrup company. The owner advocated this as a dessert base and his wife developed the sugary version named it Jell-O. It didn’t take off as a product until it was sold to a more savvy businessman in the early 1900s. Once aspic became Jell-O and widely sold, aspic faded into near obscurity. Now people take collagen powder to restore their skin when they could easily be embracing the age old art of aspic. Does gelatin aid digestion? Many experts think it does. Other virtues attributed to gelatin include better skin elasticity and increased bone strength.

If you want to make your own aspic which looks like a horrific process, here’s a site with a recipe.

For more information on Jell-O and its history, go here.

There are plenty of aspic recipes out there. Tomato aspic is a Southern dish. It looks like something to serve on Halloween but I’m sure it’s healthy.

A new aspic enthusiast, I prefer to start with packaged sugarless gelatin and add my own inspiration. Your creation will set up in about 4 hours is surprisingly filling and satisfying. Happy aspicing!

First in line to go to prison for a miscarriage

Iowa was once a sensible state but it’s been heavily influenced by crazy as of late. Recently, a man introduced a bill to make miscarriages and causing them illegal–or at least subject to investigation.

I do hope lots of people go to jail, and for starters let’s put those who pump out air pollution –and politicians who vote to deregulate it–in jail. Yes, air pollution is associated with miscarriages.Yes indeed it is highly correlated with miscarriage, premature birth, and still birth.

Low blood oxygen as seen near Confined Animal Feeding Operations and fossil fuel combustion can cause miscarriages and numerous problems for developing children. Not only do the pollutants use up oxygen, they can bind to maternal hemoglobin and starve the woman and the embryo of oxygen! The same goes for nitrates, ubiquitous in Iowa waters.

Next we can screen all men for faulty sperm. Faulty sperm is associated with a high rate of repeat miscarriages.

If a man has faulty sperm, he needs to be castrated to prevent miscarriages, right? And what causes faulty sperm? Pollution.

Radiation, environmental toxins, and aging contribute to faulty sperm. The jury is still out but there is evidence that being fat can cause faulty sperm. And being an older father contributes to “miscarriage, birth defects, poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, and childhood cancer.” In fact, bearing the child of an older man can increase the mother’s risk of diabetes.

To avoid jail time, men above the age of 40 should not attempt to reproduce.

Here come the miscarriages. Let’s send the right people to prison!

Fracking causes air and water pollution associated with miscarriage, low birth weight, and also contributes to low sperm quality.

Therefore, the first on trial should be the frackers.

Women, we all know that miscarriages happen in around 20% of all pregnancies. I’ve never had one but those who have may soon get in line to sue those who cause them if this bill goes through. I’m half hoping it does.

Sexist, racist pollution

Detroit Refinery, owned by Marathon Oil, sits beside one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.

I’m sensitive to health and safety regulations being cut. To me, these are protections. As a chemist, protections mean a lot to me. As a baby, I was given a lot of tetracycline. When my permanent teeth came in, they were grey and stained. This has affected my whole life. Yes I have crowns but that is not the same as real teeth. They need more maintaining. They need replacing at times. They make me conscious–but I still like to smile. And I have not gotten one penny of compensation for it all.

This is why, when I wrote about a dystopia in Mixed In, it was one in which there were no consumer protections and no environmental protections. The only regulations were for personal behavior. 

I’m fortunate in one way, my problem has not been passed on to my kids, However, a new article discusses the many ways pollution is linked to disease and weakness that persists genetically.

Pollution can make people and animals more susceptible to disease. and this occurs at a genetic level, meaning, future generations will suffer.  For example, fluorocarbon pollution from substances such as fire fighting foams and water proofing chemicals found in food packaging  have been linked to a weakened immune response. The result in humans is that those exposed get more colds, respiratory infections and gastroenteritis. This is particularly common in young girls. These changes are at a genetic level–in other words, will be passed on. Additionally, those exposed are less protected by vaccines. which work by boosting the immune system.

Some substances such as zinc, lead, and phthalates used in pvc and other plastics boost the infecting ability of bacteria and viruses.

In other words, unregulated pollution can doom generations of people while making pathogens stronger.

Another thing about pollution: It’s racist. African Americans are most likely to live in the shadow of pollution and are the least likely to profit from it. Do you think they don’t know it? Of course they do. And so do the politicians who spout the phrase “job killing regulations.” These guys know exactly what and who pollution harms and they don’t care. The question is: do you?

1919: the year we went outside to play

Family with rickets in 1900 (from https://theconversation.com/vitamin-d-needed-to-fight-comeback-of-childhood-rickets-19729)

In the 1600s, a plague occurred in England. It was called rickets or “The English disease.”

Children were born healthy but between 6 months and two years, the disease “began to rage.”

The disease was most obvious in the legs and spine. The babies grew up bow legged or knock kneed with curved spines. For a century it was seen in the wealthy, who didn’t go out much and used plenty of white make-up containing lead to make themselves pale and cover their wrinkles. Gradually, people began to see a link between poor diet, lack of outdoor exercise and rickets.Travelers noted that people in Japan, who valued time outdoors, did not have rickets, nor did people in the tropics–even if they were malnourished. Prominent health experts such as Florence Nightingale and Welsh surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas began advocating “sunshine” therapy. Cod liver oil–foul tasting but packed with yet undiscovered Vitamin D– was used as a preventative.By 1919 rickets was associated with poverty and poor living conditions. In 1909, among infants 18 months or less who had died, one doctor found rickets in 96% (214 of 221) at autopsy.

WWI was hard on Germany and its allies and orphans were particularly ill-fed, kept indoors, and thus were rickety. A German doctor,Kurt Huldschinsky, noted how pale they were and estimated that half had rickets. He attempted to treat them, first with x-rays and then with ultraviolet light on one arm. The later treatment improved rickets in the exposed arm and the doctor theorize that sunlight must help the body make a chemical that prevented rickets. Vitamins were newly discovered (as of 1912). That very same year–1919-Sir Edward Mellanby, did experiments on dogs with rickets and discovered Vitamin D and its role in preventing rickets. Thus it was established that exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D, such as in cod liver oil, could prevent and reverse rickets.Following this, having a healthy tan became important to white people and being outside was important to all. Accordingly, women’s fashions became more revealing.

By the 1920s, Vitamin D was added to milk in the United States. We now know Vitamin D is important in calcium absorption and behaves like a hormone, affecting all cells in your body. Although it has been touted as a cure all for everything from cancer to depression and it does help the immune system, some of the claims need more study.

Rickets can still be found today. Children have even died from rickets! Those most susceptible are young, breastfed, elderly, thin, smoke, drink, have dark skin, and live in northern or cloudy climates. There are also cases of genetic deficiencies causing rickets.

Children with growing pains can be helped by a dose of Vitamin D.

Be careful. You can get too much Vitamin D. Confusion, stomach pain, fatigue, and thirst are among the symptoms.

Going outside with non-covering clothes for 20 minutes several times a week can provide enough Vitamin D. Prolonged exposure doesn’t translate into more Vitamin D so no need to overdo. Vitamin D is fat soluble and stored in the body. A dose can last up to two months.

High Vitamin D foods include salmon, trout, mushrooms, and eggs.

Rickets is once again on the rise in the United States, the UK, and Canada. Fortunately, since 1919, the cause is known and it can be cured.

1919: Model-Ts, gas stations, and Barnstormer Beginnings

A 1919 Model T Ford (at the Henry Ford Museum)

In 1919, there were 104 million people in the United States and 6.8 million cars.When cars were first developed, they were toys for the rich. It wasn’t until 1908 when an affordable car, the Model T, was built. In 1913, the first assembly line helped speed the production of the Model T. A Model T could go 40-45 mph and got fuel economy of 13-21 mpg. The Ford Company offered an astonishingly high wage of $5 a day. Although electric cars were also available in the 1900s, cheap gasoline–and the Model T– edged them out of the market.

E-cars smelled much better than gasoline powered ones, but cost much more and suffered from limited range.

Here’s what a filling station looked like in 1919. Drive-through filling stations first appeared in the US in 1913. Before that, gasoline was purchased at hardware, grocery store, or blacksmith shop stores.

 

This video of 1919 New York shows a city filled with cars and trolleys. It would be another 20 years before cars replaced horse drawn carriages.

Airplane technology leapt forward during WW1 which was just ending in 1919. WWI saw the first air conflicts during war. Pilots were the new sexy heroes. After the war, ten thousand men had trained to fly.

What does a country do with extra airplanes? Beginning in 1919, the government sold them for a fraction of the cost. Most of these planes were the Curtiss Jennys. Many ex-military bought their own planes and performed stunts and gave rides. Thus began the Barnstormer phenomenon where people paid to watch daring areal performances and get airplane rides. This became a popular entertainment in the Roaring Twenties. There were few restrictions on this entertainment. Anyone who could scrape together the $50 or so to buy a plane and some lessons and who had the nerve to fly and do stunts could get together an act. This was an equal opportunity venture and many wing walkers and dare devils were women and African Americans.



A woman prepares to jump from one plane to another; from http://s15858.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/images/SF-64_0.jpg

img_6044I took this photo at the Henry Ford Museum

Barnstorming was popular from about 1920-1927. It was a brave way to make a living and escape poverty. As airplanes became more common, they became regulated and the dangers and economic mobility of Barnstorming came to an end. The great American road trip, however, was just beginning.

1919: Mcsquared

Albert Einstein wasn’t a famous scientist in early 1919. His theory that massive objects such as the sun can affect space  was unproven. Most people believed, as Isaac Newton had stated, that 

Angel child holding the world in her hands, elements of this image furnished by NASA–an illustration of one frame of reference. But what if she threw the earth at you or away from you?

space was unchangeable. You know, heavenly. And with one way to observe it.

In 1905, Albert Einterin had proposed his Theory of Special Relativity, with acknowledged assistance from Dutch physicist Hendrick Lorentz.

This Theory dealt with light. Einstein proposed that light has the same speed no matter how it is observed. This is different than for example, a bullet shot from a moving train. To someone watching the train pass, the bullet would travel at its speed plus that of the train. Light however, doesn’t change speed. It won’t move faster if you shine a flashlight from a train (He came up with this theory while riding a train.) Thus, Einstein said, nothing can be accelerated to go faster than the speed of light. This theory also describes the famous E=mc2 equation showing that energy and mass are interchangeable. This equation is the basis of nuclear chemistry and nuclear bombs. Bombs either involve loss of mass due to fusion (creating a heavier element from lighter ones as powers the sun) or fission (busting an atomic nucleus into smaller pieces). In either case, mass is converted to energy in the process.

One consequence of Special Relativity is that time and space are not constant but can change relative to the observer. If a clock is moving along, as if on a train, time is “normal” to a person on the train. But to an observer, it appears to be moving slower…it contracts. If the train can reach the speed of light, time will appear to stop. Likewise, as the train moves away, it appears shorter in length (but not height or width). Near the speed of light, it will contract to have almost no length.

As for mass, which as we know is related to energy, it will get larger and larger as the train gains speed until the mass will be almost infinite. Another way to think of this is that the train will be so massive it will become unstoppable. The contraction in length and in time and increase in mass are called the Lorentz factor and can be calculated with an equation.

In 1916, Einstein proposed the theory of General Relativity: gravity is caused by curves in space and time. That’s right, attraction is not caused by masses acting on each other as Newton thought, but because objects bend space-time.

His ideas make sense–the sun can make a dent in space like a bowling ball or a heavy partner on a mattress. The dent can be thought of as pulling planets towards the sun as if they are circling a drain.

Einstein based his theory on observation of the orbit of the planet Mercury.

Gravity isn’t the force Newton thought it was. The bodies aren’t acting on each other. They are reacting to the dents made in space. Each plant makes its own little dent.

Here’s the Earth making a little dent in space circling around the Sun’s bigger dent. From https://theconversation.com/how-einsteins-general-theory-of-relativity-killed-off-common-sense-physics-50042

Instead of saying that the Earth and the Sun attract each other in a fixed stage-like realm, Einstein said that each warps the space and time surrounding the other. This is what Einstein called General Relativity. He took his inspiration from the orbit of Mercury.

One prediction of General Relativity was that light from the stars would be bent towards the sun as they passed it. (This was also predicted by Classical Gravity but not to the same extent.) He calculated that the shift of light from the Hyades cluster would be bent one two thousandths of a degree. Of course, the sun was too bright to be able to observe this, until the eclipse of 1919. Several British and Dutch astronomers saw this as a great time to observe the light as it passed by the sun. They devised an experiment where they would measure the light bending as it passed the sun during the eclipse.

To pinpoint the position of the Hyades in the sky, (British astronomer) Eddington first took a picture at night from Oxford. Then, on 29 May 1919, he photographed the Hyades as they lay almost directly behind the sun during the total eclipse… experienced that day. Comparing the two measurements, Eddington was able to show that the shift was as Einstein had predicted and too large to be explained by Newton’s theory.”

Another phenomenon predicted by Einstein that held true is that light will lose energy and change color (become more red) as it is affected by gravity.

Another key idea of General Relativity is the equivalence principle. Gravity pulling in one direction is the same to as acceleration in the opposite direction. A train accelerating forwards feels just like sideways gravity pushing you back against your seat. An elevator accelerating upwards feels just like gravity pushing you into the floor. (Elevators became popular in the 1880s.) Two difference forces might feel the same: this is sometimes called Einstein’s Elevator.

Today’s GPS devices rely on the precise measurements made by the theory of relativity.

The 1919 eclipse made Einstein famous. Most people didn’t really understand any of the science but they seized on it as a blow to the absolute world, including moral taboos and “absolute” roles for women they’d been raised with. It was particularly popular with the young who saw the universe as giving them permission to seek their own truths.

At the time, Albert was divorcing his first wife, a physicist, in order to marry his cousin, who he felt would take better care of him. Wisely, his ex had put in the divorce settlement that if he won the Nobel prize, she’d get half the money. He won the prize and never did publish anything as grand as those two theories developed while collaborating with his first wife, Meleva Maric. People, including their son, to speculated that the work was as much hers as his. She did get half of the prize money, but struggled financially for the rest of her life. And Albert was an absolute jerk to her. Read here for more.

1919: Yo-ho-ho

In many areas of the globe, before there was sugar on the table there was honey and/or maple syrup. Sugarcane was only found  in New Guinea and Southeast Asia. A clever chemist in India figured out how to boil the canes and evaporate the liquid until the sucrose crystallized. This made it easy to transport and sell. Sugar made its way to Europe around 700 AD. It was an expensive luxury. It wasn’t until Europeans took over the Caribbean region in the 1600s and turned it into sugarcane plantations with slave labor that it became widely used in the North–as a food and fuel commodity.

Molasses treacle in dish: 100 years ago, molasses was a commonly used sweeter


Sugar beets were made popular by Napoleon (early 1800s) but rapidly became more expensive than sugar from cane. In 1938, mechanical cane harvesters were developed in the United States, making sugar even cheaper to produce. Today, sugar is the world’s largest crop.

Molasses (called treacle in England) is the liquid left over after sugar cane is boiled and the sugar crystals and fiber removed, It’s the most nutritious part of the sugar plant, containing calcium, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B6. It can even de-frizz hair.

How to make molasses.

Recipes, including shoofly pie.

All of this tasty goodness is not why I am writing about molasses. One hundred years ago on January 15, a Boston accident released 2.3 million gallons of molasses across the city’s north side, home to mostly Irish and Italian families. Shorty after noon, the locals heard a crash and a wave of molasses engulfed the neighborhood. Twenty-one people and countless horses were killed. Buildings and a train trestle were destroyed. The cause: a faulty molasses storage tank.

One hundred years ago, molasses was a popular sweeter. People bought it by the gallon. It was used in baked beans, barbecue sauces, and gingerbread as it is today. It was the sweetener of choice for coffee, pancakes, and cornbread. It was added to collards and carrots. It was THE sweetener. However, the molasses in this incident wasn’t for cooking and baking. The company which owned the tank, Purity Distilling Company, was in the rum and alcohol business. Yo-ho-ho as they sang in Treasure Island. Yes, rum is basically fermented molasses. It wasn’t a great business to be in at the time, considering that Prohibition was ratified on January 16, 1919. The company had supplied industrial alcohol to the military for the war but now the war was over. Thus, Purity Distilling Company wasn’t too keen to repair their leaking molasses tank, painted brown to hide the drips. They needed to make as much rum as they could before it became illegal.

A few days prior, they had a fresh batch of molasses delivered from Puerto Rico. It was still warm as it sat in the thin steel tank. Possibly, it was already fermenting and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid. It flows more easily under pressure (as does chocolate.) The molasses burst forth at a speed of about 35 mph. It crashed through buildings and knocked people and animals over. Then, as it cooled, it got sticky, trapping them like flies on fly paper. The combination made for the deadly spread of the molasses. All in all, it covered two city blocks. Click here for photos.

People stand by the busted molasses tank in 1919

The tragedy cost 100 million in today’s dollars. Although terrorism was blamed at first, the company was held responsible and fined. Residents of the neighborhood today claim they can smell the molasses on warm days. The tragedy is a reminder of why we need industrial safety regulations and is, in part, why we have them today.

Great video recounting the tragedy and adult and children’s books about the tragedy.

Holiday in Detroit #dayintheD

Michigan isn’t known for its warm winters so I wouldn’t claim that a winter vacation in Detroit is a must-do. Still, I had a great time visiting the downtown just before Christmas and found it heart-warmingly cheery.

The Civil War Emancipation statue. Doesn’t it give you chills? In a good way.


Outdoor shops, a tree, and a skating rink.

Some deco lights from Detroit’s heydays. The city has lost half of its population. The result is a lot of wide open urban spaces.
Wide open and beautiful.
Just us and the Spirit of Detroit

Th Cadillac Lounge is set up from Thanksgiving to Feb. 28, offering a warm place to have refreshments and play games.

Free xoDetroit chapstick
Cheers! No deer killed for this holiday.
What’ll it be?
How about a beer?
It’s rude to take photos of Detroiters but this guy and his dog were so Detroit with his Carhartt hat, beard, and husky.
Headquartered in Detroit.
GM looms large.

Here’s Dodge Fountain, off for the winter, and the Michigan Labor statue behind it in Hart Plaza.

A side trip to Belle Island to see the cute aquarium.

Follow the sturgeon.
It looks dead but it uses its tongue to attract prey.

If you’re longing for cute suburbs, the Pointes have charm and good shopping–local stores, some well-chosen chains, and Sanders chocolate.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

When visiting Detroit, the Charles A. Wright Museum, located downtown, is a must see. The first thing you notice is that it is not packed with stuff. It’s an airy and open venue used for everything from weddings to school trips.

In this era of President Bone Spurs, consider what it is like to begin with absolutely nothing. Taken from your home, you can’t have a family. You are not even permitted to own a dog!

You might not even be considered human.

Am I not a man and a brother? These tokens, made by Charles Darwin’s family, pushed the idea that an African was indeed a “man” I’d seen photos of them but here is the real thing, smaller than I imagined. Another thing I learned was that Saudi Arabia was active in the slave trade. And most slaves were Christians. East Africa embraced the religion in the 1300s.


Driven from the South after the Civil War, African-Americans found a home in Detroit, where their assembly and sewing skills were welcome and contributed to the affluence of the city.

Today, literacy is more important than “hand skills” since labor is cheaper overseas. Illiteracy is a looming problem that the city is determined to solve.

But don’t think for a moment that Detroiters don’t love their history and heritage.

My Mom was . a big fan of Malcom X.

You might find yourself on a street in 1920s Detroit.


Or looking at Aretha’s first record.

We took in an exhibit about African-American hair stylists.

A traditional headrest from Africa kept people from messing their styles when they slept.

Modern hairstyles were part of an exhibit about being fancy.

This unicorn style celebrates European culture. Inclusivity is important. After all, unity is a part of Kwanzaa, which by the way, lasts from Dec. 26 to January 1. The important message of the exhibit was to love the way you are.

The 19th in 1919

Would you have enjoyed living 100 years ago, given the few rights for women, before the passage of the 19th Amendment? Why were women denied their rights? How was it acceptable? Standing in the way of rights for women was The Cult of Domesticity, a middle class social schema for white people in the US and England. Women were to act like pure, religious flowers with no rights and no responsibilities outside of the home. Their only weapon was their purity and shaming their husbands into civilized behavior. lot of this “look” was maintained by healthy middle-class wages along with poorly compensated servants or in the South, slaves. The Cult of Domesticity had its heyday between 1820-1860. It was fairly easy to get people to accept this idea for a while. However, both the Civil War and WWI relied on women to do men’s jobs, leaving women wanting their share of society. See photos here. 

Add to this mix the efficiency movement, encouraging productive lives for everyone.

The new wish for freedom as well as health made 1919 a time when corsets were falling out of favor, being replaced with bras and girdles. Women wanted undergarment freedom along with the right to vote!

Carrie Chapman Catt, who grew up in Charles City, Iowa, and graduated from Iowa State, was a leader in the Suffrage Movement, which, by 1917, was beginning to rely on militant protests such as hunger strikes and arrests as suggested by Alice Paul, shown below being force fed.

The car of choice for Suffragettes and about everyone else was a Model T. (Photos taken at the Henry Ford Museum.)

By 1918, president Woodrow Wilson, who had been a target of protests, agreed to support the cause. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed on June 4, 1919. It came after a push of nearly 100 years.

It then needed to be ratified. Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin were the first states to do this on June 10.  At the end of 1919, 22 states had ratified it. 36 states were needed. This was achieved in August 1920. Women had won the right to vote.

It took until 1984 for all states to agree to ratify. Those in purple lagged behind.

1919 saw gains for women’s equality. Women have only recently had equal rights and these rights did not come easily, nor will they be easily regained if lost.

A teacher friend of mine asked her class if they had heard of the Suffragettes. All stared at her blankly. Not even 100 years has passed! 1919 and the 19th Amendment are too important to forget.

Modern playing card honors the Suffragettes.

In any case, 1919 stands out as a shot across the bow of the Cult of Domesticity. Let’s not go back in time.