September 19, 2013
It’s September 19, which means it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, your once-a-year opportunity to embrace linguistic absurdism and greet your friends and colleagues with a cheery “Ahoy, matey!” Started in 1995 by John Baur and Mark Summers, the holiday is celebrated all over the world with the official Talk Like a Pirate Day website offering a vocabulary crash course in English, German and Dutch. But really, what’s a holiday without food to enhance the celebration? While we all have a communal sense of how pirates talked—or how we like to think they talked—our sense of how pirates ate sits, by comparison, in uncharted waters. Pirates had to survive on more than a bottle of rum.
From a food standpoint, a pirate’s life was problematic. Being at sea and without easy access to major seaports meant that there was rarely a steady supply of food and hunger was a regular aspect of day-to-day living. Much of their lives were spent on board a ship, and perpetually damp conditions put normal pantry staples such as flour and dried beans at high risk of mold. Climate also presented preservation problems: if sailing in warmer regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, keeping fresh fruits and meats was near impossible. Fresh water was also difficult to keep during long sea voyages because it could develop algae scum. By contrast, alcohol would never spoil, making beer and rum the preferred preferred beverages. Rum, in addition to being consumed straight up, was used along with cinnamon and other spices to sweeten stagnant water and make grog. Dried meats and hardtack, a relatively shelf-stable biscuit, were regular parts of a pirate’s diet, although the latter was frequently infested with weevils.
With such a bleak dining situation, what’s a pirate to do? For one, they pillaged. For pirates sailing the waters of Spanish America, beef was a hot commodity for pirates as a single head of cattle could go a long way when it came to feeding a hungry crew. In 1666, French pirate François l’Onnais promised to leave the Venezuelan port city of Maracaibo if, among other riches, he was supplied with 500 head of cattle. In 1668, Henry Morgan, the namesake of the rum, invaded Puerto del Principe in Cuba, also demanding a ransom of 500 cattle. And in 1682, Captain Jean Toccard took the Mexican port of Tampico for the sole purpose of slaughtering cows for provisions. In addition to beef, turtle was also a valued source of protein, and ideal in that it was readily found along beaches and could be kept alive and serve as a source of fresh meat when out to sea.
Pirates also had to be resourceful with the staples that they had—especially when it came to making pickled and salted foods palatable. In the West Indies, a popular pirate dish among marauders was salmagundi, a stew of the odds-and-ends of meat and vegetables thrown into a communal pot and heavily seasoned. In his book Pirates and Piracy, author David Reinhardt provides a litany of ingredients one might find in the cauldron and the manner of preparation:
Included might be any of the following: turtle meat, fish, pork, chicken, corned beef, ham, duck and pigeon. The meats would be roasted, chopped into pieces and marinated in spied wine, then mixed with cabbage, anchovies, pickled herring, mangoes, hard-boiled eggs, palm hearts, onions, olives, grapes and any other pickled vegetable available. The entire concoction would then be highly seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and mustard seed and soaked with oil and vinegar.
Legend has it that Bartholomew Roberts, whose years of marauding earned him the posthumous Forbes magazine distinction of being one of the highest-earning pirates, was eating salmagundi when he was attacked—and killed—by the Royal Navy ship HMS Swallow.
The historical pirate diet may not appeal to the modern diner. Nevertheless, for those wishing to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day to the hilt by setting an appropriately-themed spread, you have a few options. The New England Pirate Museum has a freeform salmagundi recipe that’ll allow you to make the classic pirate meal, but without all the pickled and salt-cured ingredients. You can also use the day as a personal challenge to raid ye pantry and figure out how you can turn the provisions you have on hand into a hearty stew.
Although grog in its original conception was utilitarian more than anything else, it has since been re-imagined as a cocktail to be enjoyed for its palate-pleasing merits. Check out these three on-the-rocks versions of the cocktail here, with recipes using a variety of rums paired with grapefruit, lime and orange juices. You can also enjoy your grog hot, spiced with cinnamon and brown sugar. If you’re dying to try hardtack, recipes and videos are out there to show you how to make this classic survival food. Personally, I’d dive into a package of Wasa crackers and call it a day.
Breverton, Terry. The Pirate Dictionary. Canada: Pelican, 2004.
Marley, David F. Daily Life of Pirates. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
Hamilton, John. A Pirate’s Life. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2007.
September 10, 2013
The American superhighway system is dotted with some truly bizarre and unique roadside attractions. There are dinosaurs, Cadillacs stuck in the ground and kitschy souvenir stops with advertisements of questionable taste. But for those drivers with some extra time on their cross country trips, they should add these large, statue versions of everyone’s favorite foods to their itinerary. We’ve narrowed down the cornucopia of foods to 10 must-see, “World’s Largest” food-related attractions for your hypothetical (or real) adventure.
1) Strawberry—Ellerbe, North Carolina
The Berry Patch, off of old Highway 220, in Ellerbe, North Carolina, got its start as a small patch in 1995 run by the appropriately monikered Berry family. In 2002, they built the self-described “World’s Largest Strawberry” to house their homemade ice cream shop. The 24-foot tall building is made from sheet rock and polyurethane foam molded to its berry shape. There are a few other self-proclaimed largest strawberries: one worth highlighting is this 130-foot tall berry water towerin Poteet, Texas.
2) Peach—Gaffney, South Carolina
Once you hit I-85 West leaving from Charlotte, North Carolina, toward Atlanta, Georgia, look up. The world’s largest peach structure in Gaffney, South Carolina, a peach-painted water tower also known as the Peachoid, stands at 135 feet tall and holds one million gallons of liquid. The giant peach (No, James and his friends do not live inside) was commissioned by the Board of Public Works in Gaffney in 1981. The foundation used no less than 10 million gallons of concrete and the 60-foot leaf along the side of the peach weighs seven tons. As the story goes, the people of Gaffney picked the peach tower because at the time of its construction, the local economy was dependent on peach orchards. The water tower served as a (large) reminder that Georgia, known as the “Peach State,” produced fewer peaches than Cherokee County. Today, South Carolina produces over 200 million pounds of peacheson average a year, second to California. (Georgia is the third largest producer).
3) Peanut—Ashburn, Georgia
Floodlights shine on the World’s Largest Peanut located off of I-75 in Ashburn, Georgia. The peanut, which hovers above an impressive crown, was built in 1975 and designed by A.R. Smith, Jr. to honor the state’s official crop. (Georgia produces almost 50 percent of the total United States peanut crop). The monument became an official state symbolin 1998.
4) Field of Corn—Dublin, Ohio
On an acre-and-a-half plot in Dublin, Ohio, 109 concrete ears of corn stand at six feet, six inches apiece—an agricultural community in transition. Artist Malcolm Cochran, created this field of statues in 1994 as a memorial for the now-fallow corn field that once occupied the land. On this site, Sam Frantz and his family had been a leading corn hybridizer from 1935 through 1963. It’s “not unlike a cemetery —and a surprising roadside attraction in the tradition of coffee shops that look like a giant cup and saucer or diners in the shape of hamburgers,” Cochran said in an email. Head to the Osage Orange trees at the west side of the location to learn more about the town’s agricultural history.
5) Egg—Mentone, Indiana
There isn’t a whole lot to see driving through north-central Indiana, until you get to Mentone: the self-proclaimed “Egg Basket of the Midwest” and home to what the town considers the World’s Largest Egg, a 3,000-pound concrete structure in a bank parking lot near the town’s center. The structure was most likely built in 1946 to promote the Mentone Egg Show.
6) Popcorn Ball—Sac City, Iowa
In 1995, Sac City, Iowa (locally known as the “Popcorn Capital of the World”) built the first of three giant popcorn balls—a 2,225-pound mound of syrup and popcorn. That same year, a team of Boy Scouts beat the city’s record and by 1997, the original Sac City ball was blown up at the Sac County Fair. But in 2004, Sac City went at it again when a local popcorn factory made a 3,415-pound ball, currently housed in a small building off of Highway 20. When the 3,415-pound record was beaten, in 2009, construction of the latest and greatest popcorn ball weighing in at 5,000 pounds began. Two hundred fifty-three volunteers gathered in Sac County to construct the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. (Ingredient breakdown: 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,700 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of Dry syrup mixed with water). It held the record until this August when a group at the Indiana State Fair, built a 6,510-pound popcorn ball, beating Sac County’s- record by 1,510 pounds, but the Indian ball was pulled apart to feed livestock at the end of the festivities. Sac City’s ball remains the largest popcorn ball still intact.
7) Watermelons—Green River, Utah and Luling, Texas
If you want to see giant melons of the water variety, you’ve got two choices: the watermelon tower in Luling, Texas and the 25-foot slice of painted wood in Green River, Utah. The water tower in Texas presides 154 feet over a watermelon patch—a tribute to the local melon industry. Each year at the Watermelon Thump festival (named for the way you thump a melon to test its ripeness), locals enter the seed spitting contest or claim the “Thump Queen” crown. Green River’s melon is less like a tower and more like a parade float. The formerly motorized melon slice makes appearances during the region’s Melon Days festival each year. Both places claim to be the watermelon capital of the United States.
8) Pistachio—Alamogordo, New Mexico
In the middle of the southern New Mexico desert, along U.S. Highway 54, a 30-foot-tall pistachio stands as a monument to Tom McGinn, founder of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch. “I wanted to erect a proper monument that would represent his enormous passion for the creation of a pistachio farm in the bare desert,” Tim McGinn, the founder’s son, said in an interview with the Alamogordo News in 2009. The giant nut is covered in 35 gallons of paint and is anchored by nine feet of concrete. McGinn based the design off of a nut hand-selected from his crop of pistachios.
9) Donut—Inglewood, California
Homer Simpson would go bonkers for this roadside sculpture built in 1954. You may recognize the massive pastry on top of Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, California from Randy Newman’s video “I Love LA,” or from the film Mars Attacks. The drive-in style building, designed by Henry J. Goodwin in 1953 has several locations in the area—four of the original giant donuts survive, most of which were constructed with a 32 and one fifth-foot diameter. A fun thing about a giant donut: sometimes, you can throw basketballs through its center.
10) Artichoke—Castroville, California
Castroville, California, is the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Center of the World” and the 20-foot tall artichoke made of rebar and concrete built in 1963 by Ray Bei, founder of Ray Bei’s Giant Artichoke Restaurant and Fruit Stand, is a stunning reminder of the region’s main crop. A pit stop here offers artichokes prepared pretty much any way you can imagine, though fried is probably your best bet. The annual artichoke festival takes place in May to celebrate the Monterey Bay County’s famous food. Fun fact: in 1948—11 years before the festival began—a young starlet named Norma Jean, later known as Marilyn Monroe, was crowned the first Artichoke Queen in Castroville. The sash she wore is now on display in the Castroville Chamber of Commerce.
August 23, 2013
On August 28, 1963, over 200,000 people peacefully marched between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial to show support of President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights and to bring widespread public attention to end segregation in public schools and the federal implementation of fair employment practices to prevent job discrimination. The March on Washington was a watershed moment in human rights history that helped to get the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed into law. Organizing an event that large was a formidable task in and of itself, requiring the coordination of grass roots groups to drum up participants and raise the funds to travel to DC. Tackling the issue of handling food for the masses was another issue entirely.
The Chicago Tribune anticipated a bleak sustenance situation. “Tomorrow, should the nation-wide turnout for the march swell from 100,000 demonstrators to 200,000 or more, there may be shortages of food. Even access to portable toilet facilities and to temporary drinking fountains attached to fire hydrants may be at a premium.” March organizers advised participants to bring their own water jugs and two boxed lunches. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apples were recommended as a durable foodstuffs and discouraged anything with mayonnaise as it would spoil in the summer heat.
In New York, volunteers showed up at the Riverside Church at 3:00 AM to make bagged lunches The bagged meal, comprised of a cheese sandwich, mustard, marble cake and an apple, could be purchased by marchers for 50 cents. Working in shifts until 4 in the afternoon, the assembly line crew paused once for a few words from Dr. Robert Spike, director of the Commission on Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches: ”As an act of love, we now dedicate these lunches for the nourishment of thousands who will be coming long distances, at great sacrifice to say with their bodies and souls that we shall overcome.” In all, 5 tons of American cheese went into the 80,000 lunches that were loaded onto refrigerated trucks and shipped down to Washington.
Early reports estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 demonstrators would be in attendance. Fearing unruly behavior, the District of Columbia placed an unprecedented ban on the sale of liquor, beer and wine from 12:00 am on the 28th through the following morning. This extended not just to standalone liquor stores, but to the city’s bars and restaurants. (The only holdout was the House of Representatives cafeteria, which traditionally had beer on the menu and served it on the day of the march. The rest of the city being dry did nothing to boost sales.) The policemen, national guardsmen and others charged with maintaining order were forced to forego their lunch breaks that day and ate boxed lunches while at their posts: two sandwiches, a piece of cake and juice. Rioting did not occur as anticipated.
A mile or so north from the National Mall, on Washington’s U Street, also known as the “Black Broadway,” the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl served people in town for the march. Per the Washington City Paper, Ben’s cofounder Virginia Ali recalls, “I remember the enthusiasm of many people about going down there to march for equal rights and jobs.”
After the day’s scheduled events ended, a delegation of march leaders—which included A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King, Jr.—met with President Kennedy at the White House where they were served tea, coffee, canapes and sandwiches and discussed the prospect of civil rights legislation passing. Kennedy was obviously impressed by demonstration, saying that “the cause of 20,000,000 Negroes has been advanced.”
Activist John Lewis was also in attendance and recounted meeting the president to author Michael Fletcher in an exclusive Smithsonian magazine interview. “He stood in the doorway of the Oval Office and he greeted each one of us, shook each of our hands like a beaming, proud father.” And yet, there were no great dinners or parties to celebrate the day. “I don’t believe as a group that we got together and had a meal,” Lewis recalls. “But some of the young people in SNCC were able to pick up a hamburger, a sandwich here and there, get a soft drink, lemonade. But we were just pleased that everything had gone so well.”
Even the language of dining was used to describe the event. In his response to the march, activist Malcolm X thought that the organizers and the participation of liberal white groups inappropriately toned down the feelings of anger and inequity that initially fueled the gathering. “It had become an outing, a picnic,” he wrote in his 1964 autobiography. “What originally was planned to be an angry riptide, one English newspaper aptly described now as ‘the gentle flood.’”
The New York Times used the same metaphor to describe the day, but saw the situation differently: ”The picnic atmosphere that pervaded much of Wednesday’s march should not be misinterpreted as betokening any lack of determination on the Negro’s part to insist on the rights he has been so long denied. Rather it was an affirmation of his confidence in the efficacy of an appeal to national morality to make true the dreams so eloquently evoked by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the shadow of the Great Emancipator. It is up to all of us to make certain those dreams are not destroyed.”
For more on the 1963 March on Washington, read our oral history from the movers and shakers who made that demonstration a resounding success.
“On the March.” Newsweek. 2 Sept. 1963.
Petersen, Anna. “80,000 Lunches Made here by Volunteers for Washington Marchers.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 1963.
Pakenham, Michael. “Rights Marchers Are Sightseers, Too!” The Chicago Tribune. 29 Aug. 1963.
Rich, James. “1,686 Chicagoans En Route to Washington.” Chicago Tribune. 28 Aug. 1963.
Robertson, Nan. “Capital is Ready for March Today; 100,000 Expected.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 1963.
“The March in Washington.” Time magazine. 30 Aug. 1963.
Wicker, Tom. “President Meets March Leaders.” The New York Times. 29 Aug. 1963.
August 20, 2013
Sake plays as important a role in Japanese food culture as wine does in Europe. Polishing rice kernels into white pearls, converting their starch into sugar with a mold called koji and fermenting the sugar into alcohol has been a commercial trade for more than 2,000 years on the islands of Japan. Today, some Japanese breweries are centuries old, and the culturally ingrained knowledge, the varieties of rice and the generations of tradition embedded in Japanese sake production provide modern brewers with a rock-solid foundation upon which to base their craft.
Yet sake brewing is catching on in the United States and Canada, where there are now about a half-dozen microbreweries, plus a few mid-sized ones.
“Most American sakes are good, well made and clean tasting,” says John Gauntner, a sake educator and writer originally from Ohio and now probably the world’s most sake-savvy non-Japanese citizen. “But in Japanese sake, you tend to get more depth.”
Gauntner describes Japanese sakes as having “layers, and development, and profiles of flavor,” whereas North American sakes “tends to be more one-dimensional.” Gauntner says the lack of a variety of great, sake-specific rice cultivars in America is a major reason sake here has, sometimes, lacked in character.
But American sake is getting better. At True Sake in San Francisco, one of just four sake-only retail shops in America, owner Beau Timken says that until about three years ago the majority of American sake was “uneventful, watery, flat.” For this reason, Timken—whose shop features more than 200 labels—has never carried an American-made sake.
However, American brewers are honing their skills, he says, and it shows in their product—especially that made by the SakeOne brewery in Portland, Oregon.
“Those guys have made huge advances,” Timken says. “Of all the breweries on this continent, SakeOne is probably the best.”
SakeOne’s Momokawa brand has made the strongest impression on Timken, who plans to begin featuring it soon. Not only is Momokawa good, Timken adds; it’s also affordable—about $13 a bottle. Most imported sake, on the other hand, costs upwards of $30 per 720-milliliter bottle (a standard Japanese size).
“Sake is freaking expensive,” he says, noting, too, that the price on Japanese bottles has been escalating in recent years due to economic instability. “I need value in my shop, and that’s where the locally made sake is gaining.”
Timken also applauds Sho Chiku Bai, made in Berkeley by the Takara sake company, a satellite branch of a Japanese sake brewing corporation. A bottle of the Sho Chiku Bai “junmai classic”—Takara’s entry-level sake—goes for $6.50. The brand includes several other styles, and Timken may be selling them “down the road,” he says—but Momokawa is first in line.
Other experts have been similarly impressed by America’s expanding sake culture. Chris Johnson, a certified sake sommelier in New York City who goes by the industry nickname The Sake Ninja, notes that Japan has 2,500 years of collective sake-making experience, compared with about 25 years in the United States. Yet, “American sake is getting extremely good,” says Johnson, who also names Momokawa as the best, and most affordable, American brand available.
Another brewery of note, according to Johnson, is Moto-I, a restaurant in Minneapolis that operates like a brewpub, with draft house-made sake sold onsite. Unfortunately, the sake—an unpasteurized style called namazake—is only available to the restaurant’s patrons.
Johnson also commends the Texas Sake Company, whose bottles are currently only available within Texas but will soon be distributed in New York City. The sake produced here is very all-American, made with local rice and Texas flair. Brewer Yoed Anis uses a unique rice cultivar called shinriki, introduced from Japan to Texas in the early 1900s. Anis barely polishes the kernels before fermentation—a diversion from the traditional approach of milling away at least 30 percent, and sometimes more than 50 percent, of the rice kernel’s outer layers before brewing. The outer layers of a rice kernel contain oils and fats that can produce what some call “off flavors,” and, generally, the more milling of the rice, the cleaner-tasting—and more expensive—the sake.
“By leaving some of that outer layer of the rice, we retain the character of the rice, rather than just getting pure starch and pure sugar,” Anis explains. He adds that Japanese brewers frequently brew to a higher alcohol percentage—18 or 20—then cut it down with water, further clarifying both taste and appearance. Anis, however, brews to about 15 percent and keeps it there—no water added.
Johnson says Anis’ method makes for heavy, robust aromatics—a great complement to local cuisine.
“He’s got a really rustic flavor that pairs well to the barbecued foods of the Texas area,” Johnson says.
Another brewer, Jonathan Robinson of Ben’s American Sake in Asheville, North Carolina, has said he plans to age sake in bourbon barrels.
“That would be a very untraditional style, but it could be an amazing thing,” Johnson notes. “That flavor profile might really work well.”
But Rick Smith, who, with his wife, owns and operates the Sakaya sake shop in Manhattan, says he remains relatively unimpressed by North American sake. He has tasted countless sakes and he says those made in Japan tend to have complexity, subtleties and nuances absent in sake from America and Canada, where at least two facilities are now in operation. Like Timken at San Francisco’s True Sake, Smith has never carried an American brand. But unlike Timken, Smith has no plans to start carrying them. Smith believes that North American brewers lack the collective knowledge and the quality of ingredients necessary to making great sake.
“American sake is in its infancy,” he says. “To compare it to Japanese sake is like comparing an embryo to a fully grown adult.” Smith says American and Canadian brewers regularly offer him samples to taste—and he is open to the possibility that, someday, one of them “will walk in here with a sake that amazes me.”
Sake is a beverage with a unique set of flavor components. SakeOne recently produced a copyrighted sake-tasting aroma wheel—a concept innovated years ago as a vocabulary-inducing tool for wine tasting. Listed around the perimeter of the sake wheel are such aromas and flavors as steamed rice, wet leaves, pine, green tea, celery, hay and ginger. Many newcomers to sake, Timken points out, don’t like the stuff at first taste.
“Sake is like tequila that way,” he says. “Everyone has had a bad one, and instead of saying, ‘Sake isn’t for me,’ you need to give it a second chance.”
So, what style should one serve to a party of sake skeptics? Timken suggests going with a nigori sake, that aromatic style often served in sushi bars, unfiltered and cloudy white. “Nigori is easy, sweet and creamy,” he says. “Everyone loves it.”
And if you want a deal, buy American. Timken recommends the nigori sakes from Sho Chiku Bai. Momokawa also makes a nigori.
“But nigori is really just a stepping stone to filtered sake, which is drier, more complex and subtle,” Timken adds.
Johnson says he is open to the idea of sake-based cocktails—often called “sake-tinis”—as a vehicle for introducing the concept and flavors of sake to newcomers. The goal, of course, is to have them eventually drinking pure, unadulterated sake. Smith, meanwhile, suggests going big and knocking a newbie’s socks off with the Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo. A bottle of this clean and clear Japanese sake is $37, which Smith says “is relatively inexpensive for top-of-the-line sake.”
He adds, “And if you pay $100 for a bottle, you’ll get something really amazing.”
August 13, 2013
The science is pretty sound that carrots, by virtue of their heavy dose of Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), are good for your eye health. A 1998 Johns Hopkins study, as reported by the New York Times, even found that supplemental pills could reverse poor vision among those with a Vitamin A deficiency. But as John Stolarczyk knows all too well as curator of the World Carrot Museum, the truth has been stretched into a pervasive myth that carrots hold within a super-vegetable power: improving your night-time vision. But carrots cannot help you see better in the dark any more than eating blueberries will turn you blue.
“Somewhere on the journey the message that carrots are good for your eyes became disfigured into improving eyesight,” Stolarczyk says. His virtual museum, 125 pages full of surprising and obscure facts about carrots, investigates how the myth became so popular: British propaganda from World War II.
Stolarczyk is not confident about the exact origin of the faulty carrot theory, but believes that it was reinforced and popularized by the Ministry of Information, an offshoot of a subterfuge campaign to hide a technology critical to an Allied victory.
During the 1940 Blitzkrieg, the Luftwaffe often struck under the cover of darkness. In order to make it more difficult for the German planes to hit targets, the British government issued citywide blackouts. The Royal Air Force were able to repel the German fighters in part because of the development of a new, secret radar technology. The on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI), first used by the RAF in 1939, had the ability to pinpoint enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel. But to keep that under wraps, according to Stolarczyk’s research pulled from the files of the Imperial War Museum, the Mass Observation Archive, and the UK National Archives, the Ministry provided another reason for their success: carrots.
In 1940, RAF night fighter ace, John Cunningham, nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”, was the first to shoot down an enemy plane using AI. He’d later rack up an impressive total of 20 kills—19 of which were at night. According to “Now I Know” writer Dan Lewis, also a Smithsonian.com contributor, the Ministry told newspapers that the reason for their success was because pilots like Cunningham ate an excess of carrots.
The ruse, meant to send German tacticians on a wild goose chase, may or may not have fooled them as planned, says Stolarczyk.
“I have no evidence they [the Germans] fell for it, other than that the use of carrots to help with eye health was well ingrained in the German psyche. It was believed that they had to fall for some of it,” Stolarczyk wrote in an email as he reviewed Ministry files for his upcoming book, tentatively titled How Carrots Helped Win World War II. “There are apocryphal tales that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots, as they thought there was some truth in it.”
Whether or not the Germans bought it, the British public generally believed that eating carrots would help them see better during the citywide blackouts. Advertisements with the slogan “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout” (like the one pictured below) appeared everywhere.
But the carrot craze didn’t stop there—according to the Food Ministry, when a German blockade of food supply ships made many resources such as sugar, bacon and butter unavailable, the war could be won on the “Kitchen Front” if people changed what they ate and how they prepared it. In 1941, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, emphasized the call for self-sustainability in the garden:
“This is a food war. Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping. The battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden. Isn’t an hour in the garden better than an hour in the queue?”
That same year, the British Ministry of Food launched a Dig For Victory Campaign which introduced the cartoons ”Dr. Carrot” and “Potato Pete”, to get people to eat more of the vegetables (bread and vegetables were never on the ration during the war). Advertisements encouraged families to start “Victory Gardens” and to try new recipes using surplus foods as substitutes for those less available. Carrots were promoted as a sweetener in desserts in the absence of sugar, which was rationed to eight ounces per adult per week. The Ministry’s “War Cookery Leaflet 4″ was filled with recipes for carrot pudding, carrot cake, carrot marmalade and carrot flan. Concoctions like “Carrolade” made from rutabagas and carrots emerged from other similar sources.
Citizens regularly tuned into radio broadcasts like “The Kitchen Front“, a daily, five-minute BBC program that doled out hints and tips for new recipes. According to Stolarczyk, the Ministry of Food encouraged so much extra production of the vegetable that by 1942, it was looking at 100,000 ton surplus of carrots.
Stolarczyk has tried many of the recipes including Woolton Pie (named for Lord Woolton), Carrot Flan and Carrot Fudge. Carrolade, he says, was one of the stranger ideas.
“The Ministry of Food had what I call a ‘silly ideas’ section where they threw out crazy ideas to see what would stick—this was one of those,” he says. “At the end of the day, the people were not stupid. If it tasted horrible, they tended to shy away.”
Dr. Carrot was everywhere—radio shows, posters, even Disney helped out. Hank Porter, a leading Disney cartoonist designed a whole family based on the idea of Dr. Carrot—Carroty George, Pop Carrot and Clara Carrot—for the British to promote to the public.
Dr. Carrot and Carroty George had some competition in the U.S., however—from wise-guy carrot-chomping Bugs Bunny, born around the same time. While Bugs served his own role in U.S. WWII propaganda cartoons, the connection between his tagline, “What’s up Doc?,” and the UK’s “Dr. Carrot” is probably just a coincidence.