2010.12.22 Getting to the root of the issue

Written by David Green.


While walking through town today I noticed the preponderance of homes with multiple Christmas trees. At some houses there’s a tree for every window.

I find this bewildering, not because my house still lacks a tree in any window, but because it makes me think about the effort needed to get all the trees out of storage and to decorate them and then to de-decorate them and put it all away again—for every single tree in the house.

I’m not being critical. I really don’t mind at all. I’m just truly bewildered. I haven’t yet made the time to erect one tree, and yet some people have done it repeatedly.

When the kids were home at Thanksgiving, son-in-law Taylor said something about expecting to see the upside-down tree when he returned for Christmas. I suppose that might happen.

It started two or three years ago when the females of the house were vacationing in December and it was up to me to make the place Christmasy before they returned.

I envisioned a moving tree and I hung our spindly artificial embarrassment upside down, suspended by twine so it would swing. It’s really about the only thing that can be done with the tree; it looks a little pitiful standing right side up.

When I see it suspended, it gives the appearance of being uprooted, and that’s why I was thinking about it today when I read a food article called “Down Under.” It wasn’t about Australian cuisine, as I suspected. It’s about eating roots.

The writer, Jane Kramer, introduces the topic by suggesting that a vegetable worth its weight in daughters must be a dangerous vegetable indeed. She’s talking about a radishy-tasting taproot that the Germans call rapunzel. You remember the story of the girl with the long, golden hair—traded for roots.

Kramer next writes about the mandrake, with a root that has some resemblance to the human form. It’s said to scream with pain when it’s pulled from the ground, and the sound drives the digger crazy.

The first century Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote that there’s only one safe way to harvest mandrake: Tie your dog to the plant and walk away. Let your dog suffer the consequences.

Kramer isn’t eating rapunzel and mandrake. She’s making friends with parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, celeriac and daikon radish.

Some root vegetables are classified as true roots (the taproot of the rutabaga) and others are storage roots such as the sweet potato. Modified stem roots include water chestnut, cattail and potato, while bulbs such as garlic and onion also make the cut, as far as botanists are concerned.

The mention of potato brings to mind some startling information from Kramer. Maybe the theological opposition to the potato is common knowledge to a student of religion, but I was totally surprised.

Early visitors to North America returned with potatoes after the Reformation when God-fearing vegetables were those that grew from seeds. Hard-working Christians raised their food through the sweat of their brow. They didn’t simply bury pieces of potato and wait a few months for them to grow. That was the “lazy root” or, as it was called in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Devil’s root.

Potatoes were something Catholics ate, and 200 years later when Ireland suffered through the great potato blight, well, tough luck because they brought it on themselves with their slothful agriculture.

Kramer tells that carrots were always purple until the 17th century when the Dutch introduced a new orange variety. She points out that the inferior yam hails from Africa and the mighty sweet potato comes from South America.

To really experience roots, I suppose you need to go out and try digging up some burdock. That should firmly connect you to the underground.

Kramer’s article has made it clear to me how I must decorate my up-rooted Christmas tree. I need festive strands of garlic and bulbs made of parsnip and red potato. A big daikon radish would look good on top (actually the bottom), and when the season is over, we’ll have the fixings for a wonderful New Year stew.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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