Sunday, October 10, 2004

Cranberry blog.

It was a cool sunny today, and we went to a “farm” in South Barrington, Ill. – a nursery, really – to buy some pumpkins. The place was insanely crowded, and all sorts of ancillary businesses were up and running, including a snack shop, haunted house, petting zoo, and even camel rides, all overpriced. The pumpkins were fairly reasonable, however, and we even bought some Indian corn. Ann became inordinately fond of it, meaning that it was in serious danger of being destroyed by the forces of toddlerhood, and she wailed something fierce when we took it away for hanging.

My brother Jay writes, regarding last week’s Tibetan food: “In your account of dinner at Tsampa, I noticed that at least two of the items on the menu -- potatoes and cranberries -- are New World plants. Potatoes, of course, are fairly widespread. I hadn't heard that cranberries had made much culinary headway outside of North America, however, especially in such an isolated place as Tibet. Of course, it might be the case of a locally available ingredient replacing some Asian berry either not available at all or too expensive for regular use.

“With that thought in mind, I consulted Mr. Google. ‘Cranberry’ and ‘Tibet,’ I said to him. He suggested that the cranberries might have been standing in for goji berries, described as follows by this web page

‘The taste is difficult to describe... some say between a cranberry and a cherry... others say they taste of licorice... you will have to decide for yourself!’

“This page is from a internet supplier of organic delicacies based in McComb, Ill. Goji berries are available, then, but -- at 18 oz. for $28 American -- they're not cheap. Cranberries are cheaper and might be close enough to achieve the desired effect. Of course, it may simply be that the chef de cuisine at the Tsampa likes cranberries and has assimilated them into his repertoire of Tibetan dishes.

“Or maybe some American missionary to the hill tribes of Assam introduced cranberries to the district in the 19th century, and they're now as Tibetan as Po Cha and Tsampa. With that, I think I'll stop speculating before the matter gets out of hand. A short monograph The Influence of New England Congregationalism on Society and Buddhist Devotional Practices in Thibet and Kham -- was beginning to take shape, more or less unbidden. As well as cranberries, for instance, New Englanders introduced the steam-powered prayer wheel to Tibet.”

I knew a gaijin in Japan who talked of importing cranberry juice into Japan, to sell to high-priced bars as a novelty mixer, but as far as I know, nothing ever came of that scheme. I did read somewhere or other that there’s now a substantial crop of cranberries in Poland (and maybe the Baltics), where the climate and soil are right, and that Europeans were beginning to develop a taste for it. Maybe someday there will be cranberry trade wars between the US and the EU.

As for prayer wheels, I remember some large ones installed at the main temple (whose name I’d have to look up) in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia – a row of a dozen or so of them, available for spinning. People walked down the row and spun them all. But the long lines that day were for spoonfuls of soil that the Dali Lama himself had blessed only days before. Decades of communism hadn’t taken the luster off the Yellow Hat, it seems.


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