“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 13-19.
W E begin to think there is wisdom in Dr. Bushwhacker. “There are other things to study geography from, besides maps and globes,” is one of his favorite maxims. We begin to believe it. “Observe, my learned friend,” said he, “how the reflected sunshine from those cut bottles in the castor-stand, throws long plumes of light in every direction across the white damask.” We leaned forward, and saw the phenomenon pointed out by the index-finger of the Doctor, and as we knew something was coming from his pericranics, kept silent of course. “Well,” said he, inflating his lips until his face looked like that of a cast-iron caryatid, “well, my dear friend, every pencil of light there is a point of the compass, and the contents of that castor come from places as various as those diverging rays indicate. The mustard is from England, the vinegar from France, China furnishes the soy, Italy the oil, we have to ask the West Indies to contribute the red pepper, and the East Indies to supply the black pepper.” We ventured to remark that those facts we were not ignorant of, by any means. “True, my dear friend,” said the Doctor, with a sort of snort; “but God bless me! if one-half of the 14 people in this city know it.” “Mustard,” continued Doctor Bushwhacker, not at all discomfited, “comes from Durham, in the north of England — that is, the best quality. The other productions of this county do not amount to much, nor is it celebrated for any thing, except that here the Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward the Third, captured David Bruce, King of Scots, for which reason no Scotchman can eat Durham mustard except with tears in his eyes. We get our grindstones from this English county, my learned friend; and when you sharpen your knife or your appetite hereafter, it will remind you of Durham. That long pencil of light from the next bottle points to France, where they make the best wine-vinegar we get. Just observe the differences between that sturdy, pot-bellied mustard-bottle, which represents John Bull, and this slender, sharp, vinegar-cruet, which represents Johnny Crapeau; there is a national distinction, sir, in cruets as well as men. The quantity of vinegar made in France is very great. The best comes from Bordeaux; sometimes it is so strong that the Frenchmen call it ‘vinaigre des trois dents,’ or vinegar with three teeth; but the finest flavored vinegar I ever met with came from Portugal, and for a salad, nothing could equal its delicate aroma. Well, sir, then there is the red-pepper, the Cayenne; that I presume is from Jamaica?”
“The best and strongest kind is made partly of the bird pepper, and partly of the long-pod pepper of the West 15 Indies. This is a very healthy condiment, sir; in the tropics it is indispensable. There is a maxim there, sir, that people who eat Cayenne pepper will live for ever. Like variety, it is the spice of life, sir, at the equator. Our own gardens, sir, furnish capsicum, and in fact it grows in all parts of the world; but that from the West Indies is esteemed to be the best, and I think with justice. Now, sir, the next pencil of light is reflected from the Yellow Sea!”
“The soy, Doctor?”
“The soy, my learned friend; the best fish-sauce on the face of the globe. The soy, sir, or ‘soya,’ as the Japanese call it, is a species of bean, which would grow in this country as well as any other Chinese plant. Few Chinamen eat anything without a mixture of this bean-jelly in some shape or other. They scald and peel the beans, then add an equal quantity of wheat or barley, then the mess is allowed to ferment, then they add a little salt, sometimes tumeric for color, water is added also, in the proportion of three to one of the mass, and after a few months’ repose the soy is pressed, strained, and ready for market. That, sir, is the history of that cruet, and now we will pass on to the black pepper.”
“A glass of wine first, Doctor, if you please.”
“Thank you, my dear friend; bless me, how dry I am.
“Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is the berry of a vine that grows in Sumatra and Ceylon, but our principal 16 supply of this commonest of condiments comes from the Island of Java; and we have to pay our web-footed Knickerbockers, across the water, a little toll upon that, as we do upon many other things of daily consumption. The pepper-vine is a very beautiful plant, with large, oval, polished leaves and showy white-flowers, that would look beautiful if wound around the head of a bride.”
“No doubt, Doctor, but I think the less pepper about a bride the better.”
“Good, my learned friend; you are right; if I were to get married again, sir,” continued the Doctor in a very hearty manner, “I should be a little afraid of the contact of piper nigrum.”
“What is white pepper, Doctor?”
“White pepper is the same, sir, as black pepper, only it is decorticated, that is, the black husk has been rubbed off. Now, sir, there is not much else interesting about pepper, except that the best probably comes from the kingdom of Bantam; and the quantity, formerly exported from the seaport of that name in the Island of Java, amounted, sir, to ten thousand tons annually; a good seasonable supply of seasoning for the world, sir. Well, sir, we are also indebted to Bantam for a very small breed of fowls, the peculiar use of which no philosopher has as yet been able to determine. Now, sir, we have finished the castor, I think?”
“There is one point of light, Doctor, that indicates Italy; what of the oil?”17
“Ah! Lucca and Parma! Indeed, sir, I may say, France, Spain, and Italy!
The olive, sir. I remember something from my school-boy days about that. It is from Pliny’s History of Nature, sir. (Liber XV.) The olive in the western world was the companion, sir, as well as the symbol of peace. Two centuries after the foundation of Rome, both Italy and Africa were strangers to this useful plant. It was naturalized in those countries, sir, and at length carried into the heart of Spain and Gaul. The timid errors of the ancients, that it required a certain degree of heat, and could not flourish in the neighborhood of the sea, were insensibly exploded by industry and experience. There, sir! But the timid errors of the ancients are not more surprising than the timid errors of the moderns. The olive tree should be as common here as it is in the old world, especially as it is the emblem of peace. My old friend, Dominick Lynch, sir, the wine-merchant, the only great wine-merchant we ever had, sir, imported the finest oil, sir, from Lucca, known even to this day as ‘Lynch’s Oil.’ He it was who made Château Margaux and the Italian opera, popular, sir, in this great metropolis. Poor Dom! Well, sir, I suppose you know all about the olive tree?”
“On the contrary, very little.”18
“Well, the olive is as easily propagated as the willow. You must go boldly to work, however, and cut off a limb of the tree, as big as my arm, and plant that. No twig, sir. In three years it will bear; in five years it will have a full crop; in ten years it will be in perfection. If you plant a slip, it will take twenty years or more to mature. Its mode of bearing is biennial, and you can prune it every other year, and plant the cuttings. Longworth ought to take up the olive, sir; and he might have a wreath to put around his head, as he deserves. Well, my learned friend, when the olive is ripe — the fruit I mean — it is of a deep violet color. Those we get in bottles are plucked while they are green. The plums are put between two circular mill-stones — the upper one convex, the lower one concave; the fruit is thus crushed, and afterward put into a press, and the oil is extracted by means of a powerful lever. That is all, sir; an oil-press is not a very handsome article to look at; but in the South, I think it would be serviceable at least; butter there is not always of the best quality in summer; and olive oil would be a delightful substitute.”
“What of French and Spanish oil, Doctor?”
“Spanish oil is very good, sir. So is French; we get little of the Italian oil now. The oil of Aix, near Marseilles, is of superior quality; but that does not come to our market. Lately I have used the oil of Bordeaux in place of the Italian; it is very fine. But speaking of olive oil, let me tell you an anecdote of my friend Godey, 19 of Philadelphia, of the Ladies’ Book, sir, the best hearted man of that name in the world. Well, sir, Godey had a new servant-girl; I never knew any body that didn’t have a new servant-girl! Well, sir, Godey had a dinner-party in early spring, when lettuce is a rarity, and of course he had lettuce. He is a capital hand at a salad, and so dressed it. The guests ate it; and — sir — well, sir, I must hasten to the end of the story. Said Godey to the new girl next morning: ‘What has become of that bottle of castor-oil I gave you to put away yesterday morning?’ ‘Sure,’ said she, ‘you said it was castor-oil and I put it in the castor.’ “Well,’ said Godey, ‘I thought so.’ ”