“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. 8-12.
D R. BUSHWHACKER folded his napkin, drew it through the silver ring, laid it on the table, folded his arms, leaned back in his chair, by which we knew there was something at work in his knowledge-box. “My dear Madam,” said he, with a Metamora shake of the head, “there are a great many things to be said about that pudding.”
Now, such a remark at a season of the year when eggs are five for a shilling, and not always fresh at that, is enough to discomfort any body. The Doctor perceives it at once, and instantly added, “In a geographical point of view, there are many things to be said about that pudding. My dear madam,” he continued, “take tapioca itself; what is it, and where does it come from?”
Our eldest boy, just emerging from chickenhood, answered, “85 Chambers street, two doors below the Irving House.”
“True, my dear young friend,” responded the Doctor; with a friendly pat on the head; “true, but that is not what I mean. Where,” he repeated, with a questioning look through his spectacles, and a Bushwhackian nod, “does tapioca come from?”9
“Rio de Janeiro and Pará!”
“Yes, sir; from Rio de Janeiro in the southern, and Pará in the northern part of the Brazils, do we get our tapioca; from the roots of a plant called the Mandioca, botanically, the Jatropha manihot, or, as they say, the Cassava. The roots are long and round, like a sweet potato; generally a foot or more in length. Every joint of the plant will produce its roots like the cuttings of a grape-vine. The tubers are dug up from the ground, peeled, scraped, or grated, then put in long sacks of flexible rattan; sacks, six feet long or more, and at the bottom of the sack they suspend a large stone, by which the flexible sides are contracted, and then out pours the cassava-juice in a pan placed below to receive it. This juice is poisonous, sir, highly poisonous, and very volatile. Then, my dear madam, it is macerated in water, and the residuum, after the volatile part, the poison, is evaporated, is the innocuous farina, which looks like small crumbs of bread, and which we call tapioca. The best kind of tapioca comes from Rio, which is, I believe, about five thousand five hundred miles from New York; so we must put down that as a little more than one fifth of our voyage around the pudding.”
This made our eldest open his eyes.
“Eggs and milk,” continued Dr. Bushwhacker, “are home productions; but sugar, refined sugar, is made partly of the moist and sweet yellow sugar of Louisiana, partly of the hard and dry sugar of the West Indies. I 10 will not go into the process of refining sugar now, but I may observe here, that the sugar we get from Louisiana, if refined and made into a loaf, would be quite soft, with large loose crystals, while the Havana sugar, subjected to the same treatment, would make a white cone almost as compact and hard as granite. But we have made a trip to the Antilles for our sugar, and so you may add fifteen hundred miles more for the saccharine.”
“That is equal to nearly one-third of the circumference of the pudding we live upon, Doctor.”
“Vanilla,” continued the Doctor, “with which the pudding is so delightfully flavored, is the bean of a vine that grows wild in the multitudinous forests of Venezuela, New Granada, Guiana, and, in fact, throughout South America. The long pod, which looks like the scabbard of a sword, suggested the name to the Spaniards; vagna, meaning scabbard, from which comes the diminutive vanilla, or little scabbard — appropriate enough, as every one will allow. These beans, which are worth here from six to twenty dollars a pound, could be as easily cultivated as hops in that climate; but the indolence of the people is so great, that not one Venezuelian has been found with sufficient enterprise to set out one acre of vanilla, which would yield him a small fortune every year. No, sir. The poor peons, or peasants, raise their garabanzas for daily use, but beyond that they never look. They plant their crops in the footsteps of their ancestors, and, if it had not been for their ancestors, they would 11 probably have browsed on the wild grass of the llanos or plains. Ah! there are a great many such bobs hanging at the tail of some ancestral kite, even in this great city, my dear, learned friend.”
“True, Doctor, you are right there.”
“Well, sir, the vanilla is gathered from the wild vines in the woods. Off goes the hidalgo, proud of his noble ancestry, and toils home under a back-load of the refuse beans from the trees, after the red monkey has had his pick of the best. A few reals pay him for the day’s work, and then, hey for the cock-pit! There, Signor Olfogie meets the Marquis de Shinplaster, or the Padre Corcorochi, and of course gets whistled out of his earnings with the first click of the gaffs. Then back he goes to his miserable hammock, and so ends his year’s labor. That, sir, is the history of the flavoring, and you will have to allow a stretch across the Caribbean, say twenty-five hundred miles, for the vanilla.
“We are getting pretty well around, Doctor.”
“Then we have sauce, here, wine-sauce; Teneriffe, I should say, by the flavor.”
We must take four thousand miles at least for the wine, my learned friend, and say nothing of the rest of the sauce.”12
“Except the nutmeg, Doctor.”
“Thank you, my dear young friend, thank you. The nutmeg! To the Spice Islands, in the Indian Ocean we are indebted for our nutmegs. Our old original Knickerbockers, the web-footed Dutchmen, have the monopoly of this trade. Every nutmeg has paid toll at the Hague before it yields its aroma to our graters. The Spice Islands! The almost fabulous Moluccas, where neither corn nor rice will grow; where the only quadrupeds they have are the odorous goats that breathe the fragrant air, and the musky crocodiles that bathe in the high-seasoned waters. The Moluccas,
There, sir! Milton, sir. From Ternate and Tidore, and the rest of that marvellous cluster of islands, we get our nutmegs, our mace, and our cloves. Add twelve thousand miles at least to the circumference of the pudding for the nutmeg.”
“This is getting to be a pretty large pudding, Doctor.”
“Yes, sir. We have traveled already twenty-five thousand five hundred miles around it, and now let us re-circumnavigate and come back by the way of Mexico, so that we can get a silver spoon, and penetrate into the interior.”