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But ik am oold, me list not pley for age,
Gras tyme is doon, my fodder is now forage;
This white top writeth myne olde yeris;
Myn herte is also mowled as myne heris,
But if I fare as dooth an open-ers 
That ilke fruyt is ever lenger the wers, 
Til it be roten in mullok or in stree. 
We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be roten kan we nat be rype;
We hoppen alwey whil the world wol pype.

Here, in the Prologue to The Reeve’s Tale, Chaucer rhymes open-ers (the medlar) with worse, Think of that name for the Irish or Scottish Gaelic language, Erse. Well, maybe you need to be from Scotland to get the full flavor of this fruit’s name, since that is indeed how we pronounce “ass”, anglice “arse”.

BBC Future has an extensive story about the medlar, formerly given that purgative moniker.

As Will Bonsall tells us at Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, the medlar “is a typical pome, with an apple-like core containing five or more hard seeds, each about the size of a large corn kernel. With large and persistent sepals, it reminds me of a rosehip crossed with a crab apple.”

The fruit, which needs to rot before it can be enjoyed, has fallen out of favor: it’s a tough sell for a supermarket or a fruiterer to say “Don’t eat these till they are rotten”. The word used for this rotting process, to blet was imported in 1835 from the French where blet, slightly disappointingly, means simply over-ripe. General opinion, including the Oxford English Dictionary, seems to be that the name originates in the physical shape of the fruit. This looks rather unlikely to my common-sensical eye. I’d bet the fruit’s naming relates to the fact that if you eat it before it is properly rotted you’ll get violent diarrhoea. On the other hand, the OED does give as one seventeenth-century slang meaning for the medlar “The female genitals. Also: a prostitute; a disreputable woman.” Shakespeare is quoted twice. So there’s one in the common-sensical eye for me. I guess demand for euphemisms is well established.

The medlar has been used as a metaphor for the transience of beauty, in a sort of “gather ye rosebuds while ye may” sort of way: Women are like medlars, no sooner ripe but rotten”, writes Thomas Dekker in The Honest Whore. Chaucer’s reeve has it the other way — old men are no use until they are rotten, by which time it’s no doubt too late.

I can’t think why medlar is a word I know. Maybe it’s because the Government encouraged us during World War II to go out and forage for medlars. The tree is grown in English gardens for its seasonally changing colors. I would like to try a medlar, despite the alleged opinion of some medieval writer that “the medlar is not . . . worth a turd until it’s ripe, and then it tastes like shit”.

Jennifer WIlliams aims to give away 1 million books to people in Danville, Virginia. Since she started in 2017 she’s managed to give away more than 63,000 books already. It’s not altogether clear how this initiative is funded, though Ms Williams does receive occasional book donations from neighbors. (What about a generous publisher with a hurts problem?) CNN‘s story comes via BookRiot.

Apparently this sort of philanthropy is catching. CNN links to another story this one about an 8-year-old in Atlanta who’s targeting 2 million book give-aways.

In a recent post I mentioned The Economist‘s story about Alt-Steak™, a 3-D printed plant-based meat described in more detail in this story from Foodnavigator.

The originator, Redefine Meat, may or may not, I suppose, have used real bits of meat in this photo introducing their website, but surely we have a right to expect these steaks to have been printed, not bought at the local butchers. Burgers would obviously be simpler to manage. However competitor Nova Meat‘s illustration isn’t exactly calculated to get the juices flowing. Redefine Meat claims to have digitally mapped “more than 70 sensorial parameters into [their] Alt Steak product. These include the texture, juiciness, fat distribution and mouthfeel of ‘premium beef cuts’.”

In a way you can think of a 3-D printer as analogous to an icing bag — squirt out a stream of sugary goop and spell out Happy Birthday in a sort of bas-relief. All you need to print your dinner is the extrusion nozzle, the capability of cooking the result, and, the hard part, the right bags of ingredients reduced to viscous form. Sounds delicious! In an article entitled 3D Printed Food: All You Need to Know in 2021, All3DP brings a comprehensive account of the field of food printing. The technology is already there: apparently we’ve had a pizza making/vending machine since 2015. It works from “real” ingredients, but squirts them out in sequence. You can buy a 3-D printer that’ll handle food for about $4,000, so what’s holding me back? “Back in 2016, two world-class chefs created a new restaurant concept in London, named Food Ink. The idea at first was just to serve 3D printed dishes, but eventually, they went as far as having only 3D printed furniture in the restaurant. Food Ink is a traveling restaurant currently on a world tour.” The tour must facing quarantining problems one would imagine.

This fairly frantic video shows the concept. I bet the salad garnish wasn’t printed. When you think about it gnocchi, which I think I see being served are already sort of 3-D printed — viscous material squirted out of a nozzle; it’s just now being done more flashily.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this blog post in order to view it in your browser.

Cheese should be relatively easy to print one would imagine, and when I saw a tweet (from Francis Chouquet) showing this Cheese Printer I was filled with hope that it was going to be another 3-D printing initiative: I do look forward to being able to print out a full three course meal some day soon!

Disappointingly the Cheese Printer turns out to involve just printing an image onto a slice of cheese. Even more disappointingly it turns out to be one of a series of joke boxes in which you can wrap a gift for your comedy-starved buddies: the little printer illustrated doesn’t actually exist. Maybe the handier among us could adapt a laser printer. Surprisingly there’s a large selection of prank gift boxes at Amazon, something I’d never dreamt of.

A cartoon by Harry Bliss, from his tweet.

LitHub brings this quiz involving recognizing quotations from 100 works. Their headline describes them as “the 100 most famous passages in literature”. OK. Many of them no doubt are, but the definition of famous may have to wander about a little for this to be really so across the entire one hundred. Each no doubt is famous in its own line.

Printing Impressions brings us a comprehensive story about printing on wood. In the past this has been an expensive process, involving high set-up costs, including normally the engraving of a gravure cylinder. Furthermore the gravure system limited the pattern repeat to the diameter of the gravure roll. Digital printing frees us from these restrictions and also enables us to print 3-dimensional patterning. By reducing the set-up cost so much, digital printing allows for the production of very short runs, almost customized printing.

The Economist recently ran a story about the use of engineered timber in construction. By laminating different types of wood together you can create a material with incredible strength. So strong that we now see that it can be used to construct multi-storey buildings. The proposed River Beech Tower in Chicago will, at 228 metres (about 748 feet), be the world’s tallest wooden building. The current record, a mere 85 metres, is held by the Mjøstårnet building in Norway (below).

The manufacture of two of our most common building materials, steel and concrete, generate around 8% of the world’s anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions. But when trees grow they take carbon out of the atmosphere, locking it up in their wood. Wood construction keeps that carbon there. Engineered timber with its different layers can be designed to meet the requirements of specific components and it will have fire resistance engineered in. Clearly this material which is prefabricated into larger units in the factory could also be printed to give it any appearance we want — chose your wallpaper pattern before your walls are constructed.

Here’s Michael Ramage of the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge talking about the idea:

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post to view it in your browser,

At the other end of the telescope I was struck by another story from The Economist, telling us about The Baltimore Wood Project. The wood used in the nineteenth century building boom in Baltimore was old-growth, and is thus stronger and better-looking than our current wood-farmed product. Great to be able to reuse a lot of it.

In a quantum leap down this alternative-approaches rabbit hole The Economist, ever alert to 3-D printing developments, tells us this week about Alt-Steak™, a 3-D printed plant-based meat. Here’s the story from Foodnavigator. The originator, Redefine Meat, worked with “leading butchers, chefs and food technologists — as well as leveraging ‘close collaboration’ with flavors expert Givaudin — to digitally map more than 70 sensorial parameters into its Alt Steak product. These include the texture, juiciness, fat distribution and mouthfeel of ‘premium beef cuts’.” Apparently the Alt-Steak will be road-tested in “high-end restaurants” later this year. Can’t wait to test those sensorial parameters. Goodbye methane!


Today is the deadline for signing up for the 20th February virtual Trivia Night, part of the ABA’s Winter Institute. The $5 entry fee goes to benefit Binc, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. You’ll need Zoom to participate and the organizers will assign you to team.

Sign up here.

To mark Burns’ night here’s a game from The Scottish Book Trust, via Shelf Awareness for Readers.

I’m always saying nobody outside America calls him Rabbie, but I guess I’m hereby proved wrong!

The Wine Society advises us that RLS called wine “bottled poetry”. They provide a few literary wine references. No doubt you can come up with others.

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
Paulo CoelhoBrida

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

“Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.”
Marguerite YourcenarMemoirs of Hadrian

“The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.”
François RabelaisGargantua & Pantagruel

“I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.”
Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
W.B. Yeats

“. . . There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’”
Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I often wondered what Hippocrene was — though clearly not enough to look it up: it would appear that the dull brain perplexes and retards in this context too. (It’s actually a spring on Mount Helicon, sacred apparently to the muses.)

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

As far as I can discover Hippocrene doesn’t actually bubble forth in the form of red wine as Keats seems to imply.

If you want to get in on this book/wine, wine/book thing, maybe you (if female) could join the Book & Wine Club. They say they have groups in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Portland, Raleigh, and Toronto. I would imagine their activities are a bit restricted just now though.

We’ve been down this road before. The Guardian reports on the mistakes on a new British £2 coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of H. G. Wells’ death.

The top hat on the invisible man isn’t supported by Wells’ words. He is described as wearing “a wide brimmed hat”. The space ships in The War of the Worlds are referred to as tripods: last time I looked a tripod had three legs not four. The designer of the coin, Chris Costello, responds “The characters in War of the Worlds have been depicted many times, and I wanted to create something original and contemporary. My design takes inspiration from a variety of machines featured in the book – including tripods and the handling machines which have five jointed legs and multiple appendages. The final design combines multiple stories into one stylized and unified composition that is emblematic of all of H.G. Well’s [sic] work and fits the unique canvas of a coin.” OK?

In the picture of the coins above you can’t see the inspiring quotation around the edge of the coin, “Good books are warehouses of ideas”, but apparently Wells never wrote it. He did in an early work, Select Conversations With an Uncle (Now Extinct) and Two Other Reminiscences, have a character who said, ironically, “Good books are the warehouses of ideals”, which was where he wanted them to stay. Just because googling QuoteFancy, QuoteMaster, etc. tells you that H. G. Wells said “Good books are warehouses of ideas” doesn’t unfortunately make it true.

A similar Royal Mint mess-up arose over the Jane Austen £10 note, which was printed with the quote, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” – a line spoken not by Austen but by her character Caroline Bingley, a book-hater who was also being ironic. At least in that case they did quote the inappropriate line correctly. You’d think these guys would learn that it might be a good idea to consult some expert on matters other than die stamping.