This is a two-fer. Don’t know what a two-fer is? Sure you do: it’s a two ‘fer’ (for) one. Can you tell I spent my formative years in retail? Yep, my claim to fame in high school was head Pamper stacker, a graduate of H.E.B. U. Don’t know what Pampers are? If you’ve had kids you do, and if you haven’t, they’re disposable diapers, and H.E.B. is a grocery store (chain), owned by the Butt family: that’s true.
Where was I? Oh, yes, a two-fer.
I came home today with a couple of gems, one on spuds (that’s potatoes, or potato, in the singular, from the Spanish, patata, variant of the Taino, batata) and the other is, a surprise. Trust me, it really will be. Something maybe nobody has ever thought of, besides maybe me, and quite possibly only interesting to me, but we shall see, shall we?
But more about the potato. Or more specifically, freeze-dried potatoes. Yep, just like the ones moms like mine used to make when they saw commercials in the sixties about meals for twelve cents a serving and thought food made in the wink of an eye, was just the thing for a civilized society. Instant potatoes, I think they were called, on the box. Almost inedible, to my brother and sisters, which I thought just wonderful, as that meant there would always be plenty for me. My secret? Lots of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Yummy!
Why are you telling me about instant potatoes, I can hear you asking, and well you may, so I shall tell you, immediamente, as they say. But now, for some history, and the punch line, to boot: freeze dried spuds are an ancient Peruvian invention, and not a product of NASA, such as Tang, fruit roll-ups, and squirt-able cheese, as you might think. And here’s how.
The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C., of which they developed over a thousand varieties, and still do utilize, even today. But freeze-dried? How did that come to be?
The potato, from the perennial Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The problem with this delicious source of nutrition is their vulnerability, to moisture, and molds and fungus, and other spoilers. So the clever Peruvians would carry their crop of potatoes high into the Andes mountains and let them freeze. Then, after thawing, they would become sort of squidgy and malleable, in a very useful way. This, they would squash into a paste, and smooth it in the sun, over a wide flat rock face. The dried product could then be stored in fired clay pots, almost indefinitely. Add a bit of water, and bring to a boil, and voila! Instant potatoes. (Add pepper and salt, to taste, of course: the Peruvians were an advanced ancient culture, not savages.)
Okay, now for your big surprise, since you made it this far. Have you been waiting, with bated breath? (Short for, ‘abated’, breath: short for ‘shortness of breath’, nifty, nay?) I can tell. Well, wait no longer, your moment has arrived. Listen, my friend, and you shall hear.
I shall amaze you with my forward thinking and ingenuity. You know, if you’ve ever had to paint the outside of your house, or wooden deck, how, by spring, the places where the paint has peeled, and must be repaired and/or re-painted is more than evident, but by springtime, everything is soggy and wet, and the exposed wood is too, and too soft to scrape the old paint off, effectively, so you end up having to wait until the rains have stopped, and the wood has dried sufficiently to be able to paint, and by then, it’s getting (by winter standards) downright hot and sticky, and the black flies are biting, and the no-see-em’s are out for blood, and absolutely making you crazy? (What are no-see-ems? Imagine gnats, in their thousands, swarming, and biting, your ears, neck, and, well, any exposed area, except when you swat them, your hand finds a bloody trickle, lovely. Plus, you can’t see them, generally, hence, the name. Don’t worry about finding them, they find you.) So, anywhoo, here’s my stroke of near genius: winter paint prep. Yep, you heard it here first. Yes, dear friends, no fuss, no muss, no waiting for wet wood, no bleeding neck, and best of all, no sweat.
As to scraping, it’s winter weather that makes the paint peel anyway, with the cold, expansion and contraction have made cracks in the paint, and water has got into those cracks, and when the water freezes, the expanding ice (under the paint) just pushes it away from the wood.
Soooo, what better, on a cold and sunny winter day, than to get the old scraper out, and as they say, make hay? Have I actually tried out my hypothesis, to test my theory? Just got in from outside, now just warming my pinkies over some hot tea. Did it work? Guess.
Only one problem. Dog walkers. Who stare at you as if you were juggling chain saws, instead of scraping your front deck. “Hello there,” I chortle, “lovely weather, innit.” And off they wander, with only the occasional head shake, and pitying look back.
Not to worry though, as a card-carrying member of the much esteemed, ‘Creative Class’ (and, it goes without saying, the Wile E.Coyote aka, ‘super-genius’ Appreciation Society, W.E.C.S.G.A.S., or, ‘Wexgassers’, as we, mirthfully, call ourselves), I’ve grown quite accustomed to that.
~ Tim Burchfield