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Chewing the fat, poisonous tomatoes, bringing home the bacon and other interesting tidbits

April 1, 2010

Crazy Bruno serves us dinner at Le Petit Loup in LaLinde, 2008.

There is an old pub in Marble Arch, London which used to have gallows adjacent.  Prisoners were taken to the gallows (after a fair trial of course) to be hung. The horse drawn dray carting the prisoner was accompanied by an armed guard who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ”one last drink”. If he said “yes” it was referred to as “one for the road”. If he declined, that prisoner was “on the wagon.”

Horse drawn carriage in Vojvodina, Serbia, 1930's

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “piss poor“. But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot they “didn’t have a pot to piss in” & were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be.  Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Tyler and Karla, 1988

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Joy Shuster and Tonya, Sarnia 1963

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Thatched roof

Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “dirt poor.”

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day.

Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: ”Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

Jerry Shuster's house, hanging the bacon

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.  It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.”  They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ”chew the fat”.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning & death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

The famous Poulane bread in Paris

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or ”the upper crust”.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ”holding a wake”.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.  So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be ”saved by the bell ” or was considered a ”dead ringer.”

Do you have older uncles (or aunts!) who mail you things like this frequently?  I certainly do and I love them dearly for it.   If you know the origins of this, please let me know – my uncle sent it to me and I would like to properly attribute it to the right person.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Henock permalink
    April 3, 2010 8:25 am

    These are great. I love these kinds of things. Not only are they fun to read but also a mild history lesson.
    Here is one other:

    In 1919, a champion Thoroughbred racehorse called Man o’ War suffered its first and only defeat to a racehorse called Upset. To this day, when an underdog beats a favorite, it is called an upset.

    Even though I’ve read articles arguing that this story is just a myth, I’m sticking to it because it sounds good.

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