Mrs Malaprop is a fictional character from Richard Sheridan's play The Rivals (1775) who was prone to using the wrong word or transposing letters or syllables to turn common phrases on their head with unexpected—and often humorous—results. It comes, cleverly enough, from mal apropos, Latin for something inappropriate.
For example, my ex-partner Elke tells the story of her Uncle Mickey who (tongue firmly in cheek) was wont to say after splendid repasts at family gatherings, “What a malicious deal.” Although I never met the man, I’m sure I would have liked him. I have a great fondness for word play. Sometimes of course, people don’t mean to be funny, which tends to make it even funnier. Sifting through 35 years of rural living, I want to share today a handful of the accidental acorns that this blind pig has serendipitously stumbled across along the way.
I was reminded of this lighter side of my bucolic heritage while driving home from my regular Wed night bridge game last night (it’s a 45-minute ride, and a person can’t dwell the entire time on how to find a cold small slam with an eight-bagger spade suit headed by the jack and only 22 high card points between himself and partner). Near home I came across a highway sign that a commonplace whenever a stretch of blacktop has just been resurfaced: “Warning: No Center Stripe.” That got me thinking about Joe Pearl & Eva Grover, the couple who inspired Sandhill to go into the sorghum business…
Sorghum looks a lot like corn, only it’s taller and has a seed head instead of an ear. To make syrup you have to squeeze the juice from the stalk. As the stalk has a lot of leaves on it—just like corn—the producer has a choice to make: remove the leaves or not.
The case for stripping the leaves:
—Some claim there’s a trace of bitterness in the juice of the mid-rib of each leaf, which taints the final product as it goes through the rollers in the extraction process.
—If the cane gets wet while harvesting and sits too long before milling, the leaves can mold and spoil the juice.
—If the leaves go through the mill, an appreciable portion of the juice is lost because it’s adhering to the surface of all those leaves.
—You can put more cane on a wagon because you’re not packing all that extraneous vegetative matter. Fewer trips to the field translates to lower fuel costs.
The case against stripping the leaves:
—Some claim you can’t taste the difference between sorghum made from cane that’s been stripped and from cane that hasn’t.
—It takes a gob of labor to remove the leaves.
—It makes the cane more slippery on the wagon and more apt to slide off if the stackers or tractor driver are not sufficiently careful in the loading or hauling (as much fun as harvesting is, picking up the same wagon load of cane twice is overrated).
In any event, Joe Pearl had a definite opinion about this. While he was happy to mill and cook sorghum for neighbors who’d grown their own cane (custom milling is a traditional practice in small towns throughout the Midwest and South), he posted this sign in front of his mill:
No Striped Cane
Apparently, he preferred to only work with the monochromatic kind. I always wondered what a spectacular view it would make if it were possible to grow a field of cane that looked like 12-foot barber poles. Kind of like a real-life version of Candy Land.
One warm day, after Jo Pearl was sweaty from having labored many hours over a vat of boiling sorghum, we approached him to get his opinion on whether the uncooked juice had soured. He deferred, admitting, “I don’t smell too good.” While he was right in more ways than he meant, we let it pass.
Posted: Trespassers Will Be Violated
Deliverance anyone? While I thought that was a little harsh, at least they were up front about it. With alacrity (could I hear “Dueling Banjos” in the background?), I put the gear shift into reverse and backed away safely.
Kick Inflation in the Bud!
Who knows, maybe it was Be Mean to Plants Month.
Just last week, Communities Editor Chris Roth caught this gaffe of mine in the closing of an email communication I wrote suggesting an idea for an article. Going a little bit too fast, I had typed:
Your sin stirring the pot,
To which Chris riposted “By the way, I think you left either a colon, a question mark, or both a colon and question mark out of the closing salutation. I've heard that about certain grains (while with others, it's essential).” Touché!