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‘Potboilers’ reap quick cash for authors

SHARE ‘Potboilers’ reap quick cash for authors

Aug. 28, Monday — St. Augustine of Hippo. Elizabeth Ann Seton born, 1774.

Aug. 29, Tuesday — New moon. Charlie "Bird" Parker born, 1920. Oliver Wendell Holmes born, 1809.

Aug. 30, Wednesday — The B&O Railroad discontinued the use of horse-powered locomotives, 1830.

Aug. 31, Thursday — Moon on equator. Major earthquake hit Charlestown, S.C., 1886.

Sept. 1, Friday — Wreckage of Titanic found, 1985. Los Angeles hits 110 degrees F, 1955.

Sept. 2, Saturday — Great Fire of London, 1666. V-J Day, 1945. Scoop Jackson died, 1983.

Sept. 3, Sunday — Treaty of Paris ended Revolutionary War, 1783. Vince Lombardi died, 1970.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: What is the origin of the summer reading term, "potboilers," as it relates to books? — M. C., White Sulphur Springs, Mont.

Answer: If your summer's reading includes some lowly romances or mysteries of dubious quality from a prolific writer, then you may have purchased potboilers. From the age-old expression for keeping the pot boiling, or providing a very basic meal of whatever edibles were left in the larder, potboilers keep us going when there's nothing else to be had. Even great writers penned potboilers, sometimes, to keep the wolf at bay and the pantry filled when the muse was absent. Films and other forms of artwork, produced hastily to provide quick money to the artist, may also be labeled potboilers. And, as with any good stew, sometimes the potboiler — regardless of its overall literary or artistic value — is just what we crave most.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: Have scientists confirmed that our weather is getting warmer, or is there still debate about this? — R.P., Texarkana, Ark.

Answer: In May 1999, British and American scientists published the results of their studies that showed the annual global surface temperature has risen 1.03 degrees F over the past 136 years, making the 20th century the warmest one of the last millennium. Further, scientists and the government weather agencies of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA concluded that the 1990s were the warmest decade within the 20th century and 1998 the warmest year within that decade. Just what does it all means? That part, for sure, is still in debate.

On June 12 of this year, a Reuters news report published preliminary results on a possible global warming trend put together by a panel of experts that included representatives from Carnegie Mellon University, Glaxo Wellcome Inc., Harvard University, NOAA, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the World Bank. The "landmark report" assessed "the impact of a 5 to 10 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperatures on U.S. agriculture, forestry, fishing and other sectors by 2100." According to the report (which some reviewers criticized as "alarmist"), Americans can expect increasing extremes in weather, especially in tourist attraction areas along the U.S. coasts and in the Rocky Mountains. (To view the draft report, see www.gcrio.org/nationalassessment/overview.html. Even this most recent report is fraught with controversy however, so the debate continues! No one can resist arguing about the weather.

Ask The Old Farmer's Almanac: I read that housewives used to add marigolds to butter. Why? — F. P., Arlington, N.J.

Answer: Marigolds helped to color the butter and possibly added some Vitamin A. In E. Smith's book, "The Compleat Housewife: Or Accomplish'd Gentlewoman's Companion" (1753), she wrote: "Any morning in September take twenty quarts of new milk warm from the cow, and colour it with marigolds; when this is done, and the milk not cold get ready a quart of cream and a quart of fair water which must be kept stirring over the fire till it is scalding hot, then stir it well into the milk and rennet, as you do other cheese; when it come, lay cheese-cloths over it, and settle it with your hands; the more hands the better; as the whey rises, take it away, and when it is clean gone, put your curd into your fat, breaking it as little as you can; then put it in the press and press it gently an hour; take it out again, and cut it in thin slices and lay them singly on a cloth and wipe them dry; then put it in a tub and break it with your hands as small as you can and mix it with a good handful of salt and a quart of cold cream; put it in the fat and lay a pound weight on it till next day, then press and order it as others."

The marigold she speaks of may have been the "pot marigold," (Calendula officinalis) better known as calendula, and more commonly used both as an herbal remedy and for culinary uses. Usually used externally (on babies for diaper rash, or on adults for varicose veins or hemorrhoids, or sometimes as an eyebath for conjunctivitis), calendula was also considered good internally. It is full of Vitamin A and considered healing to tissues and mucous membranes. In butter, the flower heads mainly add color. If you decide to experiment with this today, it would be important not to confuse calendula with the French marigold (Tagetes patula), which is used in insecticides and herbicides and for wart removal. That's a very different pot of gold altogether!


Send your questions to: Ask the Almanac, The Old Farmer's Almanac, Main St., Dublin, NH 03444. Every day the editors of The Old Farmer's Almanac answer a question on the Internet. All questions are archived there as well. Web site: www.almanac.com © Yankee Publishing Inc.