Saturday, December 23, 2006


Really Slow Food

One of my favorite freelance assignments of 2006 -- simply because it's so damn weird -- is in the current New Scientist on the edibility of food that is decades or even centuries old. Reading through ancient magazines and newspapers over the years I kept coming across "box of cereal under the floorboards" stories -- or "can of tinned clams in the rafters" articles -- usually about some geezer discovering food saved from their honeymoon, or workmen finding Victorian corn-flakes when they demolished a house.

Invariably these stories included the magic phrase: "they discovered it was still edible."

Every time I saw one of these, I'd photocopy it, and after four or five years of this I had me one wacky-ass article. Oh, and some great e-mails helped:

In 1997 Tony Rogers, a former employee at a Wisconsin-based chemical company, cleaned out his office desk to discover a Dolly Madison apple pie he'd purchased at a gas station 8 years earlier. Rogers' fruit pie autopsy, immortalized in photographs on his web site, has received some 245,000 visitors, thanks in no small part to his deliberately ludicrous correspondence with a hapless Interstate Bakeries customer care representative. But his exploits did not quite end there.

"Before I wrapped it all up," he says, "I did pick up a piece of the pie, and I actually ate some of it. My immediate reaction was that it was somewhat caramelized and somewhat chewy. But... it was the same taste.... I honestly think that if my pie was put back on a shelf in a gas station, someone would purchase it and they would consume it and not ask any questions."
Incidentally, here's Tony's 8-year old pie side-by-side with a new Dolly Madison pie:

Can you guess which is the safe one to eat? Well... both, apparently, since Tony told me he didn't get sick.

One of the strangest parts of my research came up when I repeatedly called the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum to confirm a rumor that they had a still-edible chocolate ration from the Boer War. Bear in mind that, thanks to the time difference, I was having to call at like 2 am my time -- and I kept getting volunteer docents picking up who must have thought that I was out of my mind.

But -- guess what -- their curator eventually discovered the rumor was true.

Better yet: as I was tracking that rumor down, I discovered an identical New Year's 1900 ration getting auctioned off on eBay under the title Queen Victoria Boer War Gift Tin With Contents.

Ever wondered what a 106 year-old Cadbury bar looks like? Behold!....

If my rivals in the 106-year old candy trade hadn't bid it up to $270, I'd have bought it myself. But.... would I have sampled it?

Well, funny you should ask: because when I looked just now, there's another 1900 chocolate ration in its final hours on eBay. So maybe at last I'll get to sample a bit of th....

Oh ... eh, maybe not.

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