December 15 – Tea and Cupcakes!

Posted on December 15, 2018

There are so so so so so many food "holidays" - and National Cupcake Day is one more. I'm not at all sure why we need Cupcake Day in December; with so many holidays afoot, surely we are stuffed with sweets and desserts already? When I think of December holidays, I think of chocolate gelt and hot cocoa with peppermint sticks and gingersnaps and the dreaded fruitcake (but I make a yummy fruitcake-sort-of-loaf that people love!) and cookies, cookies, cookies. So...we're adding cupcakes to the caloric intake?

Of course, cupcakes are mighty fun to decorate and can certainly be decorated with a Hanukkah or Christmas or Kawanza or Solstice flair!

I expected International Tea Day to be the same sort of food holiday, but actually it is a more serious day in tea-producing nations, with workers and growers working for global attention, and to have fair trade practices and good working conditions. 

Many of the nations that produce most of the world's tea are located in Asia: Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India. 

Others are located in Africa: Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania. 

Look how beautiful tea plantations can be!

December 14 – Fake? Artificial? Cultured?

Posted on December 14, 2018

Ahh...pearls. They're lustrous...iridescent...pearlescent!
Lustrous basically means shiny. Iridescent and pearlescent refer to the subtle rainbow-like colors seen on a seashell or pearl - colors that seem to change when seen from different angles.

Humans have figured out how to capture this sort of iridescence in paint. This sports car is considered to have a pearlescent paint job - you see different colors as you move around it!

Iridescence occurs in both seashells and pearls, since we're talking about mollusks and mollusks, nacre and nacre:

Many mollusks secrete from their bodies a substance that protects them from grit, sand, parasites, or other bad stuff. This protective coating, made up of several minerals, is called nacre, and it makes a solid layer on the inside of the shell.

Some mollusks have more rainbow-like iridescence in their layers of nacre than do others. Abalone are particularly famous for colorful, beautiful nacre.

Another name for nacre is "mother-of-pearl." See - we're circling back to pearls! Pearls are nacre that has coated a small bit of grit or sand - and then layer upon later of nacre builds up, eventually creating a round, tear-shaped, or irregular pearl. Mussels and clams can produce pearls but rarely do; almost all natural pearls are created by oysters.


The Imperial Crown of England
has 273 pearls - plus of
course other gems.
Now we circle back to the title of this post: fake, artificial, or cultured. Since pearls are so beautiful and...well, pearly, people love to wear them as gems. But they're not incredibly easy to find, and if you want pearls of the same size and color for your jewelry, it's even harder to find matching pearls. Of course, this is why pearls are valuable.

But looonng ago, someone decided to make artificial pearls. I'm pretty sure that most of these were not "fake pearls" - that would mean making artificial pearls but then lying to people and saying that they were real, natural, oyster-made pearls. Some folks tried to lie and cheat, I'm sure - but for the most part, people making artificial pearls sold them (for lots less) as artificial or false pearls.

So - how do you make an artificial pearl?

From the 1200s on, there were attempts to make 
artificial pearls by creating a round core out of rock or clay or shell and then painting the outside of the spherical bead with pearlescent paint or coating. Another type of artificial pearls were glass beads with their insides coated with the pearlescent paint; the glass beads were later filled with wax so that the beads would have the weight of pearls. 

These false pearls had names like Venetian pearls, Roman pearls, Parisian pearls, and Majorica pearls. 

Venetian pearls

On this date in 1656, M. Jacquin of Paris made his first artificial pearls by painting beads carved from gypsum with a liquid made from ground-up fish scales. 

Fish scales are - you guessed it - iridescent.

Later Jacquin made the blown-glass sort of artificial pearls by coating the insides of glass spheres with his fish-scale liquid. Note that he called them Perles Fausses (false pearls).

Others in the world were making their iridescent coatings out of such things as snail slime, egg white, ground-up nacre, silver plus powdered glass...

Nowadays most people own cultured pearl jewelry. Oyster farmers have figured out how to consistently and constantly grow oysters so that they produce pearls. So...these are real pearls, created by oysters...but they are not natural pearls, because the pearl creation doesn't happen naturally, by chance.

Above, cultured pearls. Two below,
glass-bead "pearls."

For more on artificial pearls, check out this earlier post.