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Category: Forklore

Forklore: Sherbetology

Forklore sigSherbet, sorbet -- what's the difference? None, really -- at least in most of the world. The first came to English direct from the Turkish word serbet, the second by way of Naples, where it had gotten confused with the idea of ab-sorb-ing, because it was something you drank.

That's right, sherbets and sorbets were originally drinks made from sweetened fruit juice, not frozen desserts, though they were often cooled with ice or snow. They were a potent symbol of luxury. Everyone knew that at the sultans' in Istanbul, the servants never poured water but only sherbet.

Sherbet was a recently coined word in 16th century Turkey. It replaced the original word for a sweet drink, sharab , because that word had developed unacceptable connotations -- people had been using it as a euphemism for wine, which is forbidden to Muslims. By that time, sharab had already made its way to Europe, giving us our word syrup, the old-fashioned punch known as shrub and (by way of Dutch) the strap in blackstrap molasses.

Now you know why, if a Turk describes you as having "sherbet in your veins," it means, "You have a delightful personality," not "You have ice in your veins."

In the United States, while sorbet (like sherbet elsewhere) is a frozen fruit juice confection, for many decades American sherbet has been a sort of ice milk, a less rich but still dairy-based cousin of ice cream.

-- Charles Perry

Forklore: Crumb and crust

ForkloreMany a mother has to insist that her children eat the crusts of their sandwiches. And that's with the soft (though somewhat rubbery) crust of American sandwich bread. A lot of European breads have crusts that would defeat a child's teeth.

When they grow up, the children may develop a taste for that crunchy crust, with all the browned flavors it gets from being directly exposed to the heat of the bread oven. But the child's delight in the soft, spongy crumb of bread lives on. For many people, the true sign of a fancy buffet is the crusts that have been cut off the finger sandwiches.

This taste for crumb goes back at least as far as the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. In those days, poor people mostly ate a heavy rye bread and only the well-off could afford a light, high-wheat bread called manchet in England. To get it as high as possible, bakers made sure to bake at a high temperature.

As a result, the bread had a very tough crust, which had to be chipped off with knives before the luxurious, spongy crumb could be served. The crust chippings didn't go to waste -- they were sold or given to the poor, who thickened their soups with them.

-- Charles Perry



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