IT HAPPENED, PERHAPS, ONE HOT, humid night, mist over the mountains that bordered the colonial city of Santiago de Guatemala. Melchora de los Reyes, a young, mixed-raced woman, had sex with her lover. When she met him, she was a virgin, a doncella, a status that made her eligible for marriage in the strict, Catholic society ofContinue reading “The Chocolate-Brewing Witches of Colonial Latin America”
WHEN CONQUISTADOR HERNÁN CORTÉS REACHED Tenochtitlan in 1519, he beheld a floating city. The temples and palaces of the Aztec capital gleamed white from an island in the middle of a vast lake, all spread under a searing blue sky. With an estimated population of 200,000, roughly the size of contemporary Paris, the city overflowed with people. AroundContinue reading “How to Feed a Megacity Like the Aztecs”
IF YOU HAD MET HIM the year his famous book was published, you might have mistaken William Hughes for a mild-mannered gardener. By that time, he had settled into his role at the country estate of the Viscountess Conway, a noblewoman and philosopher, and had published a book on grapevines. But the old man was moreContinue reading “A Pirate Botanist Helped Bring Hot Chocolate to England”
THIS STORY ENDS WITH AN eccentric entrepreneur distributing 2,500 maps of the United States in the shape of a pig to a gala of Civil War veterans. It begins with sewing machines. Grover and Baker sewing machines, to be precise. Read more at Atlas Obscura. Cover image: Porcineograph, Library of Congress, Public Domain.
IN THE 1910S, COFFEE CROPS around the world began to suffer a mysterious ailment. When plucked from the tree, the coffee fruit, usually plump and crimson, was riddled with round holes, and the damaged beans inside were nearly useless. Growers soon discovered that the culprit was a small beetle, the coffee berry borer, which has spreadContinue reading “Solved: The Mysterious Origins of Your Coffee’s Worst Nightmare”