In Northwest China’s Gobi Desert, autumn tints the landscape a flaming scarlet. The fields of red aren’t deciduous leaves blushing with the season. They’re chili peppers, spread out to dry under the hot desert sun following the late-summer harvest. Each September and October, farmers across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which produces a fifth of China’s world-leading pepper harvest, let the harsh sun and 100-plus degree temperatures do the work that most American producers leave to industrial dehydrators.
FOR DECADES, ARCHAEOLOGISTS EXCAVATING ANCIENT children’s graves in Germany and Austria were puzzled by a set of artifacts: small, rounded vessels, some with handles, and some with designs that looked like the ears and feet of unrecognizable creatures. “We think of [them] as mythical animals,” says Julie Dunne, a Senior Research Associate in chemistry at the University of Bristol, whose team recently analyzed several of the vessels, which date from 1200 BC to 450 BC.
ON JUNE 6, 1870, CHARLES Dickens strolled into the cellar of his country house, Gad’s Hill Place in Kent, and surveyed his liquor stores. The day before, wine merchants at Joseph Ellis & Sons had dropped off a cask of good sherry. If Dickens wanted whiskey, he could dig into stone jars of it, including some of the 30 “very fine” gallons that had been delivered the previous January.
IT TOOK OFFICER MARGARET LEONARD three tries to get her hands on Eve Adams’ book of lesbian short stories. We don’t know what, exactly, the New York Police Department officer experienced when she first slunk undercover into Eve Adams’ Tearoom at 129 MacDougal Street. But it’s easy to imagine a group of artists gathered under gleaming electric lights on a hot June night, reciting poetry or discussing the latest performances in the Provincetown Playhouse next door. Leonard’s mission was simple: to “catch” Adams “in the act” of lesbianism, either by eliciting a romantic move or by finding evidence of obscenity. Lesbian Love, a book of short stories Adams had self-published and distributed among friends, was just the evidence Leonard needed to have the tearoom proprietor arrested.
SKIP MCKINNELL FOUND THE SLIM books in a Vancouver basement: stacks of field notes coated with salmon scales still stuck to the 100-year-old fiber with slime. Then affiliated with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, McKinnell had read about the notebooks, which allegedly contained extensive data about and samples from British Columbia’s salmon population from the first decades of the 20th century. But even after scouring collections from British Columbia all the way to Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, McKinnell found the wrinkled pages elusive. That changed one day in 1996, when, at a colleagues’ suggestion, McKinnell searched the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Vancouver basement. There the notebooks were, overlooked but intact. When the notebooks were opened, papery fish scales sloughed off their brittle lined pages and fluttered like moth wings to the ground.
WHEN FOOD BECAME SCARCE UNDER Taliban rule, Hoor got creative. Since the Mujahideen conflict, trade between neighbors had been periodically forbidden, rations were portioned out to the privileged, and even growing garden plots could be risky. But years of war had taught her how to find food for her family in a pinch. Hoor snuck groceries under her chadari, or veil, stretched poor-quality rice imported from Bangladesh into filling meals, and turned to the black market for meat.
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo: borosjuli, CC BY 2.0.
AT FIRST GLANCE, THE APUAN Alps of northwest Tuscany’s Carrara region are pure white. Alison Leitch first saw them from a train window when traveling through Italy in the early 1980s. From a distance, she writes, their dazzling tops looked like snow. Her seatmate told her otherwise: The blinding whiteness was actually marble dust, a powdery byproduct of the famous quarries that gash through the mountains. Then Leitch’s seatmate explained that the Apuan quarries were the source of another legendary tradition. “That’s where the anarchists live,” she said.
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo credit: B. Gramulin, CC BY-SA 2.0
IT WAS THE MID 1600S, and Friar Sebastian Manriquea, a Portuguese priest who had come to visit the Mughal Court, wanted to witness a royal supper. It was a rare sight. The Mughal emperors, who ruled territory across the northern Indian subcontinent, usually didn’t dine with anyone but their wives and concubines. But on this day, Shah Jahan—the Mughal ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal—would be dining with his wazir, advisor Asaf Khan.
THERE ARE NO WAITRESSES AT Bloodroot restaurant. There’s no meat, either. When a small collective of women founded the Bridgeport, Connecticut, café and bookstore in 1977, they eliminated both meat and table service as part of a sweeping feminist vision.
WORKING NINE TO FIVE IS no way to make a living, so why not quit your job and become a professional food smeller? These highly trained sensory savants are regularly hired by food manufacturers and scientists. They analyze the subtle pepper notes in coffee, the juicy, pear-like aroma of fine white wine, and—as in a study recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry—the delectable whiffs of sweat and malt in freshly baked soft pretzels.