Scurvy, Limeys, Victorian Stockings and St. Nicholas

“A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.”
Henry Ward Beecher

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”

― St. Nicholas of Myra

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(bowls of both whole and sliced Calomondians and Kumquats being readied for a cranberry relish / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Shiver me timbers boys.
Looks like the scurvy’s hit the ship”

Scurvy you ask?
A devastating Vitamin C deficiency which was a very common occurrence for sailors, as well as pirates, of the 1600 and 1700’s. Cases have actually been documented as far back as ancient Egypt.

Months aboard a ship, with very little fresh water and food, let alone the luxuries of fresh fruits such as oranges, lemons or limes, rendered sailors deathly sick. It was an abnormality of sailing that left captains and doctors scratching their heads.
Sailor’s gums would swell and hurt. Their teeth would begin to fall out, their legs would swell, turning purple– a condition, which left untreated, would eventually lead to death.

It wasn’t until the 1747 when British doctor James Lind, intrigued by the mysterious ailment afflicting British Sailors, as well as renegade sailors such as pirates, conducted several experiments determining that the sailor’s bodies were depleted of Vitamin C.
Therefore all British sailors were originally issued lemons and lemon juice as part of their sea rations. However, lemons not always being as plentiful as limes, a substitution was hence made. It seems that the acid content of limes is less than lemons, almost by 50%, so the sailors would have to consume larger quantities of limes, earning them the moniker of Limeys.

The gift giving of citrus, particularly oranges, didn’t occur until the Victorian Era when children began receiving an orange in their stockings on Christmas Eve. In fact, the celebration of Christmas itself, much as we know it to this day—that of jolly ol St Nicholas, gift giving, card sending, a decorated tree and stockings being hung on the mantle, is greatly attributed to Victorian England and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. The custom of placing an orange in a stocking first became popular in England and much later in the United States with the birth of the tansconinental railway system.

Oranges were considered to be an exotic novelty as they had to be shipped to England from more southern Mediterranean climates. And what more special gift could one give to weary winter senses than a tropical fruit such as an orange?! The fact that oranges and other citrus fruit helped to ward off deadly disease by offering much needed and depleted vitamins made even more sense when it came to offering them to children, especially those in disadvantaged families where fresh fruits and vegetables were considered luxuries.

Scurvy was not a disease confined only to those stuck on ships for months at a time, but it was a prevalent disease throughout Ireland during the deadly potato famine. Many soldiers as well as civilians also fell victim to the disease throughout much of Russia during the deadly Crimean war.

The custom of oranges as gifts however dates back even earlier than Victorian England–actually as far back back to 325 BC, to our original St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, located in present day Turkey.

Known for his generosity to the poor and disadvantaged, legend has it that St Nicholas learned of three sisters who’s father was so terribly poor that he could not provide a dowery for his daughters–therefore the girls were to be sold into slavery. Nicholas who had come from a wealthy family took it upon himself to secretly deliver a bag of gold for each girl. It is said he tossed the gold through an open window, which in turn landed in a shoe–hence why many European children began leaving shoes out on the eve of St Nicholas day (December 19th) in order to receive a gift.
The gold, over the years, evolved into being associated with that of a gold ball and eventually an orange.
And as time would have it, St Nicholas who was the patron saint of children, also evolved– eventually becoming associated with the birth of the Christ child and one who would deliver presents to children on a certain night in December (as according to the Julian Calendar)

In the United States, oranges where given as gifts following the completion of the transcontinental railway system, when items such as citrus fruit grown primarily in California and Florida, could be transported all over the country. Oranges were especially popular during WWII as a special stocking stuffer since the rationing of so many food items had become prevalent during the war days. To receive any and all types of fresh fruits were considered a very special treat.

Which brings us back around to today and the growing prevalence of oranges, and their citrus cousins such as grapefruits, which are currently whisking their way to grocery stores shelves across the country as our “winter” fruits now make their debut. With the growing seasons of the citrus crops in both California and Florida coming to fruition, now during the Christmas season, there’s no better refreshingly bright addition to a home than either a scent infused, clove studded, pomander or the heavenly scent of citrus infused baked goods and cookies. Be it an orange, tangerine, pomelo, meyer lemon, key lime, kumquat, or grapefruit to name but a few, be sure to add a little Vitamin C to your diet and enjoy some citrus during the holidays. . .

August’s doldrums

“August depresses me a little. I don’t even feel like eating. And when I don’t eat, that’s a sure sign of stagnation.”
Willard Scott

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(a lone little piece of a sand dollar awash in the surf / Julie Cook / 2011–seen in a previous post)

The calendar has turned to our eighth month.
August is a time in life, in the Northern Hemisphere, when everything slows to a snails pace. We typically attribute this drastic slowing down to the heavy blanket of sticky oppressive heat and humidity which descends upon the world at large. This in turn leads to what those of us here in the extreme southern area of these United States refer to as the Dog Days of summer.

Dog days have been around since Greek and Roman times when the ancients used the same term to denote the hottest time period of summer, as this was the time when the star known as Sirius, the dog star, would shine brightest.

The grass is no longer cool and refreshing to ones bare feet—instead it is now dry and crunchy. The once beautifully rich greens and bright colors of Spring have long since faded. Plants have grown leggy, blooms have long fallen away, and many succulent tender plants have since perished under the heat of a relentless sun. Rain has been sparse. Enthusiasm for the out of doors has waned as everyone attempts to avoid the often dangerous heat of the day.

We dart from house to car, from car to store or work, from work or store to car, from car to home–dashing in and out as quickly as possible before expiring from our excessive perspiring.
The noseeums, the mosquitoes, the gnats, the horseflies, the wasps now all rule the air. The joy of lingering in a rocking chair on a lazy summer evening, idly whiling away the hours, is all but a faded memory as there are simply too many bugs looking for a free meal underneath the hot and heavy blanket of air that is simply too thick to breathe.

This stagnate time of heavy languishing heat, when experienced out on the open seas, is known as the doldrums. A time of utterly calm seas lacking wind or wave. According to Wikipedia: “The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. . .The doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.

Sailors would dread being stuck in the doldrums. Zero winds equalled zero movement as the sad sails would dangle limply from the mast. Days would turn into weeks. Provisions would run dangerously low and drinking water would become a dire disappearing commodity–as ship and sailor languished in a giant bathtub of deathly still water.

August, this eighth month, is the time of year when we sail into the doldrums.
A time of stagnation and languishing, both in climate as well as with vegetation.
Gone are the days when the entire family would be needed for the harvest. Hence why our schools would not begin until September, long after the crops had been finally gathered.
As we now live more and more in the urban regions of the country, our agrarian society is but a fading memory.
Much of Europe has closed down for the month of August, as the general populace heads on holiday.
Even our central governing body has recessed until Fall (unfortunate, but I digress)

Yet there is a shift beginning to take place.
Schools, here, are preparing to open their doors.
Our teachers and students will return to their routines come Monday.
Sadly for many a young person the end of “summer break” is upon us.
We are now in the in-betweens.

In-between Summer joy and Fall splendor.
In-between heat and cool
In-between long day and short night
In-between bloom and fade
In-between indoors and outdoors
In-between inactivity and activity.

As you find yourself a bit lost, hot, bored or stuck inside a tad too long during this month of seemingly endless time and heat, find comfort in the words of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner as we languish together in the hot still sea of August. . .


All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge