Revisited Myth #12: From the ancient Greeks to colonial America, the pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality.

April 17, 2014

pineapple_mold_sm

The myth of the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality is a powerful one.  You hear it in most historic houses, usually in a dining room or bedroom when the tour guide points to a pineapple table centerpiece or a pineapply-carved bedpost and explains that the pineapple was served to guests as an expression of hospitality because it was so rare.  Rare it was indeed, and relatively expensive, coming all the way from the West Indian tropics to American ports—the pineapple would have been a treat on any early American table.  But there is not a shred of evidence that anyone at the time thought of the fruit as a symbol of hospitality. That idea came much later, in fact, not until the early twentieth century.

So how did this widely believed myth get started? Early Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to discover the pineapple, called na-na, by the natives. The Portuguese ananaz and the French ananas no doubt derive from this native word, but the English called the new fruit a “pine-apple,” a word heretofore interchangeable with “pine-cone,” because it so resembled the pinecones they already knew.  The pinecone had strong and ancient ties to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine—Bacchus to the Romans—who carried a thyrsus, a staff entwined with grape vines and topped by a pinecone.  (That association related to the use of pine resin in the making of wine, Bacchus’s favorite beverage.) Ever since classical times, the pinecone has symbolized fertility and regeneration and it has been used over the centuries as a decorative motif.  It is really the pinecone that the colonists were using in their decorative arts, evoking the classical symbolism that they, educated in the classics, understood very well.  (It’s a bit of a stretch to think our colonial forebears were carving pineapples on their bedposts as welcome-to-my-bed hospitality symbols.)

Yes, they did also use pineapple imagery sometimes–I’m thinking of the ceramic pineapple dishes at Colonial Williamsburg’s museums, for example, and the architectural elements at Shirley and Westover Plantations. But these were celebrations of the exotic fruit, not expressions of hospitality.

Amateur historian Melvin Fulks, who has spent decades gathering information about the origins of pineapple/pinecone symbolism, says that the earliest incidence of the “pineapple as hospitality” story he has been able to find comes from a 1935 book about Hawaii. a Dole publication encouraging people to eat canned pineapple and visit lovely Hawaii.

The pineapple myth simply refuses to die an honorable death. Unfortunately, it has spawned several children that are even more absurd than the parent. One blog reader reported: “I was told by the tour guide at . . . that the pineapple in the bedroom was a subtle suggestion that the guest was no longer welcome. Perhaps a parting gift?” A tour guide wrote that a visitor told her that when a homeowner got tired of his overnight guest, he would leave a pineapple on the guest’s bed as an unspoken message to move on. Yet another said that returning sea captains would stick a pineapple on the fencepost or set it on the front porch to let neighbors know he was home and ready for hospitality. What nonsense! I’m sure there are more.

For an excellent, exhaustive, and I think definitive article about the pineapple, you can’t beat Michael Olmert’s “The Hospitable Pineapple” in the Winter 1997-1998 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg Journal which, sadly, is not available online. You can always write to Colonial Williamsburg for a back issue. Professor Olmert teaches at the University of Maryland and one of his specialties is the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Here is a passage from that piece: vinyl-fence-picket-02-large“And here is what we do not know about pineapples: that they had anything at all to do with hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s hard to imagine a ship captain sacrificing something so rare and expensive and tasty as a pineapple by spiking it on his door, his roof, or his garden gate–as it says on the card that comes with the little brass pineapple bookmark sold today in gift shops.” t2ec16zhjf8e9nnc8gcobqurymutoq60_12

Bingo–it is the gift shops sales clerks and other salespeople who perpetuate this myth for the boost it gives to the sale of pineapple-themed merchandise. And frankly, today it is true! After almost a century of repetition, the pineapple has come to symbolize hospitality. However, no one has yet been able to point to an example of that association in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. 


Son of Pineapple

April 3, 2013

pineapple_mold_sm

 

I hadn’t intended to revisit Myth #12, but several readers have written mentioning more pineapple myths that are off-shoots of the original one (that the pineapple symbolized hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries). In a nutshell, the pineapple-as-hospitality idea seems to have started in the early 20th century. In earlier times, it was merely a decorative motif. 

One reader writes, “I was also told by the tour guide at Mount Vernon that the pineapple in the bedroom was a subtle suggestion that the guest was no longer welcome. Perhaps a parting gift?” Another wrote that a visitor told her that when a homeowner got tired of their overnight guest, they would leave a pineapple on the guest’s bed as a message to move on. 

Yet another said that returning sea captains would stick a pineapple on the fencepost or set it on the front porch to let neighbors know he was home and ready for hospitality. I’m sure there are more.

vinyl-fence-picket-02-large

For an excellent, exhaustive, and I think definitive article about the pineapple, you can’t beat Michael Olmert’s “The Hospitable Pineapple” in the Winter 1997-1998 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg Journal which is, sadly, not available online (you can always write to Colonial Williamsburg for a back issue). Professor Olmert teaches at the University of Maryland and one of his specialties is the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is a passage from that piece: “And here is what we do not know about pineapples: that they had anything at all to do with hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s hard to imagine a ship captain sacrificing something so rare and expensive and tasty as a pineapple by spiking it on his door, his roof, or his garden gate–as it says on the card that comes with the little brass pineapple bookmark sold today in gift shops.”

$T2eC16ZHJF8E9nnC8GcoBQuRymuTOQ~~60_12

Bingo–it is the gift shops sales clerks and other salespeople who perpetuate this myth for the boost it gives to the sale of pineapple-themed merchandise. And frankly, today it is true! After almost a century of repetition, the pineapple has come to symbolize hospitality. But no one has yet been able to point to an example of that association in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. 

 


Revisited Myth # 135: Adjustable “courting candles” were used by fathers as a timer to determine the length of a suitor’s visit.

November 26, 2017

According to legend, courting candles were used by fathers to set a time limit when his daughter’s suitor came courting. He would adjust the candle in the twisted holder and when the candle had burned to the top twist, it was time for the young man to leave. One manufacturer of reproduction candle holders elaborates imaginatively on this myth, “Rich or poor, the courting candle was used by fathers from all economic backgrounds. It taught daughters to respect their parents’ judgment. The candle also taught the suitor to defer to the father’s ability to judge a man . . . the courting candle served as an important boundary line in the family and social fabrics.” Wow! A real necessity in every household! 

But Henry Prebys, curator of domestic life at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Michigan, says the term courting candle is more folklore than fact. The Chicago Tribune debunks this legend nicely in a June 28, 1998 article, so I’ll quote:

Although the candleholder indeed may have been used as a time-keeper for suitors, it was not intentionally made for that purpose. Origin: The candleholder with its spiral shape was popular in Germany before being introduced to the American Colonies by the early Pennsylvania-German settlers. According to Prebys, the appeal of the spiral shape was its practicality. The candle easily could be twisted into the holder. If the candle was soft, the shape of the holder prevented it from falling over. A slide connected to the holder also helped move the candle up or down, thus utilizing as much of the candle as possible. This was important because candles were costly.

Prebys notes that candles were not the preferred source of lighting during the Colonial period because of their cost. Most households used fat lamps, small dishes containing fat or oil and a wick. Fat lamps were more practical and far less costly than candles. Prebys explains that candles were expensive because they required certain skills to make and were labor-intensive and time-consuming.

The article concludes by noting that there are probably more reproduction courting candles today than there were originals made during the colonial era. 

Thank you, Anna Schaad Chappelle, Executive Director of Marble Springs in Tennessee, for forwarding this myth.

9 Responses to Myth # 135: Adjustable “courting candles” were used by fathers as a timer to determine the length of a suitor’s visit.

  1. Jake Pontillo says:

    Interesting side issue: Honey bees, the type that give honey and wax were NOT native to America and were brought starting in 1622, but they did not spread that fast or far. Indians called them English flies. See:
    http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agcom/newscolumns/archives/OSL/1999/November/111199OSL.htm
    Wax, therefore, was in short supply, thus tallow candles.. If you want to see how a candle made of tallow works, form the wax you get on cheese around a string and light it. It will burn but most of it will melt and that is why there are large wax collectors on some candlesticks..Gather it up and re form it!

  2. Gerry Barker says:

    There probably were more beef and deer tallow candles than beeswax. Tallow candles were softer and definitely would be aided by the spiral holder. If you are going to try it, however, you have to keep the flame an inch or so above the metal otherwise the heat travels down the spiral and melts the candle. The logistical problem with beeswax is that until modern hive technology, it was hard to get enough wax to light a dwelling for any length of time. A few years ago we found a bee tree. As an experiment we went back in late winter and harvested it. The hive ran about ten feet up inside the trunk. We brought back ten pack baskets of hive. Cooked down we got abut a quart of honey and a dozen candles. It would have been impossible for the average household to rely on candles for lighting. That is why grease lamps (kitchen lamps, cruzies, etc.) were the most common.

  3. Liz says:

    Our local “living history” museum very adamantly touts “courting candles” as part of their tour of several pioneer cabins from the 1850s, mostly because they sell quite a number of them in the gift shop. Romance sells more candle holders than practicality, I suppose, but it still bothers me. They are handsome and perfectly functional without the story attached and would probably sell well without the myth attached.

    • Mary Miley says:

      I believe you are correct, Liz, that the myth sells reproductions in the gift shop. That is the basis for many myths being repeated. At Colonial Williamsburg, product literature and salespeople continue to repeat the myth about the pineapple being a symbol of hospitality–they sell loads of pineapple bookmarks, trivets, door knockers, etc.–even though historians in the Research Department have said this wasn’t true. Money often trumps the truth, I’m afraid.

  4. As a docent/volunteer at the Parks service venue at the Arch in St Louis I have told the romantic story of the Courting candle stick many hundreds of time. Usually use it in conjunction with pioneers and marriage proposals and how they were accomplished back in the Day. I add a little caveat at the end simply because it teaches human interaction principles between married couples.

    The caveat takes the fun little story about the courting candlestick, the prairie diamond horse nail ring, which was used in medieval France, the proper protocol in asking for a mans daughter hand in marriage, and brings interactions between man and woman to life into a powerful realm. Across the board the story is well received. It is fun to watch married couples smile at each other and acknowledge many times the male spouse did go to the wife’s father and ask permission to marry his daughter.

    I do understand these principles of this article, the spiral candle stick holder and the basic reasons to actually hold a soft candle upright. So the question is, as a docent am I to present the facts and only the facts ( Boring?) or am I part entertainer providing a fun and thought provoking experiences? I have nothing to sell and is there conclusive proof the adjustable candle stick was not used as a timer in a courting setting? Have seen the lights come on in many a young persons face especially the young single men when teaching some principles of courtship. I suppose though the courting candle stick story is hardly any worse than a story about buffalo dung/chips being used as fuel to cook the first batch of spicy now called Buffalo chicken/wings. Drummies?

    Part of the beauty of our common history is we have story’s out there which are no doubt fabrications, tall tales, and outright myth’s, Paul Bunyan and babe, the Blue Ox, Calamity Jane, the White Buffalo, Pecos Bill and the Blue Lake Monster to name a few.

    Now a true story about the courting candle stick in our time. Two to three years ago a young mother in her early thirties came past my station in the museum under arch on a Sunday afternoon. What struck me about her was she gasped when she saw my courting spiral candle stick holder which has a beeswax candle, in which my wife and I burned another once, lasting two and one half hours. The woman laughed and said with emphasis, “My parents did this to me”.

    I prefer the fun light hearted approach to romance and so will divine a caveat to use with my Courting Candle stick holder so as not to lead anyone astray.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thanks for the insight, Charles. I, myself, would not be comfortable spreading stories I could not document, and in my time as a “hostess” for Colonial Williamsburg, I did not knowingly do so, although I did do so unknowingly! In some cases, if the myth or story has value, I might consider relating it with the explanation that it is a legend or tall tale or undocumented story–whatever seems appropriate. But that’s just my opinion and neither here nor there. At your site, of course, it’s up to your superiors to establish guidelines.

    • Jake Pontillo says:

      I’m opposed to relaying information that one KNOWS to be false or undocumented merely because it is cute or entertaining. That is absolutely 180 degrees away from what a museum or historic site should be doing… if someone wants to relay such information, please preference it with the notice that “there is a cute and entertaining story about this, but it is not true, but I will tell you for your enjoyment.”


Revisited Myth # 135: Adjustable “courting candles” were used by fathers as a timer to determine the length of a suitor’s visit.

November 26, 2017

According to legend, courting candles were used by fathers to set a time limit when his daughter’s suitor came courting. He would adjust the candle in the twisted holder and when the candle had burned to the top twist, it was time for the young man to leave. One manufacturer of reproduction candle holders elaborates imaginatively on this myth, “Rich or poor, the courting candle was used by fathers from all economic backgrounds. It taught daughters to respect their parents’ judgment. The candle also taught the suitor to defer to the father’s ability to judge a man . . . the courting candle served as an important boundary line in the family and social fabrics.” Wow! A real necessity in every household! 

But Henry Prebys, curator of domestic life at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Michigan, says the term courting candle is more folklore than fact. The Chicago Tribune debunks this legend nicely in a June 28, 1998 article, so I’ll quote:

Although the candleholder indeed may have been used as a time-keeper for suitors, it was not intentionally made for that purpose. Origin: The candleholder with its spiral shape was popular in Germany before being introduced to the American Colonies by the early Pennsylvania-German settlers. According to Prebys, the appeal of the spiral shape was its practicality. The candle easily could be twisted into the holder. If the candle was soft, the shape of the holder prevented it from falling over. A slide connected to the holder also helped move the candle up or down, thus utilizing as much of the candle as possible. This was important because candles were costly.

Prebys notes that candles were not the preferred source of lighting during the Colonial period because of their cost. Most households used fat lamps, small dishes containing fat or oil and a wick. Fat lamps were more practical and far less costly than candles. Prebys explains that candles were expensive because they required certain skills to make and were labor-intensive and time-consuming.

The article concludes by noting that there are probably more reproduction courting candles today than there were originals made during the colonial era. 

Thank you, Anna Schaad Chappelle, Executive Director of Marble Springs in Tennessee, for forwarding this myth.

9 Responses to Myth # 135: Adjustable “courting candles” were used by fathers as a timer to determine the length of a suitor’s visit.

  1. Jake Pontillo says:

    Interesting side issue: Honey bees, the type that give honey and wax were NOT native to America and were brought starting in 1622, but they did not spread that fast or far. Indians called them English flies. See:
    http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/agcom/newscolumns/archives/OSL/1999/November/111199OSL.htm
    Wax, therefore, was in short supply, thus tallow candles.. If you want to see how a candle made of tallow works, form the wax you get on cheese around a string and light it. It will burn but most of it will melt and that is why there are large wax collectors on some candlesticks..Gather it up and re form it!

  2. Gerry Barker says:

    There probably were more beef and deer tallow candles than beeswax. Tallow candles were softer and definitely would be aided by the spiral holder. If you are going to try it, however, you have to keep the flame an inch or so above the metal otherwise the heat travels down the spiral and melts the candle. The logistical problem with beeswax is that until modern hive technology, it was hard to get enough wax to light a dwelling for any length of time. A few years ago we found a bee tree. As an experiment we went back in late winter and harvested it. The hive ran about ten feet up inside the trunk. We brought back ten pack baskets of hive. Cooked down we got abut a quart of honey and a dozen candles. It would have been impossible for the average household to rely on candles for lighting. That is why grease lamps (kitchen lamps, cruzies, etc.) were the most common.

  3. Liz says:

    Our local “living history” museum very adamantly touts “courting candles” as part of their tour of several pioneer cabins from the 1850s, mostly because they sell quite a number of them in the gift shop. Romance sells more candle holders than practicality, I suppose, but it still bothers me. They are handsome and perfectly functional without the story attached and would probably sell well without the myth attached.

    • Mary Miley says:

      I believe you are correct, Liz, that the myth sells reproductions in the gift shop. That is the basis for many myths being repeated. At Colonial Williamsburg, product literature and salespeople continue to repeat the myth about the pineapple being a symbol of hospitality–they sell loads of pineapple bookmarks, trivets, door knockers, etc.–even though historians in the Research Department have said this wasn’t true. Money often trumps the truth, I’m afraid.

  4. As a docent/volunteer at the Parks service venue at the Arch in St Louis I have told the romantic story of the Courting candle stick many hundreds of time. Usually use it in conjunction with pioneers and marriage proposals and how they were accomplished back in the Day. I add a little caveat at the end simply because it teaches human interaction principles between married couples.

    The caveat takes the fun little story about the courting candlestick, the prairie diamond horse nail ring, which was used in medieval France, the proper protocol in asking for a mans daughter hand in marriage, and brings interactions between man and woman to life into a powerful realm. Across the board the story is well received. It is fun to watch married couples smile at each other and acknowledge many times the male spouse did go to the wife’s father and ask permission to marry his daughter.

    I do understand these principles of this article, the spiral candle stick holder and the basic reasons to actually hold a soft candle upright. So the question is, as a docent am I to present the facts and only the facts ( Boring?) or am I part entertainer providing a fun and thought provoking experiences? I have nothing to sell and is there conclusive proof the adjustable candle stick was not used as a timer in a courting setting? Have seen the lights come on in many a young persons face especially the young single men when teaching some principles of courtship. I suppose though the courting candle stick story is hardly any worse than a story about buffalo dung/chips being used as fuel to cook the first batch of spicy now called Buffalo chicken/wings. Drummies?

    Part of the beauty of our common history is we have story’s out there which are no doubt fabrications, tall tales, and outright myth’s, Paul Bunyan and babe, the Blue Ox, Calamity Jane, the White Buffalo, Pecos Bill and the Blue Lake Monster to name a few.

    Now a true story about the courting candle stick in our time. Two to three years ago a young mother in her early thirties came past my station in the museum under arch on a Sunday afternoon. What struck me about her was she gasped when she saw my courting spiral candle stick holder which has a beeswax candle, in which my wife and I burned another once, lasting two and one half hours. The woman laughed and said with emphasis, “My parents did this to me”.

    I prefer the fun light hearted approach to romance and so will divine a caveat to use with my Courting Candle stick holder so as not to lead anyone astray.

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thanks for the insight, Charles. I, myself, would not be comfortable spreading stories I could not document, and in my time as a “hostess” for Colonial Williamsburg, I did not knowingly do so, although I did do so unknowingly! In some cases, if the myth or story has value, I might consider relating it with the explanation that it is a legend or tall tale or undocumented story–whatever seems appropriate. But that’s just my opinion and neither here nor there. At your site, of course, it’s up to your superiors to establish guidelines.

    • Jake Pontillo says:

      I’m opposed to relaying information that one KNOWS to be false or undocumented merely because it is cute or entertaining. That is absolutely 180 degrees away from what a museum or historic site should be doing… if someone wants to relay such information, please preference it with the notice that “there is a cute and entertaining story about this, but it is not true, but I will tell you for your enjoyment.”


Revisited Myth # 111: Orange dye was added to American cheese during the Civil War to differentiate between Northern-made cheese and Southern.

February 12, 2017

Pat McMillion of Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama, wrote, “The cheese monger at our local Publix told me today that the only difference between white and yellow American cheese is that dye is added…. ever since the Civil War when dye was added to tell the difference between cheese produced in the north and cheese produced in the south. That really sounded mythical to me, but I haven’t found any substantiation on the web. Is that a myth, legend or truth?”

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Well, Pat, you have stumbled into one of my deepest secrets with this question. I will now have to confess that for three years after I graduated from college, I sold cheese for Kraft Foods in Cleveland, Ohio. (It was a recession, for heaven’s sake, so I was lucky to have a job at all!) Kraft sent me to cheese factories to learn all about processed cheese, white cheese, orange cheese, Cheez Whiz, Velveeta, and every sort of cheese, and I can personally assure you that American cheese (aka processed cheese) was not around during the Civil War.

J. L. Kraft invented American cheese and started producing it in 1915; he got the patent in 1916. It was originally sold in tins and was white. Because it was the middle of World War I, the Army bought up lots and shipped it to our soldiers in Europe, because it didn’t need refrigeration. Yum!!!

Later, I don’t know when exactly, orange color was added, but this old advertisement dates from the Twenties, and it shows that it was orange by then.

Thanks go to Deanna Berkemeier, who sent in documentation of cheese coloring prior to the American Civil War. Cheese makers did sometimes add color (and other things) to their products, for instance, “a yellow tint is given by annatto, marigolds, or carrots.” See more examples below. There is no evidence that this had anything to do with North/South production. 

 

EARLIER COMMENTS:

PMcMillion@aol.com says:
April 20, 2013 at 9:05 am (Edit)
Thank you SO much for this answer. I’ll take it to the cheese monger today!! How fortuitous that you have first hand information. I have been spreading your messages about historic myths ever since I found your site over a year ago. You always get the credit and advertising for your wonderful book when I do a program on historic myths. Now, folks come to me to ask if things are true. Between you and Snopes I can usually burst some pretty egregious myths and urban legends. I will be coming to CW this summer to introduce my grandson to my love of history. I would love to meet you and thank you in person for the excellent research. Hugs, Pat McMillion Burritt on the Mountain Huntsville, Alabama

Reply
Mary Miley says:
April 20, 2013 at 9:10 am (Edit)
Thanks, Pat. Just let me know when you are in Williamsburg and I’ll try to meet you.

Reply
opusanglicanum says:
April 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm (Edit)
orange dye is added to cheap cheese in the uk to make it look more appetising – its meant to immitate the classic red liecester – it also fools the pallete into thinking the cheese tastes cheesier. It’s been around for a long time, since victorian times at least. I grew up knowing that orange cheese was cheap and nasty, so never ate it.

I’ve heard about velveeta, it sounds disgusting

Reply
Greg says:
April 26, 2013 at 1:36 am (Edit)
At the Tillamook cheese factory in Oregon they will tell you that natural cheddar cheese comes out in various shades of white. While this is not related to quality, they started adding orange color so that it would have a consistent color. People thought that the less white batches meant the cheese had gone bad.,

Reply
Deanna Berkemeier says:
April 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm (Edit)
I’ve never heard this myth before, but I think you may have missed the point on this. It’s all in the way you read the question. Perhaps the cheese-monger did indeed mean “American cheese”, however there was a lot of “American” cheese made before the Civil War, because all kinds of Americans made cheese. American of the time referring to as opposed to European imports. Some people did color cheese to make it look richer. I have found many negative references to it, such as (paraphrased) you would not thank the farmer for coloring your milk, so why thank him for coloring your cheese? Many of these references are pre-Civil War, so I think the answer is still no. But is there any correlation to coloring cheese at a greater rate to differentiate between north and south? I’ve never looked into it, but I also doubt it.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
April 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm (Edit)
In all fairness, Velveeta isn’t exactly disgusting, it’s okay when melted in a grilled cheese sandwich or sliced on a hamburger, but I’d not be interested in eating it plain or on a cracker.
We can discuss the meaning of the words “American cheese.” Today it means processed “cheesefood,” a dairy product that is cheese cooked and “processed” so it lasts longer without getting moldy. Good news for soldiers in WWI. Americans made cheese during the Civil War of course, but that isn’t what we’re talking about. I’d be interested in your pre-Civil War primary accounts to coloring cheese, as I can’t imagine why anyone would color their own homemade cheese.

Reply
Deanna Berkemeier says:
April 21, 2013 at 12:35 am (Edit)
I understand that “American cheese” today means a processed cheese food. But my point is that since I have only seen those processed cheesefoods in a grocery store and not being sold by an actual cheese-monger who would naturally scoff at a cheesefood even being considered actual cheese, I wonder if the cheese-monger was actually referring to American made natural cheeses being colored yellow rather than being left white. As opposed to European cheeses which are generally left their natural color.
Again, I am not saying that he is correct in any way regarding north vs south. Nor am I saying that what we call American cheese today was around for the Civil war.
I guess that being a cheesemaker of both modern and historic methods, when I read the question that was originally sent in, I understood the question as being the greater one of white vs. orange of American cheese -not the processed stuff- and it crossed my mind that as much reading as I have done on the subject, I have no idea if coloring cheese was related in any way to anything other than making one person or company’s cheese look “richer” than another’s. Higher fat content (richness) makes cheeses appear more yellowish, sometimes deepening to an orange-ish cast. Definitely not annatto orange, but orange-ish nonetheless. People did color cheese (and butter!) with the juice of carrot scrapings, pot marigold petals, and annatto that they purchased in order to make their product more appealing. It was a marketing ploy.
And I’d be more than happy to share some cheese coloring documentation with you. Being a historic cook and a dairy farmer’s wife, dairy is my thang! 🙂

Mary Miley says:
April 21, 2013 at 9:20 am (Edit)
Thanks Deanna–always good to hear from an expert. Do you know more about coloring cheese during the 1860s? Something that might have given rise to this idea of North vs South? I presume they made more cheese in the North, because of the greater proliferation of small farms and dairying than in the South, which probably imported cheese from the North (as they did so many foods).

opusanglicanum says:
April 23, 2013 at 3:11 am (Edit)
I think disgusting is relative – I seem to have been born a cheese snob, since I could never stomach any kind of processed cheese, specially not that yellow dairy based plastic they put on burgers. When I was a child I’d go round to friends houses and thier parents would offer me processed cheese then look at me like i had two heads when I politely inquired as to whether they had a nice mature cheddar? Its my dad;s fault, he used tot ake me to the wensleydale creamery

Melissa Nesbitt says:
April 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm (Edit)
The “scary” thing to me is that I can keep processed American cheese in the fridge a lot longer than other cheeses. Mary can you divulge the secret about that? 😉 (Preservatives and additives I’m sure, but since you mentioned a patent…) P.S. I worked for an insurance company in their marketing department prior to my launch into my museum career. Whatever it took to pay the student loans, right?

Reply
Mary Miley says:
April 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm (Edit)
Thank you, Melissa, for being so understanding. 🙂 And I can’t divulge any secrets without torture. Of course, eating Cheez Whiz could be considered torture . . .

Reply
Roger Fuller says:
April 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm (Edit)
Here’s probably how it happened: a mainstream Civil War reenactor at a Civil War reenactment got caught by the public eating modern cheese product. Trying to squirm his way out of it, he made up some story about cheese dye. That’s how a lot of these urban legends get started, and with nobody to challenge them, they get told so often, they become “true”.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
April 20, 2013 at 9:07 pm (Edit)
I’m with you, Roger.

Reply
Katherine Louise says:
April 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm (Edit)
One cold and rainy day at Plimoth Plantation, Mrs Standish went across the street to visit Mrs Winslow. We drank tea before the fire and got to talking about favorite childhood treats, like bread and butter sprinkled with sugar. Foolishly, we decided to make some then and there–few 20th century folk were about the village on such a day, surely no one would come in–but of course a visitor arrived and exclaimed, “Oh, I loved bread, butter, and sugar when I was a child–I didn’t know the Pilgrim’s ate it too!” Mrs Winslow and I were mortified and tried to salvage the situation (and our reputations) by saying it was a rare treat–sugar was expensive, came all the way from England, and what a dreadful day it was for travelling. Roger is absolutely right about how these stories get started!

Mary Miley says:
April 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm (Edit)
Absolvo te. 🙂 (Mercy, I’ve done much worse in my day!)

Deanna Berkemeier says:
May 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm (Edit)
I apologize for it taking me a month to get back to you with some of my cheese coloring documentation you asked for. Chalk it up to preparations for my daughter’s upcoming wedding and our site opening for the season. I do not see an email address to send it to you privately and I hate to post it here, but I will try as a reply in hopes your moderation will catch it. The formatting did not stay, but if you read through each paragraph you will find references to coloring or not coloring cheese. Please note the source dates. Looking quickly, I saw nothing in my files that referenced anything related to coloring in the North vs. South at all. You will also find references to “American cheese” below, but as I noted before, American cheese in the 19th century was a natural cheese and in no way related to any processed cheesefood of today.

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The following are some of my collected references to coloring cheese in the 19th century: Researched by Deanna Berkemeier

“If it is required to have the cheese of a Gloucester color, take Spanish anatto, rub a lump in a saucer with milk, a little experience will teach the quantity necessary for a cheese ; then mix it with the rest of the milk, when it is set for cheese. One ounce will cover four or five hundred pounds, and it is bought of the apothecaries. It is perfectly innocent, and I thought the cheese coloured with it, was higher flavoured ; this might have been owing to other causes.” Source: The BALANCE, and Columbian repository, Volume 5, For 1806 By Ezra Sampson, George Chittenden, Harry Croswell p. 260-261
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“The practice of coloring cheese and butter, we think, should be discouraged; who would thank a milk man to color his milk?” Source: The New England Farmer, and Horticultural Journal, July 13, 1831, Vol. 9, No. 52, 409.
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“REPORTS ON CHEESE.

MR. MARVIN’S STATEMENT.
The milk strained in large tubs over night; the cream stirred in milk, and in morning strained in same tub; milk heated to natural heat; add color and rennet; curd broke fine and whey off, and broke fine in hoop with fast bottom, and put in strainer; pressed twelve hours; then taken from hoop, and salt rubbed on the surface; then put in hoop, without strainer, and pressed forty-eight hours; then put on tables, and salt rubbed on surface, and remain in salt six days, for cheese weighing thirty pounds. The crushings are saved, and set and churned, to grease the cheese. The above method is for making one cheese per day.
DANIEL MARVIN.
Cooperstown, January, 1842.”

Page 428
“VARIETIES OF CHEESE.

Cheshire Cheese.—This cheese is famous for its rich quality and fine piquant flavor. It is made of entire new milk, the cream not being taken off. The cheeses are generally of very large size, usually about sixty pounds weight, and some have been made of one, or even two, hundred weight. Each cheese is- usually made of the produce of one day’s milking, from herds of from one to two hundred cows, who feed in rich pastures on some of the finest land in England. Their excellence must be attributed to the goodness of the milk, their size and age, and the skill employed in their manufacture. The color is not entirely natural; but a yellow tint is given by annatto, marigolds, or carrots. It is said, that some increase the richness and mellowness of the cheese by adding beef-suet, or any other wholesome and sweet fat well clarified, which is poured into and mixed with the curd.”

Source: The Farmer’s and Emigrant’s Hand-book: Being a Full and Complete Guide for the Farmer and the Emigrant. Comprising the Clearing of Forest and Prairie Land Gardening—farming Generally—farriery Cookery—and the Prevention and Cure of Diseases. With Copious Hints, Recipes, and Tables.; By Josiah T. Marshall, Author of the Emigrant’s True Guide.
Second Edition, Revised.; Publisher: Appleton, 1845
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“Previously to commencing the process of making cheese, besides the milk, two materials must be ready for use—the rennet for coagulating the milk, and the substance for colouring the cheese, if the latter is to be employed.
The colouring of cheese is a general custom, but not a necessary operation ; annatto is chiefly employed for this purpose. The usual mode of application, is to dip a piece of the requisite weight in a bowl of milk, and rub it on a smooth stone, until the milk assumes a deep red colour. This infusion without the sediment, which Is separated by standing a little, is to be added to the milk of which cheese is intended to be made, in such quantity as will impart to the whole a bright orange colour. The addition of annatto In no way effects the smell or taste.”

“CHEESE, BRITISH PARMESAN. — Heat the day’s milk to a temperature of from seventy-five to seventy-seven degrees, and after it has settled, put in the rennet. When it has stood for an hour or more, place the coagulated milk on a slow clear fire, and heat it till thecurd separates of itself. When separated, throw in cold water to reduce the temperature, and quickly collect the curd in a cloth, gathering it up at the corners. When drained. Dress it as other cheese. Next day it will be firm enough to turn. Let it dry slowly and gradually, often (at first about every hour) changing the wrapping-cloths. Rub it with a little salt daily, for three weeks, or plunge it in pickle for a few days. The curd for this, or any other cheese, may be coloured with a little saffron, or annatto, by putting a tincture of them, extracted in milk, to the milk when to be curdled.” Source: The dictionary of daily wants By Robert Kemp Philp, 1866
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“The American cheeses are the Pineapple, which is double the price of ordinary cheese, imitations of English Dairy, American Factory, and California cheese, which is only about half the weight and thickness of Eastern, and instead of being incased in a round wooden box like the Eastern, is handled loose or naked in the wholesale market. None of the American cheeses are classed among strong cheeses. They are good all the year round. The foreign varieties, or equally as good American imitations, may all be had in the larger cities, while excellent, if not the best, American factory cheese is obtainable everywhere. Sage cheese is made by the addition of bruised sage leaves to the curd, which imparts a greenish color and a flavor liked by many. Cream cheese is not properly a cheese, although so called, but is simply cream dried sufficiently to be cut with a knife. Cheese from milk and potatoes is manufactured in Thuringia and Saxony. Cheese may be had in small, round shapes, brickbats, the thin California cheeses, etc., as well as shaped in the ordinary large round hoop, or by the pound therefrom. All cheese, except the foreign skim-milk makes, contains more or less coloring matter, principally annatto, turmeric, or marigold, all perfectly harmless unless they are adulterated.”

“To make a plain family cream cheese, take three half pints milk to one-half pint cream, warm it and put in a little rennet; keep it covered in a warm place till it is curdled ; put the curds into the colander on a cloth to drain about an hour, serve with good plain cream and pounded sugar over it. To color, pound fresh sage leaves in a mortar to obtain the juice, and mix it with the milk while warm after the rennet is put in. Spinach juice is an improvement.”

Source: The new practical housekeeping: A compilation of new, choice and carefully tested recipes; 1890
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Reply
Mary Miley says:
May 27, 2013 at 7:52 am (Edit)
Wow, thanks Deanna. Interesting reading, especially the pre-Civil War references.

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What do you think?

 


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