The black locust is blooming now.
That fact is noted by connoisseurs of the light and delicate locust honey. Meanwhile, hopeful gardeners might cast an anxious glance at the trees if they put any stock in the old mountain saying – “a good locust bloom means a poor crop year.”
The vigorous legume is nothing if not contradictory. A source of tough, durable wood, the tree can be a stubborn, invasive and thorny pest.
The genus, Robinia, is named for Jean Robin, 1550-1629, herbalist to Henry IV of France and his son, Vespasian Robin, 1579-1662, who first cultivated the locust tree in Europe. The black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) was known as False Acacia and was naturalized in many countries for its ornamental qualities.
After struggling against locust for decades (and with the scratches to prove it) I have to chuckle at the mental picture of Vespasian Robin eagerly planting the locust trees brought back from the New World.
Of course, a jar of locust honey, a pile of locust stakes, and the beauty of their blooms are all worthy of admiration.
This story was going to be short and sweet until I opened “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons. On page 93, he shares a recipe for locust blossom fritters, and that set me to thinking about the word “fritter.”
Given the current popularity of social networking, “fritter” is a relevant word these days.
A little etymology lesson reveals that the verb “fritter” in the sense of “whittling away” one’s time comes from the Latin word fractura. The noun form associated with “fried batter” comes from the Latin frictura.
Got that? Fractura. Frictura.
Here are the entries from one of my favorite sites, the Online Etymology Dictionary
"whittle away," 1728, from fritters "fragment or shred," possibly alteration of 16c. fitters "fragments or pieces," perhaps ultimately from O.Fr. fraiture "a breaking," from L. fractura.
"fried batter," 1381, from O.Fr. friture "something fried," from L.L. frictura "a frying."
Following are Euell Gibbon’s instructions for cooking up the flowers of Black Locust, or Wisteria or Elderberry Blow.
“All make delicious fritters,” asserts Mr. Gibbons.
Remove the coarse stems and dip the clusters in a batter made of 1 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, I teaspoon of baking powder, 2 eggs and ½ cup of milk. Fry the dipped clusters in deep fat, heated to about 375 degrees for approximately 4 minutes, or until they are a golden brown. Place them on a paper towel, squeeze a little orange juice over them, then roll in granulated sugar, serve while they are piping hot and watch them disappear.
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