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Friday Follies: Baked Potatoes, Southern Style

Baker with Cheese

Potato HeadOkay, it’s not Cajun or Creole; but it’s definitely Southern, and you need to know about it

You see, there’s a Significant Threat to a great Southern tradition. It all begins with turpentine. You know, the liquid distilled from pine tree gum in the deep South? Well, it was an industrially important solvent for paints, varnishes and so on, for decades. Nowadays, though, almost no turpentine is made in the good ol’ U.S. of A. anymore. And that’s bad for baked potatoes.

Oh, you think maybe I skipped a few steps there? Well, okay; here’s the scoop. When you make turpentine you also get a stuff called rosin. (Not resin; that’s the sticky secretion of plants, like conifers, and mostly hydrocarbon in nature; the precursor to amber.) Rosin’s important to violin players, baseball pitchers, and as flux for soldering electronics. Key uses, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, if you can’t skreek some good tunes from your Strad, or if that baseball slips out of your hand like an over-ripe Bartlett pear, or you can’t repair your iPhone after you drop it, then what’ll happen to civilization?

And let’s not forget about potatoes. (This post is about potatoes, in case you forgot.) Without rosin, where would the Portal Heritage Society of Portal, Georgia be? Stuck, that’s where. You see, Portal used to be one of the great centers of turpentine and rosin production in the world. And they hold an annual festival in the fall to celebrate the lowly rosin.

By baking potatoes in it. (I told you it’s a Southern thing.)

The threat, though, is that the death of the turpentine industry has led to a dramatic shortage of rosin for the festival. All they need is the gum from about twenty acres of pine trees, but they don’t have even that. They’ve got the still and everything, and they can get the potatoes (they think). But without the rosin, the festival’s a non-starter. They won’t be able to combine their simple, starchy sustenance with solvent sniffing this year.

Too bad, I say. I always like my potatoes with a good, strong odor of coniferous hydrocarbons. All that rosin keeps them from slipping off my plate too. If I’m not hungry I can use the potato to play my violin with. Or go solder my electronics, or something…

Enjoy the (Eccentric Ectoplasmic Baking) Heat!

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