Cutting the Mustard
By: John Shepler
Twenty miles west of Madison, Wisconsin, just off U. S. Highways 18 and 151, is the Mount Horeb Trollway, a street guarded by carved trolls who keep a keen eye on the comings and goings. Perhaps their most important treasure is an unusual museum. It houses more than 3,010 jars of potent elixir, each a different formulation from somewhere around the world. It's not a pharmacy, although perhaps it should be. The cache here is mustard. Thousands of mustards are on display in the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum and Fancy Food Emporium. Careful! Don't bump that one. You might just burn a hole right through the floor.
Mustard has been prized and cultivated throughout the ages. Oh, we've gotten pretty cavalier with it lately, to be sure. "Pardon me, do you happen to keep a jar of that pungent condiment in your glove compartment? Oh, and would you by chance have an extra to give away to a poor motorist in dire need?"
Perhaps they have become depressed at the thought of those never ending payments on the Rolls Royce. No wonder they instinctively bum mustard. It has documented healing properties, including the ability to dispel the clouds of gloom and depression that descend on people for no apparent reason. A thick spread of the pungent stone ground variety or a tangy Dijon and your spirits will be soaring again in no time.
Indeed, the herbal treatment begins well before you down a tasty bratwurst or slab of Swiss cheese. The mere inhalation of mustard aroma is often enough to emancipate the most stubbornly blocked of sinuses. Long before the words biotechnology and gene splicing entered our vocabulary, grandmothers the world over knew that a good mustard plaster could work most any cure short of raising the dead...well, perhaps if they weren't dead too long.
I remember laying delirious in fever on the family couch while Gram slapped this mushy chemical bandage on my chest. It burned like a little fire over my heart. The stench...well, I was delirious, so it fit right in. A day or two later, I was up running around the house, wearing ruts in the carpet again. The plaster must have sucked out the evil spirits or at least sent them packing to victimize some other undeserving youngster. It was a miracle cure!
The chemical formulation of mustard actually increases blood circulation in the areas where plaster dressing is applied. It works by bringing increased blood flow to the inflamed areas of the body, so that your natural healing processes can be more effective. It is said that mustard flour sprinkled in your socks can even save your toes from frostbite.
Even when you're feeling well, mustard has ongoing health benefits. Another gram of the same mustard flour you put in your socks has about four calories, no cholesterol, trace amounts of vegetable fat, and is around 30% protein. It is fortified with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and Vitamin B. No wonder that those who consume it in regular doses have all the strength they need to "cut the mustard."
Oh, that reminds me. The common assumption is that distilling and concentrating mustard aroma produces the deadly mustard gas that wreaked havoc on soldiers in World War I. Not so. The poisonous mustard gas is made by mixing ethylene with disulfur dichloride, neither of which is a product of mustard seed. The name was coined by British soldiers, who thought it smelled a bit like English mustard and coined the name "Mustard Gas."
I uncovered this bit of historical significance from a publication of the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum called "The Wurst of The Proper Mustard." The editor and museum curator, Barry Levenson, also reveals a little known fact from the same war files. Secret documents recovered from German scientists show that they were working feverishly on a new, even more frightful weapon of mass immobilization. It was mayonnaise gas. It's victims were said to become limp and irrepressibly boring.
Perhaps this is how The Proper Mustard achieved its reputation for "yellow journalism at its best." Their disdain for mayonnaise is just under the crust. Although, they do acknowledge that an enterprising physician in Mount Horeb developed a medicinal mayonnaise plaster that offered the same inflammation reducing benefits as the mustard plaster, but without the almost overwhelming smell. It proved so successful that he and his brother were forced to relocate their bustling clinic to eastern Minnesota, where it still thrives. Perhaps you've heard of the Mayo Clinic?
As for cutting the mustard...well, that expression is defined by Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "to achieve the standard of performance necessary for success." It is a fitting tribute to an herb first cultivated by the Egyptians 3000 years ago, compared in the Bible to the kingdom of heaven, and known as a natural curative to this day. Make your pilgrimage soon to taste the hundreds of varieties in the coolers of the Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb. By the way...don't feed the trolls.
Books of Interst:
Meals Made Easy with Grey Poupon Mustard from Meridith Books. Eighty-seven flavorful recipes are highlighted, using one of America's most favorite condiments--Grey Poupon mustard. All recipes use seven ingredients or less and can be prepared in less than half an hour. The cookbook features 23 full-color finished food photos.
The Incredible Secrets of Mustard by Marie Nadine Antol and Barry Levenson. Notice who the co-author of this book is!
Also visit Books-A-Million for an excellent selection of new books, magazines, e-books, audio books and more at low, low prices.
Also visit these related sites:
The Mount Horeb Mustard Museum - Earn your Doctor of Mustard degree at POUPON U. Request a catalog, as it contains lots of tasty reading.
Mustard and Health - Information from Michele Anna Jordan, author of the Good Cook's Book of Mustard. Includes history, tasting, and some yummy looking recipes.
Mustard, remedy for gloom - Bach Flower Remedies use mustard to make a tincture to relieve deep gloom and depression.
Copyright 1998 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: September 20, 1998 as part of A Positive Light