Category: Origins

Stones That Made Kings


At the moment when the true king of Ireland was crowned, the Stone of Destiny, or Lia Fail, cried out to voice its approval. The stone stands 32 kilometers from Dublin at the ancient site of Tara, sacred since Neolithic times and the legendary center of Ireland. The stone is unknown antiquity, but legend says it was one of four talismans brought to Ireland by the magical People of the Goddess Danu.

In Ireland kings could be chosen rather than gain the throne by inheritance. One method of selecting a new sovereign was by performing rituals that culminated in a vision of the chosen man. Summoned to Tara, he was installed as king on or alongside the Lia Fail. The Feast of Tara then celebrated the king’s ritual marriage to the goddess of the sovereignty of Ireland, which bound him forever to the land and its security, peace and prosperity.

Such marriages, which united king and country, were also performed in other parts of Europe and often involved the symbolic use of king stones. Some like the Lia Fail, were phallic; others were shaped like thrones, such as the king stone at Castlereagh, Ireland. Yet others were simply rocks, possibly with footprints carved in them to hold the king’s bare feet during inauguration – examples are the 2-meter-square stone of the kings of O’Doherty in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and the sacred Zasliai Stone in Lithuania, which has one engraved footprint.

The king stone of the Saxons is now enclosed in iron railings at Kingston-upon-Thames in England. Queen Elizabeth II was the last British monarch to be crowned over a stone – the Stone of Scone that rested for 700 years under the seat of the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, London.

The concept of the king stone, echoed in the tale of Arthur drawing the sword Excalibur from a stone and so affirming his right to be king, is closely related to the ancient view of divine kingship. The belief in the supernatural powers of a king or queen lingered until recent centuries in Britain, where it was thought monarchs had the “healing touch.”


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Were Milk Duds Duds?


F. Hoffman & Company created Milk Duds in 1926. According to a representative at Leaf, Inc., who now owns the brand, the original idea was for Milk Duds to be perfectly round. But because of the consistency of the product, Holloway couldn’t achieve his goal. The non-uniform, homely, bite-sized pieces resisted any attempts to match the pristine spherical conception. Some anonymous visionary at the candy company thought of “dud” to describe the odd shape. And the “Milk” was added because from the start, the candy was loaded with milk.

Originally, the word “dud” was applied to a bomb or shell that didn’t explode. Now it is ascribed to just about anything that is worthless. Milk Duds might be the only food product to attain success by trumpeting its imperfection on every package it sells.

(Submitted by Heidi Zimmerman of San Diego, California)


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It probably won’t shock you to discover that marshmallows are not a natural substance. No, marshmallows don’t grow on trees, vines, or underground; but there is a mallow plant, which, not coincidentally, tends to grow on marshes. The first culture that we know to have eaten the mallow plant was ancient Egypt, long before the reign of Cleopatra. Egyptians dried and pulverized the plant and considered it a delicacy.

Marshmallows as we know them weren’t possible until someone came up with the idea of combining the mallow plant with sugar, and it was almost certainly an accident. Sugar’s first use was as a way of making medicines more palatable, but a recurring problem was the tendency of sugar to crystallize. In India, they solved the problem by using gum Arabic, but some countries did not have access to this form of gum. When boiled in hot water, the ground roots of the mallow plant turned out to be an effective gum. Combined with sugar, the first marshmallow was born.

The French were the first to turn marshmallows into a confection for the masses. Kraft Foods supplied a report researched by the Marshmallow research Foundation (there is a foundation or association for just about anything): “The marshmallow in its present fluffy form originated in France and was known as Pate de Guimauve. As made in the early nineteenth century, it contained the extract of the marshmallow root, dried and reduced to powder. A light cream in color, the genuine marshmallow base contained starch, sugar, pectin, asparagines and a substance allied to lecithin. The original marshmallow formula called for the following proportions – five pounds powdered marshmallow root, 50 pounds ground sugar, 30 pounds ground gum Arabic, 60 pounds orange flower water and 70 or more egg whites. European manufacturers of medicinal confectionery still use this formula. However, because marshmallow root reputedly possessed medicinal properties, it was early abandoned by confectioners as a necessary marshmallow ingredient.”

Mallow trees were naturalized in the salt marshes of the United States not long after they were introduced in Europe. At first, mallow root was used, but later was abandoned in order to save money, and replaced by a combination of gum Arabic and egg white.

Today, you can buy big marshmallows, little marshmallows, chocolate marshmallows, and coconut marshmallows. But you can’t find a marshmallow with mallow in it. We are left in the strange situation of eating a product that is named after an ingredient that is no longer in it.

(Submitted by Deb Buschur of Indianapolis, Indiana)


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