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July 15, 2005

Posted by Teresa at 06:53 PM * 67 comments

Tomato. Tomato tomato tomato tomato tomato. Tomato. More tomato. Whoo.

Also blooming spikes of gladiolus that come up to my eyebrows. Beautiful shiny purple-red onions, tight-layered and crisp. The elephant-ear caladium, a.k.a. taro root, which looks increasingly surreal even though I planned in advance for it to look surreal. And Oriental lily blossoms the size of large salad plates, that smell amazing.

Comments on Boom:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 07:09 PM:

Good thing you didn't plant zuchinni, or you'd be asking Gotham-area M'Lighters to come dig you out so you could get to work.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 07:20 PM:

Fortunately, I'm married to a tomatoholic.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 07:36 PM:

I'm in the odd position of wondering whether I should plan on canning what amounts to stolen fruit.

There's a farmer's field across the street that is owned by Intel. (I assume they rent out the land to whoever it is that cultivates and gathers the healthy crop of clover there.) Along two of the sides of the field are enormous tangles of wild blackberries. Last year I snook out there and collected buckets full, enough for three pies and twelve jars of jam.

If I started earlier, and kept at it, I could collect . . . well, bushels full. Do I freeze 'em? Can 'em? Eat them fresh until I get sick of them?

Everyone one wants blackberries out there is likely to get all they want from their own local vacant lot.

#4 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 07:40 PM:

Time to reprint that recipe for the tomato/bread salad! (I'll make it with low-carb bread this time.)

#5 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 08:07 PM:

Echoes of Frost after apple picking:
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.

Around here it is cherries - only the one treeload, but I am already making deals with the birds "you can have the ones at the top, I'll take all that are in reach."

I was up at 6 this morning, canning yesterday's crop. Cherries in Madeira, this year - a new practice; I am the first person in four generations, at least, to put up fruit.

And, Stephan, blackberries in light syrup are divine. Very light syrup, due to the inherent sweetness of the stolen fruit.

#6 ::: eiriene ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 08:46 PM:

I know this may come across as somewhat naive, but you live in Brooklyn, right? I've always been under the impression that it's hard to get houses out there that have a lot of outdoor property attached. You obviously have a good bit, to be able to garden, so I was wondering what section you live in? I'm not going to stalk you, but I'm interested in terms of my prospective house-buying in the next year or so. =)

#7 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 09:21 PM:

eirene - Most homes in Brooklyn have some sort of backyard, and it's amazing what you can grow if you put your mind to it.

Growing up, we had a small plot, maybe 15' by 8', and always wound up with more tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and peppers than we could deal with. Green beans did really well too.

The acerage may be small, but the ground is extraordinarily fertile.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 10:02 PM:

Stefan Jones :

If I started earlier, and kept at it, I could collect . . . well, bushels full. Do I freeze 'em? Can 'em? Eat them fresh until I get sick of them?

They freeze really well - check a copy of, say, the Ball Blue Book (canning and freezing guide). Also consider berry cobbler and fresh berries on cereal or vanilla ice cream, and also blackberry shortcake. (We had almost-thornless loganberries when I was a kid: same uses.)

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 10:08 PM:

The ground here is great. You know all that soil the glaciers scraped off New England? We're it. This end of Long Island is a terminal moraine. I don't know how deep the soil is in my neighborhood, but in Park Slope it's hundreds of feet deep, which is why houses on the Slope have subsidence problems.

Eiriene, we're in Sunset Park, a long stretch of Brooklyn between the Gowanus Parkway and Greenwood Cemetery. It's all brick row houses, repetitive but solid and comfortable.

Stefan, wash and drain your berries, then put them in the freezer while you go buy Everclear or some other high-proof neutral grain spirits. Put the frozen berries in a big container with the alcohol and maybe a lemon's worth of zest, and let macerate for a good long time, until all the virtue passes from the berries to the hootch.

Strain as though you were making jelly. As with jelly, you mustn't squeeze the bag unless you're willing to have problems with clarity and sediment. Or, do a last squozen batch at the end, so you've only got a bottle's worth with sediment problems.

Make simple syrup, two or three cups of sugar to one cup of water. Let it cool. Use it to dose the blackberry tincture until you're pleased with the result. Cork up tightly in well-washed bottles, and tuck away in a dark cool place to age until Christmas.

If you do it right, it tastes richly of blackberries and not at all of alcohol. The wildest party I ever threw was the night we decanted the blackberry liqueur. We still had bodies all over the floor next morning.

#10 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 10:30 PM:

Stefan, we visited last year with a family who have a place on the shore in Southhampton, and I came home scratched up like a subway map, but with about a half-gallon of black raspberries we picked off the bluff above the beach.

I think whoever picks neglected berries is entitled to them

#11 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 10:48 PM:

As far as the tomatoes go, my mother used to take the ones we couldn't give away and make a big pot of stewed tomatoes, which we would freeze for the winter. She'd also pickle the end-of-season green ones using different recipes every year. My favorite was a sweet and spicy relish from a church cookbook she got from a co-worker.

The family homestead was in Canarsie (the old part) where the deep topsoil sat on top of sand. We never had a drainage problem, unlike the folks in the newer part of the neighborhood that used to be a swamp.

#12 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 11:00 PM:

I was very surprised to discover a total lack of cherry tomatos when I went looking this year. It's doubtless entirely my fault for not looking early enough - I've been consumed by my profession and masticated in a particularly placid and leisurely fashion, and have done next to no gardening (unless you count the sweet potatos that I'm growing at the office).

#13 ::: claire ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 11:16 PM:

I forgot in all the flurry of today.

The red fruit The Boy loves. And eats it like mad, whole and many. Several a day. Like Mr. P.

Some to the office please?

But only if you have too many :)

And yes again to the bread salad recipe. I have a hankering right right right now.

--claire (who has been living on cold soups for a week now)

#14 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2005, 11:50 PM:

Strawberries appeared in my gardern this year...with pink flowers! I was really surprised. As a spoiled mountain babe, I loved wild strawberries and raspberries in the summer.

But they never had these beautiful pink flowers.

#15 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 01:36 AM:

"I think whoever picks neglected berries is entitled to them"

I really don't feel the least bit guilty. There is a small chance that one of the Intel security guys in their white SUVs will take exception, but I'll risk it.

I could always offer to bake them a pie if they let me go, like one of those deals with trolls or dragons that happen in the beginning of fairy tales.

* * *

Hmmmm . . . blackberry cordial. I'm fascinated by that kind of thing, but I don't drink! I might try making up a batch for gifts.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 01:39 AM:

My parents' quasi-Mennonite neighbors can prodigious amounts of tomatoes, both as chunks (pickled?) and ground up into a sort of watery sauce. Good for cooking use, I suppose.

#17 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 07:02 AM:

As you know, Teresa, the geology of parts of Southern Long Island (and indeed NYC in general) is described in the opening parts of John McPhee's In Suspect Terrain (collected in Annals Of The Former World). It's outdated in parts now (for instance, I don't think there's any serious opposition to plate tectonics these days), but still very well worth a read, not least because you can get a feel for the very rapid evolution of geology from the 70ies to the 90ies.

#18 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 07:44 AM:

Oh, I am envious of your tomatoes. My one tomato, potted on my stairs, has been slowly giving in to small spots (up to the size of a dime) of a grey mildew I've been powerless to stop. Pulling the affected branches didn't stop it, and at this point it's claimed more than half of the plant. I don't think the green tomatoes it's set on are ever going to have a chance to ripen. And damned if I can figure out why it only affected the tomato, because the lemon balm planted under it (only way to keep it from taking over) and the herbs and marigolds (for bug control) in the other pot have been doing perfectly fine. I have dill and tarragon marching through the herb pot. They've already overtaken territory alloted by treaty to the cilantro and the purple basil, and chopping the plants to half size only encourages them.

(If I had a garden-garden, this would all be quite a bit easier, at least in terms of stopping the dill's rampant imperialist tendancies; but I know rather too much about prevailing soil conditions in former quarries in general and the Boston metro area in particular to want to take that risk, even if I did have a garden plot.)

#19 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 10:07 AM:

Congratulations on your tomato success. I don't think I'm ever going to be a successful tomato grower. Much too high maintenance.

What succeeds in our backyard? Plants that grow like weeds. One entire chunk of garden is now an insanely productive raspberry patch. All we have to do is "prune" the raspberry bushes down to mere stubble in the spring, and about the beginning of July we have a steady supply, raspberries everywhere.

Then there's the mint problem. I bought a pathetic little mint plant a couple of years ago. End of the season, it was selling for 99 cents, a little fresh mint now and then might be nice... Mint should come with a label: "WARNING: THIS PLANT WILL ENGULF ENTIRE CITY BLOCKS IF NOT CUT BACK DAILY".

Our herb patch is some basil and oregano and motley other stuff trying to stay afloat in an ocean of mint. One other thing I've discovered about mint. It comes in different kinds. Well, yes, I knew that from chewing gum packages, but I didn't really understand the significance of it, mostly because I don't actually like mint. Make my chewing gum Juicy Fruit, please.

My wife, Anne, likes mint a lot. Her reaction to the 99-cent mint? "That's not mint. Maybe it is some sort of oregano or something. Yuck." It smells and tastes like mint to me. And to the three or four people I checked with. But no amount of persuasion, cajoling or disguise would get her to accept the stuff as mint.

So this weekend I'm going to embark on the mother of all weeding jobs: ridding the herb patch of the 99-cent mint. After that I'll reward myself: I'll finally finish ripping out The Stump. (Stump removal is the only part of gardening I actually enjoy, other than eating things. Whenever I plant a tree, I think, "that will be a stump someday.")

#20 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 12:05 PM:

If you need volunteers to come help you eat your way out of your surfeit of tomatoes, you just sing out, you hear? Sunset Park isn't so far away that concerned friends can't come running.

#21 ::: sGreer ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 12:51 PM:

Eh, you're an honorary Southerner! It's a mandatory thing, to have tomatoes and so many of them you have to give them away in brown paper bags to all your friends, who give you cucumbers and squash in return. I'd be participating this year, but my dog just ate another freshly-ripe tomato off the plant before I could get to it. Yes, my DOG. Half of my tomato-plant watering is from her drool, as she sniffs each green tomato carefully, checking for ripeness. When I see the lips curl back and the mouth open, I leap out of the house and snatch the tomato, knowing it's almost perfectly ripe...for stealing.

Next year, when I'm in Texas, I think I'm going to plant one tomato plant just for the dog, and the for-human tomato plant will be locked behind chicken wire. Or something.

#22 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 04:46 PM:

Speaking of ripe tomatoes, I picked up a passel at our Farmer's Market a few weeks ago. Couldn't really decide what I wanted to do with them so I ultimately did a very simple pasta fresca whose name I forget: boil up the pasta (usually linguini but I used tubini instead), liberally dress with olive oil, toss with a little scallion, basil and garlic.

Except this time, I used garlic scapes 'cause the Farmer's Market had them and they looked interesting.

Now I'm hooked. It's quite sad, really. But very, very tasty.

#23 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 08:32 PM:


Garrison Kiellor (sp?) monologues occasionally feature a tomato-sucking dog. Fascinating to read that They Actually Do That.

I have tried putting tomato scraps in my dog's dish. No interest whatsoever. This may say more about the quality of the supermarket tomatos I buy than my dog's preferences, however.

#24 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 09:20 PM:

I'm SOOOOO hungry now! I'm really tempted to say I'll get on a plane and come eat up all your tomatoes (I'm a tomatoholic too) but Jordin would probably complain. Sigh. I've yet to find a really good source here -- summer doesn't really get hot enough long enough. And this summer has just been ridiculous.

However I do have some I could mix up with olive oil and basil and maybe some balsamic vinegar and make bruschetta. (I did find a source of acceptable sourdough.)


#25 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 10:08 PM:

One of my friends had a dog who used to suck blackberries off the canes. My cat will eat any tomato not kept behind a barrier, and will piton up a human body to get to melon. Are stories like this more common than we assume they are? Why do we assume cats and dogs don't like fruit?

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 10:18 PM:

Dogs are ominivores, and I'm not surprised that they'd like certain fruit (and vegetables). (My dog nibbled the first dozen ripe blackberries I offered her, then stopped being interested.)

Cats, though . . . total surprise.

#27 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 11:06 PM:

I haven't seen my cat eat fruit yet, but she will eat lettuce, corn and peas. Especially peas.

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2005, 11:17 PM:

"Why do we assume cats and dogs don't like fruit?"

Because they don't respect the sneeze-guards at salad-bars?

#29 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 12:43 AM:

When I was a kid I hated to be sent out to pick the raspberries, because sometimes I'd get a bug in my hand, reaching down where I couldn't see. So I taught the dog to eat the berries off the bushes. [Hold out a handful of bush with lots of berries. Once is all it takes] Luckily she was a short dog, we still got the berries off the top half of the bushes.

Another dog later liked apples - we learned this when we heard her crunching the core we'd thrown off to seed in the woods.

#30 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 12:46 AM:

I am filled with envy. Alas, now that I have a garden I don't have enough reliable sun to grow satisfactory tomatoes or basil, which sorta kinda breaks my heart.

I do recall from my childhood just what a high-producer a good tomato plant can be; when my father planted his first garden, all unwitting, he planted twenty five tomato plants. And it was a good year, and we were bringing grocery bags of tomatoes--ripe, half-ripe, green--back to the city every Sunday night, for weeks. My father was giving them away at his office, I brought bags in to my baffled teachers, my mother learned to make green tomato relish which none of us would eat. I'd be so thrilled if I could get one tomato plant to do half as well here. Alas, fog.

#31 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 01:33 AM:

My grandmother's dog Happy, a collie-chow cross, loved grapefruit. She would take the post-breakfast shells, turn them inside out and devour the remaining pulp and membranes leaving only the peels.

Never seen anything like it before or since.

Oh, and she was a totally sweet dog - I miss her and remember her every time I eat grapefruit.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 01:55 AM:

Coyotes eat cantaloupes. I'm not sure whether all coyotes do that, but some of them certainly do.

Julia, it's clearly a moral act to pick neglected berries. It's probably mentioned in the Summa Theologica.

Michelle, I know of two varieties of pink-flowered strawberries. This gets fun.

Strawberries, Fragaria, belong to the Rosaceae family, to which also belong the apple, apricot, cherry, peach, nectarine, plum, sloe, quince, medlar, loquat, almond, pear, black boysen logan salmon rasp dew and cloud berries, all the roses of course, mountain ash, hawthorn, lady's mantle, salad burnet, cinquefoil, agrimony and cocklebur, geum, spiraea, cotoneaster, etc. etc. etc.* As Robert Frost put it,

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose ...
And so they are.

Sometimes plants from one genus can be crossbred with those from another closely related genus, as when goldenrod was crossed with some variety of aster to produce solidaster. Pink-flowered strawberries were produced fairly recently by crossing Potentilla palustris, the marsh cinquefoil, with Fragaria ananassa to produce the Lipstick ornamental Alpine strawberry, and with Fragaria chiloensis to produce Pink Panda. Neither variety is especially good for fruit because they use up so much of their vril producing nice pink flowers, but they make a pleasant groundcover.

G. Jules, does this mildew of yours look like this or this or this? Because if so, what you've got there is botrytis. You can double-check the diagnosis here. It's a nasty infestation; that's the same botrytis that devastates vineyards, and it can attack a wide range of plants. You may want to make fried green tomatoes from your unripe fruit and hygienically dispose of the plant itself.

Greg Ioannou, I can't take credit for my mighty throbbing tomato patch. All I did was pick disease-resistant varieties, give them a good spot, and completely cover the ground around them with landscaping fabric and mulch, then water them occasionally during extended dry spells. My garden hasn't had time yet to accumulate a bunch of tomato disease spores.

Mint isn't that hard to get rid of. You just have to do it more than once.

Andrew Willett, Claire, other locals: if Patrick and I can't keep up with the tomatoes, you'll surely be offered some, though you may be required to take some mint along with.

sGreer, I'm from Arizona. Does that count? I've lived through many a "take my zucchini please, I have an aging mother with heartburn" and "oh look, more tomatoes" season, and I know that the week you go on vacation will infallibly be the week that all the cantaloupes become ripe, then overripe, then an affront to the neighborhood.

I'm sure I've told this story before, but I'll tell it again. I once had an overbearing housemate who gave himself airs about -- well, everything, actually; but in this case it was a proposed garden in the back yard. I wasn't the gardener then that I am now, but most years my family got it together to plant a garden, and I knew the drill. This housemate was condescending to me something fierce, and I could tell he didn't know what he was talking about.

I told him I wasn't nearly the expert that he was, but I did know one thing: you had to make sure you planted enough zucchini. I forget how many plants per family member I specified; I think it may have been three.

He agreed very pompously that this was so. I kept a straight face. Then I moved away.

Aconite, I've never assumed that dogs and cats don't eat plants. Just look at cats and catnip.

Mad, I'm sorry you can't grow decent tomatoes. I'd feel even sorrier if I didn't remember what your local produce markets look like. Right about now is a good time to buy the makings for jars of mixed pickled vegetables.

*If you think that's a weird assortment, you should see the Solanaceae.

#33 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 01:59 AM:

Tomato. Tomato tomato tomato tomato tomato. Tomato. More tomato. Whoo.

Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom!

#34 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 10:27 AM:

I told him I wasn't nearly the expert that he was, but I did know one thing: you had to make sure you planted enough zucchini.

And here you were claiming on another thread that you merely aspired to wickedness but hadn't been able to achieve it....

Not long after I started working here, I heard about the crime of felonious abandonment of zucchini: natives who had been careless in their gardening would walk down the streets of tourist towns, slipping zucchini into any cars whose owners had left them unlocked. The Chamber of Commerce deplored this.

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Thank you, Anarch. I don't feel so crazy knowing that I'm not the only person that occurred to.

Only in Kenya . . .

#36 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 02:30 PM:

I had one cat that really liked corn [maybe the butter] and several that liked split pea soup. Also one who liked avocado. Luckily didn't let her have too much, since it turns out that, like chocolate, it's quite toxic to them.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 03:54 PM:

A snake a snake, ohhhhhh it's a snake ...

CHip, it wasn't wickedness; it was irresistible.

By the exercise of pure reason, Bruce Arthurs should be able to figure out who it was. So go ahead, Bruce: tell us whether flesh and blood could have withstood the temptation, once the idea of it had occurred to me.

#38 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2005, 08:42 PM:

Oh, the markets are fine. But reading of your bounty made me think of the taste of a sun-struck tomato parted moments before from the vine. Bliss.

#39 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 10:54 AM:

Actully, cat's don't like fruit cause they got no sweet tooth... see new study at

#40 ::: Lenore Jean Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 02:35 PM:

Janet - the article seems to say that cats eat meat because they don't have the sweet gene. It seems much more likely to me that natural selection didn't prevent the loss of the sweet gene because their diet had already changed. Interesting finding. I wonder how legit the journal is? I notice that they charge authors to publish.

#41 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:24 PM:

I think the researchers are dicey, whether or not the gene is. They give a silly teleological explanation for a finding which needs no explanation.

It seems much more likely to me that natural selection didn't prevent the loss of the sweet gene because their diet had already changed.

This would be a more reasonable explanation. But what was their diet supposed to have been "before?" Before what? Before they were cats? Aren't all the felines obligate carnivores?

Ooh, shiny. Somebody who knows go look at this and tell me if my impression is true -- that the animals in the Arctoidea section of carnivora (where the dogs are) are actually kind of omnivorous and the ones in the Aeluroidea section (where the cats are) are obligate carnivores (except linsangs, apparently).

#42 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:29 PM:

Assuming the article is correct, why would my cat like melon and raisins?

#43 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:33 PM:

There may be other tastes in melon and raisins that appeal to it.

#44 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 03:48 PM:

Um, almost all the reputable scientific journals charge for authors to publish there -- it's called "page fees". Running a scientific journal looks like a license to coin money from here....

And Quinn Yarbro had a cat that would regularly prefer carrot juice to liver. And carrot juice is definitely sweet.

#45 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 04:03 PM:

Stefan Jones: True. It may also be true that there are other differences than relative sweetness between the tomatoes my cat likes and those he prefers more (he doesn't dislike any tomato), but he does prefer the sweeter ones. I think I'll wait on more evidence.

#46 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 05:02 PM:

Public Library of Science is a legit enterprise that came about in response to the rising cost of scientific journal subscriptions. There's been a lot of discussion of it in library circles. One of the key points of the discussion is why should universities (and the public, through taxes) pay to have research done (through salaries and grants), and then have to pay again (through library subscriptions -- the univerisity's funds AND your tax dollars again) to gain access to the results of that research, limiting access to the institutions only (NOT giving it too all taxpayers) and making only middlemen rich (the scientific societies aren't so bad, but publishers ... well, say "Elsevier" to your friendly neighborhood academic librarian and watch steam come out her ears). Of course, scientists need peer reviewed articles published in established journals in order to get tenure and advance their careers, and these are the features publishers provide, so we won't see this model taking over all scientific publishing just yet.

Lenore and Lucy, that does sound logical -- they lost it because they didn't need it seems a more logical operation of evolution -- and I imagine that the cats that do eat sweets are tasting something else they like in the complex of flavors. My cats like ice cream, but I'm sure it's because it's a dairy product, not because it's sweet.

#47 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 05:08 PM:

We had cats who could tell if you were going to the freezer for veggies or for frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt got their full attention (they liked to lick the bowls, if it was vanilla or tutti-frutti). If they can't taste sweet stuff, what was it they were tasting? (Carnivores - but one also would lick bean-soup bowls; they also liked pretzel sticks (Rold Gold mini-sticks, for the curious). Protein?)

#48 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 05:15 PM:

Janet, why would an adult obligate carnivore liking milk from another species be more logical than their liking sweetness? I'm not trying to be confrontational. I'm trying to understand this oddness.

#49 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:00 PM:

Umm -- dunno. But domestic cats almost all seem to like dairy products. Now I don't know if adult wild cats have the same liking. Maybe it's a symptom of the way domesticated cats retain juvenile characteristics? I've seen it advanced as a theory that cats and dogs in particular have been bred over their long association with humans for a suite of juvenile characteristics (playfulness, among others) that are not prominent in adults of related wild species. So possibly a liking for milk is a retained juvenile characteristic of domesticated cats? And it's high in protein, where sugary things are higher in the carbohydrates that carnivores aren't adapted to eat, so it does make sense in terms of their nutritional needs.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:02 PM:

Milk has a lot of fat in it. Carnivores like fat.

The fruits being listed are fruits that suppose a mutualist -- something that will eat it and scatter the seeds -- so the idea that there's something in there that a cat likes isn't that odd.

The carrot juice, though, I can't help with that one. :)

#51 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:05 PM:

Cats like FAT. That's why they eat icecream. Make some icecream with no sugar and they'll still eat it. Make fat-free high-sugar ice"cream" and they'll shun it.

And Lenore, I heard about this on NPR. They explained that without being able to taste sweet, cats couldn't identify high-calorie plants easily. They lose all common sense when confronted with catnip.

#52 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 06:54 PM:

I dunno, my cats will still lick the residual film of lactose-free nonfat chalkily-calcium-supplemented milk out of my cereal bowl every time I put the otherwise-empty bowl down for them. For that matter, if I leave a glass of the same liquid unattended, one cat will predictably stick his face into it and lap away until he's consumed enough to lower the level beyond his reach, at which point he will sit up, and start sticking his paw into it to lick clean, over and over again.

Cats is weird.

#53 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 08:36 PM:

Farley Mowat had the insight that the stomach contents of the prey items [mice] were providing nutrients not otherwise as available to the predator. Of course, he was talking about wolves and humans, omnivores, but are we sure that the obligately carnivorous cats are not also counting on nutrients from stomach contents?

Many people have reported cats' liking all sort of fruit and some vegetables. This is idiosyncratic, each cat likes different things. Mine definitely don't lick out containers of nonfat cottage cheese etc. It then dries up and blows away in flakes. I took this to mean that it wasn't food at all, not fit for consumption.... They're fine with the low fat stuff. And non-fat split pea soup.

So maybe the comics are right, and tuna fish ice cream would be fine with them.

Remember that people sell seeds of "cat grass". And cats frequently eat houseplants. Anyone who thinks cats don't eat vegetation should see a set of balcony-confined cats when brought a flat of dug-up grass. They gather around and graze it down to nothing.

That they're obligate carnivores means, I believe, that they need the quality of protein that they get from meat.

Lactase is an inducible enzyme which can be lost in adults. Some adult cats, like some adult people, cannot tolerate milk.

#54 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2005, 09:46 AM:

Mina, we've also had adult cats who got sick when they had dairy products -- but they still wanted them anyway.

Maybe some of these cats who DO like sweet things are sports -- the old gene has become reactivated or unmasked or whatever they call it.

#55 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 01:25 AM:

Janet, I had a kosher cat, who could not tolerate milk and meat [including meat-based cat food] within several hours of each other. Since one time it would be meat that made her sick, and another time milk, whichever she had second, it took me six years to figure out.

I bet you're right about the gene. Although felines are supposed to be conservative genetically about changes, because the perfectly functional feline form was developed long ago, [some writer-about-cats' speculation], it only makes sense that there's plenty of genetic diversity. And even more so in domestic cats, with less selection pressure for the hunting genes. And maybe more on behavior?

By the way, on adult cats liking milk - my mother had an "uncle" cat, actually an older half-sib, who would climb in the basket with his mother and her latest kittens, wash them all thoroughly, then settle down with them and get some mama's milk. Talk about extended juvenile characteristics..... couldn't have happened before neutering, of course.

#56 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 12:21 PM:

I did not say that cats (and dogs) don't eat plants. (I know better. One does not live with multiple cats, a Norwegian Elkhound, and terriers without noticing that they eat plants.) I said that we don't think of them as liking fruit, and wondered why we didn't.

#57 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 01:34 PM:

Aconite, Yeah, we don't think of it. When we heard the crunching from the bushes, and discovered the dog eating the apple cores, we were totally surprised. Never occurred to us before that to give them to her.

It was that summer, picking a very thick patch of huckleberries, that I remembered teaching the dog we had when I was a kid to eat the raspberries. My sister held out a handful of bush to her dog, my dog learned from watching him, and they zoomed around vaccuuming up all the berries. In a sparse huckleberry year this would have been greatly resented by the other pickers. Bears are bad enough.

So, we don't think of dogs and cats as liking fruit because

1 we want to keep it all for ourselves, and
2 tame animals not used to foraging don't know they like it until they're introduced to it?

#58 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 02:33 PM:

Girlfriend in early 1970s had cat that developed affection for icecream with creme de menthe. Presumably for the milk. But, by association, developed affection for straight creme de menthe. Feline equivalent of the drunk St.Bernard in "Topper?" Cat was named "Maud" as a shortened or mistaken reading of "Paul Maud' Dib."

#59 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 03:30 PM:

Just thought - wouldn't it be funny if it were the coyotes who are eating the gardens instead of, or as well as the deer?

Have sometimes thought of growing a tomato plant just for the hummingbird moths [sphinx moths], once I found out that's what the tomato hornworm caterpillars turn into.

#60 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 05:11 PM:

Coyotes don't eat tomatoes.

They gather them to throw at people in their role of supernatural tricksters.

Some debased individuals may trade them for Acme products.

#61 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2005, 05:26 PM:

Stefan, the Acme site says there's a trailer load of Mk VIII tomato stakes -- you know, the ones with the depleted-uranium cores -- on its way to a wide spot in the road somewhere in the Southwest. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?

#62 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 10:49 AM:

Compost tales.

Coyotes definitely forage in compost piles: I've watched it. Knowing the compost in question (not mine, I live in town and coyotes are rare there) -- that's all vegtable matter.

At this season, my own dog, who is the Dog of Fun, demands that I go into the yard with her and spend an hour ot two a day throwing windfall apples across to the compost. She chases them, and carries them around lovingly, and every so often, chews them up. When they're windfalls, as they are at this season, they are not very sweet, but they are very tart. And crunchy.

#63 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 01:27 PM:

Canines are very adaptable diet-wise.

Kira doesn't seem to be a vegetable or fruit fan. She nibbled on blackberries last year, but scraps of tomatoes, spinach leaves, banana stubs just leave her cold. She does seem to like pumpkin; I found a smashed one last year, after Hallowe'en, that I brought home, chopped up, baked, and used as a dog food topping. That went over really well.

#64 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 02:49 PM:

JVP: Yes, creme de menthe is an excellent ice-cream topping! (For humans, too. Can be mixed with chocolate syrup for added effect, but separately is also nice.)

Possibly the cat was attracted to the mint, which is related to catnip. Or to the alcohol. Or both. Animals are not above getting high.

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 11:50 PM:

Stefan: that's only when Coyote is in his competent phase. At other times we learn why Christopher Moore noted "The Great Spirit is not a shitter."

#66 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 12:36 PM:

And So It Begins.

The fruit on the blackberry "bushes" across the way are starting to ripen. Just a fraction are ripe; maybe 5%. Many of the bushes still have green fruit; others have hard dusty fluffy berries. If this keeps up I'll be able to pick all summer.

#67 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2013, 08:39 PM:

Payload is in the user name.

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