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April 28, 2015

Posted by Teresa at 07:21 AM * 151 comments

salt 3.JPG

This started when I got a splinter stuck under my thumbnail, and had to soak it in hot salt water. I used a palmful of coarse sea salt and one of my favorite mugs, a heavy stoneware dreadnaught I’d gotten on Martha’s Vineyard. When I was done, I set the mug on our sideboard and forgot about it for a week.

The result was startling. Salt water had seeped through cracks in the glaze and into the clay body of the mug. As it dried, the salt was extruded through every crack, in sheets and curls and whiskers. Where the glaze crackling was crosshatched, it formed networks of open-topped boxes.

better salt photo.JPG

That was a wake-up call. I’ve always assumed that if I can’t see crackling, the glaze must be intact, more or less. That meant it was a nice smooth inert vitreous surface, so when I cleaned it, whatever I’d had in the mug would be gone.

I was wrong about that. The salt had mapped a network of invisible cracks that covered the mug inside and out, and the underlying clay body was clearly porous. I found myself remembering every warning I’d ever read about not using your working kitchenware for chemical dyeing projects.

last salt photo.jpg

I’ve also been wondering about microbial life. I don’t know the size limits on particles that can move through porous stoneware, but viruses are awfully small. Maybe this is why a lot of serious gardeners insist on running their plant pots and jardinières through a dishwasher with the temperature set on “high” — basically, an autoclave.

After the mug was completely dry and I’d photographed it for posterity, I took it into the kitchen and gave it a good washing. It promptly grew another coating of salt — not as luxuriant as the first, but thick enough to be semi-opaque. So I washed it again, and it extruded salt again.

I’m now on my fourth round of salt extrusions. This time, instead of letting the mug dry, I’ve filled it with fresh water. The idea is that the water will push the salt before it. The results are encouraging: I’ve got a crop of long elaborate salt whiskers sprouting from the center of the mug handle, which had previously been extrusion-free.

I’ve always loved pottery. I love it still. But I trust it less.

Comments on Salt:
#1 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 07:32 AM:

... And this is why plastic bowls or mugs come in handy at times!

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:00 AM:

Or glass. Or high-fire ceramics.

#3 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:09 AM:

Regarding viral passage versus salt: For NaCl, you're basically talking about single atoms (or rather ions), and those can furthermore interact closely with the clay itself (as most minerals are "salts" in the general sense). Virus particles are still at least two orders of magnitude larger.

At the same time... it turns out that there are bacteria living miles below the surface, in the microscopic cracks of "bedrock" at quite unreasonable pressures and temperatures (not to mention anaerobic).

So yeah, solid, even "watertight", does not mean "impassible". Water itself is fairly anomalous stuff, what with all its Van der Waals bonds. On the one hand, surface tension, on the other, capillary forces. (Of course, if you want real mobility, there's helium -- I'm sure you remember Heinlein's discussion of that in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.)

Another factor is that many materials, and most definitely ceramics, accumulate microcracks over time. Vapor, freeze/thaw cycles, and even pure thermal expansion, can all pry open microcracks --that's a big part of how erosion works in general, and also why bridges and buildings don't stay up forever.

In particular, those dishwasher cycles can pry the microcracks further open, until they start joining up... and then one day pieces come off or worse: I once picked up a mug of coffee, and found myself holding a handle and the near half of the mug. (The coffee, of course, was playing on the table. :-) )

#4 ::: Tyg ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:10 AM:

This is amazing. Thank you for sharing. What a wonderful thing to come from your splinter.

#5 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:17 AM:

Edit fail: Virus particles are more like 3 or 4 orders of magnitude larger than ions, some might be 5. IIRC, there's actually some overlap between the biggest viruses and the smallest bacteria.

#6 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:34 AM:

Oh cool! It reminds me of the popcorn rocks a friend brought me from somewhere or other-- drop into vinegar, then watch as bubble happen and eventually big white crystal stalks form above the waterline. I'm sorry that your next cup of tea might be a bit briny, but at least it will be briny for reasons of Science! rather than an early-morning sugar mixup.

#7 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:33 AM:

Oh, wow!!!

#8 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:33 AM:

#3 : I once picked up a mug of coffee, and found myself holding a handle and the near half of the mug. (The coffee, of course, was playing on the table. :-) )

it happened to me this past weekend. late Saturday night: Orphan Black and popcorn time! Mrs handed me a ceramic mug in which she had just microwaved some butter. i started pouring it over the first layer of popcorn in our bowls, when the handle broke off the mug. the mug, with all the butter, fell into the popcorn bowl. all the popcorn popped out of the bowl and onto the floor. while i was swearing, the cat grabbed a nice buttery piece and ran away with it. the butter didn't spill, thankfully.

#9 ::: ZekeNY ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:35 AM:

Wow. I must try this, at once.

#10 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:39 AM:

I instantly thought "So that's why it has to be glass!"

I learned a lot of folk wisdom, some of which is superstition and nonsense, and some of which has good science behind it. I admit it would be better if I knew which was which.

See also, kosher rules on glass and ceramics. And similarly, why I have special mugs that are used only for coffee.

#11 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:52 AM:

That is fascinating. I had no idea this could happen.

#12 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 10:30 AM:

Yixing teapots are deliberately unglazed; they're expected to acquire the flavor of your favorite tea as they age.

#13 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 10:39 AM:

My pottery instructor warned us of the dangers of microwaves. With the, limited, exception of porcelain whiteware, ceramics are microwave safe, not microwave durable.

His explanation was the metals in the clays responding differently. He also said he didn't really care, and just figured he'd need a new mug every 9-18 months.

The other instructor was very protective of his mug, and never put it in the microwave; he'd had it for going on 15 years.

#14 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 10:59 AM:

Hmmmmm...I had better warn my mother about this (she will reheat coffee in the microwave); sudden spillage Not Good for her.

#15 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 11:26 AM:

One assumes you've brought this to the attention of Jon Singer?

I have a beloved old Laurel Burch* mug that a friend gave me for Christmas about thirty years ago. Every time I fill it with hot liquid, it sits there, quietly mug-like as it comes up to temp, then I hear a delicate little *tink!*. I always pick it up very carefully, fully expecting that this time only part of it will come with my hand. So far, so good.

(It has gold tracing on the picture, so, no: it doesn't go in the microwave.)

* All these years, I thought it was Laurel Busch, which would be such a lovely play on words.

#16 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 12:25 PM:

Some (if not all, not certain) viruses were called (in the old days) filterable viruses precisely because they could pass through a ceramic filter: and what you've got here is clearly a ceramic filter. According to this definition, it's all viruses and some small bacteria. More details of the history here -- and an interesting story it is, too.

#17 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 12:26 PM:

On the plus side, that mug is much less likely to be harboring many bacteria now -- hypersaline solutions are pretty good disinfectants when applied to a general population of ordinary kitchen bacteria.

#18 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 12:38 PM:

Having dropped mugs in the past (with or without hot contents), I've been using stainless-steel double-walled mugs for the last several years. On the other hand, not microwavable. The mugs that are cracked, chipped, or badly crazed get retired from use for anything but holding stuff (pens, pencils, double-pointed needles). I have plastic mugs. One of them is actually microwave-safe. (It's also olive-drab.)

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 01:31 PM:

Wow! The upside to this is that the mug will be completely sterilised by the salt.

#20 ::: Jonathan Adams ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 01:44 PM:

Nice! That's really fabulously interesting...

#21 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 03:20 PM:

Gorgeous photos, Teresa. Thank you for sharing! *Looks with suspicion upon favorite tea mug*

I hope your splinter is no longer troubling you.

BigHank53 @12, on yixing teapots - I was delighted to learn about that some years ago. It's a piece of teaware trivia that makes me absurdly happy. I don't even know why. But I was even more delighted later when I discovered that to some extent even glazed pottery will do this.

Above-mentioned favorite tea mug is only ever used for tea, and usually a strong black Assam which I allow to stew. Over the months, I have on occasion filled it with boiling water, let it cool to drinkable, then drunk off almost half the contents before realizing I forgot to put a tea bag in there.

This is how I know a new favorite tea mug (had to replace the previous one a couple years ago due to klutziness) has arrived.

#22 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 03:27 PM:

One of the reasons commercial ceramic mugs are often given a clear glaze on the inside is that it's easier to formulate a glaze that will form an impervious layer on firing, and match the clay body's thermal expansion profile thereafter (so it doesn't crack), if you don't *also* have to worry about what color it comes out.

Getting this right is fiddly and requires a whole lot of cut-and-try testing, with each body clay, which smaller ceramic studios might not be inclined to bother with.

#23 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 03:48 PM:

I’ve also been wondering about microbial life.

I don't get overly concerned about microbes as they are everywhere. They're in our guts and on our skin. Take a swab of any surface (even clean ones) and you'll most likely find microbes. Mostly the microbes (bacteria, yeast, fungal spores, viruses) are not harmful.

It's the pathogenic microbes that are a concern, but they are a really tiny fraction of the microbial life around us. I do take care around food (preparation & storage) to minimise the risk of food poisoning, but the rest of the time it's not something I get paranoid about.

(And the salt crystallising & extruding through ceramic? Very cool.)

#24 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 04:02 PM:

I could see this turning into some kind of artsy photo-study / installation.

#25 ::: Joshua Kronengold ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 05:21 PM:

That is...

Ok, I've bought some more borosilicate mugs now. Those, at least, should be largely non-porous.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 05:36 PM:

David Harmon @3: Thank you. I was hoping someone would explain.

Diatryma @6: Goodness, those are pretty. What a great demo! I hadn't seen it before.

Consensus appears to be that the right kind of calcium-bearing rock + vinegar = calcium acetate crystals.

ZekeNY @9:

Wow. I must try this, at once.
Of course. It's what I would do, if I hadn't already done it.

Beth Meacham @11: I knew about low-tech ceramic filters for clean water in underdeveloped countries, and I knew that water containing high concentrations of salt or other minerals can wreck unglazed earthenware -- it basically spalls itself to death -- but I had no idea that glazed pottery could keep its apparent integrity while so much salt passed through it, nor that it could separate salt from water.

Note: if you ever need finely powdered salt for some application, the bits of exuded salt just need a little rubbing or crushing to reach that state.

Jacque @15: Jon drops by fairly frequently, and when he's not around I send him photos, so he's been watching this as it's happened.

#27 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 05:41 PM:

That mug is what I looked like ten minutes after swimming in the Dead Sea. I grew crystals like one of those novelty "magic tree" toys.

It's astonishing what a payload of salt the water can carry.

#28 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 05:53 PM:

THose are sort of cool, it's worrying how many microcracks develop in the glaze I suppose, and suspect that many might have been there since it was fired and cooled.
I got similar results from putting potassium nitrate solution into a replica medieval pot.
Finally, mugs and microwaves also don't go together if your mug has some sort of gilding/ goldish stuff on it for the microwave to arc onto. I was at lunch at a job once and watched someone put such a mug into the microwave, and had one of those "That looks like metal on that mug, it might spark, oh look it's sparked" and turned the microwave off before the mug owner had realised what was happening.

#30 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 06:42 PM:

#27: (Swimming /wading / bobbing in the Dead Sea put the kibosh on a lingering case of athelete's foot. Didn't come back for a year or more. But ohhhhh my it burned!)

#31 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 07:26 PM:

Lee #29:
The microbial world: It's a small world which is mostly out of sight, out of mind but there are some fascinating microbiome projects underway including exploring the microbes associated with humans and microbes in houses.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 08:13 PM:

Stefan, being on Martha's Vineyard cured a foot fungus Jim Macdonald had had for years. Salt water seems like a good mechanism for doing that.

#33 ::: DanAudy ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2015, 09:34 PM:

Nothing particular to add other than THIS IS SOOOO COOL!!

I may have to see if I have an older mug that I can donate to science and see if my son and I can replicate the experience.

#35 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:47 AM:

First, now I want to try this.

Second, presumably that's low-fire pottery? It's hard for me to imagine high-fire being that porous, even if it was heavily thermal-shock-cracked. Although some potters (out of ignorance or carelessness) do underfire high-fire clay bodies, which makes them slightly absorbent (on the order of 3-6%).

This does show one of the reasons why I've never been that comfortable using low-fire ceramics for culinary purposes, even if it supposedly has a vitrified glaze on top. Not because of the bacteria, though -- face it, your computer keyboard* probably has more bacteria in it than that mug did before the salt -- but because of the lack of durability and probably catastrophic failure modes.


#36 ::: Lisa Hertel ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 08:22 AM:

As a potter, I'm not surprised. All my pottery, commercial or the stuff I make, stains over time (I drink a lot of tea). It's the consequence of pouring a hot liquid into a cold surface, or microwaving, or dishwashers. Yet my stuff lasts for decades. As has been said, oriental cultures value this aspect of pottery, but it's also why you 'pre-warm' the pot in a tea ceremony.

The only real issue is when you use a low-fire glaze. All glazes contain metals bound into the glass, both as colorants and as 'flux' to lower the melting point. A common low fire flux is lead; a tiny amount, bound into the glass, but still... Commercial pottery is more likely to be low fire (less heat = cheaper) than hand - made. (I never use lead, but have used glazes with other heavy metals; there's a reason it's called cobalt blue.)

If you're worried about viruses, just wash things in hot water and let them dry thoroughly. I do use a dishwasher for all my ceramics. Every so often, I scrub off a layer of tea with a green scrub sponge, but it returns pretty quickly. I suppose if I really cared, I'd send them through the kiln again. For those who don't have kilns, you can use your oven's self cleaning cycle; be sure to start things cold and let them cool afterwards.

As for breakage, most ceramics break due to heat shock or dropping. Or during arguments. (Apparently breaking pottery is therapeutic.)

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 10:35 AM:

Josh, Jon Singer called it low-fire pottery, which surprised me until he explained that Cone 6 is low-fire. I hadn't known that about the lower ranges of stoneware.

Lisa: Iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, chrome. I don't know whether they're good for you, but the colors are irresistible.

#38 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 10:50 AM:

This morning's salt report: still extruding, especially in the center of the handle. The alluvium of salt extrusions that have broken off under their own weight is two or three times thicker than what you can see in yesterday's photo.

I wonder whether you could use this to smuggle small quantities of illegal chemicals.

Stefan Jones @24:

I could see this turning into some kind of artsy photo-study / installation.
I vote for high-res time-lapse photography, with a second camera for close-ups.

#39 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 11:29 AM:

This is a very freaky set of pictures.

It set off one of those chains of thought in me.

I thought about the sterility concern, and being British immediately thought, well, at least tea should be pretty sterile as it is boiling.

And that got me remembering our time in Nepal, where our porters thought that we really loved black tea, because that was all we drank - whereas the simple fact is that in a country where much of the water is polluted with human excrement, black tea is a very safe drink.

And that got me thinking of the earthquake there, and the appalling destruction visible on the TV to places which I actually visited. Which does somewhat put the Troubles of Fandom in a different perspective.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 11:31 AM:

James Harvey @38:

I've heard the theory that the world can be divided into Coffee Cultures, Tea Cultures, and Beer Cultures, because the best ways to ensure water drinkability are to either boil it or add a small amount of alcohol (small beer).

(You can add Watered Wine Cultures to include the Greeks.)

#41 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 12:57 PM:

abi @40

I think, if I recall correctly, that Plutarch says the Spartans forced the Helots to drink their wine un-watered, as this was thought deleterious to health!

I've also heard it said that the lower tolerance for alcohol amongst East Asians is partly due to their being tea cultures rather than beer cultures. I have not the faintest idea of the thruthiness quotient of this statement.

Sorry for the whimsy today: but in a world of Nepal and Baltimore and Puppies and some tough days at work, whimsy feels necessary right now.

#42 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:06 PM:

abi #40: IIRC, watered wine wasn't at all limited to the ancient Greeks, but extended across the Mediterranean region and then well into the European Middle Ages.

#43 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:08 PM:

Teresa @37

Cone 6 is conventionally called "mid-fire"*, and like "high-fire" (which is Cone 9-11), the clay bodies are supposed to be fully vitrified, which should prevent the kind of absorption you're seeing. However, there are exceptions:

* some popular clay bodies sold as "Cone 6" are actually Cone 9 clay bodies, and as a result are still 1-3% absorbent at Cone 6, especially if the potter underfires them slightly (Cone 5.5), as is common. And some potters just use Cone 10 clay at Cone 6 regardless.

* some popular Cone 6 clay bodies, such as Soldate 60, have a lot of "grog" (high-fire particles) in them, which gives them superior strength and heat insulation, but increases the amount of microfractures because the grog doesn't always melt in firing.

* maybe you have a really colossal number of microfractures from microwaving. Hard to believe that those could have that much capillary action in a vitrified body, but maybe so.

I've posted your article to a potter's forum; we'll see what they come up with.

(* more on firing ranges here: )

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:13 PM:

Hmm. I see a history seed here:

We shall conquer their editors and sow their mugs with salt.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:44 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden #38: I wonder whether you could use this to smuggle small quantities of illegal chemicals.

I have trouble imagining what it could be worthwhile and effective for.

1. Whatever it is would have to both be quite valuable in fairly small amounts, and also able to survive the absorption and recovery.
2. At the same time, it's hard to imagine that some of it wouldn't be lost in the process, even if you ground up the ceramics.
3. It would also need to not be obvious (much less hazardous) when handling the ceramics. So for example, scratch LSD. :-) Also, you'd have enough traces on the surface that if there's a chemical detector, you'd be sunk (so scratch most other drugs too). Rare-earth metal salts? Poisonous as hell, but how mobile or obvious would they be?
4. Given #1, you're replacing some fairly small package with a much larger (and heavier) batch of ceramics. I'd think the size differential might be enough that it would usually be easier to hide your contraband inside something of similar size.

Overall, this looks like something that might be useful for a "movie-plot" scenario -- that is, some weirdly constrained situation where everything else is forbidden, so it "just happens" to be a useful tactic. Hmm, movie plots... how about DNA, or other nano-encoded data?

You could probably make explosive ceramics in this fashion -- you could at least get saltpeter in there, and perhaps nitroglycerine. (I'm thinking of dynamite, of course.) But again, this would only work if you're already safe from chemical detectors, much less MRI or the like. Let alone questions of detonation (when you want it to go, and not otherwise).

#46 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 01:59 PM:

Teresa @38, David Harmon @45

Another approach is to envisage circumstances where it might have made sense to smuggle smallish quantities of salt. (To avoid tax, maybe, rather than as an illegal substance.)

Perhaps the quantities wouldn't have to be that small, either. Turkish museums (and archaeological sites) are often full of the remains of pretty big amphorae - up to 1.5 meters tall, or so. I guess you could infuse quite a lot of salt into one of those.

#47 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 03:31 PM:

Noodling around & found this discussion about chipped crockery & food safety in Hansard (1948), a discussion that included MP Barnett Stross (who appears to be related to a regular poster here).

#48 ::: John Fiala ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 03:56 PM:

Soon Lee #34:

Thanks for the link - as a father of a small child, that's the sort of fun art/science play that I'm trying to collect for when she's a smidgeon older.

And yes, fascinating pictures.

#49 ::: Esther Inglis-Arkell ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 04:17 PM:

I write for io9, a Gawker site. I'm going to be writing a quick summary of this tomorrow (with a link to the site, so people can read more, of course). Would it be possible to post one of the pictures you use in this entry on the summary?

Esther Inglis-Arkell

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 04:33 PM:

Esther: Sure, no problem. Which one do you want?

#51 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 04:40 PM:

David Harmon @ 45

I'm vaguely remembering an episode of one of the CSI shows where the criminal-of-the-week mixed cocaine with ceramic dust and some sort of binder, then smuggled it in disguised as floor tiles.

Of course (a) the process of getting it out again destroyed the tile, and (b) Real Life seldom works like CSI.

#52 ::: Esther Inglis-Arkell ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 04:47 PM:

I think my favorite is the top right, because it shows the cool curling. Thanks!

#53 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 07:15 PM:

David @42:

Watered wine was still a thing in France at the end of the 20th century*. When I was in Paris on vacation, one evening I noticed a stranger at the next table watering his wine, very calmly, the same way people elsewhere mix sugar or milk into their coffee or tea.

I followed his example the next day, when I had lunch at a bistro in the Marais where the meal came with a small flask of wine, and the waiter just asked whether you wanted red or white. I don't think anyone noticed, certainly not to think "what is that foreign woman doing?"

*I have no reason to think that this changed at the end of the century, but I can only report on 1999.

#54 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 07:39 PM:

Esther Inglis-Arkell: Can do. What's the address?

#55 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 08:21 PM:

Abi @ 40

I read somewhere, quite possibly here at ML, that it is not that the alcohol makes the water safe to drink; rather that if you can successfully brew beer, then the water had been safe to begin with. This sounds plausible, given what I know of pathogenic micro-organisms (and other pollutants).

J Homes.

#56 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 08:37 PM:

Vicki #53: Interesting!

#57 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 08:48 PM:

Wine and beer would be safe to drink, because otherwise it wouldn't be wine or beer; the bad bacteria would have prevented it from being drinkable in the first place. And my understanding of the beer-making process is that it involves boiling the water used anyway, thus making "small beer" safe to drink even though it's got a relatively low alcohol content.

What always bothers me, though, when talking about how the ancients mixed water with wine to make it safe to drink, is that it doesn't seem to me that mixing water 1:1 (which appears to be on the high end of the usual mix; if my reading is correct it was generally mixed more dilutely) with wine, even strong wine, would be enough to disinfect the water.

Anybody know what percentage of alcohol in water is required to kill, say, dysentery? And how strong a typical Roman wine was?

It seems to me that drinking straight wine, or straight beer (or straight teas or tisanes) would be reasonably safe (modulo proper cleansing of one's drinking vessels), but mixing potentially contaminated water into it would only bring in pathogens which the alcohol wouldn't have the strength, or the time, to kill.

#58 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 09:37 PM:

@ 15 Jacque - I cheer for a fellow Laurel Mug-user, anyway! (I have a great and passionate love for her work, even as hokey as it occasionally got.)

I've got one that has gold inlay on it. I use to microwave it blithely, thinking it was just shiny paint, and then one day I watched the sparks playing over the metal in the microwave, and now I use it solely with the electric tea-kettle.

#59 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 09:39 PM:

Cally Soukup @57 -- you might not need to kill the bugs outright for the wine to have a positive effect: if alcohol weakens them, the body's immune system is more likely to defeat the bugs before they kill the infected person.

#60 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 10:52 PM:

Cally @57:

The Greeks and Romans of antiquity diluted wine with water, not to "purify" the water, but to reduce the strength of the wine. Why they needed to reduce it is a source of some debate; some historians hold that it was stronger than modern wine (around 20% alcohol), and some that they needed to dilute it because all they drank was wine ... and therefore they might go through the equivalent of several liters per day. Both theories, of course, could be true.

Also, ancient Greek wine would have been quite vinegary, and its acidity would have added to the alcohol as a microorganism inhibitor.

More reading:

#61 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2015, 11:47 PM:

J Homes #55:

I'm dubious. I don't think the water is necessarily safe to begin with (unless it's been boiled). I think it's more likely that the water is made safe by the ethanol produced during fermentation killing off pathogenic microbes. It's entirely plausible to have microbes harmful to humans present in water used for brewing that don't affect the yeast's ability to brew/ferment.

Cally Soukup #57:

No example of Roman wine remains so we can't know for sure. But present-day winemaking yeasts can produce a wine 14-18% ethanol* depending on the yeast strain used & the amount of sugar in the grape juice. A 12-13% wine is what I consider normal, though in recent years, there has been a drift to higher alcohol wines: to get riper & fruitier styles of reds you have to let the grapes to ripen longer but the side effect is more sugar in the grapes which when fermented results in a higher alcohol wine.

As for ethanol having a toxic effect, the dosage is a function of concentration & time; consider the difference between passing your hand over a candle vs holding your hand over the flame. So leaving in higher ethanol solution for longer maximises the killing effect on microbes. Though I guess it's possible for lower doses to sufficiently weaken pathogens so that the body can finish them off.

There are different pathogens that can cause dysentery so it's hard to say. I have seen some references to E. coli (one cause of dysentery) being killed by 4% ethanol, which is coincidentally the typical strength of beer.

So if you start with a 12% ethanol wine and add one part of that to two parts water to get a 4% wine, it should be as safe to drink as beer?

While I like wine as much as the next person, if I really wanted to make my drinking water safe, I would choose to boil it rather than ferment/brew it as boiling is faster & more effective at killing microbes. That said, there some things that are resistent to heat, Staphylococcal toxins are an example. But then there are some microbes that can grow in wine. The business of food safety is a complex & fascinating one.

*To get higher ethanol concentrations you'd need distillation.

#62 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 02:14 AM:

J Homes @55 - echoing Soon Lee, above, and adding something else: the process of fermentation, itself, also has the virtue of letting a known microbe colony win out over the competition. There are bacterial and non-alcoholic fermentations in this category as well, now that I think about it: Korean cuisine has drinking vinegars and a number of cultures do drinkable yogurts.

#63 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 05:34 AM:

Soon Lee @61 I don't know about ancient methods, but you can take it from this homebrewer that making modern beer involves boiling the wort (the unfermented malt extract) for anything up to two hours. Any microorganisms that can survive that are unlikely to be killed by the relatively low alcohol concentration generated by the subsequent fermentation.

#64 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 05:40 AM:

Note that there's a difference between doing something in order to purify water and surviving because something you do happens to purify water.

My understanding of the phenomenon is that, to the extent that it is a thing, it is the second thing: everyone has their ways of doing things, but only some of them lead to long-term viable cultures.

But it's a folkfactoid at best anyway.

#65 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 05:57 AM:

Dave Crisp #63:
You're absolutely right (I know much more about winemaking than brewing).

Further upthread discussion about smuggling small quantities of salt: doubt it's practical because how would you stop the salt from crystallizing & extruding through the surface during transport & giving the game away. You'd have to somehow prevent evaporation wouldn't you? I guess it might be doable if the duration of transport is short but given the small amounts, was salt ever high-value enough to make smuggling it this way worthwhile?

#66 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 06:22 AM:

Abi @64:

...everyone has their ways of doing things, but only some of them lead to long-term viable cultures.

Whether or not the double meaning (in a thread that has, shall we say, fermented discussion - sorry if I made any editors' eyes twitch) is intentional, it made me smile, and think a bit on the relationship between the viability of microbial colonies and human ones...

#67 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 06:30 AM:

Not to mention spoilage organisms that disrupt (microbial) communities...

#68 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 09:19 AM:

@27 - That mug is what I looked like ten minutes after swimming in the Dead Sea.

Green, concave, and toroidal?

#69 ::: Soubriquet ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 12:52 PM:

Very interesting.....
As a potter, I'd say that the mug is not actually stoneware, because stoneware, by definition, has very low porosity. The definition, according to my thousand page technical tome is an absorbency, under test, of 0.2 to 2 percent maximum. Your mug clearly went far beyond that.
High-fire, and low fire, and 'stoneware clay' are all relative terms, used loosely. Stoneware clay only becomes stoneware if it's fired to a vitrified, glassy state. Your mug is a commercial machine-pressed item, fired short of vitrification, with a glaze that is not a great fit, so, since manufacture, it has absorbed water from the atmosphere, through use, and through washing, which caused the clay body to expand, stretching the glaze on the surface. In order to accommodate that stretch, the glaze has cracked (crazed) perpendicular to the expansion stresses.
This crazing was invisible, until the salt showed it up.
The good news is that according to my researches, (and friends in public health laboratories), is that over several years I could find no case EVER, where food poisoning had been linked to bacteria passing through a crazed glaze.
True cracks, into the clay body might be a different matter, but assuming you wash and dry in a normal manner, even that has a very tiny likelihood of causing illness.
Low fired pottery containing lead and metallic oxides can leach metals in the presence of acids such as vinegar or fruit juices, but even then, so long as you're not using unstable lead glazed items on a daily basis, your total dose would be unlikely to be problematic.
I'd suggest you leave the mug immersed in a bucket of water for a week or so, the salt should migrate out, and won't be likely to affect the taste of coffee.

p.s., Soon Lee's reference to Hansard was interesting, and, I think, agrees with me. That the fear of contamination via crazing and cracks far oversteps any real risk

#70 ::: Soubriquet ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 12:53 PM:

Via Io9, by the way....

#71 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 01:39 PM:

Soubriquet (69/70): Welcome! That's very interesting. And reassuring.

#72 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 02:30 PM:

As another potter, I want to add my voice to the "don't worry about food safety" chorus.

There are a lot of ways to make ceramics that are not food safe (thus the lovely cappuccino mug I have dubbed "the poison cup" and store in the glass case of ornaments) but microcrazing on something professionally produced with the expectation it will be used for food - and more so if commercially produced - is unlikely to be one.

Cone 6 isn't really low fire; what it is, is the highest you can fire on a standard low-fire electric kiln. But it doesn't really share the properties of actual low fire processes, or the same glazes, or any of that. Josh Berkus effectively summed up some of the ways it can be made less than safe, and they are common (I have done the "fire a high fire clay only to cone 6" thing myself, though not with anything I'd expect to use for food.)

For non ceramicists, Low-fire (usually cone 06-04, where the 0 effectively works like negative numbers), incidentally, is what you will virtually always see if you take a public or small scale beginner's or kids' "learn to make pottery" class. I mostly tend not to use my low-fire projects as drinking vessels or soup bowls (things exposed mostly to drier foods worry me a lot less), but ymmv. The fact that most o the glazes used in such courses are commercially produced means they're covered by safety standards and labelling requirements a potter's own glazes mixes might not have, which may make up for the clay body's own drawbacks. Certainly if someone is using a wonky mug their own kid made, and they haven't noticed leaks or staining or things that worry them, I wouldn't say stop.

#73 ::: jon singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 07:16 PM:

1) When I first saw the mug, my immediate reaction was: a) the thermal expansion of the glaze is a lot higher than that of the body, and the glaze is badly crazed; b) the body is extremely porous. (There are some clay bodies that won't become reasonably nonporous even if they are fired to or past maturity.)

2) If you want to know whether a glaze is crazed, rub a highlighter marker into it and view it under blacklight. That's far more reliable than just looking at it. (People often rub sumi ink into white/pale/clear glazes; but if there is any crazing sumi ink produces permanent markings, which may not be desirable.)

#74 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 07:41 PM:

The patterns of salt remind me of frost flowers — which form when water is exposed to freezing air via capillaries. Unfortunately I don't know the original article which introduced me to the idea, which showed a spectacular example growing on a metal fence.

By the way, the images are spilling into the comment section; may I suggest a <div style="clear: both"></div> at the bottom of the article?

#75 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 08:34 PM:

@ 74 Kevin Reid -- I'm in the Southeast and big into native plants, and I cannot find a source of frostweed to save my life. It's aggravating, because I'd like to have that one in the garden at least one year, just to see it do the thing!

One of (many) plants too common and weedy to be cultivated and so they aren't in the nursery trade and if you don't have them, you can't get them. (I've got a good botanical garden locally that's big into natives, but even they haven't been able to dig it up for me, alas...)

#76 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 10:10 PM:

UrsulaV @75: This website claims to have a place to order seed for white crownbeard aka frostweed aka Verbesina virginica -- I found it by Googling for "white crownbeard seed" (without quotes). Let me know if it works.

#77 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 10:58 PM:

TNH @ 38: cf explanation @3 -- an illegal chemical would probably be an order of magnitude larger than a salt ion. It's also possible that minerals, being structures of ions, would pass ions more readily than organics -- but that's just a SWAG. (Now I have this vision of passing a chemical by treating it with acid or lye, then neutralizing what's leached out at the other end....) If it were possible: contra the quantity discussion, could someone deliberately do this to a shipment as a way of poisoning an importing region?

James Harvey @ 41: cause and effect are unclear here. East Asians (as discussed in a past thread and elsewhere) tend to lack an enzyme that detoxes alcohol. This also shows up in ]native americans[, suggesting that the enzyme mutation goes back at least 10-20,000 years -- further back than deliberate fermentation, from what I know of evidence of it. To me this suggests that they didn't develop brewing because the results were unpleasant, rather than drifting/mutating because they didn't brew. Patches to this logic welcome -- it's been 40 years since I had to parrot freshman-level genetics.

Soon Lee @ 61 (re fermentation limitations): Sam Adams has fermented beer up to the middle 20's. And "winter wine" was probably discovered long before distillation -- although I suspect most of Greece didn't get cold enough to make it.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 11:18 PM:

CHip @77 -- "Jacking" cider (freeze-distillation to remove water ice before the alcohol freezes) was definitely possible early on, also. And it's actually difficult *not* to discover, if you've got a cold-winter climate: might not find it in Seattle or much of California, but in the Boston area it would happen fairly frequently.

#79 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2015, 11:40 PM:

@ 76 - Alas, the one I find linked from there is a wholesaler only. Maybe I can convince a local nursery to order it...

#80 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 12:28 AM:

It occurs to me, maybe the mug gets more porous as the process continues. As salt seeps through, it would draw water into the cracks, thereby causing the cracks to expand.

In a phenomenon that might be related to that, I have a trick dental crown that tends to ache after I drink beer. My hypothesis is that the water-alcohol mixture seeps into the small cracks, and then while it is there, it pulls in more water, making the cracks expand a little, and that's what's causing the pain. But I don't know.

#81 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 03:41 AM:

CHip #77:

Feeezing. Of course. It completely slipped my mind.

(Grew up in the tropics & now living where the winters are mild enough that we don't get snow.)

The alcohol detox gene is IIRC ADH, alcohol dehydrogenase. I have empirical evidence that I have the functional version of the gene.

#82 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 04:36 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @21: drunk off almost half the contents before realizing I forgot to put a tea bag in there.

Friend of mine spent a year at a scientific research station in the Antarctic ±1969. (It was a draft dodge; seems the Army really doesn't want you after you've been cooped up in a small box with five other people for twelve months.)

He told me about The Old Antarctic Explorer's Coffee Cup.

It's worth your life to wash someone's coffee mug in the Antarctic because, if the supply plane is ever late, one just has to pour boiling water into one's mug and stir.

#83 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 05:20 AM:

Lenora Rose @72: if someone is using a wonky mug their own kid made, and they haven't noticed leaks

OMG I haven't thought of this in years: junior high art class had a segment on pottery, and I made this gloriously ugly artifact—roughly quart-sized badly-smoothed coil-technique jug/pitcher with a dark blue exterior and orange interior. I think I tried using it as a vase once, but given that half the water seeped out overnight, it was thereafter relegated to collecting dust on some high book shelf.

#84 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 05:47 AM:

Jacque @83, Lenora Rose @72: doesn't everyone, somewhere in their family, have a piece of shambleware that looks like a cross between a Horta and a pothole? I think my father used one as a change caddy for many years; can't remember if it was my handiwork or my brother's.

#85 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 11:54 AM:

A.J. Luxton (84): I don't think my family has any of those*, but the description "looks like a cross between a Horta and a pothole" made me snort with laughter. Thank you.

*although we did have a knitted...thing that I perpetuated as a kid and something vaguely bowl-like that my mother made from beach stones glued together

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 12:15 PM:

We had a bowl-thing that was about three inches across. It wasn't bad, and got used to hold small stuff (pins, tacks, the stuff that you want corralled-but-handy).
My sister still has the giraffe she made in school. (I was never good with clay.)

I used the leftover clay-with-shot from weighting the '84 Hugo bases for a couple of pattern weights. Without firing, just a couple of coats of model paint, they lasted about 20 years.

#87 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 03:32 PM:

A.J. Luxton @84: a cross between a Horta and a pothole*

Oh, ghods. How...apt. Except that I think this description might be, um, generous.

* I'm really glad I wasn't eating when I hit this.

P J Evans: My sister still has the giraffe she made in school.

Omg, another forgotten opus: this one was some sort of simple dinosaur/dragon/crocodile thing, except that it actually came out looking exactly like I wanted it to. One of those rare things that just falls out of your hands right.

leftover clay-with-shot from weighting the '84 Hugo bases

...sort of like casually mentioning that that book-end is a failed coupling from a Moon Lander. Okay, maybe not quite so much, but still. O.O

#88 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 03:45 PM:

"Ceramic atrocity" is a term of art in my family. It refers not to the productions of children and beginners, but to hideously ugly commercial work. The original Ceramic Atrocity was a wedding present, a singularly unloveable "basket of flowers" of which the basket was a bowl sort of thing, the flowers were the lid, and a muddy-lavender butterfly the lid handle.

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 03:46 PM:

It was about enough for two slider-sized weights. Really not much - but I think all of us who were weighting the bases had our inner children fulfilled: playing with clay, for reasons!

#90 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 05:15 PM:

Lila @ #88

The canonical example being Ivan's vase?

#91 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 06:37 PM:

PJ Evans @89: it was also a really fun group of people, as I recall. We were laughing a lot.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 09:49 PM:

I'd forgotten who was involved (the joys of getting older). But yeah, it was fun. And I strongly recommend not doing ceramic bases again.

#93 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 10:07 PM:

Tom W @ 78: ISTM that ciderjack would be discovered wherever cider is native; I've read repeatedly that apple trees require several weeks below freezing to bloom properly. Are apples a coastal phenomenon in WA, or only inland?

I don't have climate data for Greece even now (as opposed to BCE); I was remembering that propane for camp stoves was very hard to come by 50 years ago because butane (which condenses at -1 C) was vastly preferred. OTOH, Wikipedia says that the northern interior Greek city Ptolemaida set Greece's record low temperature of -27 C, so maybe they could have had winter wine in some areas. (Backwoods hooch for the coastal folks, as in the simplistic view of Appalachia?)

Soon Lee @ 81: ADH is correct; I was glossing over.

Lila @ 88: is the term reserved for the ugly, or can it also apply to bad taste? I've seen a souvenir salt-and-pepper set with a little volcanic ash mixed into the clay; the removable top part (pepper) looks like the summit that Mount St. Helens \used/ to have, while the rest (salt) looks like what's left.

#94 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 10:41 PM:

CHip @93: I'm not sure what's so tasteless about that, exactly. Yes, Mount St. Helens killed a handful of people when it went off, but car accidents kill three orders of magnitude more people in this country every year, with (arguably) less ability to avoid the danger zones, and we make all kinds of car-themed knickknacks without comment... Oh, no, now I've gone and turned this thread depressing. Wide-angle perspectives improve most natural disasters and worsen everything else, I guess.

(I live in Portland, by the way, and when we dug up the soil in one of our previous houses, we were able to discern that it hadn't been turned deeply since 1980 by the distinct layer of ash.)

(Also, I kind of want clever volcano-themed ceramics now.)

#95 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 11:31 PM:

CHip @93: We have a very nice columnar apple that bears quite heavily in Ballard (part of Seattle). It hasn't snowed the last 3 years (to notice) but there are a few cold nights (down in the teens F) each winter. The major orchards are in the eastern plains, though.

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2015, 11:41 PM:

"Apple Hill", east of Placerville, should get cold enough for that kind of stuff. They get snow, or used to. (It's at higher altitude than Placerville, somewhere around 2500-3000 feet. There used to be a lot of orchards there, and you could watch apples being sorted and boxed.)

#97 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 02:00 AM:

A.J. Luxton, #94: Maybe because automobile deaths are widely distributed and result from a lot of different incidents, while the Mt. St. Helens ones happened all in a well-defined clump? Just a SWAG, but it seems plausible to me; it pings the same kind of "making a profit off other people's suffering, how tacky can you get?" reaction that I got from the explosion of red-white-ahd-blue-colored everything in the immediate wake of 9/11.

#98 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 02:58 AM:

CHip #93:

"I've read repeatedly that apple trees require several weeks below freezing to bloom properly."

I highly doubt that given that some of New Zealand's major apple growing regions don't get that cold.

#99 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 08:05 AM:

Lee @97: maybe so. I confess to the kind of reverence for the fearsome aspects of nature that makes them very different to me internally; but that is a spiritual matter and neither here nor there.

#100 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 08:50 AM:

TNH, you know, I've been wondering.... just how much salt did you put into that mug? A teaspoon? A tablespoon? Half a cup? (I presume it was dissolved in hot water.)

#101 ::: Shannon B ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 10:18 AM:

My husband sent me this today--replace 'mug' and 'salt' with 'butter dish' and 'butter' and you have a conversation we were having yesterday about needing to replace the butter dish. For anyone who's wondering about molecules, etc. that are bigger than little old NaCl, which butter certainly is. I'm not sure how much bigger offhand--it's my sister who's the chemist--but it's bigger.

Additional information for what it's worth: piece was made at a paint-your-own ceramic place, glaze had visible but fairly minor crazing on the top piece when it came home (no visible crazing on the bottom piece until much later), none of the cracks are tangible and there's been no flaking. I'm just not looking forward to a summer of cleaning butter off the counter 'cause it oozed out of the dish, and while salt might be a good disinfectant, I suspect butter is not.

#102 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 02:10 PM:

Shannon: Paint your own ceramics also tend to be low fire, so more porous. But I wouldn't have expected butter to seep...

Cassy B: IN the OP, she describes it as a palmful, which I would guess is at least 2 tbsp, depending on one's palm, and likely more.

#103 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 02:54 PM:

Shannon B@101: while salt might be a good disinfectant, I suspect butter is not.

So what's the ranking of disinfectants so far?

  • Proverbial sunlight.
  • Salt water; subcategories:
    • The Dead Sea
    • Vineyard Sound
    • A mug of salt water
  • ...
  • Butter.

#104 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 03:33 PM:

A.J. Luxton @84: a cross between a Horta and a pothole*

Oh, ghods. How...apt. Except that I think this description might be, um, generous.

* I'm really glad I wasn't eating when I hit this.

I *was* eating when I hit this. Clementine juice everywhere.

#105 ::: Shannon B ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 05:57 PM:

Leonora@102, we don't refrigerate the butter in the dish, so during the summer (and whenever we forget to shift it away from beside the stove before baking) it gets pretty soft. Not actually liquid, but pretty soft. It's taken more than a year to get to the point of seepage, but yeah--washing it the other day I'd hit it with soap and water and it would be oily again before I got the soap off. I found I could wipe the butter off the bottom and watch as more seeped through in little beads and lines. Time to make a new one! (or maybe buy one, but dangit, I like having a pretty butter dish that I decorated myself!)

#106 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 07:42 PM:

ShannonB, I'm very fond of glass butter dishes for exactly that reason. My current one is a clear Anchor Hocking one I picked up at Target because it was cheap, but if I can find certain vintage Pyrex or Corningware opaque designs I'll be very happy. I know, an online search should make it easy, but $5.29 in my checking account means it's an idle wish for the moment.

#107 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 08:14 PM:

Shannon, #105: Would it be feasible to repurpose the butter dish for something else (once you've gotten all the seepage out of it!), such as hard candies on the coffee table, and then buy a new, non-porous dish for the butter? That way you get the best of both worlds, it seems to me.

#108 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 08:35 PM:

CHip, Soon Lee:
Apples require cold but not frost. The threshold temperature is something like 7C. Auckland is borderline: some apples and most cherries won't set fruit. Otago is perfect.

#109 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 08:49 PM:

Shannon B (105)/Rikibeth (106): My local paint-your-own-pottery place also does glass fusing. Could you make a fused-glass butter dish, Shannon? That would give you a pretty dish you made yourself, that is also glass. Win-win!

#110 ::: Shannon B ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 09:03 PM:

Mary Eileen @109, that would be six kinds of awesome, but the molds they use to shape the glass fusing at my local don't include matching dish-and-lid shapes, I don't think. They didn't last time I was there, anyway, and if I don't lid the butter it kind of defeats the point (the point: having room temp butter that is easy to spread on toast for maximum tastiness without leaving it open to the depredations of cats or the occasional fruit flies).

Lee@107: I still think it's pretty; it'll probably get repurposed for something, although I'm not sure what. Although first I'llprobably swaddle it in paper towels for a few weeks to see what oozes out.

#111 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 09:32 PM:

thomas @ 108: interesting; Wikipedia says that New Zealand's record cold was in Otago; it was only -14F, but that suggests a lot of cold nights good for setting fruit. Interesting to hear that applejack would \not/ always be possible in cider country.

Any data on historic cultivars vs recent acclimates (e.g., the trees at altitude in Ecuador that bear twice a year)? It sounds like species may have a fair amount of give in it.

#112 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 09:44 PM:

CHip #111: The species has a huge amount of give in it. Most orchards grow their trees from cuttings, precisely because apples grown from seed are more or less random... with, AIUI, a minority chance of being directly edible, much less matching the features of the parents. (Note that apples that aren't directly edible may still be good for cider.)

#113 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 09:56 PM:

Shannon B (110): Oh, yes, I didn't think about the lid. That would be a problem. Drat.

#114 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 10:05 PM:

There are apple cultivars that need very little winter chilling - one low-chill variety is named 'Beverly Hills', which should give you an idea of how little chilling it needs!

#115 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2015, 11:29 PM:

WRT butter seepage: IME, oils in general are ticky to contain. I'd had a vague impression that this was because they have small molecules, but I'm not an organic chemist, so I don't know what the technicalities are.

I do know (empiracally) that a Tupperware seal that will happily constrain water will seep olive oil (hence my habit of double-packing olive oil based sauces).

#116 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 04:47 AM:

CHip #111:

There's a lot of variation in required hours of cold, as in almost every other apple phenotype.

This seems to be a good reference. Some new southern-hemisphere cultivars (Pink Lady, Gala, Granny Smith) and some old cultivars (Pettingill, Yellow Bellflower and Winter Banana) will fruit in much of southern California.

Michael Pollan's early (before he became an annoying celebrity) book The Botany of Desire is very good on apples.

#117 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 05:04 AM:

Jaque #115

Oils have quite big molecules, dozens of times larger than water. What makes them seep well is that they will wet a lot of surfaces, getting into cracks. Water, in contrast, prefers to stick to itself than to most other things, so it tends to form droplets rather than a thin film. Porous ceramics are one of the surfaces where water will form a thin film and soak into cracks, but rubber and most plastics aren't.

The main distinction isn't size. Water is polar; each molecule has positive and negative charges, so it sticks better to surfaces that also have charges.

Back in nineteen-mumble-mumble when I was an undergraduate, there was a scare campaign saying that condoms wouldn't prevent HIV infection because latex had pores larger than a virion (5 microns vs about 0.15 microns). What they didn't point out was that a fortiori latex also had holes bigger than a water molecule. Surface tension made sure that water-based liquids didn't flow into the holes.

#118 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 10:35 AM:

Thomas, I was taught that in freshman health class in 1998. With pictures. Twits.

#119 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 06:33 PM: now wait. The fact that the salt was extruding from the cracks in the cup as it was drying out argues that the salt takes up more volume when it's dry?

#120 ::: Shannon B ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 07:18 PM:

Jacque@119 (and anyone else please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) I think it's not that it's necessarily taking up more volume, but that the volume is distributed differently. Since NaCl forms crystals when it's dry (as opposed to dissolving completely in water) then when wet it can get into the tiny pores of the ceramic, but as it dries and tries to crystallize it finds it has no room within those tiny pores to do so, hence the self-extrusion (and for that matter the entire process of growing salt or sugar crystals on strings, etc.)

Although technically I suppose that would mean that yes, it takes up more volume when dry: crystallization is a very orderly structure, but it's forming a lattice rather than being free in solution to slide around and pack more tightly. It's the same reason ice expands. Crystals are just an inherently less efficient use of space.

#121 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2015, 07:59 PM:

Shannon B #120: There's also the issue that ions in water collect clusters of water molecules around them. The packing of these, and various ionic/bonding effects, add up such that in solution, the ions are effectively overlapping with the volume that the water would have taken up without their presence. This is why adding salt to water does not increase the solution's volume nearly as much as you'd expect.

#122 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2015, 11:25 AM:

David Harmon @ 112: (Note that apples that aren't directly edible may still be good for cider.) When I was homebrewing (20+ years ago), a local chef with a strong interest in cider would do a blend specifically for fermenting; it had ~10% crabapples for character.

thomas @ 115: fascinating! I see it affirms that all species require \some/ chilling; having gone to Magic Mountain in November, I am not surprised that there are regions outside the immediate LA basin that can grow "low-chill" varieties. (The paper mentions people being surprised at apples grown in a desert, not noting that a desert can get very cold when the sun goes down.) The paper also reports most apples requiring cross- rather than self-pollination, explaining the seed variability David notes above.

Shannon B @ 120: Crystals are just an inherently less efficient use of space. That's overgeneralizing, or maybe inspecific. Grown crystals like this example are very bulky, although other substances can form crystals solid/regular enough to be clear, e.g. "rock candy". (I don't know the physics for this -- could be polar vs non-polar solids in a polar liquid, or the fact that the solution could ~wick in the picture rather than depositing while surrounded by liquid.) Ground crystals vary widely; I just determined that table salt is ~50% denser than water (21 grams per tablespoon per an Escali). Rocks are crystals of widely varying densities, some despite making room for interpolated water molecules (whose orientation I had to determine in physical-chemistry lab).

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2015, 11:30 AM:

There's a reason why one city in the (high) desert is named 'Apple Valley' - that area is, or was, a local center for apple orchards. (High desert is the Mojave, which is at 2000 to 4000 feet, and does get snow from time to time.)

#124 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2015, 02:31 PM:

One possible explanation for crystal extrusion might be osmotic gradients. That is, you have a relatively weak solution in the pores of the ceramic. At the surface, the water evaporates, and crystals form (with gaps/cracks filled with more concentrated solution). This will cause water to diffuse from the ceramic to the gaps in the crystals, and when it gets to the air, more evaporation. Since the evaporation causing increased concentration and crystallization always takes place at the air/liquid boundary, that will cause the crystals to grow outward, at least as long they still have liquid-filled pores within them. You don't get crystals forming inside the ceramic, because the solution is always less concentrated there (because it can't evaporate like it can at the surface).

#125 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2015, 04:49 PM:


Australia handled the HIV epidemic rather better than the US -- better than many countries. This was a poster campaign by some anti-sex group, not official, although the posters were clearly professionally made.

#126 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2015, 06:30 PM:

Jacque, #119: Salt isn't the only thing that takes up relatively more volume in solid form than in solution. The most common such thing is (wait for it) water! It's a function of molecule shapes, and the fact that molecules in a crystal formation are fixed in place while molecules in solution can turn to any convenient orientation.

(Notice that I'm talking about minerals in solution, not the liquid form of the pure mineral. Solid salt would indeed sink in liquid salt, because it would be denser. But the melting point of salt is 1,474° F!)

(And I see Shannon beat me to it. But you can find explanations of why ice is less dense than water; and when you add tiny salt ions to the water, they also slip into those spaces.)

#127 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 10:13 AM:

This is an open-thready kind of comment, prompted by a combination of this discussion and the drift on the Hugos thread a few days ago to C.S. Lewis, allegory, and metaphor.

So. This mug looks to me like a metaphor for what happens when you fill yourself with media about (whatever subject you find entertaining but not especially valuable or good for you. For me, that includes things that go beyond snark into put-down humor, outrage farming, or things with an elitist or self-righteous vibe.). Anyway, whatever you're reading or watching, it seeps into you. And then, when you think it's gone, you extrude it out into the rest of your life. Suggesting that, if I want to be making a positive impact on the world around me, I should be filling myself with things that make me, as abi puts it, smarter, wiser, and more joyful.

This heavy-handed mugaphor is brought to you by the letter M.

#128 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 10:32 AM:

#127 ::: OtterB

I'm interested in recommendations.

I like Otium.

#129 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 11:11 AM:

OtterB, #127: In support of your hypothesis, I observe that people who spend a lot of time thinking about the unpleasant things that happen to them* tend to be... not very pleasant people to be around. Or, to rephrase it, focusing on the unpleasant moments of daily life can turn you into an asshole.

* By which I don't mean the very real problems faced by those on the low end of the privilege ladder, but things like being cut off in traffic or long lines at the grocery store -- short-term annoyances which are not directed at you personally. This also includes dealing with the sort of people who are unpleasant to everyone they meet.

#130 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 02:47 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz, thanks for the recommendation of Otium. I hadn't seen it before. Will have to go back with more time to spend.

I'd like more recommendations also. Many of the things that hit this spot for me these days are religious books of one kind or another, and I know that's not everyone's cup of tea.

#131 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 05:25 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz #128: Agreed, thanks for Otium, that's a way interesting site!

#132 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2015, 06:32 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @128: "Values Affirmation"

Relatedly, Sydney Simon has some good stuff about values clarification.

#133 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2015, 05:13 PM:

On the subject of leaching, I decided to clean my (stainless steel) teapot a few days ago, so dropped in a dishwasher tablet, added boiling water from the kettle, and left it on the stove at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, topping up occasionally. This usually gets all the clag out of it, whereas several dishwasher cycles don't.

After allowing it to cool, what came out looked like Indian ink, so it was rinsed in several changes of water (until clear), then refilled and left overnight in case of any remaining dishwasher detergent.

Pouring that out the following morning, well... it looked like normal tea, so I am repeating the overnight soaking before I try using it to make tea in again.

I really want another ceramic teapot, and some loose-leaf Darjeeling (except that nowhere I normally shop has anything other than teabags). Bah!

#134 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2015, 05:24 PM:

I haven't had any problems with mine, but it only gets water that's been run through a filter.
The difference between 'hard' water and 'soft' water is quite noticeable - when I had a teakettle that got tap water, I had to clean the 'hard' out of it every so often, and it was work. Five or six mm (a quarter inch) of that on the bottom of the kettle was not at all fun to remove.

#135 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 01:22 PM:

Cadbury Moose: I decided to clean my (stainless steel) teapot

My dad would always grumble for a couple of weeks after my mom cleaned the coffee pot (old electric stainless steel perk-type) because the coffee "didn't taste right."

#136 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 01:37 PM:

Some years back I went to a dance event in England and encountered, for the first time, coffee made in large cafeteria urns that had clearly spent their whole, long lives full of well-stewed tea. I'd never before had a residual tea flavor dominate coffee. (It gave me a more visceral understanding of the complaints of tea drinkers in the US.)

#137 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 01:43 PM:

@133 I don't know why, but the brown deposit left by tea is much more soluble in acid than soap. I've had good luck cleaning teapots by adding half a cup of white vinegar, filling to capacity with hot tap water, soaking for 15-20 minutes, then scrubbing with a clean scouring pad.

Stainless steel should be completely impervious and not subject to crazing the way ceramic is, but the surface sure can pick up lots of that brown deposit.

Don't do this with one of those porous Chinese earthenware teapots!

#138 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 01:44 PM:

The easy way to clean hard water deposits out of teakettles, CPAP reservoirs etc. is to pour in a bit of vinegar and let it soak overnight or gently simmer until dissolved. "Rust spots" inside such things are sometimes actually discolored mineral deposits that can be cleared out the same way.

On a similar note, though, I've been noticing a mineral crust and a thin but persistent oil film near the top of my freshwater aquarium ever since moving to renal digs with ancient plumbing. Anyone have suggestions about how to prevent/alleviate that, or should I just start using distilled water to replenish evaporation?

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 02:11 PM:

I've used LimeAway on stainless-steel mugs (and on ceramic and plastic with tea deposits). It doesn't remove them so much as it loosens them.

#140 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 02:29 PM:

On the topic of removing mineral deposits (which is a major issue / topic of discussion in the world of espresso machines, where I've run in to the question), the best answer I've seen is hot citric acid. It's cheap, dissolves scale and is pretty innocuous. I wouldn't use it on permeable ceramic unless you want your tea tasting like lemon juice, but it'll strip scale off metal surfaces wonderfully.

#141 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 03:24 PM:

Julie @138:

There are, of course, practical problems with letting a CPAP reservoir soak in vinegar overnight. The stuff isn't good to breathe (neither is citric acid).

I've taken to filling with reverse-osmosis purified water at night, and dumping out the remainder (which has "simmered" overnight) in the morning, having dissolved some of the minerals in the process. It doesn't work well.

#142 ::: Patrick ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 09:04 PM:

Well, I think you can at least safely say that this particular mug is free of microbial life.

#143 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 09:30 PM:

Patrick #142:

Not without testing first: Teresa might have inadvertently selected for growth of halophilic microbes that thrive in high salt environments.

#144 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 11:05 PM:

Buddha Buck @141: So in addition to having very nearly my same pants measurements, you also have sleep apnea?

Are you dark-haired, graying at the temples, with a hairline just starting to noticeably recede, and nearsighted? I may have to conclude that my birth mother had twins and just didn't tell me about my brother, if so.

#145 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2015, 11:43 PM:

David Goldfarb @144:

I am red-haired, graying in the beard, with a hairline which has receded well beyond the crown of my head. At my age, I can focus unaided better at 20m than I can at 1m. With glasses I can focus better at 50cm than I can at 1m, and can't at all past that.

So I doubt we're twins.

#146 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 02:24 AM:

David Goldfarb, Buddha Buck - Apparently it is believed by makers of trousers that if you're fat, you must also be tall, or alternatively that if you need 44x28 jeans, you'll hem them yourself, because they just don't exist, and even finding 44x30 is hard. (And no, the hairline was gone by my early 30s :-)

#147 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2015, 02:33 AM:

As far as alcohol killing bacteria in water goes, there's a reason that wine turns into vinegar. But maybe it kills off enough other stuff to help, just as salt and lactic acid bacteria keep most other stuff from infecting sauerkraut.

The standard story about tea is that a leaf or flower fell into the cup of boiled water that had been prepared for the Yellow Emperor to drink, and rather than being upset he decided it was tasty.

Dr. Wolfe@140 - hot citric acid solution for cleaning espresso machines
Yow! Thank you! I am currently in possession of a mostly unused jar of Rokeach Sour Salt (aka citric acid), and a clogged espresso machine for which boiling vinegar wasn't enough to unclog. I must try combining the two.

#148 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2015, 12:10 AM:

Bill Stewart: As I mentioned on another thread, I've had good results looking for trousers in my size at Jos A. Bank.

#149 ::: Tae Kim ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2015, 12:39 AM:

Using distilled water in CPAP reservoirs is recommended.

#150 ::: David Casseres (fojs) ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2015, 12:05 AM:

Regarding apples, I saw an orchard, abandoned for economic reasons, in Costa Rica in San Gerardo de Dota. That's between 6000 -and 7000 feet, and ten degrees from the Equator. It definitely doesn't frost there, but it's chilly at night. Most of the time it's cloud-forest. The apple trees looked healthy to me, but I'm no expert.

#151 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2015, 06:36 AM:

I've only seen inseams shorter than 30" about twice in my life. Admittedly I do a lot more jeans shopping [in the 34-40" waist range, varying over the last 25 years] than anything else.

From elsewhere in the thread, I have now discovered the existence of vinegar eels.

... and that's why I hang out here. You people are my people.

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