|The Secret of Everyday Things|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|Fascinating conversations with Uncle Paul reveal the mysteries behind the dyeing and weaving of cloth, the lighting and heating of homes, the processing involved in bringing oil, coffee, tea, spices, and other foodstuffs to the table, and the power of water in all its manifestations. Excellent as follow-on to The Story Book of Science. Ages 11-14 |
NE day Emile showed a sulky face because, when he went
to Mother Ambroisine for something to eat between
meals, she gave him only a slice of bread without
butter or honey or anything else on it to make it taste
good. But Marie reproved him, saying there were plenty
of people in the world that would be glad enough to get
a slice of dry bread and would even consider it a royal
"For it is n't every one can have bread when he wants
it," she continued. "There are countries where the
people have never even seen such a thing. Is n't that
so, Uncle Paul?"
"It is only too true," was his reply. "You already know
from my talks with you that not even in our own favored
land can all the people have white bread on the table.
In many homes rye and barley serve as very inferior
substitutes for wheat; and what is true of this country
is even more notably the case throughout large sections
of the world as a whole."
"But what do people eat if they can't get bread of any
kind?" asked Claire.
"Sometimes one thing, sometimes another. There are a
number of cereals, some of them quite unfamiliar to us,
that afford nourishment, though
fur-  nishing nothing like our light and fragrant white bread
with its crisp crust and sponge-like interior. Asia has
rice, Africa millet, and America maize, or Indian corn.
In China and India the people have hardly any food but
rice cooked in water with a little salt. In fact, half
the world lives on virtually nothing else."
"Rice, then, takes the place of bread with those
people, does n't it?" asked Claire.
"Yes, it may be said to take the place of our bread
when they have anything to go with it; but not
infrequently the whole meal consists of rice."
"With nothing else, at all?" asked Emile incredulously.
"With nothing else of any description," his uncle
assured him, "from year's end to year's end."
"Then they must be an uncommonly frugal sort of
"Yes; but the warmth of the climate makes this light
diet sufficient, whereas in our latitude, with its
colder temperature, we should die of consumption if
limited to such fare."
"Is this rice that takes the place of bread in China
and India really the same as that we buy at the
grocer's?" asked Claire. "We sometimes have that cooked
"Exactly the same. It is imported into this country
from distant lands. What you had last week, as soft as
sugar and as white as snow, may have come from the
country of the Hindus, or perhaps from China. The plant
producing this article of food has a stalk not unlike
that of wheat; but instead of the
 latter's erect ear of grain it bears a graceful tuft of
weak and drooping clusters of seeds. The leaves are
long and narrow, like ribbons, and are rough to the
touch. It is an aquatic plant, as you have learned in
one of our former talks,
requiring a marshy soil and
growing almost submerged in mud and water. Artificial
irrigation is often resorted to in China to bring about
the needed conditions, and when the harvest season
arrives the water is drawn off and the reaper, sickle
in hand, wades into the mud to garner the heavily laden
tops of the rice-stalks. But it is a task far different
from our cheery harvest; there is no chirping of
crickets or song of lark to enliven the work, no
display of corn-flowers or poppies to gladden the eye.
The reaper plies his sickle with the mud and water
reaching sometimes as high as his knees."
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