January 5, 2011

A winter’s tale

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 1:18 am
Tags: , , , ,

If your ancestors were German colonists who settled in Herkimer County in upstate New York in the early 18th century, you probably know all about the Great Frost of 1709.

William Denham of Upminister in England had been keeping track of the weather for twelve years – on the night of January 5, 1709, he recorded a temperature of -12C (10F), the lowest he had ever seen.  He thought ‘the Frost was greater (if not more universal also) than any other within the Memory of Man.’

Walking on a frozen Venetian lagoon, 1708-09, painted by Gabriele Bella.

Minnesotans will be unimpressed by a low of ten degrees, but in England at the time it was extraordinary – even before global warming, UK winter temps hovered around freezing. The winter of 1708-09 is estimated to be the coldest in Europe in the past 500 years.

Then the freeze hit the Continent.  Acording to Stephanie Pain at New Scientist

People across Europe awoke on 6 January 1709 to find the temperature had plummeted. A three-week freeze was followed by a brief thaw – and then the mercury plunged again and stayed there. From Scandinavia in the north to Italy in the south, and from Russia in the east to the west coast of France, everything turned to ice. The sea froze. Lakes and rivers froze, and the soil froze to a depth of a metre or more.

In France, the Great Frost caused a famine the following year that killed more than half a million people.  The government forced the nobility to pay for soup kitchens to avoid a peasant revolt.

And, in the German Palatinate along the French border, farmers who had suffered from drought, famine and constant harrying by the French, gave up and emigrated to England.  More than 13,000 of them arrived and the British government really didn’t know what to do with them.  So most were sent to America on ships hired for the purpose.  They settled in the Hudson River valley eventually, many around Saugerties.

* * *

During the American occupation of Japan, the US government shipped tons of wheat flour to the defeated nation, which was suffering from severe food shortages.  The Japanese government urged people to learn to make bread.

Ramen. Photo by Schellack.

That seemed strange to Momofuko Ando, a Japanese businessman – why not use the flour to make noodles, a much more familiar food?  Why not give the flour to noodle-makers and distribute the product?  Because the noodle-makers are too small, too unreliable to provide food for everyone, he was told.

It took him more than ten years – during which the Japanese were presumably learning to make bread – but Ando finally perfected his product: instant ramen noodles.  In 1971, he discovered the polystyrene cup and Cup of Noodles was born.

Ando died four years ago today at the age of 96, having eaten instant ramen every day, reportedly right up until the day before he died.



  1. Chilling and soupy thank you jean.


    Comment by avery — January 5, 2011 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  2. nice story! i’m going to assume that he ate very little else (or just produce) since the nutritional value on a cup o noodles is horrendous – lol 🙂


    Comment by Nina C — January 5, 2011 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

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