Fill­ing the cor­nu­copia

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - Pam Bax­ter From the Ground Up

When I was a lit­tle girl, ev­ery year a few weeks be­fore Thanks­giv­ing my mom would bring out a cor­nu­copia from the cup­board in the din­ing room. This and a cute set of Pil­grim can­dles was the ex­tent of our dec­o­ra­tions, but they set the cel­e­bra­tory har­vest mood.

Re­cently, I re­al­ized that I’ve al­ways taken the idea of the “horn of plenty” for granted. This now sur­prises me. I mean, our table­top cor­nu­copia was pretty small, but even a large one wouldn’t hold more than a few ears of In­dian corn, a gourd or two, and maybe some nuts. How was some­thing so small a sym­bol of plenty? Was it per­haps a ref­er­ence to a hunt­ing horn?

Once I asked those ques­tions, oth­ers fol­lowed. Was the cor­nu­copia ever used out­side of Thanks­giv­ing? When and where did it orig­i­nate, any­way, and why? Look­ing for an­swers, I took a brief foray onto the in­ter­net, which led me to dig into Edith Hamilton’s Mythol­ogy.

The cor­nu­copia ap­pears in Hamilton’s book way at the end, the first in an al­pha­bet­ized list of “Brief Myths.” One tiny para­graph tells of Amalthea, who — de­pend­ing on the ver­sion of the story — is ei­ther a goat, or a nymph who owns a goat. The im­por­tant part of the story is the goat, whose milk was used to feed the in­fant Ro­man god, Zeus, and who had a horn that “was al­ways full of what­ever food or drink any­one wanted.”

There’s an­other story there that tells of a con­flict be­tween Her­cules and the river-god Ach­e­lous. For the fight, Ach­e­lous took the form of a bull. Her­cules con­quered him and cut off one of his horns. The horn “was al­ways mag­i­cally full of fruit and flow­ers.”

Re­gard­less of which story the cor­nu­copia ac­tu­ally stems from — and it could of course be both — the root of the word is right there in an­cient Latin: “cor­nus,” i.e., horn (think cor­net) and “copiae,“i.e., plenty (think co­pi­ous).

For most of us in this coun­try, food is just around the cor­ner. Grown, har­vested, pack­aged, shipped, and placed on the shelves for us, we just have to plunk down our money. There are gro­cery stores open around the clock and fast-food places open un­til late. Food is al­ways avail­able; we don’t even have to wait for it to be in sea­son. We might worry about our food bud­get, but we don’t worry about the gro­cery store shelves be­ing empty.

This is still a fairly re­cent phe­nom­e­non. For thou­sands of years, sur­vival de­pended on hunt­ing skills and in­di­vid­ual fam­ily food pro­duc­tion. No won­der some of those lesser myths of an­cient Rome in­cluded a mag­i­cal horn that al­ways pro­vided food. It isn’t that long ago, that the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans lived in ru­ral ar­eas and re­lied heav­ily on their own ef­forts for their food sup­ply. The change was rel­a­tively swift: from only six per­cent of Amer­i­cans liv­ing in ci­ties in 1800; to forty per­cent liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas in 1900; and eighty per­cent in 2000, ac-

cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau.

Though only a hand­ful of us live di­rectly off the land any­more, there is still some­thing that calls us to cel­e­brate the har­vest,

share the bounty, and give thanks. And re­gard­less of the ori­gin of the prac­tice, there is some­thing that feels sat­is­fy­ing at a deep, pri­mal level about fill­ing a cor­nu­copia with fruits, nuts, veg­eta­bles, and grains — rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a good har­vest.

It’s easy to assem­ble a cor­nu­copia. Raf­fia makes

a good filler for the pointy end. Then se­lect fruits and veg­eta­bles that will last for a cou­ple of weeks, for ex­am­ple, mini pump­kins, gourds, In­dian corn, pomegranates, even ap­ples and deep bur­gundy­col­ored pears. (Check the ten­der fruits for spoilage.) Don’t pack them tightly, but let them spill out the mouth

of the horn. Add some un­shelled wal­nuts and some fall-col­ored pa­per leaves, and let the celebration be­gin.

Pam Bax­ter is an avid or­ganic veg­etable gar­dener who lives in Kim­ber­ton. Di­rect e-mail to pcbax­ter@ver­i­, or send mail to P.O. Box

80, Kim­ber­ton, PA 19442. Join the con­ver­sa­tion at “Ch­ester County Roots,” a Face­book page for gar­den­ers in the Delaware Val­ley. Go to Face­book, search for Ch­ester County Roots, and “like” the page. To re­ceive no­tice of up­dates, click or hover on “Liked” to set your pref­er­ences.

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