2011.09 smoothie
Photo of fruit in blender by Sigurdas [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Many years ago, there was a wealthy family in poor health. The local doctor examined them and discovered to his surprise that the entire family showed symptoms of scurvy.  The family had no fruit in their diets.  The doctor’s prescription was simple:  eat more fruit.  As the wealthy family didn’t prepare their own meals, this order was passed to the family’s household staff.

The family’s butler was in charge of both the pantry and all the male staff.  The butler instructed the errand boy that, from now on, he would need to procure fresh fruit on his trips to the market.  Further, the errand boy should check with the cook every morning before leaving for the market to learn what fruits would be needed that day.

Image by Sigurdas via WikiCommons

The errand boy tracked down the family cook and asked her for a list of what fruit would be needed for upcoming recipes.  The cook was unaccustomed to using fruit in dishes for the family, and did not have a list prepared.   Then, she recalled hearing about a new fad: the “fruit smoothie” consisting solely of blended fruit.   The cook told the errand boy not to worry about locating her and asking for a new list every day; instead, he could just pick up whatever fruit looked the freshest.  In return for that saved time, upon returning to the household, the errand boy would just need to put the fruit in a blender and then transfer the blended fruit to jugs in the cooler.

This arrangement was agreeable to all. Fruit was selected every day, blended into smoothies, stored in the cooler, and served to the family with their meals.  The family’s health improved and they enjoyed smoothies for many years.

Image via Wikipedia

After a while, though, the oldest daughter, Mary, developed a chronic rash.  The doctor ran some tests and declared that Mary was allergic to melons in the smoothie.  A kitchen maid was assigned to taste Mary’s smoothies for any hint of melon flavor before serving them, and Mary’s health was rapidly restored.

Image from http://freefoto.com

One night, the middle daughter, Edith, became deathly ill; she could barely breathe, her heart was pounding, and she was too dizzy to stand.  The family, scared they might lose their daughter, immediately contacted the doctor. The doctor was able to treat Edith and warned the family that this was another allergic reaction. Tests showed that the cause, in this case, was pineapple in the smoothie, and another exposure could kill Edith.  Even though pineapple was exceedingly rare, just having a kitchen maid taste the smoothies for pineapple wouldn’t be enough to guarantee the daughter’s safety.  Trace amounts could go undetected by a maid but prove fatal to poor Edith.

Luckily, the doctor knew of an easy-to-use test for even small amounts of pineapple.  Just mix a bit of the smoothie with a drop of this chemical, and the resulting color would warn of any danger.  It was easy to ask another kitchen maid to run the test before serving the smoothies.  Once again, the family was assured of their good health.

Apple pie

Image via Dan Parsons

A few months later, the family was hosting guests, who expressed a sudden desire for apple pie.  The cook was notified and nearly panicked at the request — the pantry was devoid of apples, and the market was closed for the day.  However, the cooler was full of smoothies, which had apple pieces in them.  All the kitchen staff jumped in to help, pouring the smoothies through strainers and picking through the chunks for pieces of apple.  Finally, enough suitable apple chunks were collected, the pie was successfully baked, and the entire family and their guests praised the kitchen’s quick thinking, hard work, and delicious results.

The apple pie was such a smash that the family soon began requesting all sorts of fruit-based desserts.  The kitchen staff already had their own duties, but the varying fruit desserts were so popular that the cook easily convinced the head of the household to hire more staff to handle the daily work of straining and separating the smoothies.  A whole room was set aside for just this activity, but it was worth it for the exquisite dishes the cook had learned to prepare for the family.

Even so, the family’s increasing demands made it hard to keep up.  Guests attended nearly every meal; banquets were held honoring war heroes and raising funds for charities.  Fruits were the main ingredients in novel dishes of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.  The cook pleaded with the family on behalf of the entire kitchen staff, and the family in turn acknowledged the overwhelming workload.  They hired a team of scientists and engineers to design and build a machine that could strain the smoothies, separate the juices, and in some cases even reconstitute the entire original fruit.

Electron microscope

Photo by dpape, 2009. Creative Commons Licence. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpape/4057926815/

So, yet more rooms were set aside for this new team. They worked side by side with all the kitchen staff to duplicate the straining techniques perfected through years of training and practice.  Centrifuges were brought to separate the juice components. Microscopes analyzed how bits of peel could fit together. Meticulously detailed catalogs were written describing how pulps, cores, peels, and pits differ among farms just so that all the rebuilt fruit could exactly match the original.

It was difficult, painstaking work, requiring the intense focus of dozens of people for many years, but every day the team came a little bit closer to their holy grail: unblending the smoothie.

And for all those years, the errand boy did the same chore every day.  He returned from the market, dutifully dumped the entire basket of fresh fruit into a blender for half a minute, poured the resulting smoothie into jugs, and placed them in the cooler.

Blueberry smoothie

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