Saturday, July 17, 2010

Holy Mallow Batman!

If it were not for my wife Mars' patience and persistence in successfully nurturing the hollyhock seeds from our daughter-in-law Monica's New Mexico plants into towering, flower-bearing, stalks I would never have learned about Saint Cuthbert and his mysterious connection to classic confections. And what these tall, showy flowered plants really should be named.

It all began when I wondered about the etymology of the strange sounding appellation that had been affixed to this Eurasian member of the mallow family.

mid-13c., holihoc, from holi "holy" + hokke "mallow," from O.E. hocc, of unknown origin. The first element is probably of hagiological origin; another early name for the plant was caulis Sancti Cuthberti "St. Cuthbert's cole." hagiology |_hag__äl_j_; _h_g_-|

Interesting! - but even more interesting if you know what all of the words mean. Who was Saint Cuthbert? And what the heck are hagiological, caulis, and cole?

"In some versions of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel is the combative deity of Wisdom, Dedication, and Zeal. Originally created for the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, he was later made part of the generic "core pantheon" for the game's third edition." (Wikipedia)

I cannot be certain, but that's probably not the one that I am looking for.

"Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne [634 to 687] was an Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop in the Kingdom of Northumbria which at that time included, in modern terms, north east England and south east Scotland as far as the Firth of Forth. Afterwards he became one of the most important medieval saints of England, with widespread recognition in the places he had been in Scotland. Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of Northumbria. His feast day is 20 March." (wikipedia)
As a boy Cuthbert was a shepherd until, at the age of 17, he had a vision and became a monk, then a soldier for several years, and then a monk again. In 676 he retreated to a cave on the Farne Islands to pursue a solitary life of prayer and the institution of special laws to protect the birds nesting there with him - among them Eider ducks, which are called cuddy (Cuthbert's) ducks in modern Northumbrian dialects.

There are several stories of God miraculously providing food for Cuthbert. Eleven years after his death his casket was opened and his body was purportedly found to be still perfectly preserved. Numerous miracles were attributed to his intercession after prayers were said near his reliquary and he was probably the most popular saint in England prior to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170."

This is clearly the hagiological ("literature dealing with the lives and legends of saints") part of the etymology of hollyhock - although in my brief readings about the holy man's life I could find nothing floral related other than a slight resemblance between the staff he is frequently shown as carrying, and the thick stalk of the plant.

Some parts of the etymological explanation however raised as many questions as they answered - e.g. the definition of cole -

noun chiefly archaic a brassica, esp. cabbage, kale, or rape.

Which sidetracked me immediately to the meanings of brassica and rape.

"brassica |_brasik_| noun a plant of a genus that includes cabbage, turnip, Brussels sprout, and mustard. • Genus Brassica, family Brassicaceae. ORIGIN early 19th cent.: Latin, literally 'cabbage.'" "rape 2 noun a plant of the cabbage family with bright yellow, heavily scented flowers, esp. a variety ( oilseed rape) grown for its oil-rich seed and as stockfeed. Also called cole , colza . • Genus Brassica, family Brassicaceae, in particular B. napus subsp. oleifera. ORIGIN late Middle English (originally denoting the turnip plant): from Latin rapum, rapa 'turnip.'"
But I digress. So far I have learned that hollyhock is another name for Saint Cuthbert's cabbage - even though there seems to be nothing to tie him and the spherical vegetable together. Maybe stalking the "caulis" in "caulis Sancti Cuthberti" will get me somewhere.

"1. In architecture, one of the main stalks or leaves which spring from between the acanthusleaves of the second row on each side of the typical Corinthian capital, and are carried up to support the volutes at the angles. Compare cauliculus 2. In botany, the stem of a plant. Or perhaps: 1. An herbaceous or woody stem which bears leaves, and may bear flowers."

And finally - ta-dah!:

chou: "fashionable knot in a woman's dress or hat," 1883; earlier "small, round, cream-filled pastry" (1706), from Fr. chou, lit. "cabbage" (12c.), from L. caulis "cabbage," lit. "stalk" (see cole).

Small, round, cream-filled - something like a Mallo Cup perhaps?
Mallo Cups are candy shaped cups filled with marshmallow cream and coated with a rich chocolate and coconut topping. They were created by Boyer Brothers of Altoona, PA in 1936 and are claimed to be the first cup-candy made in the U.S.A. - although Reese's disputes this.

I thought "Holy Mallo!"

The etymology that I started with said "holi "holy" + hokke "mallow".

So, of course, I Googled "Holy Mallow".

And I got back the recipe for homemade mallo cups from, along with a five-star rated comment that said "Holy Mallow Batman! These are just like the real thing!!"

Another perfect example of how, with the aid of Google, the etymology of any word can be made into a perfect circle.

And proof positive that my wife's hollyhocks should properly be called Mallow-Mars - early-21c., from Mallow "mallow" + Mars "Mars".

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