Philosophizing About Food With Francine: About Spinach


by Francine Black

A little Sunday night supper: angel hair pasta smothered in bolognese with hot sausage and fresh spinach wilted in garlic olive oil and single crust honeycrisp apple pie.

We love fresh spinach raw and cooked to the just-wilted stage but have never developed a love of it overcooked or canned. 

Not so with that well-loved cartoon character of my childhood, Popeye the Sailor Man. A couple of gulps of a can of spinach gave that fellow the instant superhuman strength to defend his beloved Olive Oyl from a rather large villain. 

Illustrator E.C. Seeger created the 1st cartoon strip for the New York Journal in 1919 that featured Olive Oyl and her brother Castor Oyl. Shortly after, Popeye joined the cast and shot the cartoon to stardom. In 1933 the strip was animated for the movie theater and was so wildly popular that the US consumption of spinach jumped up by 30%. 

Why did Mr. Segar choose spinach as Popeye’s super fuel? It was thanks to a chemist, Erich Von Wolfe, who misplaced a decimal point when researching the amount of iron in a 100 gram serving of spinach. Instead of 3.5 mg, he published that it contained a whopping 35 mg., prompting the world to embrace that highly inflated nutritional value of spinach. 

Thanks to the Popeye Cartoons we loved watching on our little black and white TV, my mother made us eat a lot of spinach (in its fresh state). The 35 mg myth was debunked 87 years after Herr Doctor Wolf’s gaffe but I suppose, deep inside, we still put our faith in Popeye’s big muscles.

High in the mountains above Bally, where the dense groves of treetops seem to touch the sky, is Francine Black, Boyertown’s own version of chef Julia Child. Her daily activities reflect the things she most values: family and friends, music, and lovingly prepared food.

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