Q. When our family celebrated St. Patrick's Day, the question came up again: Why is corned beef called "corned"? -- D.V., of Red Bud
A. This is one answer you're going to have to take quite literally with a grain of salt. Why? Because in that popular expression lies the answer to this often-asked question.
To understand, you should know about two significant human advances: the production of salt and the curing of meat.
Today salt is one of the most common substances around. You can go to any store and buy a pound of it for a couple bucks. But hundreds of years ago, people had to boil salty spring water or allow the sun to evaporate pools of sea water to get their salty fix.
It became such a prized commodity that we still ask if a man is "worth his salt." If you were among the lower class gathered at a banquet table, you sat below the (bowl of) salt. Our "salary" comes from the Latin word "salarium" -- the money paid to a Roman soldier for the purchase of salt. Even our "salad" means "to salt" -- from the Roman custom of salting leafy vegetables.
But I digress. At some point people figured out that adding large quantities of salt to meat kept it from going bad. Turns out that with a 20-percent salt concentration or so, the salt inhibits the growth of nasty micro-organisms by sucking water out of their cells, but our ancestors didn't know that. All they knew is that it didn't kill them.
As early as 3000 B.C., the Egyptians reportedly were exporting salted fish to the Phoenicians for Lebanon cedar, glass and purple dye. Eventually, the Irish began salting beef by deboning it and soaking it in brine. By the mid-1500s, Irish salted beef -- what we now call "corned" beef -- was used by France and England to feed their sailors on long sea voyages and slaves on sugar plantations.
So why is it called "corned"? "Corn" comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word for "granule" or "pellet." You have to remember that back then salt was much coarser than the refined stuff most of us use today -- more like a kosher salt. So the Irish meat became known as "corned" because of the "corns" (granules) of salt that were poured into the brine in which the meat soaked.
It was only later that Europeans would apply the same word to the Indian maize they found in the New World. The "granules" they found on the cobs also were seen as "corns." Now, of course, the vegetable has become known simply as "corn," which easily explains any confusion over the word's original meaning.
In the meantime, the quality of that corned beef on your Reubens has improved, too. In his 1840 book "Two Years Before the Mast," author Richard Dana described the awful meat sailors ate on their trip as "salt junk." Now thanks partly to refrigeration, less salt has to be used in the brine -- a plus for your taste buds and your blood pressure.
Q. Are the mother and daughter on the show "Castle" related? They look so much alike. -- J.G., of Belleville
A. Young Molly Quinn and Susan Sullivan are both talented actresses with Irish blood, but that's as close as their relationship gets.
Born Oct. 8, 1993, in Texarkana, Texas, Quinn began taking acting lessons soon after performing in a community production of "The Nutcracker" at age 6. Six years later, she began begging her parents for an agent.
They sent her to an acting camp thinking she'd work this fantasy out of her system, but it only deepened her resolve. When the camp director asked who did not want to become rich or famous, Quinn was the only kid who raised her hand.
"That's what it takes," she once told an interviewer. "I constantly remind myself of that and it keeps me grounded."
Now nearing 20, she has been in a half-dozen movies and provided voices for "Winx Club" and "Ben 10: Ultimate Alien" on television as well as starring as Alexis Castle.
Susan Sullivan would probably thank you for not referring to her as Alexis' grandmother.
"I don't like this word 'grandmother,'" she told an interviewer. "I wanted them to soften it a little with something, but they insist on saying that."
Raised on Long Island, she worked as a Playboy bunny during her college years. She won roles on "The Incredible Hulk" and "The New Maverick" before earning her major claim to fame as Maggie Gioberti on "Falcon Crest." You may also remember her as the face on Tylenol ads from 1984 to 1996.
Now 70, she says she is glad to have Quinn as at least a fictional granddaughter.
"I absolutely adore Molly," she told an Interview X interviewer. "I don't have children, so this is one of the great gifts of being an actor."
What state's flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: The U.S. slave population reached its peak as the Civil War broke out. The 1860 census counted just shy of 4 million slaves. Five states had more than 400,000 each, led by Virginia with 491,000.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.