This is the place for my rants, raves, reviews and just general "stuff". May you be amused, enlightened, and perhaps even a little pissed off.


Depression Plant

My Mom, having recently retired, has been going through different bits of her life and organizing things. She has gotten as far as her recipes and its taking the lifetimes worth of accumulated recipes and making it orderly. One of the things that she ran across was the recipe for a "Depression Plant". The recipe is as follows,

1 piece of coal or coke
Place in shallow dish
Pour the following over the coal or coke:

1. 2 Tablespoons clear ammonia (not the sudsy ammonia)
2. 5 Tablespoons water
3. 6 Tablespoons of bluing
4. 6 Tablespoons of nonidodized salt
5. 2 drops red food coloring

Place dish in window or other convenient place.
Add water to keep moist and watch this grow resembling a coral plant.

She was suggesting that it might be an interesting science experiment for our 11 yr old son, which it would. However, thinking about it a bit, I had several observations, as I do about most everything.
  1. Nothing says childhood experiment like ammonia and bluing. Next week will be the 'tequila and handgun' experiment. That is just the new age father in me, protecting my child against all dangers. Well back in my day we drank ammonia for fun and laughed at pain. Okay, that didn't really happen, but I am certain that its true for generations previous to me. To prove that, my maternal Grandfather ate a jar of vaseline with a spoon, when he was very little. He wasn't forced to eat it, nor was it a bet or anything, he just sat down and ate it. Being the classy guy that I am, I will avoid any Marmite (tm) comments at this point. Anyways, perhaps it was early precursor to a happy meal.
  2. When referring to coke, I was wondering if Diet Coke would work. Ah, no, thats probably not it. Are Depression Plants big in Colombia? Probably not that either. Yes, it is likely something to do with coal. I don't think I have ever been around a house that was coal fired. Closest approximation would be various renditions of Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and maybe the movie "A Christmas Story".
  3. What about bluing? Does anybody under 35 years old have a clue what 'bluing' is? While I am fairly certain that every grocery store probably has it, I do know with some certainty that it is futile to ask a grocery store clerk where the bluing is. Its the same futility that I had quite a number of year ago when I went around to all the stores in town that sold computer gear, looking for a 'SCSI terminator'. I needed one right away and went on a walkabout to get one. Mostly I got bewildered stares with a periodic 'that some kinda software or sumthun?". I eventually found a friend that I could bum one off of until I could order one through the mail.
With those observations in mind, I started wondering where in the hell I would find coal in this day and age. My Mom held the obvious answer. The local power generation plant uses mountains of the stuff. I hadn't been in that part of town for a while, so I am pleading that as my excuse for not recalling that. Those 50 ft mountains of coal aren't all that memorable, are they? Now with a source, how do I go about getting some? My thought was to deftly walk along the railroad tracks by the power plant and pick up any stragglers, in an effort to avoid going up and simply asking for a piece. Can't be having the direct approach, can we? Do that a couple of times and before you you know it, the slippery slope would consume me and I would be stopping for directions when lost. I ruminated on my plan for a bit, but it occurred to me that a mistake could have tragic consequences to the depression plant. Somehow I suspect that the outcome would be different if I accidently selected a frozen chunk of dogshit or something. In principle I can guess what real coal looks like, but i've never seen it to be sure. I guess I will have to do the unthinkable and just ask. To show you just how repugnant the prospect of asking is, I went and checked for 'coal'. After all, is the principal place to find random items that you desire, right? Well, I was shut out there. Only faux coal and candy coal, neither of which are likely to be sufficient for this experiment.

As my friend Bruce says, this experiment will be a "teachable moment". I am going out on a limb here, but I think that my internet-attached, videogame-obsessed, 24-hr-cartoon-availability-appreciating son will regard it as a 'ho-hum' and likely say something on the order of "thats what you consider entertainment?". I'll happily fend off the attack with "No, thats what Grandma considered entertainment when she was a little girl". After all, we had the benefit of things like Gilligans Island to avoid the appearance of an entertainment wasteland.

We'll see how the experiment goes...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many years ago, in elementary school, I had to put together a depression plant as a project. Very recently, I decided to Google on several of the ingredients and came up with your notes. I'd very much like to try it once again, just for the fun of it. An old-fashioned hardware or grocery store might have the bluing. My mom told me that bluing was something housewives used, back then, to make clothes look brighter. It actually produced a slightly blue cast which made the whites look brighter. The brand Mom bought came in a little bottle, a liquid, and was called Bulldog Blue.

Good luck with your plant!

1/22/2006 11:40:00 AM

Blogger dtj said...

Bluing is likely available in most grocery stores, although I haven't specifically looked for it yet. It is likely near where the spray starch and clothing dye (aka "RIT") resides.

1/30/2006 12:00:00 PM

Blogger Kevin Arhelger said...

My Grandma has done this project with us a few times...
She even got us a bottle of bluing that is just sitting on our shelf...
As far as charcoal goes though, the kind that they use in grills works just fine.

6/27/2006 12:56:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im going to make this plant and is there a story behind it?

11/27/2006 08:58:00 AM

Blogger Tracy said...

Have you had any luck finding your coal yet?
I live in Reading PA and we have a woodstove in our shed that we burn coal in occassionally, so it is still available for sale, we buy it in Reading.
Let me know if you are still looking and maybe I could send you a few chunks! :)
I'm curious about the bluing!

3/10/2009 11:30:00 PM


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