Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What in tarnation! A Tar Nation!

My post about tar ice cream has generated a lot of comments from Finland and the States. My friend Mari is helping me sort out the confusion that stems from using the word tar as a translation for the Finnish word "terva".

Tar in the United States refers primarily to the heavy oil or asphalt that seeps out of the ground in Los Angeles or more distressingly to the stuff that will be polluting the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean for years.

When we Americans think about tar we think about hitting the road or getting out of the brier patch.

So what do Finns think about when they think about tar? What makes the Finnish idea of tar suitable for a delicious dairy treat?

They think about the forest. Clean, green, life-giving forest!

The forest is very important in Finnish culture. You can about the importance of the forest in the book, Tree People by Ritva Kovainen and Sanni Seppo. The book looks beautiful and highlights the mystical importance of the forest for Finns.

The tar that is celebrated in ice cream and shampoo, candy and schnapps should more properly be called pine tar to distinguish it from the petroleum product.

Pine tar is made by burning pine in a special kiln. During the age of wooden boats, pine tar was extremely important. This article from the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association explains how pine tar is made. It reminds me of the charcoal burners that you read about in the Swallows and Amazons books.

The article explains that the British tried to encourage their colonies to produce pine tar when their access to Swedish pine tar was interrupted by Russia. The American Revolution again cut off supplies for Britain and they returned to buying Scandinavian pine tar through the Netherlands. Meanwhile pine tar was big business in the American South. Maybe the tar baby was pine tar after all.

Anyone with a passing interest in the American religious experience known as baseball will know something about the use of pine tar on baseball bats. The Pine Tar Incident of 1983 occurred when George Brett was batting for the KC Royals at Yankee Stadium. He was found to have exceeded the amount of pine tar allowed on a bat and his home run was nullified. This decision was later reversed by the commissioner.

AND SO if any American taste buds cringe when they think of tar ice cream they should remember that if there is any taste more American than apple pie it can only be pine tar.


  1. Our manifest destiny is for the Tar Nation to one day be the entar world! hee hee.