Saturday, February 26, 2005

Apple #42: Jam, Jelly, Preserves

I was in the grocery store today, fixing to buy a jar of jam. The last kind I bought was a no-sugar variety, and quite tasty, but this time I wanted something that would have actual chunks of fruit in it. As I looked at the options on the shelf, I realized I didn't know the difference between jam and preserves. I ended up going with the low-sugar jam because when I picked up the jar and squinted at the contents, I thought I saw some fruit pieces in it. Turns out, I should have chosen differently.

  • JELLY: fruit juice and sugar, and with most manufacturers, lots of corn syrup too. The jelly is clear and firms up so that it holds some shape. But no fruit here. Some fruits don't make good jelly because they don't have enough pectin in them (see below).
  • JAM: a blend of crushed fruit pieces and fruit puree. My mom used to make jam and skim off the frothy stuff that bubbled up to the top of the pot. She'd put that aside in a bowl, and when the froth subsided, we'd dip bread in the warm, jammy jam, and oh boy, was that good.
  • PRESERVES: contain whole or large pieces of fruit. Generally thicker than jam or jelly. This is what I should have chosen and will select next time.
  • MARMALADE: jelly plus shredded citrus peel.
  • FRUIT BUTTER: (as in, apple butter) contains no butter. It's actually fruit pulp plus sugar, which in the case of apple butter, turns a kind of thickish yellow consistency that only looks like it might have butter in it.

The thing that makes all of these spreads hang together is pectin. Pectin is an undigestible carbohydrate (fiber, actually), contained in the cells of fruit. When you heat this with sugar and water, it makes a gel. This gel is essentially the base in which the jammy fruity goodness is suspended.

Smuckers FAQs,
the difference between jelly, jam, and preserves
How Stuff Works,
the difference between jelly, jam, and preserves (and what exactly is Jell-O?)
How Stuff Works,
How Food Works (pectin)
How to Make Jam, Jelly, and Preserves

Friday, February 25, 2005

Apple #41: Black Cherries

I'm having some black cherry ice cream. Right now, as I'm typing this. Very tasty. The best part, of course, is the huge hunks of black cherries.

  • Black cherries grow on the black cherry tree, which is native to the northeastern US, the Appalachian mountain states, and in higher elevations in New Mexico and Arizona, and south through Texas and Mexico down to Guatemala. They're also kind of taking over Europe.
  • The trees can grow to be 100 feet tall, but most of the time, they're around 40-60 feet tall.
  • The trees do not like shade, which gets them the "intolerant" label from growers, though they tend to pop up in any sunny place where birds drop their seeds.
  • When crushed, the leaves of the tree smell like black cherry soda.
  • The leaves and bark of the tree contain a kind of cyanide that was once used in cough medicines and ointments. Because of the cyanide, the twigs and bark can be lethal to horses and cattle if they eat a lot of it. It also makes the tree smell like almonds.
  • In the spring, the tree makes long clusters of white flowers that the bees like.
  • The fruit is generally ripe and ready for picking in late June through October.
  • The tree produces fruit each year, but it will make an especially abundant crop once every 3 or 4 years.
  • Birds and deer and rabbits and skunks and all kinds of wildlife like to eat the fruit. Tent caterpillars like to make their creepy tents in the tree, which supposedly doesn't hurt it.
  • The wood is a dark reddish hardwood, used in making furniture.
  • The cherry itself is large, and the flesh is a rich, dark purple, almost black. Some people say there is some sourness in with the sweetness, but I don't taste the sourness much.
  • Black cherries are often used to make jams and wine. You can also warm them with syrup and put them on pancakes, or you can heat them up with brandy and put them over ice cream.

Miami of Ohio's Dragonfly project, Seed Dispersal,
Black Cherry Trees
Floridata catalog, Prunus serotina
Tree's entry on the
Wild Black Cherry tree
Virginia Tech Forestry Department, Prunus serotina fact sheet
Purdue Veterinary School, toxic plants, the
Wild Black Cherry
Images from
A-One-A Produce Specialties and the Sunset Beach Hotel menu

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Apple #40: 1976


I've been reading John Cheever's Journals (I might do an Apple on him, but not today). In 1976, he was at the worst of his drunkenness, to the point of not remembering how he wound up in a hospital in Boston and got transferred to a dry-out facility. That same year, he published one of his many novels, Falconer.

At the time, I thought 1976 was somehow an unusually important year. Ever since, I've noticed when 1976 comes up. And here is a list of some of the things that happened that year. Some were good, some were bad, but all in all, I think I was right to call it important.
  • Bicentennial of the United States
  • Leap year
  • Jimmy Carter sworn into office, first President from the Deep South since the Civil War
  • US Supreme Court ruled the death penalty a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment
  • Son of Sam was on the loose
  • Rocky, Taxi Driver, and All the President's Men were playing in movie theaters
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won Best Picture
  • George Lucas began filming Star Wars
  • Alex Haley's Roots was published
  • Riots in Soweto, South Africa, marked the beginning of apartheid's end
  • North and South Vietnam voted to form a unified republic
  • Pol Pot became dictator of Cambodia
  • Nadia Comeneci became the first gymnast to be awarded the perfect 10.0 (she won seven of them), and Greg Louganis won the silver at the age of 16
  • In the height of the Steelers vs. Cowboys rivalry, Pittsburgh beat Dallas in the Superbowl 21 to 17
  • Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors and the Eagles released Hotel California
  • The Clash formed, and the Sex Pistols launched their famously disastrous tour and swore on television
  • Viking I landed on Mars
  • Richard Leaky discovered a 1.5 million year-old Homo erectus skull in Kenya
  • Cosmic string theory was first postulated
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers, the then-tiny Microsoft was registered in New Mexico, and the Cray-1 supercomputer was invented
  • Howard Hughes, Mao Zedong, and Howlin' Wolf died
  • Peyton Manning, Reese Witherspoon, and 50 Cent were born

Infoplease Alamanac,
International Olympic Committee, Olympic Games,
Montreal 1976

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Apple #39: Potpourri

POTPOURRI (In the Jeopardy! sense of the word)

Rather than doing one entry on one subject, I thought today I would note a few little factoids I have uncovered recently, on miscellaneous subjects:

  • While one can be "ruthless" (devoid of pity or compassion), one can no longer have "ruth" or be "ruthful." Those words did exist and were in use at one time, but they are now archaic. "Ruth," by the way, was the quality of being compassionate; or pity or sorrow. If you were "ruthful" you had compassion for others, or you could inspire pity in others. But you can't do that anymore.
  • The true origins of feta cheese are difficult to discern. While it came from the Balkan countries at some point in the 12th century, both Greece and Bulgaria claim to have made it first. The word "feta" seems to have been derived from the Italian fetta, meaning "slice." Now, with the help of the EU, only Greek feta will be allowed to use the name "feta" when exporting its cheese.
  • Tiger paw prints are called "pug marks." Tigers can eat up to 80 pounds of meat at one time. The sandpaper-like roughness of their tongue helps to take the meat off the bone. They like water and often swim to cool themselves in the hottest parts of the day. Tigers do not purr, but they do chuff, which is something like a small sneeze and is accompanied by a shake of the head. It means hello and all is well.
  • In Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues," they never say "our Pamela," as I'd thought. The chorus actually goes like this:

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

My copy of the Oxford English Dictionary
Feta Cheese Rich in History," San Francisco Chronicle, republished in the Cincinnati Post, 8/18/2004
In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue and Education Center,
Education page on big cats, especially Tigers
Steely Dan's official website, lyrics by song,
Deacon Blues

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Apple #38: The Tongue


I have a sore spot on my tongue, where my teeth have been rubbing against it. This made me think, I know the tongue is a muscle, but is it more complicated than that? And of course, the answer is yes.

  • The tongue is the organ of the sense of taste.
  • The tongue is also crucial in the activities of chewing and swallowing, breathing, and speaking.
  • It is a system of muscles with a mucous membrane on the outside.
  • On that mucous membrane, on top of the tongue are lots of follicles, or pores. In each follicle, lots of tiny nodules of tissue are grouped under a sheath of skin. The technical term for this sheath of nodules is "papilla" or, basically, a bump. These bumps essentially contain your taste buds.
  • Each of these little nodules has tiny arteries and veins branching into them, as well as numerous nerve cells of different kinds. Some of those nerve cells specifically sense taste. These are called "gustatory cells." Other nerve cells sense pressure and pain, hot and cold.

  • The tasting nerve cells sense bitter, sweet, salty, and bitter. People now say that there is also a fifth taste, called umami.
  • It's hard for people to describe what umami means, exactly. The Japanese say it means "deliciousness." Others say it is a robust, meaty, or savory taste.
  • As table salt activates your salt-sensing nerves, the chemical glutamate activates your umami cells. Mushrooms have a lot of glutamate in them, which accounts for their savory, sometimes meaty flavor. Monosodium glutamate also especially makes you taste the umami. People also say that aged cheese, anchovies, and other foods with complex, rich flavors, are associated with umami.
  • In the past, people drew a "taste map," depicting the tongue as especially sensing particular tastes in particular areas of the tongue. For example, people used to say that you sensed sweetness only at the very tip. In fact, the nerve cells that sense different types of taste are scattered all across the tongue, not grouped in special areas. Scientists know this because if you block half the tongue from sensing anything, people still report being able to sense all five tastes.
  • By the way, the word flavor refers to the combination of one or more of the five tastes along with smells, the texture, the temperature, and the spiciness of what you're eating.

My copy of Gray's Anatomy, dated 1977. There's also a
Gray's Anatomy online, but I didn't get very good results searching that.
By the way, the TV show is spelled GrEy's Anatomy.

Tongue entry from the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, accessed through InfoPlease
Homing in on a Receptor for the Fifth Taste," press release from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, February 25, 2002
Umami - the Fifth Taste,
Taste entry from Wikipedia (Note: the Columbia Encyclopedia's entry on "taste" is outdated and now incorrect)
UConn Taste and Smell Center
General Information
Lecture 15 - Organ Systems: Digestive, from Biology 441/541 Histology, Fall 2004 course taught by Dr. David L. Swanson, University of South Dakota
Image of taste cells from

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Apple #37: Umbrellas

It's been raining quite a bit lately. Every time I carry an umbrella, I think, "What a great invention." It's simple, and it's genius.

A couple under an umbrella in Laos
(Photo from Cringel's blog)

  • The first umbrellas were parasols, used to provide shade from the sun. Ancient art from Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China all show people carrying parasols. Having one held up over you was a sign of prestige.
  • The Chinese were the first to waterproof their parasols for protection against rain. They coated the fabric with wax and lacquer.
  • The use of umbrellas became popular in Europe in the 16th Century. Except at first, only women used them.
  • Early European umbrellas used wood or whalebone for the handle and ribs, and alpaca or oiled canvas for the covering. Some umbrellas were made of intricately carved ebony.
  • Then in the late 1700's, a British guy named Jonas Hanway, who was a travel writer about Persia and well-known philanthropist, started carrying umbrellas when it rained. Eventually, other British gentlemen started carrying them, too. Some people in England still call their umbrellas the "Hanway."
  • In 1852, a guy named Samuel Fox patented the use of steel for the ribs. He said he did this to try to use up the steel he had left over from making stays for corsets.
  • Also in the 1850's, Europeans realized they could use umbrellas in the sun, too, and thus the parasol became popular again. It was considered an essential accessory for women until the invention of the automobile.
"Who Invented the Umbrella?" Mary Bellis, on the Inventors pages at
"Umbrella" entry in the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, accessed through InfoPlease
"Jonas Hanway" entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Apple #36: David Lee Roth


Every once in a while, my brother likes to pose the question, "What do you think David Lee Roth is doing right now?" Of course, one can only speculate. Our typical answers have included such things as eating pizza and watching basketball, scratching his chest, flossing, etc. While I can't find information that will answer my brother's question definitively, I can provide some more background about Mr. Roth that may help us in our speculations.

For those who may not know, David Lee Roth was the dynamic front man for the 1980's smash hit band, Van Halen. He all but trademarked wearing spandex pants, doing the leaping splits, and shouting "Whooo!" into the microphone.


  • David Lee Roth was born in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1955. This year, he will celebrate his fiftieth birthday.
  • His family moved to California when he was a teen-ager, and soon he joined a band, the Red Ball Jets.
  • He often loaned his PA system to another band, Mammoth, which included Eddie and Alex Van Halen. They struck up a friendship, and in 1974, the Van Halen brothers asked Roth to join them in a new band.
  • Roth claims that it was his idea to name the band Van Halen, but this assertion is one of the countless sources of friction between Roth and the Van Halen brothers.
  • Gene Simmons from Kiss helped them produce their demo tape, which they shopped around at various record labels.
  • In 1977, when Roth was 22, the band was signed by Warner Brothers. In 1978, they released their first album, Van Halen, to tremendous success.
  • Through the late 1970's and early 1980's, the band released album after album, and hit after hit, including:
    • Runnin' with the Devil
    • You Really Got Me
    • Panama
    • Jump
    • Hot for Teacher
    • Just a Gigilo (cover)
  • In 1985, Roth issued a four-track solo album called Crazy From the Heat, which set off rumors that the band was breaking up. He also claimed that he was going to star in a major motion picture.
  • The movie never panned out, Roth left the band, and Roth and Van Halen sniped at each other through the press for several months afterwards.
  • Roth released several solo albums, but each one seemed to get worse, and soon his back-up bandmates had drifted off. He also tried to break into the Vegas circuit, but without success.
  • In the meantime, Van Halen continued on, with various other lead singers, but none quite stirred the public's enthusiasm the way Roth did.
  • In 1996, Van Halen and Roth appeared together at the MTV music awards show, and it looked like maybe they were going to get back together. In fact, Roth claimed that he had been promised as much. But then it was revealed that Van Halen had hired someone else instead, and Eddie Van Halen and Roth nearly got into a fist fight backstage at the awards show.
  • Roth and Van Halen did record some more songs together, and Roth waited for months to hear what would come of that. In 2001, he issued a statement on his website saying as much, but then a week later, Eddie Van Halen announced to the public that he had been diagnosed with cancer. The following year, Eddie got a clean bill of health and Van Halen had another lead singer -- Sammy Hagar, again.
  • A former roommate of mine in the late 1990's told me Roth had moved into his mother's house in Pasadena, in the same neighborhood as my roommate's parents. She said he sent out a flyer to everyone in the area, assuring them that he would not be having any wild parties and that he wanted a nice, quiet place to live. And, my roommate said, as far as she knew, he kept his word.
  • More recent news articles say that he moved from his estate in Pasadena to New York's Lower East Side.
  • In the summer of 2004, Roth announced he was in training to become a qualified paramedic. Skeptics thought he only wanted to get himself on a reality TV show. But, he says, he used to be a surgical orderly after he finished junior college and medicine runs in his family. By June of 2004, he had ridden with other paramedics on more than 200 calls -- all without being recognized. And paramedics say he used a defibrillator to save the life of a heart attack victim in the Bronx. He said he hopes to be able to volunteer a few times a week.

Here are some quotes from Mr. Roth, as recorded at the fansite, the Diamond David Lee Roth Army:

  • Young musicians are always coming up to me and asking how do you know when you've made it. When you can spell subpoena without thinking about it, that's when you know you've made it.
  • "Oh woe is me," as a form of self-dramatization, is always fun. It shouldn't be replaced, but there should be a balance. Sooner or later, it's Miller time!
  • Van Halen has always come down the beach with a torch in one hand and a sword in the other, and that's the way we've always approached our music and our live show and particularly my interviews and I don't see how people can resist.
  • [In response to an interviewer's statement, "You're five minutes early! How rock 'n' roll is that?":] Like a thunderbolt in your Cheerios, son, wake up and smell the toxic waste. They took it out of my Pop Tarts just when I was getting used to the taste. Actually, I haven't been to sleep since the late Eighties. How do I look?


Yahoo Music biography of David Lee Roth (the same biography is available at lots of music sites)
Diamond David Lee Roth Army fansite
NNDB editorial-flavored entry on David Lee Roth
David Lee Roth Impresses Paramedics Peers," Contactmusic's News on David Lee Roth, November 16, 2004
David Lee Roth's New Gig: EMT," Originally posted by E! Online and reprinted at Yahoo Music, 6/25/2004 is just a bunch of pictures
Images from and, a repository of quotes

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Apple #35: Shrimp


The last entry was pretty long. Here's a short one. About shrimp, ha-ha.

This is what shrimp look like after you take them out of the water, before they hit the market or your plate:

Shrimp live all over the place, in salt or fresh water, in wetlands and in the open sea. They eat algae, microscopic organisms, and other little plants or animals.

They swim by paddling their "abdominal swimmerets."

Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, SEAMAP Gulf of Mexico
Resource Surveys
Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition,
Wetlands and People
Great Salt Lake
Brine Shrimp

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Apple #34: The Bahamas


I've been getting that I'd-like-to-visit-a-tropical-island-feeling lately. Since that's not going to happen, I thought I could at least write a blog entry about some islands. So I looked at a map and decided on the Bahamas.

  • The Bahamas are a collection of islands -- 23, to be exact, plus thousands of islets and uninhabited cays (pronounced "keys").
  • The nearest of the islands is only 50 miles from the coast of Florida
  • The word Bahamas comes from the Spanish "Baja Mar," which means "shallow sea."
  • The islands are mountain plateaus that have emerged from the Atlantic over thousands of years. As they grew, they hosted thousands of generations of coral, which now form the limestone base of the islands.
  • The people native to the Bahamas call themselves the "Lukku-cairi," or island people. They came from South America, coming up through the Caribbean Sea sometime around 900 A.D.
  • The shallow, rocky shores made the Bahamas a favorite with pirates, who liked to lure unsuspecting ships here where they foundered and could be easily looted and plundered, aye!
  • After a guy named Woodes Rogers drove the pirates away in 1780, England recognized the Bahamas as a colony.
  • Although the Bahamians helped the American Confederates by smuggling cotton to English mills in exchange for weapons curing the Civil War, the Bahamas remained an English colony until they were granted self-government in 1964. The island nation still recognizes the Queen of England as its head of state.

Each of the islands are quite different from each other in landscape, history, and flora & fauna. Some of the islands that you may or may not have heard of include:

  • --Grand Bahama: a popular tourist spot, it has resorts and sportfishing, but it also has beaches that are often deserted, towns that used to be hideouts for rum-runners, and ruins from the island's earliest civilizations.
  • --Nassau, Paradise Island: capital of the Bahamas. Where Blackbeard got shipwrecked. Howard Hughes and the former Shah of Iran also used to hang out here. Has lots of old forts, Victorian mansions, cathedrals, observation towers, resorts, casinos, and pastel buildings.
  • --Acklins: one of the least known islands, hilly and desolate, with unusual rock formations and lots of plant and animal life, including an occasional swamp turtle. Here, you're on your own.
  • --Andros: largest island, surrounded by mangroves, great for gamefishing, supposedly has its own Loch Ness Monster, has coastal coral gardens and deep blue holes.
  • --Little Inagua: named for the iguanas that live here. Just 30 square miles in size, it is uninhabited except for herds of wild donkeys and goats, some species of wild heron, and the iguanas. It has a wide reef that keeps boats from coming too close.
  • --Crooked Island: Columbus seems to have sailed by here, maybe even landed. Lots of plantations were started here, and people used slaves to harvest cotton, which didn't grow too well. Then people harvested sea sponges until the sponges got wiped out by fungus.
  • --Eleuthera: colonized by a small band of English pilgrims seeking religious freedom. Has miles of pink and white beaches and lots of pineapple plantations. Pretty quiet and calm, overall.
  • --Cat Island: possibly named for Arthur Catt, who was either a British sea captain or a pirate depending on your history. The island is also overrun with wild cats brought in the 1600s. Has a medieval monastery and used to be home to cotton and pineapple plantations. Now, however, it is "untamed," "lush," and "vine-covered."

I think, of all these, I would pick Andros. I'm curious about those coral reefs and deep blue holes. And you?

This place, called Tiamo Resorts, has 11 beachfront bungalows, each with one king bed in a 600 square foot room. Snorkeling at the blue holes is only one mile away, and the beach is right outside. (If you want to kill the fantasy and find out how much it costs, click here)

Sources's site on
The Islands of the Bahamas
First photo from the Out Islands of Bahamas
Hotel Finder
Second photo from Bahamas Travel Info, Tiamo Resort

Monday, February 7, 2005

Apple #33: Swiss Cheese

So I was eating some Swiss cheese yesterday, and I wondered, what makes the holes in this cheese? The answer, it turns out, is "gassy bacteria."

  • Making cheese requires bacteria. Different kinds of cheese use different kinds of bacteria as well as different kinds of milk.
  • Swiss cheese uses three types of bacteria, but the one that makes the holes is called Propionibacter shermani. When a cheesemaker adds this bacteria to the mix, it makes bubbles of carbon dioxide. The cheesemaker can control the size of the bubbles by changing the acidity, temperature, and curing time of the mix.
  • The holes in Swiss cheese are technically called "eyes."
  • Swiss cheese made in the US is aged only four months. Swiss cheese made in Switzerland is aged four to fourteen months.
  • The Swiss make two types of Swiss cheese, Emmentaler and Gruyere, named for the places where they were first made. It is believed that the first Emmentaler was made as long ago as 50 B.C. The holes in Gruyere cheese may be considerably smaller than Emmentaler.



About cheese in general:

  • Cheese was the result of an accidental discovery. It is presumed that people put milk in a bag made from the stomach of a cow and discovered that the next day, it had cured into chunks (curds) and liquid (whey). They took out the curds and ate it and thought it was pretty tasty. Then they added salt to it and found that the curds would last even longer.
  • The recipe for cheese basically goes like this: milk + starting culture (bacteria + rennet for coagulation) = soft curd. The curd is then manipulated in various ways: the whey is removed, it gets salted, then it gets molded and pressed, sometimes salted some more, it gets "bandaged," and then it's allowed to mature.
  • Interestingly, when a calf drinks milk, its four stomachs supply various kinds of bacteria at the various stages of digestion, turning the milk into a soft curd. The curd passes into the intestine, and now that the milk is in curd form, its passage to the exit is slowed long enough that the nutrients can be absorbed into the calf's body. So the production of cheese kind of mimics what happens to milk in a cow's stomach.

Why Does Swiss Cheese Have Holes in It? Ask Yahoo, June 10, 2002
Swiss Cheese Recipes and Cooking Tips, by Peggy Trowbridge
The Basics of Making Cheese, Early Cheesemaking in Scotland, part of a course taught through the Edinburgh Business School
Rennet for Making Cheese, David B. Fankhauser PhD, Professor of Biology and Chemistry, University of Cincinnati Clermont

Photos from a cheese website in German and The Cook's Thesaurus

Friday, February 4, 2005

Apple #32: Weddings


A friend of mine recently told me he's getting married this summer. He's a little overwhelmed by all the details and the planning. Maybe some of these statistics will help him feel better.

  • In 2001, 2.3 million couples got married in the US. That's almost 6,200 weddings per day.
  • From June 2003 to June 2004, about $80 billion was spent on weddings, not including the honeymoon.
  • The average wedding budget is $20,000, with an average of 178 guests.
  • On average, over $1,000 is spent on wedding rings.
  • Tradition has it that the father of the bride is supposed to pay all the costs of the wedding and the reception. Today, however, about 30% of all brides and grooms pay the costs themselves. In only 17% of weddings do the bride's parents pay everything. The rest of the weddings are paid for by some combination of the bride and groom and both sets of parents.
  • During an average 13-month engagement, the bride spends 8 hours a week planning the wedding. The bride's biggest worries:
    • budget 65%
    • forgetting a crucial detail 50%
    • reception won't be fun 39%
    • people not showing up 25%
  • June is the most popular month for weddings. However, since weddings now pretty much happen all year round, "most popular" means just over 10% of weddings happen in June.
  • Other popular months are August, September, and October.
  • 80% of weddings are performed in churches or synagogues.
  • 99% of newlyweds go on a honeymoon.
  • The city where the most weddings take place in the world is Istanbul, Turkey. Las Vegas comes in second, with 138,600 weddings. Third most popular city is -- where else? -- Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

So I had to find out, why Gatlinburg. The Gatlinburg website says it's the "wedding capital of the south." They give lots of reasons: it's pretty because it's near the Smoky Mountains, it's centrally located for half the population of the US, there are all kinds of romantic hideaways, etc. But the real reason may be this one:

"It's also easy to get a marriage license in Tennessee. There's no blood test and no waiting period. Plus, here in Sevier County, the wedding license is only $38.50 for out-of-state couples and $98.50 for Tennessee residents."

Oh, and one last thing. Did you know, the current, widespread conviction that the diamond ring is the only acceptable kind of engagement ring is because of an advertising campaign?

(Some of this data is kind of old, by the way. A few of the sources reference things going back to 2001 or 1998.)
"Statistics on Weddings in the United States,"
Statistics for the Wedding Industry, Association for Wedding Professionals International
Valentine's Day Facts for Features press release, US Census Bureau, December 16, 2004
Tips & Stats at
Bridal Industry Statistics at The
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce website