The Fish Story

Grenade Catch Makes Magnet Angler Hungry; Taste of Fame for Man’s Kelp Broth

By JAY MANN | Jan 30, 2019

FIRE IN THE HOLE!: This is one of those only-in-America tales, weirdness-wise. I can do the story no better immediate justice than the opening sentence from an Orlando Sentinel article. “A fisherman found a World War II hand grenade on Saturday and drove to a Taco Bell before calling authorities, who evacuated the restaurant.”

Now, maybe that’s not overly odd down in the Sunshine State, but, by my reckoning, it’s well worthy of a Mannly “Say what?!”

I must admit this story pulled right up my driveway since it included both angling and treasure hunting.

It seems the angler, during slow rod-tip times, takes to the latest thing in treasure hunting, something called “magnet fishing.” As the name succinctly implies, a powerful magnet is roped up and cast to the bottom of high-potential waters, especially around bridges and piers. It is slowly retrieved along the bottom, “fishing” for any iron or steel objects. I started doing it last year, with a magnet possessing 300-pound pull. I now have a huge collection of some dang nice fishing pliers. The stainless steel ones clean up like new. I won’t get into the more treasuresque stuff I’ve reeled in, since I’ll be doing a story on them this spring.

Returning to the Floridian angler’s find of a “pineapple,” as olden grenades were nicknamed, it came out of the water well-rotted. The Sentinel story offered a photo of it, proving it had seen better days.

Having some experience with such fun-loving explosives, I can unnervingly assure that even a corroded grenade can be “live.” Worse still, it no longer gives a rat’s patootie about the safety pin, which keeps the grenade from displaying its explosive inner essence.

Age alone does not disable a military explosive’s detonation potential. If I recall, some of the possibly century-old munitions dredged up and beached during the Surf City sand replenishment had powder that was still dry, a wry way of indicating they could have blown sky high. Tragically, a very nice fellow I met at a treasure hunting show was later killed when an 1860s Civil War cannonball exploded when he was cleaning it up. Per Fox News, “Virginia relic collector Sam White was killed when the Civil War cannonball he was trying to restore exploded.”

As to the Taco Bell grenade, it’s a momentary mystery as to what possessed the magnet-dragger to nonchalantly place the explosive in the trunk of his car and then drive to a fast-food joint. Yes, I fully understand the far-reaching call of burritos. All I would have needed was a mere glance at the magnet-clinging explosive. The grenade, magnet and rope would all be bound for the bottom – with me walking off, rubbing dirt from my hands and mumbling, “Well, that was certainly an interesting former hobby.” Then I’d go for burritos.

“The bomb squad removed the grenade without incident and later disposed of it safely, the police department said. The Taco Bell eventually reopened,” per the Sentinel.

CAN YOU TASTE IT NOW? One hundred years ago, a Tokyo Imperial University professor, Kikunae Ikeda, went gastronomically gaga over kelp broth. He was so enamored with its taste that he went academic on it, trying to isolate why he would all but see stars every time he had a bowl. Being a discerning scientist, he quickly tracked down the source of his taste fascination. Turned out it was little more than a rather mundane, highly essential amino acid  known as glutamate. In a bodily context, glutamate, as glutamic acid, is the most abundant excitatory neurotransmission chemical in the vertebrate nervous system. However, such commonness would not do in Ikeda’s stew, so to speak.

You’ve likely guessed that glutamate is bound to the more famed term monosodium glutamate, as in MSG. Yes, it is. But read on … it gets tastier.

Convinced his taste-temptingly wonderful substance needed a meatier moniker, Ikeda creatively embarked on an utterly unique retitling jaunt. Astoundingly, his effort included mystically endowing glutamate with a heretofore unidentified taste-bud-exciting ability. Make room, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, there’s a new human taste perception in town. He christened the newly discovered taste tingle umami, the Japanese word for “savory taste.” It’s pronounced “Ew, mammy … pass me some more umami broth.” Amazingly, his introduction of a new planetary taste sensation was accepted … with a grain of salt.

Background offered, there’s way more to the story of yo-mamma, I mean umami. Ikeda, in short order, proudly announced he had isolated and crystalized the exact glutamate essence that bubbled about within his beloved kelp broth. It was a white sodium salt of glutamic acid, as in monosodium glutamate. He gleaned his first MSG crystals via an exclusive seaweed drying process. In a shake, he laid the foundation for a billion-dollar business – conveniently, his business. To trademark his additive, he branded it Ajinomoto (Aji-no-moto), meaning “the essence of taste.” The umami taste of success.

Jumping way ahead in time, during my days of cooking in Hawaii, I’d scoop Ajinomoto from gallon containers. The “essence of taste” sorta-seasoning (it’s kinda tasteless on its own) always tickled the palates of visiting Asian diners, especially when offloaded on meat and even morning eggs. MSG had become such a beloved chemical substance in their diets that any foodstuff lacking it was suspiciously drab.

In the same swallow, I would go with mere dashes of MSG for American, European and Aussie eaters. For them, MSG sometimes hit the wrong nerves. I saw and heard of odd bodily reactions from MSG, long before monosodium glutamate became highly controversial as a flavor enhancer. In the restaurant realm, ruin can arrive with even a hint that “Your food made me … (circle one or more) nauseous, jittery, headachy, woozy, suicidal.” Any of those symptoms might befall anyone negatively impacted by MSG.

I’ll herein admit that I now don’t feel quite right after ingesting crystalline shake-on MSG. I don’t get your full-blown so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, aka MSG symptom complex. Mine is the more obscure “I feel sorta crappy syndrome.” Had I known, back in my cook days, about all the spooky symptoms that hit test animals when heavily dosed with MSG, I likely would have gone into Chinese Restaurant hysterics. I’m easily influenced that way, like that time I almost passed out after discovered I had all the symptoms of placebo poisoning. OK, so I eventually looked up the meaning of the word and miraculously felt way better. It was still a close call by my reckoning.

Like many, I have thoroughly abandoned the use of straight-up crystal MSG. For an anti-MSG read, check out citizens.org/the-bonvie-blog-monosodium-glutamate.

Out of nutritional fairness, I must note that none of us can give up glutamate, per se. It’s categorically essential, keeping our nerve endings properly communicating with one another. However, there’s no need to risk the wrath of refined MGS crystals when we can get naturally forthcoming bursts of glutamate from tomatoes, grapes, mushrooms, soy, potatoes, carrots, Parmesan cheese, green tea and – something I’m working on for this coming summer – local edible seaweeds, which are chockful of good MSG.

One final word on Professor Ikeda’s success story. It’s likely lost to history as to what came first, umami or Ajinomoto. Could that kelp broth lover have first seen the nearly addictive value of crystal monosodium glutamate and then strategically conjured up a brand-new taste sense? If so, it was one of the most amazing marketing stratagems in all taste-sensation history. I could make a fine case for the addictively unique taste of lobster dipped in butter. Imagine refining that into sprinkling crystals. It’s amazing I’m not a millionaire by now.

RUNDOWN: Despite being a weather buff, there are times I wish I weren’t seeing what I’ll soon be feeling. We could be matching that last ferocious cold snap with a colder and longer one. Sure, it’s perfect conditions to carve decoys. The only problem is I don’t carve decoys. I do artwork that lends itself to being outside, where I can make a painty mess – or weld freely in the wind. Maybe I’ll begin dotting horseshoe crab shells like back in the old days.

I’m getting so many seal spotting reports I don’t even take location notes any more. Since a couple rescues of sick seals last week, none of the seals now being seen are anything short of being fat and obviously highly healthy.

One north-end photo showed a harbor seal eating what looked like a flatfish. While the shot was taken too far off to tell, I’m betting winter flounder is always on their N.J. menu, along with any nearshore hake-like winter fish. I’m reading where easily-broken surf clams are a common foodstuff, though around here, these large clams have been far and few between. Hard shell clams are a tad tough for seals to open – effort not worth the energy gain. I’m not sure if it applies in the winter, but seals routinely eat 5 percent of their body weight … daily.

It must repeatedly be noted that beached seals, which can look like a fish pathetically out of water, are most often not only in fine fiddle, but known to occasionally become highly irascible. With a chuckle, I recall a night drive when I was cruising around to the back cut of Holgate to suddenly have two fully freaked fishermen running their asses off toward me, rods in hand. I’m more than chuckling now as I recall their plattered eyes in my headlights. Seems they had come across a huge “black blob” on the dark beach while plugging. Approaching it with only the weak light beams from their headlamps, they hadn’t even registered what it was when all hell broke loose. What they described as the biggest seal in the world came charging straight at them … fast! One of the guys even jumped into the back of my truck. When no mega-seal showed, they cautiously retreated to their buggy, which I had passed coming in. I continued around to the back cut, sorta hoping to get a gander at that bugger. While the blobous beast was gone, I clearly saw a truly huge belly rub track in the sand, proving it had gone balls out toward the guys – and for a goodly distance – before retreating into the water. I wondered if the pinniped had itself seen dark forms moving toward it – with glowing headlamp eyes, no less. It could have been a territorial charge more than hate-humans attack.

Oddly, I haven’t seen many seals popping up in Little Egg Inlet this winter. Those waters are usually a popular winter hangout for them. Not sure if that absence is anything eco-significant.

The piledriving of the Holgate Terminal Groin steel sheets is underway. I’ll be impressed if the company doing the work will persevere through the heavy icing. I’ll be getting photos of that bravery should it happen.

I was told buggy access to the far south end is out for two weeks. I’m guessing that’s the time it’ll take to complete the wall-like groin – or at least the work impacting the now-closed parking lot. Next week, I’ll columnize over of amazing surfing times I once had at “Wooden Jetty,” where the new build will surely impact waveriding – possibly for the better … if you’re a flagrant optimist.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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