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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/52

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42
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

touch. In the regions where it abounds the hemispheres formed by the radiating leaves—four or five feet in diameter and height—are conspicuous objects in the scenery over thousands of square miles; from which it will be seen that the supply of material afforded by this plant is practically inexhaustible. The part which is used is the summit of the trunk, composed of the closely imbricated and thickened bases of the leaves. This is an ovoid mass from six inches to one foot in diameter, which at all times, and particularly before the period of florescence, contains a large amount of farinaceous and saccharine matter. When fresh it is tender and well flavored, and in that form would keep one from starvation; but, when roasted, it is much better, and constitutes an excellent and delicate vegetable. In traveling through that country I have made a lunch on a fraction of one of these roasted heads with great satisfaction to myself. It is, however, not used for food, except in emergencies. The Comanches and Lipans, the aboriginal inhabitants of this region, when pursued, found an unfailing resource in the sotol, and it is certainly impossible to starve those who have access to it. The most important use made of the sotol is to manufacture from it a kind of whisky, which is known as mescal, but is quite different from the other kinds. This liquor is made in a very simple way. A small still is taken to some spring or water-course where the sotol abounds, and there rudely set up; the plant is then collected by cutting off the leaves with a machete, leaving a cabbage-like head. This is severed from the root, loaded onto donkeys, and brought to the vinata, or distillery, where it is roasted. This is effected in a pit four or five feet deep and ten or twelve feet in diameter, lined with blocks of stone at the sides and bottom. Fuel is heaped into this pit and fired; when the fire is burned out the pit is filled with the heads of sotol. In the course of a few hours they are somewhat irregularly roasted and steamed; they are then taken out, chopped in small pieces, thrown into vats, and allowed to reach vinous fermentation. The liquid extracted from the pomace is then distilled, making a white, peculiarly-flavored, but not disagreeable spirit, that is largely used in this region. Though less highly esteemed than the more carefully-made mescal distilled from the maguey, it is preferred to the whiskies made from corn or rye, and it is certainly much less injurious. It is reported that delirium tremens is unknown in the country where it is most used, and I saw among the people none of the usual effects of alcoholism either in their persons or manners. The country where the sotol abounds is capable of furnishing an unlimited quantity of alcohol, and it might, therefore, replace the grains which are sacrificed to its manufacture in the United States.

Soap-Plants.Chlorogalum pomeridianum (Amole). In the valleys of California grows a tall, slender-stemmed liliaceous plant, with purple and white flowers, which played an important part in the economy of the Spanish population, and is still more or less used by