Oh come on now…

I can just hear a few of you out there rolling your eyeballs (yes, that makes a noise…sort of) at the idea that “pita” is related to the Greek word for “pitch”. Not being a Greek scholar, I can’t say proof positive, but it does makes sense if you consider where pitch comes from and how it was made.

Today the word “pitch” has a more specific meaning than it did back in the days of the ancients. Then, it pretty much meant any kind of tar that leeched out of wood as it was either burned or made into charcoal. Charcoal, since it burns much hotter that wood without flaming, had been employed as a fuel for cooking and metalsmithing thousands of years before the Greeks, so pitch was a well known commodity. Making it simply involved covering a large, low-burning fire with dirt or straw (or both) and letting it smolder until the wood was converted to coal. The resins that oozed out would slowly drip down into a vessel placed underneath, where it would cool and harden into disk-shaped layers. When enough of this “pitch” had been collected, it would be taken off and used as a multi-purpose caulk for buildings, boats, you name it.

Interesting, isn’t it, how clever we humans are when it comes to inventing (or finding uses for) things. So much besides heat can come from the combination of wood and fire. Alright yeah there’s deforestation and maybe global warming, but also an awful lot of useful stuff. For example, if you set up a big flue to capture and condense the smoke from that wood fire (as people have been doing since about the 1600’s) and collected the liquid into a container, it would settle into layers. At the bottom would be tar, in the middle would be wood oil, and at the top would be turpentine. Neat, huh? And I’ll bet you never even thought about where any of these things come from. Aren’t you glad you came here today? Don’t answer that.

Oh right, so…pitch. Pitch is pretty interesting stuff since it hardens into a material so stiff you can shatter it. Yet technically it remains a liquid, as the famous (at least for some of us dweebs) Pitch Drop Experiment down in Queensland has been proving for some 72 years now. The pitch drips out of the container about once every ten years or so, though I guess no one’s ever seen it fall. Amusingly enough, the link I put here has a further link to a “pitch drop cam” which broadcasts its imperceptible progress 24 hours a day, just in case you have several years of time on your hands with nothing much to do.

Oh cripes, there again I’ve gone and digressed myself so far from my subject I’ll never find my way back. I think I have some kind of disease. But I remember where I wanted to go when I started: that like pitch, pita bread has that same disk shape. It is also a product of fire and ashes, since these types of bread were traditionally baked amid, even directly on, embers. I think that’s a solid connection, don’t you?

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