Dear Dr. Boli: Every year, as the cold weather approaches, I begin to see advertisements on cardboard signs along the roadside for “seasoned cordwood.” What is “seasoned cordwood”? Wherewith is it seasoned? Why “cord”? Do you have to plug it in? —Sincerely, Tillandsia Withers, General Sec’y of the Mid-Atlantic Society for the Preservation of the Word “Wherewith.”
Dear Madam: Seasoned cordwood is a traditional Christmas delicacy in certain parts of western Pennsylvania and the adjacent areas of Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio. In the days of the pioneers, nothing was suffered to go to waste. At that time cords of all sorts were made from the bark of certain aromatic trees, such as cherry. The wood itself, useless for cords, might be made into rustic furniture; but pioneers could only use so much furniture, and after cramming their cabins with the stuff began to seek other uses for the sweet-smelling wood. At that time allspice, which as you know contains some of every known spice, was the favored spice among the pioneers, individual spices being far too precious to cart across the Alleghenies. The addition of this spice and a number of readily available native herbs turned the wood into a flavorful though somewhat splintery “chaw,” much prized at a time when chewing gum was not yet even a gleam in the eye of Mr. Wrigley. Although today the popularity of seasoned cordwood has waned, enough of the old-timers have retained their taste for the stuff that seasoning cordwood is still a cottage industry. Oddly enough, the bark, once the most valuable part of the wood, is now discarded, synthetic cords having entirely supplanted the bark cords of the pioneers.