VIII: Amaranth

The story of Sweden's most iconoclastic queen.

VIII: Amaranth
The brilliant red of amaranth. Photo by Andrey Zharkikh.

Good morning. Today is octidi, the 8th of Vendémiaire, Year CCXXXI. Today we celebrate amaranthe, the Aztec grain.

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Amaranth is a high-protein grain, which makes it a good addition to vegan diets. You can "puff" it, almost like popcorn, but without oil needed. Just get a pot to a very hot place and spread a tablespoon of amaranth seed inside on the naked bottom. Shake the pot to keep the seeds moving around and prevent burning. Within 10 minutes, you'll have a sieve-full of puffed grains that go great in any number of recipes.

In 1632, Sweden crowned a new queen following the death of Gustavus Adolphus Vasa, the king who turned the tide of the 30 Years War in favor of the Protestant nations. The new queen, his daughter, was named Christina, and she gained the crown at the ripe old age of 6.

As always happens with child royals, the kingdom was run by a chancellor as a regency until she turned 18, especially since her mother was deemed insane and banished from court. This would seem to be a recipe for a placate, bureaucratic monarchy during a time of war, but Christina was a rascal.

She dressed in men's clothing and had strong sympathies for the Catholic church, an especially distressing development given Sweden's alliances during the religious wars. She was worldly, having been born in Brandenburg (which is now Germany), and befriended a number of the ambassadors to court, including Antonio Pimentel de Prado of Spain, who introduced her to a number of exotic Spanish discoveries in the New World.

Christina must have become especially fond of the bright red wreath-like fronds of Aztec amaranth, because soon after she became queen in her own right, she founded a special chivalric knighthood called the Order of Amarante, kicking off a secret society that continues to this day.