Jan 182019

Today is the birthday (1932) of Robert Anton Wilson, a US author, novelist, essayist, editor, playwright, poet, futurist, and self-described agnostic mystic. Recognized by Discordianism as an episkopos, pope, and saint, Wilson helped publicize the group through his writings and interviews.

Wilson, born Robert Edward Wilson, spent his first years in Flatbush, and moved with his family to Gerritsen Beach around the age of four, where they stayed until relocating to Bay Ridge when Wilson was thirteen. He suffered from polio as a child, and found generally effective treatment with the Kenny Method (created by Elizabeth Kenny) which the American Medical Association repudiated at that time. Polio’s effects remained with Wilson throughout his life, usually manifesting as minor muscle spasms causing him to use a cane occasionally until 2000, when he experienced a major bout with post-polio syndrome that continued until his death.

Wilson attended Catholic grammar school, likely the school associated with Gerritsen Beach’s Resurrection Church, and attended Brooklyn Technical High School (a selective public institution) to escape Catholic influence. At “Brooklyn Tech,” Wilson was influenced by literary modernism (particularly Ezra Pound and James Joyce), the Western philosophical tradition, then-innovative historians such as Charles A. Beard, science fiction (including the works of Olaf Stapledon, Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon) and Alfred Korzybski’s interdisciplinary theory of general semantics. He later said that the family was “living so well … compared to the Depression” during this period “that I imagined we were lace-curtain Irish at last.”

Following his graduation in 1950, Wilson was employed in a succession of jobs (including ambulance driver, engineering aide, salesman and medical orderly) and absorbed various academic perspectives (Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Leon Trotsky and Ayn Rand, whom he later repudiated) while writing in his spare time. He studied electrical engineering and mathematics at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute from 1952 to 1957 and English education at New York University from 1957 to 1958 but failed to take a degree from either. Wilson began to work as a freelance journalist and advertising copywriter in the late 1950s. He adopted his maternal grandfather’s name, Anton, for his writings, telling himself that he would save the “Edward” for when he wrote the Great American Novel and later finding that “Robert Anton Wilson” had become an established identity.

He assumed co-editorship of the School for Living’s Brookville, Ohio-based Balanced Living magazine in 1962 and briefly returned to New York as associate editor of Ralph Ginzburg’s quarterly Fact: before leaving for Playboy, where he served as an associate editor from 1965 to 1971. According to Wilson, Playboy “paid me a higher salary than any other magazine at which I had worked and never expected me to become a conformist or sell my soul in return. I enjoyed my years in the Bunny Empire. I only resigned when I reached 40 and felt I could not live with myself if I didn’t make an effort to write full-time at last.” Along with frequent collaborator Robert Shea, Wilson edited the magazine’s Playboy Forum, a letters section consisting of responses to the Playboy Philosophy editorial column. During this period, he covered Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s Millbrook, New York-based Castalia Foundation at the instigation of Alan Watts in The Realist, cultivated important friendships with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and lectured at the Free University of New York on ‘Anarchist and Synergetic Politics’ in 1965. Wilson received a B.A., M.A. (1978) and Ph.D. (1981) in psychology from Paideia University, an unaccredited institution that has since closed. Wilson reworked his dissertation, and published it in 1983 as Prometheus Rising.

Wilson married freelance writer and poet Arlen Riley in 1958. They had four children, including Christina Wilson Pearson and Patricia Luna Wilson. Luna was beaten to death in an apparent robbery in the store where she worked in 1976 at the age of 15, and became the first person to have her brain preserved by the Bay Area Cryonics Society. Arlen Riley Wilson died in 1999 following a series of strokes.

Among Wilson’s 35 books, and many other works, perhaps his best-known volumes remain the cult classic series The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975), co-authored with Shea. Advertised as “a fairy tale for paranoids,” the three books—The Eye in the Pyramid, The Golden Apple, and Leviathan, soon offered as a single volume—philosophically and humorously examined, among many other themes, occult and magical symbolism and history, the counterculture of the 1960s, secret societies, data concerning H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, and American paranoia about conspiracies and conspiracy theories. The book was intended to poke fun at the conspiratorial mindset.

Wilson and Shea derived much of the odder material from letters sent to Playboy magazine while they worked as the editors of its Forum. The books mixed verifiable information with imaginative fiction to engage the reader in what Wilson called “guerrilla ontology”, which he apparently referred to as “Operation Mindfuck” in Illuminatus! The trilogy also outlined a set of libertarian and anarchist axioms known as Celine’s Laws (named after Hagbard Celine, a character in Illuminatus!), concepts Wilson revisited several times in other writings. Among the many subplots of Illuminatus! one addresses biological warfare and the overriding of the United States Bill of Rights, another gives a detailed account of the John F. Kennedy assassination (in which no fewer than five snipers, all working for different causes, prepare to shoot Kennedy), and the book’s climax occurs at a rock concert where the audience collectively faces the danger of becoming a mass human sacrifice.

Illuminatus! popularized Discordianism and the use of the term “fnord”. It incorporates experimental prose styles influenced by writers such as William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. Although Shea and Wilson never co-operated on such a scale again, Wilson continued to expand upon the themes of the Illuminatus! books throughout his writing career. Most of his later fiction contains cross-over characters from “The Sex Magicians” (Wilson’s first novel, written before the release of Illuminatus!, which includes many of his same characters) and The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

Illuminatus! won the Prometheus Hall of Fame award for science fiction in 1986, has many international editions, and found adaptation for the stage when Ken Campbell produced it as a ten-hour drama. It also appeared as two card based games from Steve Jackson Games, one a trading-card game (Illuminati: New World Order). Eye N Apple Productions and Rip Off Press produced a comic book version of the trilogy.

Wilson wrote two more popular fiction series. The first, Schrödinger’s Cat, a trilogy later published as a single volume. The second, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, appeared as three books. In between publishing the two trilogies Wilson released a stand-alone novel, Masks of the Illuminati (1981), which fits into, due to the main character’s ancestry, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles’ timeline and, while published earlier, could qualify as the fourth volume in that series.

Wilson also criticized certain “scientific” types with overly rigid belief systems, equating them with religious fundamentalists in their fanaticism. In a 1988 interview, when asked about his newly published book The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science, Wilson commented:

I coined the term irrational rationalism because those people claim to be rationalists, but they’re governed by such a heavy body of taboos. They’re so fearful, and so hostile, and so narrow, and frightened, and uptight and dogmatic … I wrote this book because I got tired satirizing fundamentalist Christianity … I decided to satirize fundamentalist materialism for a change, because the two are equally comical … The materialist fundamentalists are funnier than the Christian fundamentalists, because they think they’re rational! … They’re never skeptical about anything except the things they have a prejudice against. None of them ever says anything skeptical about the AMA, or about anything in establishment science or any entrenched dogma. They’re only skeptical about new ideas that frighten them. They’re actually dogmatically committed to what they were taught when they were in college.

On June 22nd, 2006, Huffington Post blogger Paul Krassner reported that Wilson was under hospice care at home with friends and family. On October 2nd, Douglas Rushkoff reported that Wilson was in severe financial trouble. Slashdot, Boing Boing, and the Church of the SubGenius also picked up on the story, linking to Rushkoff’s appeal. As his webpage reported on October 10th, these efforts succeeded beyond expectation and raised a sum which would have supported him for at least six months. Obviously touched by the great outpouring of support, on October 5th, 2006, Wilson left the following comment on his personal website, expressing his gratitude:

Dear Friends, my God, what can I say. I am dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and totally stunned by the charity and compassion that has poured in here the last three days. To steal from Jack Benny, “I do not deserve this, but I also have severe leg problems and I don’t deserve them either.” Because he was a kind man as well as a funny one, Benny was beloved. I find it hard to believe that I am equally beloved and especially that I deserve such love.    Whoever you are, wherever you are, know that my love is with you. You have all reminded me that despite George W. Bush and all his cohorts, there is still a lot of beautiful kindness in the world.


Robert Anton Wilson

On January 6, 2007, Wilson wrote on his blog that according to several medical authorities, he would likely only have between two days and two months left to live. He closed this message with “I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying. Please pardon my levity, I don’t see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.” Wilson died peacefully five days later, on January 11 at 4:50 a.m. Pacific time, just a week short of his 75th birthday. After his cremation on January 18th (his 75th birthday), his family held a memorial service on February 18 and then scattered most of his ashes at the same spot as his wife’s—off the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Long-time friend Scott Apel wrote this concerning Wilson:

(Bob and Arlen loved Red Lobster. When they lived on Brommer St. in Capitola in the early ‘90s, they lived within walking distance of a Red Lobster in the Capitola Mall, and dined there at least once a week. In the final years of his life, when Cathy and I spent every Saturday night with Bob, the SOP was to stop at a Red Lobster in San Jose and order up several carry-out meals for him on our way to Capitola. We became close with the manager who took our order, and when she found out the food was for Robert Anton Wilson, we discovered she was a fan and started adding extra food to our take-out order, free of charge. Bob inspired that kind of love and generosity.) In the years since then, Cathy and I have always referred to the chain as “Red Bobster.”

I suppose you could make a trip to Red Lobster if you wanted an authentic Robert Anton Wilson experience to celebrate his birthday, but that would not be my first choice for several reasons. First is that I rarely eat out, and food chains are never my choice when I do. Food chains, and Red Lobster is no exception, get a bit secretive if you probe too deeply where their ingredients come from (and what they really are).  Chains that have surprisingly low prices must be cutting corners somewhere. DNA analysis of Red Lobster’s lobster bisque showed that it had mostly langoustine in it, which is called Norway lobster, so technically they are on safe ground, and langoustines are grouped in a family of genuses Nephrops and Metanephrops that all have “lobster” in their names. But they are usually called “scampi” in Europe and are a lot cheaper than their cousins in the Homarus genus, which people typically think of when they use the term “lobster.” All right, that’s just marketing sleight of hand. Red Lobster remains a bit closed mouthed about where it sources its ingredients, which raises a red flag for me.

I’m much happier making my seafood feasts at home, and I expect Wilson would have been happy with my seafood lasagna – flying or otherwise. Chameleon cook fashion, I’ll give you the basic idea and leave you to figure out the details. Standard lasagna requires a meat sauce, several cheeses, and lasagna pasta layered in a dish and baked. Seafood lasagna is a lot simpler (and potentially more expensive). I have seen recipes for seafood lasagna with cheese in them, but I do not like the combination of seafood, pasta, and cheese (nor do many Italians), so I leave out the cheese. You’ll need a good béchamel sauce and a variety of seafood. You can just use a medley of fish if you are hard up, but if the pocket allows, you can add shellfish of choice. Lightly poach your seafood mix and mix it with your béchamel. Cook lasagna pasta barely al dente. Grease a casserole, spread a thin layer of béchamel in the bottom, and line the bottom with pasta, then layer the dish – seafood mix, pasta – finishing with a pasta top brushed with a little béchamel. Bake at 375°F for about 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and the top is golden. Serve in squares with a green salad.

Jan 172019

Today is the opening day of the Patras carnival, in Greece, the largest of its kind in Greece, and rivaling carnivals worldwide. So . . . when people feel the blues because Christmas is over and Lent is looming, they get into the party spirit with carnival. Of course, if Lent is not a big deal for you, then carnival will not be important either. But in largely Catholic countries, or enclaves, there is always at least one city – Rio, New Orleans, Venice – where they pull out all the stops. Such places attract huge numbers of tourists these days, but there is still very much a local presence under the schlock if you know where to look. Patras is unusual in that it occurs in a predominantly Orthodox country.

You might hear the usual rubbish about how Patras carnival has roots in ancient pagan rituals, such as those to honor Dionysus, but there is general agreement that the starting event of the current Patras Carnival was a ball given at the residence of the merchant Moretis in 1829. French troops of general Maison stationed in the city after its liberation from the Turks were a major influence on the carnival, bringing their own (Catholic) culture and traditions to the festivities. During the 19th century, new arrivals from the newly joined Heptanese, the seven islands (plus smaller ones) in the Ionian sea that became part of Greece in 1864 also added their own regional culture and music. Later on, and as a consequence of the prosperity of the city at the end of the 19th century, the carnival festivities took on a more regular nature. The geographical location of the town and the ever-increasing dominance of the port ensured constant communication with Italy and the rest of Western Europe. Their grand carnivals and the Venetian carnival in particular were especially influential in shaping the festivities, giving the carnival its Western characteristics.

The first carnival floats appeared in the 1870s. At that time the floats were exclusively the creations of individuals. Later the Municipality of Patras constructed a large number of them. In 1872, with contributions from the town’s wealthy raisin merchants, the celebrated Apollon Theatre was built by Ernst Ziller in George square. Carnival dances were hosted there, and they continue to be hosted to this day. George square is the central location in carnival celebrations and the Apollon theatre serves as a backdrop to most major carnival events, including today’s opening ceremony, making it emblematic not only of the carnival but of the town itself.

In 1880 on Saint Anthony the Great’s day (today), the first “mpoules” appeared. These were groups who were disguised and anonymously poked fun at friends and other people in the neighborhood. This custom has now disappeared. As the historian of the Patras Carnival, Nikos Politis, points out, beautiful carnivals were organized during the belle époque in the years 1900, 1907, 1909 with attendance for the first time of individuals from all social classes and origins. This period also gave birth to the egg-war custom. Wax eggs were made stuffed with confetti using specially designed machines which the carnival participants threw from balconies. Although this custom has disappeared, it is considered to be the precursor of the chocolate war which still persists. Bars of chocolates are thrown by revelers on floats or amongst groups at parties.

The developments of the following decade were not favorable for the carnival; the continuous wars and conflicts (Balkan wars, World War I, Asia Minor campaign) economic crisis and desolation to the city. In the first postwar years the situation did not improve perceptibly, but the years 1938 and 1939 saw revivals. Nevertheless, World War II and the subsequent Greek Civil War brought interruption. In the 1950s the carnival returned. In the same period the Greek cinema showed scenes of the carnival in its films. Other historic scenes can be seen in prewar films.

In 1966 the carnival was reorganized. The journalist Nikos Mastorakis introduced the Hidden Treasure Hunt, a game in which 94 citizens of Patras and visitors try to find a list of sometimes obscure objects. The first prize was won by a team led by a friend of the carnival from Thessalonica, Alkis Steas, and he started the game the following year, and for decades thereafter, becoming a carnival legend in person and on television. His expressions such as “the Carnival city of Greece”, when he referred to Patras and “be happy” and “keep dancing!” when he referred to the carnival groups, remain catch phrases. In 1974 the modern phase of the carnival began when revelers were convinced to abandon their cars and parade on foot in the streets (until then only floats paraded). Since then each year the spectacle has grown and the carnival has become enormous with thousands of revelers taking part in the parade as hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Patras to witness the proceedings.

Irrespective of when the Triodion falls, the three-week period preceding the first Sunday of Lent, it is customary for the Carnival of Patras to start on the feast day of St. Anthony the Great (17 January). A town crier appears on the streets of Patras; in recent years this has been a specially constructed float with music. The crier announces the opening with a satirical message and invites the town’s residents to assemble that evening for the opening ceremony in George square. During a spectacular celebration with elements of surprise, as the program is kept secret till the last moment, the start of the Patras Carnival is declared by the town’s mayor from the first-floor balcony of the Apollon theatre. The program usually includes pantomimes, dances, music and fireworks.

Patras is a port city that owes much of its growth and wealth to the import and export of raisins. Greece has been growing raisins since antiquity and Patras was one of the first areas where they were grown. The 19th century, when the Patras carnival was expanding, was a boom time for raisin production and export, reaching 80% of all Greek at one point. So, raisins it is. Here is a recipe for Greek raisin cake.

Greek Raisin Cake


4 cups flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups milk
2 cups raisins
powdered sugar


Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Grease a 9 x 13 inch loaf pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and salt together into a bowl.

Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until well combined. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the eggs a little at a time until they are well mixed in. Still on low speed, beat 2 cups of the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Add ½ cup of milk and beat together. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat for 1 minute, then add the rest of the milk and beat again. Turn off the mixer and stir in the raisins using a wooden spoon, making sure they are mixed in well.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let the pan cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out on to a serving plate and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar when the cake has completely cooled.

Jan 162019

Today is the birthday (1691) of Peter Scheemakers or Pieter Scheemaeckers the Younger, a Flemish sculptor who worked for most of his life in London where his public and church sculptures in a classicist style had a significant influence on the development of sculpture. Scheemakers is perhaps best known for executing the William Kent-designed memorial to William Shakespeare which was erected in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in 1740.

Scheemakers learned his art from his father, the Antwerp sculptor Pieter Scheemaeckers the Elder. He visited Denmark where he studied for four years with the court sculptor Johann Adam Sturmberg (1683–1741). He walked to Rome where he and Laurent Delvaux studied both classical and baroque styles of sculpture before settling in London in 1716. He and Delvaux worked there with another Flemish sculptor Pieter-Denis Plumier on a funeral monument to John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, which they delivered in 1722 after the death of Plumier.

In 1723, Scheemakers and Delvaux entered into a formal partnership and set up a workshop in Millbank in Westminster. Their workshop produced many sober classical monuments and garden statuary. The partners sold their stock in the partnership and travelled to Rome in 1728. Scheemakers stayed here for two years to study both classical and contemporary masterpieces. Upon his return to England in 1730 Scheemakers restarted the Milbank workshop on his own. His ‘ideal’ classical sculptures became very popular with the landowning class and the city merchants. He moved his workshop a few times: first to Old Palace Yard in 1736 and then to Vine Street in 1740 where he was active until his retirement in 1771. He returned to Antwerp where he died at the age of 90.

Fifteen of Scheemakers’ works – monuments, figures and busts – are in Westminster Abbey; two were executed in collaboration with Delvaux: the “Hugh Chamberlen” (d. 1728, and therefore perhaps produced during his first visit to London) and “Catherine, duchess of Buckinghamshire.” He is best known for his monument to Shakespeare (1740), but as this work was designed by Kent the credit is not all Scheemakers’. In addition to these, there are the monuments to Admiral Sir Charles Wager, Vice-Admiral Watson, Lieut.-General Percy Kirk, George Lord Viscount Howe, General Monck, and Sir Henry Belasye. His busts of John Dryden (1720) and Dr Richard Mead (1754), also in the Abbey, are noted examples of his smaller works.

Works outside of Westminster Abbey are memorials to the 1st and 2nd Dukes of Ancaster at Edenham, Lincolnshire; Lord Chancellor Hardwicke at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire; the Duke of Kent, his wives and daughters, at Fletton, Bedfordshire; the Earl of Shelburne, at Wycombe, Bucks; and the figure on the sarcophagus to Montague Sherrard Drake, at Amersham. Another example of his work is the memorial to Topham Foote (or Foot) in the parish church of St John the Baptist, Windsor. This burial monument, which includes the young man’s bust and the Foote family crest, greets visitors in the main High Street entrance, just 300 feet (90 m) from the Henry VIII gate to Windsor Castle. He also sculpted a memorial for the Petty family, marking the family burial place in All Saints’ Parish Church, High Wycombe, which depicts the family in Roman dress, and designed the gilded equestrian statue of King William III erected at Kingston upon Hull (1734).

In 1743, Mary Coghill erected the parish church of Clonturk (now Drumcondra Church) in memory of her brother Marmaduke Coghill, and placed in it a statue of her brother by Scheemakers. He also sculpted fourteen of the busts in the Long Room of the Trinity College Library in Dublin, including Homer, Aristotle and Socrates.

Between 1970 and 1993, an image of Scheemakers’ Shakespeare statue appeared on the reverse of Series D £20 notes issued by the Bank of England.

Scheemakers is credited with introducing broccoli to England in the 18th century. I have not done an exhaustive review of sources to check this claim, so you will have to do as I do and trust repetition on the internet. Broccoli resulted from breeding of cultivated Brassica crops in the northern Mediterranean starting around the 6th century BCE and since the time of the Roman Empire, broccoli has been popular in Italy.  A common way to cook broccoli in Italy is one of my favorites and would honor the memory of Scheemakers: broccoli in oil and garlic. Steam the broccoli until it is al dente. Meanwhile gently heat extra virgin olive oil in a wide skillet and add sliced garlic to your taste. I like to add several cloves. Do not allow the garlic to brown, but let it infuse the oil. Drain the broccoli, let it air dry, then toss it in the oil and garlic. Serve immediately. In Italy it is quite common to serve this style of broccoli with macaroni or pasta of your choice.

Jan 152019

On this date in 1919 in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. A large molasses storage tank burst and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph, killing 21 and injuring 150. The event is known as the Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood. The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility (although a Washington Post article names U.S. Industrial Alcohol as the tank’s owner). The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge.

At about 12:30 in the afternoon near Keany Square, at 529 Commercial Street, a molasses tank 50 ft tall, 90 ft in diameter, and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gallons, collapsed. Witnesses variously reported that as it collapsed they felt the ground shake and heard a roar, a long rumble similar to the passing of an elevated train, a tremendous crashing, a deep growling, or “a thunderclap-like bang!”, and as the rivets shot out of the tank, a machine gun-like sound.

The collapse unleashed a wave of molasses 25 ft high at its peak, moving at 35 mph. The molasses wave was of sufficient force to damage the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway’s Atlantic Avenue structure and tip a railroad car momentarily off the tracks. Nearby buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 ft. The Boston Post reported:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage  … Here and there struggled a form‍—‌whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was  … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍—‌men and women‍—‌suffered likewise.

The Boston Globe reported that people “were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet.” Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor. About 150 people were injured; 21 people and several horses were killed. Some were crushed and drowned by the molasses, or the debris it carried within. The wounded included people, horses, and dogs; coughing fits became one of the most common ailments after the initial blast. In a 1983 article for Smithsonian, Edwards Park wrote of one child’s experience:

Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him.


1. Purity Distilling molasses tank 2. Firehouse 31 (heavy damage) 3. Paving department and police station 4. Purity offices (flattened) 5. Copps Hill Terrace 6. Boston Gas Light building (damaged) 7. Purity warehouse (mostly intact) 8. Residential area (site of flattened Clougherty house)

First to the scene were 116 cadets under the direction of Lieutenant Commander H. J. Copeland from USS Nantucket, a training ship of the Massachusetts Nautical School (which is now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy), that was docked nearby at the playground pier. They ran several blocks toward the accident. They worked to keep the curious from getting in the way of the rescuers, while others entered into the knee-deep, sticky mess to pull out the survivors. Soon, the Boston Police, Red Cross, Army, and other Navy personnel arrived. Some nurses from the Red Cross dove into the molasses, while others tended to the injured, keeping them warm and keeping the exhausted workers fed. Many of these people worked through the night. The injured were so numerous that doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital in a nearby building. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims. Four days elapsed before they stopped searching for victims; many of the dead were so glazed over in molasses, they were hard to recognize. Other victims were swept into Boston Harbor and were only found three to four months after the disaster.

Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit, one of the first held in Massachusetts, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917. The lawsuit is considered a milestone in paving the way for modern corporate regulation. In spite of the company’s attempts to claim that the tank had been blown up by anarchists (because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions), a court-appointed auditor found USIA responsible after three years of hearings. United States Industrial Alcohol Company ultimately paid out $628,000 in damages ($9.08 million in 2018, adjusted for inflation). Relatives of those killed reportedly received around $7,000 per victim (equivalent to $101,000 in 2018).

Cleanup crews used salt water from a fireboat to wash the molasses away, and used sand to try to absorb it. The harbor was brown with molasses until summer. The cleanup in the immediate area took weeks, with somewhere between 300 to 400 workers involved. The cleanup in the rest of Greater Boston and its suburbs would take an indefinably longer time. Rescue workers, cleanup crews, and sight-seers had tracked molasses through the streets and spread it to subway platforms, to the seats inside trains and streetcars, to pay telephone handsets, into homes, and to countless other places. “Everything a Bostonian touched was sticky.”

Several factors that occurred on that day and the previous days might have contributed to the disaster. The tank was constructed poorly and tested insufficiently. Due to fermentation occurring within the tank, carbon dioxide production might have raised the internal pressure. The rise in local temperatures that occurred over the previous day also would have assisted in building this pressure. Records show that the air temperature rose from 2 to 41 °F (−17 to 5.0 °C) over that period. The failure occurred from a manhole cover near the base of the tank, and a fatigue crack there possibly grew to the point of criticality. The hoop stress is greatest near the base of a filled cylindrical tank.The tank had been filled to capacity only eight times since it was built a few years previously, putting the walls under an intermittent, cyclical load. Several authors say that the Purity Distilling Company was (or may have been) trying to outrace prohibition in the United States. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified the next day (January 16, 1919), and took effect one year later.

An inquiry after the disaster revealed that Arthur Jell, who oversaw the construction, neglected basic safety tests, such as filling the tank with water to check for leaks. When filled with molasses, the tank leaked so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks. Local residents collected leaked molasses for their homes. An investigation first published in 2014, applying modern engineering analysis, found that the steel was not only half as thick as it should have been for a tank of its size, even with the lax standards of the day, but it also lacked manganese and was made more brittle as a result. Two days before the disaster, warmer molasses had been added to the tank, reducing the viscosity of the fluid. When the tank collapsed the fluid cooled quickly as it spread, until it reached Boston’s winter evening temperatures and the viscosity increased dramatically, trapping victims and hampering rescue efforts.

No prizes for guessing today’s recipe ingredient. Cane molasses is an ingredient used in baking and cooking that was popular in the Americas and Britain prior to the 20th century, when it used to be a common sweetener. To make molasses, sugar cane is harvested and stripped of leaves. Its juice is extracted, usually by cutting, crushing, or mashing. The juice is boiled to concentrate it, promoting sugar crystallization. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup, and it has the highest sugar content. First syrup is usually referred to in the Southern states of the United States as cane syrup, as opposed to molasses. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slightly bitter taste. The third boiling of the sugar syrup yields dark, viscous blackstrap molasses, known for its robust flavor. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has crystallized and been removed. The caloric content of blackstrap molasses is mostly due to the small remaining sugar content. In Britain this third boiling produces black treacle.

In the 1950s I enjoyed treacle tarts made with black treacle, but in the 1960s in Britain, Golden Syrup became much more popular because it is sweeter and milder. In the US in the 1970s, however, I discovered that molasses was alive and well, and used in tart recipes in the South when I lived in North Carolina. Here is a serviceable recipe for molasses tarts with nuts.

Molasses Tarts


¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup molasses
⅓ cup butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 recipe pie pastry (see HINTS)


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease a 12-cup tart (or muffin) tin. Cut out 12 circles of pastry to line each cup.

Beat the brown sugar, molasses and butter together in a stand mixer until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vinegar and vanilla.

Pour the mixture into the pastry cups until they are ¾ full and top them with the chopped walnuts.

Bake the tarts for 20-25 minutes until the  filling starts to dome and set, and the pastry is golden.

Cool the tarts in the tin. When they are close to room temperature, remove them from the tin and serve.

Jan 142019

The Feast of the Ass was observed on this date primarily in medieval France as a by-product of the Feast of Fools which celebrated all donkey related stories in the Bible. The 14th January celebration focused on the Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13–23), in particular the donkey bearing the Holy Family into Egypt after Jesus’ birth. So, if you want to keep the Christmas story going a little longer, here is your opportunity. The feast was first celebrated in the 11th century, inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian “Sermo contra Judaeos” c. 6th century. In the second half of the 15th century, the feast disappeared gradually, along with the Feast of Fools, which was suppressed around the same time as being irreverent. Feast of the Ass was not considered as objectionable as the Feast of Fools, but it did encourage a kind of mockery of the liturgy. Typically, a girl and a child on a donkey would be led through town to the church, where the donkey would stand beside the altar during the sermon, and the congregation would “hee-haw” their responses to the priest.

In the 11th century “Sermo contra Judaeos” had taken the form of a metrical dramatic dialogue with a stage-arrangement adhering closely to the original text. Additions and adaptations were gradually introduced. A Rouen manuscript of the 13th century represents 28 prophets as taking part in the play. After Terce, the rubric directs, “let the procession move to the church, in the centre of which let there be a furnace and an idol for the brethren to refuse to worship.” The procession filed into the choir. On the one side were seated Moses, Amos, Isaias, Aaron, Balaam and his Ass, Zachary and Elizabeth, John the Baptist and Simeon. The three Gentile prophets sat opposite. The proceedings were conducted under the auspices of Saint Augustine. The presiding dignitary called on each of the prophets, who successively testified to the birth of the Messiah. When the Sibyl had recited her acrostic lines on the Signs of Judgment, all the prophets sang in unison a hymn of praise to the long-sought Savior. Mass immediately followed. The part that pleased the congregation was the role of Balaam and the Ass; hence the popular designation of the Processus Prophetarum as the Feast of the Ass. The part of Balaam was soon dissociated from its surroundings and expanded into an independent drama. The Rouen rubrics direct that two messengers be sent by king Balaak to bring forth the prophet. Balaam advances riding on a gorgeously caparisoned ass (a wooden, or hobby, ass with a person concealed inside). From the Chester pageant it is clear that the prophet rode on a wooden animal, since the rubric supposes that the speaker for the beast is “in asina”. Then follows the scene in which the ass meets the angered angel and protests at length against the cruelty of the rider. Once detached from the parent stem, the Festum Asinorum branched in various directions. In the Beauvais 13th century document the Feast of Asses is already an independent trope with the date and purpose of its celebration changed.

At Beauvais the Ass may have continued his minor role of enlivening the long procession of Prophets. On January 14, however, he discharged an important function in that city’s festivities. On the feast of the Flight into Egypt the most beautiful girl in the town, with a pretty child in her arms, was placed on a richly draped ass, and conducted with religious gravity to St Stephen’s Church. The ass (possibly a wooden figure) was stationed at the right of the altar, and the Mass was begun. After the Introit a Latin prose verse was sung.

The first stanza and its French refrain may serve as a specimen of the nine that follow:

Orientis partibus
Adventavit Asinus
Pulcher et fortissimus
Sarcinis aptissimus.

Hez, Sire Asnes, car chantez,
Belle bouche rechignez,
Vous aurez du foin assez
Et de l’avoine a plantez.

(From the Eastern lands the Ass is come, beautiful and very brave, well fitted to bear burdens. Up! Sir Ass, and sing. Open your pretty mouth. Hay will be yours in plenty, and oats in abundance.)

Mass was continued, and at its end, apparently without a sense of impropriety, the following direction (in Latin) was observed:

In fine Missae sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice ‘Ite, Missa est’, ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice ‘Deo Gratias’, ter respondebit, ‘Hinham, hinham, hinham.’

(At the end of Mass, the priest, facing the people, in place of  ‘Ite missa est’, will bray three times: the people instead of replying ‘Deo Gratias’ say, ‘Hinham, hinham, hinham.’)

This is the sole instance of a service of this nature in connection with the Feast of Ass. The Festum Asinorum gradually lost its identity, and became incorporated in the ceremonies of the Deposuit or united in the general merry-making on the Feast of Fools. The Processus Prophetarum, whence it drew its origin, survived in the Corpus Christi and Whitsun play cycles in England.

I have mentioned the impropriety of reindeer for Christmas dinner (even though it is common in parts of Scandinavia), or rabbit for Easter dinner. A donkey stew for this feast is irresistible, however. Stracotto d’asino (stewed ass), is a specialty of Mantua where I lived for two years. It took some time to find a restaurant that served it because it is not a popular dish any more, and when I first tasted it, I was not impressed. It was all right, but not great. There was a horse butcher near my home that sold donkey on order so I bought some and experimented. Eventually I produced a stracotto that Mantovani all claimed was the best they had eaten – better than any in a local restaurant. Well – so much for humility. My “secret” was to add cloves and allspice to the dish’s aromatics.  Allspice (pepe de Giamaica in Italian) is not easy to find because it is not used in Italian dishes, but I had some left from Christmas cooking, and it was a big hit with my Italian guests. If cooking donkey offends you, you could substitute beef, I suppose.

Stracotto D’Asino


600 gm donkey meat, cut in chunks
1 slice of bacon, cut in pieces
1 white onion, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 cup red wine
200 gm tomato pulp
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced thin
bay leaves
ground nutmeg, pepper, cloves, allspice and cinnamon


Put the meat in a bowl with the onion, garlic, bay leaves and spices (to taste). Add the red wine, stir and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator. See the HINTS tab for marinating techniques.

Next day, strain off the marinade and keep it separate. In a heavy, deep skilled over medium heat fry the bacon. Add a little butter to the bacon fat and brown the meat and vegetables. Add back the marinade plus the tomato pulp, cover and simmer very slowly for at least 5 hours. Check the liquid level from time to time and add hot broth if needed. Cook until the meat is very tender and the broth is thick.

The stracotto can be served with macaroni, or as a second course with grilled polenta.

Jan 132019

Today is the feast day of St Kentigern familiarly known as Mungo, an apostle of the Scottish kingdom of Strathclyde in the late 6th century, and the founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow. In Wales and England, he is known by his birth and baptismal name Kentigern, but in Scotland, he is known by the pet name Mungo, possibly derived from the Cumbric equivalent of the Welsh: fy nghu ‘my dear (one)’. An ancient church in Bromfield is named after him, as are Crosthwaite Parish Church and some other churches in the northern part of Cumberland.

The Life of Saint Mungo was written by the monastic hagiographer Jocelyn of Furness in about 1185. Jocelin states that he rewrote the ‘life’ from an earlier Glasgow legend and an Old Irish document. There are two other medieval lives: the earlier partial life in the Cottonian manuscript now in the British Library, and the later Life, based on Jocelyn, by John of Tynemouth.

Mungo’s mother Teneu was a princess, the daughter of King Lleuddun (Latin: Leudonus) who ruled a territory around what is now Lothian in Scotland, perhaps the kingdom of Gododdin in the Old North. She became pregnant after being raped by Owain mab Urien according to the British Library manuscript. However, other historic accounts claim Owain and Teneu (also known as Thaney) had a love affair whilst he was still married to his wife Penarwen and that her father, king Lot, separated the pair after she became pregnant. Later, allegedly, after Penarwen died, Tenue/Thaney returned to king Owain and the pair were able to marry before King Owain met his death battling Bernicia in 597. Her furious father had her thrown from the heights of Traprain Law. She survived and then was abandoned in a coracle in which she drifted across the River Forth to Culross in Fife where Mungo was born.

Mungo was brought up by Saint Serf who was ministering to the Picts in that area. It was Serf who gave him his popular pet-name. At the age of 25, Mungo began his missionary work on the Clyde, on the site of modern Glasgow. He built his church across the water from an extinct volcano, next to the Molendinar Burn, where the present medieval cathedral now stands. For 13 years, he worked in the district, living a most austere life in a small cell and making many converts by his holy example and his preaching.

A strong anti-Christian movement in Strathclyde, headed by a king Morken, compelled Mungo to leave the district, and he retired to Wales, via Cumbria, staying for a time with Saint David at St David’s, and afterwards moving on to Gwynedd where he founded a cathedral at Llanelwy (St Asaph in English). While there, he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome. However, the new king of Strathclyde, Riderch Hael, invited Mungo to return to his kingdom. He decided to go and appointed Saint Asaph/Asaff as Bishop of Llanelwy in his place.

For some years, Mungo fixed his episcopal seat at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire, evangelizing from there the district of Galloway. He eventually returned to Glasgow where a large community grew up around him. It was nearby, in Kilmacolm, that he was visited by St Columba, who was at that time working in Strathtay. The two saints embraced, held a long converse, and exchanged their pastoral staves. In old age, Mungo became very feeble and his chin had to be set in place with a bandage. He is said to have died in his bath, on Sunday 13th January.

In the Life of Saint Mungo, he is said to have performed four miracles in Glasgow. The following verse is used to remember Mungo’s four miracles:

    Here is the bird that never flew
    Here is the tree that never grew
    Here is the bell that never rang
    Here is the fish that never swam

The verses refer to the following:

The Bird: Mungo restored life to a robin, that had been killed by some of his classmates.

The Tree: Mungo had been left in charge of a fire in Saint Serf’s monastery. He fell asleep and the fire went out. Taking a hazel branch, he restarted the fire.

The Bell: the bell is thought to have been brought by Mungo from Rome. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased. The original bell no longer exists, and a replacement, created in the 1640s, is now on display in Glasgow.

The Fish: refers to the story about Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde who was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality the king had thrown it into the river Clyde. Faced with execution she appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name. (This story may be confused with an almost identical one concerning king Maelgwn of Gwynedd and Saint Asaph.)

Mungo’s ancestry is recorded in the Bonedd y Saint. His father, Owain was a King of Rheged. His maternal grandfather, Lleuddun, was probably a King of the Gododdin; Lothian was named after him. There seems little reason to doubt that Mungo was one of the first evangelists of Strathclyde, under the patronage of king Rhiderch Hael, and probably became the first bishop of Glasgow.

Jocelin seems to have altered parts of the original life that he did not understand; while adding others, like the trip to Rome, that served his own purposes, largely the promotion of the bishopric of Glasgow. Some new parts may have been collected from genuine local stories, particularly those of Mungo’s work in Cumbria. Mungo’s associations with St Asaph were a Norman invention. However, in Scotland, excavations at Hoddom have brought confirmation of early Christian activity there, uncovering a late 6th-century stone baptistery.

Details of Mungo’s infirmity have a ring of authenticity about them. The year of Mungo’s death is sometimes given as 603, but is recorded in the Annales Cambriae as 612. 13th January was a Sunday in both 603 and 614. David McRoberts has argued that his death in the bath is a garbled version of his collapse during a baptismal service.

In a late 15th-century fragmentary manuscript generally called ‘Lailoken and Kentigern’, Mungo appears in conflict with the mad prophet, Lailoken alias Merlin. Lailoken’s appearance at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 has led to a connection being made between this battle, the rise of Riderch Hael and the return of Mungo to Strathclyde.

On the spot where Mungo was buried now stands the cathedral dedicated in his honor. His shrine was a great center of Christian pilgrimage until the Scottish Reformation. His remains are said to still rest in the crypt. A spring called “St. Mungo’s Well” lay eastwards from the apse.

Mungo’s four religious miracles in Glasgow are represented in the city’s coat of arms. Glasgow’s current motto “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His word and the praising of His name” and the more secular, shortened, “Let Glasgow flourish,” are both inspired by Mungo’s original call “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word”.

There is a beer called St Mungo brewed by West Brewing Co. in Glasgow, which, despite the name, is a Munich style lager. I suppose you could do something with this in a recipe to celebrate the day. I’m going to go with Dunfillan bramble pudding, which I have had in Glasgow once when visiting relatives. Brambles are any fruit from thorny bramble bushes, but blackberries are the usual ones. Wild picked are best.

Dunfillan Bramble Pudding


450 gm brambles
110 gm sugar


50 gm Butter
50 gm caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
110 grams Plain Flour, sifted
2 tbsp milk
¼ tsp Baking Powder
1 lemon rind, grated fine


Preheat the oven to 180˚C.

Place the fruit in a pie dish with a little water, and bake for 25 minutes.

Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Add the egg and milk and continue to beat. Stir in the flour, a pinch of salt and the baking powder.  Beat on low to make a smooth batter. Add the lemon rind.

Take the fruit from the oven. Pour the batter evenly over the fruit and spread it smoothly and evenly. Some paste will sink into the fruit.

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until golden. Serve warm.

Jan 122019

Today is the birthday (1876) of John “Jack” Griffith London (born John Griffith Chaney), US journalist, novelist and social activist. London was born in San Francisco to an unwed mother in a working-class neighborhood that was not as impoverished as his later accounts suggested. London’s relationship with the truth was not always cordial. His purported father disowned him and his mother, and for much of his childhood his mother was unable to look after him, and turned over his care to Virginia Prentiss, an African-American former slave.

In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott’s Cannery. Seeking a way out, he borrowed money from his foster mother, bought the sloop Razzle-Dazzle from an oyster pirate named French Frank, and became an oyster pirate himself. In his memoir, John Barleycorn, he claims also to have taken French Frank’s mistress Mamie. After a few months, his sloop became damaged beyond repair, after which London hired on as a member of the California Fish Patrol.

In 1893, he signed on to the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland, bound for the coast of Japan. When he returned, the country was in the grip of the panic of ’93 and Oakland was swept by labor unrest. After grueling jobs in a jute mill and a street-railway power plant, London joined Coxey’s Army protest on Washington DC and began life as a tramp. In 1894, he spent 30 days for vagrancy in the Erie County Penitentiary in Buffalo, New York. After many experiences as a hobo and a sailor, he returned to Oakland and attended Oakland High School. He contributed a number of articles to the high school’s magazine, The Aegis. His first published work was “Typhoon off the Coast of Japan”, an account of his sailing experiences.

As a schoolboy, London often studied at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, a port-side bar in Oakland. At 17, he confessed to the bar’s owner, John Heinold, his desire to attend university and pursue a career as a writer. Heinold lent London tuition money to attend college. London desperately wanted to attend the University of California, Berkeley. In 1896, after a summer of intense studying to pass certification exams, he was admitted. Financial circumstances forced him to leave in 1897 and he never graduated. No evidence suggests that London wrote for student publications while studying at Berkeley.

While at Berkeley, London continued to study and spend time at Heinold’s saloon, where he was introduced to the sailors and adventurers who would influence his writing. In his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, London mentioned the pub’s likeness seventeen times. Heinold’s was the place where London met Alexander McLean, a captain known for his cruelty at sea. London based his protagonist Wolf Larsen, in the novel The Sea-Wolf, on McLean. Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon is now unofficially named Jack London’s Rendezvous in his honor.

On July 12th 1897, London (age 21) and his sister’s husband sailed to join the Klondike Gold Rush. This was the setting for some of his first successful stories. London’s time in the harsh Klondike, however, was detrimental to his health. Like so many other men who were malnourished in the goldfields, London developed scurvy. His gums became swollen, leading to the loss of his four front teeth. A constant gnawing pain affected his hip and leg muscles, and his face was stricken with marks that always reminded him of the struggles he faced in the Klondike. Father William Judge, “The Saint of Dawson”, had a facility in Dawson that provided shelter, food and medicine to London and others. His struggles there inspired his famous short story, “To Build a Fire” (1902, revised in 1908).

London returned to Oakland to become an activist for socialism. He concluded that his only hope of escaping the work “trap” was to get an education and “sell his brains”. He saw his writing as a business, his ticket out of poverty, and, he hoped, a means of beating the wealthy at their own game. On returning to California in 1898, London began working to get published, a struggle described in his novel, Martin Eden (serialized in 1908, published in 1909). His first published story since high school was “To the Man On Trail”, which has frequently been collected in anthologies. When The Overland Monthly offered him only five dollars for it—and was slow paying—London came close to abandoning his writing career. In his words, “literally and literarily I was saved” when The Black Cat accepted his story “A Thousand Deaths”, and paid him $40—the “first money I ever received for a story.”

London began his writing career just as new printing technologies enabled lower-cost production of magazines. This resulted in a boom in popular magazines aimed at a wide public audience and a strong market for short fiction. In 1900, he made $2,500 in writing, (about $75,000 in today’s currency). Among the works he sold to magazines was a short story known as either “Diable” (1902) or “Bâtard” (1904), two editions of the same basic story; London received $141.25 for this story on May 27, 1902. In the text, a cruel French Canadian brutalizes his dog, and the dog retaliates and kills the man. London told some of his critics that a man’s actions are the main cause of the behavior of their animals, and he would show this in another story, The Call of the Wild. In early 1903, London sold The Call of the Wild to The Saturday Evening Post for $750, and the book rights to Macmillan for $2,000. Macmillan’s promotional campaign propelled it to swift success.

While living at his rented villa on Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, London met poet George Sterling; in time they became best friends. In 1902, Sterling helped London find a home closer to his own in nearby Piedmont. In his letters London addressed Sterling as “Greek”, owing to Sterling’s aquiline nose and classical profile, and he signed them as “Wolf”. London was later to depict Sterling as Russ Brissenden in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1910) and as Mark Hall in The Valley of the Moon (1913). In later life London indulged his wide-ranging interests by accumulating a personal library of 15,000 volumes. He referred to his books as “the tools of my trade”.

London accepted an assignment of the San Francisco Examiner to cover the Russo-Japanese War in early 1904, arriving in Yokohama on January 25th 1904. He was arrested by Japanese authorities in Shimonoseki, but released through the intervention of American ambassador Lloyd Griscom. After travelling to Korea, he was again arrested by Japanese authorities for straying too close to the border with Manchuria without official permission, and was sent back to Seoul. Released again, London was permitted to travel with the Imperial Japanese Army to the border, and to observe the Battle of the Yalu. London asked William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the San Francisco Examiner, to be allowed to transfer to the Imperial Russian Army, where he felt that restrictions on his reporting and his movements would be less severe. However, before this could be arranged, he was arrested for a third time in four months, this time for assaulting his Japanese assistants, whom he accused of stealing the fodder for his horse. Released through the personal intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt, London departed the front in June 1904.

In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acre ranch in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, California, on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, for $26,450. He wrote: “Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me.” He desperately wanted the ranch to become a successful business enterprise. Writing, always a commercial enterprise with London, now became even more a means to an end: “I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate

His biographer, Clarice Stasz, writes that London “had taken fully to heart the vision, expressed in his agrarian fiction, of the land as the closest earthly version of Eden … he educated himself through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. He conceived of a system of ranching that today would be praised for its ecological wisdom.” He was proud to own the first concrete silo in California, a circular piggery that he designed. He hoped to adapt the wisdom of Asian sustainable agriculture to the United States.

The ranch was an economic failure. Sympathetic observers such as Stasz treat his projects as potentially feasible, and ascribe their failure to bad luck or to being ahead of their time. Unsympathetic historians such as Kevin Starr suggest that he was a bad manager, distracted by other concerns and impaired by his alcoholism. Starr notes that London was absent from his ranch about six months a year between 1910 and 1916 and says, “He liked the show of managerial power, but not grinding attention to detail …. London’s workers laughed at his efforts to play big-time rancher [and considered] the operation a rich man’s hobby.”

London spent $80,000 ($2,230,000 in current value) to build a 15,000-square-foot stone mansion called Wolf House on the property. Just as the mansion was nearing completion, two weeks before he planned to move in, it was destroyed by fire. The ranch (abutting stone remnants of Wolf House) is now a National Historic Landmark and is protected in Jack London State Historic Park.

London witnessed animal cruelty in the training of circus animals, and his subsequent novels Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry included a foreword entreating the public to become more informed about this practice. In 1918, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Education Society teamed up to create the Jack London Club, which sought to inform the public about cruelty to circus animals and encourage them to protest this establishment. Support from Club members led to a temporary cessation of trained animal acts at Ringling-Barnum and Bailey in 1925.

London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a cottage on his ranch. London had been a robust man but had suffered several serious illnesses, including scurvy in the Klondike. Additionally, during travels on the Snark, he had picked up unspecified tropical infections, and diseases, including yaws. At the time of his death, he suffered from dysentery, late-stage alcoholism, and uremia. He was in extreme pain and taking morphine.

London’s ashes were buried on his property not far from the Wolf House. London’s funeral took place on November 26th 1916, attended only by close friends, relatives, and workers on the property. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated and buried next to some pioneer children, under a rock that belonged to the Wolf House.

Geraldine Duncann whose father was a close friend of Jack London has a website that details things he liked to cook, here: http://www.thequestingfeast.com/Article_Jack_London.html This recipe is a good one. I’m a big fan of raw oysters, but I do change things up from time to time with some cooked oysters, and using a wood grill is a worthy enterprise. It is also perfect for Jack London’s lifestyle.

This is another method of serving oysters that my father learned from Jack London.  It also uses Anchor Steam Beer as well as a lot of finely chopped garlic.          

Fresh live oysters in the shell
Finely minced garlic
Anchor Steam beer
Salt and pepper and favorite hot sauce

Scrub the shells of the oysters with a stiff brush under cold running water.  Discard any that are open and do not close when you tap the shell.  Place the oysters, on a rack over the glowing coals of a barbecue.  Leave until they just begin to open.  Using tongs, remove them and with an oyster knife, pry the shells the rest of the way open.  Place the oyster in the deep half of the shell.  Add a pinch of minced garlic and a bit of beer.  Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste and return to the barbecue and continue cooking to desired degree of doneness.  SPECTACULAR!

Jan 112019

Today is the birthday (1807) of Ezra Cornell, a telegraph magnate involved in the founding of Western Union and a co-founder of Cornell University. Cornell was born in Westchester Landing, in what became the Bronx, New York, and was raised near DeRuyter, New York. He was a cousin of Paul Cornell, the founder of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Having traveled extensively as a carpenter in New York State, Ezra, upon first setting eyes on Cayuga Lake and Ithaca, decided in 1828 that Ithaca would be his home.

Upon arriving in Ithaca, Cornell first found work as a carpenter before being hired as a mechanic by Otis Eddy to work at his cotton mill on Cascadilla Creek. On Eddy’s recommendation, Jeremiah S. Beebe then hired Cornell to repair and overhaul his plaster and flour mills on Fall Creek. During Cornell’s long association with Beebe, he designed and built a tunnel for a new mill race on Fall Creek; a stone dam on Fall Creek, which formed Beebe Lake; and a new flour mill. By 1832, he was in charge of all Beebe’s concerns at Fall Creek.

Ezra Cornell was a birthright Quaker from a long lineage of Quakers, but he was later disowned by the Society of Friends for marrying outside of the faith to a “world’s woman,” Mary Ann Wood, a Methodist. They were married March 19th, 1831, in Dryden, New York. Cornell’s young and growing family needed more income than he could earn as manager of Beebe’s Mills. So, having purchased rights in a patent for a new type of plough, Cornell began what would be decades of traveling away from Ithaca. His territories for sales of the plough were the states of Maine and Georgia. His plan was to sell in Maine in the summer and the milder Georgia in the winter. With limited means, he is reported to have walked between the two states.

Happening into the offices of the Maine Farmer in 1842, Cornell saw an acquaintance of his, F.O.J. Smith, bent over some plans for a “scraper” as Smith called it. For services rendered, Smith had been granted a one-quarter share of the telegraph patent held by Samuel F.B. Morse, and was attempting to devise a way of burying the telegraph lines in the ground in lead pipe. Ezra’s knowledge of ploughs was put to the test and Ezra devised a special kind of plough that would dig a 2 feet 6 inches ditch, lay the pipe and telegraph wire in the ditch and cover it back up as it went. Later it was found that condensation in the pipes and poor insulation of the wires impeded the electrical current on the wires and so hanging the wire from telegraph poles became the accepted method.

Cornell made his fortune in the telegraph business as an associate of Samuel Morse, having gained his trust by constructing and stringing the telegraph poles between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, as the first ever telegraph line of substance in the U.S. To address the problem of telegraph lines shorting out to the ground, Cornell invented the idea of using glass insulators at the point where telegraph lines are connected to supporting poles. After joining with Morse, Cornell supervised the erection of many telegraph lines, including a portion of the New York, Albany & Buffalo line in 1846 and the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company connecting Buffalo to Milwaukee with partners John James Speed and Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith. Cornell, Speed and Smith also built the New York and Erie line competing with and paralleling to the south the New York, Albany and Buffalo line in which Morse had a major share. The line was completed in 1849 and Cornell was made president of the company.

Cornell’s sister Phoebe married Martin B. Wood and moved to Albion, Michigan, in 1848. Cornell gave Wood a job constructing new lines and made Phoebe his telegraph operator, the first woman operator in the United States. Cornell earned a substantial fortune when the Erie and Michigan was consolidated with Hiram Sibley and his New York and Mississippi Company to form the Western Union company. Cornell received two million in Western Union stock.

Cornell was a Republican member of the New York State Assembly (Tompkins Co.) in 1862 and 1863; and of the New York State Senate from 1864 to 1867.

Cornell retired from Western Union and turned his attention to philanthropy. He endowed the Cornell Library, a public library for the citizens of Ithaca. As a lifelong enthusiast of science and agriculture, he saw great opportunity in the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act to found a university that would teach practical subjects on an equal basis with the classics favored by more traditional institutions. Andrew Dickson White helped secure the new institution’s status as New York’s land grant university, and Cornell University was granted a charter through their efforts in 1865.

Lands granted by the Morrill Act to universities in states without substantial federal land could be claimed in those states which had a large surplus of unclaimed land. Cornell University’s endowment was a stand-out success based on Ezra Cornell’s judicious investment in federal land, especially timber land in Wisconsin. Unlike most land grant universities, who sold their land immediately, under Ezra’s leadership Cornell managed and maintained its land for an extended period, only selling it at the most opportune time. The university was able to reap an unprecedented $5 million endowment as a result.

Ezra Cornell entered the railroad business, but fared poorly due to the Panic of 1873. He began construction of a palatial Ithaca mansion, Llenroc (Cornell spelled in reverse) to replace his farmhouse, Forest Home, but died before it was completed. Llenroc was maintained by Cornell’s heirs for several decades until being sold to the local chapter of the Delta Phi fraternity, which occupies it to this day; Forest Home was sold to the Delta Tau Delta chapter and later demolished. Cornell is interred in Sage Chapel on Cornell’s campus, along with Daniel Willard Fiske and Jennie McGraw. Cornell was originally interred in Lake View Cemetery, Ithaca N.Y., then moved to Sage Chapel.

I have some quirky associations with Cornell University. One is that Cornell University press published my doctoral dissertation, and because the acquisitions editor for anthropology was a close friend of mine, and former colleague, I visited Cornell on a number of occasions. Also, a former student of mine studied there as a graduate student, so I went to her various graduations.

More in the food line, I pointed out here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cornell-university/ that Cornell’s school colors of carnelian and white were adopted by the Campbell’s soup company as their, now iconic, colors. That might give you some ideas.

Ithaca is also in serious apple growing territory. At one point when Ezra Cornell was planning the grounds of his estate, he wrote: “Yesterday I staked off the ground on the hill for an orchard. I want to get 1000 apple trees agrowing.” I’m not sure why he need 1,000 apple trees; one or two are enough for family consumption. That gives you scope to think in terms of apple pie, baked apples, or, my personal favorite, apple crumble. I probably make 30 or more apple crumbles per year. How about apple crumb cake? This was very popular in apple country in New York where I used to live.

Apple Crumb Cake


¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cup milk
2 large eggs
3 ½ cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 large apples, cored and sliced thin

Crumb Topping:
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz cold butter, cut into pieces
2 cups walnuts, chopped

Syrup Topping:

1 cup Cinnamon Apple Syrup or Apple Cider Syrup
½ cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

For the cake- beat together the oil, milk, and eggs in a medium bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the vanilla.

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Lay half of the apple slices over the batter to create a colorful pattern.

For the Crumb Topping- place the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter in a medium bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender or work with your hands until crumbs the size of peas form. Mix in the nuts.

Cover the apples with a thin layer of crumb topping. Layer in the remaining apples. Spread the remaining batter over the apples and top with remaining crumb topping.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

For the Syrup topping- combine the syrup and the cream in a heavy saucepan and heat, stirring frequently.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with warm syrup topping.

Jan 102019

On this date in 1920 the Treaty of Versailles, the most important of the peace treaties that brought the First World War to an end went into effect. Armistice had been declared on November 11th 1918, and from then until June 1919 the Allied Powers hammered out their demands. The Treaty was signed on 28th June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I, but it did not take effect until January 10th 1920. The Treaty officially ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers and laid out the terms of peace. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21st October 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed roughly 100 years after the Treaty of Vienna both having much the same ideals – to prevent large scale wars breaking out in Europe, but with absolutely knuckleheaded provisions that ensured that no one would be happy and conflict would certainly arise as a consequence of the provisions. In fact, in can be argued that the First World War was a long term consequence of the Treaty of Vienna, and that the Second World War was a rather shorter term consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, although the Great Depression was an important additional factor in the rise of Hitler and fascism; (then again, the Depression might have been weathered better by Germany were it not for crippling reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles). The ending of the Second World War was somewhat more sane, in that the Allied victors saw that helping the defeated nations to rebuild would be more conducive to peace than crippling and hogtying them.  The Allies also encouraged the development of trade agreements across the continent that led to the European Economic Community and, eventually, the European Union, again with the idea that cooperation rather than revenge healed wounds better and potentially permanently.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required that “Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2019). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content, and Germany was neither pacified, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.

Although it is often referred to as the “Versailles Conference”, only the actual signing of the treaty took place at the historic palace. Most of the negotiations were in Paris, with the “Big Four” (UK, US, France and Italy) meeting generally at the Quai d’Orsay.

By 1920 the palace at Versailles had long since been abandoned as a royal residence, but its grandeur remained, hence making it a fitting locale for the signing of a grand treaty. In its grandest days under Louis XIV, Versailles was the scene of many sumptuous banquets, and some of the menus remain. On one of these menus is a dish that caught my eye, wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy. Cromesquis are minced meat patties that are breaded and deep fried, and à la Villeroy means that they are coated with bechamel sauce before being breaded.

Wild duck is usually not especially tender but it is very flavorful. It can be roasted plain, but mincing the meat ensures that it is not stringy or chewy. I am not sure whether in Louis XIV’s time the meat was chopped raw, or the duck was cooked first. If you have a wild duck you can parboil or roast it before making cromesquis, but parboiling will dull the flavor. Briefly roasting (around 20 minutes) in a very hot oven would be all right, as would chopping the meat raw. Either way, make croquettes of the meat and dip them in bechamel sauce. Place them on waxed paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate so that the bechamel solidifies and coheres.  Place beaten egg and breadcrumbs in separate dishes, and, using the wet hand, dry hand method. Dip the meat croquettes in beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Deep fry until golden and serve very hot.

Jan 092019

Today is the birthday (1935) of Robert Osbourne “Bob” Denver, a US actor, widely known for portraying Gilligan on the television series Gilligan’s Island, but I remember him most as the beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs, on the 1959–1963 sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I don’t believe that Gilligan played on British television when it first came out, but Dobie Gillis was on in South Australia in the early 1960s in syndication. In any event, both sitcoms seem inane to me now, and all I remember about Krebs was that he was an idiot posing as a beatnik. Back then I had no idea about beatniks. I came of age in the hippie generation. I also remember that the show was my first introduction to Rodin’s “The Thinker” because Gillis and Krebs sat by a copy quite often on the show. From a distance, Krebs and Gilligan look like the same character in different clothes and with different friends.

Denver was born in New Rochelle, New York and raised in Brownwood, Texas. He attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California where he acted in college productions and met fellow student Dwayne Hickman, with whom he later co-starred in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. After graduation, he coached physical education and taught mathematics and history at Corpus Christi School, a Roman Catholic elementary school in Pacific Palisades, California.

Most of Denver’s acting career was in television, but he appeared in several films and on Broadway. Denver made his television debut in 1957, playing a small part in one episode of The Silent Service (S01 E37: “The Loss of the Tang”). While teaching at Corpus Christi in 1958, Denver was permitted to audition for a role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as a favor to his sister, who was a secretary on the production lot. He got the role, and left teaching the following year to become a regular on the series. After filming the first three episodes, Denver received his draft notice, and was briefly written out of the script and replaced, but he was designated 4-F due to an old neck injury, and returned to Dobie Gillis having missed only one episode. Denver later reprised his Maynard G. Krebs role in the television sequels Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? (1977) and Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis (1988).

During his time on Dobie Gillis, Denver appeared on the NBC interview program, Here’s Hollywood. In 1963, Denver played his only major dramatic role on television, as a physician (Dr. Paul Garrett) in one episode of Dr. Kildare, telecast on October 10, 1963; the episode, “If You Can’t Believe the Truth …”, also featured Barbara Eden and Ken Berry. Between the end of Dobie Gillis and the start of Gilligan’s Island, Denver appeared in an episode of The Farmer’s Daughter and in the final episode of The Danny Thomas Show. He also had a one-episode role replacing the actor who played Dudley A. “Dud” Wash, the fiancé of Charlene Darling of the Darlings, on The Andy Griffith Show which was aired March 30th, 1964. This was done by the network to promote Denver’s face and make him more familiar to the viewing audience, since Gilligan’s Island was about to go on air.

Following the cancellation of Dobie Gillis, Denver starred on Gilligan’s Island, which ran for three seasons (1964–67) on CBS, and became a staple of later syndication. His role as the well-meaning but bumbling first mate among a small group of shipwrecked castaways became the one for which he is most remembered in the US. During the run, Denver privately went out of his way to help his co-stars, such as successfully demanding that Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells be included in the series’ opening credits and insisting that Wells get an equal share of the series’ publicity with Tina Louise. A decade after the series was cancelled, Denver played Gilligan in the made-for-TV reunion movies Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979), and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981). He also lent his voice to the animated series The New Adventures of Gilligan and its sequel Gilligan’s Planet. During the 1980s, he re-created the character of Gilligan for numerous cameo appearances, including episodes of ALF, Meego and Baywatch, as well as a bartender in the film Back to the Beach (1987).

After Gilligan’s Island, Denver went on to star on other TV comedy series, including The Good Guys (1968–1970), Dusty’s Trail (1973) (a show similar to Gilligan’s Island, involving a lost wagon train headed to California), and the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s program Far Out Space Nuts (1975). Four episodes of Dusty’s Trail were later combined to create a feature film, The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West (1976). Denver’s other television roles included guest appearances on multiple episodes of Love, American Style, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. In 1983, he starred in the television pilot The Invisible Woman as the bumbling mad scientist uncle of the title character.

Denver’s first feature film appearance was in the service farce, A Private’s Affair (1959), with Sal Mineo. Credited as “Robert Denver”, he had a small role in the Jimmy Stewart film, Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), playing a beatnik poet working at a coffee shop. Denver also appeared in the beach film For Those Who Think Young (1964) with Tina Louise prior to the development of Gilligan’s Island. Other films in which Denver appeared include Who’s Minding the Mint? (1967), The Sweet Ride (1968) and Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968) with Phyllis Diller. In 1983, he appeared in the television movie High School U.S.A.

In 1970, Denver replaced Woody Allen in the original Broadway production of Allen’s hit comedy Play It Again, Sam, earning praise from New York Times critic Clive Barnes for conveying “a genuine clown-like wistfulness” that Barnes had found lacking in Allen’s own performance in the starring role.

Later in his life, Denver returned to his adopted home of Princeton, West Virginia, and became an FM radio personality. He and his wife, Dreama, ran a small oldies format radio station, WGAG-LP 93.1 FM. He also earned a small income making public appearances, often costumed as Gilligan. In 1992, he played Gilligan to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a West Virginia fundraiser for the organization.

Denver died September 2, 2005 from pneumonia, at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He had been receiving cancer treatment and had undergone heart bypass surgery earlier that year.

I would give a beatnik recipe in honor of Krebs, but the beats were not especially associated with food, except perhaps, tasteless 1950s junk (anything wrapped in bacon).  Instead, here’s coconut shrimp as a mild homage to Gilligan’s Island which was mostly a Hawaiian schlock ripoff.

Coconut Shrimp


1lb of cleaned raw shrimp (de-veined and butterflied)


2 tsp of ginger/garlic paste
1 tsp of red chili powder
salt and black pepper


seasoned flour, with salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 cup desiccated coconut

vegetable oil for deep frying


Mix the marinade ingredients and marinate the cleaned shrimp for at least 30 minutes (preferably longer).

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350°F.

Make three plates: one of flour, one of egg, and one of coconut.

Remove the shrimp from the marinade, draining excess. Using the wet hand, dry hand method, dip the shrimp, one by one, in flour, then egg, then coconut, making sure that the shrimp are thoroughly coated with coconut. Then fry in batches until golden on all sides. Drain on wire racks, and serve hot with a dipping sauce of your choice. Mango, pineapple, lime, and fresh ginger pureed together work fine.