Feb 232017
 

Today is the birthday (1868) of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, U.S. sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, and editor. Now is an excellent time to champion Du Bois because of his brief return to the spotlight when Trump’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who is about as nakedly ignorant and ambitious as they come, tried to win points by quoting Du Bois in a tweet, but then misspelled his name. DeVos joins a long line of bigots who think that by quoting an eminent and respected African American they are cleared of all accusations of racism and bias.  Sorry – it doesn’t work that way.  What’s more DeVos most certainly does not subscribe to what Du Bois had to say, even though she quoted him:

Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.

DeVos, along with numerous colleagues on the far right, right, center, and slightly left of center all hold up education as the path to jobs and financial success, and hold schools accountable by such criteria.  To the best of my knowledge, no one in politics thinks education is of much value (as seen by constant cuts to education and threats to the whole involvement of the government in education at all), and when they do value it it’s because of its ability to turn out skilled workers, not for its intrinsic merits.  I am a rare bird these days because no matter what the subject matter, my underlying agenda is to teach students to think for themselves, and in the process to pursue truth, beauty, and happiness. I TEACH LIFE.

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African-American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for Blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which proposed that Southern Blacks would work and submit to White political rule, while Southern Whites guaranteed that Blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the Talented Tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop leadership skills.

Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of Black American soldiers in France and documented widespread bigotry in the United States military.

Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature; and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that Blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published many influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.

Here’s a few salient quotes. I feel the need to annotate each one because each is so rich and insightful. But . . . I am also mindful that this is a cooking blog (even though it doesn’t always seem so) so I will resist:

There is always a certain glamour about the idea of a nation rising up to crush an evil simply because it is wrong. Unfortunately, this can seldom be realized in real life; for the very existence of the evil usually argues a moral weakness in the very place where extraordinary moral strength is called for.

I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty for Beauty to set the world right.

Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

The world is shrinking together; it is finding itself neighbor to itself in strange, almost magic degree.

The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

The cause of war is preparation for war.

I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

Amen and amen to all of that and more. Du Bois had quite a lot to say about African-American cooking habits as well as the role of African Americans in the food industry. His best known quote concerns soul food:

The deceitful pork chop must be dethroned in the South and yield a part of its sway to vegetables, fruits, and fish.

There isn’t a broad line between Black and White cooking styles in the South. Greasy greens, foods fried in lard, fatty meats such as pork belly are the mainstays of Black and White equally, and are equally unhealthy as a steady diet. Once in a while is all right. You can’t beat lard in some dishes. You don’t have to eat them every day.

Catering was dominated by African Americans in the North in the 19th century but they were supplanted by Greeks and Italians by the early 20th century. In antebellum Philadelphia there was practically an African-American monopoly on catering and restaurant business with many chefs and entrepreneurs claiming fame:

The institution of catering reaches its highest excellence in Philadelphia. This occupation was originated by a Phildelphia Negro, Robert Bogle, whose services were marked by such superlative excellence that one of his discriminating patrons, Nicholas Biddle, the leading Philadelphia financier of this time, was moved to poetic expression, and wrote his ‘Ode to Bogle’ in 1829. The Negro caterers have given to this art a quality and flavor which is unique and distinctive and which tradition is being continued along admirable lines by Holland’s, Augustine and Baptiste, and others.

As a tribute to Du Bois and his inclinations towards healthy eating I have created this dish which is simple, yet elegant – tonight’s dinner for me. You can call it Perch Du Bois or Perch Florentine. The term “Florentine” means served on bed of spinach. No need for a detailed recipe.  I found some perch in the market this evening and I had spinach on hand. There is no need for fat of any kind.  I don’t cook with salt either.

Wash your spinach well, drain it, but leave some water on the leaves. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat, add the spinach and let it cook down. Push the spinach to one side, then add a perch fillet to the skillet. If it is thick, cover it so that it cooks through evenly.  Turn once – carefully. Season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice and serve with boiled new potatoes.

Feb 222017
 

Today is the birthday (1925) of Edward St. John Gorey, writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. I was a fan for a while after a friend bought me Amphigorey as a birthday present in 1979. His combination of skillfully morbid rhyming stories and amusingly disturbing dark images is quite obviously unique.

Happy Birthday Edward

Gorey was born in Chicago. His parents, Helen Dunham (née Garvey) and Edward Lee Gorey, divorced in 1936 when he was 11, then remarried in 1952 when he was 27. One of his stepmothers was Corinna Mura (1909–1965), a cabaret singer who had a small role in the classic film Casablanca as the woman playing the guitar while singing “La Marseillaise” at Rick’s Café Américain. His father was briefly a journalist. Gorey’s maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, was a popular nineteenth-century greeting card writer and artist, from whom he claimed to have inherited his talents.

Gorey attended a variety of local grade schools and then the Francis W. Parker School. He spent 1944 to 1946 in the Army at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. He then attended Harvard University, beginning in 1946 and graduating in the class of 1950.

He frequently stated that his formal art training was “negligible” which is certainly true that he studied art for only one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943. From 1953 to 1960, he lived in New York City and worked for the Art Department of Doubleday Anchor, illustrating book covers and in some cases, adding illustrations to the text. He illustrated works as diverse as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. In later years he produced cover illustrations and interior artwork for many children’s books by John Bellairs, as well as books begun by Bellairs and continued by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death.

His first independent work, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953. He also published under pen names that were anagrams of his first and last names, such as Ogdred Weary, Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, and dozens more. His books also feature the names Eduard Blutig (“Edward Gory”), a German language pun on his own name, and O. Müde (German for O. Weary).

Gorey’s illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following. He made a notable impact of the world of theater with his designs for the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.

Here’s my customary gallery:

Without question Gorey was quirky and, in later life, isolationist. His house on Cape Cod was a sanctuary for his work, his books, and his cats (he had six, claiming that seven would be too many).

He rarely traveled and left the U.S. only twice, once as a youngster for a vacation in Cuba, and once as an adult to the Hebrides. He was open about his sexuality (or lack of it).  He never married, had no known relationships, and baldly stated that he had no idea whether he was gay or straight primarily because he had no interest in sexuality.

Gorey was very fond of eating but always ate out. On Cape Cod he frequented a local restaurant twice a day and as a tribute to him the restaurant mounted some of his food orders and presented the collage to him, which now hangs in the Gorey Museum in his old home.  In his honor I recommend cooking something Victorian, odd, and vaguely disturbing.  This recipe from Mrs Beeton fits that description for me. I am not sure whether her idea that the recipe is useful when baking is more convenient than boiling is laughable or disquieting. It’s certainly Victorian.

BAKED SOUP.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of any kind of meat, any trimmings or odd pieces; 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 oz. of rice, 1 pint of split peas, pepper and salt to taste, 4 quarts of water.

Mode.—Cut the meat and vegetables in slices, add to them the rice and peas, season with pepper and salt. Put the whole in a jar, fill up with the water, cover very closely, and bake for 4 hours.

Time.—4 hours. Average cost, 2-1/2d. per quart.

Seasonable at any time.

Sufficient for 10 or 12 persons.

Note.—This will be found a very cheap and wholesome soup, and will be convenient in those cases where baking is more easily performed than boiling.

Feb 212017
 

On this date in 1848 The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was first published (in German) in London. It is a much misunderstood document, as is much of Marx’s work in general. I don’t have the space here, nor time, to redress all the misunderstandings, but I’ll make a start. The Manifesto was itself written to correct misunderstandings of what communism is/was, but it was itself misinterpreted badly by European revolutionaries and in points beyond. Marx was not envisaging dictators such as Stalin and Mao, but that’s the model of Marxism that has stuck in the general consciousness in the West, largely as a result of the Cold War.  Marx was addressing the radical divide between the people with all the money (hence power) and the rest of the population that was the model in his day in Europe, and which continues unabated. In my opinion his analysis of the situation (then and now) is generally sound, but his historical analysis is not.  The most important misunderstanding is of the world Marx envisaged – not the oppressive regimes of the likes of 20th century Russia and China, but a world in which the common people (proletariat) were not controlled, mind and soul, by the desires of an oligarchy of very few, very rich people (bourgeoisie), but, instead, controlled their own destinies.

I should probably start with a critique of Marx (and Engels) to demonstrate that I am not some kind of doctrinaire Marxist myself. Marx wrote in an era when very general ideas of the evolution of things were just beginning to catch hold, undoubtedly because Europe was radically changing under the pressures of the Industrial Revolution. A world that had seen precious little in the way of technological change for almost a thousand years was gripped by rapid and constant change and this had an effect on the intellectual world because change was in the air. The Grimms, for example, developed hypotheses concerning the evolution of languages, Lewis Henry Morgan proposed a theory of cultural evolution, and, of course, Darwin was interested in biological evolution. Marx stepped in with his own theory of historical evolution. My “simple” task here will be to try to separate the wheat from the chaff in Marx’s thinking, and will, obviously, end up being simplistic.

Where Marx has proven to be most blatantly wrong is in his hypothesis that capitalism would collapse of its own weight. Over 150 years later it is still going strong, the ultra-rich still hold all the power, and there’s no sign of collapse even though the disparity between rich and the rest is, if anything, greater than it was in Marx’s time in developed countries. The two major countries where a simulacrum of Marx’s ideas led to violent revolution in the 20th century, Russia and China, were not capitalist cultures at the time of their revolutions, but experiencing the last vestiges of feudalism that were ripe to be overturned — and have since adopted capitalist ideals on a large scale (including the huge disparities between the rich and the rest).

What cannot be denied is that the vast majority of people living in contemporary capitalist cultures are, by and large, comfortable. Of course they are exploited and controlled by a tiny minority of very rich people, but their lives are comfortable enough that they are hesitant to seek change, and so they continue as is. We still have plenty of poor people living in horrendous conditions but the Western world does not look like the Victorian London or Manchester of Marx’s day. The bulk of the electorate in Western democracies have food on the table, drive cars, have stable (if tedious) jobs, and aspire to owning their own homes. They have the time and money to go on vacation to exotic places, and they wear decent clothes. Discontent these days centers on the evident slowing of what was once a steady improvement in these comforts, not in the system itself.  Hence the capitalist system will endure unscathed through the rest of my lifetime and beyond. I have no idea what will cause its ultimate demise, but it will end – one day.

1848 was the “Year of Revolutions” in Europe. No country emerged untouched, although not all participated in overt revolution. Marx certainly contributed to the general revolutionary fervor with the Manifesto. But the revolutions were fueled by a lot of forces, notably nationalism, apart from the desire for social change.  Marx’s rhetoric was inserted into the revolutions, but socialism of a different sort, led by social philosophers such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, and Robert Owen, was also on the horizon, leading in a different, non violent, direction.  They were called “Utopian Socialists” by detractors (including Marxists) because their visions were viewed as naïve.  What is frequently missed is that Marx’s socialist aims were the same as theirs, only the vision of the methods of achieving it was different.

Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric Marx was a humanist. If you read his works prior to the Manifesto  you get a much clearer sense of his underlying humanistic social philosophy. He imagined a post-capitalist world in which farmers collectively owned the farms, workers collectively owned factories, and so forth, and they would inevitably benefit because they would keep all the profits and make all the decisions. We can argue about the validity of this hypothesis, but there is no question that Marx envisaged a brighter world for everyone when the workers were the masters. He did not imagine Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Perhaps he should have. Revolution from the bottom up begets tyrants.  Marx should have known this; the French Revolution produced Napoleon. The American Revolution was different because it was not from the bottom up, but from the top down. The first rebels in the North American colonies were the rich who wanted less taxation and less regulation on their businesses (times don’t change much !!).

Marx was spot on when he pointed out that capitalism commodifies labor so that workers see themselves in terms of their earning power rather than in terms of their inherent human (and individual) traits. Workers thus take less pride in their work and more in their pay check. Work becomes a means to an end (house, car, vacations, etc) rather than an end in itself. In consequence all other social activities, such as education, are judged in terms of their ability to increase earning power and not for their intrinsic merits. I’m absolutely sick and tired of reading article upon article that charts the universities with the graduates who earn the most, the college majors with the best earnings potential, and the careers with the highest salaries.  So what????  I became an anthropologist, a teacher, and a writer because I love doing that work. I can look back on a long career with pride and happiness because my jobs have made me happy, not because I have stacked away piles of money. My riposte to the ages old barbed question, “If you are so smart why aren’t you rich?” is simple. “I am not rich because I am smart; I have other goals in life.”

I am not a doctrinaire Marxist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am enough of a Marxist to believe that people should live in a society where they are free to choose their own destinies, and not shackled by the dictates of the system.

Some apt quotes from the Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie . . . has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains. They have a world to win.

 

I’ve never wanted to be a chef because I’ve never wanted to debase my cooking via the profit motive.  I cook because I love to cook – end of story.  I hope this blog makes that point loud and clear. Today of all days you should cook something that you most love to cook, and cook with passion – not with an eye to time, cost, or any other variable other than devotion to the task itself. That means that you should choose today what recipe best suits you.  You are the master. For lunch today I had braised rabbit with wild mushrooms in a sauce seasoned with red pepper, garlic, onions, allspice, and ginger, with boiled new potatoes and broad beans on the side.  I’m not going to give you a recipe because (a) I invented the dish as I went along, and (b) today is your day to cook what you choose, not what I have decided for you. My braised rabbit took me 2 days to prepare because I like my dishes to rest overnight when they have complex sauces. I loved the preparation – and it was delicious.

Here’s a small gallery of things I have cooked recently.  In each case I cooked what I wanted without any recipe, just following my heart’s pleasure:

Feb 202017
 

On this date in 1913 the first survey peg for the laying out of the new Australian capital, Canberra, was driven in ceremonially by Minister of Home Affairs, King O’Malley. The founding and development of Canberra is a curious story in its right, but today I am more interested in who King O’Malley was: a larger than life character.

O’Malley was not quite certain about his own birthday. He claimed it was either 3 or 4 July 1854, but he chose to celebrate it on 4 July. O’Malley claimed all his life (in public at least) to have been born at the Stanford Farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, which would have made him a British subject, but it is more likely that he was born at his parents’ farm in Valley Falls, Kansas, United States. Late in his life, in a letter to the widow of the former Labor MP James Catts, O’Malley wrote “I am an American.” According to O’Malley, his parents were William and Mary O’Malley. He kept it dark because as a US citizen he would not have been eligible for elected office.

O’Malley was educated at a primary school in New York City, and then worked in his uncle’s bank and as an insurance and real estate salesman, traveling widely around the United States. While in Texas O’Malley founded a church, taking the title of “First Bishop of the Waterlily Rock Bound Church, the Red Skin Temple of the Cayuse Nation” in order to take advantage of a government land grant then being offered to churches. In 1881 O’Malley married Rosy Wilmot, who died from tuberculosis shortly before she was due to give birth in 1886. O’Malley found he had contracted the disease from her and in 1888, having been given six months to live, he sailed for Queensland, Australia.  As it happens he lived to be close to 100.

Landing at Port Alma, O’Malley reputedly took up residence in a cave at Emu Park, where he befriended an aborigine, Coowonga, who cared for him until he recovered. Once healthy, O’Malley decided to walk the 2,100 km from Emu Park to Adelaide arriving in 1893. In South Australia he again worked as an itinerant insurance salesman, also preaching evangelical Christianity and temperance.

In 1895 he settled in Gawler, South Australia, and at the 1896 election he was elected as a member for Encounter Bay in the South Australian House of Assembly as a radical democrat, opposed to the wealthy landowners who then dominated colonial politics. Calling himself a follower of Christian Socialism, his most popular platform among conservatives was to rid hotels of barmaids “hired for their physical attributes rather than their prowess in drawing ale”. Although O’Malley was unsuccessful at the time, laws were passed in 1909 to require registration of barmaids, who had to be a member of the owner’s family.

O’Malley’s narrow win in 1896 has been credited to his popularity among religious leaders and conservatives for his extreme puritan views, but it seems his popularity with women voters was a bigger factor. Women were much taken by his appearance and O’Malley’s “oratorial buffoonery” was the popular topic of discussion throughout South Australia. He called hotels “drunkeries”, alcohol was “stagger juice”, opponents were “diabolical rapscallions” and he referred to himself as the “bald headed Eagle from the Rocky Mountains”.

O’Malley was defeated at the 1899 election, and the following year he moved to Tasmania. He drew immediate attention for his public preaching and speaking and was elected in the 1901 federal election (the inaugural national parliamentary election) as a member for Tasmania. In 1903 he was elected as the member for Darwin (Tasmania, not Northern Territory). Although there was no Labour Party in Tasmania at this time, he joined the Labour Party Caucus when the Parliament assembled in Melbourne.

Middle row, third from left.

Gavin Souter describes O’Malley at this time:

O’Malley’s monstrously overgrown persona seemed to be inhabited simultaneously by a spruiker from Barnum’s three-ring circus, a hell-and-tarnation revivalist, and a four-flushing Yankee Congressman. He was a moderately big man, auburn-haired with watchful grey eyes and a red-brown beard, wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat, blue-grey suit with huge lapels and a low-cut vest, loose cravat with a diamond collar stud, and in the centre of his cream silk shirt-front a fiery opal.

O’Malley was one of the more prominent and colorful members of the Parliament, but his radical ideas were not widely accepted, and many regarded him as a charlatan. He became a prominent advocate of a national bank as a means of providing cheap credit for farmers and small businessmen. He was not a member of Chris Watson’s first Labour ministry in 1904, or of Andrew Fisher’s first ministry in 1908. But in April 1910 the Caucus elected him to the ministry of Fisher’s second government. In the same year he married again, to Amy Garrod.

O’Malley became Minister for Home Affairs, and played a prominent role in selecting the site of the future capital of Australia, Canberra. He declared US architect Walter Burley Griffin winner of the town planning competition. Consequently on 20 February 1913 O’Malley had the honor of driving in the first peg marking the start of the development of the city. He was also present at the ceremony for the naming of Canberra on 12 March 1913.

As a teetotaller he was responsible for the highly unpopular ban on alcohol in the Australian Capital Territory. He could also claim credit for beginning the building of the Trans-Australian Railway from Port Augusta to Perth. O’Malley also agitated for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a state-owned savings and investment bank although, contrary to his later claims, he was not the bank’s sole creator. He later wrote that he had led a “torpedo squad” in Caucus to force a reluctant Cabinet to establish the bank, but historians do not accept this. Prime Minister Fisher was the bank’s principal architect. Partly to allay fears of “funny money” aroused by O’Malley’s populist rhetoric, Fisher ensured that the bank would be run on firmly “sound money” principles, and the bank as established did not provide the easy credit for farmers that the radicals desired.

O’Malley’s other legacy was the spelling of “Labor” in the Australian Labor Party’s title in the American style. He was a spelling reform enthusiast and persuaded the party that “Labor” was a more “modern” spelling than “Labour”. Although the American spelling has still not become established in Australia, the Labor Party has preserved the spelling.

Labor was defeated at the 1913 federal election, and when it returned to office at the 1914 federal election, O’Malley was not re-elected to the Cabinet. In October 1915, however, Fisher retired and O’Malley returned to office in the first ministry of Billy Hughes, again as Minister for Home Affairs. But a year later the government split over the determination of Hughes to introduce conscription to fill the ranks of Australia’s armed forces in World War I. Although he was not an active anti-conscriptionist, O’Malley was pressured by Hughes to resign his portfolio but he refused to do so. He finally lost office on 13 November 1916 when Hughes and twenty-four other Labor members walked out of the Caucus and formed the National Labor ministry.

Hughes called the 1917 federal election, and O’Malley was heavily defeated in his northern Tasmanian seat of Darwin by former Labor colleague Charles Howroyd, a conscriptionist who was running for Hughes’ Nationalist Party. O’Malley suffered a swing of almost 15 percent, and was one of many Labor figures swept out in that year’s massive Nationalist landslide. He stood unsuccessfully in the seat of Denison in 1919, and in Bass in 1922, but he was never again returned to elected office. Although he was only 63 at the time of his defeat, he retired to Melbourne and devoted his time to building up his own legend, particularly in relation to the Commonwealth Bank, and to polemical journalism on a variety of pet causes. He lived to be 99, outliving his nemesis Hughes by 14 months. At the time of his death he was the last surviving member of the first Australian Parliament and last surviving MP who served when Edmund Barton was Prime Minister. Furthermore, he was the last surviving member of Andrew Fisher’s second Cabinet.

O’Malley’s importance in developing the national capital is remembered in Canberra with the suburb of O’Malley being named after him. A pub in Canberra, King O’Malley’s Irish Pub in Civic, is also named after him – a tongue-in-cheek reference to his sponsorship of the unpopular alcohol ban in the Australian Capital Territory during Canberra’s early years.

I’ve almost run out of Australian cooking ideas because there’s not much to it, even though bush tucker and native plants have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. Instead I’d like to focus on the Granny Smith apple, a true son of Australian soil – unlike O’Malley. The ‘Granny Smith’ cultivar originated in Eastwood, New South Wales, Australia (now a suburb of Sydney) in 1868. Its discoverer, Maria Ann Smith, had emigrated to the district from Beckley, East Sussex in 1839 with her husband Thomas. They bought a small orchard in the area in 1855-1856 and began cultivating fruit, for which the area was a well known center in colonial Australia. Smith had numerous children and was a prominent figure in the district, earning the nickname “Granny” Smith in her advanced years.

The first description of the origin of the ‘Granny Smith’ apple was not published until 1924. In that year, Farmer and Settler published the account of a local historian who had interviewed two men who had known Smith. One of those interviewed recalled that in 1868 he (then twelve years old) and his father had been invited to Smith’s farm to inspect a chance seedling that had sprung near a creek. Smith had dumped there among the ferns the remains of French crab-apples that had been grown in Tasmania. Another story recounted that Smith had been testing French crab-apples for cooking, and throwing the apple cores out her window as she worked, found that the new cultivar sprang up underneath her kitchen windowsill. Whatever the case, Smith took it upon herself to propagate the new cultivar on her property, finding the apples good for cooking and for general consumption. They looked like cooking apples but they were not tart but sweet and crisp to eat raw as well as being good for cooking. She took a stall at Sydney’s George Street market, where the apples stored well and were immediately popular.

Smith died only a couple of years after her discovery (in 1870), but her work had been noticed by other local planters. Edward Gallard was one such planter, who extensively planted ‘Granny Smith’ trees on his property and bought the Smith farm when Thomas died in 1876. Gallard was successful in marketing the apple locally, but it did not receive widespread attention until 1890. In that year, it was exhibited as “Smith’s Seedling” at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show, and the following year it won the prize for cooking apples under the name “Granny Smith’s Seedling”. The apple was successful and the following year many were exhibiting ‘Granny Smith’ apples at horticultural shows. Thenceforth the Granny Smith was promoted and became a worldwide standard. Granny Smiths are easily obtainable here in Mantua where I use them for apple crumble and apple pie. You can search my recipes here or use your own favorite apple recipe.

Feb 192017
 

Today is the birthday (1876) of Constantin Brâncuși  a Romanian sculptor, painter and photographer who was a pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. Brâncuși grew up in the village of Hobiţa, Gorj, near Târgu Jiu, close to Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, an area known for its rich tradition of folk crafts, particularly woodcarving. Geometric patterns of the region can be seen in his later works. His parents Nicolae and Maria Brâncuși were poor peasants who earned a meager living through back-breaking labor. From the age of 7, he herded the family’s flock of sheep. He showed talent for carving objects out of wood, and often ran away from home to escape the bullying of his father and older brothers.

At the age of 9, Brâncuși left the village to work in the nearest large town. At 11 he went into the service of a grocer in Slatina; and then he became a domestic in a public house in Craiova where he remained for several years. When he was 18, Brâncuși built a violin by hand with materials he found around his workplace. Impressed by Brâncuși’s talent for carving, an industrialist entered him in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts (școala de arte și meserii), where he pursued his love for woodworking, graduating with honors in 1898.

Brâncuși then enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, where he received academic training in sculpture and quickly distinguished himself. One of his earliest surviving works, under the guidance of his anatomy teacher, Dimitrie Gerota, is a masterfully rendered écorché (statue of a man with skin removed to reveal the muscles underneath) which was exhibited at the Romanian Athenaeum in 1903. Though just an anatomical study, it foreshadowed his later efforts to reveal essence rather than merely copy outward appearance.

Here’s a little gallery.  In my humble opinion no one has been able to capture the essence of humanity better than Brâncuși through sheer simplicity of line. He decried the label “abstract artist” and I could not agree more. There is nothing abstract about his work.

This soup, ciorbã tãrãneasca, echoes Brâncuși’s work in a way because (a) it is a Carpathian peasant dish, and (b) it combines simplicity with complexity. Ciorbã is the Romanian word for “soup” and comes from the Turkish word – “çorba.”  The word “tãrãneasca” can be translated as “traditional” or “peasant.” The souring agent for this ciorbã can be lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, sour grape leaves, or green sorrel leaves (my favorite). Sorrel is easy to grow in your garden; it is perennial and prolific, surviving drought and poor soil with no trouble. Obviously this is a simple vegetable soup, so any combination is fine. The trick is to balance the hot and sour notes. You’ll need to play with it.

Ciorbã Tãrãneasca

Ingredients

400g slab bacon, cut in small dice
200g fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 chile pepper, roughly chopped
sorrel leaves
yoghurt or sour cream
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes

Instructions

Sauté the bacon and onion in a dry Dutch oven over medium-low heat to render the fat from the bacon, and until the onion begins to take on a little color.

Add the vegetables and barely cover with water (or light stock). Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked as you like them. I prefer a little bite to them, but traditionally they are soft. As the soup cooks check the balance of heat and sourness to your taste. You can add a little lemon juice if you desire. Add the parsley towards the end.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread, with yoghurt (or sour cream) and red pepper flakes on the side for guests to add as they wish.

Feb 182017
 

Today is Dialect Day in the Amami region of Japan, part of a concerted effort to preserve the endangered Ryukyuan languages which, with Japanese, make up the Japonic language family.  I will talk a little about Ryukyuan, but my more overarching purpose on this date is to celebrate dialects in general – most of which are being swallowed up by standard national languages.  In the English-speaking world the existence of dialects is less noticeable than in other parts of the world, although dialects of English certainly exist and are quite robust in some communities. There are 4 main dialects of English in Scotland, for example, (divided into sub-dialects).  Some are clearly endangered; others are going strong. My paternal relatives speak Glesga (dialect of Glasgow) and I have not seen any signs of it dying out recently.

This point, though, raises the question of when a dialect is so distinct from its parent language that it can be classified as a distinct language.  Here we run into both linguistic and political issues.

The seemingly obvious test of whether two tongues are simply dialects or distinct languages — mutual intelligibility — is, unfortunately, flawed. On a regular basis I see Spanish speakers talking with Italian speakers in their own languages and they seem to get on just fine even though no one would dispute that Italian and Spanish are different languages.  Ditto Portuguese and Spanish.  Historical linguists can trace the divergence of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese at different times from common roots – and ultimately from Latin. But when did they cease to be dialects and become different languages?  Good question.  Ask five linguists and you’ll get five different answers. You should also distinguish between a dialect and an argot.  An argot is a distinctive vocabulary used in certain regions of a language but does not have a distinctive grammar to go along with it.  Thus in Buenos Aires some Rioplatense speakers mix their words with Lunfardo, a street slang originating in the prisons. Lunfardo is simply an alternate vocabulary, not a distinct dialect.

There are many pressures in the modern world that endanger local dialects. The most obvious is nationalism.  Nations need a standard language for official business which, in turn, gets promoted and enforced via the state education system. Many modern states have official academies that are the arbiters of correctness of the standard language, some of which have long histories.  Accademia della Crusca, for example, was founded in Florence in 1583 with a view to preserving the purity of the Italian language, that is, the Florentine dialect !!!  Here politics collides with linguistics.  Who decided that Florentine dialect was the best Italian? Could it possibly have been the rich and powerful?  You see the same thing happening throughout Europe: Castilian became standard Spanish, Parisian French became standard French, and so on. The dialects of the poor and otherwise marginalized became classified as sub-standard.

With Spanish, at least, there has been some blow back to these nationalist pressures.  Within Spain, regions such as Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia etc. have become fiercely protective of their regional dialects and each region not only has its own native speakers but also a substantial literature. Even ATMs in Spain give you a choice of several major dialects of Spanish.  When you move into the Spanish Diaspora things get even more complex. There are hundreds of separate Spanish dialects in South America, for example. When I was a small boy in Buenos Aires in the 1950s, the local dialect, Rioplatense, was not tolerated in schools.  All children had to learn and use standard Castilian in class. Argentine writers typically wrote in Castilian and not Rioplatense.  In the case of Jorge Borges things are a bit complex.  He was a native Rioplatense speaker but  he chose to write mainly in Castilian (not always) to reach a wider audience and to give more universality to his work.  There is the dilemma concerning dialects in a nutshell. Speaking (and writing) in dialect is both comforting and isolating.

Nowadays children are allowed to speak Rioplatense in classrooms in Buenos Aires but they are nonetheless expected to be able to read and write Castilian fluently. The same holds for other European languages such as French and Italian in their respective countries. In Argentina Rioplatense is holding its own because writers use it routinely and the government has officially replaced Castilian with Rioplatense for official documents and communications.  Locally produced television programs use Rioplatense, but programming comes from all over the Spanish-speaking world. Television as much as nationalism is the great leveler worldwide when it comes to language, and the enemy of regional dialects.

So . . . back to  the Ryukyuan languages.  Ryukyuan languages have sometimes been considered to be dialects of Japanese (hence Dialect Day), but they are not mutually intelligible with Japanese or even with each other. It is not known how many speakers of these languages remain, but language shift towards the use of Standard Japanese and dialects like Okinawan Japanese has resulted in these languages becoming endangered. UNESCO labels four of the languages “definitely endangered” and two others “critically endangered.”

The Ryukyu Islands stretch in a long arcing band from southern Japan to Taiwan and for centuries they were isolated from Japan and from one another.  Hence the dialects of Japanese diverged in the various islands to the point where they are now mutually unintelligible with standard Japanese and generally with one another.  Today, few children are being brought up speaking the Ryukyuan languages usually only when the children are living with their grandparents (much the same as with regional dialects worldwide). The Ryukyuan languages are still used in traditional cultural activities, such as folk music, folk dance, poems, and folk plays. There has also been a radio news program in the Naha dialect since 1960.

In Okinawa, people under the age of 40 have little proficiency in the native Okinawan language. A new mixed language, based on Japanese and Okinawan, has developed, known as “Okinawan Japanese.” Although it has been largely ignored by linguists and language activists, this is the language of choice among the younger generation. Similarly, the common language now used in everyday conversations in the Amami Ōshima is not the traditional Amami language, but rather a regional variation of Amami-accented Japanese, locally nicknamed トン普通語 (Ton Futsūgo, literally meaning “potato [i.e. rustic] common language”) by older speakers.

To try to preserve the language, the Okinawan Prefectural government proclaimed on March 31, 2006 that September 18 would be commemorated as Shimakutuba no Hi (しまくとぅばの日, “Island Languages Day”), as the day’s numerals in goroawase spell out ku (9), tu (10), ba (8) (September 18); kutuba is one of the few words common throughout the Ryukyuan languages meaning “word” or “language” (a cognate of the Japanese word kotoba (言葉, “word”)). A similar commemoration is held in the Amami region on February 18 beginning in 2007, proclaimed as Hōgen no Hi (方言の日?, “Dialect Day”) by Ōshima Subprefecture in Kagoshima Prefecture. Each island has its own name for the event:

Amami Ōshima: Shimayumuta no Hi (シマユムタの日?) or Shimakutuba no Hi (シマクトゥバの日?) (also written 島口の日)

On Kikaijima it is Shimayumita no Hi (シマユミタの日?)

On Tokunoshima it is Shimaguchi no Hi (シマグチ(島口)の日?) or Shimayumiita no Hi (シマユミィタの日?)

On Okinoerabujima it is Shimamuni no Hi (島ムニの日?)

On Yoronjima it is Yunnufutuba no Hi (ユンヌフトゥバの日?).

Yoronjima’s fu (2) tu (10) ba (8) is the goroawase source of the February 18 date, much like with Okinawa Prefecture’s use of kutuba.

Ryukyu cuisine, also sometimes confusingly called Okinawan cuisine even though it stretches beyond Okinawa, has Japanese elements but it is not what Westerners think of when they think of Japanese cooking – nor do the Japanese. It has strong elements from China and SE Asia because of longstanding trade connexions with these regions. I have chosen hirayachi (Okinawan: ヒラヤーチー Hirayaachii) for today’s dish. Hirayachi is an Okinawan pancake-like dish made of eggs, flour, salt, black pepper and green onions (scallions or leeks), fried with a little oil in a pan. It is similar to a very simple type of Japanese okonomiyaki.

Hirayachi means “bake flat” in the Okinawan language. It is characteristic Okinawan home cooking and Okinawans often think of it as a taste of home, or comfort food. Like any pancake or omelet it can be eaten plain or with added ingredients such as seaweed, tuna or corned beef.  It is customarily eaten with a special dipping sauce.  This is available commercially in Asian markets and is typically called “so-su” (sauce) or sometimes “Japanese Worcestershire sauce.” It tastes a little like Worcestershire sauce but is much thicker and sweeter.

Hirayachi

200 gm all-purpose flour
150 ml Japanese dashi stock
200 ml (approx) water
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp chopped leeks or Chinese garlic chives
sesame oil
salt
Japanese Worcestershire-style sauce

Instructions

Make a batter with the flour, egg, dashi, and salt to taste, adding the water slowly and whisking until the batter is smooth and pourable, but not watery. Add the leeks (or chives) and mix.

Heat a small amount of sesame oil to coat the bottom of an omelet pan over medium heat and pour in the batter to make a thin pancake. Turn the heat to low and let it cook slowly.  Do not let the bottom burn. The top will bubble and dry when it is fully cooking.

Turn on to a plate, cut into four and fold the quarters over.

Serve with dipping sauce.

Feb 152017
 

Today is the birthday (1797) of Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, anglicized name Henry Engelhard Steinway, who  made pianos in Germany and the United States. He was the founder of the legendary piano company Steinway & Sons. He was born in Wolfshagen im Harz, Duchy of Brunswick in the Holy Roman Empire. He attended public school in his home town. At the age of 8, he was ostensibly orphaned on the death of his mother, and thrown upon his own resources, until his father and brothers, once thought to have been killed in action, returned and claimed him. Then, at 15, he was orphaned this time genuinely on the death of his father, and he joined the German Army. In 1814, he joined the Schwarze Schar, the volunteer corps of Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in the war against Napoleon’s occupation of parts of the German states but remained in the garrison throughout the Napoleonic  campaign of the Hundred Days in 1815.

He left service on 23 June 1822 and began work as a carpenter, and later he became an apprentice to an organ builder in the town of Goslar. During this time he developed a love for music and became a church organist. He started building instruments, though hidden in the kitchen of his house because of the strong rules of the instrument builders’ guilds. In Braunschweig (Brunswick), he started by building guitars and zithers, and then graduated to pianos, of small proportions initially and gradually increasing in size.

In 1835 he made the first square piano, which he presented to his bride Juliane at their wedding. In 1836 he built his first grand piano in his kitchen in the town of Seesen. This piano was later named the “kitchen piano”, and is now on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with a Steinweg 1836 square piano. In 1839, he exhibited three pianos at the state trade exhibition in Braunschweig and was awarded a gold medal.

Because of the unstable political climate following the revolutions of 1848 in the German states and the limited economic opportunities for a man working outside a guild, Steinweg decided to leave the country. He emigrated from Braunschweig to New York City in 1850 with five of his sons, but before leaving he gave the company to his son, Christian Friedrich Theodor Steinweg. Later in New York, he anglicized his name to Henry E. Steinway upon advice from friends, who concluded that the German surname Steinweg would be disadvantageous for doing business. Steinway and his sons worked for other piano companies until they could establish their own production under the name of Steinway & Sons in 1853.

The overstrung scale in a square piano earned the Steinway Piano first prize at the New York Industrial Fair of 1855. In 1862 they gained the first prize in London in competition with the most eminent makers in Europe; and this victory was followed in 1867 by a similar success at the Universal exposition in Paris. Certain piano giants such as Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein praised Steinways to the skies for their durability, action, and tone-quality helping to make Steinway a household name in pianos.

This short infomercial about the Steinway product pretty much sums things up. The action and tone of  Steinway pianos are their most marked features:

It’s not at all sensible to give you a YouTube video of a Steinway in action because of the limited tone qualities of the recordings.  You need to hear one live. At Purchase College (SUNY) where I was a professor of anthropology and dance for 35 years, Steinways were everywhere. Every dance studio in the dance conservatory (claimed to be the largest in the U.S.), had its own Steinway, for example.  I might argue that this is a waste of great instruments given that neither the dance students nor their teachers were especially interested in the tone of the music they were dancing to, but the practice musicians enjoyed the experience (for the most part). One once complained to me about the “famed Steinway action” as an impediment to his playing style, which is near blasphemy and might be a comment on his capacities as a musician more than on the pianos themselves. I don’t play piano, so I will remain neutral.

The elevators in the music conservatory at Purchase College were designed to be large enough and sturdy enough to accommodate a grand piano because the instruments had to be shunted around quite frequently for rehearsals and performances, and the Steinways proved to be durable enough to be up to the task (with a piano tuner on call all the time).

Steinway’s home of Brunswick or Braunschweig gives its name to the eponymous Braunschweiger, but things are a little complicated. The name has never been subject to any kind of copyright, patent, or formal region of origin status, and hence is used indiscriminately for a variety of different sausages in different regions. In Germany Braunschweiger usually refers to a variety of Mettwurst that is made of coarsely ground fatty pork with flavorings added, then smoked, and is spreadable. In Austria, Braunschweiger is a type of Brühwurst that is cooked, while in the US Braunschweiger is a type of liverwurst.  Let’s focus on German Braunschweiger Mettwurst. You may have to travel to Germany to find it.

Legends abound concerning the original maker(s) of Braunschweiger Mettwurst, none of them trustworthy – like pretty well all stories about origins.  Best guess is that a version of Braunschweiger appeared in Brunswick in the 1830s and has evolved over time in Germany and elsewhere.  Garlic is the most common flavoring.  For my money you can’t do any better then spread Braunschweiger plain on coarse German bread, but it’s also tasty with the addition of sauerkraut and mustard.  This is really where you have to decide for yourself – raw onions? tomatoes? cheese?  Your choice.

 

Feb 132017
 

Today is World Radio Day.  It was proclaimed on 3 November 2011 by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference after originally proposed by the Kingdom of Spain. The day is meant to celebrate radio in all its uses, so I’ll follow suit.  Until recently radio was a very important part of my life.  When I was an infant in England in the early 1950s the whole family used to sit around in the living room on a Sunday afternoon with the radio on.  Then when we moved to Australia the radio always had a central role to play.  It was on in the morning at breakfast time, partly for entertainment, and partly to keep track of the time so that we were not late. In the late afternoons there were a number of shows we listened to before dinner including my favorite, The Argonauts Club – a radio show for children featuring games and competitions, with the opportunity to send in your own contributions of poetry, essays, and plays (the best of which were read on the air).  But what caught my most fervent attention for many years was amateur shortwave radio.

My scout troop (1st Gawler) had a very active senior patrol that morphed into a rover patrol and they had an interest in shortwave radio.  They had built a radio shack with a tall antenna on the grounds of the scout hut, and used their old, beat up, valve operated shortwave system to contact scouts around the world, especially during Jamboree on the Air (3rd weekend in October).  Every year I went all day, well into the night, to take my turn chatting with scouts all over the world.  For years after I had a dream that one day I would set up my own shortwave station.  These were the days before easy global communications by telephone, let alone internet, and it resonated with me, as it did with many others.  Here’s two versions of “The Radio Ham” by Tony Hancock (first the radio version, then the television version) to get the general flavor:

“Ham radio” and “radio ham” are slang terms for amateur radios and their operators whose origin is unknown, although you’ll find the usual nonsense about etymology if you poke around – all ridiculous folk legends.  Hancock really does capture the feel of ham radio in the 1950s and 1960s.

Having my own shortwave transmitter remained an unrealized pipe dream, but I did have a shortwave receiver for decades in the United States.  It allowed me to tune into the BBC before the days of the internet, and also to hear the news from multiple countries around the world.  Back then (and still) news in the US is confined to news about US citizens (at home and abroad), or about US interests.  500 people could die in a plane crash in Africa but if there were no US citizens aboard it would go largely unreported.  Shortwave was my antidote.  The BBC was great because it had plays, comedies, soap operas, quizzes and whatnot that I loved, and still love.

US radio is largely for car drivers and tends to consist of music, news, or talk shows. I found it exceptionally dull on my daily commute.  But when I took trips to England I would immediately explore the dial on my rental car’s radio for the wealth of programming on national and regional radio.  I can count the US radio shows that I enjoyed on the fingers of one hand, and still have fingers left over. Dr Demento and Whad’ya Know? come to mind.  World Radio Day is all about promoting the potential riches of radio for all people of all ages. I’m up for that.

Since amateur radio is known as ham radio let’s talk about ham as our food of the day. Many, many countries have their own special hams and I have been fortunate to live near many sources.  Currently I live near Parma and have made the obligatory pilgrimage to get the local prosciutto – known locally simply as crudo. You can get ham in Argentina, but it is a rarity in the land where beef is king.  China is a different story altogether.  Ham is an essential ingredient in so many regional dishes.  The most well known varieties are Anfu ham from Jiangxi, Jinhua ham, Rugao ham, and Xuanwei ham. All are richly flavorful, adding complexity to soups, stews, and stir fries.

How long would you like me to wax lyrical about Smithfield ham, jamón Serrano,  jambon d’Ardèche,  Westfälischer Schinken, etc.? I won’t.  Instead I’ll talk a little about production – which you can do yourself at home if you have patience. Ham is a method of preserving and flavoring raw pork leg by salting, smoking, or wet curing. Besides salt, several ingredients may also be used to enhance flavoring and preservation.

Traditional dry cure hams may use only salt as the curative agent, such as with San Daniele or Parma hams, although this is comparatively rare. This process involves cleaning the raw meat, covering it in salt (for about one month for Parma ham) while it is gradually pressed – draining all the blood. In Tuscan Ham (Prosciutto Toscano PDO) different spices and herbs are added to the salt during this step. The hams are then washed and hung in a dark, temperature-regulated place until dry. They are then hung to air for another period of time.

The duration of the curing process varies by the type of ham, with Serrano ham curing in 9–12 months, Parma hams taking more than 12 months, and Iberian ham taking up to 2 years to reach the desired flavor characteristics. Some dry cured hams, such as the Jinhua ham, take approximately 8 to 10 months to complete.

Ham can also be preserved through the smoking method, in which the meat is placed in a smokehouse (or equivalent) to be cured by the action of smoke. The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by thermal breakdown (i.e., combustion) of lignin, a major constituent of wood used in the smokehouse.

Wet curing (also known as brining) involves the immersion of the meat in a brine, sometimes with other ingredients such as sugar also added for flavor. Meat is submerged in the brine for around 3–14 days, during which time the meat needs to be kept submerged, and the brine mixture agitated periodically to prevent separation of the ingredients. Wet curing also has the effect of increasing volume and weight of the finished product, by about 4%.

I’ve smoked and wet cured hams at home. The processes are not complex, just time consuming, and require special equipment.  The results have always been excellent, but I’m happy to pop down to the local market when I need ham for any reason. Brining is probably your easiest bet and you can find plenty of recipes online.  Here’s one that’s OK:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/245724/home-cured-holiday-ham/

Feb 122017
 

By strange coincidence this date marks two events that represent the beginning and the end of the Spanish rule of Chile.  On this date in 1541 the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago, establishing a permanent Spanish colony, and on this date in 1817 Argentine and Chilean troops defeated Spanish royalist troops at the battle of Chacabuco, effectively ending Spanish rule (although there was another year of fighting). One year later on this date – not by coincidence – Bernardo O’Higgins declared Chile an independent nation.

According to archaeological investigations, it is believed that the first human groups settled in the Santiago basin in the 10th millennium BCE. The groups were mainly nomadic hunter-gatherers, who traveled from the coast to the interior in search of guanacos (Lama guanicoe) during the time of the Andean snowmelt. About the year 800 CE, the first inhabitants began to settle due to the formation of agricultural communities along the Mapocho River growing mainly maize, potatoes and beans, and herding domesticated camelids.

The villages established in the areas belonging to ethnic picunches groups (called promaucaes by Incas), were subject to the Inca Empire throughout the late 15th century and into the early 16th century. The Incas settled in the valley of mitimaes, now in the center of the present city, with fortifications and sacred sites at Huaca de Chena and El Plomo. The area was the center for the failed Inca expeditions southward along the Inca Trail.

Pedro de Valdivia reached the valley of the Mapocho on 13 December 1540,  having been sent by Francisco Pizarro from Peru and having made the long journey from Cuzco through the desert rather than face crossing the Andes. Valdivia’s troops camped by the river in the slopes of the Tupahue hill and slowly began to interact with the picunches who inhabited the area. Valdivia later summoned the chiefs of the area to a parliament, where he explained his intention to found a city on behalf of king Carlos I of Spain, which would be the capital of his governorship of Nueva Extremadura. The natives accepted and even recommended the foundation of the town on a small island between two branches of the river next to a small hill called Huelén.

On 12 February 1541, Valdivia officially founded the city of Santiago del Nuevo Extremedura in honor of St James and of his native region of Spain. Following the norms of colonial rule, Valdivia entrusted the layout of the new town to master builder Pedro de Gamboa, who designed the city with a standard grid layout. In the center of the city, Gamboa designed a Plaza Mayor, around which various plots for the Cathedral and the governor’s house were selected. In total, eight blocks from north to south, and ten from east to west, were built. Each solar (quarter block) was given to the settlers, who built houses of mud and straw.

Valdivia left months later to go south with his troops, beginning the War of Arauco. Santiago was left unprotected. The indigenous hosts of Michimalonco used this to their advantage, and attacked the fledgling city. On 11 September 1541, the city was destroyed by the Michimalonco, but the 55 members of the Spanish garrison managed to defend the fort. The resistance was led by Inés de Suárez, a mistress to Valdivia. When she realized they were being overrun, she ordered the execution of all native prisoners, and proceeded to put their heads on pikes and also threw a few heads at the Indian forces. In face of this barbaric act, the Indians dispersed in terror. The city was be slowly rebuilt, giving prominence to the newly founded Concepción, where the Royal Audiencia of Chile was then founded in 1565. However, the constant danger faced by Concepción, due partly to its proximity to the War of Arauco and also to a succession of devastating earthquakes, would not allow the definitive establishment of the Royal Court in Santiago until 1607. This establishment reaffirmed the city’s role as capital. Until 1817 Chile was part of Spanish viceroyalties in South America.

In 1814, having been instrumental in the establishment of a popularly elected congress in Argentina, José de San Martín began to consider the problem of driving the Spanish royalists from South America entirely. He figured that the first step would be to expel them from Chile, and, to this end, he set about recruiting and equipping an army. In just under two years, he had an army of around 6,000 men, 1,200 horses and 22 cannons.

On January 17, 1817, he set out with this force and began the crossing of the Andes. Careful planning on his part had meant that the royalist forces in Chile were deployed to meet threats that did not exist, and his crossing went unopposed. Nonetheless, the Army of the Andes (San Martín ‘s force) suffered heavy losses during the crossing, losing as much as one-third of its men and more than half of its horses. San Martín ended up allying with Chilean patriot Bernardo O’Higgins, who commanded his own army.

The royalists rushed north in response to their approach, and a force of about 1,500 under Brigadier Rafael Maroto blocked San Martín ‘s advance at a valley called Chacabuco, near Santiago. In the face of the disintegration of the royalist forces, Maroto proposed abandoning the capital and retreating southward, where they could hold out and obtain resources for a new campaign. The military conference called by Royal Governor Field Marshal Casimiro Marcó del Pont on February 8 adopted Maroto’s strategy, but the following morning, the Captain General changed his mind and ordered Maroto to prepare for battle in Chacabuco.

The night before the clash, Antonio Quintanilla confided to another Spanish official his opinion of the ill-chosen strategy: Given the position of the insurgents, the royalist forces ought to retreat a few leagues towards the hills of Colina. “Maroto overheard this conversation from a nearby chamber and either couldn’t or refused to hear me because of his pride and self-importance, called on an attendant with his notorious hoarse voice and proclaimed a general decree on pain of death, to whoever suggested a retreat.”

All Maroto and his troops had to do was delay San Martín, as he knew that further royalist reinforcements were on the way from Santiago. San Martín was well aware of this as well and opted to attack while he still had the numerical advantage. San Martín received numerous reports of the Spanish plans from a spy dressed as a roto, a poverty-stricken peasant of Chile. The roto told him that the Spanish general, Marcó, knew of fighting in the mountains and told his army to “run to the field”, which refers to Chacabuco. He also told San Martín the plan of General Rafael Maroto, the leader of the Talavera Regiment and a force of volunteers of up to 2,000 men. His plan was to take the mountainside and launch an attack against San Martín.

O’Higgins

On February 11, three days before his planned date of attack, San Martín called a war council to decide on a plan. Their main goal was to take the Chacabuco Ranch, the royalist headquarters, at the bottom of the hills. He decided to split his 2,000 troops into two parts, sending them down two roads on either side of the mountain. The right contingent was led by Miguel Estanislao Soler, and the left by O’Higgins. The plan was for Soler to attack their flanks, while at the same time surrounding their rear guard in order to prevent their retreat. San Martín expected that both leaders would attack at the same time, so the royalists would have to fight a battle on two fronts.

San Martín sent his troops down the mountain starting at midnight of the 11th to prepare for an attack at dawn. At dawn, his troops were much closer to the royalists than anticipated, but fought hard. Meanwhile, Soler’s troops had to go down a tiny path that proved long and arduous and took longer than expected. General O’Higgins, supposedly seeing his homeland and being overcome with passion, defied the plan of attack and charged, along with his 1,500. What exactly happened in this part of the battle is fiercely debated. O’Higgins claimed that the royalists stopped their retreat and started advancing towards his troops. He said that if he were to lead his men back up the narrow path and retreat, his men would have been decimated, one by one. San Martín saw O’Higgins premature advance and ordered Soler to charge the royalist flank, which took the pressure off O’Higgins and allowed his troops to hold their ground.

The ensuing firefight lasted into the afternoon. The tide turned for the Army of the Andes as Soler captured a key royalist artillery point. At this point, the royalists set up a defensive square around the Chacabuco Ranch. O’Higgins charged the center of the royalist position, while Soler got into position behind the royalists, effectively cutting off any chance of retreat. O’Higgins and his men overwhelmed the royalist troops. When they attempted to retreat, Soler’s men cut them off and pushed towards the ranch. Hand-to-hand combat ensued in and around the ranch until every royalist soldier was dead or taken captive. 500 royalist soldiers were killed and 600 taken prisoner. The Army of the Andes lost only 12 men in battle, but an additional 120 lost their lives from wounds suffered during the battle. Maroto succeeded in escaping, thanks to the speed of his horse, but was slightly injured.

The remaining royalist troops left Chile and retreated to Lima by ship. Interim governor Francisco Ruiz-Tagle presided at an assembly, which designated San Martín as governor, but he turned down the offer and requested a new assembly, which made O’Higgins Supreme Director of Chile. This marks the beginning of the “Patria Nueva” period in Chile’s history.

Chilean cuisine shares much with South American cuisines, being a mix of indigenous ingredients and cooking methods, and those imported from Spain, overlaid by other European elements.  But it is definitely distinctive.  I’ve been to Santiago many times because it is a hub for local airlines, and I have had frequent long layovers (including one overnight on the way to Easter Island), giving me the chance to sample local specialties.  The typical cazuela of Chile is very popular but it’s pretty ordinary – meat, potato, pumpkin, rice, and corn in a stew.  Let’s go out on a limb.  Here’s caldillo de congrio: conger eel stew, an absolute classic.  I’ll give the recipe in Spanish because I miss speaking Spanish. Hit the translate button if you are challenged.  If you can’t find conger eel you can substitute white fish but, of course, it’s not the same.  This is the simple recipe. More traditionally, a fish stock is prepared first using eel and fish heads, onions, and garlic.  Then it is strained and used as the cooking broth.

Caldillo de Congrio

Ingredients

aciete
1 cebolla cortada en pluma
2 zanahoria pelada y cortadas en rodajas
1 churadita de aji de color
2 tomates cortados en cuarto
1 hoja de laurel
2 rama de perejil
1 pizca de oregano seco
sal y pimiento
gotas de salsa aji
4 medallones de congrio sin piel
1 taza de vino blanco
¼ taza de crema liquida
cilantro

Instructions

En una olla, calendar a fuego medio el aceite. Agregar la cebolla y zanahoria y concinar 10-15min

Agregar el aji de color y revolver mezclar.

Anadir los tomates, hoja de laurel, rama de perejil y oregano y cocinar — 5min.

Sazonar con sal, pimento y gotas de salsa aji.

Anadir los medallones de congrio, vino blanco y agua

Hervir la mezcala, reducer el calor y cocinar 10-20min

Quite la cabeza de pescado de caldo. Saque las mejillas de pescado y añadir

A ultimo momento verter la crema.

Adorne con cilantro.

Feb 042017
 

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Today, the first Saturday in February, has been recognized for about 50 years (unofficially, of course) as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFBD).  The holiday was invented on a snowy winter day in the 1960s by Florence Rappaport in Rochester, New York. Florence had six children, but it was her youngest two, Ruth (now Kramer) and Joe Rappaport, who inspired her on a cold and snowy February morning. To entertain them, she declared it to be Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. She recalls, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and a family custom began. The exact year of the first ICFBD is unrecorded, but it is speculated to be 1966, when a huge blizzard hit Rochester in late January, dumping several feet of snow on Rochester and shutting down schools. When the siblings grew up, they held parties and introduced the custom to friends while in college, and it began to spread.

The holiday began to spread across the world thanks to Florence’s grandchildren, who have traveled extensively. Celebrations have been recorded in Nepal, Namibia, Germany, New Zealand, and Honduras. Some are small family celebrations and others are larger parties. The holiday has even been celebrated in China since 2003 and was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and local magazines in Hangzhou, China. Ice Cream for Breakfast Day enjoys particular popularity in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on ICFBD in 2013 in Hebrew and then in 2014 in English.

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I’ve always been interested in what people eat for breakfast in general (from the sidelines). For many years I’ve eaten whatever I want – curry, leftovers, soup, eggs . . . anything that I fancy at the time.  I find the idea of certain foods being designated as “breakfast foods” (particularly eggs or cereals) patently absurd, but millions of people throughout the world have fixed notions of what you can and cannot eat for breakfast.  Some eateries in the UK advertise “breakfast served all day” meaning that there is a fixed notion of what breakfast should consist of, despite the fact that you can eat it at any time of day.

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The word “breakfast” itself is relatively modern. The Old English word for dinner, “disner,” means to break a fast, and was originally the first meal eaten in the day until its meaning shifted in the mid-13th century. It was not until the 15th century that “breakfast” came into use in written English to describe a morning meal, literally meaning to “break” the “fast” of the prior night.

Having a meal to start the day before work has obvious benefits and is occasionally noted in ancient texts. Manual workers in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all ate something to begin the work day, but it was not a meal that differed in any substantive way from other meals – it was just regular food, including things such as bread, cheese, olives, dried fruit, legumes, and so forth (along with beer or wine).

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In the Middle Ages in Europe, breakfast was not usually considered a necessary and important meal, and was practically nonexistent during the earlier medieval period. Only two formal meals were eaten per day—one at mid-day and one in the evening. The exact times varied by period and region, but this two-meal system remained consistent throughout the Middle Ages. Many written accounts in the medieval period disparage eating in the morning. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica (1265–1274) that breakfast committed “praepropere,” or the sin of eating too soon, which was associated with gluttony. Breakfast in some times and places was solely granted to children, the elderly, the sick, and to working men. Eating breakfast, therefore, meant that one was poor, was a low-status farmer or laborer who truly needed the energy to sustain his morning’s labor, or was too weak to make it to the large, midday dinner, and was potentially shameful.

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By the 15th century breakfast became a more common practice for nobles and by the early 16th century, recorded expenses for breakfast became customary in household account books. The 16th -century introduction of caffeinated beverages into the European diet was part of the reason for allowing breakfast; it was believed that coffee and tea aided the body in “evacuation of superfluities” if they were drunk in the morning.

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To the best of my knowledge, the makings of the classic Full English breakfast date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My musings on this subject can be found here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/  and elsewhere on the blog. Meanwhile here’s a description I like of a traveler’s breakfast in England from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published in 1857 but reminiscing about the 1830s).  Tom is on his way from Berkshire to Rugby by coach, and makes a stop at an inn on the way in the morning:

And here comes breakfast.

“Twenty minutes here, gentlemen,” says the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.

Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not this a worthy reward for much endurance? There is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed) by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher.

And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands–kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all. The cold meats are removed to the sideboard–they were only put on for show and to give us an appetite. And now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous.

Two or three men in pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as indeed we all are.

“Tea or coffee, sir?” says head waiter, coming round to Tom.

“Coffee, please,” says Tom, with his mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee is a treat to him, tea is not.

Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us, is a cold beef man. He also eschews hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by the barmaid. Sportsman looks on approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.

Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum . . .

You can find the same basic elements in Mrs Beeton (1861).  She speaks of steaks, chops, eggs, kidneys, bacon etc. as breakfast food, but she does not single them out as uniquely fit for breakfast.  The elements of a hearty breakfast are proteins, bread of some sort, and tea or coffee (or small beer).

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The addition of breakfast cereals to the mix was a U.S. invention by the likes of C.W. Post and the Kellogg brothers http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kelloggs-corn-flakes/ following an almost universal trend for centuries of eating cereals (in the generic sense), that is, oats, rice, corn, etc. to start the day, simply because they were daily staples for many people throughout the world.

Nowadays I neither eat a meal you could label as “breakfast” nor do I eat foods you would call “breakfast foods” (at any time of the day). I eat what I want, when I want.  So, why not ice-cream for breakfast? – not just today, but any day.

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