Sep 242016
 

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I usually reserve the dates of people’s death as days of celebration for saints whose feast days are the days they died, because in Christian tradition this date marks their ascendance to heaven – a day to rejoice. Today I am changing gears for once. I want to celebrate the life of Pete Bellamy on this, the day of his death, for important reasons.

Peter Franklyn Bellamy (8 September 1944 – 24 September 1991) was an English singer, musician, and composer who was very well known in folk circles in the 1960s through to the 1980s when his popularity began to wane. I believe that his rise and fall in popularity in Britain had more to do with public tastes than anything he was responsible for. He, and Young Tradition (the a capella trio he sang with), rose to international prominence in the 1960s when traditional music was in its heyday in Britain and the United States, ousting the beat generation. The 1970s saw increased interest, by which time Pete was performing solo and starting to write his own music and songs, as well as setting many of Kipling’s poems to music. By the late 1980s popular tastes had shifted considerably, and traditional music hit a low point. Consequently Pete’s career suffered, as did that of so many others. I’ll call him Pete here, because that’s how I knew him. He was not a close friend, but he was a friend.

Pete was born in Bournemouth but spent his formative years in Norfolk, living in the village of Warham and attending Fakenham Grammar School in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His father worked as a farm bailiff. He studied at Norwich School of Art, and later at Maidenhead Art College, under Peter Blake, and decades later still retained something of the flamboyant art student image, being described as looking like a latter-day Andy Warhol, with blond hair often worn in a ponytail and tied back with a ribbon, a scarlet jacket and florally patterned trousers which he made himself from furnishing fabric.

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Pete dropped out of college in 1965 to further his singing career, among other things. He started working as a duo with Royston Wood, their voices (Pete, tenor, Royston, bass). Worked well together. Both had distinctive voices. Here they are together on the album “Galleries” which came out around the time the Young Tradition broke up.

Pete and Royston worked at odd jobs during the day, and sang at night. Heather Wood (no relation to Royston) attended their events and, as is common in folk clubs, always sang heartily in harmony in the choruses. So they invited her to join them and Young Tradition was born. I’m not clear on all the details because I was not around at the time, and got this second hand from Royston. It is a great curiosity that they all have distinctive voices, but they blend well together.

Pete’s voice had a strong high nasal vibrato that earned him the nickname “the singing sheep” in folk circles. In the “Borfolk” cartoon in the October 1980 edition of The Southern Rag, commenting on an event at Cecil Sharp House hosted by Pete, he was given the anagrammatical name Elmer P Bleaty.” Pete later obtained, framed, and hung the original of the cartoon in his home.

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The Young Tradition recorded three albums together plus a collaboration with Shirley Collins called “The Holly Bears The Crown.” Although recorded in 1969, this was not released in full until the 1990s. They were immensely successful during their brief career together in both Britain and the United States, and are still remembered fondly in folk circles as pioneers in one branch of English traditional singing. They were influenced by the likes of the Watersons and the Copper Family, and, in turn, influenced a generation of singers.  The Young Tradition’s final concert was at Cecil Sharp House in October 1969, after which they split up because of divergent interests. At the time Heather and Royston had developed eclectic musical tastes, specifically in Medieval music, while Pete wanted to concentrate on traditional English music. The three continued to sing together occasionally, along with other musicians, but Pete’s solo career took priority.

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Pete’s first solo album “Mainly Norfolk” (1968) indicated his desire to promote the traditional music of the part of England he called home. It drew heavily on the repertoire of Harry Cox, still alive at that time, who was the most famous traditional singer of Norfolk songs. On the album, Bellamy sang all songs unaccompanied. Beginning on his second album, “Fair England’s Shore” (1968), he began to accompany himself on the Anglo concertina. Still later, he occasionally recorded with guitar and in private he preferred the guitar over the concertina. If you put him up at your house, you’d be woken by him playing bottleneck blues in the morning

It wasn’t until Pete’s eighth album in 1975 that he recorded any of his own compositions. In the same year he recorded a collection of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads. Kipling was a great inspiration for Pete. He started with songs he created poems from Kipling’s Children’s books, (Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies) from which he produced two albums, Oak Ash and Thorn (1970) and Merlyn’s Isle of Gramarye (1972). Here’s the title cut from the first:

Puck is a fantasy compilation playing on 19th century notions that British calendar customs derive from mystical pagan times (which longtime readers know I abhor). Pete’s setting of Oak, Ash, and Thorn is a standard among folkies now, and this version features Royston and Heather, plus Barry Dransfield whose light in the folk world was dimming at that time, on the chorus.

Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads were published in 1892, and Pete started setting them to music in 1973. He was struck by people’s ideas about Kipling, who many perceived as (in Bellamy’s words) “one of the reactionary old guard, and therefore obviously a writer of no merit whatsoever.” Pete believed that Kipling captured the spirit of the common soldier who was sent off to war to die, rather than being a champion of the colonial spirit. Therefore, his poems ought to be showcased rather than discarded as old fashioned. I both agree and disagree. On the one hand, Kipling is highly sympathetic to “Tommy,” no question:

It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it’s ‘Saviour of ‘is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!”

But the underlying colonial ethnocentrism is still there. One of Pete’s classics is his setting of Kipling’s “Mandalay.” In a very popular setting published in 1907 by Oley Speaks and made famous by Peter Dawson’s recording, Kipling’s poem is reduced to three verses that emphasize the colonial themes in the poem.

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Pete picked a different tune and set the entire poem to it in its original, rather than in extracts where the words are also modified:

It’s true that the poem highlights the plight of the “ten year soldier” sent to fight in foreign lands and then dumped back in foggy, crowded London to rot. But . . . its vision of Burma (Myanmar) is partly nostalgic and graceful and partly dismissive. Sure, the soldier thinks a Burma girl is preferable to London ones, but he refers to statues of Buddha as filthy idols – and suggests that kissing a British soldier is much better than worshiping Buddha. I’d call that colonial ethnocentrism.

When devising the musical settings for Kipling’s poetry, Pete followed a common theory that highly metrical poets like Kipling used song tunes to keep their poems flowing properly. Some of Kipling’s contemporaries confirm that he was in the habit of humming and whistling as he composed. It has, for example, been claimed that in The Loot, there is a “hidden” tune being worked to, and that nothing else can explain the strange refrains. Pete became engaged by the idea when the line in Dutch in the Medway “our ships in every harbour….” reminded him of the line in the song Cupid’s Garden “Twas down in Portsmouth Harbour…”. This observation suggested the tune for the Kipling poem and made him wonder whether Kipling had actually composed to that tune, it being a common folk song in the 19th  century. It has also been suggested that Kipling’s “My name is O’Kelly, I’ve heard the reveille…” was written to the common Irish song and Army marching tune Lillibullero. Pete used a different tune but agreed that Lillibullero was more likely to have been on Kipling’s mind at the time of composition.

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After putting new words to traditional songs, and his own words to traditional tunes, Pete wrote a ballad-opera, The Transports, in 1973, but it took him 4 years to find a company willing to produce it. It then became the folk record of the year for 1977 vindicating his long wait and many efforts to get it released. Many prominent names in the folk scene collaborated on the project Dolly Collins (sister of Shirley Collins), Martin Carthy, Mike Waterson, Norma Waterson, June Tabor, Nic Jones, A.L. Lloyd, Cyril Tawney and Dave Swarbrick. It told the true story of the first transport ship to land in Australia and the first couple, Henry and Susannah Cable (or Kabel), to marry on Australian soil, based on a story Pete found in the local newspaper in Norfolk and followed by his research into the details at the city museum and library. Descendants of the Kabel family still live in Sydney and became friends of Peter. In 2004 it was re-released together with a new production involving Simon Nicol and Fairport Convention. In 1986 Sid Kipper and others devised a ballad opera called “Crab Wars”. It was partly a parody of “The Transports,” but Pete took it in good humor and even sang the role of narrator.

Another of Pete’s ambitious projects, “The Maritime Suite”, was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 but never issued on record. The economics of folk singing meant that Pete sold his own limited edition cassettes at folk clubs, and many performances exist only as pirated tapes.

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Pete committed suicide on 24 September 1991, a little over a year after Royston Wood died as the result of a freak car accident. I’ve often wondered if Royston’s death played a part in it, but it would have been a small part. In the years before his death several of his close friends had found him depressed at the way his folk club bookings had unaccountably fallen away after the respect with which The Transports had been received. Folk-music journalist and critic Michael Grosvenor Myer, one of those who had named The Transports his record of the year in The Guardian, where he was subsequently to write his obituary, relates how Pete showed him an empty engagement book, saying, in sad and puzzled tones, “The Transports was a runaway success, since when my career has gone ppppffff! ”

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Similarly from fellow folksinger Brian Peters: “The saddest Bellamy moment arose after I’d complimented him on a barnstorming performance the last time I’d seen him. With a wan smile, he picked up his diary and, holding it up for me to see, leafed through empty page after empty page, without saying a word.” US folksinger Lisa Null, a longtime friend, wrote “He was broke, unable to find gigs, unable to adapt. He complained so much about this, many of us kind of got used to it — a bad mistake. He was sending out warning signs.” Another singer, Nick Dow, adds, “In respect of his empty gig diary, we were chatting on the phone, and he asked me ‘Nick how do you get so much work?’ I answered that it was because I was a persuasive bastard and wasn’t averse to making a nuisance of myself. He replied that he couldn’t easily ring up and ask for a gig, he found it so embarrassing. He was a singer and performer, not a businessman in any shape or form. Peter needed our help, and the oxygen of the appreciation of his art.”

There it is in stark terms. There are things you should watch out for in friends who are depressed. If you need more information, go here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-suicide-prevention-day/  We all should do more to prevent suicide. The late 1980s and 1990s were slow times for the folk music scene in England, but things turned around eventually. Who knows what might have happened if he’d lived?

Pete and I had a memorable weekend at my shared house in Oxford when he played a gig at the Oxford University folk club. On the morning after the gig, plus late night drinking in North Oxford, I made us a breakfast of smoked haddock and boiled eggs from a great chunk of fish that a friend of mine, who was a fishmonger, had given me and was sitting idle in my refrigerator. In the US, and elsewhere, everyone knows about smoked salmon, but regular smoked fish is not so popular, especially nowadays. Once upon a time you could get just about any fish you want in smoked form – trout, hake, haddock, mackerel, etc. It keeps well and makes a great breakfast dish. You can add rice and curry spices and make a kedgeree if you want – the great Anglo-Indian dish which I talk about at length here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-edward-kingsford-smith/

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For today’s recipe a plain breakfast of smoked fish and rice is in order (with some trimmings). Smoked fish is quite edible as is, but in this case heat it in a skillet in warmed water. Don’t boil the water because the fish will fragment. Serve it over boiled rice (plain or with saffron) and garnished with boiled egg and tomato.  I like a little lime pickle too for a kick.

Sep 232016
 

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On this date in 1889 the original Nintendo Company was founded. That’s right – 1889.  It’s hard to believe because nowadays when we think of Nintendo we think of electronics, video games, and Mario. Nintendo Co., Ltd. (任天堂株式会社) is now a Japanese multinational consumer electronics and software company headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, and is one of the world’s largest video game companies by net worth. When it was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi it produced handmade hanafuda playing cards. By 1963, the company had tried to diversify into several small niche businesses, such as cab services and love hotels!! Finally it hit on electronic games and was a giant success.  The original word Nintendo is popularly thought to mean “leave luck to heaven” but there is no evidence for this. The Kanji characters are just read as Nintendo.

Card playing in Japan has a long and chequered history. Playing cards were introduced by Portuguese sailors in 1549 when they landed in Japan, carrying the missionary Francis Xavier. The crew of his ship had with them a set of 48 Portuguese Hombre playing cards, and eventually card games became popular, along with their use for gambling. When Japan subsequently closed off all contact with the Western world in 1633, foreign playing cards were banned. The ban was useless, however. Card playing, and associated gambling proved impossible to eliminate, so the government eventually lifted its ban.

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Nintendo began as a card company named Nintendo Koppai (Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.) which produced and marketed cards and a game called “Hanafuda.” Hanafuda literally translates as “flower cards” which refers to their designs. The twelve suits are all names of flowers representing the flowers that bloom over the 12 months of the year. The first cards that Nintendo produced were hand painted on mulberry bark. The handmade cards were slow to catch on, but then rapidly increased in popularity when the Yakuza (crime syndicates) used them in their gambling parlors. Thence, Yamauchi hired assistants to mass-produce cards to satisfy demand.

The cards are arranged in 12 suits of 4 cards each. The suits are the months of the year with a corresponding blossom. Here’s March represented by Sakura, the cherry blossom.

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There are 2 normal cards (1 point each), one poetry ribbon card (5 points), and one special card (10 or 20 points), in each suit. If there are two players, 8 cards are dealt face up on the playing field and each player gets 8.  The rest are the stock. Play is a little like gin rummy in that players try to form complete sets of suits, although the rules of play and scoring highly varied from place to place.

In 1956, Hiroshi Yamauchi, grandson of Fusajiro Yamauchi, visited the U.S. to talk with the United States Playing Card Company, the dominant playing card manufacturer there. He found that the biggest playing card company in the world was using only a small office. Yamauchi realized that the playing card business had limited potential and sought to diversify. He then acquired the license to use Disney characters on playing cards to drive sales. In 1963, Yamauchi changed the name Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. to Nintendo Co., Ltd. The company then began to experiment in other areas of business using newly injected capital during the period of time between 1963 and 1968. Nintendo set up a taxi company called Daiya. This business was initially successful. However, Nintendo was forced to sell it because problems with the labor unions were making it too expensive to run the service. It also set up a love hotel chain, a TV network, a food company (selling instant rice) and several other ventures. All of these ventures eventually failed, and after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, playing card sales dropped, and Nintendo’s stock price plummeted to its lowest recorded level of ¥60 (i.e. nothing).

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In 1966, Nintendo moved into the Japanese toy industry with the Ultra Hand, an extendable arm developed by its maintenance engineer Gunpei Yokoi in his free time. Yokoi was moved from maintenance to the new “Nintendo Games” department as a product developer. Nintendo continued to produce popular toys, including the Ultra Machine, Love Tester and the Kousenjuu series of light gun games. Despite some successful products, Nintendo struggled to meet the fast development and manufacturing turnaround required in the toy market, and fell behind the well-established companies such as Bandai and Tomy.

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In 1973, its focus shifted to family entertainment venues with the Laser Clay Shooting System, using the same light gun technology used in Nintendo’s Kousenjuu series of toys, and set up in abandoned bowling alleys. Following some success, Nintendo developed several more light gun machines (such as the light gun shooter game Wild Gunman) for the emerging arcade scene. While the Laser Clay Shooting System ranges had to be shut down following excessive costs, Nintendo had found a new market.

Nintendo’s first venture into the video gaming industry was securing rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey video game console in Japan in 1974. Nintendo began to produce its own hardware in 1977, with the Color TV-Game home video game consoles. Four versions of these consoles were produced, each including variations of a single game (for example, Color TV Game 6 featured six versions of Light Tennis).

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A student product developer named Shigeru Miyamoto was hired by Nintendo at this time. He worked for Yokoi, and one of his first tasks was to design the casing for several of the Color TV-Game consoles. Miyamoto went on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo’s most famous video games and become one of the most recognizable figures in the video game industry. In 1975, Nintendo moved into the video arcade game industry with EVR Race, designed by their first game designer, Genyo Takeda, and several more titles followed. Nintendo had some small success with this venture, but the release of Donkey Kong in 1981, designed by Miyamoto, changed Nintendo’s fortunes dramatically. The success of the game and many licensing opportunities (such as ports on the Atari 2600, Intellivision and ColecoVision) gave Nintendo a huge boost in profit and in addition, the game also introduced an early iteration of Mario, then known in Japan as Jumpman, the eventual company mascot. That’s how you go from cherry blossoms on tree bark to a jumping Italian plumber and make millions in the process.

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For a recipe I’m going to go with the card playing side of things, although my suggestion is suitable for video games as well. If you are holding a card party and are trying to figure out what snacks to serve the answer is simple: don’t serve anything that gets the players’ fingers sticky or greasy. Common folklore (much disputed) has it that the sandwich was invented by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. It is said that when playing cards he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, so that he could eat without utensils, and the bread would prevent his fingers from getting sticky. This part may well be true – or, being a busy businessman and diplomat, he may have ordered them while he was working at his desk (as his biographer claims). Certainly he gave his name to the food item, and he played cribbage a lot (for money). But he did not invent the concept of the sandwich. Putting food between slices of bread goes back to antiquity. You can’t imagine that it took until the 18th century for someone to come up with the idea. Nonetheless, sandwiches are good card-playing snacks.

I’ve made a lot of different sandwiches in my time, and I like to be inventive. When I was living in a hostel in China with no kitchen facilities I always had a loaf of bread on hand and made sandwiches from whatever I could find at the local markets. That meant I ate a lot of combinations of spicy pickles, vegetables, and meat between slices of bread. I’m not going to stop you if you think that slapping some ham and cheese between bread is your idea of a sandwich, but it’s not mine. I make them from whatever looks good at the market that day. As a reminder from a recent post, here’s a fig and Gorgonzola sandwich I made last month using local products.

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My aim in making an interesting sandwich is to have a variety of tastes and textures and to make sure that everything is very fresh and locally produced where possible. When I can I like to toast the bread as well – adds color, flavor, and texture. Today I went to the market to see what looked good and came away with some Italian salami, mascarpone, Gorgonzola, and hake. So here’s the result (with stuff I had on hand added). I toasted slices from a granary loaf, and began with a layer of Belgian endive, then salami, then grilled fillet of hake, then mascarpone and Gorgonzola, with fresh arugula (roquette/rocket) on top. Here’s the sandwich in the making, and in the eating position.

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Sep 222016
 

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Today is the September equinox this year (2016). The September equinox (or Southward equinox) is the moment when the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator, heading southward (it’s the earth that is moving – not the sun !!). Due to differences between the calendar year and the tropical year, the September equinox can occur at any time from the 21st to the 24th day of September, so this day counts as a movable feast (sort of). At the equinox, the Sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. As the Southward equinox approaches, the Sun rises and sets less and less to the north, and afterwards, it rises and sets more and more to the south. Technically the equinox is the precise moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator, but for practical purposes we call the day when this occurs the equinox. It is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere and the vernal equinox in the southern.

In the northern hemisphere the autumnal equinox is nowhere near as big of a deal as the vernal equinox is. The northern vernal equinox is associated with Passover, Easter, Spring and all of that. The autumnal equinox is loosely associated with harvest festivals in northern Europe, especially Britain, but these are tied more to the full moon in September (the Harvest Moon) than to the equinox per se. The equinox is merely a convenient way of dating the moon as being in September, and has no other significance.

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Like most British calendar customs, we know about harvest festivals mostly from the 19th century when they were on their last legs. A play by Thomas Nashe, Summer’s Last Will and Testament, (first published in London in 1600 but believed from internal evidence to have been first performed in October 1592 in Croydon) contains a scene which demonstrates features of a harvest festival that were known down to the 19th century. There is a character personifying harvest who comes on stage attended by men dressed as reapers. He refers to himself as their “master” and ends the scene by begging the audience for a “largesse”. The scene is probably inspired by contemporary harvest celebrations, with singing and drinking prominent. The stage instruction reads:

“Enter Haruest with a sythe on his neck, & all his reapers with siccles, and a great black bowle with a posset in it borne before him: they come in singing.”

Harvest celebrations in the 19th century followed pretty much the same course through rural England. Often the last load brought in from the fields was just a token load and the cart was decorated with ribbons and such, with all the reapers on board. They rode into town and then celebrated with a fair amount of beer. The traditional English song John Barleycorn is a common harvest song, here sung by Steeleye Span:

There are hundreds of versions. I know the song well, partly because my essay on its variants and an analysis of its history was what got me into a Ph.D. program in anthropology. The song is a simple allegory about the growing of barley is if it were a man who is buried (sown), resurrected (sprouts), killed (harvested), and then drowned (brewed into beer). I conjectured back when I was a young folklore student, and still believe, that the story was once a Medieval riddle that was made into a broadside ballad and then passed into oral tradition as a song.

The Southward equinox was New Year’s Day in the French Republican Calendar, which was in use from 1793 to 1805. The French First Republic was proclaimed and the French monarchy was abolished on September 21, 1792, making the following day (the equinox day that year) the first day of the Republican Era in France. The start of every year was to be determined by astronomical calculations following the real Sun and not the mean Sun as in the Gregorian Calendar. So if you are inclined towards old French Republicanism – Happy New Year.

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This is Keats’s season:

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

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So you need to be thinking of grapes, apples, pumpkins, honey and so forth. You know the drill. I’ve just baked an apple crumble for starters. The crumble reminds me a little of shortbread which was a favorite in my family for many years. It was one of the few things my wife knew how to cook. It came to the Appalachians via the so-called Scotch-Irish (Irish Protestants) and she called it Scotch bread. To me it’s a good memory of autumns past. Here’s Mrs Beeton for a good, old-fashioned recipe that still works fine:

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SCOTCH SHORTBREAD.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 lbs. of flour, 1 lb. of butter, 1/4 lb. of pounded loaf sugar, 1/2 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 oz. of sweet almonds, a few strips of candied orange-peel.

Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream, gradually dredge in the flour, and add the sugar, caraway seeds, and sweet almonds, which should be blanched and cut into small pieces. Work the paste until it is quite smooth, and divide it into six pieces. Put each cake on a separate piece of paper, roll the paste out square to the thickness of about an inch, and pinch it upon all sides. Prick it well, and ornament with one or two strips of candied orange-peel. Put the cakes into a good oven, and bake them from 25 to 30 minutes.

Time.—25 to 30 minutes.

Average cost, for this quantity, 2s.

Sufficient to make 6 cakes.

Seasonable at any time.

Note.—Where the flavour of the caraway seeds is disliked, omit them, and add rather a larger proportion of candied peel.

You can divide the recipe by 4 and make one large shortbread or follow the proportions in general. You can also omit the peel, caraway, and almonds. Plain is just fine.

Sep 212016
 

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Today is the International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence. To inaugurate the day, the United Nations Peace Bell is rung at UN Headquarters (in New York City). The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents except Africa, and was a gift from the United Nations Association of Japan, as “a reminder of the human cost of war.”  The inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace.”

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The United Nations General Assembly declared, in a resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Costa Rica in 1981, that the International Day of Peace be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace. The date initially chosen was the regular opening day of the annual sessions of the General Assembly, the third Tuesday of September. The United Nations was, of course, founded in the aftermath of World War II to prevent another such conflict. Obviously there has not been another world war, but the body has not been especially effective at preventing smaller wars.

The ineffectiveness of the UN should not come as any surprise, but, nonetheless, we can applaud the ideals. It can be admitted that the UN has been successful in a great many areas through its numerous organs such as WHO and UNESCO. The problem is that world peace is certainly a goal that I am sure the majority would support in principal, but the practice is endlessly elusive. This is because the causes of conflict are seemingly impossible to eradicate. There are many causes, obviously but I would like to focus on two: human temperament and profiteering.

As a professional anthropologist I do not believe in some notion of universal human nature. All cultures are different, and some exist globally and in history, who seek/sought to live peaceably. Conflict is not in our natures; we learn it. In fact, a very good case can be made for the argument that genetically we incline towards cooperation. There’s also a good case to be made for the argument that prehistoric hunters and gatherers were peaceful people. It was the development of domestication and, thereafter, cities, that created the conditions for war.

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What little we can glean from contemporary foragers is that it is in their best interests to share and live at peace. Presumably that was also true in prehistory. Unfortunately prehistoric foragers lived in conditions that no longer exist. The most obvious ones that have vanished are abundant natural resources and low population. Under those conditions, when local groups grew too big to be sustained by local resources they could simply fission and move to new territory without conflict. That state of affairs is long past.

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The Genesis story of Cain and Abel is probably a fair summation in parable form of the state of affairs in Mesopotamia at the time of domestication. Their parents, Adam and Eve, were simple foragers when they lived in the Garden of Eden. They lived off the bounty of the land. But when they were expelled they had to grow their own food by the sweat of their brows. Whether foraging or farming, people need both vegetable and animal products for survival (as a general rule). Foragers can provide both for themselves by dividing up the labor and then sharing their resources. With domestication comes a problem. It’s not as easy to create communities that can both farm crops and raise animals. Both activities benefit from the same kinds of land, but if there is not enough to go around disputes may arise.

In Mesopotamia there was a simple solution to such disputes. Farmers could take the fertile river valleys and pastoralists (animal herders) could take the rugged hill country that was not useful for farming. Of course, the hills are not good for cows and pigs, but they are perfect for sheep and goats. Enter Cain and Abel. Cain raised crops and Abel kept sheep. With this division comes the need for trade: the farmers need meat and the shepherds need bread. One way to accomplish this is through peaceful negotiation. The other is to take what you need forcibly. Pastoralists have historically subscribed to the forcible course of action because they have the means at their disposal to be successful. They slaughter animals routinely, so they can turn the technology of death from animals to humans. In addition, they live in rugged highlands that are easily defended.

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To protect themselves from such attacks, farmers need to build cities with walls and train soldiers for defense. And there you have it. Once communities develop with different interests you have the potential for conflict. Then as now the question is whether you are going to fight over resources or trade in harmony, and, then as now, fighting often seems to be the better option for one reason: profiteering. To put it in a nutshell, people have always gone to war to make a profit. Other factors come into play of course, but at heart someone is making a profit – always.

If it were illegal to make a profit from manufacturing guns and bombs no one would do it. But the fact is that weapons manufacture is hugely profitable. At this point, if weapons manufacture were outlawed national economies would collapse. What is more, if weapons manufacturers ran the risk of dying through the use of their products, they’d run a mile. But that’s not the case. One group of people makes weapons and makes huge profits, and a different group of people uses the weapons and die.  There’s the problem to be solved if you want world peace. As long as we live in a world where we’re content to let a small minority get fat at the expense of others, we’ll always have war.  We need to beat our swords into ploughshares.

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My solution is in some ways simple, yet impossible to put into effect. Put the people who advocate war in the forefront of battle. If you want to make guns, you have to be the first one to put on a uniform and use them. If you want to declare war, you have to be on the front lines. I don’t doubt that conflict would cease instantly under those conditions.

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Eating together is, as I have said many times, one avenue towards peace and harmony. We’ve all had fights over the dinner table, of course, but in general sitting down together for a meal promotes goodwill.  Some of my best times have come when circumstances required me to share a meal with strangers. I’d have no trouble filling a book with stories – passage from Australia to England sitting at tables for 14, a fish camp in the Appalachian mountains where everyone ate at one long table, hostel kitchens worldwide, barbecues in China, potluck suppers . . . the list is endless. Let’s talk about potlucks. Everyone brings a favorite dish and we all share. Perfect for a day dedicated to world peace. In the past my contributions ran the gamut from pies and pasta to creamy desserts. In the end I opted for bringing mounds of raw vegetables of all kinds with a dipping sauce because at every potluck there were oceans of casseroles and pies with not a vegetable in sight. My contributions always vanished in a hurry.

My food suggestion du jour to celebrate the idea of world peace is to hold a potluck or something of the sort to bring people together to eat. My favorite potlucks have been the multicultural ones where you wind up with one pots, curries, pastas and whatnot. So begin by imagining what you could make that would delight an international crowd. I’m spoilt for choice because I’ve lived in so many places and cooked so many different cuisines. Recently on this blog I showcased rice dishes as good for the masses. Here’s one I invented for a New Year’s potluck. It’s a burrito casserole. They all called it lasagna but loved it anyway. I don’t have a formal recipe because I made it up on the spot. You’ll get the idea.

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Start by sautéing an onion, chopped, over medium heat in a little olive oil, and when it has turned translucent add ground beef and brown it. Add a little powdered cumin also, plus salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t add any hot pepper flakes but I would have if it were just for me. When the meat is nicely browned add some crushed canned tomatoes and beef stock to moisten. Simmer for about 40 minutes until the sauce is reduced and thickened.

In a separate skillet make a tomato-based sauce with crushed canned tomatoes, beef stock, and spices. Garlic and cumin are the mainstays, but you can add some others if you wish. Cilantro is a good addition.

When the beef is ready, take out some flour tortillas. Make individual burritos by wrapping the tortillas around the beef to form a roll. Place the burritos in a row in the base of a baking dish. You can make one or two layers as you wish. Don’t make the burritos too fat because you want a balance of tortilla, meat, and sauce (like lasagna). Pour your tomato sauce over the burritos so that they are covered, with a little on top. Cover the top with shredded cheese, and bake in a medium oven (300°F/150°C) until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Sep 202016
 
Clement VII

Clement VII

On this date in 1378 the majority of cardinals elected Robert of Geneva as pope, who then took the name Clement VII. The problem was that earlier that year they had elected Urban VI and he was still very much alive and well. They just didn’t like him very much. This act set in motion what is known now as the Western Schism, not to be confused with the Great Schism of 1054 when the eastern Orthodox split from the western Catholic Church http://www.bookofdaystales.com/east-west-schism/. People these days are dimly aware that the papacy has had a complicated history. They may know, for example, that there have been popes and antipopes, and that many medieval popes had illegitimate children (and no one much cared).  The image of the pope as a saintly, peace-loving minister of the gospel and leader of the church in spiritual matters is a relatively recent phenomenon growing out of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation over time.

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In the Middle Ages the pope was primarily a political (and military) figure. Hence, the election of the pope was more about politics than spirituality. Some might say, without cynicism, that this is still the case. I agree. The election of a Polish pope in the 20th century was a clear attempt to wrestle the papacy from its Italian stranglehold, and since then we’ve had a German and now an Argentino. Everyone knows that this opening of the papacy to ethnicities other than Italian is an attempt to broaden the appeal of a Church that is rapidly losing membership to Protestant churches as well as to atheism or indifference. You only have to live in traditional Catholic countries, as I have in Argentina and Italy, to know that this is obvious. Attendance at Sunday mass can be sparse, and many churches are closing or have to share priests with other churches because of lack of funds. We’ll get an African pope one day, and maybe even a Chinese pope when the time is right. All of this is an attempt to reassert the “catholic” in “Roman Catholic,” and to bolster flagging allegiance around the world.

The word “Catholic” these days is used as a short form of “Roman Catholic” which leads to some confusion. When I was an active pastor, Roman Catholics would sometimes attend my services and afterwards enquire why we said the Apostles’ Creed which says, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church . . .” The lower case “c” in “catholic” is the hint. The word “catholic” means “universal.”  Nowadays Protestants can say these words without flinching too much if they take the road of arguing that under all our differences Christians of all denominations have shared beliefs and values that are fundamental. The term ROMAN Catholic is therefore appropriate for one contemporary branch of Christianity because it is centered in Rome. This was not always the case.

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At one time the Catholic Church truly was universal according to the strict interpretation of the Apostles’ Creed – up to the Great Schism of 1054. Local attempts to break away from the universal church were easily crushed. After the Great Schism things were more unsettled, and the papacy was increasingly politicized. The Western Schism or Papal Schism, which lasted from 1378 to 1417 was a political split within the Roman Catholic Church, when three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope, which was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418).

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After Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope. From 1309 to 1377 the papacy had been located in Avignon where 7 French popes were elected and served under the influence of the French king. Gregory returned the papacy to Rome in 1377 but then died a year later, thus creating a crisis. Was the next pope to be French or Roman?

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Urban VI

On April 8, 1378 the cardinals elected a Neapolitan when no viable Roman candidates were acceptable. Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected and served as Urban VI in Rome. Urban had been a respected administrator in the papal chancery at Avignon, but as pope he proved suspicious, reformist, and prone to violent outbursts of temper. Many of the cardinals who had elected him soon regretted their decision: the majority removed themselves from Rome to Anagni, where, even though Urban was still reigning in Rome, they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20. Robert took the name Clement VII and reestablished a papal court in Avignon. The second election threw the Church into turmoil. There had been antipopes—rival claimants to the papacy—before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions. In this case, a single group of leaders of the Church had created both the pope and the antipope.

The conflicts quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize which fell out as follows:

Avignon: France, Aragon, Castile and León, Cyprus, Burgundy, Savoy, Naples, Scotland and Wales.

Rome: Denmark, England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Ireland (English Dominion), Norway, Portugal, Poland (later Poland-Lithuania), Sweden, Republic of Venice, and other City States of northern Italy.

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Sustained by such national and factional rivalries throughout Catholic Christianity, the schism continued after the deaths of both initial claimants; Boniface IX, crowned at Rome in 1389, and Benedict XIII, who reigned in Avignon from 1394, maintained their rival courts. When Boniface died in 1404, the eight cardinals of the Roman conclave offered to refrain from electing a new pope if Benedict would resign; but when his legates refused on his behalf, the Roman party then proceeded to elect Innocent VII.

Efforts were made to end the Schism through force or diplomacy. The French crown even tried to coerce Benedict XIII, whom it nominally supported, into resigning. None of these remedies worked. The suggestion that a church council should resolve the Schism, first made in 1378, was not adopted at first because canon law required that a pope call a council. Eventually theologians like Pierre d’Ailly and Jean Gerson, as well as canon lawyers like Francesco Zabarella, adopted arguments that equity permitted the Church to act for its own welfare in defiance of the letter of the law.

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Eventually the cardinals of both factions secured an agreement that Benedict and Pope Gregory XII would meet at Savona. They balked at the last moment, and both colleges of cardinals abandoned their popes. A church council was held at Pisa in 1409 under the auspices of the cardinals to try solving the dispute. At the fifteenth session, 5 June 1409, the Council of Pisa deposed the two pontiffs as schismatical, heretical, perjured, and scandalous. But it then added to the problem by electing another incumbent, Alexander V. He reigned briefly from June 26, 1409, to his death in 1410, when he was succeeded by John XXIII, who won some but not universal support.

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Finally, a council was convened by Pisan pope John XXIII in 1414 at Constance to resolve the issue. This was endorsed by Gregory XII, Innocent VII’s successor in Rome, thus ensuring the legitimacy of any election. The council, advised by the theologian Jean Gerson, secured the resignations of John XXIII and Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415, while excommunicating the claimant who refused to step down, Benedict XIII. The Council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, essentially ending the schism. Nonetheless, the Crown of Aragon did not recognize Martin V and continued to recognize Benedict XIII. Archbishops loyal to Benedict XIII subsequently elected Antipope Benedict XIV (Bernard Garnier) and three followers simultaneously elected Antipope Clement VIII, but the Western Schism was by then practically over. Clement VIII resigned in 1429 and apparently recognized Martin V. Thus ended the last period of rival popes. Gregory XII’s resignation (in 1415) was the last time a pope would stand down from papacy before death until the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in early 2013.

The cuisine of Avignon at the time of the Avignon popes was a mix of southern French, Italian, and Spanish influences – markedly different from that of northern France. Sources for the 15th century are not abundant but the general outlines are evident. Escabeche is a dish that has been around a long time and is certainly known throughout the Mediterranean arc from Spain through France to Italy in various guises. At root it is a sweet and sour fish dish. Here’s a recipe for an escabeche of fresh sardines from southern France. You can use whole mackerel if you like instead of the sardines.

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Sardines en Escabèche

Ingredients

12 sardines, scaled and gutted
3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 carrots, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 red chile, minced fine
olive oil
20cl/⅔ cup  wine vinegar
2 lemons
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper

Instructions

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the sardines on each side for about 4 minutes.  Remove them with a spatula and reserve.

Lightly sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaves and minced chili until they are softened but not browned.

Add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer covered for ten minutes.

Spread half of the vegetables on a serving platter, arrange the sardines on the vegetables, and add the rest of the vegetables on top. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 48 hours.

Serve cold with lemon wedges.

 

Sep 192016
 

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Today is the feast of San Gennaro, Neapolitan dialect for Saint Januarius, the patron saint of Naples, a celebration both in Naples and in Little Italy in New York city where many Neapolitan immigrants settled in the early 20th century. It was first celebrated in New York in September 1926 when immigrants from Naples congregated along Mulberry Street to continue the tradition they had followed in Italy. Naples actually has over 50 patrons, but Gennaro is the principal one, where he is the patron of the cathedral.

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Little is known of the life of Januarius, and what gets repeated is mostly derived from later Christian sources, such as the Acta Bononensia (BHL 4132, not earlier than 6th century) and the Acta Vaticana (BHL 4115, 9th century), and from later folk tradition. According to these dubious sources (from no earlier than 300 years after his death), Januarius was born in Benevento to a rich patrician family that traced its descent to the Caudini tribe of the Samnites. At the age of 15, he became local priest of his parish in Benevento, which at the time was relatively pagan. When Januarius was 20, he became Bishop of Naples and befriended Juliana of Nicomedia and Saint Sossius whom he met during his priestly studies. During the infamous persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, he hid his fellow Christians and prevented them from being caught. Unfortunately, while visiting Sossius in jail, he too was arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be thrown to wild bears in the Flavian Amphitheater at Pozzuoli, but the sentence was changed due to fear of public disturbances, and they were instead beheaded at the Solfatara crater near Pozzuoli. Other legends state either that the wild beasts refused to eat them, or that he was thrown into a furnace but came out unscathed.

Saint Januarius is famous for the alleged miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood, which, according to legend, was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint’s death. A chronicle of Naples written in 1382 describes the cult of Saint Januarius in detail, but mentions neither the relic nor the miracle. The first certain date is 1389, when it was found to have melted. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year. While the report of the very first incidence of liquefaction did not make any explicit reference to the skull of the saint, soon afterwards assertions began to appear that this relic was activating the melting process, as if the blood, recognizing a part of the body to which it belonged, “were impatient while waiting for its resurrection.” This explanation was definitively abandoned only in the 18th century.

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Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19, on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics). The blood is also said to spontaneously liquefy at certain other times, such as papal visits. It liquefied in the presence of Pope Pius IX in 1848, but not that of John Paul II in 1979 or Benedict XVI in 2007. On March 21, 2015, Pope Francis venerated the dried blood during a visit to Naples Cathedral, saying the Lord’s Prayer over it and kissing it. Archbishop Sepe then declared that “The blood has half liquefied, which shows that Saint Januarius loves our pope and Naples.” Francis replied, “The bishop just announced that the blood half liquefied. We can see the saint only half loves us. We must all spread the Word, so that he loves us more!”

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The blood is stored in two hermetically sealed small ampoules, held since the 17th century in a silver reliquary between two round glass plates about 12 cm wide. The smaller ampoule (of cylindrical shape) contains only a few reddish spots on its walls, the bulk having allegedly been removed and taken to Spain by Charles III. The larger ampoule, with capacity of about 60 ml and almond-shaped, is about 60% filled with a dark reddish substance. Separate reliquaries hold bone fragments believed to belong to Saint Januarius. For most of the time, the ampoules are kept in a bank vault, whose keys are held by a commission of local notables, including the Mayor of Naples; while the bones are kept in a crypt under the main altar of Naples Cathedral. On feast days, all these relics are taken in procession from the cathedral to the Monastery of Santa Chiara, where the archbishop holds the reliquary up and tilts it to show that the contents are solid, and places it on the high altar next to the saint’s other relics. After intense prayers by the faithful, including the so-called “relatives of Saint Januarius” (parenti di San Gennaro), the content of the larger vial typically liquefies. The archbishop then holds up the vial and tilts it again to demonstrate that liquefaction has taken place. The announcement of the liquefaction is greeted with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. The ampoules remain exposed on the altar for eight days, while the priests move or turn them periodically to show that the contents remain liquid.

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At the 19th September mass in Naples the cathedral is typically packed to overflowing. The Cardinal presides and after mass takes out the reliquary from a side altar. He then moves to the front of the church whilst the congregation waves white handkerchiefs. He walks with the liquefied blood down the middle aisle for all to see. He continues his procession outside and announces to the city that the liquefaction has occurred, then he returns the blood to the altar. The reliquary is left there for the next eight days.

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After mass the streets of Naples are closed off for religious processions and there is a general carnival atmosphere throughout the city with vendors everywhere. It is no wonder that Neapolitan immigrants to New York continued the tradition – minus the blood, of course. There is a mass and a procession of the saint, with bystanders pinning money to ribbons trailing from the saint’s bier. All the streets of Little Italy are closed, and mobbed by visitors and stalls. It’s not particularly Neapolitan any more – more of an Italian-American celebration in general. I went one year eons ago. That was before I lost my taste for giant crowds.

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For a recipe I’m stuck with several quandaries. I have my usual one which is to say, if you want authentic Neapolitan food, go to Naples. But then there’s also the question of whether to highlight Naples or New York. Festival street food in New York tends towards the generic end of the Italian-American spectrum, which is to say products based on Sicilian cuisine.

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The main thing I’ve learned about Italian cooking since living here is that specialties are highly localized – often centered on a single town. There’s a sort of overarching sense that pasta and pizza are universal, but scratch the surface and you find that this is an overgeneralization, mostly perpetuated by foreigners. For example, where I live in the north, pasta is normal at every meal, but you’ll rarely find it sauced with anything involving tomatoes. That’s southern style. Likewise pizzas come in all different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, toppings, etc, with each region claiming that theirs is the best. You’ll find my modest rant on pizza – especially Neapolitan pizza – here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/pizza/ Talking about styles of pasta and their sauces would fill volumes.

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There’s a host of great street food in Naples for festivals which is much more to my taste than a sausage and meatball sub or some cannoli found in New York street booths. Give me frittatine any day, or pizzette fritte. Fried rice balls might fit the bill. A common type, usually called arancini, are said to have originated in 10th-century Sicily at a time when the island was under Arab rule. The most common type of arancino sold in Sicilian cafés are arancini con ragù, which typically consist of rice stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Many cafés also offer arancini con burro (with butter or béchamel sauce) or specialty arancini, such as arancini con funghi (mushrooms), con pistacchi (pistachios), or con melanzane (aubergine). In Roman cuisine, supplì are similar but are commonly filled with cheese. In Naples, rice balls are called pall’e riso or palle di riso. They are not like the Sicilian arancini, although they may be called arancini. Neapolitan rice balls typically do not have a filling but are simply mixtures of rice, eggs, and Parmigiano cheese. However they are stuffed or mixed, arancini are coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

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For Neapolitan rice balls use the ratio of 1 egg to 1 ¼ cups of uncooked Arborio rice to ⅓ cup  grated Parmigiano.  Cook the rice until tender, drain, and let cool to room temperature. Beat the egg(s) and mix together with the rice and cheese. Form into small balls and roll them in breadcrumbs so that they are completely coated. Place on baking trays and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Some cooks shallow fry the rice balls, but I prefer deep frying. Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 350°F/175°C. Fry the rice balls in small batches so that they are golden all over. Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

Sep 182016
 

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On this date in 96 CE, the Roman emperor Domitian was assassinated in a palace conspiracy involving members of the Praetorian Guard and several of his freedmen, and on the same day, Nerva was declared emperor by the Roman Senate. This was the first time the Senate had elected a Roman Emperor. Nerva is not exactly a household name, like Caesar or Nero, but he played an important role as emperor for a little over a year, even though he was a generally ineffective ruler. If he had been a Christian he would now be the patron saint of stop-gaps. He kept the seat warm between Domitian who was, among other things the scourge of Christians, but also a vile and cruel dictator, and Trajan who greatly expanded the empire and ushered in a long period of peace and prosperity.

Marcus Cocceius Nerva was born in the village of Narni, 50 km north of Rome, to the family of Marcus Cocceius Nerva, Suffect Consul in 40, and Sergia Plautilla. Ancient sources report the date as either 30 or 35. He had at least one sister, named Cocceia, who married Lucius Salvius Titianus Otho, the brother of the future Emperor Otho.

Like Vespasian, the founder of the Flavian dynasty, Nerva was a member of the Italian nobility rather than one of the elite of Rome. Nevertheless, the Cocceii were among the most esteemed and prominent political families of the late Republic and early Empire, attaining consulships in each successive generation. The direct ancestors of Nerva on his father’s side, all named Marcus Cocceius Nerva, had been associated with imperial circles since the time of Emperor Augustus.

His great-grandfather was Consul in 36 BCE, and Governor of Asia in the same year. His grandfather became Consul Suffect in July of either 21 or 22, and was known as a personal friend of emperor Tiberius, accompanying the emperor during his voluntary seclusion on Capri from 23 onwards, dying in 33. Nerva’s father attained the consulship in 40 under emperor Caligula. The Cocceii were connected with the Julio-Claudian dynasty through the marriage of Sergia Plautilla’s brother Octavius Laenas, and Rubellia Bassa, the great-granddaughter of Tiberius.

Not much of Nerva’s early life or career is recorded, but it appears he did not pursue the usual administrative or military career. He was praetor-elect in the year 65 and, like his ancestors, moved in imperial circles as a skilled diplomat and strategist. As an advisor to Emperor Nero, he successfully helped detect and expose the Pisonian conspiracy of 65. His exact contribution to the investigation is not known, but his services must have been considerable, since they earned him rewards equal to those of Nero’s guard prefect Tigellinus. He received triumphal honors — which was usually reserved for military victories — and the right to have his statues placed throughout the palace.

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According to the contemporary poet Martial, Nero also held Nerva’s literary abilities in high esteem, hailing him as the “Tibullus of our time.” In hindsight we’d probably call this damning with faint praise. The suicide of Nero on 9 June 68 brought the Julio-Claudian dynasty to an end, leading to the chaotic Year of the Four Emperors, which saw the successive rise and fall of the emperors Galba, Otho and Vitellius, until the accession of Vespasian on 21 December 69. Virtually nothing is known of Nerva’s whereabouts during 69, but despite the fact that Otho was his brother-in-law, he appears to have been one of the earliest and strongest supporters of the Flavians.

For services unknown, he was rewarded with a consulship early in Vespasian’s reign in 71. This was a remarkable honor, not only because he held this office early under the new regime, but also because it was an ordinary consulship (instead of a less prestigious suffect consulship), making him one of the few non-Flavians to be honored in this way under Vespasian. After 71 Nerva again disappears from historical record, presumably continuing his career as an inconspicuous advisor under Vespasian (69–79) and his sons Titus (79–81) and Domitian (81–96).

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Nerva re-emerges in histories during the revolt of Saturninus in 89. On 1 January, 89, the governor of Germania Superior, Lucius Antonius Saturninus, and his two legions at Mainz, Legio XIV Gemina and Legio XXI Rapax, revolted against the Roman Empire with the aid of members of the Chatti. Domitian opened the year following the revolt by sharing the consulship with Nerva. Again, the honor suggested Nerva had played a part in uncovering the conspiracy, perhaps in a fashion similar to what he did during the Pisonian conspiracy under Nero. Alternatively, Domitian may have selected Nerva as his colleague to emphasize the stability and status-quo of the regime. The revolt had been suppressed, and the Empire could return to order.

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On 18 September, 96, Domitian was assassinated in a palace conspiracy organized by court officials. The Fasti Ostienses, the Ostian Calendar, records that the same day the Senate proclaimed Nerva emperor. Despite his political experience, this was a strange choice. Nerva was old and childless, and had spent much of his career out of the public light, prompting both ancient and modern authors to speculate on his involvement in Domitian’s assassination.

According to Cassius Dio, the conspirators approached Nerva as a potential successor prior to the assassination, which indicates that he was at least aware of the plot. Suetonius by contrast does not mention Nerva, but he may have omitted his role out of tactfulness. Considering the works of Suetonius were published under Nerva’s direct  successors, Trajan and Hadrian, it would have been less than politic of him to suggest the dynasty owed its accession to murder. On the other hand, Nerva lacked widespread support in the Empire, and as a known Flavian loyalist his track record would not have recommended him to the conspirators. The precise facts have been obscured by history, but modern historians believe Nerva was proclaimed Emperor solely on the initiative of the Senate, within hours after the news of the assassination broke. My reading, based on these limited sources, is that he was deliberately chosen as emperor  precisely because he was an ineffective leader (which he demonstrated admirably, albeit briefly) who could be manipulated by the Senate. He was also considered a safe choice because he was old, in poor health, and childless (precedent for later choices of a number of popes). Furthermore, he had close connexions with the Flavian dynasty and commanded the respect of a substantial part of the Senate. Nerva had seen the anarchy which had resulted from the death of Nero. He knew that to hesitate even for a few hours could lead to violent civil conflict. Rather than decline the invitation and risk revolts, he accepted.

Following the accession of Nerva as emperor, the Senate passed damnatio memoriae on Domitian: his coins and statues were melted, his arches were torn down and his name was erased from all public records. In many instances, existing portraits of Domitian, such as those found on the Cancelleria Reliefs, were simply recarved to fit the likeness of Nerva. This allowed quick production of new images and recycling of previous material. In addition, the vast palace which Domitian had erected on the Palatine Hill, known as the Flavian Palace, was renamed the “House of the People”, and Nerva himself took up residence in Vespasian’s former villa in the Gardens of Sallust.

The change of government was welcome particularly to the senators, who had been harshly persecuted during Domitian’s reign. As an immediate gesture of goodwill towards his supporters, Nerva publicly swore that no senators would be put to death as long as he remained in office. He called an end to trials based on treason, released those who had been imprisoned under these charges, and granted amnesty to many who had been exiled. So far, so good.

All properties which had been confiscated by Domitian were returned to their respective families.[22] Nerva also sought to involve the Senate in his government, but this was not entirely successful. He continued to rely largely on friends and advisors that were known and trusted, and by maintaining friendly relations with the pro-Domitian faction of the Senate, he incurred hostility which may have been the cause for at least one conspiracy against his life.

Having been proclaimed emperor solely on the initiative of the Senate, Nerva had to introduce a number of measures to gain support among the Roman populace. As was custom by this time, a change of emperor was expected to bring with it a generous payment of gifts and money to the people and the army. Accordingly, a congiarium of 75 denarii per head was bestowed upon the citizens, while the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard received a donativum which may have amounted to as much as 5000 denarii per person. This was followed by a string of economic reforms intended to alleviate the burden of taxation from the most needy Romans.

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To the poorest, Nerva granted allotments of land worth up to 60 million sesterces. He exempted parents and their children from a 5% inheritance tax, and he made loans to Italian landowners on the condition that they pay interest of 5% to their municipality to support the children of needy families; alimentary schemes which were later expanded by Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Furthermore, numerous taxes were remitted and privileges granted to Roman provinces. Namely, he probably abolished the Fiscus Iudaicus, the additional tax which all Jews throughout the Empire had to pay: some of his coins bear the legend FISCI IUDAICI CALUMNIA SUBLATA (abolition of malicious prosecution regarding the Jewish tax).

Before long, Nerva’s expenses strained the economy of Rome and necessitated the formation of a special commission of economy to drastically reduce expenditures. The most superfluous religious sacrifices, games and horse races were abolished, while new income was generated from Domitian’s former possessions, including the auctioning of ships, estates, and even furniture. Large sums were obtained from Domitian’s silver and gold statues, and Nerva forbade the production of similar images in his honor.

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Because he reigned only briefly, Nerva’s public works were few, instead completing projects which had been initiated under Flavian rule. This included extensive repairs to the Roman road system and the expansion of the aqueducts. The latter program was headed by the former consul Sextus Julius Frontinus, who helped to put an end to abuses and later published a significant work on Rome’s water supply, De Aquis Urbis Romae. The only major landmarks constructed under Nerva were a granary, known as the Horrea Nervae, and a small Imperial Forum begun by Domitian, which linked the Forum of Augustus to the Temple of Peace. Little remains, partly because the Via dei Fori Imperiali cuts across it.

Despite Nerva’s measures to remain popular with the Senate and the Roman people, support for Domitian remained strong in the army, which had called for his deification immediately after the assassination. In an attempt to appease the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva had dismissed their prefect Titus Petronius Secundus—one of the chief conspirators against Domitian—and replaced him with a former commander, Casperius Aelianus.

Likewise, the generous donativum bestowed upon the soldiers following his accession was expected to swiftly silence any protests against the violent regime change. The Praetorians considered these measures insufficient, however, and demanded the execution of Domitian’s assassins, which Nerva refused. Continued dissatisfaction with this state of affairs would ultimately lead to the gravest crisis of Nerva’s reign.

While the swift transfer of power following Domitian’s death had prevented a civil war from erupting, Nerva’s position as an emperor soon proved too vulnerable, and his benign nature turned into a reluctance to assert his authority. Upon his accession, he had ordered a halt to treason trials, but at the same time allowed the prosecution of informers by the Senate to continue. This measure led to chaos, as everyone acted in his own interests while trying to settle scores with personal enemies, leading the consul Fronto to famously remark that Domitian’s tyranny was ultimately preferable to Nerva’s anarchy. Early in 97, a conspiracy led by the senator Gaius Calpurnius Piso Crassus Frugi Licinianus failed, but once again Nerva refused to put the conspirators to death, much to the disapproval of the Senate.

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The situation was further aggravated by the absence of a clear successor, made more pressing because of Nerva’s old age and sickness. He had no natural children of his own and only distant relatives, who were unsuited for political office. A successor would have to be chosen from among the governors or generals in the Empire and it appears that, by 97, Nerva was considering adopting Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus Curiatius Maternus, the powerful governor of Syria. This was covertly opposed by those who supported the more popular military commander Marcus Ulpius Traianus, commonly known as Trajan, who at the time was a popular general of the armies at the German frontier.

In October 97 these tensions came to a head when the Praetorian Guard, led by Casperius Aelianus, laid siege to the Imperial Palace and took Nerva hostage. He was forced to submit to their demands, agreeing to hand over those responsible for Domitian’s death and even giving a speech thanking the rebellious Praetorians. Titus Petronius Secundus and Parthenius, Domitian’s former chamberlain, were sought out and killed. Nerva was unharmed in this assault, but his authority was damaged beyond repair.

He realized that his position was no longer tenable without the support of an heir who had the approval of both the army and the people. Shortly thereafter, he announced the adoption of Trajan as his successor, and with this decision all but abdicated. Trajan was formally bestowed with the title of Caesar and shared the consulship with Nerva in 98. Cassius Dio wrote:

Thus Trajan became Caesar and later emperor, although there were relatives of Nerva living. But Nerva did not esteem family relationship above the safety of the State, nor was he less inclined to adopt Trajan because the latter was a Spaniard instead of an Italian or Italot, inasmuch as no foreigner had previously held the Roman sovereignty; for he believed in looking at a man’s ability rather than at his nationality.

Actually, Nerva had little choice in the matter, and later historians give him too much credit. Faced with a major crisis, he desperately needed the support of a man who could restore his damaged reputation, and the Praetorian Guard made their choice obvious. The only candidate with sufficient military experience, consular ancestry, and connexions was Trajan.

On 1 January, 98, at the start of his fourth consulship, Nerva suffered a stroke during a private audience. Shortly thereafter he was struck by a fever and died at his villa in the Gardens of Sallust, on 28 January. He was deified by the Senate, and his ashes were laid to rest in the Mausoleum of Augustus. Nerva was succeeded without incident by his adopted son Trajan, who was greeted by the Roman populace with enthusiasm.

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I celebrate Nerva today, not because he was a great man (in any respect), nor because he did anything notable. By the standards of his own time he was weak and indecisive. For most of his life he was a bog standard jack in office who got by without attracting attention, and then got thrust into the limelight precisely because of those qualities. The people were tired of Domitian’s tyranny and needed someone banal and controllable to keep the seat warm until a new emperor could be installed. Leaving the throne empty for even a few hours could have precipitated civil war. So Nerva got the short straw. Today let’s celebrate nobodies who end up as celebrities without either the desire or the talent for it.

I’ve combed ancient Roman recipes quite a bit in past posts and could do the same here. But I thought I’d deviate a little from that path. Contemporary Italian cooking does, in many respects, resemble the cooking of ancient Rome, although there are some obvious changes, such as the addition of tomatoes, zucchini, and beans from the Americas. But underneath these changes, some dishes have not changed all that much as best as we can tell. One such dish is testaroli.

A form of testaroli is attested in Etruscan times in northern Italy in the region formerly called Lunigiana, between Tuscany and Liguria, and is still a regional specialty. Whether what is served now bears much resemblance to the Etruscan dish is impossible to say. But ancient descriptions suggest a connexion. Here’s the question: Is it pasta, a crepe, or bread? It’s not really any of these things exactly. It’s not conventional pasta because it is baked before being boiled. But being boiled means that it is not a crepe or bread either. Wheat flour that is made into a paste, hardened, then boiled, sure sounds like pasta – and gives the lie to the idea that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China. But it’s not conventional pasta. The initial baking gives testaroli a unique taste.

Testaroli’s name comes from the testo, a terra cotta or cast iron cooking device with a hot, flat surface that testaroli is traditionally cooked on first. Making testaroli involves two steps (usually). First it is baked on a hot surface, then cut into pieces and boiled.

Here’s my recipe in photos (this morning’s breakfast).

Make a thin batter from flour and water with a little salt. It should be the consistency of heavy cream so that it will pour easily.

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Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. You can use a dry surface if you wish.

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Pour in enough flour batter to cover the bottom evenly — the same thickness as a crepe.

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When the bottom has cooked and browned, flip the pancake.

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Repeat as needed. Keep the pancakes distinct, do not stack them. Let them dry for a few hours, then cut them into small pieces on the diagonal.

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Heat a pot of salted water to boiling.

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Turn off the heat and plunge in the testaroli.

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When they have heated through fully, remove the testaroli and serve hot with olive oil, basil leaves, and grated cheese. Nowadays, a pesto sauce is also very common.

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Sep 172016
 

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On this date in 1716 Jean Thurel, or Jean Theurel (6 September 1698 – 10 March 1807) enlisted as a fusilier in the French Army (Touraine Regiment) at the age of 18. He remained on active duty for 75 years, refusing all promotions, and died at the age of 108, still registered as a soldier in the army. Technically, therefore, he was a soldier for 90 years. Longtime readers of this blog know that I am averse to writing about war and soldiery, but I’ll make an exception for Thurel because of his extraordinary life. He was born in the reign of Louis XIV and died when Napoleon I was emperor; Thurel lived in three different centuries, experiencing extraordinary changes in France and Europe.

Thurel was born in Orain, Burgundy in 1698. As a soldier Thurel was severely wounded in battle on two occasions. In 1733, during the siege of Kehl, he was shot in the chest with a musket, and at the battle of Minden in 1759, he received seven sword slashes, including six to the head. Three of his brothers were killed in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. One of Thurel’s sons was a corporal and a veteran in the same company. He died at the Battle of the Saintes, a naval battle that was fought off the coast of Dominica, West Indies during the American Revolutionary War, on 12 April 1782. Thurel was a survivor!

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Thurel was a notably well-disciplined infantry soldier of the line infantry and was admonished only once during his entire career. During the 1747 Siege of Bergen as the French troops occupied the citadel he was disciplined because, the doors of the fortress were locked, so he had to scale its walls to get in so that he would not miss muster. Another example of Thurel’s discipline and physical fitness occurred in 1787. When his regiment was ordered to march to the coast to embark on ships of the French Navy he was given the opportunity to travel in a carriage due to his advanced age – he was 88 at the time. Thurel refused the offer and marched the entire distance on foot, saying that he had never before traveled by carriage and had no intention of doing so at that time. His humility is evident in his steadfast refusal to accept any promotions. He remained a common fusilier for his entire military career.

In hopes of improving re-enlistment rates, Louis XV established the Médaillon Des Deux Épées (Medal of the Two Swords) by a royal decree in 1771. This was the first military decoration in France for which an enlisted man could be eligible. This medal was initially awarded to soldiers who had served in the French Army, as a reward for their longevity of service. The decree was extended in 1774 so that sailors of the French Navy were also eligible to receive the medal. A soldier or sailor would have to serve for 24 years to be eligible for the Médaillon Des Deux Épées. Thurel was awarded two Médaillon Des Deux Épées in 1771, the year the medal was established, in recognition of the two 24-year periods of time (1716–1740 and 1740–1764) he had served up until then.

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On 8 November 1787, Thurel was presented to the royal court at the Palace of Versailles. The 33-year-old king of France, Louis XVI, addressed the 88-year-old Army private in a respectful manner as “père” (“father”), and asked whether Thurel would prefer to be awarded the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis (Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis) or a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées medal, in recognition of the period from 1764–1788. This was a highly unusual request—not only because enlisted men and non-commissioned officers were not normally eligible to receive the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis, which was reserved for commissioned officers of the Army or the Navy—but also because Thurel still had four more months of military service to complete before being eligible for a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées medal. Thurel opted to receive a third Médaillon Des Deux Épées, on the condition that the king himself attach the medal to his uniform. Louis agreed. The Comte d’Artois offered Thurel his sword, and the ladies of the court put a carriage at his disposal during his stay in the Paris area. The king also granted Thurel an annual pension of 300 livres. Very few men ever completed the 48 years of military service required to receive a second medal. Thurel was the only one to have received it three times. In 1788 the officers of his regiment jointly paid for a portrait of Thurel to be painted by Antoine Vestier (lead image).

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On 26 October 1804, at the age of 106, Thurel became one of the first recipients of the newly established Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor), the highest decoration in France. Napoleon also rewarded him with a pension of 1,200 francs. He was later appointed as the “oldest soldier of Europe.” He remained healthy in body and spirit throughout his remarkably long life. He died in Tours on 10 March 1807, at the age of 108, after a brief illness.

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In researching Thurel’s life I came across a brief discussion about his date of birth. Was he actually born in 1699 and not 1698? Apparently a baptismal record was discovered at some point listing 1699 as his date of birth, but some people believe that this is a forgery. I’d file this under “who cares?”  I’m sometimes given to wonder about the sanity of people who get all bent out of shape by insisting that he was 107, not 108, when he died. Our whole view of French history is hardly going to crumble because of this. Either way he lived a remarkable life.

Inasmuch as one can know anything about people of past centuries I’d have to say that I’d likely have found Thurel a bit hard to stomach in large doses if I’d ever met him. On the one hand, his dedication to service is admirable. I take my hat off to anyone who devotes his entire life, with energy and passion, to a single pursuit. On the other hand, Thurel reminds me of old men and women that I have met over the years who have an unwavering devotion to a fixed concept of duty that won’t bend under any circumstances. It’s not the devotion itself that I have any quarrel with, it’s the underlying inflexibility of mind that often goes with it that can be a tad annoying.

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Given that Thurel was on active duty for 75 years, he would have had one main meal per day throughout the 18th century, as was the custom for rich and poor. That works out to over 27,000 meals. I would imagine that an awful lot of them were the same, and I don’t imagine that Thurel was a gourmet nor used to fine dining. So let’s start with the basics. Standing armies did not develop much in Europe until the 18th century. Before that, militias were raised as needed. With the development of standing armies, budgets and rations had to be codified. They were more or less the same for France and Britain, for navies as well as armies. That is, in theory, each soldier (or sailor) was assigned something like 1 lb salt beef, 1 lb bread, and 1 pint legumes or rice. Whether they actually got this is another matter. Of course, individual circumstances would have varied enormously. Campaigning soldiers could ransack farms and farmhouses for provisions (and did), and when at home were encouraged to raise chickens and livestock, and tend gardens (usually turnips, carrots, and cabbage). What soldiers actually ate routinely would depend on both what was available and the abilities of the camp cooks. My surmise is that Thurel ate a lot of boiled beef and beans with bread. The common habit on campaign was for soldiers to eat in “messes” of 5 to 6 men, that is, the occupants of a single tent. Each mess would build a fire and cook their meals using an issued pot and kettle. The quality of cooking is anyone’s guess. Bread was supplied by local bakers or they ate hard tack.

I’ve covered military (naval) recipes, including salt beef, dried peas, and hard tack, in the past quite fully. You can search for them easily enough.   Whilst I can’t imagine that Thurel ate omelets terribly often, he must have had them once in a while. So I’ll stretch things a bit by giving an 18th century omelet recipe from Les Soupers de la Cour, Menon (1755). I gave his recipe for Omelette à la Gendarme (Military Omelette) here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/thomas-paine/ . This name does not imply that the omelet was made for the military, but that it looks like soldiers on guard (sort of). Close enough.

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What intrigues me about this new recipe, omelette au jambon (ham omelet), is that it calls for “coulis” with ham as a sauce for the omelet. A coulis (the term used also in English by chefs) is a form of thick sauce made from puréed and strained vegetables or fruits. In this case the recipe specifies that the coulis be very sweet:

Mettez dans des oeufs une petite cuillerée coulis avec du jambon cuit haché; battez & faites l’omelette; dressez sur le plat; servez dessus une sauce faites avec coulis bien doux & jambon haché.

Roughly translated: Put a small spoonful of coulis with chopped ham into some eggs. Beat (the eggs), and make an omelet. Put it on a plate. Serve with a sauce of sweet coulis and chopped ham.

Your only issue is going to be how to make the coulis (I’m assuming you know how to cook an omelet). Well, technically that’s not a problem. Blend some fruit to a fine purée.  The question is what fruit to use. First off, I’d say that you need to add some stock to the coulis to give it more character whatever fruit you use. Beef stock would be all right, but ham stock or broth would be better. Still, if you are going to be true to this recipe it needs to be a sweet coulis. That means using a properly sweet, ripe fruit. Pineapple would serve, but would not be very 18th century. Plums would fit the bill better. But it’s your choice.

Sep 162016
 

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The Xerox 914 was the first successful commercial plain paper copier which in 1959 revolutionized the document-copying industry. The copier was introduced to the public on this date in 1959, in a demonstration at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York, shown on live television. Not only did the 914 revolutionize copying, it also made the fortune of the Xerox corporation that had been struggling up to that point. For decades “Xerox” was synonymous with “photocopy” (to the chagrin of competitors), just as “Kleenex” was synonymous with “paper handkerchief” for a long time.

Xerography or electrophotography had been around for some time, as had been the original Xerox corporation. Xerox was founded in 1906 in Rochester, New York, as The Haloid Photographic Company, which originally manufactured photographic paper and equipment. The basic principal of xerography was proposed in the 1920s by Hungarian physicist and engineer Pál Selényi who published a number of papers on the theory of transmitting and printing facsimiles of printed images using a beam of charged ions directed on to a rotating drum of insulating material. The ions would create an electrostatic charge on the drum. A fine powder could then be dusted upon the drum and the powder would stick to the parts of the drum that were charged. Theory and practice are not the same.

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Chester Carlson was the man who turned the theory into practice. There is no question that Carlson was an inspired loony (my favorite kind of person). He wrote:

I had a fascination with the graphic arts from childhood. One of the first things I wanted was a typewriter—even when I was in grammar school. Then, when I was in high school I liked chemistry and I got the idea of publishing a little magazine for amateur chemists. I also worked for a printer in my spare time and he sold me an old printing press which he had discarded. I paid for it by working for him. Then I started out to set my own type and print this little paper. I don’t think I printed more than two issues, and they weren’t much. However, this experience did impress me with the difficulty of getting words into hard copy and this, in turn, started me thinking about duplicating processes. I started a little inventor’s notebook and I would jot down ideas from time to time.

The need for a quick, satisfactory copying machine that could be used right in the office seemed very apparent to me—there seemed such a crying need for it—such a desirable thing if it could be obtained. So I set out to think of how one could be made.

Carlson bounced around a lot, but in the late 1920s wound up in the patent department of Bell Labs working for their patent attorney. The need for a quick and efficient method of making copies was obvious. Secretaries either used carbon paper or mimeograph machines. In both cases You had to retype your original before you could make copies. Wouldn’t it be grand if you could just stick your original in a machine and have it spit out copies?

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Carlson was fired from Bell in 1933 for running an illegal business outside of office hours. After that he started at law school but spent spare time at New York Public Library’s science and technology department. It was there that he was inspired by a brief article, written by Pál Selényi in an obscure German scientific journal, that showed him a way to construct a copier. Carlson’s early experiments, conducted in his apartment kitchen, were smoky, smelly, and occasionally explosive. In one set of experiments, he was melting pure crystalline sulfur (a photoconductor) on to a plate of zinc by moving it gently over the flame of his kitchen stove. This resulted in a sulfur fire, filling the building with the smell of rotten eggs (sulfur dioxide). This was not the only kitchen fire. By the autumn of 1938, Carlson’s wife had convinced him that his experiments needed to be conducted elsewhere. He rented a room on the second floor of a house owned by his mother-in-law at 32-05 37th Street in Astoria, Queens. He hired an assistant, Otto Kornei, an out-of-work Austrian physicist.

Carlson knew that several major corporations were researching ways of copying paper. The Haloid Company (Xerox) had the Photostat, which it licensed to Eastman Kodak, the photography giant. However, these companies were researching along photographic lines, and their solutions required special chemicals and papers. The Photostat, for instance, was essentially a photograph of the document being copied.

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Eventually Carlson applied for and was awarded U.S. Patent 2,297,691 on October 6, 1942. The technique was originally called electrophotography. It was later renamed xerography—from the Greek roots ξηρός xeros, “dry” and -γραφία -graphia, “writing”—to emphasize that, unlike reproduction techniques then in use such as cyanotype, this process used no liquid chemicals. Here’s his first successful photocopy:

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Carlson’s original process was cumbersome, requiring several manual processing steps with flat plates. It was almost 18 years before a fully automated process was developed, the key breakthrough being use of a cylindrical drum coated with selenium instead of a flat plate. Carlson entered into a research agreement with the Battelle Memorial Institute in 1944, when he and Kornei produced the first operable copy machine. He sold his rights in 1947 to the Haloid Company.

Haloid introduced the first commercial xerographic copier, the Xerox Model A, in 1949. The company had, the previous year, announced the refined development of xerography in collaboration with Battelle Their machine was generally known as the Ox Box. An improved version, Camera #1, was introduced in 1950. Haloid was renamed Haloid Xerox in 1958, and, in 1959 the 914 was introduced and became an instant success. The 914 was hailed as the critical breakthrough because it was relatively affordable and easy to use. Thus it caught on in offices throughout the world, launching Xerox as a major profitable company, having been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for decades.

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The 914 was so named because it could copy originals up to 9 inches by 14 inches (229 mm × 356 mm), and was capable of making 100,000 copies per month (seven copies per minute). The 914 was very useful, but not without its problems. For one thing the machine was mechanically complex. It required a large technical support force because it broke down all the time. Therefore, it was not practical for small offices, including those in schools, churches, and so forth. As a new school teacher in 1973 I was used mimeograph machines for large numbers of copies, and continued using them (and wet chemical copiers) into the late 1970s.

The 914 also had a tendency to catch fire when overheated (Ralph Nader claimed that a model in his office had caught fire three times in a four-month period). Because of the problem, the Xerox company provided a “scorch eliminator,” which was actually a small fire extinguisher, along with the copier. I once amused the office at my university when I was doing a large batch of copies on a 914, and one copy came out of the machine in flames. Despite its problems, the machine was regarded with affection by its technical staff, due to it being complex enough to be interesting to use, but without being so complex as to be beyond understanding. Regular office staff were usually not so forgiving. The pricing structure of the machine was designed to encourage customers to rent rather than buy – it could be rented in 1965 for $25 a month, but would cost $27,500 to buy. The 914 was a significant component of Xerox’s revenues in the mid-1960s, with one author estimating that the machine accounted for two thirds of the company’s revenue in 1965, with income generated of $243M.  The machine was produced between 1960 and 1977.

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With the growth of the company due to sales of the 914, Xerox labs was greatly expanded and was responsible for producing a raft of technologies, all of which it sold off to others, especially in the field of computing. Xerox invented many design elements to make personal computing more user friendly such as the Graphic User Interface, the desktop, and the mouse, which it sold to Apple, which, in turn, became a giant in the field – eventually emulated by Microsoft. Xerox also invented the prototype of the fax machine (two copiers connected by telephone lines), and the Ethernet. It was not that the business directors at Xerox failed to see the commercial potential of these products, rather that the company was not interested in diversifying into computing at that stage.

Xerox has production facilities in many locations, including its major factory in Rochester, New York, where the old Haloid Company was founded. But its world headquarters are located in Norwalk, Connecticut. Norwalk is not exactly a foodie paradise, but on the weekend after Labor Day it holds a major oyster festival. To honor Xerox and the inflammable 914, therefore, I thought I’d give you grilled oysters.

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To be honest, I’ll take a dozen (or two dozen) oysters on the half shell just about any day of the week before I’ll eat them cooked, but I’ve had them grilled in New Orleans and they made a change. The secret is to have a good smoky fire and a tight cover so that they smoke as they cook. You’ll also need to decide what seasonings you want to add.  There are abundant choices. Here’s the steps:

  1. Prepare your seasonings ahead of time. Herb butter is common. Pulse together in your food processor, cold salted butter, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice. For an Asian taste use hoisin sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, ricewine, and dark soy sauce. (This is my favorite). You can prepare your seasonings a day ahead.
  2. Prepare hot coals in your grill, and make them smoke with dampened wood placed on top once they are well hot and glowing.
  3. Scrub your oysters well, making sure they are tightly closed, or close when tapped. Remove any beards and loose material. Keep them in a bucket of cold salted water by the grill until it is ready.
  4. Place the oysters, curved side down on the grill and cover tightly.
  5. After a minute or two check under the cover. The oysters will start to open. As they do, using heavy, fire-proof gloves, take the oysters off the grill and remove the top shell. Add a spoonful of seasoning to each oyster, put them back on the grill and cover. Let them grill for another 2 minutes or so. You don’t want them overcooked because they will get tough. You just want the juices and seasonings to be bubbly.
  6. Serve straight from the grill piping hot, as is, or with a garden salad and crusty bread.

 

Sep 152016
 

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Today begins the three-day Mid-Autumn Festival (Simplified Chinese: 中秋节, Vietnamese: tết Trung Thu, Korean: 추석), a harvest festival celebrated by ethnic Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese people worldwide. The festival begins on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, corresponding to a date in late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar that ushers in the full moon. It is also a public holiday in Taiwan, and in Hong Kong. The full moon is actually tomorrow (16th ) in Europe and the day after (17th ) in Asia.

Europeans have not cornered the market on nonsense spouted about the ancient “origins” of calendar customs; Asians have their fair share too. In the case of Mid-Autumn Festival in China there is a degree of legitimacy to the notion that it is an ancient festival, but only a degree. The Chinese have celebrated the harvest during the autumn full moon since the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th to 10th century BCE). What this festival looked like is anyone’s guess. Morris Berkowitz, who studied the Hakka people during the 1960s, theorizes that the harvest celebration originally began with worshiping Mountain Gods after the harvest was completed. Supposedly, for the Baiyue peoples, the harvest time commemorated the dragon who brought rain for the crops. Both are speculations based on little evidence. The celebration as a festival did not start to gain popularity until the early Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). One legend says that Emperor Xuanzong of Tang started to hold formal celebrations in his palace after having explored the Moon-Palace (that is, he visited the moon).

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The term mid-autumn (中秋) first appeared in Rites of Zhou, a written collection of rituals of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046–771 BCE). Empress Dowager Cixi (late 19th century) enjoyed celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival so much that she would spend the period between the thirteenth and seventeenth day of the eighth month staging elaborate rituals.

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An important part of the festival celebration was moon worship, now softened to moon symbolism. The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water, and connected this concept to the menstruation of women, calling it “monthly water.” (which is pretty much what “menstruate” means without the “water” bit). The Zhuang people, for example, have an ancient fable saying the sun and moon are a couple and the stars are their children, and when the moon is pregnant, it becomes round, and then becomes crescent after giving birth to a child. These stories made it popular among women to give offerings to the moon on this evening. Customs such as this one are rare in China now.

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Offerings were also made to a more well-known lunar deity, Chang’e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. One version of the story is as follows:

In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang’e. One year, ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang’e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang’e keep the elixir. But Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the 15th of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. Chang’e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang’e liked in his garden and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang’e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.

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In more agrarian times, the festival was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon. Today, it is still an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives, to eat mooncakes, and to watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs including:

Burning incense

Dragon and lion dances (especially in southern China and Vietnam)

Lanterns

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A notable part of celebrating the holiday is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, or floating sky lanterns. Another tradition involving lanterns is to write riddles on them and have other people try to guess the answers. It is difficult to discern the original purpose of lanterns in connection to the festival, but it is certain that lanterns were not used in conjunction with moon-worship prior to the Tang Dynasty. Traditionally, the lantern has been used to symbolize fertility, and functioned mainly as a toy and decoration. But today the lantern has come to symbolize the festival itself.

As China gradually evolved from an agrarian society to a mixed agrarian-commercial one, traditions from other festivals began to be transmitted into the Mid-Autumn Festival, such as the putting of lanterns on rivers to guide the spirits of the drowned as practiced during the Ghost Festival, which is observed a month before. Hong Kong fishermen during the Qing Dynasty, for example, would put up lanterns on their boats for the Ghost Festival and keep the lanterns up until Mid-Autumn Festival.

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In Vietnam, children participate in parades in the dark under the full moon with lanterns of various forms, shapes, and colors. Traditionally, lanterns signified the wish for the sun’s light and warmth to return after winter. In addition to carrying lanterns, the children also wore masks. Elaborate masks were made of papier-mâché, though it is more common to find masks made of plastic nowadays. Handcrafted shadow lanterns were an important part of Mid-Autumn displays since the 12th century Ly dynasty, often of historical figures from Vietnamese history. Handcrafted lantern-making has declined in modern times due to the availability of mass-produced plastic lanterns, which often depict internationally recognized characters such as Pokémon’s Pikachu, Disney characters, SpongeBob SquarePants and Hello Kitty.

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Making and sharing mooncakes is one of the hallmark traditions of this festival. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes completeness and reunion. Thus, the sharing and eating of round mooncakes among family members during the week of the festival signify the completeness and unity of families. In some areas of China, there is a tradition of making mooncakes during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The senior person in that household cuts the mooncakes into pieces and distribute them to each family member, signifying family reunion. In modern times, however, making mooncakes at home has given way to the more popular custom of giving mooncakes to family members, although the meaning of maintaining familial unity remains.

maf10 Huge mooncake appears in central China

Although typical mooncakes can be around a few inches in diameter, imperial chefs have made some as large as several feet in diameter, with its surface impressed with designs of Chang’e, cassia trees, or the Moon-Palace. One tradition is to pile 13 mooncakes on top of each other to mimic a pagoda, the number 13 being chosen to represent the 13 months in a full lunar year.

According to Chinese folklore, a Turpan businessman offered cakes to Emperor Taizong of Tang in his victory against the Xiongnu on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Taizong took the round cakes and pointed to the moon with a smile, saying, “I’d like to invite the toad to enjoy the hú (胡) cake.” After sharing the cakes with his ministers, the custom of eating these hú cakes spread throughout the country. Eventually these became known as mooncakes. Although the legend explains the beginnings of mooncake-giving, its popularity and ties to the festival began during the Song Dynasty (906–1279 CE).

Another popular legend concerns the Han Chinese’s uprising against the ruling Mongols at the end of the Yuan dynasty (1280–1368 CE), in which the Han Chinese used traditional mooncakes to conceal the message that they were to rebel on Mid-Autumn Day. Because of strict controls on Han Chinese families imposed by the Mongols in which only 1 out of every 10 households was allowed to own a knife guarded by a Mongolian guard, this coordinated message was important to gather as many available weapons as possible.

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Imperial dishes served on this occasion included nine-jointed lotus roots which symbolize peace, and watermelons cut in the shape of lotus petals which symbolize reunion. Teacups were placed on stone tables in the garden, where the family would pour tea and chat, waiting for the moment when the full moon’s reflection appeared in the center of their cups. Owing to the timing of the plant’s blossoms, cassia wine is the traditional choice for the “reunion wine” drunk on the occasion. Also, people will celebrate by eating cassia cakes and candy.

Food offerings made to deities were placed on an altar set up in the courtyard, including apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, melons, oranges, and pomelos. One of the first decorations purchased for the celebration table was a clay statue of the Jade Rabbit. In Chinese folklore, the Jade Rabbit was an animal that lived on the moon and accompanied Chang’e. Offerings of soy beans and cockscomb flowers were made to the Jade Rabbit. Nowadays, in southern China, people will also eat some seasonal fruit that may differ in different district but carrying the same meaning of blessing.

I gave a pretty complete description of mooncakes here — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/giordano-bruno-crater/  No need to repeat myself. Most Chinese buy them rather than make them these days. You’ll find them on sale everywhere from regular markets to street stalls. For today’s celebration I recommend dragon fruit also known as pitaya.

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Sweet pitayas come in three species, all with leathery, slightly leafy skin:

Hylocereus undatus (Pitaya blanca or white-fleshed pitaya) has red-skinned fruit with white flesh. This is the most commonly seen dragon fruit.

Hylocereus costaricensis (Pitaya roja or red-fleshed pitaya, also known as Hylocereus polyrhizus) has red-skinned fruit with red flesh.

Hylocereus megalanthus (Pitaya amarilla or yellow pitaya, also known as Selenicereus megalanthus) has yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh.

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Dragon fruit are very common in Asia but you won’t find them often in the West, although popularity is increasing. They’re touted for their health benefits, but they don’t appear to have much more in the way of nutrients than other more common fruit. I had them first in Hong Kong a couple of years ago and was not hugely impressed. They’re rather bland, in the same ballpark as kiwis. I ended up mixing mine with other fruit in a fruit salad. That works for me.

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