Jun 212017

I am choosing today as a personal Turning Point for a variety of reasons. Today is the June solstice, a natural turning point in the solar year:


Of course, it is the summer solstice (longest day) in the northern hemisphere, and the winter solstice (shortest day) in the southern hemisphere:


People who live on the equator don’t have much to write home about on this day, but those north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle have 24 hours of daylight or 24 hours of darkness respectively, so it’s a reasonably dramatic turning point for them.  Between the tropics and the Arctic/Antarctic Circles, worldwide, the solstice is a milder, but nonetheless important, turn of the year for all cultures.

Because in 1986 the June solstice and the Full (Strawberry) Moon fell on a Saturday, my wife (RIP) and I chose it for our wedding day:


Generally at this time of year I start traveling and call a halt to this blog for a few weeks because I don’t have time for daily posts.  This year I am leaving Mantua for Mandalay where I will be teaching for the next 8 months, so why not take today as my Turning Point? I’ll be gone from posting here for a few weeks as I adjust to a new culture and a new timetable.

Tonight I’m having a dinner party for a few friends to mark the day as a transition point for me.  It’s stiflingly hot in Mantua right now, so I’m making an entirely cold meal, and I am following standard Italian norms: antipasti, i primi, i secondi, dolci. This is my last chance before I get immersed in Burmese cuisine.

My antipasti are prosciutto, tomino Langherino, and smoked salmon:

First course is pasta primavera:

Second course is chicken breast in olive oil and lemon over a bed of mixed salad:

Dessert is a Margherita cake with apples, glazed with fruit sauce and filled with frutti di bosco (optional whipped cream):

A dopo amici.

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Jun 202017

Two anniversaries significant to the development of rocketry can be celebrated on this date. To start, the V-2 rocket became the first artificial object to cross the boundary of space with the vertical launch of MW 18014 on this date in 1944.  Second, on this date in 1945, Edward Reilly Stettinius, United States Secretary of State approved the transfer of Wernher von Braun and his team of Nazi rocket specialists to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip. I like to think of Operation Paperclip as the US part of the “first space race” – a race by both US and Soviet agencies to capture and expatriate German rocketry scientists and technicians to their respective countries to build rocket programs there.  These men had all been working, one way or another, on the initial stages of a space program in war-time Germany, and had varying degrees of loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi Reich. The US and Soviet governments turned a blind eye to their Nazi affiliations in their greed to enhance their own space programs which were practically non-existent before the arrival of the Germans. Henceforth the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a race, first for space, then for the moon, that became emblematic of the Cold War. Sputnik was the first score for the Soviets; the moon went to the US.

The V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”) technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. The missile with a liquid-propellant rocket engine was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon” to try to reassert dominance at a time when the Axis powers were daily, and consistently, losing ground to the Allies. Nazi Germany was at a severe logistical disadvantage, having failed to conquer the USSR with Operation Barbarossa (June–December 1941), the Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 – January 1944), Operation Nordlicht (“Northern Light”, August–October 1942), and the Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 – February 1943). The failed conquest had depleted German resources, and its military-industrial complex was unprepared to defend the German Reich against the Red Army’s westward counterattack. By early 1943, the German government began recalling from combat, a number of scientists, engineers, and technicians, many of whom had been relegated to menial jobs to keep them out of the way; part of the general Nazi distrust of intellectuals. The recall from frontline combat included 4,000 rocketeers who were put together as a research force in Peenemünde, in northeast coastal Germany.

Dieter K. Huzel in Peenemünde to Canaveral notes:

Overnight, Ph.D.s were liberated from KP duty, masters of science were recalled from orderly service, mathematicians were hauled out of bakeries, and precision mechanics ceased to be truck drivers.

The Nazi government’s recall of their now-useful intellectuals for scientific work first required identifying and locating the scientists, engineers, and technicians, then ascertaining their political and ideological reliability. Werner Osenberg, the engineer-scientist heading the Wehrforschungsgemeinschaft (Military Research Association), recorded the names of the politically cleared men to the Osenberg List, thus reinstating them to scientific work.

Research into the military use of long range rockets had previously begun in Germany when the investigations of Wernher von Braun into rocketry in the 1930s attracted the attention of the German Army. His research got a huge boost in 1943 when the government assembled its team of specialists at Peenemünde.  A series of prototype rockets culminated in the A-4, which went to war as the V-2. Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets: first London and later Antwerp and Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks from V2s resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, and a further 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners died as a result of their forced participation in the production of the weapons.

As part of continued research into rocket capabilities, the V-2 research team built its version MW 18014 which was launched on 20 June 1944 at the Peenemünde Army Research Center. It was the first artificial object to reach outer space, attaining an apoapsis of 176 kilometers, which is above the Kármán line (the currently accepted boundary of Earth’s atmosphere, at 100 km above the surface). It was a vertical test launch and although it reached space, it was a sub-orbital flight and therefore returned to Earth and crashed.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and technology. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to US troops. Eventually, many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war, re-established V-2 production, and moved it to the Soviet Union.

Operation Paperclip, originally Operation Overcast, was the secret United States Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) program which brought more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians (many of whom were formerly registered members of the Nazi Party and some of whom had leadership roles in the Party), including Wernher von Braun’s rocket team, to the United States for government employment from post-Nazi Germany. By comparison, the Soviet Union was even more aggressive in recruiting Germans: during Operation Osoaviakhim, Soviet military units forcibly (at gunpoint) recruited 2,000+ German specialists to the Soviet Union in one night.

The original intent of Operation Overcast was simply to interview designated scientists, but what was learned in th process changed the operation’s purpose. On May 22 1945, Colonel Joel Holmes sent a telegram to the Pentagon urging the evacuation of German scientists and their families, suggesting they were crucial to the Pacific war effort. After capturing them, the Allies took them from Peenemünde (which was in what was to become Soviet controlled East Germany) and initially housed them and their families in Landshut in Bavaria, in southern Germany.

In order to harness German war technology the United States created the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) which targeted scientific, military and industrial installations (and their employees) for their know-how. Initial priorities were advanced technology, such as infrared, that could be used in the war against Japan; finding out what technology had been passed on to Japan; and finally to halt the research. A project to halt the research was codenamed “Project Safehaven”, and it was not initially targeted against the Soviet Union; rather the concern was that German scientists might emigrate and continue their research in countries such as Spain, Argentina or Egypt, all of which had ties with Nazi Germany. In order to avoid the complications involved with the emigration of German scientists, the CIOS was responsible for scouting and kidnapping high profile individuals in order to deprive nations outside the US of their abilities.

Much U.S. effort was focused on Saxony and Thuringia, which by July 1, 1945, would become part of the Soviet Occupation zone. Many German research facilities and personnel had been evacuated to these states, particularly from the Berlin area. Fearing that the Soviet takeover would limit U.S. ability to exploit German scientific and technical expertise, and not wanting the Soviet Union to benefit from this expertise, the United States instigated an “evacuation operation” of scientific personnel from Saxony and Thuringia, issuing such orders as:

On orders of Military Government you are to report with your family and baggage as much as you can carry tomorrow noon at 1300 hours (Friday, 22 June 1945) at the town square in Bitterfeld. There is no need to bring winter clothing. Easily carried possessions, such as family documents, jewelry, and the like should be taken along. You will be transported by motor vehicle to the nearest railway station. From there you will travel on to the West. Please tell the bearer of this letter how large your family is.

By 1947 this evacuation operation had netted an estimated 1,800 technicians and scientists, along with 3,700 family members. Those with special skills or knowledge were taken to detention and interrogation centers to be held and interrogated, in some cases for months. A few of the scientists were gathered up in Operation Overcast, but most were transported to villages in the countryside where there were neither research facilities nor work; they were provided stipends and forced to report twice weekly to police headquarters to prevent them from leaving. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive on research and teaching stated that technicians and scientists should be released “only after all interested agencies were satisfied that all desired intelligence information had been obtained from them”.

On November 5, 1947, the Office of Military Government of the United States (OMGUS), which had jurisdiction over the western part of occupied Germany, held a conference to consider the status of the evacuees, the monetary claims that the evacuees had filed against the United States, and the “possible violation by the US of laws of war or Rules of Land Warfare”. The OMGUS director of Intelligence R. L. Walsh initiated a program to resettle the evacuees in the Third World, which the Germans referred to as General Walsh’s “Urwald-Programm” (jungle program), however this program never matured. In 1948, the evacuees received settlements of 69.5 million Reichsmarks from the U.S., a settlement that soon became severely devalued during the currency reform that introduced the Deutsche Mark as the official currency of western Germany. As a consequence, the United States put some of Germany’s best minds on ice for three years, therefore depriving the German economic recovery of their expertise.

I don’t think I need to say more on the ethical problem of rounding up thousands of Nazi scientists and technicians (no questions asked) and shipping them off to the US or the Soviet Union. Some, like von Braun, went quite willingly, seeing the opportunity for continued advancement.  Many would have preferred to stay in Germany and resume their careers after the war in their homeland. Both the arms race and the space race that followed during the Cold War between the US and the USSR were driven by men who had once been collaborators in Germany.  Capitalists and Communists were equally welcoming to former Nazi enemies.

No need to think twice about a recipe ingredient for today. It has to be rocket, the old fashioned English name for Eruca sativa, variously known as arugula, rucola, rucoli, rugula, and Roquette (which Anglicized becomes “rocket”). I use rocket in sandwiches in place of lettuce often because it adds an interesting flavor note that lettuce doesn’t. I also use it in salads either in place of lettuce or mixed with it.

In Italy, rocket (rucola) is often added to pizzas just before serving so that it will not wilt in the heat. It is also used cooked in Apulia, in Southern Italy, to make the pasta dish cavatiéddi, coarsely chopped rocket added to pasta seasoned with tomato sauce and pecorino.”  In Rome, Italy rucola is used with special meat dish called straccietti that are thin slices of beef with raw rocket and Parmesan cheese In the Slovenian Littoral, it is often combined with boiled potatoes, used in a soup, or served with the cheese burek, especially in the town of Koper.

Use your imagination.

Jun 192017

Today is World Sauntering Day (aka International Sauntering Day), a holiday created in 1979 by W.T. Rabe in response to the growing popularity of jogging. It is believed to have begun when Rabe stayed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, USA. The Grand Hotel has the world’s longest porch at 660 feet (200 m). The idea behind the day was to encourage people to slow down and appreciate the world around them.  Well . . . as with other special days, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc., I don’t approve of having 24 hours set aside for something that should be ongoing 365. But, like these other “special” days I can get in the spirit here.

To saunter is to walk at a leisured pace (which I rarely do). I also rarely saunter through life. I’m not identified as a driven soul for nothing. In my defense I am driven as the ancient mariner is driven, not like some rabid middle manager stuck in a mindless job trying to get on in the world and always falling behind.  I know how to saunter when the time is right. For one thing, I can keep this post short and take time off this morning to walk by the lake in the cool of the morning.  Meanwhile, I’ll muse on slow food for a bit.

Fast food is not quite the travesty it is commonly made out to be. Certainly, fast food as served up by the well-known multinational chains is dismal on all levels. But not all fast food is, by definition, bad – not even commercial fast food.  I’m a big fan of Cincinnati chili which is about as fast as it gets.  Order a 3-way and it’s in front of you before you can blink. This deceptive, however. The chili (which is the part I love – not the spaghetti and cheese), has been slow cooked for hours before it is placed on a heater on the serving line to keep hot. I’ve spent many a wasted hour trying to replicate Gold Star and Skyline, not to mention the family-recipe chili you get in pokey Greek diners in hidden places.  No luck.  Giving you a recipe would be a complete waste of time.  Skyline sells packets of chili mix to add to simmering ground beef if you start hankering – miles from southern Ohio (or northern Kentucky). It’s a fair simulacrum, but not the same. The only solution is to get on the road.  My first stop when I visited (my in-laws were from the region) was Skyline for a bowl of plain – then another – and possibly a third.

Enough about fast food. In the spirit of sauntering through the day (which might get confused with laziness) I am going to do something I have never done before: repeat a recipe. This comes from my post on Cardinal Richelieu; a recipe for classic French meat glacé which is incredibly useful.  To make it you must cook it for 24 hours, continuously, and the whole process takes about 36 hours. But . . . you have to do very little during those 36 hours. A recipe to saunter through. When I first posted this a friend noted the instruction that begins, “While sleeping . . .”

Glacé de la Viande


5 -6 lbs (2.5-3 k) beef bones, leg bones, cut in 2 to 3 inch lengths
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
3 -4 lbs (1.5-2 k) chuck roast, cut in large chunks (or other stewing beef)
2 -3 large onions, unpeeled, quartered
5 -6 cloves garlic, unpeeled, lightly crushed
3 -4 stalks celery, with leaves, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 -4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in 2 inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
1 bunch parsley
4 -6 large bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns


Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the broiler on high or preheat oven to 500°F/260°C

Lightly rub the marrow bones with olive oil, and place in a roasting pan. Place in the oven, and broil or roast until nicely browned on all sides, turning regularly, and watching closely so they do not burn.

Remove from the oven, and pour any grease and olive oil from roasting pan into a large (at least 12 quart) stock pot, adding more olive oil as needed, and setting the bones aside.

Heat the pot over high heat, add all of the vegetables, except the tomatoes and parsley, and cook until surfaces are browned and charred in places. Add the tomatoes, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.

Reserve the vegetables with the bones.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary, and brown the pieces of roast on all sides. Add the bones and vegetables  to the pot, and fill three-quarters full with cold water.

Heat the roasting pan on the stovetop, and add the white wine to deglaze, scraping up all browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the stock pot.

Add the parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the pot, and bring to a slow boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.

Add more water to bring the level to 1″ from the top of pot, and return to a boil.

Partially cover  and adjust the heat so the stock stays at an active simmer or very slow boil (should be bubbling lightly).

Simmer for at least 24 hours, adding more water every couple of hours as needed.

While sleeping, just reduce the heat slightly, cover completely, and go to bed; top up with water, increase heat, and return to a slow boil in the morning.

When done cooking, skim as much grease as possible from the surface, and strain the broth into another container, pressing gently on the solids to extract as much stock as possible. Discard the solids and refrigerate the broth until the fat solidifies on the surface.

Scrub the pot well, and return it to the stove top. Remove the fat from the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have 4-5 quarts of stock at this point.

Bring to a full rolling boil, and reduce by about 90% (until only 2-2½ cups of thick syrup or paste remains).

You only have to pay close attention to the reducing stock for about the last 15-20 minutes to ensure the pot doesn’t burn dry.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until solidified, then freeze until needed.  The most convenient way to freeze is to pour the glace into an ice cube tray, freeze solid, then pop the cubes out and store in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.

Yield: 2-2 ½ cups



Jun 182017

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 1815, arguably one of the key defining moments in European and world history – inasmuch as any single day or battle can be said to be such. Longtime readers know that I don’t like to celebrate battles in and of themselves, but I do take note of a few that stood at turning points in history. I don’t want to talk about the battle itself, you can look those details up. I want to talk about the implications of the decisive victory of the Seventh Alliance (United Kingdom, Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, and Prussia) under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, over Napoleon’s French Empire which put paid to the Napoleonic Wars once and for all, but led to a slew of problems, many of which are still with us 200 years on.

Let’s dispense with a bit of English jingoism first. Wellesley was in charge and the honor of the victory was given to him in England, launching a political career that landed him as Prime Minister – reminiscent of Eisenhower in the U.S. To set the record straight, the army that Wellesley commanded at Waterloo was an ALLIED army that consisted of approximately 73,000 troops, 26,000 of whom were from the UK, approximately 30% of whom were Irish conscripts who were probably more sympathetic to Napoleon than to England. So around 18,200, that is, about 25%, were English, Scots, and Welsh volunteers. They would not have been much use by themselves against Napoleon, but if you study history in England you get the impression that the English won the battle of Waterloo with a little help from the Prussians. The battle of Waterloo was, in actual fact, the culmination of the Waterloo Campaign in which 116,000 Prussian troops were deployed.  The Prussians didn’t just help out a little. Without them the English would have been destroyed.

Popular history is marvelously myopic. Washington got a tiny bit of help from the French and Spanish empires in the American Revolution, and Eisenhower had a few allies to “help” him as he stormed the beaches of Normandy; but to hear tell of these famous engagements in the US you’d believe that the US secured victories all alone. In fact, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the Colonial troops were seriously outnumbered, underequipped, and poorly trained until the French joined in (purely to weaken England). The notion that savvy backwoods militias from the colonies won the day due to their cunning and experience as skilled hunters who knew how to attack stealthily and handle a musket, is pure modern-day patriotic nonsense, but it is incredibly widespread (not least because it fuels a rampant desire to keep gun ownership alive via the 2nd Amendment).  But . . . I digress.

The Congress of Vienna had actually begun in September 1814, after Napoleon had been defeated and exiled to Elba, but was interrupted when he escaped and returned to France to take up arms again. The final Treaty of Vienna was actually signed on 9th June 1815, 10 days before Waterloo, but took effect in practical terms (with a few minor revisions), after Waterloo.  I’ve discussed the century-long (and more) ramifications of this treaty in another post: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/congress-vienna/  No need to repeat myself. Europe (and the rest of the world with it) took a marked left turn after Vienna, leading to ethnic conflicts, revolutions, tyrannical governments, the unification of Italy and Germany, and a near-maniacal concern with radical Industrialism within Europe which, coupled with Colonialism, fueled major trade wars, as well as real wars between European powers outside of Europe – notably in Asia and Africa.

Waterloo left an indelible mark on popular consciousness in Britain spawning tales and ballads.  Here is an old favorite ballad of mine, “The Plains of Waterloo,” which I first heard sung by June Tabor around 1970 at Oxford’s Folk Club, Heritage. She was a relatively unknown librarian who liked to sing in the clubs in those days.  Here she is:

She self-parodied this ballad some years later with “The Trains of Waterloo” (Waterloo is a well-known commuter station in London), on the hilarious album Oranges and Lemmings.

Trains of Waterloo
(Les Barker)

As I was a-walking one midsummer’s evening,
All among the brick-red of surburbian sprawl,
I met a young maid making sad lamentation,
And it seemed all Basingstoke heard her sad call,

She walks the street lined with small maisonettes,
The semi-detatched, the town houses too.
Crying day it is over, executives come home again,
But my Nigel’s not returned upon the Trains of Waterloo.

I stepped up to this fair maid and said my fond creature
Oh, May I make so bold as to ask your true love’s name
It’s I have done battle in the Cannon Street rattle
And by some strange fortune I might have known the same

Nigel Clegg’s my true loves name, Merchant Banker of great fame
He’s gone to the wars out on platform two
No-one shall me enjoy but my own darling boy
No Milkman, and the Postman, and the Man from the Pru

If Nigel Clegg’s his name a commuter of great fame
Then we fought together the daily campaign
His brave brolly poking invaders at Woking
He was my loyal comrade on the five-thirty train

We fought with our Guardians we fought with our Filofax
Our rolled umbrellas our telegraphs too
We fought every evening all down the platform
And back through the night on the Trains of Waterloo

Dear lady I bring you the saddest of tidings
The five-thirty train it was cancelled you see
And Nigel not looking he went to step onto it
Straight into the path of the five-thirty-three

Your poor Nigel Clegg I have brought you his leg
And so sadly she gazed at the limb she once knew
And fondly she browsed on one half of his trousers
Oh My Nigel’s not returning on the trains of Waterloo

The suffix /-loo/ got detached from /Water/ and applied to other bloody events – in particular the Peterloo massacre in Manchester http://www.bookofdaystales.com/peterloo/   –  much as /-gate/ has been detached from Watergate in the US and applied to various political scandals.

I’ll give you beef Wellington for today’s recipe, not because it was named in honor of Wellington and Waterloo, but because everyone thinks it is, and they are wrong. It’s my tribute to false history. By the time Wellington became famous, meat baked in pastry was a well-established part of English cuisine. Some claim that the dish’s similarity to the French filet de bœuf en croûte (fillet of beef in pastry) was renamed “beef Wellington” as a “timely patriotic rebranding of a trendy continental dish.” There are, however, zero records of a dish called beef Wellington throughout the 19th century. The name first appears in the early 20th century.

I’m just going to give you some pointers here but I’ll start with a video of Gordon Ramsay giving a fairly standard treatment (with a few twists):

Some of the tips here are fine; some I diverge from. The essence of beef Wellington is layers of flavor so choose the layers to suit your palate (not someone else’s):

  1. Choose the most succulent filet of tenderloin of beef you can find.
  2. Sear it quickly in a very hot, dry pan. I don’t like to use oil at this stage. You are looking for a good sear for flavor, not fat.
  3. Slather with prepared horseradish. I just love the combination of beef and horseradish. English mustard is OK too, but for me, horseradish is king.
  4. A duxelles of mushrooms is pretty standard. Ramsay’s chestnuts are a distraction for me. Make a paste of crimini (or other well-flavored mushrooms) with a little garlic, and fry it off in a dry pan to remove the moisture.
  5. An Italian ham, such as prosciutto, is a common final layer, but pâté (conventionally pâté de foie gras) is more classic. I have moral objections to foie gras so I use a highly seasoned pâté (sometimes of my own making).
  6. You’ll occasionally see recipes with a crêpe as the final layer before the pastry goes on, “to seal in moisture.” In my humble opinion this is a complete waste of time. The crêpe gets soggy, and seals in nothing.
  7. Use cling wrap to encase the beef in the same way Ramsay does but spreading a layer of pâté down first instead of the ham. Using the cling wrap is essential to get the layers all around the beef. Chilling afterwards is also essential to set up the roll for encasing in pastry.
  8. Using cling wrap for the puff pastry is also useful, but I make a regular parcel of the pastry (like wrapping a package), not Ramsey’s toffee roll. Refrigeration overnight is also key to setting up the shape.
  9. I too bake at 200°C/400°F for about 30 minutes, because I like the beef to be rare. If you want it more well done you well have to cover the pastry with foil after it has browned and lower the oven temperature. If you do that don’t expect me to show up for dinner.
Jun 172017

On this date in 1631 Mumtaz Mahal, second and favorite wife of Shah Jahan, died in Burhanpur, Deccan (present-day Madhya Pradesh) giving birth to her fourteenth child, a daughter named Gauhara Begum, prompting Shah Jahan to commission the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for her (and later as his also). I’ve never been there and probably never will, although you never know.  India is not high on my agenda. Nonetheless I do want to pay tribute here to a famous symbol of undying love, which might inspire me to visit one day (perhaps when I leave Myanmar). In my experience, actually visiting famous monuments that are well known from stock images can alter your perspective markedly. Machu Picchu and Easter island were certainly that way for me.

Mumtaz Mahal was born Arjumand Banu Begum in Agra to a family of Persian nobility. She was the daughter of Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan, a wealthy Persian noble who held high office in the empire, and the niece of Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir and the power behind the emperor. She was married at the age of 19 on 30 April 1612 to Prince Khurram, later known by his regnal name, Shah Jahan, who conferred upon her the title “Mumtaz Mahal”. Although betrothed to Shah Jahan since 1607, she ultimately became his second wife in 1612. Mumtaz bore her husband fourteen children, including Jahanara Begum (Shah Jahan’s favorite daughter), and the Crown prince Dara Shikoh, the heir-apparent, anointed by his father, who temporarily succeeded him, until deposed by Mumtaz Mahal’s sixth child, Aurangzeb, who ultimately succeeded his father as the sixth Mughal emperor.

The Taj Mahal tomb is the centerpiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex in its entirety is believed to have cost approximately 52.8 billion rupees (US$827 million) in modern currency. The construction project employed around 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun’s Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan’s own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.

The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.

The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 meters (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.

The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres (115 ft) high which is close in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the cylindrical “drum” it sits on which is approximately 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The dome is slightly asymmetrical. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.

The minarets, which are each more than 40 meters (130 ft) tall, display the designer’s penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets—a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.

The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest in Mughal architecture. As the surface area changes, the decorations are refined proportionally. The decorative elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. In line with the Islamic prohibition against the use of anthropomorphic forms, the decorative elements can be grouped into either calligraphy, abstract forms or vegetative motifs. Throughout the complex are passages from the Qur’an that comprise some of the decorative elements. The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.” The calligraphy was created in 1609 by a calligrapher named Abdul Haq. Shah Jahan conferred the title of “Amanat Khan” upon him as a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”. Near the lines from the Qur’an at the base of the interior dome is the inscription, “Written by the insignificant being, Amanat Khan Shirazi.” Much of the calligraphy is composed of florid thuluth script made of jasper or black marble inlaid in white marble panels. Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below. The calligraphy found on the marble cenotaphs in the tomb is particularly detailed and delicate.

Biriyanis are well known in the Deccan region. They represent a blend of the cooking of medieval Persia and the Mughal empire. Kachchi (raw) biryani is prepared with meat marinated with spices and then soaked in yoghurt before cooking. The gosht (meat) is sandwiched between layers of fragrant long-grained basmati rice, and cooked by steaming over coals, after sealing the handi (vessel) with slack dough. This is a challenging process because it requires meticulous attention to time and temperature to avoid over- or under-cooking the meat that is acquired only by long experience. My skills are so-so in this regard. I can’t honestly recommend this recipe if you do not have the necessary experience with slow cooking rice – blind. The list of ingredients is lengthy and many are difficult to obtain in the West.  In general home cooks in India these days do not bother cooking biriyanis from scratch in this way, nor do most Indian restaurants. It’s way too much trouble, even though the results are superb. Normally Indian cooks use prepared powders and pastes.

Kachche gosht ki biryani


750 gm lamb, mutton, or goat cut into 2”pieces
1½ cups basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in cold water and drained
2 tbsp raw papaya paste
vegetable oil (for frying)
4 onions, peeled and sliced
1½ cups plain yoghurt
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 green chile, sliced thin
1½ tsp red chile powder
1½ tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp rosewater
½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp garam masala powder
3 green cardamom pods
1” stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 black cardamom pod
8 black peppercorns
1 tsp kewra water
3 tbsp pure ghee
½ tsp powdered caraway seed
2 -3 strands saffron
2 tbsp whole milk
2” fresh ginger cut into thin strips
wheat flour slack dough (to seal)


Place the mutton pieces in a deep bowl, add the papaya paste and mix well so that all the mutton pieces are covered with the paste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Heat some vegetable oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onions and deep-fry until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in one layer on wire racks.

Remove the mutton from the refrigerator and uncover. Add the yoghurt, green chile, salt to taste, turmeric powder, red chile powder, ginger paste, garlic paste, half the fried onions, half the fresh mint, half the fresh coriander, and garam masala powder and mix well. Cover the bowl again with cling film and keep it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Half cook the rice in plenty of water. Sprinkle the green cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, peppercorns, half the kewra water, rose water, two tablespoons of ghee, and caraway seeds over the rice and mix well.

Warm the milk slightly and steep the saffron in it. Take a non-stick deep pan with a cover and spread the marinated mutton over the bottom, then top it with the rice. Sprinkle over the top the remaining fried onions, remaining kewra water, fresh mint, fresh coriander, saffron milk, milk, remaining ghee, remaining rose petals and ginger strips. Cover the pan with a lid and seal tightly with the wheat flour dough.

Place the pan over low heat and cook for about 60 minutes.

Let the pot stand for fifteen minutes before opening the lid. Serve hot with A biryani is usually served with Dahi chutney (yogurt, mint, and onion), baghara baingan (roasted Eggplant), a salad of onion, carrot, cucumber, and lemon wedges, and chapatis or roti.



Jun 162017

Today is the birthday (1890) of Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson), an English comic actor, writer and film director, most famous for his role in the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. He appeared with his comedy partner Oliver Hardy in 107 short films, feature films, and cameo roles. He is one of my favorite comedy actors of all time.  Buster Keaton said at his funeral: “Chaplin wasn’t the funniest, I wasn’t the funniest, this man was the funniest.” Amazing praise by a world famous comic. The main point is that Laurel, unlike Chaplin and Keaton, was able to make the transition from stage to silent movies to talkies and finally to color movies without missing a beat, constantly adapting yet keeping all the styles he accumulated along the way.

Laurel began his career in English music hall (like Chaplin), where he adopted a number of his standard comic devices: the bowler hat, the deep comic gravity, and the nonsensical understatement. His performances polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches. Laurel was a member of “Fred Karno’s Army,” where he was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. With Chaplin, the two arrived in the United States on the same ship from the United Kingdom with the Karno troupe. Laurel began his film career in 1917 and made his final appearance in 1951. From 1928 onwards, he appeared exclusively with Oliver Hardy. Laurel officially retired from the screen following Hardy’s death in 1957. That fact in itself shows the character of the man.

Before you read on, here’s a sampling of his comedy to enjoy:

Laurel was born in his grandparents’ house at 3 Argyle Street, Ulverston in Lancashire. His parents, Margaret (neé Metcalfe) and Arthur Jefferson, were both active in the theater, and, in consequence, moved a great deal. In his early years, Laurel spent some time living with his maternal grandmother, Sarah Metcalfe. He attended school at King James I Grammar School, Bishop Auckland, County Durham and the King’s School, Tynemouth, Northumberland. He moved with his parents to Glasgow where he completed his education at Rutherglen Academy. His father managed Glasgow’s Metropole Theatre, where Laurel first began to work. His boyhood hero was Dan Leno, one of the greatest English music hall comedians. Laurel gave his first professional performance on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow at the age of 16, where he polished his skills at pantomime and music hall sketches.

He joined Fred Karno’s troupe of actors in 1910 with the stage name of “Stan Jefferson” where he acted as Chaplin’s understudy for some time. Chaplin and Laurel toured the US with Karno before both went their separate ways. From 1916-18, he teamed up with Alice Cooke and Baldwin Cooke, who became lifelong friends. Amongst other performers, Laurel worked briefly alongside Oliver Hardy in a silent film short The Lucky Dog (1921). This was before the two were a duo.

It was around this time that Laurel met Mae Dahlberg. Around the same time, he adopted the stage name of Laurel at Dahlberg’s suggestion that his stage name Stan Jefferson was unlucky, due to it having thirteen letters. The pair were performing together when Laurel was offered $75 a week to star in two-reel comedies. After making his first film Nuts in May, Universal offered him a contract. The contract was soon cancelled during a reorganization at the studio. Among the films in which Dahlberg and Laurel appeared together was the 1922 parody Mud and Sand.

By 1924, Laurel had given up the stage for full-time film work, under contract with Joe Rock for 12 two-reel comedies. The contract had one unusual stipulation: that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films. Rock thought that her temperament was hindering Laurel’s career. In 1925, she started interfering with Laurel’s work, so Rock offered her a cash settlement and a one-way ticket back to her native Australia, which she accepted.

Laurel next signed with the Hal Roach studio, where he began directing films, including a 1926 production called Yes, Yes, Nanette. He intended to work primarily as a writer and director. Oliver Hardy, another member of the Hal Roach Studios Comedy All Star players, was injured in a kitchen mishap in 1927, and Laurel was asked to return to acting. Laurel and Hardy began sharing the screen in Slipping Wives, Duck Soup (1927), and With Love and Hisses. The two became friends and their comic chemistry soon became obvious. Roach Studios’ supervising director Leo McCarey noticed the audience reaction to them and began teaming them, leading to the creation of the Laurel and Hardy series later that year.

Together, the two men began producing a huge body of short films, including The Battle of the Century, Should Married Men Go Home?, Two Tars, Be Big!, Big Business, and many others. Laurel and Hardy successfully made the transition to talking films with the short Unaccustomed As We Are in 1929. They also appeared in their first feature in one of the revue sequences of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the following year they appeared as the comic relief in the lavish all-color (Technicolor) musical feature The Rogue Song. Their first starring feature Pardon Us was released in 1931. They continued to make both features and shorts until 1935, including their 1932 three-reeler The Music Box, which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.

During the 1930s, Laurel was involved in a dispute with Hal Roach which resulted in the termination of his contract. Roach maintained separate contracts for Laurel and Hardy that expired at different times, so Hardy remained at the studio and was teamed with Harry Langdon for the 1939 film Zenobia. The studio discussed a series of films co-starring Hardy with Patsy Kelly to be called “The Hardy Family.” But Laurel sued Roach over the contract dispute. Eventually, the case was dropped and Laurel returned to Roach. The first film that Laurel and Hardy made after Laurel returned was A Chump at Oxford. Subsequently, they made Saps at Sea, which was their last film for Roach.

In 1941, Laurel and Hardy signed a contract at 20th Century Fox to make ten films over five years. During the war years, their work became more formulaic and less successful, though The Bullfighters and Jitterbugs did receive some praise. In 1947, Laurel returned to England when he and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom, and the duo were mobbed wherever they went. Laurel’s homecoming to Ulverston took place in May, and the duo were greeted by thousands of fans outside the Coronation Hall. The Evening Mail noted: “Oliver Hardy remarked to our reporter that Stan had talked about Ulverston for the past 22 years and he thought he had to see it.” The tour included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London. The success of the tour led them to spend the next seven years touring the UK and Europe.

In 1950, Laurel and Hardy were invited to France to make a feature film. The film was a disaster, a Franco-Italian co-production titled Atoll K. (The film was entitled Utopia in the US and Robinson Crusoeland in the UK.) Both stars were noticeably ill during the filming. Upon returning to the United States, they spent most of their time recovering. In 1952, Laurel and Hardy toured Europe successfully, and they returned in 1953 for another tour of the continent. During this tour, Laurel fell ill and was unable to perform for several weeks.

In May 1954, Hardy had a heart attack and cancelled the tour. In 1955, they were planning to do a television series called Laurel and Hardy’s Fabulous Fables based on children’s stories. The plans were delayed after Laurel suffered a stroke on 25 April, from which he recovered. But as the team was planning to get back to work, his partner Hardy had a massive stroke on 14 September 1956, which resulted in his being unable to return to acting.

Oliver Hardy died on 7 August 1957. Laurel was too ill to attend his funeral and said, “Babe would understand.” People who knew Laurel said that he was devastated by Hardy’s death and never fully recovered from it. He refused to perform on stage or act in another film without his good friend, although he continued to socialize with his fans. Laurel was always gracious to fans and spent considerable time answering fan mail. His phone number (OXford-0614) was listed in the telephone directory, and fans were amazed that they could dial the number and speak to him directly.

Laurel was a heavy smoker until suddenly quitting around 1960. In January 1965, he underwent a series of x-rays for an infection on the roof of his mouth. He died on 23 February 1965, aged 74, four days after suffering a heart attack on 19 February. Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse that he would not mind going skiing right at that very moment. Taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. “I’m not,” said Laurel, “I’d rather be doing that than this!” A few minutes later, the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair.

Laurel had said in hospital: “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.” Dick Van Dyke gave the eulogy at Laurel’s funeral, as a friend, protégé, and occasional impressionist of Laurel during his later years. He read “The Clown’s Prayer” the last verse of which is:

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”

Can’t leave without this; one of my favorite scenes:

Laurel’s daughter Lois was once asked about Stan and Ollie’s favorite foods.  She wrote, “My father’s favorite was prime rib. Second, it would be liver, bacon, and onions. Third, fish and chips.” Very English. Let’s go with liver, bacon, and onions. I’m quite fond of this dish too, but only if it is cooked right. Most cooks destroy it in any one of a dozen ways. The first important point is that you should use young calf’s liver, not old ox liver. Second, you should barely cook it. Most cooks like to fry liver until it is tough, grainy, and dry. A few minutes on high heat is all it takes. We can begin with Mrs Beeton since Laurel was born in the Victorian era and would certainly have had this dish as a boy:


  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 or 3 lbs. of liver, bacon, pepper and salt to taste, a small piece of butter, flour, 2 tablespoonfuls of lemon-juice, 1/4 pint of water.

Mode.—Cut the liver in thin slices, and cut as many slices of bacon as there are of liver; fry the bacon first, and put that on a hot dish before the fire. Fry the liver in the fat which comes from the bacon, after seasoning it with pepper and salt and dredging over it a very little flour. Turn the liver occasionally to prevent its burning, and when done, lay it round the dish with a piece of bacon between each. Pour away the bacon fat, put in a small piece of butter, dredge in a little flour, add the lemon-juice and water, give one boil, and pour it in the middle of the dish. It may be garnished with slices of cut lemon, or forcemeat balls.

Time.—According to the thickness of the slices, from 5 to 10 minutes.

Average cost, 10d. per lb. Sufficient for 6 or 7 persons.

Seasonable from March to October.

There are no onions here, however, so you are missing an important component. This is what I do:

Fry off the bacon over medium-low heat in a dry skillet until it is crisp and the fat has been rendered. Set aside the bacon in a warm (not hot) oven.

Slice the liver thinly and sauté over high heat very quickly (in batches) in the bacon fat. Certainly don’t overcook the liver. If anything leave them slightly underdone. As the liver pieces are cooked add them to the bacon in the oven to keep warm.

Add a whole onion thickly sliced to the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté until they take on some color. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to the skillet and stir it around with a wooden spoon to make a dark roux with the bacon fat. Add cold beef stock a little at a time, whisking vigorously, to make a dark gravy.

Serve the bacon, and liver with mashed potato and the onion gravy poured over.

Jun 152017

This date in 1752 is the traditional date set for Ben Franklin’s kite flying experiment meant to prove that lightning is electricity. If he had performed the experiment as commonly thought of, and depicted, he would almost certainly have been electrocuted.  He was much more cautious, however, and it’s worth discussing Franklin and electricity on this date because what he discovered led to new directions for science. First, I will admit that I have already discussed this topic briefly here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/benjamin-franklin/  This is what I said:

According to the canonical tale, Franklin realized the dangers of using conductive rods and instead used a kite. According to the legend, Franklin kept the string of the kite dry at his end to insulate him while the rest of the string was allowed to get wet in the rain to provide conductivity. A house key was attached to the string and connected to a Leyden jar (a primitive capacitor), which Franklin assumed would accumulate electricity from the lightning. The kite wasn’t struck by visible lightning (had it done so, Franklin would almost certainly have been killed) but Franklin did notice that the strings of the kite were repelling each other and deduced that the Leyden jar was being charged. Franklin reportedly received a mild shock by moving his hand near the key afterwards, because as he had estimated, lightning had negatively charged the key and the Leyden jar, proving the electric nature of lightning.

Fearing that the test would fail, or that he would be ridiculed, Franklin took only his son to witness the experiment, and then published the accounts of the test in third person. The standard account of Franklin’s experiment was disputed following an investigation and experiments based on contemporaneous records by science historian Tom Tucker, the results of which were published in 2003. According to Tucker, Franklin never performed the experiment, and the kite as described is incapable of performing its alleged role. Further doubt about the standard account has been cast by an investigation by the television series MythBusters. The team found evidence that Franklin would have received a fatal current through his heart had the event actually occurred. Nevertheless, they confirmed that certain aspects of the experiment were feasible – specifically, the ability of a kite with sufficiently damp string to receive and send to the ground the electrical energy delivered by a lightning strike.

Now let’s look deeper.

Franklin started exploring the phenomenon of electricity in 1746 when he saw some of Archibald Spencer’s lectures using static electricity for illustrations. Franklin proposed that “vitreous” and “resinous” electricity were not different types of “electrical fluid” (as electricity was called then), but the same “fluid” under different pressures. He was the first to label them as positive and negative respectively, and he was the first to discover the principle of conservation of charge. In 1748 he constructed a multiple plate capacitor, that he called an “electrical battery” (not to be confused with Volta’s pile) by placing eleven panes of glass sandwiched between lead plates, suspended with silk cords and connected by wires.

In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin’s experiment using a 40-foot-tall (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite, and he extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15 Franklin may possibly have conducted his well-known kite experiment in Philadelphia, successfully extracting sparks from a cloud, but there is no definitive evidence for this. However we do know that Franklin did conduct kite experiments around this time, although the results were not written up (with credit to Franklin) until Joseph Priestley’s 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity. Franklin was careful to stand on an insulator, keeping dry under a roof to avoid the danger of electric shock. Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann replicated the experiment in Russia in the months following Franklin’s experiment and was, indeed, killed by electrocution.

In his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground. If Franklin ever did perform the experiment he proposed he certainly did not do it in the way that is often described—flying the kite and waiting to be struck by lightning. He did however use a kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud to prove that lightning was electrical. On October 19 in a letter to England with directions for repeating the experiment, Franklin wrote:

When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leyden jar, may be charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated.

Franklin’s electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. He noted that conductors with a sharp rather than a smooth point could discharge silently, and at a far greater distance. He surmised that this could help protect buildings from lightning by attaching “upright Rods of Iron, made sharp as a Needle and gilt to prevent Rusting, and from the Foot of those Rods a Wire down the outside of the Building into the Ground; … Would not these pointed Rods probably draw the Electrical Fire silently out of a Cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible Mischief!” Following a series of experiments on Franklin’s own house, lightning rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) and the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in 1752.

In recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1753, and in 1756 he became one of the few 18th-century North Americans elected as a Fellow of the Society. He received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale universities. The cgs unit of electric charge has been named after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb.

Franklin advised Harvard University in its acquisition of new electrical laboratory apparatus after the complete loss of its original collection, in a fire which destroyed the original Harvard Hall in 1764. The collection he assembled would later become part of the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, now on public display in its Science Center.

According to Michael Faraday, Franklin’s experiments on the non-conduction of ice are worth mentioning, although the law of the general effect of liquefaction on electrolytes is not attributed to Franklin. However, as reported in 1836 by A. D. Bache of the University of Pennsylvania, the law of the effect of heat on the conduction of bodies that are otherwise non-conductors, for example, glass, could be attributed to Franklin. Franklin writes, “A certain quantity of heat will make some bodies good conductors, that will not otherwise conduct …And water, though naturally a good conductor, will not conduct well when frozen into ice.”

Franklin took a great deal of interest in the food products grown in Britain and North America, generally expressing a preference for the latter.  He did, however, send seeds of kale (which he called “Scotch cabbage”) and rhubarb to friends back home. I suspect he was more interested in the medicinal properties of the roots of rhubarb than the food uses of the stalks. In return he asked his wife to send him apples and cranberries which she sent by the barrel load !! He could get apples in England, of course, but he preferred American Newton pippins for roasting over the apples he could find there. Cranberries of several species are indigenous to all northern temperate regions, but they did not catch on as a domesticated species in Europe in the way that they did in North America. Even in the United States they’re hard to find uncooked these days except around Thanksgiving; most are commercially processed into juice, sauces, and jellies. If you can find plain cranberries you might consider making a tart. Here’s one idea using a custard filling and quite a lot of brown sugar to counter the sourness of the cranberries. I generally use a prepared tart shell out of laziness, but you can make your own pastry if you wish.

Cranberry Custard Tart


9” tart crust
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup water
2 cups cranberries (10 oz)
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 ½ tsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup light cream
½ tsp almond extract
confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Blind bake the tart shell by lining it with foil and filling with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the tart shell for about 30 minutes, until the rim is lightly golden. Remove the foil and weights and bake for another 5 minutes, until it is lightly golden all over. Set the tart pan on a wire rack.

Increase the oven temperature to 375°F/190°C

Meanwhile, make the filling in a medium saucepan by combining the granulated sugar with the water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries, cover and cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the pan from the heat and let the cranberries cool to room temperature. Drain the cranberries well and reserve the cranberry syrup.

In a medium bowl, make a custard by beating the eggs with the brown sugar and flour. Whisk in the light cream and the almond extract. Spread the cranberries in the tart shell. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the reserved cranberry syrup over the cranberries, then pour in the almond custard.

Bake the tart in the lower third of the oven until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer the tart in the pan to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 2 hours. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Jun 142017

Today is the traditional date of the founding of Munich, capital of Bavaria, in 1158 by Henry the Lion who built a bridge there across the river Isar. The name of the city is derived from the Old/Middle High German term Munichen, meaning “by the monks” deriving from the fact that monks of the Benedictine order ran a monastery there, and hence the monk depicted on the city’s coat of arms. The date is, in fact, arbitrary based on the fact that this is the earliest date that the city is mentioned in a document, signed in Augsburg. Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria built a toll bridge over the river Isar as part of the Old Salt Route, a vital trade route for centuries.

The Old Salt Route (Alte Salzstraße) was a medieval trade route in northern Germany, one of an ancient network of salt roads which were used primarily for the transport of salt, but also for other staples. Salt was a very valuable commodity at that time, sometimes known as “white gold.” The vast bulk of the salt transported on the road was produced from brine near Lüneburg, a city in the northern central part of the country and then transported to Lübeck, a major seaport on the Baltic coast.

It is generally assumed that the Old Salt Route was part of a much longer path connecting the northern and southern towns of the region. One of the oldest documents that confirms Lüneburg’s role in refining and transporting salt dates from 956. According to that document, King Otto I the Great granted the St. Michaelis Monastery in Lüneburg the customs revenue from the saltworks. In those days the city’s wealth was based in large part on the salt found in the area. However, the Old Salt Route attained its peak of success between the 12th and the 16th centuries.

The trade route led from Lüneburg northward to Lübeck (also founded by Henry). From that port city, most of the salt was shipped to numerous destinations that also lie on the Baltic Sea, including Falsterbo, with its renowned Scania market (Danish Skånemarkedet) whose herring trade was one of the cornerstones of Hanseatic League. Salt was used for the preservation of herring which was of immense importance in the Middle Ages. The salt trade was a major source of power and wealth for both Lübeck and the Hanseatic League.

Legend has it that the herring fishery off the Scanian coast was so rich, that one could scoop up the fish with one’s hands. After a visit to the region in 1364, the French crusader Philippe de Mezieres wrote:

Two months a year, that is in September and October, the herring travel from one sea to the other through the Sound, by order of God, in such large numbers that it is a great wonder, and so many pass through the sound in these months, that at several places one can cut them with a dagger.

As early as the 12th century the peninsula had become a center for the herring trade; the Scanian name for the town Falsterbo was Falsterbothe, which meant “the booths for fish from Falster.” The 13th-century German chronicler Arnold of Lübeck, author of Chronicon Slavorum, wrote that the Danes had wealth and an abundance of everything thanks to the yearly catches of herring at the Scanian coast.

Salt wa brought from Lüneburg to a crossing of the Elbe river at Artlenburg (near Lauenburg) and from there, via Mölln, to Lübeck. However, for the most part, the historic trade route was composed of unsurfaced, sandy and often muddy roads through heathland, woods and small villages, making the transport of salt an arduous task. In addition, the route was dangerous given that the valuable cargo attracted thieves, bandits and marauders of all stripes. The dangers faced by those making the long trek, combined with the fact that only relatively small quantities of salt could be carried in any single journey, made moving salt via overland routes very expensive.

In 1175 Munich, fast becoming a vital link on the Salt Road, was officially granted city status and was fortified. In 1180, after the trial of Henry the Lion (in absentia for insubordination by a court of bishops and princes), Otto I Wittelsbach became Duke of Bavaria and Munich was handed over to the Bishop of Freising. (Wittelsbach’s heirs, the Wittelsbach dynasty, ruled Bavaria until 1918.) In 1240, Munich was transferred to Otto II Wittelsbach and in 1255, when the Duchy of Bavaria was split in two, Munich became the ducal residence of Upper Bavaria. Duke Louis IV, a native of Munich, was elected German king in 1314 and crowned as Holy Roman Emperor in 1328. He strengthened the city’s position by granting it the salt monopoly, thus assuring it vital income for its growth and prosperity.

No trouble finding a recipe today, of course, although I should talk about salt in the diet in general first. I pretty much always put “salt to taste” in recipes rather than giving precise amounts because tastes vary so dramatically, as well as dietary needs. In certain recipes, notably yeast products and some pastries, a small amount of salt is essential, but for the most part you can do without it if you train your palate. I almost never use salt in recipes but I get more than my recommended daily allowance, which is only about 1 to 2 grams, without trying. The thing is that salt was such an important part of food preservation in antiquity forwards that in general people’s taste buds became habituated to foods with high salt content so that foods with lower salt content tasted bland. Nowadays salt is no longer needed for preservation but the habituation remains. Clinical research results are not entirely definitive, but there seems to be a strong correlation between high salt intake and high blood pressure. In my humble opinion, it’s best not to take risks. For many years I had very low blood pressure, but I stopped using salt in cooking anyway. If you are habituated to high salt content and try to limit it when you develop high blood pressure, you are too late. It takes several months but you can reduce your salt intake slowly – day by day – and you’ll find that over time your taste buds adjust so that low salt or no salt recipes taste fine.

Herring spoils very quickly and so for centuries it had to be preserved by salting or smoking, or both, and these methods are still used because the results are not just practical but produce distinctive tastes as well. Because I don’t commonly cook with salt, heavily salted fish tastes overpowering to me. The usual instructions for cooking salt herring start by telling you to cover the fish in water in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight. I go a few steps further by placing it in a colander which I immerse in a large bowl of cold water, for about 8 hours, changing the water every hour. The colander facilitates lifting the fish out each time. Then I immerse the fish in a bowl of water, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Herring is a bony fish, so before you cook it you need to fillet it and remove the bones. A pair of tweezers is more or less essential.  Then the salted variety can be prepared in a number of ways. Breading the fillets and frying them  in a little olive oil with garlic is very traditional, but I’m more partial to making it into a classic English fish pie which I have mentioned before.  I make it easier to debone the fish by poaching it lightly first and then scraping the meat (in chunks as much as possible) from the bones. Then I prepare mashed potatoes with leeks and onions, mix it together with the fish, and bake in a hot oven until the top is golden. Proportion of fish to potatoes is entirely up to you.  About 1 part fish to 2 parts potato works for me.

Jun 132017

Today is the birthday (1831) of James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE, a Scottish mathematical physicist whose most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” after the first one realized by Isaac Newton. When most people think of the masterminds of physics they think of Einstein and Newton, but rarely conjure up Maxwell. Yet his accomplishment was of the same magnitude as theirs. Furthermore, his work led directly to the technological accomplishments of the late 19th and 20th centuries including the generation of electricity, leading in turn to electric lighting, the alternator in the internal combustion engine, digital computing, and on and on . . . Unification of forces is a BIG DEAL, not just theoretically, but in practical terms.

With the publication of “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field” in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is an undulation in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves, which, of course led to the development of radio and television.

I’ll try not to make your eyes glaze over with Maxwell’s equations, but I would like to venture some attempt at the magnitude of his work. First, a little biographical stuff. His genius was immediately obvious to all he encountered rivalled only by his insatiable curiosity. Maxwell was born at 14 India Street, Edinburgh, to John Clerk Maxwell of Middlebie, an advocate, and Frances Cay. His father was a man of comfortable means of the Clerk family of Penicuik, holders of the baronetcy of Clerk of Penicuik. His father’s brother was the 6th Baronet. Maxwell’s parents met and married when they were well into their 30s, and his mother was nearly 40 when he was born. They had had one earlier child, a daughter named Elizabeth, who died in infancy.

When Maxwell was young his family moved to Glenlair House, which his parents had built on the 1,500 acres (610 ha) Middlebie estate. All indications are that Maxwell had an unquenchable curiosity from an early age. By the age of three, everything that moved, shone, or made a noise drew the question: “what’s the go o’ that?” In a passage added to a letter from his father to his sister-in-law Jane Cay in 1834, his mother described this innate sense of inquisitiveness:

He is a very happy man, and has improved much since the weather got moderate; he has great work with doors, locks, keys, etc., and “show me how it doos” is never out of his mouth. He also investigates the hidden course of streams and bell-wires, the way the water gets from the pond through the wall….

Maxwell was taught by his mother, as was the norm in Victorian Scotland until the age of 8 when she died of cancer. He was then taught briefly by a 16-year-old tutor hired by his father. Little is known about the young man except that he treated Maxwell harshly, chiding him for being slow and wayward. Consequently his father dismissed him and sent his son to prestigious Edinburgh Academy. The 10-year-old Maxwell with rural mannerisms and Galloway accent did not fit in well and the other students called him “Daftie,” which biographers usually say he tolerated without complaint. But a classmate wrote that one time when he was being teased by a group of boys he turned on them with a look of demonic ferocity, and after that they left him in peace.

Maxwell was brilliant at geometry at an early age. He rediscovered the regular polyhedra, for example, before he received any formal instruction. His academic prowess remained unnoticed until, at the age of 13, he won the school’s mathematical medal and first prize for both English and poetry. Maxwell’s interests ranged far beyond the school syllabus and he did not pay particular attention to examination performance. He wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 14. In it he described a mechanical means of drawing mathematical curves with a piece of twine, and the properties of ellipses, Cartesian ovals, and related curves with more than two foci. His work “Oval Curves” was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh by James Forbes, a professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University, but Maxwell was deemed too young to present the work himself. The work was not entirely original, since René Descartes had also examined the properties of such multifocal ellipses in the 17th century, but he had simplified their construction.

Maxwell left the Academy in 1847 at age 16 and began attending classes at the University of Edinburgh. He had the opportunity to attend the University of Cambridge, but decided, after his first term, to complete the full course of his undergraduate studies at Edinburgh. He did not find his classes at Edinburgh University very demanding, and was therefore able to immerse himself in private study during free time at the university and particularly when back home at Glenlair where he experimented with improvised chemical, electric, and magnetic apparatus, but his chief concerns regarded the properties of polarized light. He constructed shaped blocks of gelatine, subjected them to various stresses, and with a pair of polarizing prisms, given to him by William Nicol, viewed the colored fringes that had developed within the jelly. Through this practice he discovered photoelasticity, which is a means of determining the stress distribution within physical structures, which eventually he used to analyze the load bearing properties of metal bridge structures.

At age 18, Maxwell contributed two papers for the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. One of these, “On the Equilibrium of Elastic Solids”, laid the foundation for an important discovery later in his life, which was the temporary double refraction produced in viscous liquids by shear stress. His other paper was “Rolling Curves” and, just as with the paper “Oval Curves” that he had written at the Edinburgh Academy, he was again considered too young to stand at the rostrum to present it himself. The paper was delivered to the Royal Society by his tutor Kelland instead.

In October 1850, already an accomplished mathematician, Maxwell left Scotland for the University of Cambridge. He initially attended Peterhouse, but before the end of his first term transferred to Trinity, where he believed it would be easier to obtain a fellowship. In November 1851, Maxwell studied under William Hopkins, whose success in nurturing mathematical genius had earned him the nickname of “senior wrangler-maker” (“senior wrangler” is the top undergraduate in mathematics in final examinations). In 1854, Maxwell graduated from Trinity with a degree in mathematics. He scored second highest in finals, coming behind Edward Routh and earning the title of second wrangler. He was later declared equal with Routh in the more exacting ordeal of the Smith’s Prize examination. Immediately after earning his degree, Maxwell read his paper “On the Transformation of Surfaces by Bending” to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. This is one of the few purely mathematical papers he had written, demonstrating Maxwell’s growing stature as a mathematician. He decided to remain at Trinity after graduating and applied for a fellowship, which was a process that he expected to take a couple of years.

Maxwell was made a fellow of Trinity on 10 October 1855, sooner than was the norm, and was asked to prepare lectures on hydrostatics and optics and to set examination papers. The following February he was urged by a colleague to apply for the newly vacant Chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College in Aberdeen. His father assisted him in the task of preparing the necessary references, but died on 2 April at Glenlair before either knew the result of Maxwell’s candidacy. Maxwell accepted the professorship at Aberdeen, leaving Cambridge in November 1856. From there he went from success to success in Edinburgh, Cambridge, and London.  Let’s turn now to his achievements.

Maxwell is best remembered for his equations which unified light, electricity, and magnetism into a single phenomenon with varied dimensions. Let me pause and take stock of that idea in the most general terms. The ultimate goal of mathematical physics is to SIMPLIFY the way we look at the world by reducing complex observations to simple rules.  Newton was a towering giant in this respect. He showed that force and motion could be reduced to some basic equations, whether you’re talking about firing a cannon, piloting a ship, or falling from a tall building. F = ma (force equals mass times acceleration) has stood the test of time. As physics has evolved since Newton, more and more forces have been unified into a grand theory.  Electro-magnetic forces, and forces within the atom have already been unified, and it looks as though gravity is within reach with the recent discovery of gravitational waves. Then we will have the “theory of everything” which is a slightly grandiose way of saying that all forces in the universe will be subsumed under one umbrella. Maxwell was a monumentally important figure along that path – every bit as important as Newton and Einstein.

Maxwell had studied and commented on electricity and magnetism as early as 1855 when his paper “On Faraday’s lines of force” was read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The paper presented a simplified model of Faraday’s work and how electricity and magnetism are related. He reduced all of the current knowledge into a linked set of differential equations with 20 equations in 20 variables. This work was later published as “On Physical Lines of Force” in March 1861. Maxwell’s equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. They underpin all electric, optical and radio technologies, including power generation, electric motors, wireless communication, cameras, televisions, computers etc. Maxwell’s equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated by charges, currents, and changes of each other. One important consequence of the equations is that they demonstrate how fluctuating electric and magnetic fields propagate at the speed of light. Known as electromagnetic radiation, these waves may occur at various wavelengths to produce a spectrum from radio waves to gamma-rays and everything in between: red, orange, yellow, microwaves, X-rays, intra-red, etc. That’s a lot of stuff.

Within his lifetime other physicists showed that his 20 equations could be boiled down to 4 (see lead photo) which is conventionally how they are perceived nowadays.

Following Newton, Maxwell was  interested in the physics of color but also color perception. From 1855 to 1872, he published at intervals a series of investigations concerning the perception of color, color-blindness, and color theory, and was awarded the Rumford Medal for “On the Theory of Colour Vision.”

Maxwell was also interested in applying his theory of color perception color photography stemming directly from his psychological work on color perception. He argued that if a sum of any three lights could reproduce any perceivable color, then color photographs could be produced with a set of three colored filters. In the course of his 1855 paper, Maxwell proposed that, if three black-and-white photographs of a scene were taken through red, green and blue filters and transparent prints of the images were projected on to a screen using three projectors equipped with similar filters, when superimposed on the screen the result would be perceived by the human eye as a complete reproduction of all the colors in the scene. During an 1861 Royal Institution lecture on color theory, Maxwell presented the world’s first demonstration of color photography by this principle of three-color analysis and synthesis. Thomas Sutton, inventor of the single-lens reflex camera, took the picture. He photographed a tartan ribbon three times, through red, green, and blue filters, also making a fourth photograph through a yellow filter, which, according to Maxwell’s account, was not used in the demonstration. Because Sutton’s photographic plates were insensitive to red and barely sensitive to green, the results of this pioneering experiment were far from perfect.

Maxwell also investigated the kinetic theory of gases. Originating with Daniel Bernoulli, this theory was advanced by the successive work of John Herapath, John James Waterston, James Joule, and particularly Rudolf Clausius, to such an extent as to put its general accuracy beyond a doubt; but it received enormous development from Maxwell, who in this field appeared as an experimenter (on the laws of gaseous friction) as well as a mathematician. Between 1859 and 1866, he developed the theory of the distributions of velocities in particles of a gas, work later generalized by Ludwig Boltzmann. The formula, called the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, gives the fraction of gas molecules moving at a specified velocity at any given temperature. In the kinetic theory, temperatures and heat involve only molecular movement. This approach generalized the previously established laws of thermodynamics and explained existing observations and experiments in a better way than had been achieved previously.

Maxwell’s work on thermodynamics led him to devise the thought experiment that came to be known as Maxwell’s demon, where the second law of thermodynamics (law of entropy) is violated by an imaginary being capable of sorting particles by energy. This thought experiment, as has been demonstrated multiple times, is fatally flawed. Observing the particles and opening the door require more energy than is gained by the sorting of the particles.

Maxwell published a paper “On governors” in the Proceedings of Royal Society, vol. 16 (1867–1868). This paper is considered a central paper in the early days of control theory. In this context “governors” refers to the centrifugal governor used to regulate steam engines. A lithograph of Maxwell’s governor hung in the Woodward Governor factory on Slough Trading Estate where I got my first job as an inventory clerk in the stock room as a teenager.

Maxwell’s insatiable curiosity led him to inquire into all manner of subjects including the density of the earth and the composition of water. He was also able to prove that the rings of Saturn were composed of solid particles.

Maxwell died in Cambridge of abdominal cancer on 5 November 1879 at the age of 48. His mother had died at the same age of the same type of cancer. The minister who regularly visited him in his last weeks – he was an ardent Presbyterian – was astonished at his lucidity and the immense power and scope of his memory, and commented,

His illness drew out the whole heart and soul and spirit of the man: his firm and undoubting faith in the Incarnation and all its results; in the full sufficiency of the Atonement; in the work of the Holy Spirit. He had gauged and fathomed all the schemes and systems of philosophy, and had found them utterly empty and unsatisfying — “unworkable” was his own word about them — and he turned with simple faith to the Gospel of the Saviour.

As death approached Maxwell told a Cambridge colleague

I have been thinking how very gently I have always been dealt with. I have never had a violent shove all my life. The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep.

Maxwell is buried at Parton Kirk beside his parents, near Castle Douglas in Galloway close to where he grew up.

Here’s a Scottish variation on a theme from Galloway.  It’s called Scotch Broth but is not the traditional mutton and barley soup. It’s a chicken, barley, and vegetable soup served with oatmeal dumplings.  The old, traditional recipe calls for boiling the dumpling in a cloth in the soup for an hour, but more modern cooks make small dumplings and cook them directly in the soup.  The original recipe calls for an old boiling hen, but you can use a young chicken. I usually do.

Galloway Scotch Broth with Oatmeal Dumplings



1 3-4 lb chicken (or boiling fowl)
4 oz (115g) barley
8 oz (225g) split peas
1 oz (30g) whole peas
2 leeks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 turnip, chopped
4 brussels sprouts
2 small blades kale, chopped
fresh parsley
chicken stock (optional)


2 oz (60g) beef dripping (or lard)
1 onion, finely chopped
½ lb (250g) fine oatmeal.
salt and pepper.


Put 7 pints (3.6 L) of water (or chicken stock if you prefer) in a large stock pot.  Bring to the boil, then add salt to taste and all the soup ingredients. Simmer gently for about 2 hours (more if using a fowl). Make sure the barley is cooked through.

Meanwhile prepare the dumplings. Make a stiff dough by placing the dumpling ingredients in a bowl, mixing them, then adding cold water a little at a time until it all comes together but is not wet. Roll out dumplings about 1” in diameter and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the soup. Add the dumplings and continue to cook for about 30 minutes. Strip as much chicken meat from the bones as you wish, and add it back to the soup for a few minutes to heat through before serving. Reserve the rest of the chicken meat for other uses.

Jun 122017

Today is the birthday (1890) of Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter whose work is noted for its intensity and its raw sexuality that cut completely against the grain of the nude in Western art and caused him to be condemned as crude by the art world. Nowadays his name is not much recognized alongside that of his mentor Gustav Klimt, but I have known about his work for a long time since first being introduced to it by a girlfriend who was an art student in Oxford. I took that as a positive sign. He is now recognized as one of the founders of Expressionism – which I can’t honestly say appeals to me all that much, any more than does Schiele’s personal lifestyle: de gustibus . . .

Schiele was born in Tulln, Lower Austria. His father, Adolf Schiele, was the station master of the Tulln station of the Austrian State Railways. As a child, Schiele was fascinated by trains, and would spend many hours drawing them, to the point where his father decided to destroy his sketchbooks. When he was 11 years old, Schiele moved to the nearby city of Krems (and later to Klosterneuburg) to attend secondary school. To those around him, Schiele was regarded as a strange child. Shy and reserved, he did poorly at school except in athletics and drawing, and was usually in classes made up of younger pupils. He also displayed incestuous tendencies towards his younger sister Gertrude (known as Gerti), and his father, well aware of Egon’s behavior, once broke down the door of a locked room that Egon and Gerti were in to see what they were doing (only to discover that they were developing a film).

When Schiele was 15 years old, his father died from syphilis, and he became a ward of his maternal uncle, Leopold Czihaczek, also a railway official Although he wanted Schiele to follow in his footsteps, and was distressed at his lack of interest in academia, he recognized Schiele’s talent for drawing and unenthusiastically allowed him a tutor; the artist Ludwig Karl Strauch. In 1906 Schiele applied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt had once studied. Within his first year there, Schiele was sent, at the insistence of several faculty members, to the more traditional Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna in 1906. His main teacher at the academy was Christian Griepenkerl, a painter whose strict doctrine and ultra-conservative style frustrated and dissatisfied Schiele and many of his fellow students.

In 1907, Schiele sought out Gustav Klimt, who generously mentored younger artists. Klimt took a particular interest in the young Schiele, buying his drawings, offering to exchange them for some of his own, arranging models for him and introducing him to potential patrons. He also introduced Schiele to the Wiener Werkstätte, the arts and crafts workshop connected with the Vienna Secession (a group of artist who rebelled against conservative art). In 1908 Schiele had his first exhibition, in Klosterneuburg. Schiele left the Academy in 1909, after completing his third year, and founded the Neukunstgruppe (“New Art Group”) with other dissatisfied students.

Klimt invited Schiele to exhibit some of his work at the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, where he encountered the work of Edvard Munch, Jan Toorop, and Vincent van Gogh among others. Once free of the constraints of the Academy’s conventions, Schiele began to explore not only the human form, but also human sexuality. At the time, many found the explicitness of his works disturbing. Some undoubtedly still do.

From then on, Schiele participated in numerous group exhibitions, including those of the Neukunstgruppe in Prague in 1910 and Budapest in 1912; the Sonderbund, Cologne, in 1912; and several Secessionist shows in Munich, beginning in 1911. In 1913, the Galerie Hans Goltz in Munich, mounted Schiele’s first solo show, and another solo exhibition of his work took place in Paris in 1914.

Schiele’s work was already daring, but it went a bold step further with the inclusion of Klimt’s decorative eroticism and with what some call figurative distortions, that included elongations, deformities, and sexual openness (diagnostic of Expressionism). Schiele’s self-portraits helped re-establish the energy of both genres with their unique level of emotional and sexual honesty and use of figural distortion in place of conventional ideals of beauty. Egon Schiele’s Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands (1910) is considered among the most significant nude art pieces made during the 20th century. Schiele’s radical and developed approach towards the naked human form challenged both scholars and progressives alike. This unconventional piece and style went against strict academia and created an uproar concerning its contorted lines and heavy display of figurative expression.

In 1911, Schiele met the 17-year-old Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, who lived with him in Vienna and served as a model for some of his most striking paintings. Very little is known of her, except that she had previously modeled for Gustav Klimt and might have been one of his mistresses. Schiele and Wally wanted to escape what they perceived as the claustrophobic Viennese milieu, and went to the small town of Český Krumlov (Krumau) in southern Bohemia. Krumau was the birthplace of Schiele’s mother; today it is the site of a museum dedicated to Schiele. Despite Schiele’s family connections in Krumau, he and Wally were driven out of the town by the residents, who strongly disapproved of their lifestyle, including his (alleged) employment of the town’s teenage girls as models.

Together they moved to Neulengbach, 35 km west of Vienna, seeking inspirational surroundings and an inexpensive studio in which to work. Schiele’s studio became a gathering place for Neulengbach’s delinquent children, and Schiele’s way of life aroused a great deal of animosity among the town’s inhabitants. In April 1912 he was arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent.

When they came to his studio to place him under arrest, the police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic. Schiele was imprisoned while awaiting his trial. When his case was brought before a judge, the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. In court, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame. The 21 days he had already spent in custody were taken into account, and he was sentenced to a further three days’ imprisonment. While in prison, Schiele created a series of 12 paintings depicting the difficulties and discomfort of being locked in a jail cell.

In 1914, Schiele glimpsed the sisters Edith and Adéle Harms, who lived with their parents across the street from his studio in the Viennese district of Hietzing, 101 Hietzinger Hauptstraße. In 1915, Schiele decided to marry Edith, but had apparently expected to maintain a relationship with Wally. However, when he explained the situation to Wally, she left him immediately and never saw him again. This abandonment led him to paint Death and the Maiden, where Wally’s portrait is based on a previous pairing, but Schiele’s is new. Despite some opposition from the Harms family, Schiele and Edith were married on 17 June 1915, the anniversary of the wedding of Schiele’s parents.


Despite avoiding conscription for almost a year, World War I now began to shape Schiele’s life and work. Three days after his wedding, Schiele was ordered to report for active service in the army where he was initially stationed in Prague. Edith came with him and stayed in a hotel in the city, while Egon lived in an exhibition hall with his fellow conscripts. They were allowed by Schiele’s commanding officer to see each other occasionally. Despite his military service, Schiele was still exhibiting in Berlin. During the same year, he also had successful shows in Zürich, Prague, and Dresden. His first duties consisted of guarding and escorting Russian prisoners. Because of his weak heart and his excellent handwriting, Schiele was eventually given a job as a clerk in a POW camp near the town of Mühling.

There he was allowed to draw and paint imprisoned Russian officers, and his commander, Karl Moser (who assumed that Schiele was a painter and decorator when he first met him), even gave him a disused store room to use as a studio. Since Schiele was in charge of the food stores in the camp, he and Edith could get food beyond state rations. By 1917, he was back in Vienna, able to focus on his artistic career. His output was prolific, and his work reflected the maturity of an artist in his prime. He was invited to participate in the Secession’s 49th exhibition, held in Vienna in 1918. Schiele had fifty works accepted for this exhibition, and they were displayed in the main hall. He also designed a poster for the exhibition, which was reminiscent of the Last Supper, with a portrait of himself in the place of Christ. The show was a triumphant success, and as a result, prices for Schiele’s drawings increased and he received many portrait commissions.

In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28th October. Schiele died only three days after his wife. He was 28 years old. During the three days between their deaths, Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith.

Fortunately Schiele was not Viennese, so I do not have to pummel my brain for a new recipe. He came from Lower Austria, and it’s important to realize that Viennese cuisine and Austrian cuisine are not synonymous. As in every European nation there are regional styles of cooking that are readily identifiable. Lower Austria is noted for its apricot production and, hence, an apricot stuffed dumpling called Marillenknödel. The dough is made using quark, German word for “curds” which have been whipped and resemble yoghurt somewhat. You can buy it in the US and Britain if you hunt. Otherwise, substitute cottage cheese.



5 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup/8oz quark (or cottage cheese, well drained)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ lb fresh apricots (8-10)
12 (approx.) sugar cubes
⅓ cup butter
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tbsp granulated sugar


In a large bowl combine the melted butter, quark, a pinch of salt, eggs and most of the flour. Use a wooden spoon then your hands to knead into a soft dough.  Don’t add more flour than necessary. Shape into a ball, cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Wash and dry the apricots, then cut them in halves, remove and discard the pit. Place 1 sugar cube between each pair of apricot halves and set aside.

Bring 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a gentle boil in a large pot.

On a lightly floured board, press or roll out the dough to a ½” thickness. Cut into 2”squares. Place a stuffed apricot (2 halves with a sugar cube in the middle) in the center of each square of dough. Press the dough around the fruit, covering them completely and as evenly as possible.

Add the dumplings to the gently boiling water in batches and cook for 10 minutes. Don’t let the water boil too vigorously or the dumplings will fall apart before cooking. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks.

Melt ⅓ cup of butter in a medium skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and sauté until caramelized a golden brown. Roll the dumplings in the caramelized breadcrumbs to completely coat.