Dec 312015
 

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Arthur Guinness began brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin, and on this date in 1759, he signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the brewery. At the outset he brewed a variety of beers. One of them was called “stout” which originally referred to a beer’s strength, but eventually shifted meaning toward body and color. Arthur Guinness started selling dark beer porter in 1778. The first Guinness® beers to use the term “stout” were Single Stout and Double Stout in the 1840s. Throughout the bulk of its history, Guinness produced only three variations of a single beer type: porter or single stout, double or extra, and foreign stout for export.

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Guinness stout is made from water, barley, roast malt extract, hops, and brewer’s yeast. A portion of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its dark color and characteristic taste. It is pasteurized and filtered. Despite its reputation as a “meal in a glass”, Guinness only contains 198 kcal (838 kilojoules) per imperial pint (1460 kJ/L), slightly fewer than skimmed milk, orange juice, and most other non-light beers.

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Until the late 1950s Guinness was still racked into wooden casks. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Guinness ceased brewing cask-conditioned beers and developed a keg brewing system with aluminium kegs replacing the wooden casks; these were nicknamed “iron lungs.” Draught Guinness and its canned counterpart contain nitrogen as well as carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge” (the widget in cans and bottles achieves the same effect). This “widget” is a small plastic ball containing the nitrogen with also just a little beer itself. The perceived smoothness of draught Guinness is due to its low level of carbon dioxide and the creaminess of the head caused by the very fine bubbles that arise from the use of nitrogen and the dispensing method described above. “Original Extra Stout” contains only carbon dioxide, causing a more acidic taste.

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Contemporary Guinness Draught and Extra Stout are weaker than they were in the 19th century, when they had an original gravity of over 1.070. The current Foreign Extra Stout and Special Export Stout, with abv of 7.5% and 9% respectively, are perhaps closest to the original in character. Although Guinness may appear to be black, it is really (and officially) a very dark shade of ruby.

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Guinness breweries pioneered several quality control efforts. The brewery hired the statistician William Sealy Gosset in 1899, who achieved lasting fame under the pseudonym “Student” for techniques developed for Guinness, particularly Student’s t-distribution and the even more commonly known Student’s t-test. These were developed by Gosset for quality control of grains used in brewing, but are now fundamental to basic statistical analysis. He used a pseudonym because Guinness employees were forbidden from publishing research results.

By 1900 the brewery was operating unparalleled welfare schemes for its 5,000 employees. By 1907 the welfare schemes were costing the brewery £40,000 a year, which was one fifth of the total wages bill. The improvements were suggested and supervised by Sir John Lumsden.

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The story is told, and substantially confirmed, that on 10 November 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, went on a shooting party in the North Slob, by the River Slaney in County Wexford, Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, he became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover or the red grouse (it is the plover). That evening at Castlebridge House, he realized that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe’s fastest game bird. Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs throughout Ireland and abroad, but there was no book in the world with which to settle arguments about records. He realized then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove successful.

Beaver’s idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended Oxford University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The twin brothers were commissioned to compile what became The Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. A thousand copies were printed and given away. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that Chataway was one of Roger Bannister’s pacers and Norris McWhirter was the track announcer and an official timekeeper for Bannister’s successful sub-4 minute mile at Iffley track in Oxford in 1954 (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/4-minute-mile/).

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Guinness advertizing has been well known for decades for its ingenuity and humor. Here’s a small gallery:

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Guinness is a common ingredient in cooking everything from stews and pies to cakes and puddings. Wherever beer is called for in a recipe, Guinness can be used. You can make a Guinness batter for deep frying, steak and Guinness pie, Guinness cake – whatever suits your fancy and your palate. This is the Guinness page for recipes and pairings — https://www.guinness.com/en/recipes-and-pairings/ For a classic taste I’d try the beef and oyster pie on this page: very Victorian.

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I’ll go with Guinness and chocolate ice cream as the weirdest, although chocolate beer is quite common in Belgium and Germany. To avoid copyright infringement, I’ll give the URL for the recipe:

http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-review-david-lebovitzs-45655

Otherwise, here’s a few ideas:

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Dec 302015
 

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Today is the birthday (1865) of Joseph Rudyard Kipling, Nobel laureate and Anglo-Indian short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His famous poems include “Mandalay” (1890), “Gunga Din” (1890), “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919), “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), and “If—” (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story and his children’s books are classics of children’s literature.

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Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize, and its youngest recipient to date. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined.

Kipling’s subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. Douglas Kerr sums it up “[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognized as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with.” I think you have it right there. If you want to know about the British empire in all of its complexity at the height of its power, read Kipling.

My views are deeply mixed. I was raised on Kipling in Australia in the dying years of the British empire, when England was still called the “mother country,” and the likes of “If—” and “Gunga Din” were standard fare in school poetry books. I was supremely happy as a Wolf Cub, modeled on The Jungle Book’s tales and characters, and played Kim’s game in the Boy Scouts. Then the ‘60s happened and the “white man’s burden” was seen for what it was – ethnocentric exploitation and brutality masking as the civilizing of the world. There’s no way to hide Kipling’s conservative, imperialistic views, even though his depictions of Asia are nuanced and often sympathetic. But his most general view of human character at its best is inspiring. That’s why “If—” is still popular (though parodied in the 1968 film of the same name).

Rudyard Kipling and wife

Rudyard Kipling and wife

I’d like to take “Mandalay” as a microcosm of his work. Here is the full version.

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:

Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud –
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd –
Plucky lot she cared for idols
When I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo and she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.

Elephants a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

But that’s all above be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no buses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”

No! You won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly Temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but what do they understand?

Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! Wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

Ship me somewhere’s east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the Temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

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Any man who prefers Mandalay to London has my vote. The British troops stationed in Burma were taken up (or down) the Irrawaddy River (the “road to Mandalay”) by paddle steamers run by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC). Rangoon to Mandalay was a 700 km trip each way. During the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 9,000 British and Indian soldiers had been transported by a fleet of paddle steamers (“the old flotilla” of the poem) and other boats from Rangoon to Mandalay. Guerrilla warfare followed the occupation of Mandalay and British regiments remained in Burma for several years.

Kipling wrote “Mandalay” around April 1890, when he was 24 years old. He had arrived in England in October the previous year, after seven years in India. He had taken an eastward route home, traveling by steamship from Calcutta to Japan, then to San Francisco, then across the United States, in company with his friends Alex and “Ted” (Edmonia) Hill. Rangoon had been the first port of call after Calcutta; then there was an unscheduled stop at Moulmein. It is plain that Kipling was struck by the beauty of Burmese girls. He wrote at the time:

I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.

You see both sides of Kipling in this poem – the condescending colonial master, and the sympathetic ex-pat – full of bravado mingled with longing. It was set to music many times. One of the most famous versions is by Peter Dawson:


The song version is considerably shorter than the original poem, and much of the detail is lost. But the essence is there. It makes me miss my days in Asia terribly.

Do we really want to return to the days Kipling idolizes and laments in their passing? I don’t think so. But “The Man Who Would Be King” is still one of my favorite short stories, as is the movie made of it, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine giving impeccable performances. This scene always makes me laugh:


Classic !!

Apparently Kipling’s favorite food was pineapple upside-down cake, and old fashioned dessert you don’t see much any more. It’s very easy to make.

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Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients

Topping

50g softened butter
50g light soft brown sugar
7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained (with syrup reserved)
glacé cherries

Cake

100g softened butter
100g golden caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Grease a 20-21cm (8”) round cake tin.

For the topping, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Spread this mix over the base and a quarter of the way up the sides of the cake tin. Arrange the pineapple rings on top, then place cherries (one or more) in the centers of the rings.

Place the cake ingredients in a bowl along with 2 tablespoons of the pineapple syrup and beat to a soft consistency. Spoon the cake mix into the cake tin on top of the pineapple and smooth it out so it is as level as possible. Bake for 35 mins. Leave the cake to stand on a wire rack for 5 mins, then turn it out on to a plate. Serve warm.

Dec 292015
 

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On this date in 1911 Mongolia declared independence from the Qing dynasty of China. The National Revolution of 1911 in China ended over 200 years of Qing rule, though it was not until the Revolution of 1921 that de facto independence from the Republic of China was firmly established. The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the Turkic Khaganate, and others. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan (see link below) conquered China to establish the Yuan dynasty. After the collapse of the Yuan, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia and resumed their earlier pattern of factional conflict, except during the era of Dayan Khan and Tumen Zasagt Khan. In the 16th century, Tibetan Buddhism began to spread in Mongolia, being further led by the Manchu-founded Qing dynasty, which absorbed the country in the 17th century. By the early 1900s, almost one-third of the adult male population were Buddhist monks. During the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Mongols established the Temporary Government of Khalkha on November 30, 1911. This was before the abdication of the last Qing emperor and the establishment of the Republic of China.

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Mongolia is the 19th largest and one of the most sparsely populated independent countries in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by grassy steppe, used by nomadic pastoralists, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.

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Mongolia is colloquially known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” or “Country of Blue Sky” (“Mönkh khökh tengeriin oron”) because it has over 250 sunny days a year. The geography of Mongolia is varied, with the Gobi Desert to the south and with cold and mountainous regions to the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppes, with forested areas comprising 11.2% of the total land area. The highest point in Mongolia is the Khüiten Peak in the Tavan bogd massif in the far west at 4,374 m (14,350 ft). The basin of the Uvs Lake, shared with Tuva Republic in Russia, is a natural World Heritage Site. Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as −30 °C (−22 °F). A vast front of cold, heavy, shallow air comes in from Siberia in winter and collects in river valleys and low basins causing very cold temperatures while slopes of mountains are much warmer due to the effects of temperature inversion (temperature increases with altitude).

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The pastoral nomads of Mongolia make up about one-third of the population. They are self sufficient and live on the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats, as well as game. Meat is either cooked plain, used as an ingredient for soups and dumplings (buuz), or dried for winter (borts). The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures get as low as −40 ° (which is the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit !!) and outdoor work requires large energy reserves. Milk and cream are used to make a variety of beverages, as well as cheese and other fermented products.

Traditional Mongolian cooking methods (with a good video) are covered in this post:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kublai-khan/

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Buuz are a very common style of dumpling, similar to those found in Eurasia, Russia, and Italy. Dough is made from flour and water, filled with chopped meat, and then boiled or fried. Here is a very comprehensive video on all manner of buuz. It’s in Mongolian but has subtitles in 12 languages, including English.

Dec 282015
 

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Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, nowadays a minor holiday within the Christmas season, but at one time of greater significance. The story of the Massacre of the Innocents is found in Matthew 2:16–18, although the preceding verses form the context:

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

The massacre is not reported outside of the Gospel of Matthew and other later Christian writings based on that gospel. The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, does not mention it in his history, Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 AD), which reports many of Herod’s misdeeds, including murdering his own sons.

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The story’s first appearance in any source other than the Gospel of Matthew is in the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James of c.150, which excludes the Flight into Egypt and switches the attention of the story to the infant John the Baptist:

And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

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The first non-Christian reference to the massacre is recorded four centuries later by Macrobius (c. 395-423), who writes in his Saturnalia:

When he [emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered killed, his own son was also killed, he said: it is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.

I have not the slightest doubt that Matthew’s account is pious fiction. To accept it would mean accepting that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which I have already thrown into serious doubt, and that magi journeyed from the east following a star, stopped by Herod’s palace, then went on to Bethlehem where they instantly recognized the messiah. This “event” is not attested in any other historical source. It’s clearly a polemic to buttress prophesy which in this case is not about the messiah at all.

The story assumed an important place in later Christian tradition; Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents while an early Syrian list of saints puts the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raise the number to 144,000 and place the event on 29 December. If you are into this kind of thing – estimating numbers for something that never happened – contemporary archeology sets the number of inhabitants of Bethlehem at the time at around 1,000 meaning that the number of children killed would have been no more than 20.

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While we are on the subject of historicity, why did Mary and Joseph head to Egypt (except to satisfy Matthew’s need for symbolism)? Surely they would have been just as safe in Galilee, returning like others after the census (as Luke recounts in Luke 2:39). Did Jews make a habit of running to Egypt when things looked dodgy in Israel? How did they support themselves? Who took them in? Did anyone in Egypt speak Aramaic or did they have to learn a new language? The whole story is not credible.

The “Coventry Carol” is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew. This haunting carol represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play. The author is unknown. The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. Here’s a version that is acceptable, but not great. Best I could find after a considerable search. Although the text is mournful, I find the tempo here too slow, and the setting feeble. It’s impossible, it seems, to find a contemporary musician capable of managing the free flowing measures (or lack of them), and wandering tonality. Short of that, I would prefer it be sung in unison, a capella, as it was in the 16th century. I’ve trained choirs to sing it that way in the past – fighting my music director most of the way.

In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, Holy Innocents was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services. In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.

In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines, El Día de los Santos Inocentes is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool’s Day in other countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. Media often give fake content or distort news as well. One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual “Els Enfarinats” festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour and egg fight.

epa03519176 People enjoy the traditional 'Els Enfarinats' battle at Ibi in Alicante, eastern Spain, 28 December 2012. The battle has been held every year for over 200 years on the 28th of December, Holy Innocents' Day (the equivalent of April Fool's day in Spain), and it consists of a group of people, the 'Enfarinats', that take over the 'civil power' in a fight with eggs and flour.  EPA/MORELL

In parts of Spain it is customary to eat huesos de santos (saints’ bones), also commonly eaten on All Saints (Nov. 1). They are not difficult to make, but most people buy them. You can make them completely from scratch by making your own marzipan, but at minimum I buy the marzipan and simply make the filling. As illustrated here, you can dip the huesos in chocolate if you wish.

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Huesos de Santos

Ingredients

½ lb (250 g) marzipan
2 oz (50 gr) granulated sugar
1 oz (25 ml) water
2 egg yolks

Instructions

I find that rolling marzipan works best on a marble board, but you can also use a regular pastry board or counter top. Dust the surface with powdered sugar and roll the marzipan out to about ¼ inch thick. Then cut it into 1 x 1½ inch rectangles. Make long tubes out of the rectangles by rolling them around the handle of a wooden spoon or similar rod that has been liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Press the long sides of the tube together and carefully ease it off the rod. This will take a few trial runs to do it so that you don’t deform the tube. If you mess up, re-roll and try again. Place the finished rolls on a tray and chill.

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl or top of a double boiler. Bring water in the bottom of the double boiler or deep saucepan to a gentle boil. In another pan bring the water and sugar to a boil to form a syrup. While whisking the yolks vigorously, pour the syrup into the eggs. Slow pouring and constant whisking are critical, otherwise you will scramble the eggs. Then, place the egg and syrup mixture over the boiling water and continue to stir it until it thickens substantially.

Let the yolk filling cool a little and, using a pastry bag, fill each marzipan tube from both ends.

Dec 272015
 

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Today is the feast of St John, sometimes also known as the feast of John the Apostle, or John the Evangelist, or both. There’s not much in the way of customs associated with the day, but I always celebrate it in my own little way because it is my saint’s day. John (and all its linguistic variants) has for millennia been a very popular name. The original Hebrew, יוחנן (Yôḥanan), is a short form of a longer name meaning “Yahweh is gracious.” It was the most popular name for newborns in the U.S. until 1924 and in England until 1950. The most popular name for newborns in England now is Jack, which, ironically, was originally a nickname for John. Many people do not realize that such names as Sean, Ewan, Ian, Hans, and Ivan are all linguistic variants of John. Others such as Johann, Jean, Jan, Jehan, and Juan are a little more obvious. Anyway, I was registered as Juan at birth, but used to use John in English-speaking countries (courtesy of my mum). My father was John and so was his father. My son was also registered at birth as John, but subsequently changed it. The name is strongly built into my patrilineage.

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Some scholars over history have wanted to conflate John the Apostle with the author of five books of the Greek Bible(Gospel of John, 3 epistles, and the Revelation). I think this is a mistake on two grounds. First, I believe that both the language of these works, and their theology place them outside the time period when John the Apostle lived. Second, I do not believe these 5 books are the work of a single author. The gospel and 1 John may well have been written by the same person, but 2 John and 3 John are clearly by a different hand, and Revelation by yet another. Scholars who want to merge them into a “Johannine” corpus are, I believe, being driven by theological motives that are not consonant with historical and literary analysis.

ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) from Basildon Park. The Italian painter born in Lucca was celebrated for his portraits.

John’s gospel and the Synoptic gospels (following Mark) are at odds in many ways. For example, Mark places the Last Supper as a Passover meal and John dates it as the day before Passover, so that the crucifixion coincides with the slaughter of the paschal lambs – buttressing his theology of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. My tutor at Oxford set me the essay, “Was the Last Supper a Passover meal?” which I dutifully agonized over. I was too green at the time to say anything sensible, let alone original. Maybe I still can’t. His argument was that John had to be right, otherwise the theology made no sense. But my tutor was a high church Anglican priest of the old school, for whom theology trumped historical analysis. I’m long past that way of thinking. John’s gospel is the cornerstone of Trinitarian thinking, and therefore anchors centuries of theology. Without it Christianity would look a whole lot different. Historically many very smart non-theologians, such as Jefferson and Newton, have found the doctrine of the Trinity unpalatable, as do I.

1 John contains some of my favorite passages, notably:

4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. 4:8 He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love.

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A great deal of my own personal theology hinges on this statement, especially, “God is love.” I can get pretty close to a trinitarian way of thinking if I equate God the Father with love in its totality, God the Son with love personified, and God the Holy Spirit with love manifested in individual action.

Because five books of the Greek Bible are traditionally attributed to John he is the patron of writers and associated professions: bookbinders, booksellers, compositors, editors, engravers, papermakers, printers, and publishers.

My head image here is an El Greco, depicting John holding a chalice with a dragon rising from it. This is based on the legend that John was given a chalice of poisoned wine by the emperor Domitian, but the poison rose out of the wine in the form of a dragon.

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Fergus Henderson is well known in culinary circles as the master of cooking and celebrating offal. He runs a restaurant in London called St John, so why not rejoice in offal on this day when many Westerners are still trying to be creative with leftovers? Offal is, after all, “leftover” meat for great swathes of the Western world these days – more’s the pity. I’ll eschew the opportunity to glorify tripe just this once, because other offal dishes can be equally magnificent – tongue, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads, spleen, etc. Here’s a recipe I created many years ago: pig’s feet pancakes.

This concoction was inspired by a recipe for a Spanish appetizer, but I converted it to a main dish. These dainties are so, so rich that I find that even when made bite sized they have the capacity to fill the belly in just a few mouthfuls. One of the full sized ones described here will more than adequately satisfy the heartiest appetite. Be warned, though, that these delights are quite time consuming and complicated to make, so I recommend that you at least prepare the filling ahead of time. It can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. If the batter coating seems too much, the pancakes can be filled and served plain with a garlic sauce dip.

© Pig’s Feet Pancakes

Ingredients

Filling

4 whole pig’s feet

rich beef stock

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped crimini or black mushrooms

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried sage

 

Pancakes

2 eggs

½ cup flour

½ cup milk

butter for frying

 

Batter

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup beer

oil for frying

Garlic Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

8 garlic cloves (or 1 tbsp prepared minced garlic)

Instructions

Place the pig’s feet in a saucepan and cover with beef stock. Simmer very gently for two to three hours or until they are well cooked and the meat is falling from the bones. Let the feet cool to the point where they can be handled, and separate out the bones. Run the meat and skin through the coarse blade of a food grinder or use a food processor to chop them coarsely (the point is to retain some texture to the meat). Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently sauté the chopped onion until it is soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to sauté until they begin to take on a golden color. Add the ground meat, parsley, thyme and sage and fry the whole mixture until it is heated well through. This can then be set aside.

Make the pancake batter by sifting the flour into a mixing bowl and then slowly adding the milk while stirring vigorously with a wire whisk to create a smooth mixture without lumps. If the mixture feels thick, add water until it is the consistency of custard. Add the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously. Set the batter aside to rest for 30 minutes. The most essential tool for making the pancakes is a heavy omelet pan with a 4″ to 5″ base. After the batter has rested heat the pan on high heat and add a teaspoon of butter. Let it sizzle, but do not let it brown.   Swirl the butter around to coat the bottom of the pan then pour enough batter in so that the pan’s bottom is just covered with a thin layer (it will tend to puddle in the middle, so swirl it round to get an even coating. Return to high heat and shake the pan as soon as the pancake has set slightly. Flip the pancake over with a spatula, and quickly cook the other side. The pancake should have light brown mottled spots on both sides, but still be basically yellow. Turn the pancake on to a plate and repeat the process until all the batter is used (about 6 pancakes).   Making the pancakes takes a bit of practice, but do not worry if they are not perfectly round or good looking; they are going to be rolled and deep fried so appearances are not important. However, it is vital to keep them as thin as possible, so the thinner the batter, the better.

Place one of the pancakes on a flat surface and put two tablespoons of filling in the center. Fold the near edge of the pancake over the filling, then fold the sides in, and finally pull the far edge down to make a tight envelope around the filling. Fill the rest of the pancakes in the same way.

Make the frying batter by sifting the flour and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and beer and mix well to get rid of any lumps. Set aside to rest for 20 minutes. When rested, heat cooking oil in a deep fryer to 395°F (or you can shallow fry in a skillet as long as you have a depth of oil of more than ¾”). Dip each filled pancake in the batter and then deep fry until golden brown. These pancake packets will float on the hot oil, so must be turned with a slotted spoon at least once for an even browning. Remove from the oil and place on paper towels. Keep cooked pancakes hot in a warm oven until they are all fried. Serve them with a garlic dipping sauce made by crushing and mincing the garlic fine and stirring it well into the mayonnaise. Only light accompaniments are suggested — such as a tossed salad, or some lightly poached vegetables — because these pancakes are so very rich and heavy.

Serves 6

Dec 262015
 

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Today is the birthday (1791) of Charles Babbage FRS, an English polymath who worked as a mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. Babbage is best remembered nowadays for originating the concept of a programmable computer. Considered by some to be the “father of the computer” (although his ideas had predecessors, and many people contributed to the development of computers), Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs. His varied work in other fields has led him to be described as “pre-eminent” among the many polymaths of his century. Parts of Babbage’s uncompleted mechanisms are on display in the London Science Museum. In 1991, a perfectly functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage’s original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage’s machine would have worked.

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Babbage was one of four children of Benjamin Babbage and Betsy Plumleigh Teape. His father was a banking partner of William Praed in founding Praed’s & Co. of Fleet Street, London, in 1801. In 1808, the Babbage family moved into the old Rowdens house in East Teignmouth. Around the age of eight Babbage was sent to a country school in Alphington near Exeter to recover from a life-threatening fever. For a short time he attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Totnes, South Devon, but his health forced him back to private tutors for a time.

Babbage then joined the 30-student Holmwood academy, in Baker Street, Enfield, Middlesex, under the Reverend Stephen Freeman. The academy had a library that prompted Babbage’s love of mathematics. He studied with two more private tutors after leaving the academy. The first was a clergyman near Cambridge; through him Babbage encountered Charles Simeon and his evangelical followers, but the tuition was not what he needed. He was brought home, to study at the Totnes school: this was at age 16 or 17. The second was an Oxford tutor, under whom Babbage reached a level in Classics sufficient to be accepted by Cambridge.

Babbage arrived at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1810. He was already self-taught in some parts of contemporary mathematics. He had read widely and as a result, was disappointed in the standard instruction available at Cambridge in mathematics. With other friends, including William Herschel, he formed the Analytical Society in 1812, in part as an antidote to the dullness of his teachers. Babbage was also a member of other university societies such as The Ghost Club, concerned with investigating supernatural phenomena, and the Extractors Club, dedicated to liberating its members from the madhouse, should any be committed to one. In 1812 Babbage transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was the top mathematician there, but did not graduate with honours. He instead received a degree without examination in 1814. He had defended a thesis that was considered blasphemous in the preliminary public disputation.

Before graduation, Babbage quickly made a mark. He lectured to the Royal Institution on astronomy in 1815, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816. After graduation, on the other hand, he applied for positions unsuccessfully, and had little in the way of career for some time, presumably because of his adeptness at ruffling feathers. In 1816 he was a candidate for a teaching job at Haileybury College; he had recommendations from James Ivory and John Playfair, but was passed over. In 1819 he failed to get a post at the University of Edinburgh even though at the time he was lecturing to learned societies in London and Paris, and kept company with some of the brightest and best of Europe.

Eventually he succeeded, in 1828, in being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. He was not a conventional resident don. His lack of interest in teaching was noted. George Biddell Airy, his predecessor as Lucasian Professor thought an issue should be made of his lecturing. In response Babbage planned to lecture in 1831 on political economy and social reform. Among his targets was university education which he wanted to be more inclusive, with universities doing more for research, a broader syllabus, and more interest in applications as opposed to theory. Traditionalists found the program unacceptable, and his offer to lecture on these subjects was declined. I’m going to bypass discussion of Babbage’s difference machine and talk about his social and religious views which are, let us say, controversial.

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In 1832 he wrote Economy of Machinery in which he described what is now called the “Babbage principle”. It pointed out commercial advantages available with more careful division of labor. As Babbage himself noted, it had already appeared in the work of Melchiorre Gioia in 1815. The term was introduced in 1974 by Harry Braverman. Related formulations are the “principle of multiples” of Philip Sargant Florence, and the “balance of processes”.

What Babbage noted is that skilled workers typically spend parts of their time performing tasks that are below their skill level. If the labor process can be divided among several workers, labor costs may be cut by assigning only high-skill tasks to high-cost workers, restricting other tasks to lower-paid workers. He also pointed out that training or apprenticeship are fixed costs which can be absorbed (and returned) more quickly and efficiently if tasks in production are standardized so that workers use the skills learned to their fullest as soon as possible, and not waste time on unrelated tasks. This model, of course, favors a factory system with severe division of labor. Productivity may not be affected greatly, but profitability is greatly enhanced.

I don’t know where you fall on this. John Ruskin completely opposed what manufacturing in Babbage’s sense stood for. 19th-century industrial production had some great benefits in that it could manufacture goods cheaply, and made products available that were not affordable when hand made. There are two negative aspects, however, that Ruskin emphasized. First, and most obvious, mass production produces masses of identical items that flood the market, making households identical. Second, this process separates the workers from their products (as Marx was also quick to point out). A particular item is no longer seen from start to finish by one worker; instead it is produced by maybe dozens of workers each contributing a part based on skill level. The moving assembly line is the natural outgrowth – where each worker spends all day on one, single task performed on hundreds of different items. With increased profitability, unionization, and government regulation, such processes led to increased wages in some industries, but with a concomitant loss of humanity. A worker might spend years doing nothing but attaching doors to cars for 8 hours per day. You have to decide for yourself about all of this. Do you want cheap, affordable goods made by workers reduced to drones – you being one of those drones – or something else?

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In 1837 Babbage published On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation. In this work Babbage weighed in on the side of uniformitarianism — the principle or assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe He preferred the conception of creation in which a God-given natural law dominated, removing the need for continuous “contrivance.”

The book is a work of natural theology, and incorporates extracts from related correspondence of Herschel with Charles Lyell. Babbage put forward the thesis that God had the omnipotence and foresight to create as a divine legislator. In this book, Babbage dealt with relating interpretations between science and religion; on the one hand, he insisted that “there exists no fatal collision between the words of Scripture and the facts of nature;” on the one hand, he wrote the Book of Genesis was not meant to be read literally in relation to scientific terms. Against those who said these were in conflict, he wrote “that the contradiction they have imagined can have no real existence, and that whilst the testimony of Moses remains unimpeached, we may also be permitted to confide in the testimony of our senses.”

Babbage was raised a Protestant following an orthodox form of worship. However, in his youth he rejected the Athanasian Creed – dogmatically Trinitarian with strong affirmation of the co-equal nature of Father, Son, and Spirit – as a “direct contradiction in terms.” He looked instead to Samuel Clarke’s works on religion, of which Being and Attributes of God (1704) exerted a particularly strong influence on him. Later in life, Babbage concluded that “the true value of the Christian religion rested, not on speculative theology, but on “those doctrines of kindness and benevolence which that religion claims and enforces, not merely in favour of man himself but of every creature susceptible of pain or of happiness.”

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In his autobiography Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), Babbage wrote a whole chapter on the topic religion, where he identified three sources of divine knowledge:

A priori or mystical experience

From Revelation

From the examination of the works of the Creator

He stated, on the basis of the design argument, that studying the works of nature had been the more appealing evidence, and the one which led him to actively profess the existence of God. Advocating for natural theology, he wrote:

In the works of the Creator ever open to our examination, we possess a firm basis on which to raise the superstructure of an enlightened creed. The more man inquires into the laws which regulate the material universe, the more he is convinced that all its varied forms arise from the action of a few simple principles. The works of the Creator, ever present to our senses, give a living and perpetual testimony of his power and goodness far surpassing any evidence transmitted through human testimony. The testimony of man becomes fainter at every stage of transmission, whilst each new inquiry into the works of the Almighty gives to us more exalted views of his wisdom, his goodness, and his power.

Babbage also wrote a defense of the belief in divine miracles. Against objections previously posed by David Hume, Babbage advocated for the belief of divine agency, stating “we must not measure the credibility or incredibility of an event by the narrow sphere of our own experience, nor forget that there is a Divine energy which overrides what we familiarly call the laws of nature.” He alluded to the limits of human experience, saying: “all that we see in a miracle is an effect which is new to our observation, and whose cause is concealed. The cause may be beyond the sphere of our observation, and would be thus beyond the familiar sphere of nature; but this does not make the event a violation of any law of nature. The limits of man’s observation lie within very narrow boundaries, and it would be arrogance to suppose that the reach of man’s power is to form the limits of the natural world.”

Babbage’s contributions to mathematics, astronomy, cryptography, statistics, and engineering are invaluable. My brief attempt to focus on a few other areas where he worked show him to be a richly complex man. I can’t say that I agree with him all the time, but he did raise valuable questions. Babbage lived and worked for over 40 years at 1 Dorset Street, Marylebone, where he died, of kidney failure at the age of 79, on 18 October 1871; he was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. He had declined both a knighthood and baronetcy.

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In 1983 the autopsy report for Charles Babbage was discovered and later published by his great-great-grandson. A copy of the original is also available. Half of Babbage’s brain is preserved at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The other half is on display in the Science Museum, London.

Babbage’s birthday is also Boxing Day in England, usually a day of sporting activities and eating leftovers. I turn, once again to Mrs Beeton for her thoughts on the Christmas turkey and using up leftovers the next day. I always used to roast a goose at Christmas in honor of Bob Cratchit’s festive meal. But it is important to note that in Victorian England the goose was a cheap bird for the poor, and that the turkey was the prize as evidenced by Scrooge’s lavish gift in Christmas morning. Mrs Beeton suggests using Harvey’s sauce or mushroom ketchup in the soup. These were common staples for her but are hard to find nowadays. Harvey’s sauce is a descendent of Asian fermented fish sauces made with anchovies. Mushroom ketchup is made from the spiced juice of salted wild mushrooms. You can find both sauces online or make them yourself. I’ve made both, but am happy to buy them. I find them useful in soups and stews when I have them around in my kitchen.

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ROAST TURKEY.

  1. A noble dish is a turkey, roast or boiled. A Christmas dinner, with the middle classes of this empire, would scarcely be a Christmas dinner without its turkey; and we can hardly imagine an object of greater envy than is presented by a respected portly pater-familias carving, at the season devoted to good cheer and genial charity, his own fat turkey, and carving it well. The only art consists, as in the carving of a goose, in getting from the breast as many fine slices as possible; and all must have remarked the very great difference in the large number of people whom a good carver will find slices for, and the comparatively few that a bad carver will succeed in serving. As we have stated in both the carving of a duck and goose, the carver should commence cutting slices close to the wing from, 2 to 3, and then proceed upwards towards the ridge of the breastbone: this is not the usual plan, but, in practice, will be found the best. The breast is the only part which is looked on as fine in a turkey, the legs being very seldom cut off and eaten at table: they are usually removed to the kitchen, where they are taken off, as here marked, to appear only in a form which seems to have a special attraction at a bachelor’s supper-table,—we mean devilled: served in this way, they are especially liked and relished.

TURKEY SOUP (a Seasonable Dish at Christmas).

  1. INGREDIENTS.—2 quarts of medium stock, No. 105, the remains of a cold roast turkey, 2 oz. of rice-flour or arrowroot, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoonful of Harvey’s sauce or mushroom ketchup.

Mode.—Cut up the turkey in small pieces, and put it in the stock; let it simmer slowly until the bones are quite clean. Take the bones out, and work the soup through a sieve; when cool, skim well. Mix the rice-flour or arrowroot to a batter with a little of the soup; add it with the seasoning and sauce, or ketchup. Give one boil, and serve.

Time.—4 hours. Average cost, 10d. per quart.

Seasonable at Christmas.

Sufficient for 8 persons.

Note.—Instead of thickening this soup, vermicelli or macaroni may be served in it.

Dec 252015
 

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Christmas Day (by the Julian calendar in use in England at the time), is the birthday (1642) of Sir Isaac Newton PRS, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time, and as a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton made seminal contributions to optics, and he shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus.

Newton’s Principia formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. By deriving Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from his mathematical description of gravity, and then using the same principles to account for the trajectories of comets, the tides, the precession of the equinoxes, and other phenomena, Newton removed the last doubts about the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system. This work also demonstrated that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles. His prediction that Earth should be shaped as an oblate spheroid was later vindicated by the measurements of Maupertuis, La Condamine, and others, which helped convince most Continental European scientists of the superiority of Newtonian mechanics over the earlier system of Descartes.

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Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors of the visible spectrum. He formulated an empirical law of cooling, studied the speed of sound, and introduced the notion of a Newtonian fluid. In addition to his work on calculus, as a mathematician Newton contributed to the study of power series, generalized the binomial theorem to non-integer exponents, developed a method for approximating the roots of a function, and classified most of the cubic plane curves.

Newton was a fellow of Trinity College and the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He was a devout but unorthodox Christian and, unusually for a member of the Cambridge faculty of the day, he refused to take holy orders in the Church of England, perhaps because he privately rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. He was a devout, but unorthodox, Christian. Beyond his work on the mathematical sciences, Newton dedicated much of his time to the study of biblical chronology and alchemy, but most of his work in those areas remained unpublished until long after his death. In his later life, Newton became president of the Royal Society. Newton served the British government as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint.

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I am going to assume that you either are familiar with Newton’s work in physics and mathematics, or don’t want a lesson from me. Instead I’ll focus on a few lesser known aspects of his life and work. First , here are two well-known quotes that I think adequately display his humility:

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

These are less well known:

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.

Genius is patience.

Plato is my friend; Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth.

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

We could use him around today. As many of my readers know, I do not use superlatives such as “best” in relation to the greats of the world or their works. But I certainly stand in absolute awe and wonder at what Newton accomplished. Here’s a few tidbits from his life.

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Although born into an Anglican family, by his thirties Newton held a Christian faith that would not have been considered orthodox by contemporary Christianity, and, in consequence, he did not make his fundamental beliefs public. By 1672 he had started to record his theological researches in notebooks which he showed to no one and which have only recently been examined. They demonstrate an extensive knowledge of early church writings and show that in the conflict between Athanasius and Arius, which spawned the Nicene Creed, he took the side of Arius, the loser, who rejected the conventional view of the Trinity. Newton saw Christ as a divine mediator between God and humans, who was subordinate to the Father who created him. He wrote, “the great apostasy is trinitarianism.” Newton tried unsuccessfully to obtain one of the two fellowships that exempted the holder from the ordination requirement. At the last moment in 1675 he received a dispensation from the government that excused him and all future holders of the Lucasian chair from being ordained.

Newton was not a deist, in the conventional way, however. Rejecting trinitarianism did not mean rejecting Christianity. Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton’s best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”

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Newton wrote works on Biblical textual criticism, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture. He placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which is now one of several dates accepted by some scholars. He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism (matter is living) implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza. The ordered and dynamically informed universe could be understood, and must be understood, as directed by active reason. In his correspondence, Newton claimed that in writing the Principia “I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity”. He saw evidence of design in the system of the world: “Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice”. But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. For this, Leibniz lampooned him: “God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion machine.”

Newton and Robert Boyle’s approach to a mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteers as a viable alternative to the pantheists and enthusiasts, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as some dissidents. The clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical superlatives of both superstitious enthusiasm and the threat of atheism, and at the same time, the second wave of English deists used Newton’s discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a “Natural Religion”.

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In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704, in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said, “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”

It is now just beginning to be recognized in the wider intellectual world that Newton spent over 30 years studying and writing about alchemy. John Maynard Keynes, who acquired many of Newton’s writings on alchemy, asserted that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians.” Newton’s interest in alchemy cannot be isolated from his contributions to science. In Newton’s day there was no clear distinction between alchemy and science. Had he not relied on the occult idea of action at a distance, across a vacuum, he might not have developed his theory of gravity. Newton’s writings suggest that one of the goals of his alchemy was the discovery of The Philosopher’s Stone (a material believed to turn base metals into gold), and perhaps to a lesser extent, the discovery of the highly coveted Elixir of Life. Some practices of alchemy were banned in England during Newton’s lifetime, due in part to unscrupulous practitioners who would often promise wealthy benefactors unrealistic results in an attempt to swindle them. The English Crown, also fearing the potential devaluation of gold, should The Philosopher’s Stone actually be discovered, made penalties for alchemy very severe, including execution.

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The story of Newton and the apple has sometimes been debunked as legend, and often popularly altered to claim that the apple struck him on the head. In fact, Newton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. Acquaintances of Newton (such as William Stukeley, whose manuscript account of 1752 has been made available by the Royal Society) do in fact confirm the incident. Stukeley recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726:

we went into the garden, & drank tea under the shade of some appletrees; only he, & my self. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. “why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood. “why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths center? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple.

John Conduitt, Newton’s assistant at the Royal Mint and husband of Newton’s niece, also described the event when he wrote about Newton’s life:

In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.

It is known from his notebooks that Newton was grappling in the late 1660s with the idea that terrestrial gravity extends, in an inverse-square proportion, to the Moon; however it took him two decades to develop the full-fledged theory. The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the Moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon’s orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it “universal gravitation”.

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Various trees are claimed to be “the” apple tree which Newton describes. The King’s School, Grantham, claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster’s garden some years later. The staff of the [now] National Trust-owned Woolsthorpe Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. A descendant of the original tree can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale can supply grafts from their tree, which appears identical to Flower of Kent, a coarse-fleshed cooking variety.

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To honor Newton I’ve culled several apple recipes from 17th century cookbooks. The first, entitled “To fry Applepies” comes from A True Gentlewomans Delight, 1653. These are like fruit empanadas or empanaditas. You need to peel the apples and chop them very fine, otherwise they will not cook when you fry the pastries. You could parboil the apples in a little sugar syrup before filling the pastry if you wish.

To fry Applepies.

Take Apples and pare them, and chop them very small, beat in a little Cinnamon, a little Ginger, and some Sugar, a little Rosewater, take your paste, roul it thin, and make them up as big Pasties as you please, to hold a spoonful or a little lesse of your Apples; and so stir them with Butter not to hastily least they be burned.

Here’s apples in wine sauce and cream from Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus; Or, Excellent & Approved Receipts and Experiments in Cookery, 1658. The herb and spice combinations are well worth a try.

Apples in wine sauce & cream

Boil six Pippins pared, (doe not cut the cores apieces) in Claret wine, a little more than will cover them, put in of sugar a good quantity, then boil a quart of good cream, with a little rosemary and thyme, sweeten it with sugar, one spoonful of sack, when they be cold put them together, lay your Apples like Eggs: Remember to boil in your Apples some ginger, lemmon pils very thin sliced.

Finally a refreshing alternative to cider from The Closet Of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened, 1677, where, again, rosemary is the flavoring of choice.

Apple-Drink with Sugar, Honey, &c..

A very pleasant drink is made of Apples, thus: Boil sliced Apples in water, to make the water strong of Apples, as when you make to drink it for coolness and pleasure. Sweeten it with Sugar to your taste, such a quantity of sliced Apples, as would make so much water strong enough of Apples; and then bottle it up close for three or four months. There will come a thick mother at the top, which being taken off, all the rest will be very clear, and quick and pleasant to the taste, beyond any Cider. It will be the better to most tastes, if you put a very little Rosemary into the liquor when you boil it, and a little Limon-peel into each bottle when you bottle it up.

Merry Newtonian Christmas !!!

Dec 242015
 

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The Eggnog Riot, sometimes known as the Grog Mutiny, was a riot that took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, on 24–25 December 1826. It was caused by a drunken Christmas Day party in the North Barracks of the academy. The riot eventually involved more than one-third of the cadets by the time it ceased on Christmas morning. A subsequent investigation by academy officials resulted in the implication of seventy cadets, and the court-martialing of twenty of them and one enlisted soldier. Among the participants in the riot—though he was not court-martialed—was future Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis. The following account is lifted (edited) from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggnog_Riot

Sorry! It’s a busy time for me.

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In 1817, Sylvanus Thayer took command at the United States Military Academy. By 1826, the academy had 36 men serving as faculty and staff with four recognized departments – mathematics, engineering, natural philosophy (now physics, chemistry and life sciences), and military tactics. Alcohol possession at the academy was prohibited along with drunkenness, both of which could lead to expulsion. Tobacco use and gambling could lead to demerits, minor incarceration, or a loss of privileges. By 1826, concern had been raised that drinking was starting to get out of hand among the 260 cadets at the academy. The cadets were informed that, due to the alcohol prohibition on the site, their Christmas eggnog would be alcohol-free, prompting the cadets’ decision to smuggle liquor into the academy.

Timeline of events

22 December 1826

20:50 – 22:15

At Martin’s Tavern, cadets William R. Burnley (Alabama), Alexander J. Center (New York), and Samuel Alexander Roberts (Alabama) almost got into a fight with the proprietors of another tavern concerning getting whiskey back to West Point. Private James Dougan, the duty security guard, agreed to let the three cadets take a boat across the Hudson to smuggle the whiskey. The cadets planned to purchase a half-gallon of whiskey as an alcohol base for the eggnog party that would take place in the North Barracks two nights later. Phillip St. George (Virginia) was the 24-hour duty cadet guard of the day. Burnley, Center, and Roberts successfully obtained two gallons of whiskey, smuggling them into North Barracks room No.33. Cadet T. M. Lewis (Kentucky) also returned with a gallon of rum from Benny’s Tavern to North Barracks room No. 5.

Thayer

Thayer

23 December 1826

07:00

Thayer met with George Bomford (New York) and Robert E. Lee (Virginia). Bomford was questioned about his parental correspondence by Thayer, while Lee questioned Thayer about trigonometry problems for artillery gunnery. Classes and barracks inspections continued as usual that day.

17:45

A Christmas party took place at Thayer’s residence at which wine was served. Reverend Charles McIlvane, the academy chaplain, was among the attendees. During the party, a conversation ensued between Thayer and Major William J. Worth, the commandant of cadets, about Jefferson Davis’ (Mississippi) disciplinary problems. Entertainment was provided by the West Point band. The party ended at 21:30.

18:00

Four cadets, Walter B. Guion (Mississippi), Davis, John Stocker (Pennsylvania), and David Farrelly (Pennsylvania), met at Benny Haven’s tavern. They left before academy quartermaster Aeneas Mackay arrived.

Meanwhile at the North Barracks, cadets were planning the party. Preparations included stealing bits and pieces of food during their visits to the mess hall. During this time, cadets residing in the South Barracks found out about the North Barracks’ planned Christmas party.

Hitchcock

Hitchcock

24–25 December 1826

22:00 to 04:15

Nathaniel Eaton (Massachusetts) was the cadet in charge of the external post of the North Barracks. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, a faculty member in military tactics, was also stationed in the North Barracks. Eaton and Hitchcock met and discussed the smuggled liquor in the North Barracks.

The eggnog party started among nine cadets in North Barracks room No. 28. Numerous cadets appeared as the party progressed, while another party began in room No. 5, mentioned by seven cadets including Davis. Farrelly went again to North’s or Havens and returned with another gallon of whiskey early on Christmas morning.

Cadet Charles Whipple (Michigan Territory), the division superintendent during the first part of the incident, went to North Barracks room No. 5 at 02:00 after hearing a commotion, interrupting a round of singing among eight cadets, including Davis. Whipple returned to his room after a verbal exchange with Davis and the other cadets. Hitchcock made another patrol around the barracks at 03:00. Lieutenant William A. Thornton was asleep while the events unfolded.

By 04:00, voices from the floor above Hitchcock were loud enough to cause the faculty member to investigate room No. 28, where Hitchcock knocked on the door and found six cadets drunk from the eggnog, as well as two others sleeping on a bed. Hitchcock ordered two of the cadets back to their rooms. After they left, Hitchcock woke the two sleeping cadets and ordered them to leave as well. Then he confronted cadet James W.M. “Weems” Berrien (Georgia), who responded with equal force. Hitchcock read the Riot Act to the residents of the room for possessing alcohol on the premises. The captain left the room at 04:15. Berrien began verbalizing his rage toward Hitchcock, which led William D.C. “Billy” Murdock (District of Columbia) to lead an effort to organize a riot against Hitchcock.

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25 December 1826

04:30 to 06:05

Hitchcock went down to his room to sleep. Three times he heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. After finding another cadet drunk, Hitchcock saw Davis head over to room No. 5 where thirteen cadets were partying. Davis, seeing Hitchcock’s arrival, warned the other cadets. The captain entered the room, ordering one of the cadets to open up another cadet’s footlocker, but the cadet refused. Hitchcock ordered no more disorder, left the room, and started looking for Thornton around 04:50.

Meanwhile Thornton had strolled the North Barracks between 21:00 on the 24th and 02:00 on Christmas Day observing the ongoing partying, before going to sleep at 02:00. He was awoken by loud yells and, once out of his room, was attacked by two cadets. Thornton then put cadet William P.N. Fitzgerald (New York) under arrest for brandishing a weapon. Fitzgerald retreated from Thornton, then told two cadets in room No. 29 about the arrest.

At this point, noises erupted from the South Barracks which distracted Thornton. While going to investigate that commotion, Thornton was knocked out by Roberts, who had been ejected from room No. 28 by Hitchcock earlier that evening.

Davis was asleep, but other cadets went looking for Hitchcock. Three other cadets were discovered by cadet James G. Overton (Tennessee), a relief sentinel and not involved in the parties, and questioned about their actions. They gave a drunken explanation about needing drums and a fife.

At around 05:00, Hitchcock found another inebriated cadet wandering the academy.

By this point, several window panes had been broken. Hitchcock returned to the room where he was staying, No. 8. Several cadets then attacked his door, Guion drawing his pistol and firing a shot into the room. Hitchcock opened the door and yelled at the cadets to stop. The captain then began arresting cadets.

Worth

Worth

Hitchcock ordered Eaton to find Worth’s headquarters. Overton asked Hitchcock to find Thayer and Hitchcock replied “No, Mr. Overton. Fetch the com(Commandant Worth) here.” Several of the drunken cadets thought Hitchcock had said that the bombardiers would be the ones to quell the riot, using heavy weapons, causing several cadets who were not drunk to take up arms in defense of the North Barracks. Thayer had been awoken at 05:00 by the sound of drums. He ordered his aide, Patrick Murphy, to get Major Worth because of what he could hear going on in the North Barracks.

Hitchcock continued restoring order in the North Barracks, getting into a fight with cadet Walter Otey (Virginia). Thornton awoke from the stairway where he had been knocked out and returned to his room. Hitchcock greeted him in his room at 05:45. By 06:00, other cadets who were not drinking were also involved in restoring order. The main rioters were attempting to recruit other cadets, but with no success.

Overton could not find Cadet Eaton, who was checking the South Barracks, but did find Major Worth. Hitchcock met Worth and told him what had transpired. By this time, Thayer’s aide had arrived in the North Barracks’ guardroom. The Second Artillery had arrived at the North Barracks by the time of reveille at 06:05.

06:05–18:30

Reveille sounded at 06:05, along with gunfire, the sound of glass breaking, profanity by cadets, cries of pain, and threats to academy officials. North Barracks residents who were not drunk from the eggnog were appalled by the damaged property. Cadets in the South Barracks were well rested, while other cadets in the North Barracks were disheveled. Some of the cadets remained in their rooms drinking, although some appeared in parade formation despite being drunk. Worth met with superintendent Thayer after the first formation to discuss what had happened in the North Barracks the previous evening. Thayer instructed Worth to get the officers into the North Barracks and restore order.

Captain Mackay, academy quartermaster, took down details of the damages to the property at North Barracks so repairs could take place in the following days. Many cadets who were drunk made it to company roll call at 06:20, though they were subdued. The mutiny officially ended when Cadet Captain James A.J. Bradford (Kentucky) called the corps to attention and dismissed them from the mess hall after breakfast. Chapel formation took place after breakfast, followed by two hours of service, with most of the drunk cadets still recovering.

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Thayer was advised by Worth regarding the events at North Barracks. Captain Hitchcock and Lieutenant Thornton were bruised, while several cadets suffered minor injuries, and Fitzgerald suffered a hand injury. Worth told Thayer that between fifty and ninety cadets had been involved in the mutiny. Later that day, Thayer met with Gouverneur Kemble, an ordnance manufacturer in Cold Spring, New York, to discuss different items, including the events at West Point. Kemble asked Thayer what he would do about the misconduct, to which Thayer replied he did not know.

26 December 1826

07:00–08:00

A faculty and staff meeting took place, with all but Captain Thomas C. Legate of the 2nd Artillery A Battery and a few assistant professors in attendance. Thayer informed them that Major General Alexander Macomb, Chief of Engineers and Inspector General of the Academy, had been told of the riot, and that he was awaiting orders from Macomb. The superintendent also informed the attendees that an inquiry would take place during semester finals in January 1827, so some of the cadets would face simultaneous examinations and inquiry.

Macomb

Macomb

Cadet Battalion Order 98 was read at formation and posted at several prominent locations at the academy. Twenty-two cadets were placed under house arrest until further notice; among them was Davis, who had been reported as a malefactor by Hitchcock and Thornton.

Davis was never charged, but 19 other cadets were. All but one (John Archibald Campbell – later Justice of the Supreme Court) were found guilty, and most were sentenced to expulsion. On review only 10 expulsions were upheld.

This post is, of course, merely an excuse to give a recipe for eggnog. Most people in the U.S. settle for cartons of commercially made eggnog (spiked with rum). Not me. My wife had an old family recipe which we made every Christmas Eve. If you try it you will never have commercial eggnog again. Warning !!! This recipe is made from raw eggs, so you must be careful about people with allergies, and must be absolutely sure that your eggs are bacteria free. My wife made it so strong it would fell a horse. It’s perfectly delectable, but not the same, without the bourbon. We always used Maker’s Mark, and you should use the best bourbon you can find. A full batch uses one dozen eggs, but we always made it with half a dozen, because a full batch would have killed us. I don’t believe you can go wrong with this recipe because it’s just eggs, cream, and sugar. You can vary the quantity of sugar to suit your tastes.  We always used a 1950s hand-held electric beater owned by my wife’s grandmother. Hand held is more convenient than a stand mixer. That way you can beat the yolks and cream directly in the punch bowl.

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©Blincoe Family Kentucky Eggnog

Ingredients

6 eggs, separated
1 pint heavy cream
½ cup caster sugar
½ bottle bourbon
nutmeg

Instructions

Beat the egg yolks to a creamy yellow. Add the cream and sugar and beat until frothy. Pour this mix into a punch bowl.

Beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff. Spoon on top of the mix in the bowl.

Gently pour the bourbon into the eggnog down the side of the bowl, and give the whole mix a gentle stir with a ladle.

Ladle into punch glasses and top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Dec 232015
 

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Today is Tom Bawcock’s Eve in Mousehole in Cornwall. First things first. You pronounce it mow- (rhymes with “cow”) –zell. The festival is held in celebration and memorial of the efforts of legendary Mousehole resident Tom Bawcock to lift a famine from the village by going out to fish in a severe storm. During this festival Stargazy pie (reputedly first created in Mousehole) is the featured dish and, depending on the year of celebration, a lantern procession takes place. Mousehole is a delightful fishing village I stayed in once during Easter holidays in 1975. It snowed most of the time, and was bitterly cold, but I have fond memories.

This video gives you the whole idea of the town with its narrow, steep alleys and the progress of the festival:

The first recorded description of the festival was written by Robert Morton Nance, an authority on the Cornish language, in 1927 in the magazine Old Cornwall. Nance described the festival as it existed around the start of the 20th century. Then it goes downhill. Nance also speculates that the name Bawcock is derived from the French Beau Coq, and he believed the cock was the herald of new light in “pagan times” and, hence, the origins of the festival were pre-Christian. Spare me.

The basic legend explains that one winter had been particularly stormy, meaning that none of the fishing boats had been able to leave the harbor. As Christmas approached, the villagers, who relied on fish as their primary source of food, were facing starvation. On 23 December, Tom Bawcock decided to brave the storms and went out in his fishing boat. Despite the stormy weather and the difficult seas, he managed to catch enough fish to feed the entire village. The entire catch (including seven types of fish) was baked into a pie, which had the fish heads poking through.

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The children’s book The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber is inspired by Tom Bawcock’s Eve. It is a retelling of the story of Tom Bawcock and his loyal black and white cat, Mowzer, setting sail to catch the fish. When the boat hits the storm, it is represented by a giant “Storm-Cat”, allowing Mowzer to eventually save the day by soothing the storm with her purring. This purring becomes a song and while the Storm-Cat is resting Tom is able to haul in his catch and return to the village. When they arrive back at the village, the entire catch is baked into a “Star-Gazy” pie, on which the villagers feast. Barber points out, rightly I believe, that stargazy pie was a staple of Mousehole diet before Tom’s heroic fishing expedition, whereas according to tradition it dates from his return and legendary catch.

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There is an ongoing music tradition associated with Tom Bawcock’s Eve. The words were written down by Robert Morton Nance in 1927 – his exact role is unclear – and set to a traditional local tune called the ‘Wedding March’ as follows:

Merry place you may believe, tiz Mouzel ‘pon Tom Bawcock’s eve.
To be there then who wouldn’t wesh, to sup o’ sibm soorts o’ fish.
When morgy brath had cleared the path, Comed lances for a fry,
And then us had a bit o’ scad an’ Starry-gazie pie.
As aich we’d clunk, E’s health we drunk, in bumpers bremmen high,
And when up caame Tom Bawcock’s name, We’d prais’d ‘un to the sky.

A bit too self-consciously “traditional” for my liking, but it’s taken root. My guess is that Nance wrote it.

Jonathan Madron is "Tom Bawcock" the legendary fishermen that brought fish to the starving in Mousehole in the form of Starry Gazey Pie at The Ship Inn. Picture Phil Monckton.

Picture credit: Phil Monckton.

The original pie in the legend included sand eels, horse mackerel, pilchards, herring, dogfish and ling along with an unnamed seventh fish. In the pie these days the primary ingredient is the pilchard (sardine), although larger mackerel or herring are used as well. “Sardine” and “pilchard” are common names used to refer to various small, oily fish within the herring family of Clupeidae. They are not used in any precise manner.

Richard Stevenson, chef at The Ship Inn in Mousehole, suggests that any white fish will work for the filling, with pilchards or herring heads added for the presentation. Prior to putting it in the pie the fish should be skinned and boned, to allow for ease of eating. Along with the fish, the other traditional ingredients are thickened milk, hard-boiled eggs, and boiled potatoes, with parsley and pepper for seasoning.

Many recipe variations around the traditional ingredients exist, some of which include bacon, onion, mustard and white wine. The recipes for stargazy pie call for a pastry lid, generally short crust but sometimes puff pastry, through which the fish heads and sometimes tails protrude. There is no pastry on the bottom, and the pie dish should be relatively shallow. Some cooks use whole pilchards in the pie, cutting slits in the lid to allow the heads to poke out. This is certainly an old enough idea, but does make eating difficult. For presentation, one suggestion is that the pilchards are arranged with their tails toward the center of the pie and their heads poking up through the crust around the edge. As it includes potatoes and pastry, the pie can be served on its own or with crusty bread.

Dec 222015
 

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Today is the birthday (1858) of Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, Italian composer whose operas are generally seen as standards. While his early work was rooted in traditional late-19th-century romantic Italian opera, he successfully developed his work in the realistic verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.

Puccini was born Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini in Lucca in Tuscany. He was one of nine children of Michele Puccini and Albina Magi. The Puccini family was established in Lucca as a local musical dynasty by Puccini’s great-great grandfather – also named Giacomo (1712–1781). This first Giacomo Puccini was maestro di cappella of the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca. He was succeeded in this position by his son, Antonio Puccini, and then by Antonio’s son Domenico, and Domenico’s son Michele (father of the subject of this article). Each of these men studied music at Bologna, and some took additional musical studies elsewhere. Domenico Puccini studied for a time under Giovanni Paisiello. Each composed music for the church. In addition, Domenico composed several operas, and Michele composed one opera. Puccini’s father Michele enjoyed a reputation throughout northern Italy, and his funeral was an occasion of public mourning, at which the then-famed composer Giovanni Pacini conducted a Requiem.

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With the Puccini family having occupied the position of maestro di cappella for 124 years (1740–1864) by the time of Michele’s death, it was anticipated that Michele’s son Giacomo would occupy that position as well when he was old enough. However, when Michele Puccini died in 1864, his son Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking over his father’s job. As a child, he nevertheless participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys’ choir and later as a substitute organist.

Puccini was given a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then at the seminary of the cathedral. One of Puccini’s uncles, Fortunato Magi, supervised his musical education. Puccini got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, having studied there with his uncle Fortunato, and later with Carlo Angeloni, who had also instructed Alfredo Catalani. A grant from the Italian Queen Margherita, and assistance from another uncle, Nicholas Cerù, provided the funds necessary for Puccini to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where he studied composition with Stefano Ronchetti-Monteviti, Amilcare Ponchielli, and Antonio Bazzini. Puccini studied at the conservatory for three years. In 1880, at the age of 21, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long association with church music in his native Lucca.

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Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonica as a thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory. Puccini’s teachers Ponchielli and Bazzini were impressed by the work, and it was performed at a student concert at the conservatory. Puccini’s work was favorably reviewed in the Milanese publication Perseveranza, and thus Puccini began to build a reputation as a young composer of promise in Milanese music circles.

To run through Puccini’s life and career would, I fear, be otiose; his operas have lasting fame and popularity. Rather, I will take a somewhat quirky personal glimpse at Turandot, an enduring favorite with audiences, not least because of the 3rd act climactic aria nessun dorma, which has become the quintessence of classic operatic tenor mode – rather overdone these days.

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I’ll start with a quote from a critic, just to underscore my dislike for the breed. Michael Tanner writes in The Spectator in 2013:

Turandot is an irredeemable work, a terrible end to a career that had included three indisputable masterpieces and three less evident ones, counting Il Trittico as one. Any operatic composer who gets to the stage, as Puccini had, of searching through one play or novel after another, dissatisfied with any subject he is offered, should almost certainly give up.

This very much reminds me of Joseph Kerman who said, “Nobody would deny that dramatic potential can be found in this tale. Puccini, however, did not find it; his music does nothing to rationalize the legend or illuminate the characters,” and “while Turandot is more suave musically than Tosca, dramatically it is a good deal more depraved.” Hurrah for Sir Thomas Beecham who once remarked that anything that Joseph Kerman said about Puccini “can safely be ignored.”

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I’m not going to claim that Turandot is perfect: it is not. But it is musically more challenging than most of Puccini’s other works, and the tale itself is much darker and more profound than the critics allow. Though Puccini’s first interest in the subject was based on his reading of Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 play, Turandot, Puccini’s work is more closely based on the earlier text Turandot by Carlo Gozzi. The original story of Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan) comes from the epic Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties), the work of 12th-century Persian poet Nizami. The opera’s story, however, is set in China and involves Prince Calaf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. Calaf passes the test, but Turandot still refuses to marry him. He offers her a way out: if she is able to learn his name before dawn the next day, then at daybreak he will die.

The opera was unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death in 1924, and was completed by Franco Alfano in 1926. The first performance was held at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 25 April 1926 and conducted by Arturo Toscanini. This performance included only Puccini’s music and not Alfano’s additions. As tribute to Puccini, Toscanini laid down his baton at the end of Puccini’s composition, and the first performance of the opera as completed by Alfano came the following night, 26 April. A newspaper report published the day before the premiere states that Puccini himself gave Toscanini the suggestion to stop the opera performance at the final notes composed by Puccini:

A few weeks before his death, after having made Toscanini listen to the opera, Puccini exclaimed: “If I don’t succeed in finishing it, at this point someone will come to the footlights and will say: ‘The author composed until here, and then he died.'” Arturo Toscanini related Puccini’s words with great emotion, and, with the swift agreement of Puccini’s family and the publishers, decided that the evening of the first performance, the opera would appear as the author left it, with the anguish of being unable to finish.

Puccini and Toscanini

Puccini and Toscanini

The opera is, indeed, anguished in theme – and continues so in its performance history.

Act 3 troubles the critics a great deal, and, sadly, many reduce it to a kind of hormonal muddle instead of the climax of a complex tale, entwined with Puccini’s own life. If you don’t know the tale you’ll have to look it up – sorry. The first component that worries the critics is the torture and death of the slave girl Liù, who kills herself rather than reveal the prince’s name under Turandot’s brutal treatment. Many critics find this subplot needlessly callous. But this component may well be tangentially related to Puccini’s life. In 1909, Puccini’s wife Elvira publicly accused Doria Manfredi, a maid working for the Puccini family, of having an affair with the composer. After being publicly accused of adultery, Doria Manfredi committed suicide. An autopsy determined, however, that Doria had died a virgin, refuting the allegations made against her. Elvira Puccini was prosecuted for slander, and was sentenced to more than five months in prison, although a payment to the Manfredi family by Puccini spared Elvira from having to serve the sentence. Puccini was certainly a philanderer, but in this case he was innocent. Yet he still thought of himself as the indirect cause of Doria’s death – partly because Elvira’s accusations were fair, but misdirected.

Turandot

Act 3 is somewhat disjointed perhaps because Puccini was not able to finish it as he intended, and Alfano’s work, though based on Puccini’s sketches may not rise to the challenges of a complex ending. Alfano picks up the story after Liù’s death with Calaf’s rough attempt to seduce Turandot followed by him revealing his name, thus giving her the choice to love him in return or execute him. Eventually her icy heart melts and she admits that she knows his true name – it is “Love.” The critics tend to laugh off the ending as hormones at work, but I disagree. Calaf shows his honor by giving Turandot a way out, even though he has answered her riddles, and when she fails to guess his name, tells her flat out, proving that he would rather die than not be loved by her in return. Turandot, for her part, confesses that her iciness and hardness of heart towards Calaf, are components of her passionate heart, the reverse side of which is love. She might as well have had Freud speak her words for her. It’s really not Puccini’s fault if the critics can’t see the richness.

There’s also a certain oddity in setting Turandot in China because it’s really a Persian tale that had run through the hands of French, German, and Italian interpreters before Puccini used it. Nonetheless Puccini made some inspired compositional choices in using Chinese melodies for certain themes. The classic case is his use of the 18th century song 茉莉花 (“Jasmine Flower”), sung here by Song Zuying:

Here it is in La sui monti:

For most of the 20th century, for one reason or another, Turandot was not performed in China, and yet now is regaled as the national opera. Some critics claim it was banned by the People’s Republic because it cast China in a bad light. They don’t know what they are talking about, as usual. Things are never that simple in China. True, it did not see the light of day in China until the 1990’s, but this was not because of an outright ban, but because successive applications to produce it were turned down, each time for a different reason. Sure there was a sense that the opera was unfair to “modern” China underneath it all, but various influential Chinese also objected to the brutality, sexuality, and so forth. A 2008 production in Beijing marked Puccini’s 150th birthday, featuring a new ending written by Hao Weiya, based on Puccini’s sketches. It departs from Alfano’s ending chiefly in making Turandot’s change of heart a direct consequence of Liù’s suicide rather than of Calaf’s ardor – much more in keeping with Chinese sentiment.

Nessun dorma got a huge boost when Luciano Pavarotti’s recording became the theme song of the 1990 FIFA world cup in Italy. Here is a youthful Pavarotti onstage:

Puccini’s native Lucca is home to a well known cuisine. Here is a lucchese rabbit stew with olives. Italians routinely have pasta as a first course and meat dishes, such as this one, as a second course. So you can serve it with crusty bread. I’ll leave you to it as to quantities.

Coniglio con le olive alla lucchese

Ingredients

1 rabbit, cut in 8 pieces
2 (or more) shallots, peeled and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
nutmeg
Italian black olives
juice of a lemon
white wine

Instructions:

Sauté the shallots in a heavy skillet in olive oil until they are translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Brown the rabbit pieces in the olive oil on all sides, over high heat. Return the shallots and add white wine to cover, plus lemon juice, nutmeg (freshly grated if possible), and olives. I sometimes add in grated lemon zest for an extra punch. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 35-40 minutes. During this time the sauce should reduce and thicken. Add more wine if it gets too dry.