Mar 232019

Today is a feast day in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at ( احمدیہ مسلم جماعت‎) an Islamic revival or messianic movement founded in Punjab, British India, on this date in 1889. It originated with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), who claimed to have been divinely appointed as both the promised Mahdi (Guided One) and Messiah expected by Muslims to appear towards the end times and bring about, by peaceful means, the final triumph of Islam, as well as to embody, in this capacity, the expected eschatological figure of other major religious traditions. Adherents of the Ahmadiyya—a term adopted expressly in reference to Muhammad’s alternative name Aḥmad—are known as Ahmadi Muslims or simply Ahmadis.

Ahmadi thought emphasizes the belief that Islam is the final dispensation for humanity as revealed to Muhammad and the necessity of restoring it to its true intent and pristine form, which had been lost through the centuries. Its adherents consider Ahmad to have appeared as the Mahdi—bearing the qualities of Jesus in accordance with their reading of scriptural prophecies—to revitalize Islam and set in motion its moral system that would bring about lasting peace. They believe that upon divine guidance he purged Islam of foreign accretions in belief and practice by championing what is, in their view, Islam’s original precepts as practiced by Muhammad and the early Muslim community. Ahmadis thus view themselves as leading the propagation and renaissance of Islam.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad established the movement on 23rd March 1889 by formally accepting allegiance from his supporters. Since his death, the Community has been led by a number of Caliphs and has spread to 210 countries and territories of the world, with concentrations in South Asia, West Africa, East Africa, and Indonesia. The Ahmadis have a strong missionary tradition and formed the first Muslim missionary organization to arrive in Britain and other Western countries. Currently, the Community is led by its Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and is estimated to number between 10 and 20 million worldwide.

The Community is now entirely contained in a single, highly organized and united movement, but in the early history of the Community, a number of Ahmadis broke away over the nature of Ahmad’s prophetic status and succession and formed the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam, which today represents a small fraction of all Ahmadis. Some Ahmadiyya-specific beliefs have been thought of as opposed to current conceptions of Islamic orthodoxy since the movement’s birth, and some Ahmadis have subsequently faced persecution. Many Muslims consider Ahmadi Muslims as either kafirs or heretics.

I’ll leave you to explore Ahmadiyya on you own, if you are interested. At the very least, if you are unaware of the history of Islam, this post should help you see that the religion is divided into sects (much like Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism), so that trying to understand Muslims as a whole is a serious mistake. Meanwhile, let’s talk about Punjabi cuisine. Outside India, Punjabi cooking may be best known for the tandoor, a clay oven sunk in the ground and fired to high temperatures. Generic Indian restaurants in the West make breads baked in the tandoor, such as naan, tandoori roti, kulcha, or lachha paratha, and tandoori chicken is an enduring favorite. However, the Punjab is also noted for its buttery dishes and butter chicken is probably the best known. You may find it hard to get some of the ingredients, but they can mostly be found online if you do not have an Indian grocery nearby. The amount of butter is cook’s choice.  My amounts are just guidelines. The chicken is normally cut into serving pieces with bone in.

Butter Chicken


400 gm raw chicken, cut in pieces

First marinade:

2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice

Second marinade

½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp kasuri methi
2 tsp mustard oil


2 tsp vegetable oil
3 gm cloves
1 cinnamon stick, crumbled
1 tsp powdered mace
7 whole cardamom pods
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 ½ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp kasuri methi
2 tsp honey
1 green chile, chopped
2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp heavy cream plus extra


Put the chicken in a bowl with the ingredients for the first marinade and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile grind together the ingredients for the second marinade. Add this to the chicken, mix well again and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to the hottest temperature you can.

Spread the marinated chicken on a roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, or until it is about three-quarters cooked. Meanwhile, make the gravy.

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a pan with 2 ounces of butter. Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, mace and cardamom. Sauté until the spices emit their fragrance and then add the chopped tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Mix well and cooked for 15 minutes. Then grind the mix to a paste in a food processor or blender.

In another pan, heat another 2 ounces of butter, along with ginger-garlic paste. Add the tomato puree made from the mixture. Now add red chilli powder, kasuri methi, honey and the roasted chicken pieces. Bring to a simmer and cook for several minutes. Add the green chile, cardamom powder and cream. Mix well and simmer for an extra few minutes. Serve in a bowl with a little extra cream drizzled in. Serve with basmati rice and flat bread.

Mar 222019

Today is the birthday (1887) of Leonard “Chico” Marx, a member of the Marx Brothers (with Groucho, Harpo, and Zeppo). His persona in the act was that of a charming, uneducated but crafty con artist, seemingly of rural Italian origin, who wore shabby clothes and sported a curly-haired wig and Tyrolean hat. On screen, Chico is often in alliance with Harpo, usually as partners in crime, and is also frequently seen trying to con or outfox Groucho. Leonard was the oldest of the Marx Brothers to live past early childhood (first-born Manfred Marx had died in infancy). In addition to his work as a performer, he played an important role in the management and development of the act in its early years.

Name those Marx brothers.

Chico was born in Manhattan, New York City. His parents were Sam Marx (called “Frenchie” throughout his life), and his wife, Minnie Schoenberg Marx. Minnie’s brother was Al Shean. The Marx family was Franco-German Jewish. His father was a native of Alsace who worked as a tailor and his mother was from East Frisia in Germany.

Billing himself as Chico, he used an Italian persona for his onstage character; stereotyped ethnic characters were common with Vaudevillians. The fact that he was not actually Italian was specifically referred to twice on film. In their second feature, Animal Crackers, he recognizes someone he knows to be a fish peddler impersonating a respected art collector:

Ravelli (Chico): “How is it you got to be Roscoe W. Chandler?”
Chandler: “Say, how did you get to be an Italian?”
Ravelli: “Never mind—whose confession is this?”

In A Night at the Opera, which begins in Italy, his character, Fiorello, claims not to be Italian, eliciting a surprised look from Groucho:

Driftwood (Groucho): “Well, things seem to be getting better around the country.”
Fiorello (Chico): “I don’t know, I’m a stranger here myself.”

A scene in the film Go West, in which Chico attempts to placate an Indian chief of whom Groucho has run afoul, has a line that plays a bit on Chico’s lack of Italian nationality, but is more or less proper Marx wordplay:

Quentin Quayle (Groucho): “Can you talk Indian?”
Joe Panello (Chico): “I was born in Indianapolis!”

There are moments, however, where Chico’s characters appear to be genuinely Italian; examples include the film The Big Store, in which his character Ravelli runs into an old friend he worked with in Naples (after a brief misunderstanding due to his accent), the film Monkey Business, in which Chico claims his grandfather sailed with Christopher Columbus, and their very first film The Cocoanuts, where Mr. Hammer (Groucho) asks him if he knew what an auction was, in which he responds “I come from Italy on the Atlantic Auction!” Chico’s character is often assumed to be dim-witted, as he frequently misunderstands words spoken by other characters (particularly Groucho). However, he often gets the better of the same characters by extorting money from them, either by con or blackmail; again, Groucho is his most frequent target.

Chico was a reasonably accomplished pianist. He originally started playing with only his right hand and fake playing with his left, as his teacher did so herself. Chico eventually acquired a better teacher and learned to play the piano correctly. As a young boy, he gained jobs playing piano to earn money for the Marx family. Sometimes Chico even worked playing in two places at the same time. He would acquire the first job with his piano-playing skills, work for a few nights, and then substitute Harpo on one of the jobs. (During their boyhood, Chico and Harpo looked so much alike that they were often mistaken for each other.)

In the brothers’ last film, Love Happy, Chico plays a piano and violin duet with ‘Mr. Lyons’ (Leon Belasco). Lyons plays some ornate riffs on the violin; Chico comments, “Look-a, Mister Lyons, I know you wanna make a good impression, but please don’t-a play better than me!” In a record album about the Marx Brothers, narrator Gary Owens stated that “although Chico’s technique was limited, his repertoire was not.” The opposite was true of Harpo, who reportedly could play only two tunes on the piano, which typically thwarted Chico’s scam and resulted in both brothers’ being fired.

Chico became the unofficial manager of the Marx Brothers after their mother, Minnie, died in 1929. As manager, he cut a deal to get the brothers a percentage of a film’s gross receipts—the first of its kind in Hollywood. Furthermore, it was Chico’s connection with Irving Thalberg of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that led to Thalberg’s signing the Brothers when they were in a career slump after Duck Soup (1933), the last of their films for Paramount.

For a while in the 1930s and 1940s, Chico led a big band. Singer Mel Tormé began his professional career singing with the Chico Marx Orchestra. Through the 1950s, Chico occasionally appeared on a variety of television anthology shows and some television commercials, most memorably with Harpo in “The Incredible Jewelry Robbery”, a pantomime episode of General Electric Theater in 1959.

Chico playing cards with himself.

His nickname (acquired during a card game in Chicago in 1915) was originally spelled Chicko. A typesetter accidentally dropped the “k” in his name and it became Chico. It was still pronounced “Chick-oh” although those who were unaware of its origin tended to pronounce it “Cheek-oh”. Numerous radio recordings from the 1940s exist where announcers and fellow actors mispronounce the nickname, but Chico apparently felt it was unnecessary to correct them. As late as the 1950s, Groucho was happy to use the wrong pronunciation for comedic effect. A guest on You Bet Your Life told him she grew up around Chico (California) and Groucho responded, “I grew up around Chico myself. You aren’t Gummo, are you?” During Groucho’s live performance at Carnegie Hall in 1972, he states that his brother got the name Chico because he was a “chicken-chaser” (early 20th century slang for womanizer). “In England now, they call them birds.”

As well as being a compulsive womanizer, Chico had a lifelong gambling habit. His favorite gambling pursuits were card games, horse racing, dog racing, and various sports betting. His addiction cost him millions of dollars by his own account. When an interviewer in the late 1930s asked him how much money he had lost from gambling, he answered, “Find out how much money Harpo’s got. That’s how much I’ve lost.” Gummo Marx, in an interview years after Chico’s death, said: “Chico’s favorite people were actors who gambled, producers who gambled, and women who screwed.”

Chico’s lifelong gambling addiction compelled him to continue in show business long after his brothers had retired in comfort from their Hollywood income, and in the early 1940s he found himself playing in the same small, cheap halls in which he had begun his career 30 years earlier. The Marx Brothers’ penultimate film, A Night in Casablanca (1946), was made for Chico’s benefit since he had filed for bankruptcy a few years prior. Because of his out-of-control gambling, the brothers finally took the money as he earned it and put him on an allowance, on which he stayed until his death.

Chico had a reputation as a world-class pinochle player, a game he and Harpo learned from their father. Groucho said Chico would throw away good cards (with the knowledge of spectators) to make the play “more interesting”. Chico’s last public appearance was in 1960, playing cards on the television show Championship Bridge. He and his partner lost the game.


Chico was married twice. His first marriage was to Betty Karp in 1917, and produced one daughter: Maxine (1918–2009). His first marriage was plagued by his infidelity, ending in divorce in 1940. He was very close to his daughter Maxine and gave her acting lessons. Chico’s second marriage was to Mary De Vithas. They married in 1958, three years before his death.

Chico died of arteriosclerosis at age 74 on October 11th, 1961, at his Hollywood home. He was the eldest brother and the first to die. Chico is entombed in the mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Chico’s younger brother Gummo is in a crypt across the hall from him.

According to a book of recipes by famous people (Eat Like the Stars), Chico’s favorite dish was pasta alla lido (spelled wrong). I don’t have the cookbook, but pasta alla lido is will enough known. It is rigatoni (or macaroni) with swordfish and eggplant. No idea why this was his favorite, but being Italian seems apt, and it’s palatable enough.

Pasta alla Lido


600 gm rigatoni (or macaroni)
400 gm sliced swordfish, cut in cubes
1 kg plum tomatoes, chopped
2 eggplants, cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
mint leaves
½ glass dry white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper


Boil the rigatoni while you are making the fish and eggplant sauce.

Fry the eggplant cubes in oil over medium heat until they take on some color, then remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Then brown the garlic in the oil, remove, and discard.

Turn the heat to high, add the swordfish and brown on all sides. Add the wine over high heat and add the chopped tomato. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and finish the sauce over high heat. At the end, add the eggplant to heat through.

Drain the rigatoni well, and mix with the sauce.  Serve garnished with mint leaves.

Mar 212019

Today is Nowruz (Persian: نوروز‎  literally “new day”), the Iranian New Year also known as the Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. It is celebrated on the equinox in March which can fall anywhere from the 19th to the 21st. This year (2019) it is celebrated today in Iran. Despite its Persian and Zoroastrian origins, Nowruz has been celebrated by diverse communities. It has been celebrated for well over 2,000 years (possibly longer) in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Bahais, and some Muslim communities.

In the 11th century CE the Iranian calendar was reformed in order to fix the beginning of the calendar year, i.e. Nowruz, at the equinox. Accordingly, the definition of Nowruz given by the Iranian scientist Tusi   ( ) was the following: “the first day of the official New Year [Nowruz] was always the day on which the sun entered Aries before noon.” Nowruz is the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar.

The word Nowruz is a combination of Persian words now, (English: new) and ruz (English: day). A variety of spelling variations for the word nowruz exist in English-language usage, including novruz, nowruz, nauruz and newroz.

Charshanbe Suri (Persian: چارشنبه ‌سوری‎, translit. Čāršanbe Suri; Kurdish: Çarşema Sor‎; Azerbaijani: Çərşənbə Bayramı) is a prelude to the New Year. In Iran, it is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday before Nowruz. It is usually celebrated in the evening by performing rituals such as jumping over bonfires and lighting off firecrackers and fireworks.In Azerbaijan, where the preparation for Novruz usually begins a month earlier, the festival is held every Tuesday during four weeks before the holiday of Novruz. Each Tuesday, people celebrate the day of one of the four elements – water, fire, earth and wind. On the holiday eve, the graves of relatives are visited and tended.

Iranians sing the poetic line “my yellow is yours, your red is mine” (Persian: سرخی تو از من، زردی من از تو‎, translit. zardi ye man az to, sorkhi ye to az man) to the fire during the festival, asking the fire to take away ill-health and problems and replace them with warmth, health, and energy. Trail mix and berries are also served during the celebration.

Spoon banging (قاشق زنی) is a tradition observed on the eve of Charshanbe Suri, similar to the Halloween custom of trick-or-treating. In Iran people wear disguises and go door-to-door banging spoons against plates or bowls and receive packaged snacks. In Azerbaijan, children slip around to their neighbors’ homes and apartments on the last Tuesday prior to Novruz, knock at the doors, and leave their caps or little basket on the thresholds, hiding nearby to wait for candies, pastries and nuts.

The ritual of jumping over fire has continued in Armenia in the feast of Trndez, which is a feast of purification in the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church, celebrated forty days after Jesus’s birth.

In Iran, the Nowruz holidays last thirteen days. On the thirteenth day of the New Year, Iranians leave their houses to enjoy nature and picnic outdoors, as part of the Sizdebedar ceremony. The greenery grown for the Haft-sin setting is thrown away, particularly into a running water. It is also customary for young single people, especially young girls, to tie the leaves of the greenery before discarding it, expressing a wish to find a partner. Another custom associated with Sizdah bedar is the playing of jokes and pranks, similar to April Fools’ Day

There exist various foundation legends for Nowruz in Iranian texts. The Shahnameh credits the foundation of Nowruz to the fabled Iranian king Jamshid, who saved humanity from a winter destined to kill every living creature. To defeat the killer winter, Jamshid constructed a throne studded with gems. He had demons raise him above the earth into the heavens; there he sat, shining like the Sun. The world’s creatures gathered and scattered jewels around him and proclaimed that this was the New Day (Now Ruz). This was the first day of Farvardin.

Although it is not clear whether Proto-Indo-Iranians celebrated a feast as the first day of the calendar, there are indications that Iranians may have observed the beginning of both autumn and spring, respectively related to the harvest and the sowing of seeds, for the celebration of the New Year. Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet suggest: “It is possible that the splendor of the Babylonian festivities at this season led the Iranians to develop their own spring festival into an established New Year feast, with the name Navasarda “New Year” (a name which, though first attested through Middle Persian derivatives, is attributed to the Achaemenian period).” Since the communal observations of the ancient Iranians appear in general to have been seasonal ones, and related to agriculture, “it is probable that they traditionally held festivals in both autumn and spring, to mark the major turning points of the natural year.” That is, the Persian empire replaced the Babylonian empire, and, in the process, assimilated some of its customs.

Nowruz is partly rooted in the tradition of Iranian religions, such as Mithraism and Zoroastrianism. In Mithraism, festivals had a deep linkage with the Sun’s light. The Iranian festivals such as Mehrgan (autumnal equinox), Tirgan, and the eve of Chelle ye Zemestan (winter solstice) also had an origin in the Sun god (Surya). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism is the first monotheistic religion that emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world, and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the seven most important Zoroastrian festivals are the six Gahambar festivals and Nowruz, which occurs at the spring equinox. According to Mary Boyce, “It seems a reasonable surmise that Nowruz, the holiest of them all, with deep doctrinal significance, was founded by Zoroaster himself”; although there is no clear date of origin. Between sunset on the day of the sixth Gahambar and sunrise of Nowruz, Hamaspathmaedaya (later known, in its extended form, as Frawardinegan; and today known as Farvardigan) was celebrated. This and the Gahambars are the only festivals named in the surviving text of the Avesta.

The 10th-century scholar al-Biruni ( ), in his work Kitab al-Tafhim li Awa’il Sina’at al-Tanjim, provides a description of the calendars of various nations. Besides the Iranian calendar, various festivals of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Sabians, and other nations are mentioned in the book. In the section on the Iranian calendar, he mentions Nowruz, Sadeh, Tirgan, Mehrgan, the six Gahambars, Farvardigan, Bahmanja, Esfand Armaz and several other festivals. According to him, “It is the belief of the Iranians that Nowruz marks the first day when the universe started its motion.” The Persian historian Gardizi, in his work titled Zayn al-Akhbār, under the section of the Zoroastrians festivals, mentions Nowruz (among other festivals) and specifically points out that Zoroaster emphasized the celebration of Nowruz and Mehrgan.

All agricultural communities worldwide have celebrations of the new year, with many common features – especially renewal, but quite often homage to ancestors, penance for past misdeeds, and hope for a bright future. I am not deeply enough immersed in ancient Persian scholarship to say much about the history of the celebration of Nowruz except that it is very old, and is attested through the centuries. We know, however, that both its dating and its form have changed substantially over the years.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran was the only country that officially observed the ceremonies of Nowruz. When the Caucasian and Central Asian countries gained independence from the Soviets, they also declared Nowruz as a national holiday. Nowruz was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. To commemorate the UN recognition, Iran unveiled a commemorative postage stamp during the first International Nowruz Celebrations in Tehran on Saturday, 27th March 2010.

House cleaning, or shaking the house (Persian: خانه تکانی‎, translit. xāne tekāni) is commonly done before the arrival of Nowruz. People start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning of their homes and by buying new clothes to wear for the New Year, as well the purchase of flowers. The hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous.

Parsis adorn their houses with different auspicious symbols; namely, stars, butterflies, birds and fish; and on the day of Navroz, they dress in their new and best clothes and put on gold and silver kushtis and caps. They decorate the doors and windows with garlands of roses and jasmine, and use colored powders for creating patterns known as rangoli on their steps and thresholds. Fish and floral motifs are a favorite among rangolis and considered highly auspicious.

During the Nowruz holidays, people are expected to make short visits to the homes of family, friends and neighbors. Typically, the young people will visit their elders first, and the elders return their visit later. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Many Iranians throw large Nowruz parties as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and family.

Typically, before the arrival of Nowruz, family members gather around the Haft-sin table and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. Traditionally, the Haft-sin (Persian: هفت‌سین‎, seven foods beginning with the letter sin (س‎)) are:

Sabze (Persian: سبزه‎) – wheat, barley, mung bean, or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.

Samanu (Persian: سمنو‎) – sweet pudding made from wheat germ

Persian olive (Persian: سنجد‎, translit. senjed)

Vinegar (Persian: سرکه‎, translit. serke)

Apple (Persian: سیب‎, translit. sib)

Garlic (Persian: سیر‎, translit. sir)

Sumac (Persian: سماق‎, translit. somāq)

These items are also known to have astrological correlations to planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun, and Moon. The Haft-sin table may also include a mirror, candles, painted eggs, a bowl of water, goldfish, coins, hyacinth, and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Qur’an, Bible, Avesta, the Šāhnāme of Ferdowsi, or the divān of Hafez may also be included. Haft-sin’s origins are not clear. The practice is believed to have been popularized over the past 100 years.

Of the seven items, samanu is the most commonly prepared for festive eating. Here’s your video:

Mar 202019

Today is the birthday (1917) of dame Vera Margaret Lynn CH DBE OStJ, widely known as “the Forces’ Sweetheart” because her musical recordings and performances were enormously popular during the Second World War. I almost never honor a living person, but when scouring my lists I found her name and thought she must have passed on by now. Nope. 102 today.

During the war she toured Egypt, India, and Burma as part of Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), giving outdoor concerts for the troops. The songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “There’ll Always Be an England”.

She remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the US and recording such hits as “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” and her UK Number one single “My Son, My Son”. In 2009, at age 92, she became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart, with compilation album We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn. She released the compilation album of hits Vera Lynn 100 in 2017, to commemorate her centennial year, and it was a number-3 hit, making her the first centenarian performer to have an album in the charts. She is held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War to this day, and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

Lynn sang outside Buckingham Palace in 1995 in a ceremony that marked the golden jubilee of VE Day. This is stated to have been her last known public performance, although she sang again on the evening of the same day in the public concert in Hyde Park. The United Kingdom’s VE Day Diamond Jubilee ceremonies in 2005 included a concert in Trafalgar Square in London, in which Lynn made a surprise appearance. She gave a speech praising the veterans and calling upon the younger generation always to remember their sacrifice, and joined in with a few bars of “We’ll Meet Again”. In her speech Lynn said: “These boys gave their lives and some came home badly injured, and for some families life would never be the same. We should always remember, we should never forget, and we should teach the children to remember.”

Well . . . are we teaching the children???  No need to comment, I know the answer.

When looking around for a recipe, I discovered that Vera Lynn’s idea of a simple pleasure is a glass of wine and a bag of crisps. Hmmmm. Not very celebratory, and not something that appeals to me. But, go ahead if it tickles your fancy. Lynn ran into a certain amount of criticism early in her career (pre-war years) because she came from an east London, working-class family. That all faded when she became the forces favorite, and the voice of hope during the Blitz, but she was always proud of her roots. So here’s London Particular, a version of split pea soup developed in the early 20th century in dubious honor of the smogs, known as “pea soupers” that hung over England in those days. This version requires making ham stock first, and is a little bit different from the usual pea soups in that he contains malt vinegar.

London Particular


1 smoked ham hock
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
8 black peppercorns
½ cup malt vinegar
1 bay leaf
8-10 fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp chopped parsley stalks
200 gm green split peas
40 gm butter
1 onion, peeled and diced
freshly ground black pepper


Place the ham hock in a large saucepan along with the halved onion, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf, mint, malt vinegar and parsley stalks. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for two to two and a half hours, until tender. Leave to cool in the liquid, then remove and strain the stock through a sieve into a bowl. Reserve the stock for making the soup, and shred the meat into bite-sized chunks. Taste the stock: if it is too salty, dilute with fresh water.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and sweat the onion until soft and translucent. Add the peas and about 1 ½ liters of stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and skim off any scum. Simmer until the peas are very soft, between 45 to an hour. Add more stock if the soup gets too thick. Process about three-quarters of the soup in a blender until smooth, adding a little more stock if it is too thick. Season to taste with black pepper. Return to the saucepan with the unblended soup, add some of the ham and warm through. Serve in warmed bowls, with some mint leaves scattered over the top. Place a cruet of malt vinegar on the table in case guests wish to add more.

Mar 192019

Today is the birthday (1844) of Minna Canth, born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson, a Finnish writer and social activist. Canth began to write while managing her family draper’s shop and living as a widow raising seven children. Her work addresses issues of women’s rights, particularly in the context of a prevailing culture she considered antithetical to the expression and realization of women’s aspirations. Her play The Pastor’s Family is her best known, although none of her plays is known particularly well outside of Finland, and few are translated into English. In her lifetime she became a controversial figure because her views did not mesh with the prevailing ideology in Finland, but these days she is hailed as a pioneer, and her birthday is recognized as a Flag Day (the first Flag Day to honor a woman be officially recognized in Finland (2007) and is also designated as a day of social equality).

Canth was born in Tampere to Gustaf Vilhelm Johnsson (1816-1877) and his wife Ulrika (1811-1893). Her father worked at James Finlayson’s textile factory initially as a worker and later as a foreman. In 1853, when he was given charge of Finlayson’s textile shop in Kuopio, the entire family relocated there. Canth received an exceptionally thorough education for a working class woman of her time. Even before moving to Kuopio she had attended school at Finlayson’s factory which was intended for the workers’ children. In Kuopio she continued to go to various girls’ schools and, as a testament to her father’s success as a shopkeeper, she was even admitted into a school intended for upper class children. In 1863 she began her studies at the recently founded Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary, which was the first school in Finland to offer higher education for women.

In 1865 she married her natural sciences teacher, Johan Ferdinand Canth, and had to drop out of the Seminary. Between 1866 and 1880 she gave birth to seven children and began her writing career at the newspaper Keski-Suomi, where her husband worked as an editor. She wrote about women’s issues and advocated temperance. In 1876 the Canths were forced to leave the paper because Minna’s pieces had caused social friction. They were, however, both employed by the competing Päijänne the following year. Minna published her first works of fiction in Päijänne: various short stories, which were compiled in her first book, Novelleja ja kertomuksia, in 1878.

Canth stood up when there was public debate about women’s rights. In 1885 a bishop had argued that God’s order required that women were not to be emancipated. The writer Gustaf af Geijerstam then argued that men could only aspire to one day have the purity of women because they were fundamentally different, and this was the reason for prostitution and other immorality on their part. Canth objected strongly to this argument as it meant that men could defend their poor morals by reference to their implicit shortcomings, whereas any women involved in prostitution would lack the same defense.

Minna Canth’s most important works are the plays Työmiehen vaimo (The Worker’s Wife) from 1885 and Anna Liisa (1895). In Työmiehen vaimo, the main character Johanna is married to Risto, an alcoholic who wastes all his wife’s money. Johanna cannot prevent him – her money is legally his, not hers. The play’s premiere caused scandal, but a few months later, parliament enacted a new law about separation of property. Anna Liisa is a tragedy about a fifteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant without being married – she manages to hide her pregnancy, and when the child is born, she suffocates it in a fit of panic. Her boyfriend, Mikko, and his mother help her – she buries the baby in the woods, but a few years later, when Anna Liisa wants to marry her fiancé Johannes, she is blackmailed by Mikko and his mother. They threaten to reveal her dark secret if she does not agree to marry Mikko, but Anna Liisa refuses. In the end, she decides to confess what she has done. She is taken to prison, but is much relieved after owning up and seems to have found peace.

After she died in 1897, Canth’s works were either forgotten on trivialized in Finland, and remained so for most of the 20th century. It has only been in the 21st century that her plays and novels have been highlighted as pioneering works, and she has been granted the recognition that she lacked for a century.

I have mentioned Finnish recipes a number of times, and the subject of pies of various (strange) types keeps popping up. Here is a video on Karelian pastries, a rice pudding filled raised rye dough that is popular throughout Finland.

Mar 182019

Today is the birthday (1846) of Kicking Bear, also called Matȟó Wanáȟtaka, an Oglala Lakota who became a band chief of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux. He fought in several battles with his brother, Flying Hawk and first cousin, Crazy Horse during the War for the Black Hills, including Battle of the Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn). Kicking Bear was one of the five warrior cousins who sacrificed blood and flesh for Crazy Horse at the Last Sun Dance of 1877. The ceremony was held to honor Crazy Horse one year after the victory at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, and to offer prayers for him in the trying times ahead. Crazy Horse attended the Sun Dance as the honored guest but did not take part in the dancing. The five warrior cousins were brothers Kicking Bear, Flying Hawk and Black Fox II, all sons of Chief Black Fox, also known as Great Kicking Bear, and two other cousins, Eagle Thunder and Walking Eagle.

Kicking Bear was also a holy man active in the Ghost Dance religious movement of 1890, and had traveled with fellow Lakota Short Bull to visit the movement’s leader, Wovoka (a Paiute holy man living in Nevada). The Lakota men were instrumental in bringing the movement to their people who were living on reservations in South Dakota. Following the murder of Sitting Bull, Kicking Bear and Short Bull were imprisoned at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Upon their release in 1891, both men joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, and toured with the show in Europe, although they found the experience humiliating. After a year-long tour, Kicking Bear returned to the Pine Ridge Reservation to care for his family.

In March 1896, Kicking Bear traveled to Washington, D.C. as one of three Lakota delegates taking grievances to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He made his feelings known about the drunken behavior of traders on the reservation, and asked that Native Americans have more ability to make their own decisions. While in Washington, Kicking Bear agreed to have a life mask made of himself. The mask was to be used as the face of a Sioux warrior to be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Kicking Bear painted his account of the Battle of Greasy Grass at the request of artist Frederic Remington in 1898, more than twenty years after the battle. Kicking Bear was buried with the arrowhead as a symbol of the ways he so dearly desired to resurrect when he died on May 28th, 1904. His remains are buried somewhere in the vicinity of Manderson-White Horse Creek.

Wohanpi has been a classic Lakota dish for centuries, but there is not really much to give in the way of a recipe because in its traditional form it is made from what you might expect: hunted meat and gathered vegetables. It could be made with bison, elk, or the like, with wild onions and timpsula (wild turnip). You get the idea. These days, Lakota cooks may make it with beef, potatoes, and carrots yet still call it wohanpi. A version made with beef, potatoes, and carrots would certainly be symbolic of what has happened to the Lakota over the years, but if you want to truly celebrate Kicking Bear you might try to get some bison, elk, or deer meat, and simmer it (cubed) for several hours along with whatever vegetables indigenous to North American you can find – preferably wild. That’s something of a challenge, but it can be done. There are sites such as this one for example. Good Hunting.

Mar 172019

The lead image here is called “Burst of Joy” a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Slava “Sal” Veder, taken on this date, 1973 at Travis Air Force Base in California. The photograph came to symbolize the end of United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment that military personnel and their families could begin a process of healing after enduring the horrors of war. I will talk about Vietnam’s healing after the atrocities committed by the U.S. military in a bit (yesterday was the anniversary of the Mỹ Lai Massacre in 1968).

The first group of POWs leaving the prison camps in North Vietnam left Hanoi on a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic airlift aircraft nicknamed the Hanoi Taxi, which flew them to Clark Air Base in the Philippines for medical examinations. On March 17th, the plane landed at Travis Air Force Base in California. Even though there were only 20 POWs of that first increment released aboard the plane, almost 400 family members turned up for the homecoming. Lt Col Robert L. Stirm, USAF gave a speech, “on behalf of himself and other POW’s who had arrived from Vietnam as part of Operation Homecoming.”

Smithsonian Magazine says that “Veder, who’d been standing in a crowded bullpen with dozens of other journalists, noticed the sprinting family and started taking pictures. ‘You could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air’.” Veder then rushed to the makeshift photo developing station (for 35 mm film) in the ladies’ room of the air base’s flightline washrooms, while the photographers from United Press International were in the men’s. Smithsonian Magazine says that “In less than half an hour, Veder and his AP colleague Walt Zeboski had developed six remarkable images of that singular moment. Veder’s pick, which he instantly titled “Burst of Joy,” was sent out over the news-service wires”.

The photograph depicts United States Air Force Lt Col Robert L. Stirm being reunited with his family, after spending more than five years in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Stirm was shot down over Hanoi on October 27th, 1967, while leading a flight of F-105s on a bombing mission, and was not released until March 14th, 1973. The centerpiece of the photograph is Stirm’s 15-year-old daughter Lorrie, who is excitedly greeting her father with outstretched arms, as the rest of the family approaches directly behind her.

Despite outward appearances, the reunion was an unhappy one for Stirm. Three days before he arrived in the United States, the same day he was released from captivity, Stirm received a “Dear John” letter from his wife Loretta (running happily to greet him in the photo) informing him that their marriage was over. Stirm later learned that Loretta had been sleeping with his fellow officers back home throughout his captivity, receiving marriage proposals from three of them. In 1974, the Stirms divorced and Loretta remarried, but Stirm was still ordered by the courts to provide her with 43% of his military retirement pay for alimony and child support once he retired from the Air Force. Stirm was later promoted to full Colonel and retired from the Air Force in 1977.

So . . . how much of what we see in the photo is real? The photo became the image of what the end of the war meant for the United States, but it is an extraordinarily limited depiction of all that was actually going on. Even at that moment Stirm felt utterly betrayed by his wife. Ever after, he could not bring himself to look at the photo. Certainly the joy of his children was real. Certainly, also, the feeling of joy of the US nation was quite real. The feeling in Vietnam was not in any sense equivalent. The country had been oppressed by the French colonial masters for well over 100 years, and, when they were finally evicted, the country was divided by civil war, and the US moved in to support the South against the North. When the US finally pulled out – defeated – the country had been devastated by endless bombing, chemical attacks, and civilian massacres. “Burst of Joy” is a reasonable depiction of the relief that the US felt at the ending of a war that had divided the nation politically, but the US did not have to face the decades of reconstruction and renewal that Vietnam had to face. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but this one tells a most lopsided story. Pardon me, but I live on the Mekong Delta across from Saigon, so you will understand that my vision is a little skewed.

Pho is the classic Vietnamese dish that can be found in infinite varieties across Vietnam. Pho with beef is absolutely standard, and the heart of the dish is the broth made by long boiling of marrow bones with spices. This video gives you the general idea but you have to go to Vietnam for the real experience. These days you can buy concentrates to make the broth at home, but they do not have the richness nor complexity of a broth made from scratch.


Mar 162019

Today is another coincidence day – the birthdays of two Amsterdam authors of the Dutch Golden Age: Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero (1585) and P. C. Hooft (1581). Not surprisingly, they were friends and collaborated, but there is no record of them ever having a shared birthday party. We will have to make up for the omission.

Bredero was born in Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic, where he lived his whole life. He called himself “G.A. Bredero, Amstelredammer”, and sometimes he is called Breero or Brederode. He was the third child of Marry Gerbrants and Adriaen Cornelisz Bredero, who was a shoemaker and a successful real estate agent. Bredero was born in the Nes, nowadays number 41, and in 1602 he and his family moved to a house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, now number 244, which his father had bought. Bredero lived in this house for the rest of his life. Both houses are now restaurants in Amsterdam’s famous red light district.

At school Bredero learned French and possibly also some English and Latin. Later he was educated as an artist by the Antwerp painter Francesco Badens, but none of his paintings have survived. In 1611 he became a member of the rederijkerskamer d’Eglantier (“Eglantier rhetoric chamber”), where he was an active member and became friends with Roemer Visscher and P.C.Hooft. Together with Hooft he supported Samuel Coster in the creation of Nederduytsche Academie (First Dutch Academy) which was intended to provide a better environment for the production of plays than the rederijkerskamers. Around this time he wrote the play De Spaanschen Brabander Ierolimo. Between 1611 and 1618, seven of his plays were produced in Amsterdam.

The only public position Bredero achieved was as vaandrig or standard bearer of the civic guard. On 23rd August 1618, at the age of 33, Bredero suddenly died, shortly after he had recovered from pneumonia that he had contracted after falling through ice. He never married.

Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, often abbreviated to P.C. Hooft, was born in Amsterdam as the son of the then mayor, Cornelis Hooft. In 1598, his father sent him to France and Italy in order to get prepared for a career as merchant. However, Pieter was more interested in art. In particular, he was deeply impressed by the Italian renaissance. In 1609, he was appointed bailiff of Muiden and the Gooiland. He founded the Muiderkring, a literary society located at his home, the Muiderslot, the castle of Muiden, in which he got to live due to his appointment as sheriff of Muiden. Among the members were the poets and playwrights Constantijn Huygens, Maria Tesselschade, Bredero and Joost van den Vondel, as well as the Portuguese singer Francisca Duarte.

Hooft was a prolific writer of plays, poems and letters, and his output can be divided into three periods: (1) 1602 – 1611, love poems (2) 1612- 1618, plays (3) 1618 onwards, history. After the death of Bredero, he concentrated on writing his history of the Netherlands (Nederduytsche Historiën), inspired by Roman historian Tacitus. His focus was primarily on the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain. Though his avowed intent in this work was to give a report of the events which was as impartial as possible, he did not really succeed. The first volumes of his massive history were published in 1642, but he died in 1647 before the full oeuvre was in print.

The classic cookbook of the Dutch Golden Age is De Verstandige Kok (The Sensible Cook), published in 1669. Despite the fact that the Dutch dominated the spice trade for centuries, their cooking has never been overwhelmingly spicy. The term “bland” more frequently comes to mind, but in the Golden Age there was an emphasis on variety, freshness, and quantity. You may also be familiar with numerous still lifes of tables groaning with attractive raw ingredients. Here is chicken stewed with vegetables which is meatier than the title suggests. The hen is cooked with mutton (for a rich broth) and veal meatballs are added along with the vegetables.

Om een Hoen te stoven met Groen.

Neemt een goet Hoen wel gesuyvert, laet met eenige stucken Schape-vleesch, met weynigh Zout koken, half gaer zijnde, doet daer by in een stoof-panne, wat Sausisen of kleene Frickedil, oock een goede handt vol Endivie, Salaet, Suringh en Sellery, oock Aspargies, en voor al de Boter niet te vergeten.

To stew a hen with greens

Take a good chicken, well cleaned, and boil it with some pieces of mutton with a little salt. When it is half done, add some sausages or small meatballs in a stewing pan, and a large handful of endives, lettuce, sorrel and celery, also asparagus. Especially do not forget the butter.

Om Frickedillen te maken.

Neemt Kalfs-vleesch, met Kalfs-vet ghehackt, doet daer by Foelie, Noten, Zout, Peper, kneet wel onder een, dan kont gy daar van maken soo groot en kleyn als ‘t u belieft, oock heel in de panne braden; veele nemen een weynigh van de uytterste Schilletjes dun afgeschilt, van Orangie-appelen of Lamoenen, en daer heel kleyn onder gekerft, geeft een heel goede geur, en smakelijck.

To make meatballs

Take veal, chopped with veal fat, add mace, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Knead it well together. You can make them as large or small as you like, or fry it [the chopped meat] in one piece in the pan. Some people take a little of the zest of an orange or lime. Chopped small with the meat it gives a very good fragrance, and very tasty.






Mar 152019

Today is the birthday (1851) of Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, FBA, a Scottish archaeologist and Biblical scholar. Although Ramsay was educated in the Tübingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the Greek Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. His work, unlike that of Biblical archeologists who worked primarily on the foundations of Israel in his day, is still respected (with qualifications).

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest son of a third-generation lawyer, Thomas Ramsay and his wife Jane Mitchell (daughter of William Mitchell. His father died when he was 6 years old, and the family moved from Glasgow to the family home near Alloa. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved high distinction and later became Professor of Humanity. He won a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in classical moderations (1874) and in literae humaniores (1876), that is, Latin and Greek. He also studied Sanskrit under Theodor Benfey at Göttingen. In 1880 Ramsay received an Oxford studentship for travel and research in Greece. At Smyrna, he met Sir C. W. Wilson, then British consul-general in Anatolia, who advised him on inland areas suitable for exploration. Ramsay and Wilson made two long journeys during 1881-1882.

He traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with Paul’s missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire. Greece and Turkey remained the focus of Ramsay’s research for the remainder of his academic career. In 1883, he discovered the world’s oldest complete piece of music, the Seikilos epitaph. He was known for his expertise in the historic geography and topography of Asia Minor and of its political, social, cultural, and religious history. He was made a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1882. From 1885 to 1886 Ramsay held the newly created Lincoln Chair of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College (honorary fellow 1898). In 1886 Ramsay was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. He remained affiliated with Aberdeen until his retirement in 1911.

Ramsay was known for his careful attention to 1st century CE events, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. Acts was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no one author could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the events described therein (the dating of Luke-Acts in Ramsay’s day – since revised earlier). He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded:

Further study … showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement. . . . I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.

When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claim to have been written by Paul were authentic. Contemporary scholars are a good deal more guarded on this point. There is nearly universal consensus in modern scholarship on a core group of authentic Pauline epistles whose authorship is rarely contested: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  Scholarly opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are genuine letters of Paul. The remaining four contested epistles – Ephesians, as well as the three known as the Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) – have been labeled pseudepigraphical (falsely bearing Paul’s name) by most critical scholars. The primary opposition to Pauline authorship for the contested epistles is linguistic: the Greek in them does not accord with Paul’s style, and, in the latter cases, contain numerous anachronisms.

Here is an Anatolian recipe for lamb with purslane and pulses that now uses New World ingredients (such as tomato paste and chiles), which I have eliminated to give something closer to an ancient recipe. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) was a common green in antiquity but is not so easy to find these days outside the Mediterranean, although it is used in Mexican cooking.  It is easy to grow. It has a slightly sour taste. Cooking times here are approximate. You must check the lamb when it is cooking to be sure it is tender before adding other ingredients.

Anatolian Lamb Stew

½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
¾ cup small brown lentils
¼ cup olive oil
5 oz boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, peeled and
1 ½ lb purslane, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely shredded
½ cup coarse bulgur
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
chopped spearmint, leaves
salt and black pepper

chopped green onions and lemon wedges (for serving)


In separate pots, cover the chickpeas and lentils with water, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked (about 1 hour). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

In a large, cast-iron pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook until browned. Stir in the onion, and cook until softened but not browned. Add ½ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding liquid if it becomes too dry.

Add the purslane, bulgur and ½ cup each of the reserved chickpea and lentil cooking liquids to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, lentils, garlic and enough water to barely cover. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining oil. Add the spearmint and ground black pepper to taste. When the oil begins to sizzle, give it a stir and drizzle it over the stew. Stir once and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve the stew at room temperature or let cool, then refrigerate and serve chilled the following day. Serve the scallions and lemon at the table.

Mar 142019

On this date in 1885, The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu, a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, opened in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, which was the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Before the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing the opera. I first saw a school production of The Mikado in South Australia when I was 12.  I had already seen an amateur production of H.M.S. Pinafore, so I was aware of Gilbert and Sullivan. Mikado cemented my interest, and when I moved to England a few years later I saw the D’Oyly Carte company at the Savoy Theatre in London several times. I can sing most of the famous male arias from memory even now, although my interest in the music has faded quite considerably.

The movie Topsy-Turvy does a halfway decent job of evoking the era when Mikado was first produced, although it commits numerous historical errors. Gilbert and Sullivan had had remarkable success with their previous collaborations but interest in their work had reached a plateau. The opera immediately preceding The Mikado was Princess Ida (1884), which ran for nine months, a short duration by Savoy opera standards. When ticket sales for Princess Ida showed early signs of flagging, the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte realized that, for the first time since 1877, no new Gilbert and Sullivan work would be ready when the old one closed. On 22nd March 1884, Carte gave Gilbert and Sullivan contractual notice that a new opera would be required within six months. Sullivan’s close friend, the conductor Frederic Clay, had suffered a serious stroke in December 1883 that effectively ended his career. Reflecting on this, on his own precarious health, and on his desire to devote himself to more serious music, Sullivan replied to Carte that “it is impossible for me to do another piece of the character of those already written by Gilbert and myself”. Gilbert, who had already started work on a new libretto in which people fall in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge, was surprised to hear of Sullivan’s hesitation. He wrote to Sullivan asking him to reconsider, but the composer replied on 2nd April 1884 that he had “come to the end of my tether” with the operas:

     …I have been continually keeping down the music in order that not one [syllable] should be lost…. I should like to set a story of human interest & probability where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, & where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one the words would be of similar character.

Gilbert was hurt, but Sullivan insisted that he could not set the “lozenge plot.” In addition to the improbability of it, it was too similar to the plot of their 1877 opera, The Sorcerer. Sullivan returned to London, and, as April wore on, Gilbert tried to rewrite his plot, but he could not satisfy Sullivan. The parties were at a stalemate, and Gilbert wrote, “And so ends a musical & literary association of seven years’ standing – an association of exceptional reputation – an association unequaled in its monetary results, and hitherto undisturbed by a single jarring or discordant element.” However, by 8th May 1884, Gilbert was ready to back down, writing: “am I to understand that if I construct another plot in which no supernatural element occurs, you will undertake to set it? … a consistent plot, free from anachronisms, constructed in perfect good faith & to the best of my ability.” The stalemate was broken, and on 20th May, Gilbert sent Sullivan a sketch of the plot to The Mikado. It would take another ten months for The Mikado to reach the stage.

Topsy-Turvy repeats numerous historical inaccuracies concerning how Gilbert conceived of Mikado’s setting. He was not inspired by an exhibition of Japanese culture in Kensington, which began after he had already mapped out the first act. Nor was he prompted by the accidental fall of a Japanese sword in his study. Both tales have been debunked numerous times. It is more likely that he simply found Japanese culture appealing given that in the 1860s onwards, Japanese artefacts and photography were popular in London.  It should also be noted that the plot has very little to do with Japan. The purpose of the opera was to lampoon British politics and culture, but by setting it in Japan, Gilbert  avoided being entirely direct about his intentions.

Gilbert did take advantage of the presence of the Japanese exhibition to imbue the performance with some authentic cultural notes as illustrated in this clip:


Mrs Beeton supplies this recipe which contains a note about Chinese or Japanese origins of endive.  Later she also comments on the use of soy sauce in cooking, although at the time it was generally unknown in Britain. She claims that Japanese soy sauce is superior to Chinese, but I doubt that she knew anything about the matter. It is her birthday today, anyway, so I felt it fitting to include one of her recipes.


  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 lbs. of shin of beef, a knuckle of veal weighing 5 lbs., a few pieces or trimmings, 2 slices of nicely-flavoured lean, ham; 1/4 lb. of butter, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 1 turnip, nearly a head of celery, 1 blade of mace, 6 cloves, a hunch of savoury herb with endive, seasoning of salt and pepper to taste, 3 lumps of sugar, 5 quarts of boiling soft water. It can be flavoured with ketchup, Leamington sauce (see SAUCES), Harvey’s sauce, and a little soy.

Mode.—Slightly brown the meat and ham in the butter, but do not let them burn. When this is done, pour to it the water, and as the scum rises, take it off; when no more appears, add all the other ingredients, and let the soup simmer slowly by the fire for 6 hours without stirring it any more from the bottom; take it off, and let it settle; skim off all the fat you can, and pass it through a tammy. When perfectly cold, you can remove all the fat, and leave the sediment untouched, which serves very nicely for thick gravies, hashes, &c.

Time.—7 hours. Average cost, 1s. per quart.

Seasonable all the year.

Sufficient for 14 persons.

ENDIVE.—This plant belongs to the acetarious tribe of vegetables, and is supposed to have originally come from China and Japan. It was known to the ancients; but was not introduced to England till about the middle of the 16th century. It is consumed in large quantities by the French, and in London,—in the neighbourhood of which it is grown in abundance;—it is greatly used as a winter salad, as well as in soups and stews.

 Posted by at 10:33 pm