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Oct 162020
 

Today is the birthday (1854) of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, noted poet and playwright. Although he wrote in in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s saw him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. Wilde’s parents were Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. The young Wilde learned to speak fluent French and German, and at university he proved himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Oxford. He became associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin.

After university, Wilde moved to London and was successful in fashionable cultural and social circles (which he savagely lampooned in his plays). As a principal spokesman for aestheticism, he engaged in various literary activities including publishing poetry, and was then invited to tour the United States in 1882. Aestheticism was sufficiently in vogue to be caricatured by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience (1881). Richard D’Oyly Carte, a Gilbert and Sullivan’s impresario, invited Wilde to make a lecture tour of North America, simultaneously priming the pump for the US tour of Patience and selling Wilde as a most charming aesthete to the American public. The tour was originally planned to last four months, but continued for almost a year due to its commercial success

Wilde then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist where he became known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and conversational skill, transforming into one of the best-known personalities of his day. At the turn of the 1890s, he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Wilde to write drama. He wrote Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it was refused a license for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Instead, Wilde produced four society comedies – Lady Windemere’s Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband –  in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) was still being performed in London, Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he was convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour, the maximum penalty, and was jailed from 1895 to 1897.

During his last year in prison, he wrote De Profundis (published posthumously in 1905), a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

Bankrupted by his trials and broken by his imprisonment, Wilde left England for Paris where he died at the age of 46.

The sparkle of his wit lives on in his writing.  These are just a small sampling:

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

You can never be overdressed or overeducated.

Here is my small self-condemnation for quoting Wilde at all:

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

Wilde’s eating habits were not remarkable. He is said to have enjoyed roast duck in particular, but was not inordinately fond of food.  He was more consumed with the conversation at table than with the food itself:

A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.

But . . .

I can’t stand people who do not take food seriously.

On that note, the obvious choice of dish to celebrate Wilde is cucumber sandwiches.  If you do not know why read The Importance of Being Earnest. At my college at Oxford, cucumber sandwiches were the afternoon tea staples in Trinity term (anchovy toast for Michaelmas and Hilary). They were a great Victorian favorite, although, strangely, I could not find them listed in Mrs Beeton.  Also, in looking up recipes on the internet, all I could find were concoctions that included cream cheese and other outlandish fillers.  Nonsense.  My recipe is traditional.

Cucumber Sandwiches.

Slice white bread thinly and cut off the crusts.

Peel a cucumber and use a mandolin to make paper thin slices. (Your choice whether you remove the seeds).

Lightly butter one piece of bread, layer on the cucumber slices and cover with an unbuttered slice (or buttered if you want to be indulgent). Cut diagonally on both diagonals to form small triangles, and arrange decoratively.

Jul 242020
 

Today is the birthday (1895) of Robert von Ranke Graves, an Anglo-Irish poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet and figure in the Gaelic revival. Graves produced more than 140 works in his lifetime. His poems, his translations and innovative analysis of Greek legend, his memoir of his early life—including his role in World War I—Good-Bye to All That, and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, have never been out of print. For most of his life Graves earned his living from writing, particularly popular historical novels such as I, Claudius; King Jesus; The Golden Fleece; and Count Belisarius. He was also a respected translator of classical Latin and Greek texts. His versions of The Twelve Caesars and The Golden Ass remain popular for their clarity and entertaining style.

From my teenage years I have been aware of Graves in various guises.  I owned copies of Greek Myths I & II as well as I, Claudius, all of which I read avidly, and in my college years, when I read as many first-hand accounts of World War I as I could, I was absorbed by Good-Bye to All That. The latter captures, for me, the tangled and complex emotions of watching all that you have cherished, admired, and clung to, torn into a million pieces, never to be relived.  For Graves, as for so many youths of his generation, the War was both a coming of age and a shattering of carefully crafted illusions.  I was a Classicist in the 6th form of my grammar school, so I was deeply engaged in Greek and Latin poetry, and was intrigued by the many stories of the classical pantheon.  In that world, Graves’s erudition was helpful.  Greek Myths helped me pick my way through the endless, fragmented source material in Greek, and gave a satisfying coherence to works that were otherwise disjointed and hard to interpret.

Where Graves and I part company is in his analysis of the culture of ancient Greece.  The disagreement arises from two areas.  First, his intellectual inspiration was the anthropology and folklore of the 19th century which is hopelessly outdated (and just plain wrong).  Second, his interpretation of ancient texts is in the service of poetry and poetic inspiration, whereas mine is anthropological.  As I get longer in the tooth, I am less inclined to criticize Graves for his academic point of view, but I, nonetheless, find it grating. By the same token, I am also more inclined to cut him some slack for his academic crimes. He was on the trail of poetic honesty, not prosaic truth.

You can read his biography on Wikipedia if you want the details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Graves .  Here I’ll indulge in some of my favorite quotes followed with a recipe.

There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.

The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.

Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat.

One gets to the heart of the matter by a series of experiences in the same pattern, but in different colors.

This seems to me a philosophical question, and therefore irrelevant, question. A poet’s destiny is to love.

The gift of independence once granted cannot be lightly taken away again.

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.

Graves spent many years of his life living in Mallorca (to escape English culture), and, in fact, died there.  The ensaïmada is a pastry product from Mallorca, now found, in different variants, in southwestern Europe, Latin America and southeast Asia (mainly the Philippines). The first written references to the Mallorcan ensaïmada date back to the 17th century. At that time, although wheat flour was mainly used for making bread, there is evidence that this typical pastry product was made for festivals and celebrations. The ensaïmada de Mallorca is made with strong flour, water, sugar, eggs, mother dough and a kind of reduced pork lard named saïm. The name comes from the Catalan word saïm, which means ‘pork lard’ (from the Arabic shahim, meaning ‘fat’). Here is a video (in Spanish):

 

 

Jul 102020
 

Today is the birthday of Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen, July 10, 1904 or 1907), a Piedmont blues guitarist and singer who was one of the most popular recorded musicians of his era. He was born in Wadesboro, North Carolina, one of ten children of Calvin Allen and Mary Jane Walker. After the death of his mother, he moved with his father to Rockingham, North Carolina. As a boy he learned to play the guitar and also learned from older singers the field hollers, country rags, traditional songs, and blues popular in poor rural areas of North Carolina.

In his teens he worked as a laborer when began to lose his eyesight. By 1928 he was completely blind, and a 1937 eye examination attributed his vision loss to the long-term effects of untreated neonatal conjunctivitis. He turned to whatever employment he could find as a singer and entertainer, often playing in the streets. By studying the records of country blues players like Blind Blake and live performances by Gary Davis, Allen became an accomplished guitarist, playing on street corners and at house parties in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Danville, Virginia; and then Durham, North Carolina. In Durham, playing around the tobacco warehouses, he developed a local following, which included the guitarists Floyd Council and Richard Trice, the harmonica player Saunders Terrell (better known as Sonny Terry), and the washboard player and guitarist George Washington.


In 1935, James Baxter Long, a record store manager and talent scout in Burlington, North Carolina, secured Allen a recording session with the American Recording Company (ARC). Allen, Davis and Washington recorded several tracks in New York City, including the traditional “Rag, Mama, Rag”. To promote the records, Long credited Allen as Blind Boy Fuller and Washington as Bull City Red.

Over the next five years Fuller recorded over 120 records, which were released by several labels. His style of singing was rough and direct, and his lyrics were explicit and uninhibited, drawing on every aspect of his experience as an underprivileged, blind African-American man on the streets—pawnshops, jailhouses, sickness, death—with an honesty that lacked sentimentality.


In 1938 Fuller, who was described as having a fiery temper, was imprisoned for shooting a pistol at his wife, wounding her in the leg. His imprisonment prevented him from performing in “From Spirituals to Swing”, a concert produced by John Hammond in New York City that year. Sonny Terry performed in his place and was the beginning of Terry’s long career in folk music. After Fuller was released from prison, he held his last two recording sessions, in New York City in June 1940, but by then he was increasingly physically weak, and much of the material did not match the quality and energy of his earlier recordings.


Fuller’s repertoire included a number of popular double-entendre “hokum” songs, such as “I Want Some of Your Pie”, “Truckin’ My Blues Away” (the origin of the phrase “keep on truckin'”), and “Get Your Yas Yas Out” (adapted as Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out for the title of an album by the Rolling Stones), and the autobiographical “Big House Bound”, about his time in prison. Much of his material was culled from traditional folk and blues songs. He possessed a formidable fingerpicking guitar style. He played a steel National resonator guitar. He was criticized by some as a derivative musician, but his ability to fuse together elements of traditional and contemporary songs and reformulate them in his own performances attracted a broad audience, best remembered for his up-tempo ragtime hits, including “Step It Up and Go”. At the same time he was capable of deeper material, such as, his versions of “Lost Lover Blues”, “Rattlesnakin’ Daddy” and “Mamie.” Much of his repertoire and style is kept alive by other Piedmont artists to this day.


Fuller died at his home in Durham, North Carolina, on February 13, 1941 (aged, maybe, 33 or 36).


I have given many North Carolina recipes that I like, and because I lived and did fieldwork in the state for 5 years I have numerous favorites (usually brought out on New Year’s Day): hush puppies, pot-likker soup, greasy greens, hoppin’ John etc. all of which you can search for on this site and will work as a celebratory dish. For me, the dish has to be North Carolina BBQ. Unlike elsewhere in the South it is made with slow-cooked pork, seasoned with a sauce made with apple-cider vinegar, crushed red peppers, and sugar (plus other “secret” ingredients). It is known as “pulled pork” because you can just pull it off the roasting pig in delicious juicy shreds. There are several videos showing North Carolina BBQ pits available, but they are all made by white good ol’ boys who are probably as racist as they come, so I have selected a video from South Carolina. Most South Carolina BBQ is quite different from North Carolina varieties, but this one seems close to me, and is hyper-traditional.

Jul 082020
 

Today is the birthday (1882) of Percy Aldridge Grainger (born George Percy Grainger), an Australian-born composer, arranger, and pianist who, in the course of a long and innovative career, played a prominent role in the revival of interest in English folk music in the early years of the 20th century. Although much of his work was experimental and unusual, the piece with which he is most generally associated is his piano arrangement of the morris dance tune “Country Gardens” (which was later set to words). Sales of “Country Gardens” music and recordings alone produced a lifetime income for Grainger.  Here he is playing one of his many versions:

Grainger left Australia at the age of 13 to attend the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. Between 1901 and 1914 he was based in London, where he established himself first as a society pianist and later as a concert performer, composer, and collector of original folk tunes. As his reputation grew, he met many of the significant figures in European music, forming friendships with Frederick Delius and Edvard Grieg. He became a champion of Nordic music and culture, and this preoccupation with Nordic culture led him to develop a form of English which, he maintained, reflected the character of the language before the Norman conquest. He replaced words of Norman or Latin origin with supposedly Nordic word-forms, such as “blend-band” (orchestra), “forthspeaker” (lecturer) and “writ-piece” (article). He called this “blue-eyed” English. His convictions of Nordic superiority eventually led Grainger, in letters to friends, to express his views in crudely racial and anti-Semitic language. The music historian David Pear describes Grainger as, “at root, a racial bigot of no small order.”


Grainger had an “interesting” relationship with his mother, Rose – one that was often (falsely) seen as incestuous, yet was certainly strangling in many ways. For example, Rose savagely berated any woman who showed interest in Percy, and he made little effort at forming relationships until after her death. Indeed, she committed suicide in 1922 because of persistent rumors of incest. Rose raised Percy alone (because she separated from her philandering husband), taught him at home (as well as hiring private tutors), and traveled the world with him. Some music historians have suggested that he would have been more creative without her early influence, but such counter-factual speculations are worthless.


In 1914, Grainger moved to the United States, where he lived for the rest of his life, though he traveled widely in Europe and Australia. His move was almost certainly triggered by a desire to avoid service in the trenches, although he claimed he was concerned about his mother’s health. Regardless, he was roundly condemned in the press for dodging service, but between 1917 and 1918 he served as a bandsman in the US army – playing saxophone and causing a certain amount of hilarity in music circles.
In 1918, Grainger took U.S. citizenship, and in 1921 moved to White Plains, where he lived for the rest of his life.

The music conservatory at my college, Purchase College, SUNY, which is near White Plains, had a small collection of his papers and unusual music machines, but by the 1980s, when I began as an assistant professor, Grainger had fallen from vogue, and there was little interest in celebrating him. Perhaps one day I will indulge in a major rant on how narcissistic and egocentric the academic music world is, and how it drifts constantly with the tide of ephemeral fads. I have yet to meet a professional performer, composer, theorist, or historian who is not utterly self-absorbed. [correction – I know one concert pianist who is a thoroughly decent human being]. Meanwhile, I feel a certain (distant) kindred with Grainger because of his interest in morris dance tunes, along with his Australian heritage, and his residence in White Plains. Inadvertently, I have followed him from Australia to England to New York.

Grainger used to provoke his vegetarian friend, composer Cyril Scott, by eating huge slices of roast beef in his presence. But in 1924, Percy gave up meat entirely and labelled himself a ‘meat-shunner.’ He did not like vegetables, however, and mostly ate fruit pies, boiled rice, ice cream, oranges, and cream cakes. Cream cakes can be made in all manner of ways, but one of the most standard is to make a sponge cake and then fill (and top) it generously with cream:

Jul 072020
 

Today is the birthday (1860) of Gustav Mahler, an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect, which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners. Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.

Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors of all time, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.


Mahler’s œuvre is relatively limited; for much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler’s works are generally designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. These works were frequently controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Second Symphony, Third Symphony, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910.


Mahler’s First Symphony has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and was probably also a favorite of Mahler himself, given that he conducted it more often than any other of his works. In fact, he conducted 10 premières in 10 different countries from 1889 (world première) to 1909 (U.S. première). Here is a passable version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XbHLFkg_Mw The opening is virtually impossible to capture adequately because it is so quiet and yet so complex, but once it gets going the performance is not bad.


Mahler, in his younger days, was a vegetarian. There’s a story, recounted by one of his biographers, about how he was teased by fellow musicians in a restaurant when he refused meat, instead asking for spinach and apples. Mahler might have become vegetarian after reading an essay by Richard Wagner. In 1880 — the same year Wagner published an essay endorsing vegetarianism — Mahler wrote to a friend:

For the last month I have been a total vegetarian. The moral effect of this way of life, with its voluntary castigation of the body, is enormous. I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to eat suitable food (compost-grown, stone-ground, wholemeal bread) and you will soon see the fruit of your endeavors.

Eventually, Mahler gave up his vegetarian diet, but a string of health issues meant that he always watched what he ate. We do know, also, that his sister, Justine, baked a prize Marillenknoedel — traditional Viennese apricot dumplings. One of Mahler’s friends, Ludwig Karpath, recalled the composer’s shock at finding out that Karpath wasn’t a fan of Marillenknoedel. “What!” Mahler shouted, “is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknoedel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent.”
There are numerous ways to make Marillenknoedel dough. I have no idea about Mahler’s sister version, but this one is serviceable:

Jul 062020
 

Córdoba, a city in central Argentina, in the foothills of the Sierras Chicas on the Suquía River, about 700 km (435 mi) northwest of the Buenos Aires, was founded on this date in 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, who named it after Córdoba in Andalucia. It was one of the first Spanish colonial capitals of the region that is now Argentina (the oldest city is Santiago del Estero, founded in 1553). The National University of Córdoba is the oldest university of the country and the seventh to be inaugurated in Spanish America. It was founded in 1613 by the Jesuit Order. Because of this, Córdoba earned the nickname La Docta (“the learned”).


Córdoba has many historical monuments preserved from Spanish colonial rule, especially buildings of the Roman Catholic Church. The most recognizable is perhaps the Manzana Jesuítica, declared in 2000 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, consisting of a group of buildings dating from the 17th century, including the Colegio Nacional de Monserrat and the colonial university buildings. Córdoba is also known for its historical movements, such as Cordobazo and La Reforma del ’18 (known as University Revolution in English).


In 1570, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo entrusted Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, with the task of populating and founding a settlement in the Punilla Valley. Cabrera sent an expedition of 48 men to the territory of the Comechingones. He divided the principal column that entered through the north of the provincial territory at Villa María. The expedition set foot on what today is Córdoba on 24th June 1573. Cabrera called the nearby river San Juan (today Suquía). The settlement was officially founded on 6th July of the same year and named Córdoba de la Nueva Andalucía. The foundation of the city took place on the left bank of the river on Francisco de Torres’ advice.

The settlement was inhabited by Comechingones people, who lived in permanent communities called Ayllus. After being consistently attacked by indigenous warriors for four years, the settlement’s authorities moved the town to the opposite bank of the Suquía River in 1577. The lieutenant governor at the time, Don Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa, planned the first layout of the city as a grid of seventy blocks. Once the city core had been moved to its current location, it acquired a stable population and its economy blossomed due to trade with the cities in the north.


In 1599, the religious order of the Jesuits arrived in the settlement. They established a Novitiate in 1608 and, in 1610, the Colegio Maximo, which became the University of Córdoba in 1613 (today National University of Córdoba), the fourth-oldest in the Americas. The local Jesuit Church remains one of the oldest buildings in South America and contains the Monserrat Secondary School, a church, and residential buildings. To maintain such a project, the Jesuits operated five Reducciones in the surrounding fertile valleys, including Caroya, Jesús María, Santa Catalina, Alta Gracia and Candelaria.
The farm and the complex, started in 1615, had to be vacated by the Jesuits following the 1767 decree by King Charles III of Spain that expelled them from the continent. They were then run by the Franciscans until 1853, when the Jesuits returned to the Americas. However, the university and the high-school were nationalized a year later. Each Estancia has its own church and set of buildings, around which towns grew, such as Alta Gracia.

Córdoba is well known in Argentina for its colaciones, a sweet butter cookie filled with dulce de leche and iced with a lemon glaze. Brush up your Argentine Spanish for this video.

Jul 052020
 

Spam was introduced by Hormel on this date in 1937. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America states that the product was intended to increase the sale of pork shoulder which was not a very popular cut. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item. Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but it is a common belief that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham”. The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”, and “Special Army Meat”. Over 68,000 tonnes (150 million pounds) of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.


During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Spam was Immediately absorbed into local recipes and has become an important part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific islands.

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union. In his memoir Khrushchev Remembers, Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.” Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate the contribution Spam made to survival. The billionth can of Spam was sold in 1959, and the eight billionth can was sold in 2012.


Beginning in 1940, Spam sponsored George Burns and Gracie Allen on their radio program. During WWII, Spam was not only eaten but was also incorporated into many other aspects of the war (grease for guns, cans for scrap metal, etc.); it was so prominent that Uncle Sam was nicknamed “Uncle Spam”. Other terms influenced by the product’s name include the European invasion fleet, or the “Spam Fleet”. Furthermore, the United Service Organizations (USO) toured the “Spam Circuit”. In the United States in the aftermath of World War II, a troupe of former servicewomen was assembled by Hormel Foods to promote Spam from coast to coast. The group was known as the Hormel Girls and associated the food with being patriotic. In 1948, two years after its formation, the troupe had grown to 60 women with 16 forming an orchestra. The show went on to become a radio program where the main selling point was Spam. The Hormel Girls were disbanded in 1953.


Spam has long had a somewhat dubious reputation in the United States and (to a lesser degree) United Kingdom as a poverty food. The image of Spam as a low cost meat product gave rise to the Scottish colloquial term “Spam valley” to describe certain affluent housing areas where residents appear to be wealthy but in reality may be living at poverty levels.

Spam was featured in an iconic 1970 Monty Python sketch called “Spam”. Set in a café which mostly served dishes containing Spam, including “egg and Spam, egg bacon and Spam, Spam egg sausage and Spam, Spam egg Spam Spam bacon and Spam “, the piece also featured a companion song. (I like the Portuguese subtitles in this version). Because of its use in a line of a song in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the title of the musical version of the film became Spamalot.

By the 1990s, Spam’s perceived ubiquity led to its name being adopted for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.

Spam is the subject of the “Weird Al” Yankovic song “Spam”, which is a parody of the R.E.M. song “Stand”.

Other offshoots of Spam in popular culture include a book of haikus about Spam titled Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf. There is also a mock Church of Spam, and a Spam Cam which is a webcam trained on a can of decaying Spam.

This video gives 5 recipes for cooking Spam: 1. Spam and egg sandwich 2. Spam Musubi 3. Spam fried rice 4. Egg and Spam ramen noodles 5. Buddea jjigae (Korean hotpot). I’ll leave you to decide which ones work. The direction is obviously mostly Asian, as befits the popularity of Spam in Asian countries.

Jul 032020
 

On this date in 1608 Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat, at the site of a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Champlain served as its administrator until he died in 1635. The name “Canada” originally referred to this settlement, although the Acadian (i.e. French) settlement at Port-Royal was established three years earlier. Quebec came to be the cradle of North America’s Francophone population (although some Acadians migrated south to Louisiana where “Acadian” morphed into “Cajun”). Supposedly the indigenous people had named the area Kébec, meaning “river narrows”, because the Saint Lawrence River narrows near to the promontory of Quebec and its Cape Diamant. Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the only fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. While many of the major cities in Latin America date from the 16th century, among cities in Canada and the U.S., few were created earlier than Quebec City.

The population of the settlement remained small for decades. In 1629 it was captured by English privateers, led by David Kirke, during the Anglo-French War. Samuel de Champlain argued that the English seizing of the lands was illegal as the war had already ended, and worked to have the lands returned to France. As part of the ongoing negotiations of their exit from the Anglo-French War, in 1632 the English king, Charles I, agreed to return the lands in exchange for Louis XIII paying his wife’s dowry. These terms were signed into law with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The lands in Quebec and Acadia were returned to the French Company of One Hundred Associates.


In 1665, there were 550 people in 70 houses living in the city. One-quarter of the people were members of religious orders: secular priests, Jesuits, Ursulines nuns and the order running the local hospital, Hotel-Dieu. Quebec was the headquarters of many raids against New England during the four French and Indian Wars. In 1690 the city was attacked by the English, but was successfully defended. In the last of the conflicts, the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War), Quebec was captured by the British in 1759 and held until the end of the war in 1763. In that time many battles and sieges took place: the Battle of Beauport, a French victory (31 July 1759); the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which British troops under general James Wolfe defeated the French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on 13 September 1759 and shortly thereafter took the city after a short siege. A French counter-attack saw a French victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy (28 April 1760) but the subsequent second Siege of Quebec the following month however was the final British victory. France ceded New France, including Quebec City, to Britain in 1763.


At the end of French rule in 1763, forests, villages, fields and pastures surrounded the town of 8,000 inhabitants. The town distinguished itself by its monumental architecture, fortifications, and affluent homes of masonry and shacks in the suburbs of Saint-Jean and Saint-Roch. Despite its urbanity and its status as capital, Quebec City remained a small colonial city with close ties to its rural surroundings. Nearby inhabitants traded their farm surpluses and firewood for imported goods from France at the two city markets.

I have covered some aspects of Quebecois cuisine, including poutine, here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edwards-v-canada/

Here, then, is a wonderful video showing the recipe for a tourtière, a classic French Canadian meat pie, typically made with three meats, pork, veal, and beef, with the addition of potatoes and other vegetables and heavily spiced. The chef speaks Quebec French which adds its own flavor.

Jun 282020
 

Today is the birthday (1703) of John Wesley, an English cleric, theologian and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. I have already celebrated his younger brother Charles here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-wesley/ .  Charles and John often disagreed theologically, but, in the end, John’s Methodism prevailed and Charles’s contribution to the church is now more in his hymnody than in his doctrinal views.

Wesley attended Charterhouse and Christ Church College, Oxford, and was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1726. He was ordained as an Anglican priest two years later. He led the “Holy Club”, a society formed for the purpose of the study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. It had been founded by his brother, Charles, and counted George Whitefield among its members. After an unsuccessful ministry of two years at Savannah, serving at Christ Church, in the Georgia Colony, Wesley returned to London and joined a religious society led by Moravian Christians. On 24th May 1738, he experienced what has come to be called his evangelical conversion. He describes the experience as follows:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.” Considered a pivotal moment, Daniel L. Burnett writes: “The significance of Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience is monumental. Without it the names of Wesley and Methodism would likely be nothing more than obscure footnotes in the pages of church history.” Burnett describes this event Wesley’s “Evangelical Conversion.” It is commemorated in Methodist churches as Aldersgate Day.

A key step in the development of Wesley’s ministry was, like Whitefield, to travel and preach outdoors. In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, Wesley embraced Arminian doctrines. Moving across Great Britain and Ireland, he helped form and organize small Christian groups that developed intensive and personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction. He appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists to care for these groups of people. Under Wesley’s direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including prison reform and the abolition of slavery.

Although he was not a systematic theologian, Wesley argued for the notion of Christian perfection and against Calvinism—and, in particular, against its doctrine of predestination. His evangelicalism, firmly grounded in sacramental theology, maintained that means of grace sometimes had a role in sanctification of the believer. However, he taught that it was by faith a believer was transformed into the likeness of Christ. He held that, in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, giving them not only outward but inward holiness. Wesley’s teachings, collectively known as Wesleyan theology, continue to inform the doctrine of Methodist churches.

Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the established Church of England, insisting that the Methodist movement lay well within its tradition. In his early ministry, Wesley was barred from preaching in many parish churches and the Methodists were persecuted. He later became widely respected and, by the end of his life, had been described as “the best-loved man in England.”

When I wrote about Charles Wesley, I mentioned “Methodist food” based on my wife’s experiences, and then opted for an 18th century recipe.  But . . . there is a famous dish known as Methodist pie, which is celebrated in a well-known country song of the same name:

 

Well, the recipe is easily available also:

METHODIST PIE              

CRUST:

18 graham crackers

¼ lb. butter, melted

2 tbsp sugar

Roll and crush the crackers to crumbs. Mix the sugar and butter together and add the graham cracker crumbs. Mix well. Line a 10-inch pie pan with graham cracker mixture.

FILLING:

1 ¼ lbs cream cheese

3 eggs, beaten

1 pinch salt

¾  cup sugar

1 tsp. lemon juice

Beat the cream cheese thoroughly until fluffy. Add the eggs, sugar and other ingredients. Pour into the crust and bake 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 375°F.

TOPPING:

1 pt. sour cream

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix the topping ingredients well. Remove the pie from oven and spoon the topping mixture over it. Glaze the topping in an oven at 475°F for 5 minutes, watching carefully for burning. Chill well before serving.

Jun 272020
 

Today is Independence Day in Djibouti, officially the Republic of Djibouti, marking its formal severance of colonial rule by France in 1977. The country is located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north, and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east. Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen. The country has a total area of 23,200 sq km (8,958 sq mi). The Republic of Djibouti is predominantly inhabited by two ethnic groups, the majority Somali and the Afar.

I have chosen to celebrate Djibouti today because it is one of a handful of countries I have been interested in visiting for some time.  I was due to make a trip to England this June for a school reunion and spent many months at the beginning of the year figuring out an itinerary that would include a stop in Djibouti (Cambodia to India to Dubai to Djibouti to Turkey to England) but COVID-19 cut that plan off.  I’ll make it there some day, but not any time soon.

In antiquity, the territory together with Somalia was part of the Land of Punt. Nearby Zeila, now in Somalia, was the seat of the medieval Adal and Ifat sultanates. In the late 19th century, the colony of French Somaliland was established following treaties signed by the ruling Somali and Afar sultans with the French and its railroad to Dire Dawa (and later Addis Ababa) allowed it to quickly supersede Zeila as the port for southern Ethiopia and the Ogaden. It was subsequently renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1967, and then, via overwhelming referendum in favor, declared independence 10 years later, although there is still a substantial French Foreign Legion presence in the country.

Here’s a small gallery:

The food is a big attraction for me – a blend of Somali, Middle Eastern, French, Indian, and other tastes.  The national dish is Fah Fah, which is a goat soup/stew.  I could give a recipe but it is essentially goat meat simmered for hours with onions, garlic, vegetables, and coriander.

Here is a better option: a Somali dish of rice and goat.  Sorry that the video is in Arabic.  You’ll get the gist (there is a bit of English mixed in):