Apr 092019
 

Today is the birthday (1336) of Timur (Persian: تیمور‎ Temūr, Chagatai: Temür), historically known as Amir Timur and Tamerlane (Persian: تيمور لنگ‎ Temūr(-i) Lang, “Timur the Lame”), the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia, and the first ruler in the Timurid dynasty. It is not normally my custom to celebrate brutal conquerors, and I am not going to spend much time on his bloody exploits. I’ll give a brief potted history, and then turn to the fact that he was the focus of so many works of stage and literature from soon after his death to the present day – with the ever-lingering question hovering: WHY?

Timur was born in Transoxiana (in modern-day Uzbekistan), speaking Chagatai as his native language, and by the age of 34 had gained control of the western Chagatai Khanate. From that base, he led military campaigns across Western, South and Central Asia, the Caucasus and southern Russia, and emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. From these conquests, he founded the Timurid Empire, but this empire fragmented shortly after his death. Timur was the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more structured and lasting Gunpowder Empires in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Timur envisioned the restoration of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan (d. 1227) even though he was not ethnically related to, nor a descendant of, Genghis Khan. For example he justified his Iranian, Mamluk, and Ottoman campaigns as a re-imposition of legitimate Mongol control over lands taken by usurpers. To legitimize his conquests, Timur relied on Islamic symbols and language, referred to himself as the “Sword of Islam”, and patronized educational and religious institutions. Timur also decisively defeated the Christian Knights Hospitaller at the Siege of Smyrna, styling himself a ghazi (holy warrior). By the end of his reign, Timur had gained complete control over all the remnants of the Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, and the Golden Horde, and even attempted to restore the Yuan dynasty in China. Timur’s armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which his campaigns laid to waste. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population at the time.

Timur was the grandfather of the Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician Ulugh Beg (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ulugh-beg/ ), who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur (1483–1530), founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for over three centuries, from 1526 until 1857. Timur was a great patron of art and architecture, and interacted with intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ibn-khaldoun/ ) and Hafiz-i Abru.

Literary versions of the life of Timur abound. Tamburlaine the Great, written by Christopher Marlowe (1587) was a milestone in Elizabethan drama, breaking new ground with its use of blank verse, strong passions, and larger-than-life characters. It could well have been one of the first London plays that Shakespeare saw (and was influenced by). Marlowe’s play was successful enough to prompt the writing of a sequel. Marlowe was not concerned about historical accuracy, and portrayed Timur as a Scythian shepherd who rose to great heights, and mostly invented the events in his life. Still, the theme was popular for a time.

The 18th century saw numerous musical productions, including Tamerlano (1724), an opera by George Frideric Handel, in Italian, based on the 1675 play Tamerlan ou la mort de Bajazet by Jacques Pradon; Bajazet (1735), an opera by Antonio Vivaldi that portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur; and Il gran Tamerlano (1772): opera by Josef Mysliveček that also portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur.

Tamerlane (1827) is the first published poem of Edgar Allan Poe. It is epic in length, but mostly concerns Timur’s abandonment of his first love, a peasant girl, in favor of conquest and fame. On his deathbed he laments trading an empire for a broken heart. In the 20th century we have Tamerlane, an historical novel by Harold Lamb, Lord of Samarkand by Robert E. Howard, and Tamerlan, a novel in Spanish by Colombian writer Enrique Serrano. Into the 21st century we have Tamburlaine: Shadow of God, a BBC Radio 3 play by John Fletcher, broadcast 2008, a fictitious account of a meeting between Tamburlaine, Ibn Khaldun, and Hafez.

It is said that Timur’s favorite food was plov (i.e. pilaf) and nowadays you can easily get a dish called (something like) Timur’s plov in many parts of Central Asia. I was invited to an impromptu cooking class in Kyrgyzstan to make a version, and was happy to primarily take photos and taste the result (rather than spend holiday time peeling and chopping vegetables). The good part of the lesson was that the local cook had an enormous vessel for cooking the plov that looked like a giant cast iron wok over a wood fire.  The quantities here are not quite banquet sized, but the recipe will feed 10 royally. This is not a complex plov, as many are, with cascades of ingredients, but perfectly basic. It is not, however, easy to make unless you know what you are doing. After the recipe I will give a video.  You will see that the experience comes in when it comes to adding liquid to cook the rice.

Timur’s Plov

Ingredients

1 kg rice, thoroughly washed in cold running water
500 gm lamb, cut in chunks
1 kg carrots, peeled and cut into strips
4 onions, peeled and sliced
vegetable oil
salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper

Instructions

Heat some oil in a cauldron until a little smoke appears. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they take on a little color. Add the meat and continue the browning process. Finally add the carrots and continue to cook until they are browned a little. Add water to cover plus salt, cumin, and cayenne to taste, bring to a boil, and cook for about 45 minutes.

Add the rice plus more water to come slightly above the surface of rice. The amount of water is critical. Cook uncovered until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, and then cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes.

Apr 082019
 

The core building of the current Winchester cathedral was consecrated on this date in 1093. According to the Annals of Winchester, “in the presence of almost all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks came with the highest exultation and glory from the old minster to the new one: on the Feast of S. Swithun they went in procession from the new minster to the old one and brought thence S. Swithun’s shrine and placed it with honour in the new buildings, and on the following day Walkelin’s men first began to pull down the old minster.” In a somewhat cryptic and telegraphic way we have a statement here that puts in a nutshell how the great gothic cathedrals of England came to be: the old one was small and decrepit, so they built a replacement and tore the old one down after moving all the sacred relics from the old to the new. Then they continued to expand the new one. Medieval cathedrals were a neverending work in progress – not to mention the fact that bits fell down from time to time because architectural and engineering knowledge was lacking in spots.

Winchester cathedral was founded in 642 on a site immediately to the north of the present one. This building became known as the Old Minster. It became part of a monastic settlement in 971. Saint Swithun (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/saint-swithun/ ) was buried near the Old Minster and then in it, before being moved to the new Norman cathedral. So-called mortuary chests said to contain the remains of Saxon kings such as king Eadwig of England, first buried in the Old Minster, and his wife Ælfgifu, are in the present cathedral.

In 1079, Walkelin, first Norman bishop of Winchester, began work on a completely new cathedral. Much of the limestone used to build the structure was brought across from quarries around Binstead, Isle of Wight. Nearby Quarr Abbey draws its name from these workings, as do several nearby places such as Stonelands and Stonepitts. The remains of the Roman trackway used to transport the blocks are still evident across the fairways of the Ryde Golf Club, where the stone was hauled from the quarries to the hythe at the mouth of Binstead Creek, and thence by barge across the Solent and up to Winchester.

A substantial amount of the fabric of Walkelin’s building, including crypt, transepts and the basic structure of the nave, survives. The original crossing tower, however, collapsed in 1107, an accident blamed by the cathedral’s medieval chroniclers on the burial of the dissolute William Rufus beneath it in 1100. Its replacement, which survives today, is still in the Norman style, with round-headed windows. It is a squat, square structure, 50 feet (15 m) wide, but rising only 35 feet (11 m) above the ridge of the transept roof. The Tower is 150 feet (46 m) tall.

According to the Cathedral’s burial records the remains of some of the following may still be found in mortuary chests in the crypt: Cynegils, king of Wessex (611–643), Cenwalh, king of Wessex (643–672), Cynewulf, king of Wessex (757-786), Ecbert, king of Wessex (802–839), Ethelwulf, king of Wessex (839–856), Eadred, king of England (946–955), Eadwig, king of England and later Wessex (955–959), Cnut or Canute, king of England (1016–1035), Denmark and Norway, his wife Emma of Normandy (d. 1052) (also queen consort to Ethelred II, king of England), William II ‘Rufus’, king of England (1087–1100), Wini, the first Bishop of Winchester (d. 670), Alfwyn, Bishop of Winchester (d. 1047) and Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1072). Forensic anthropologists are currently examining the bones which have already been carbon dated to Anglo-Saxon and early Norman times.

When I posted concerning St Swithun I was stuck for recipes and mentioned only a local cheese. But rural Hampshire is well known for game and for recipes to cook it. I am not sure how I missed this fact. Raised game pie is popular, but I have already given a recipe in another post. Instead here is a pie that is a version of cottage pie using game rather than beef.

Gamekeeper’s Pie

Ingredients

1 kg coarsely minced game
salt and pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
200 ml cider
beef stock

3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
200 gm parsnips, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
butter

Instructions

Season the game with salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1–2 tbsp oil in a heavy skillet over high heat, then brown the meat in small batches for a few minutes, turning it with a wooden spoon. Drain in a colander to remove all the fat.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently fry the onions with the garlic, juniper and chopped thyme until very soft. Add the meat, dust it with flour and add the tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Worcestershire sauce, then slowly stir in the cider and beef stock to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for about 1 hour until the liquid has thickened. Check the seasoning and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F

Apr 072019
 

Friction matches are recorded as having been sold for the first time on this date in 1827 by their inventor John Walker (29 May 1781 – 1 May 1859). Several inventors worked on similar ideas around the same time, but Walker is the first, even though his contribution is now mostly forgotten, especially since he did not take out a patent. Matches were a great boon because before their invention, striking a light was a pain in the neck. Most European households kept a fire going at all times (day and night), so that they did not have to start a new one. If they had a wood stove for cooking, they could bank the fire down when not in use (including overnight) and then crank it up when needed. This fire could be used to light spills or tapers for lighting candles, lanterns, pipes, cigars and whatnot, but it was all an incredible nuisance, and should it go out, relighting it was a nuisance. Apart from getting a light from a neighbor, there was the tinder box – a box filled with some easily combustible material, and with flint and steel attached to strike a spark. Getting a flame going required skill and patience, and was not something most people could, or would, do if there was an alternative. Enter matches.

John Walker was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, in 1781. He went to the local grammar school and was afterwards apprenticed to Watson Alcock, the principal surgeon of the town, serving him as an assistant. He had, however, an aversion to surgical operations, and had to leave the profession, turning instead to chemistry. After studying in Durham and York, he set up a small business as a pharmacist at 59 High Street, Stockton, around 1818.

Walker developed an interest in finding a means of obtaining fire easily. Several chemical mixtures were already known which would ignite by a sudden explosion, but it had not been found possible to transmit the flame to a slow-burning substance like wood. While Walker was preparing a lighting mixture on one occasion, a match which had been dipped in it took fire caused by accidental friction upon the hearth. He at once appreciated the practical value of the discovery, and started making friction matches. They consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, potassium chlorate, and gum, the sulphur serving to communicate the flame to the wood.

Walker set the price of a box of 50 matches at one shilling. With each box was supplied a piece of sandpaper, folded double, through which the match had to be drawn to ignite it. He named the matches “Congreves” in honor of the inventor and rocket pioneer, Sir William Congreve. He did not divulge the exact composition of his matches. Two and a half years after Walker’s invention was made public, Isaac Holden arrived, independently, at the same idea of coating wooden splinters with sulphur. The exact date of his discovery, according to his own statement, was October 1829. Previous to this date, Walker’s sales-book contains an account of no fewer than 250 sales of friction matches, the first entry bearing the date 7th April 1827. Because he was already comfortably well off from his sales, Walker refused to patent his invention, despite being encouraged to by Michael Faraday and others, instead making it freely available for anyone to make. He received neither fame nor wealth for his invention, although he was able to retire some years later. The credit for his invention was attributed only after his death.

Following the ideas laid out by the French chemist, Charles Sauria, who in 1830 invented the first phosphorus-based match by replacing the antimony sulfide in Walker’s matches with white phosphorus, matches were first patented in the United States in 1836, in Massachusetts, being smaller in size and safer to use. White phosphorus was later banned for public usage because of its toxicity. Today’s modern safety matches were created by the Swedish chemist, Gustaf Erik Pasch.

The parmo is another Teesside invention from more recent times. The parmo is said to have been created by Nicos Harris, a chef with the US army in World War II. He was wounded in France, but was brought to the United Kingdom to be treated in a British hospital. Eventually, he moved to Middlesbrough and opened a restaurant on Linthorpe Road, where he created the parmo at The American Grill in 1958. The parmo or Teesside Parmesan is a breaded cutlet dish and a popular item of take-away food in the North East of England. Similar to a schnitzel, it traditionally consists of chicken in breadcrumbs topped with a white béchamel/Parmesan sauce and, usually, Cheddar cheese melted on top. So, it is New York-Italian cuisine transplanted to the UK and re-invented. If you are an experienced cook, that description is all you need, but here’s a video to help:

Apr 062019
 

Today may be the birthday Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides, and also referred to by the acronym Rambam. His birthday depends what year he was born in because it is recorded that he was born on Passover Eve, but either in 1135 or 1138. So, it could be today or March 30th. Maimonides was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer and physician. His fourteen-volume Mishneh Torah still carries significant canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law. He did have contemporary critics in Spain, but he was revered by many Arab and Muslim scholars as well as being influenced by them.

Maimonides was born in Córdoba during the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula. At an early age, he developed an interest in sciences and philosophy. He read those Greek philosophers accessible in Arabic translations, and was deeply immersed in the sciences and learning of Islamic culture. Though the Gaonic Talmudic academic tradition, especially in its North African version, formed the basis of his legal thought, Muslim law, including Almohad legal thought, also had a substantial influence. Maimonides was not known as a supporter of mysticism, although a strong intellectual type of mysticism has been discerned in his philosophy. He expressed disapproval of poetry, the best of which he declared to be false, since it was founded on pure invention.

The Almohads conquered Córdoba in 1148, and abolished dhimmi status (i.e., state protection, through payment of a tax, the jizya, of the life and possessions of non-Muslims). The loss of this status left the Jewish and Christian communities with conversion to Islam, death, or exile as their options. Many Jews were forced to convert, but due to suspicion by the authorities of fake conversions, the new converts had to wear identifying clothing that set them apart and made them subject to public scrutiny. Maimonides’ family chose exile. For the next ten years, Maimonides moved about in southern Spain, eventually settling in Fez in Morocco. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah, between 1166 and 1168.

Following this period in Morocco, together with two sons, he journeyed in Palestine before settling in Egypt around 1168. While in Cairo, he studied in a yeshiva attached to a small synagogue (which now bears his name). Maimonides shortly thereafter was instrumental in helping rescue Jews taken captive during the Christian King Amalric’s siege of the Egyptian town of Bilbays. He sent five letters to the Jewish communities of Lower Egypt asking them to pool money together to pay the ransom. The money was collected and then given to two judges sent to Palestine to negotiate with the Crusaders. The captives were eventually released.

Following this triumph, the family, hoping to increase their wealth, gave their savings to Maimonides’ youngest brother, David ben Maimon, a merchant. Maimonides directed his brother to procure goods only at the Sudanese port of ‘Aydhab. After a long arduous trip through the desert, however, David was unimpressed by the goods on offer there. Against his brother’s wishes, David boarded a ship for India, since great wealth was to be found in the East. Before he could reach his destination, David drowned at sea some time between 1169 and 1177.

In a letter (discovered later in the Cairo Geniza), he wrote:

The greatest misfortune that has befallen me during my entire life—worse than anything else—was the demise of the saint, may his memory be blessed, who drowned in the Indian sea, carrying much money belonging to me, to him, and to others, and left with me a little daughter and a widow. On the day I received that terrible news I fell ill and remained in bed for about a year, suffering from a sore boil, fever, and depression, and was almost given up. About eight years have passed, but I am still mourning and unable to accept consolation. And how should I console myself? He grew up on my knees, he was my brother, [and] he was my student.

Around 1171, Maimonides was appointed the Nagid (leader) of the Egyptian Jewish community. With the loss of the family funds tied up in David’s business venture, Maimonides assumed the vocation of physician, for which he was to become famous. He had trained in medicine in both Córdoba and in Fez. Gaining widespread recognition, he was appointed court physician to the Grand Vizier, al Qadi al Fadil, then to Sultan Saladin, after whose death he remained a physician to the royal family.

In his medical writings, Maimonides described many conditions, including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia, and he emphasized moderation and a healthy lifestyle. His treatises became influential for generations of physicians. He was knowledgeable about Greek and Arabic medicine, and followed the principles of humorism in the tradition of Galen. He did not blindly accept authority, however, but used his own observation and experience. Maimonides displayed in his interactions with patients attributes that today would be called intercultural awareness and respect for the patient’s autonomy. Although he frequently wrote of his longing for solitude in order to come closer to God and to extend his reflections – elements considered essential in his philosophy to the prophetic experience – he gave over most of his time to caring for others. In a famous letter, Maimonides describes his daily routine: After visiting the Sultan’s palace, he would arrive home exhausted and hungry, where: “I would find the antechambers filled with gentiles and Jews … I would go to heal them, and write prescriptions for their illnesses … until the evening … and I would be extremely weak.” As he goes on to say in this letter, even on the Sabbath he would receive members of the community.

In 1173/4, Maimonides wrote his famous Iggeret Teman (Epistle to Yemen). Maimonides died on December 12th, 1204 (20th of Tevet 4965) in Fustat in Egypt at the age of 69. It is widely believed that he was briefly buried in the study room (beit hamidrash) of the synagogue courtyard, and that, soon after, in accordance with his wishes, his remains were exhumed and taken to Tiberias in Galilee, where he was re-interred. The Tomb of Maimonides on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in present-day Israel marks his grave.

Here is a recipe for a Passover dish from the Sephardic community. It is a kind of pie or lasagna made with matzoth rather than pastry or pasta. In Spain it is called mina de maza, in Italian, scacchi.

Mina de Maza

Ingredients:

Spinach Filling

2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
10 oz spinach, chopped
8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz farmer cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg
1 tbsp minced fresh dill

Mushroom-Artichoke Filling

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
8 oz artichoke hearts, sliced
salt and pepper
2 tbsp roasted pine nuts

8 regular matzah squares
2 cups vegetable broth
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

butter for greasing the pan

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ pan with butter. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 2-quart pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion until golden. Add the spinach, and cook until wilted. Mix in the feta, farmer cheese, eggs, seasonings, and dill, and then set aside.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan and add the garlic. Cook for 20 seconds over medium high heat, and then mix in the mushrooms, sautéing them for about 5 minutes, until they have given up most of their moisture. Add the artichokes and stir to heat through. Mix in the toasted pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Warm the broth. Pour into an 8-inch square casserole or a deep dish that will hold the liquid and soak 2 sheets of matzah at a time until they are soft and pliable. Once you have 4 soft matzoth, fit them into the bottom and sides of the buttered dish. Spread the spinach mixture over the matzoth, then top with the mushroom mixture. Soak the remaining 4 sheets of matzah in the broth and then cover the filling, trimming or tucking in the sides.

Add the remaining egg to the leftover broth in the dish (if there is no broth left, combine an additional ½ cup of  broth with the egg) and pour it evenly over the entire casserole. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot or at room temperature

 

Apr 052019
 

Today (or close to it) is the traditional Chinese Cold Food or Hanshi Festival which developed from the local commemoration of the death of the Jin nobleman Jie Zitui in the 7th century BCE. Its name derives from the tradition of avoiding the lighting of any kind of fire, even for the preparation of food. Cold Food Festival is not an official holiday in any country or region, but it continues to see some observance in China, Korea, and Vietnam generally as part of Tomb-Sweeping Festivals (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/qingming-festival/ ).

The usual story for the origin of the Cold Food and Tomb-Sweeping Festivals concerns the 7th-century-BC Jin nobleman Jie Zhitui, a model of self-sacrificing loyalty. During the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, the Zhou Kingdom began to break up into its constituent parts and their lords gained more and more freedom from central control. One of these states was Jin, around modern Shanxi. As was common among wealthy Chinese at the time, its lord had many wives. One of them, Li Ji, was of lower status and came from the Rong tribes who lived to China’s west, but successfully schemed to become a full wife and to establish her son as the lord’s successor. Her older stepson Ji Chong’er was framed for revolting against the lord in 655 BCE, forcing the prince to flee for his life to his mother’s family among the Di tribes north of China. Only 15 of his men followed him into exile. These included Jie Zhitui, who entertained the prince with his poems and music. He was so considerate of his lord that once, when their supplies were stolen while traveling through Wey, he used meat from his own thigh to make soup to relieve the prince’s hunger.

In 636 BC, the duke of Qin finally invaded Jin on Chong’er’s behalf and installed him as its duke. (Posthumously, he became known as the “Wen” or “Civilized Duke” of Jin.) In 635 BCE, the new duke was generous to those who had helped him in adversity but overlooked Jie, who sadly withdrew into poor obscurity in the forests near Mt Mian. The duke sent repeated envoys to lure Jie back to court, but he felt no ambition for political power. Too loyal to directly criticize his master but too principled to accept a place in a corrupt administration, he opted to simply remain in seclusion. Annoyed, the duke ordered a forest fire to be started around three sides of the mountain to smoke Jie and his mother out of hiding.

Instead of coming out, they were burnt alive. Jie’s charred corpse was found still standing, embracing or tightly bound to a tree. In his remorse, the duke renamed the mountain Mt. Jie, established the town still known as Jiexiu (“Jie’s Rest”), and inaugurated the Cold Food Festival as a memorial period for Jie. In addition to the festival, the story also occasioned the Chinese proverb: “while some can burn off an entire mountain, others are kept from even lighting up to eat their rice”.

The Cold Food Festival is first mentioned in Huan Tan’s New Discussions, composed around the beginning of the 1st century CE. It records that the commoners of Taiyuan Commandery avoided using fire in preparing their food for five days around midwinter, upholding this taboo even when they are gravely ill. This was done in Jie Zhitui’s honor. A biography in the Book of the Later Han relates how the magistrate for Bingzhou (i.e., Taiyuan) found people rich and poor observing a “dragon taboo” against lighting a fire during the month of Jie’s death in midwinter, lest they anger his spirit. Many of the old and young died every year because of the hardship this brought. The magistrate Zhou Ju (周舉) wrote an oration around 130 CE praising Jie but admonishing the people for a tradition that harmed so many that it could not have been what the sage intended. He then had the oration displayed at Jie’s temple and distributed among the poor. This did not end the Cold Food Festival, but the biography notes that local superstitions did improve “to a certain extent”.

At some point over the next century,  moved from the festival moved from the middle of winter to late spring, 105 days after the dongzhi solar term. Since it also spread from Taiyuan to the surrounding commanderies of Shangdang, Xihe, and Yanmen and was still causing some hardship, The Han warlord Cao Cao attempted to outlaw the Cold Food Festival in 206 CE. The heads of offending families were liable for 6 months’ hard labor, their local official was liable for one month himself, and their magistrate was to lose one month’s salary. Cao Cao’s effort was a failure, with observance of the Cold Food Festival on Qingming and for up to a month around it being reported by the mid-3rd century. Shi Le, the Jie emperor of the Later Zhao in the early 4th century, again tried to forbid it. The next year a massive hailstorm devastated crops and forests throughout Shanxi. On the advice of his ministers, he again approved the festival in the region around Taiyuan. The Northern Wei similarly banned the festival in 478 and 496, but were also compelled to approve its observance around Mt Mian. These prohibitions failed to such an extent that, by the time of Jia Sixie’s c. 540 Qimin Yaoshu, a day-long Cold Food Festival had spread across most of China, moved to the day before the Qingming solar term.

The Cold Food Festival grew to a three-day period and began to incorporate ancestral veneration under the Tang and remained more important than celebrations of the Qingming solar term as late as the Song. The present Tomb-Sweeping Festival on Qingming grew by incorporating the Cold Food observances along with the separate holiday of Shangsi. The Cold Food Festival had almost completely disappeared by the end of the Qing.

The Cold Food Festival involves a strict taboo against using fire, usually under the superstitious belief that violations led to violent weather. Up to the 6th century, there was a patch of blackened trees on Mt Mian that were used for local worship of Jie Zhitui and had a reputation for miracles. Traditional cold foods included lǐlào (醴酪), a kind of congee flavored with apricot pits and malt sugar. Later activities included visiting ancestral tombs, cock fighting, playing on swings, beating blankets, and tug-of-war games. Nowadays there are only pockets of celebration of the Cold Food Festival although it has influenced some of the activities and traditional foods for the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. In the city of Jiexiu in Shanxi Province, near where Jie died, locals still commemorate the festival, but even there the tradition of eating cold food is no longer practiced.

It is not all that difficult to make lǐlào but getting the ingredients outside of China may be a challenge.  If you can speak Chinese you might be able to get them from a Chinese market. You need to be careful because recipes in English call for “almonds” but this is a mistranslation of the Chinese. The recipe calls for the pits of various species of apricot which look and taste something like bitter almonds, but are not almonds at all. You may be able to find maltose in health food stores. Here is a modern Chinese recipe followed by my loose translation (done with assistance since my Chinese language skills are limited). I could not find a video as an aid, unfortunately.

醴酪

  1. 准备大麦仁30克,新疆巴旦木也就是大杏仁50克,麦芽糖
  2. 大麦仁用清水浸泡一夜,大杏仁剥壳,用温水浸泡一夜
  3. 泡好的杏仁剥掉外衣,留下洁白的杏仁备用
  4. 麦仁和杏仁一起放入料理机的果浆杯内,加入材料2倍的凉白开磨成杏仁浆
  5. 磨好的杏仁浆用细筛过滤,浓浆流入锅里
  6. 开中小火,一边熬煮一边搅拌
  7. 煮到杏仁浆烧开,再继续煮5分钟至杏仁浆浓稠即可
  8. 煮好的杏仁浆盛入碗里,调入麦芽糖即可食用,也可以调入蜂蜜

lǐlào

  1. You need 30 grams of barley kernel, 50 grams of apricot pits, maltose
  2. Soak the barley kernels and apricot pits in warm water overnight.
  3. Peel the skins off the apricot pits to reveal the white nut.
  4. [Not entirely sure of this translation] Put the kernels and pits into a food processor with an equal quantity of water and grind to a pulp.
  5. Filter the pulp through a fine sieve and let a thick slurry flow into a pan.
  6. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  7. Bring the mix to a slow boil and cook for 5 minutes until the almond pulp is thick.
  8. Put the pulp in a bowl and add maltose to taste (or honey).
Apr 042019
 

Today is the birthday (1572) of William Strachey, an English writer whose works are among the primary sources for the early history of the English colonization of North America. He is best remembered today as the eye-witness reporter of the 1609 shipwreck on the uninhabited island of Bermuda of the colonial ship Sea Venture, which was caught in a hurricane while sailing to Virginia.

Strachey was born in Saffron Walden, Essex, the grandson of William Strachey (died 1587),[1] and the eldest son of William Strachey (died 1598) and Mary Cooke (died 1587), the daughter of Henry Cooke, Merchant Taylor of London. Strachey was brought up on an estate purchased by his grandfather in the 1560s. In 1588, at the age of 16, he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree. In 1605 he was at Gray’s Inn, but there is no evidence that he made the law his profession. In 1602 he inherited his father’s estate following a legal dispute with Elizabeth Brocket, his stepmother.

Strachey wrote a sonnet, “Upon Sejanus”, which was published in the 1605 edition of the 1603 play Sejanus His Fall by Ben Jonson. Strachey also kept a residence in London, where he regularly attended plays. He was a shareholder in the Children of the Revels, a troupe of boy actors who performed ‘in a converted room in the former Blackfriars monastery’, as evidenced by his deposition in a lawsuit in 1606. Strachey became friends with the city’s poets and playwrights, including Thomas Campion, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, John Marston, George Chapman, and Matthew Roydon, many of them members of the “Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen” who met at the Mermaid Tavern.

By 1605 Strachey was in precarious financial circumstances from which he spent the rest of his life trying to recover. In 1606 he used a family connection to obtain the position of secretary to Thomas Glover, the English ambassador to Turkey. He traveled to Constantinople, but quarreled with the ambassador and was dismissed in March 1607 and returned to England in June 1608. He then decided to mend his fortunes in the New World, and in 1609 purchased two shares in the Virginia Company and sailed to Virginia on the Sea Venture with Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers in the summer of that year.

The ship was blown off course by a hurricane. Leaking, and with its foundering imminent, the ship was run aground off the coast of Bermuda, accidentally beginning England’s colonization of the archipelago. The group was stranded on the island for almost a year, during which they constructed two small boats in which they eventually completed the voyage to Virginia.

Strachey wrote an eloquent letter dated 15 July 1610, to an unnamed “Excellent Lady” in England about the Sea Venture disaster, including an account of the precarious state of the Jamestown colony. Being critical of the management of the colony, it was suppressed by the Virginia Company. After the dissolution of the company it was published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas as “A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight”. It is generally thought to be one of the sources for Shakespeare’s The Tempest because of certain verbal, plot and thematic similarities. Strachey’s writings are among the few first-hand descriptions of Virginia in the period. His glossary of words of Powhatan is one of only two records of the language (the other being Captain John Smith’s)

Strachey remained at Jamestown for less than a year, but during that time he became the Secretary of the Colony after the drowning death of Matthew Scrivener in 1609. He returned to England probably in late 1611 and published a compilation of the colonial laws put in place by the governors. He then produced an extended manuscript about the Virginia colony, The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia, dedicating the first version to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, in 1612. The manuscript included his eyewitness account of life in early Virginia, but borrowed heavily from the earlier work of Richard Willes, James Rosier, John Smith, and others. Strachey produced two more versions during the next six years, dedicating one to Francis Bacon and the other to Sir Allen Apsley. It too was critical of the Virginia Company management of the colony, and Strachey failed to find a patron to publish his work, which was finally first published in 1849 by the Hakluyt Society.

Strachey died of unknown causes in June 1621. The parish register of St. Giles, Camberwell, in Southwark records his burial on 21st June 1621. He died in poverty, leaving this verse:

Hark! Twas the trump of death that blew
My hour has come. False world adieu
Thy pleasures have betrayed me so
That I to death untimely go.

In 1996, Strachey’s signet ring was discovered in the ruins of Jamestown, identified by the family seal, an eagle.

Because Strachey was born in Saffron Walden, a recipe involving saffron is called for. Saffron Walden used to be called simply Walden, then Chepyng (i.e. Market) Walden when a market was moved there in the 13th century. It became Saffron Walden in the 16th century when it became the center for growing saffron crocuses, and saffron became a favored ingredient in many dishes – rivaling spices from the East.

Saffron is one of my favorite spices and I use it a lot when it is easy to get. Right now it isn’t, but when I lived in Italy it was really abundant and not dreadfully expensive, so I always had plenty to hand. For a celebration of the day I recommend you use saffron in your favorite way.  Meanwhile here is a period recipe from The English Huswife: Containing the inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a Compleat Woman… by G. Markham (1615).  I do not recommend the recipe, partly because of the sheer quantity, partly because I am not a fan of bread pudding, although it might be all right because it seems more like a classic suet pudding (i.e. boiled) rather than a baked dish like modern bread pudding.

To make bread Puddings

Take the Yelks and Whites of a dozen or fourteen Eggs, and having beat them very well, put unto them the fine powder of Cloves, Mace, Nutmegs, Sugar, Cinnamon, Saffron, and Salt; then take the quantity of two loaves of white grated Bread, Dates very small shred, and great store of Currants, with good plenty either of Sheeps, Hogs or Beef suet beaten and cut small: then when all is mixt, and stirred well together, and hath stood a while to settle, then fill it into the Farms, as hath been before shewed, and in like manner boyl them, cook them, and serve them to the Table.

 

Apr 032019
 

Today is the birthday (1778) of Pierre-Fidèle Bretonneau, a French physician who was a pioneer in many ways.  He was born in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, in the Loir-et-Cher département. His father was a surgeon. He studied with his uncle, the vicar at Chenonceaux (Indre-et-Loire) department along with the children of the Chenonceau château. Madame Dupin, the grandmother of George Sand, financed his medical studies in Paris. He married a protégé of Madame Dupin and settled in Renaudière in Chenonceaux (the Renaudière is currently a restaurant and hotel). He had a laboratory at his disposal and occupied himself with gardening in his spare time.

Bretonneau was the mayor of Chenonceaux from 1803 to 1807. He spent 15 years in Chenonceaux gaining experience, wrote his thesis in medicine in 1815, and then became medical director at the hospital in Tours; which currently bears his name. He continued his study of disease and founded the medical school at Tours. He believed in “morbid seeds” (i.e. bacteria and viruses) that spread specific diseases from person to person. It is one of the great oddities of medicine that bacteria were first observed by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1676, using a single-lens microscope of his own design. He then published his observations in a series of letters to the Royal Society of London. They were just at the limit of what his simple lenses could make out and, in one of the most striking hiatuses in the history of science, no one else would see them again for well over a century. Bretonneau hypothesized that disease was caused by bacteria in 1855, however, a microscope was not available to him and he was unable to confirm his hypothesis. He also discovered that the same illness could manifest itself differently in different patients. He identified typhoid fever and named diphtheria, (from Greek diphthera “leather” describing the appearance of a pseudomembrane in the throat), and distinguished between scarlet fever and diphtheria in 1826.

Probably Bretonnuau’s greatest claim to fame is that he performed the first successful tracheotomy in 1825. The procedure is now routine, of course, and can be lifesaving, as in cases of diphtheria.

Bretonneau died in 1862 in Paris. He is buried in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, near Tours.

Tours is well known for its lamb which can be served with a local sauce or made into a stew depending on the cut.  The simplest method is to cut noisettes from a rack of lamb, sear them in a hot skillet, and then roast them for about 6 minutes in a 200°C oven. Do not overcook them; lamb should be a little pink. Meanwhile make a sauce of lamb stock infused with thyme and rosemary and a dash of cider vinegar. Reduce and finish with a knob of butter.

Tours lamb stew is more complicated although the idea is not so very different (just more complex). Cut 1 kilo of lamb shoulder into strips, and brown in olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 100 grams of thinly sliced onions and your choice of finely chopped vegetables (peppers, leeks, carrots, celery and fennel). Continue to cook until the vegetables soften. Dust with flour. Add a tablespoonful of tomato puree, one cup of dry Vouvray wine, 100 grams of chopped tomatoes, and cover with lamb stock.  Add a bouquet garni of orange zest, rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns and garlic. Season to taste with salt. Simmer, covered, for 1½ hours.

 

Mar 312019
 

Today is the birthday (1596) of René Descartes who was, and remains, extraordinarily influential in philosophy and mathematics. The adjective “Cartesian” is used to describe two of his most important contributions: Cartesian dualism, and Cartesian coordinates. I’ll hit a few high spots, and also some lesser known facts about his life, but I’ll try to keep things simple.

Descartes was born in La Haye en Touraine (now Descartes, Indre-et-Loire). His mother, Jeanne Brochard, died soon after giving birth to him, and so he was not expected to survive. Descartes’ father, Joachim, was a member of the Parlement of Brittany at Rennes. Descartes lived with his grandmother and with his great-uncle. Although the Descartes family was Roman Catholic, the Poitou region was controlled by the Protestant Huguenots. In 1607, late because of his fragile health, he entered the Jesuit Collège Royal Henry-Le-Grand at La Flèche, where he was introduced to mathematics and physics, including Galileo’s work. After graduation in 1614, he studied for two years (1615–16) at the University of Poitiers, earning a Baccalauréat and Licence in canon and civil law in 1616, in accordance with his father’s wishes that he should become a lawyer. From there he moved to Paris.

In Discourse on the Method, Descartes recalls,

I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth traveling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it.

Given his ambition to become a professional military officer, in 1618, Descartes joined, as a mercenary, the Protestant Dutch States Army in Breda under the command of Maurice of Nassau, and undertook a formal study of military engineering, as established by Simon Stevin. Descartes, therefore, received encouragement in Breda to advance his knowledge of mathematics. In this way, he became acquainted with Isaac Beeckman, the principal of a Dordrecht school, for whom he wrote the Compendium of Music (written 1618, published 1650). Together they worked on free fall, catenary, conic section, and fluid statics. Both believed that it was necessary to create a method that thoroughly linked mathematics and physics (now a fundamental given of theoretical physics).

On the night of 10–11 November 1619 (St. Martin’s Day), while stationed in Neuburg an der Donau, Descartes shut himself in a room with an “oven” (probably a Kachelofen or masonry heater) to escape the cold. While within, he had three dreams and believed that a divine spirit revealed to him a new philosophy. However, it is likely that what Descartes considered to be his second dream was actually an episode of exploding head syndrome (an hallucinatory experience between waking and sleeping). Upon leaving, he had formulated analytical geometry and the idea of applying the mathematical method to philosophy. He concluded from these visions that the pursuit of science would prove to be, for him, the pursuit of true wisdom and a central part of his life’s work. Descartes also conceived the idea that all truths were linked with one another so that finding a fundamental truth and proceeding with logic would open the way to all science.

Not long after this experience, Descartes wrote his famous “I think, therefore I am” which links truth with reason rather than with empirical experience. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for “radical doubt.” what was stopping people from doubting the existence of everything? The cogito ergo sum argument is his remedy. Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

Descartes’ desire to show that all logical truths are related led him to develop analytic geometry whereby algebra and geometry are merged. Descartes showed that you can express an algebraic function on a graph or express a line as an algebraic function. You probably know, for example, that a simple function produces a straight line graph, and a quadratic function produces a parabola (also linking conic sections). Being able to unite algebra and geometry opened up worlds – including the eventual development of calculus. Even if your eyes glaze over at this stuff, take it from me, IT’S A BIG DEAL.

In 1647, Descartes, now 51, visited the 24-year-old prodigy Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum, specifically whether air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed. Later, Descartes wrote that Pascal had too much vacuum in his head.

Descartes routinely slept 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain”). According to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell his head. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

Blanquette de veau is a ubiquitous French recipe of venerable heritage suitable to honor Descartes. It is not difficult to make, as long as you pay attention.

Blanquette de Veau

Ingredients

800g boneless veal, neck or shoulder, cubed
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 leek, washed and chopped
4 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1 bouquet garni
2 egg yolks
100 ml crème fraîche
60 gm butter
40 gm flour
200 gm mushrooms, sliced
½ lemon
salt and pepper

Instructions

Place the veal in a large pot, cover with cold water, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and skim the foam that rises. Add the cut vegetables and bouquet garni. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook about 90 minutes at a simmer.

Reserve the meat and vegetables, and filter 1 to 1.5 liters of broth to keep for the sauce.

Cook the mushrooms in a sauté pan with 20 grams of butter, 100 milliliters of water and the juice of half a lemon.

Prepare a white roux with 40 grams of butter and 40 grams of flour by melting the butter in a skillet, stirring in the butter and gently cooking without browning. Pour the broth in gradually and stir to make a thick sauce. Remove from the heat once the sauce has thickened. In a bowl, combine the 2 egg yolks and the cream, then stir the mixture from the bowl into the sauce.

Add the pieces of meat and mushrooms to the sauce, simmer for a few minutes and serve with plain boiled rice.

 

Mar 292019
 

In the afternoon on this date in 1857, lieutenant Baugh, adjutant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), then stationed at Barrackpore was informed that several men of his regiment were in an excited state. Further, it was reported to him that one of them, Mangal Pandey, was pacing in front of the regiment’s guard room by the parade ground, armed with a loaded musket, calling upon the men to rebel and threatening to shoot the first European that he set eyes on. Testimony at a subsequent enquiry recorded that Pandey, unsettled by unrest amongst the sepoys and intoxicated by bhang (cannabis infusion), had seized weapons and run to the quarter-guard building upon learning that a detachment of British soldiers was disembarking from a steamer near the cantonment.

Baugh immediately armed himself and galloped on his horse to the lines. Pandey took position behind the station gun, which was in front of the quarter-guard of the 34th, took aim at Baugh and fired. He missed Baugh, but the bullet struck his horse in the flank bringing both the horse and its rider down. Baugh quickly disentangled himself and, seizing one of his pistols, advanced towards Pandey and fired. He missed. Before Baugh could draw his sword, Pandey attacked him with a talwar (a heavy Indian sword) and closing with the adjutant, slashed Baugh on the shoulder and neck and brought him to the ground. Then another sepoy, Shaikh Paltu, intervened and tried to restrain Pandey as he tried to reload his musket.

English sergeant-major Hewson, had arrived on the parade ground, summoned by an Indian officer, before Baugh. He had ordered jemadar (junior officer) Ishwari Prasad, the Indian officer in command of the quarter-guard, to arrest Pandey. Prasad replied that his NCOs had gone for help and that he could not take Pandey by himself. In response Hewson ordered Prasad to fall in the guard with loaded weapons. In the meantime, Baugh had arrived on the field shouting ‘Where is he? Where is he?’ Hewson in reply called out to Baugh, ‘Ride to the right, sir, for your life. The sepoy will fire at you!’ At that point Pandey fired.

Hewson had charged towards Pandey as he was fighting with lieutenant Baugh. While confronting Pandey, Hewson was knocked to the ground from behind by a blow from Pandey’s musket. The sound of the firing had brought other sepoys from the barracks; they remained mute spectators. At this juncture, Shaikh Paltu, while trying to defend the two Englishmen called upon the other sepoys to assist him, but they threw stones and shoes at his back. He called on the guard to help him hold Pandey, but they threatened to shoot him if he did not let go of the mutineer.

Some of the sepoys of the quarter-guard then advanced and struck at the two officers. They then threatened Shaikh Paltu and ordered him to release Pandey, whom he had been vainly trying to hold back. However, Paltu continued to hold Pandey until Baugh and the sergeant-major were able to get up. Himself wounded by now, Paltu was obliged to loosen his grip. He backed away in one direction and Baugh and Hewson in another, while being struck with the butt ends of the guards’ muskets.

In the meantime, a report of the incident had been carried to the commanding officer general Hearsey, who then galloped to the ground with his two officer sons. Taking in the scene, he rode up to the guard, drew his pistol and ordered them to do their duty by seizing Mangal Pandey. The general threatened to shoot the first man who disobeyed. The men of the quarter-guard fell in and followed Hearsey towards Pandey. Pandey then put the muzzle of the musket to his chest and discharged it by pressing the trigger with his foot. He collapsed bleeding, with his regimental jacket on fire, but not mortally wounded.

Pandey recovered and was brought to trial less than a week later. When asked whether he had been under the influence of any substances, he stated steadfastly that he had mutinied on his own accord and that no other person had played any part in encouraging him. He was sentenced to death by hanging, along with jemadar Ishwari Prasad, after three Sikh members of the quarter-guard testified that the latter had ordered them not to arrest Pandey. Mangal Pandey’s execution was scheduled for 18th April, but was carried out ten days before that date. Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was executed by hanging on 21st April.

The 34th BNI regiment was disbanded “with disgrace” on 6th May as a collective punishment, after an investigation by the government, for failing to perform their duty in restraining a mutinous soldier and their officer. That came after a period of six weeks while petitions for leniency were examined in Calcutta. Sepoy Shaikh Paltu was promoted to havildar (sergeant) for his behavior on 29th March, but he was murdered in an isolated part of the Barrackpore cantonment shortly before the regiment was disbanded.

The Indian historian Surendra Nath Sen notes that the 34th B.N.I. had a good recent record and that the Court of Enquiry had not found any evidence of a connection with unrest at Berhampore involving the 19th B.N.I. four weeks before. However, Mangal Pandey’s actions and the failure of the armed and on-duty sepoys of the quarter-guard to take action convinced the British military authorities that the whole regiment was unreliable. It appeared that Pandey had acted without first taking other sepoys into his confidence but that antipathy towards their British officers within the regiment had led most of those present to act as spectators, rather than obey orders.

The personal motivation behind Pandey’s behavior remains confused. During the incident itself he shouted to other sepoys: “come out – the Europeans are here”; “from biting these cartridges we shall become infidels” and “you sent me out here, why don’t you follow me”. At his court-martial he stated that he had been taking bhang and opium, and was not conscious of his actions on 29th March. There were a wide range of factors causing apprehension and mistrust in the Bengal Army immediately prior to the Barrackpore event. Pandey’s reference to cartridges is usually attributed to a new type of bullet cartridge used in the Enfield P-53 rifle which was to be introduced in the Bengal Army that year. The cartridge was thought to be greased with animal fat, primarily from cows and pigs, which could not be consumed by Hindus and Muslims respectively (the former a holy animal of the Hindus and the latter being abhorrent to Muslims). The cartridges had to be bitten at one end before use. The Indian troops in some regiments were of the opinion that this was an intentional act of the British, with the aim of defiling their religions.

The 19th BNI is important because it was the regiment charged with testing the new cartridges on 26 February 1857. However, right up to the mutiny the new rifles had not been issued to them, and the cartridges in the magazine of the regiment were as free of grease as they had been through the preceding half century. The paper used in wrapping the cartridges was of a different color, arousing suspicions. The non-commissioned officers of the regiment refused to accept the cartridges on 26th February. This information was conveyed to the commanding officer, colonel William Mitchell. He took it upon himself to try to convince the sepoys that the cartridges were no different from those they had been accustomed to and that they need not bite them. He concluded his exhortation with an appeal to the native officers to uphold the honor of the regiment and a threat to court-martial such sepoys as refused to accept the cartridge. However, the next morning the sepoys of the regiment seized their bell of arms (weapons store). The subsequent conciliatory behavior of Mitchell convinced the sepoys to return to their barracks.

A Court of Enquiry was ordered which, after an investigation lasting nearly a month, recommended the disbanding of the 19th BNI. The 19th were allowed to retain items of uniform and were provided by the government with allowances to return to their homes. Both colonel Mitchell of the 19th and (subsequent to the incident of 29th March) colonel Wheeler of Pandey’s 34th were declared unsuited to take charge of any new regiments raised to replace the disbanded units.

The attack by and punishment of Pandey is widely seen as the opening scene of what came to be known as the Indian Rebellion or Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Knowledge of his action was widespread amongst his fellow sepoys and is assumed to have been one of the factors leading to the general series of mutinies that broke out during the following months. Mangal Pandey would prove to be influential for later figures in the Indian Nationalist Movement such as V.D. Savarkar, who viewed his motive as one of the earliest manifestations of Indian Nationalism. Modern Indian nationalists portray Pandey as the mastermind behind a conspiracy to revolt against the British, although there is little historical evidence to back up such an interpretation.

Bengali cuisine is complex with many regional variations not represented in your typical “Indian” restaurant in the West. A regular home-cooked meal in Bengal can consist of 7 courses because Bengalis like to keep flavors and textures distinct. Here is a video of village cooking which probably represents what many sepoys in the Bengal regiments grew up with. It’s a vegetarian dish featuring pods from the drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) which is cultivated for its edible seed pods and leaves.

 

 

Mar 282019
 

The foundation stone of Valletta, capital of Malta, was laid by Jean de Valette, Grand Master of the Order of St John (Knights Hospitaller), on this date in 1566. The building of a city on the Sciberras Peninsula had been proposed by the Order of Saint John as early as 1524. Back then, the only building on the peninsula was a small watchtower dedicated to Erasmus of Formia (Saint Elmo http://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-telmo/ ), which had been built in 1488. In 1552, the watchtower was demolished and the larger Fort Saint Elmo was built in its place. In the Great Siege of 1565, Fort Saint Elmo fell to the Ottomans, but the Order eventually won the siege with the help of Sicilian reinforcements. The victorious Grand Master, Jean de Valette, immediately set out to build a new fortified city on the Sciberras Peninsula to fortify the Order’s position in Malta and bind the Knights to the island. The city took his name and was called La Valletta.

De Valette asked European kings and princes for help, and he received a great deal of assistance, due to the increased fame of the Order after their victory in the Great Siege. Pope Pius V sent his military architect, Francesco Laparelli, to design the new city, while Philip II of Spain sent substantial funds. The first stone that de Valette laid was later incorporated into Our Lady of Victories Church.

In Dell’Istoria della Sacra Religione et Illustrissima Militia di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano (The History of the Sacred Religion and Illustrious Militia of St John of Jerusalem), written between 1594 and 1602, Giacomo Bosio writes that when the cornerstone of Valletta was placed, a group of Maltese elders said: “Iegi zimen en fel wardia col sceber raba iesue uquie” (Which in modern Maltese reads, “Jiġi żmien li fil-Wardija [l-Għolja Sciberras] kull xiber raba’ jiswa uqija”, and in English, “There will come a time when every piece of land on Sciberras Hill will be worth its weight in gold”).

De Valette died from a stroke on 21st August 1568 at age 74 and never saw the completion of his city. He was originally interred in the church of Our Lady of the Victories, is now in St. John’s Co-Cathedral among the tombs of other Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta.

Francesco Laparelli was the city’s principal designer and his plan departed from medieval Maltese architecture, which exhibited irregular winding streets and alleys. He designed the new city on a rectangular grid plan, and without any collacchio (an area restricted for important buildings). The streets were designed to be wide and straight, beginning centrally from the City Gate and ending at Fort Saint Elmo (which was rebuilt) overlooking the Mediterranean. Certain bastions were built 47 meters (154 ft) tall. His assistant was the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, who later oversaw the construction of the city himself after Laparelli’s death in 1570.

The city of Valletta was mostly complete by the early 1570s, and it became the capital on 18th March 1571 when Grand Master Pierre de Monte moved from his seat at Fort St Angelo in Birgu to the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta. Seven Auberges (meeting halls) were built for the Order’s Langues (divisions), and these were complete by the 1580s. An eighth Auberge, Auberge de Bavière, was later added in the 18th century.

Given that this is the season of Lent, a Maltese Lenten dish is appropriate, and kwareżimal fits the bill. The word ‘kwareżimal’ is derived from the Latin word ‘quaresima’ referring to the 40 days of Lent, and the ingredients of this sweet snack reflect the needs of fasting – specifically no use of eggs or fats. Before the recipe I’ll give you a video on its making, partly to give the idea, but mostly to let you hear the Maltese language. Maltese is a Semitic language, but has strayed a long way from Arabic under numerous influences. Loan words from English and Italian are obvious. Some linguists claim that as much as 20% of Maltese vocabulary is English and the words retain their English pronunciation. You’ll see if you watch the video.

Kwareżimal

Ingredients:

200 gm ground almonds
200 gm plain flour, sifted
150 gm sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp orange blossom water
grated zest of one lemon, one orange and one mandarin
4 tbsp thyme honey
crushed pistachios and almonds and grated orange zest to decorate.

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Combine all the ingredients and add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Knead gently for several minutes on a floured surface and then roll into a flattened log (see the video).  Cut thick slices of the log and lay them on a baking tray lined with baker’s parchment. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and while they are still warm, brush them with thyme honey and then sprinkle them with the crushed pistachios and almonds, and the grated zest.