Mar 142017
 

Today is the birthday (1836) of Isabella Beeton, known now universally as Mrs Beeton, whose recipes from her Book of Household Management I have given here many times.  There’s no great need to review her life and history of publication of her cookbook, which has gone through multiple editions and is still in print. Of course, the recipes from 1861 have gone the way of all things. Later 20th century editions used metric measures, were very precise in their lists of ingredients, and all the recipes were thoroughly kitchen tested.  When I was growing up my mother used a 1939 edition (affectionately known as “Ma Beeton”) which was given to her as a wedding present in 1944, inscribed lovingly by her parents who were born in the Victorian era, and who spent their whole working lives as household servants.  This was my first cookbook too when I was a boy, and I inherited it from my mother after she died.  I always imagined that Mrs Beeton was a starchy mob-capped old Victorian household cook (hence “Ma Beeton”). It never dawned on me that she was a well-to-do woman who died in her twenties until I started exploring her history. I also never realized the vast difference between her recipes and those in later editions until I bought a facsimile of the first edition.  In my oh so humble opinion, the first edition is still the best.  You can peruse it here:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10136

In the 20th century the first edition came in for a lot of criticism for being a work of plagiarism and for the assertion that Isabella herself had little knowledge of cooking. Based on my own research I think that this criticism is unfair.

Isabella’s unmarried name was Mayson, and she was born in Marylebone, London. Shortly after Isabella’s birth the family moved to Milk Street, Cheapside, where her father Benjamin traded linen. He died when Isabella was four years old, and her mother, Elizabeth, pregnant and unable to cope with raising the children on her own while maintaining Benjamin’s business, sent her two elder daughters to live with relatives. Isabella went to live with her recently widowed paternal grandfather in Great Orton, Cumberland, though she was back with her mother within the next two years.

Three years after Benjamin’s death Elizabeth married Henry Dorling, a widower with four children. Henry was the Clerk of Epsom Racecourse, and had been granted residence within the racecourse grounds. The family, including Elizabeth’s mother, moved to Surrey and over the next twenty years Henry and Elizabeth had a further 13 children. Isabella was instrumental in her siblings’ upbringing, and collectively referred to them as a “living cargo of children.” The experience gave her a great deal of insight and experience in how to manage a family and its household at an early age.

After a brief education at a boarding school in Islington, in 1851 Isabella was sent to school in Heidelberg, accompanied by her stepsister Jane Dorling. Isabella became proficient in the piano and excelled in French and German.  She also gained knowledge and experience in making pastry. She had returned to Epsom by the summer of 1854 and took further lessons in pastry-making from a local baker. All in all, therefore, to accuse her of simply compiling recipes and household advice from others and then copying it is a gross distortion.  It’s true that she used recipes from the works of others, but this was (and is) normal practice.  Furthermore there is clear evidence that she kitchen tested most, if not all, of her recipes.  Isabella’s half-sister, Lucy Smiles, was asked after her death concerning her memories of the book’s development. She recalled:

Different people gave their recipes for the book. That for Baroness pudding (a suet pudding with a plethora of raisins) was given by the Baroness de Tessier, who lived at Epsom. No recipe went into the book without a successful trial, and the home at Pinner was the scene of many experiments and some failures. I remember Isabella coming out of the kitchen one day, ‘This won’t do at all,’ she said, and gave me the cake that had turned out like a biscuit. I thought it very good. It had currants in it.

I don’t see how you can read this and still think that Isabella was just a rank plagiarist. I think that her sister probably overstates the case in asserting that every recipe was tested, but I am sure the majority were.  What is more to the point is that her recipes are all clear and relatively easy to follow, unlike those of previous generations. She gives lists of ingredients with exact quantities, straightforward directions, and indications of seasonality and cost per person. Her additional remarks about farming practices, hunting, and the like are a bonus. It is true that you need to have some experience in cooking to follow her recipes, and you need to know something about the Victorian kitchen to make sense of the directions sometimes. If you’re not familiar with cooking on a wood-fired stove (which I am) you can get a little lost from time to time, but experience ought to direct you. The reason I give her recipes here frequently is that they are good recipes, and I applaud her on her birthday.

There is no mention in the first edition of birthday cakes, and very little reference to birthdays at all (only to birthday dinners in ancient Greece).  Never mind. Here is her recipe for yeast cake which I think is quite delectable and well suited as her birthday cake.

A NICE YEAST-CAKE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1-1/2 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 pint of milk, 1-1/2 tablespoonful of good yeast, 3 eggs, 3/4 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of white moist sugar, 2 oz. of candied peel.

Mode.—Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, and shake it round over a fire until the butter is melted, but do not allow the milk to get very hot. Put the flour into a basin, stir to it the milk and butter, the yeast, and eggs, which should be well beaten, and form the whole into a smooth dough. Let it stand in a warm place, covered with a cloth, to rise, and, when sufficiently risen, add the currants, sugar, and candied peel cut into thin slices. When all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, line 2 moderate-sized cake-tins with buttered paper, which should be about six inches higher than the tin; pour in the mixture, let it stand to rise again for another 1/2 hour, and then bake the cakes in a brisk oven for about 1-1/2 hour. If the tops of them become too brown, cover them with paper until they are done through. A few drops of essence of lemon, or a little grated nutmeg, may be added when the flavour is liked.

Time.—From 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hour. Average cost, 2s.

Sufficient to make 2 moderate-sized cakes.

Seasonable at any time.

If you want to have a sugar fit you can add almond icing; I prefer the cake plain.

ALMOND ICING FOR CAKES.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—To every lb. of finely-pounded loaf sugar allow 1 lb. of sweet almonds, the whites of 4 eggs, a little rose-water.

Mode.—Blanch the almonds, and pound them (a few at a time) in a mortar to a paste, adding a little rose-water to facilitate the operation. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a strong froth; mix them with the pounded almonds, stir in the sugar, and beat altogether. When the cake is sufficiently baked, lay on the almond icing, and put it into the oven to dry. Before laying this preparation on the cake, great care must be taken that it is nice and smooth, which is easily accomplished by well beating the mixture.

Feb 282017
 

 

Today is Shrove Tuesday, pretty universally known as Pancake Day in England. Within the Christian world, especially in Catholic countries, the day goes by various names and is associated with numerous customs. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is very well known, for example. I’m going to leave the rest of the world alone and zoom in on Shrove Tuesday in England where pancakes are king and mob football is queen.  This post (and yesterday’s) are part of a series I am going to do on what I call “unpacking Easter” analogous to my series on unpacking Christmas.  The details of Easter are here if you want to look ahead — http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/unpacking-easter/

My mum made pancakes on Pancake Day every year when I was growing up.  It always came up as a surprise to me because within the Presbyterian church tradition at the time we paid no attention to Ash Wednesday, Lent, and so forth.  Consequently I was always unaware that Shrove Tuesday was on the horizon, and since it’s a movable feast, linked to Easter, I had no date fixed in my head. I was just pleasantly surprised every year when the frying pan, eggs, lemons, and sugar came out and I stuffed my gut with pancakes.

NOT English pancakes

First of all, for the non-Brits amongst you, let’s be clear about pancakes.  English pancakes are nothing like the doughy raised things that people in the U.S. eat for breakfast with butter and syrup. Put that thought completely out of your head.  They are close kin to French crêpes, Italian crespelle, or Argentine/Spanish panqueques. They can be eaten any time of the year with any filling, sweet or savory, but on Pancake Day they should be served with sugar and lemon wedges as dessert after dinner.

The usual nonsense gets spouted yearly about how the custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday arose, but the truth is that no one knows. Rubbish such as this comes from Wikipedia:

Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. In addition, pancakes, in Christianity, symbolize “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.” The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products, or eggs.

Eggs and milk are not classically forbidden in Lent so there’s no reason to use them up the day before Ash Wednesday, and sugar was not common household fare in Europe until the 18th century. My suspicion is that Pancake Day took off in England in the 19th century as did so many “ancient” traditions.  Much the same can be said of the famous Pancake Day race in Olney and Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne. No matter. They’re fun.

Legend has it that the Olney (Buckinghamshire) Pancake Day race began in 1445 on Shrove Tuesday. Supposedly the “Shriving Bell” rang out to signal the start of the Shriving church service and on hearing the bell a local housewife, who had been busy cooking pancakes in anticipation of the beginning of Lent, ran to the church, frying pan still in hand, tossing the pancake to prevent it from burning, and dressed in her kitchen apron and headscarf.  A nice story which may or may not be true.

Nowadays the race is run at 11 am on Shrove Tuesday from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of a little over 400 yards. The record time stands at around 55 seconds which is pretty nippy. Current rules require that the participants wear a headscarf and apron, and that the pancake be tossed once at the start and again at the finish. Men occasionally participate (usually celebrities) but they have to wear apron and headscarf. The race is limited to 25 competitors, although since 1950 there have also been children’s races. The traditional prize for the winner was a kiss from the verger.  This gallery shows the race in the immediate post-war years and more recently. You can see that the competitive element is much more in the foreground these days.

There may be a bit more continuity to the Shrovetide football game in Ashbourne (Derbyshire) although primary sources are scant.  It seems to have started some time in the 17th century although seasonal games of mob football are considerably older.  Shrove Tuesday used to be a half-day holiday in England giving townspeople the leisure time for ball games.

The Ashbourne game is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, starting each day at 2.00 pm and lasting until 10.00 pm. If a goal is scored before 5.30 pm a new ball is released and play restarts from the town centre, otherwise play ends for the day. The ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens if not hundreds of people. When the ball is goaled, the scorer is carried on the shoulders of his colleagues into the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel.

The two teams that play the game are known as the Up’Ards and the Down’Ards. The Up’Ards are traditionally those town members born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down’Ards are those born south of the river. Each team attempts to carry the ball back to their own goal from the turn-up, rather than the more traditional method of scoring at/in the opponents goal. There are two goal posts 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill (where the Up’Ards attempt to score), the other at Clifton Mill (where the Down’Ards score). Although the mills have long since been demolished, part of their millstones still stand on the bank of the river at each location and once served as the scoring posts. In 1996 the scoring posts were replaced by new smaller millstones mounted on to purpose-built stone structures, which are still in use to this day and require the players to actually be in the river in order to goal a ball.

The actual process of ‘goaling’ a ball requires a player to hit it against the millstone three successive times. This is not a purely random event, however, as the eventual scorer is elected en route to the goal and would typically be someone who lives in Ashbourne or at least whose family is well known to the community. The chances of a ‘tourist’ goaling a ball are very remote.

The game is played through the town with no limit on the number of players or the playing area. Thus shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets. The game is started from a special plinth in the town center where the ball is thrown to the players (“turned-up”), often by a visiting dignitary. Before the ball is turned-up, the assembled crowd sing Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen. The starting point has not changed in many years, although the town has changed around it. As a consequence, the starting podium is currently located in the town’s main car park, which is named Shaw Croft after an ancient field that was once there.

The game has been known as “Royal” since 1923, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) turned-up the ball in 1928. The Prince is recorded as getting a bloody nose during the game. The game received ‘Royal Assent’ for a second time in 2003, when the game was once again started by the Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles.

The Up’Ards’ traditional goal was Sturston Mill in Sturston village east of Asbourne and the Down’Ards’ goal was Clifton Mill in the village of Clifton west of Ashbourne. Clifton Mill was demolished in 1967. A stone obelisk with commemorative plaque marking the site was unveiled in 1968. This became the Down’Ards goal for the next 28 years. Sturston Mill was demolished in 1981. A timber post salvaged from the mill was erected on the site of the old mill to act as a goal for the Up’Ards. The purpose-built goals erected in 1996 on the banks of Henmore Brook are located 3 miles apart. The Up’Ards goal is upstream from Shawcroft adjacent to the site of the former Sturston Mill and the Down’Ards goal is downstream from Shawcroft adjacent to the site of the former Clifton Mill.

The game is played with a special ball, larger than a standard football, which is filled with Portuguese cork to help the ball float when it inevitably ends up in the river. It is now hand-painted by local craftsmen specially for the occasion, and the design is usually related to the dignitary who will be turning-up the ball. Once a ball is goaled it is repainted with the name and in the design of the scorer and is theirs to keep. If a ball is not goaled it is repainted in the design of the dignitary that turned it up and given back to them to keep. Many of the balls are put on display in the local pubs during the game for the public to view; traditionally these pubs are divided by team (The Wheel Inn being a popular Down’Ard base, and the Old Vaults for the Up’ards, for example).

There are very few rules. The main ones are:

Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon.

The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.

The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.

Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.

Playing after 10 pm is forbidden.

To score a goal the ball must be tapped 3 times in the area of the goal.

I gave my recipe for pancake batter in this video.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

It’s the same egg batter that I use for Argentine tortillas and Yorkshire pudding. You can use milk in place of water and add butter to the batter if you want. I’ve been making pancakes for over 40 years and I’m content with my recipe, such as it is. For me there are two “secrets” – (1) Mix the flour and water first to avoid lumps. (2) Keep the batter thin so that it will spread easily in the pan and make thin pancakes. After that you’re on your own. I’ve given Mrs Beeton’s recipe at the end, in case you want something more detailed.

Your pancake pan should be small and heavy. Heat the pan over high heat for a minute or so, then turn off the heat and add a knob of butter to the pan.  While it is sizzling drop in a ladleful of batter and swirl the pan around so that the batter coats the bottom evenly. Place over medium-high heat until the bottom is easily released from the pan when you shake it. The bottom should be speckled brown.  Then you can do one of several things. Traditionally you toss the pancake and cook the other side so that it is also a little brown. In the past I was never very good at tossing the pancake without it breaking or falling back crumpled up, so I used to slip it under the broiler to cook the top. Third choice is to follow Mrs Beeton and not cook the top at all.

I cook pancakes to order so that every one is fresh. I slip each one out of the pan and serve it flat on a plate.  Our custom when I was a boy, which I still follow, is the sprinkle the flat pancake with sugar and add a squeeze of fresh lemon, roll it up and repeat.

Generally the first pancake is a failure for one reason or another.  I eat it quickly and move on.  Once the pan is hot enough so that the butter melts easily each time you add a knob to the pan the procedure is much smoother – in my experience.

TO MAKE PANCAKES.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Eggs, flour, milk; to every egg allow 1 oz. of flour, about 1 gill of milk, 1/8 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode.—Ascertain that the eggs are fresh; break each one separately in a cup; whisk them well, put them into a basin, with the flour, salt, and a few drops of milk, and beat the whole to a perfectly smooth batter; then add by degrees the remainder of the milk. The proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the size of the eggs, &c. &c.; but the batter, when ready for frying, should be of the consistency of thick cream. Place a small frying-pan on the fire to get hot; let it be delicately clean, or the pancakes will stick, and, when quite hot, put into it a small piece of butter, allowing about 1/2 oz. to each pancake. When it is melted, pour in the batter, about 1/2 teacupful to a pan 5 inches in diameter, and fry it for about 4 minutes, or until it is nicely brown on one side. By only pouring in a small quantity of batter, and so making the pancakes thin, the necessity of turning them (an operation rather difficult to unskilful cooks) is obviated. When the pancake is done, sprinkle over it some pounded sugar, roll it up in the pan, and take it out with a large slice, and place it on a dish before the fire. Proceed in this manner until sufficient are cooked for a dish; then send them quickly to table, and continue to send in a further quantity, as pancakes are never good unless eaten almost immediately they come from the frying-pan. The batter may be flavoured with a little grated lemon-rind, or the pancakes may have preserve rolled in them instead of sugar. Send sifted sugar and a cut lemon to table with them. To render the pancakes very light, the yolks and whites of the eggs should be beaten separately, and the whites added the last thing to the batter before frying.

Time.—from 4 to 6 minutes for a pancake that does not require turning; from 6 to 8 minutes for a thicker one.

Average cost, for 3 persons, 6d.

Sufficient.—Allow 3 eggs, with the other ingredients in proportion, for 3 persons.

Seasonable at any time, but specially served on Shrove Tuesday.

 

 

Feb 272017
 

Today, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, used to go by a lot of names in England at one time, but they are all pretty well defunct.  Shrove Monday is technically correct because it is the Monday in Shrovetide.  But just as tomorrow is technically Shrove Tuesday, but the English all call it Pancake Day (because you eat pancakes on that day), today – to my mind, is best known as Collop Monday, although the tradition of eating collops today has fallen away in most places – except in my house.

Formally, Shrovetide is the week before Lent, but in many parts of the world where Carnival now stretches from Epiphany to Lent (New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Rio etc.), Shrovetide covers that whole season.  There’s nothing really wrong with merging Christmas and Easter. In the Medieval church the two festivals were seen as quintessentially linked.  Many traditional (supposedly Christmas) carols actually follow the arc of the two seasons, but now they get sung at Christmas and miss out the Easter bits.  Handel’s Messiah is well known for having what people think of as the Christmas part and the Easter part. Handel was following the ages old tradition of placing the two celebrations together. If you follow the arc all the way from Advent to Pentecost you cover half the year (from the end of November to May), so, in some ways you can conceive of the winter and spring as the sacred half of the year, and summer and autumn as the secular half. I’ll unpack some of this as the Easter season progresses.

I like splitting the year in two like this.  I also like the ups and downs of the Christmas to Easter arc.  It’s not all feasts and merriment. There are feasts AND fasts, and, for my money, the fasts are as important as the feasts. Feasting after a fast is much more celebratory than simply pigging out all year, with extra blow outs once in a while.

Shrovetide is, of course, feast time because Lent is coming.  The Monday and Tuesday before Lent are typically associated with rich foods. I don’t buy the idea that people used to use up all their fats, meats, etc. before Lent in celebratory meals so that they did not go to waste, but there is plenty of evidence that the days before Lent were especially joyous – and still are.   Pancakes on Tuesday still survive, but collops on Monday did not.

The word “shrove” is the past tense of the English verb “shrive,” (past participle, “shriven”) which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing Penance. Early English Christians were expected to be shriven immediately before Lent began. The terms “Shrove Monday” and “Shrove Tuesday” are no longer widely used in English-speaking countries outside of high liturgical traditions, such as in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches.

The name Collop Monday leaves us with a bit of puzzle because what collops were when the day got its name is not clear.  A collop is a slice of meat, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the derivation is obscure. By Elizabethan times, “collops” came to refer specifically to slices of bacon. Shrove Monday was traditionally the last day to cook and eat meat before Ash Wednesday A traditional breakfast dish was collops of bacon topped with a fried egg. This could well be the beginning of eggs and bacon as a breakfast dish.

But collops are not simply slices of bacon; any cutlet could be referred to as a collop, and there are also examples in early sources of minced meat (lamb, beef, or bacon), served in thin patties being called collops. At Christ’s Hospital, founded before the reign of Elizabeth I, the word collops was used on the menu to mean stewed minced beef. Scotch collops are a traditional Scottish dish. It can be created using either thin slices or minced meat of beef, lamb or venison. This is combined with onion, salt, pepper and suet, then stewed, baked or roasted with optional flavorings according to the meat used. It is traditionally served garnished with thin toast and mashed potato. It is referred to as a meal in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped. Lamb collops were included on the breakfast menu for first class passengers of the Titanic.

In east Cornwall, today is sometimes called Peasen Monday or Paisen Monday after the custom of eating pea soup on this day.  I’m not sure why pea soup was especially recommended for Shrovetide unless it was made with bacon or ham hocks which would be forbidden in Lent. In any case, for my Collop Monday dinner I usually combine the two traditions in my own special way – pea soup followed by a slice of steak with an egg on top (plus an onion and mushroom garnish in between).  Here’s my gallery from this year with notes:

Here’s my pea soup.  I usually make it by keeping the split peas somewhat integral, rather than making a purée of the soup with a blender.  This year I had to use prosciutto for the ham part.  It worked.

Caramelize some onion

Quickly sear a thin slice of steak in a very hot pan (without fat)

This year I mixed in some wild mushrooms with the caramelized onions

Fry an agg

Serve with the egg over the steak garnished with onions

Jan 202017
 

cld4

Today is National Cheese Lover’s Day in the United States.  There are numerous food “holidays” of this sort in the US and I don’t pay much attention to them.  But cheese is worth celebrating. I’ve already given numerous recipes and ideas for cheese in past posts, so today I’ll just ramble on a bit about the outer edges of cheese lore, plus some of my own likes and dislikes.

As a boy I was more or less indifferent to cheese. In both England and Australia cheeses were fairly undistinguished in the 1950s and ‘60s. Generic “cheddar” was the main choice. Originally, cheddar was a distinctive cheese originating from the village of Cheddar in Somerset. Cheddar Gorge on the edge of the village contains a number of caves, which provided the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese. Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. A pipe roll of King Henry II from 1170 records the purchase of 10,240 lb (4,640 kg) at a farthing per pound (totaling £10.13s.4d). Charles I (1600–1649) also bought cheese from the village.

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Central to the modernization and standardization of Cheddar cheese was the 19th-century Somerset dairyman Joseph Harding who introduced technical innovations, promoted of dairy hygiene, and voluntarily disseminated his modernized cheese-making techniques. Harding introduced new equipment to the process of cheese-making, including his “revolving breaker” for curd cutting, saving a great deal of manual effort. Harding and his wife were responsible for the widespread distribution of cheddar including into Scotland and North America and his sons, Henry and William Harding, introduced Cheddar cheese production to Australia and New Zealand, respectively.

During the Second World War, and for nearly a decade after, most milk in Britain was used for the making of one single kind of cheese nicknamed “government Cheddar” as part of war economies and rationing. This resulted in almost wiping out all other cheese production in the country. Before the First World War there were more than 3,500 cheese producers in Britain; fewer than 100 remained after the Second World War. This was the situation when I was born and remained for several decades. I thought Cheddar was just an undistinguished semi-hard yellow cheese (akin to what is called “American cheese” in the US). Not at all. Classic Cheddar made in the traditional way tends to have a sharp, pungent flavor, often slightly earthy. Its texture is firm but slightly crumbly.  Delicious – but hard to find.  It is now, once again, made in the region of Cheddar in the traditional manner. The name “cheddar” is not protected by the European Union because the process has been so widespread for so long, but the name “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” has an EU protected designation of origin, and may only be produced in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, using milk sourced from those counties. It’s worth finding it.

In my youth, at best, you might find 4 or 5 English cheeses – Cheddar and Stilton were most common, but you might come across Double Gloucester, Red Leicester, Wensleydale or White Lancashire if you were lucky, so that by my 20s (1970s) things were looking up.  My father told me of legendary cheeses he knew of before the war, such as Dorset Blue Vinny, but these had long disappeared. Nil desperandum. By the 1980s savvy entrepreneurs and small farmers were starting to revive old cheeses and to create new ones.  Now there are over 700 registered cheese names in England (and Blue Vinny is in there !!). When I visit Oxford I always head for the cheese shop in the covered market to see what is on sale.  They always have something tempting.

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Nowadays in the U.S., Wisconsin is the heartland of cheese manufacture, and after decades of emulating Britain in producing undistinguished cheeses it too is in the business of coming up with new ideas, although it mostly replicates European cheeses.  Fried curds is a local specialty though, which I like, and sampled when I first visited when my son auditioned for a music conservatory in Appleton. Wisconsin also has an annual cheese carving contest, which I won’t say is the best use of cheese, but does produce some interesting works.

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Soon after my brush with Wisconsin cheese I moved to Argentina where cheese production has a long, but mostly unknown, history of cheese manufacture.  I’d known about Argentine green Sardo for many years before I moved to Buenos Aires. It’s a hard grating cheese that originated in Italy but evolved in the dairy lands of Argentina, as did the most popular cheese, Cremosa.  Generally Argentine cheese, like U.S. cheese, replicates the cheeses of Europe, some of quite high quality.  Argentine Roquefort was a favorite of mine for several years.

Moving to China meant moving to a cheese wasteland.  The Chinese are mostly lactose intolerant, so dairy products in general are not widespread. Yoghurt is common enough, but cheese is not very popular.  Generally my Han Chinese students were disgusted by the very idea of cheese — “Why would you want to eat rotten milk?” This from people who will happily gobble down stinky fermented foodstuffs that have been buried for years. Fortunately I lived in Yunnan where the Bai people have been cheese makers for centuries. I can’t say that their Rubing or Rashan cheeses are all that interesting but they kept me going for a couple of years.

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Then I moved to northern Italy and drowned in cheese for several weeks. I live near Parma and Gorgonzola and have made obligatory pilgrimages.  I’m not a giant fan of Italian cheeses, but I always have some mozzarella di bufala and Parmegiano Reggiano on hand, and usually keep odds and ends such as Provolone and Gorgonzola knocking around for lunch sandwiches.

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My recommendation for Cheese Lover’s Day is to wander outside your normal tastes. See what you can find that is new and interesting to you. I doubt that you will stumble on yak cheese (chhurpi), but you never know.  The Nepalese are starting to export it.

cld9

Happy cheese hunting.

Jan 152017
 

mol3

Today is the birthday (1622) of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, a French playwright and actor who is generally considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature, although he is not very well known, popularly, these days in the English-speaking world (largely because intelligence and wit are unfashionable).  I’ll give you a snippet of his biography (the rest you can find for yourself). Then I will give you some of my favorite quotes.

Molière was born into a prosperous family and having studied at the Collège de Clermont (now Lycée Louis-le-Grand) he worked for 13 years as an itinerant actor. Then he began writing plays combining Commedia dell’arte elements with the more refined French comedy of his day.

Through the patronage of aristocrats including Philippe I, Duke of Orléans—the brother of Louis XIV—Molière procured a command performance before the King at the Louvre. Performing a classic play by Pierre Corneille and a farce of his own, The Doctor in Love, Molière was granted the use of salle du Petit-Bourbon near the Louvre, a spacious room appointed for theatrical performances. Later, Molière was granted the use of the theater in the Palais-Royal. In both locations he found success among Parisians with plays such as The Affected Ladies, The School for Husbands and The School for Wives. (Sorry – I am going to use the English translations). This royal favor brought a royal pension to his troupe and the title Troupe du Roi (“The King’s Troupe”). Molière continued as the official author of court entertainments.

Though he received the adulation of the court and Parisians, Molière’s satires attracted criticism from moralists and the Catholic Church. Tartuffe and its attack on perceived religious hypocrisy roundly received condemnations from the Church, while Don Juan was banned from performance. This social ambivalence was summed up in an anecdote that is probably apocryphal, but makes the point, and was immortalized in a classic painting.

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One day Louis XIV was informed that certain members of the court refused to invite Molière to join them for a meal because he was just a playwright and, therefore, beneath their dignity. One morning, as the king sat down for breakfast, he invited Molière to join him at the table and enjoy the meal. Conventionally Louis invited the rich and famous to watch  him eat, but they had to remain silent as he ate. Louis reportedly kept up a conversation with Molière over the meal and called in to the room everyone who normally attended his breakfast. Supposedly after this royal lesson, no one ever had qualms again about inviting Molière for a meal.

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Molière’s hard work in so many theatrical capacities took its toll on his health and, by 1667, he was forced to take a break from the stage. In 1673, during a production of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid, Molière, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was seized by a coughing fit and a haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac Argan. He finished the performance but collapsed again and died a few hours later.

Here’s a smattering of Molière’s quotes (they are by no means all meant to amuse, and the English translations fail to capture the original French – my apologies again):

It is a folly second to none; to try to improve the world.

It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.

Some of the most famous books are the least worth reading.

The only people who can be excused for letting a bad book loose on the world are the poor devils who have to write for a living.

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.

Love is a great master. It teaches us to be what we never were.

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.

Unbroken happiness is a bore: it should have ups and downs.

I want people to be sincere; a man of honor shouldn’t speak a single word that doesn’t come straight from his heart.

I have the fault of being a little more sincere than is proper.

Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.

The duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them.

One ought to look a good deal at oneself before thinking of condemning others.

We must take the good with the bad because the good when it’s good is so very good, that the bad when it’s bad isn’t so bad!

There is something inexpressibly charming in falling in love and, surely, the whole pleasure lies in the fact that love isn’t lasting.

So that we can transition into talk about food I will add:

I live on good soup, not on fine words.

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It’s often said that fine French cuisine began in the time of Molière with the publication of Le cuisinier françois by Pierre François La Varenne in 1651.  The full text in the original can be fond here — http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k114423k/f1.image  It’s not that hard to read if your French is halfway decent, and there are hundreds of recipes to choose from that look a lot like modern French recipes.  La Varenne’s work was the first to set down in writing the considerable culinary innovations achieved in France in the 17th century, particularly in the court of Louis XIV, while codifying food preparation in a systematic manner, according to rules and principles. He introduced the first bisque and Béchamel sauce, for example, he replaced crumbled bread with roux as the base for sauces, and lard with butter. You can also find the first usage of terms such as bouquet garni, fonds de cuisine (stocks) and reductions, and the use of egg-whites for clarifying stocks. It also contains the earliest recipe in print for mille-feuille. The cooking of vegetables is considered at some length, which was unusual for the times because vegetables previously were not popular. In a fragrant sauce for asparagus there is evidence of an early form of hollandaise sauce: “make a sauce with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce; take care that it doesn’t curdle…”

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Here’s my adaptation of Varenne’s recipe for garden peas, which were a fad in 17th century France. This makes an excellent side dish. The peas should be seasonal and freshly shucked.

Varenne’s Garden Peas

Ingredients

3 cups freshly shucked garden peas
3 tbsp butter
2 oz rendered pork fat or bacon fat
1 head of lettuce
finely chopped chives
1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves separated from the staly
salt and pepper
fresh nutmeg
2 tbsp rich beef broth
¼ cup crème fraîche

Instructions

Break off the tough outer leaves of the lettuce and plunge the head in boiling water for a few seconds to blanch it. Immediately drain it and dry it thoroughly with paper towels. Then chop it to a size that suits you.

Heat the butter and pork fat (or bacon fat) in a large skillet over medium-low hear until the butter has melted. Add the peas and stir them so that they are all covered in butter and fat. Add the other ingredients, except for the crème fraîche, and simmer, covered, until the peas are just cooked. Uncover, stir in the crème fraîche, heat for a minute, and serve.

Jan 072017
 

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In his compendious Book Of Days (1869) – from which title this blog gets its name – Robert Chambers asserts that 7th January, the day following Epiphany, was called St Distaff’s Day from time immemorial and was a day of merriment for women much as Plough Monday was for men. We have to take all of Chamber’s pronouncements with a large pinch of salt because his writings are not particularly scrupulous or scholarly. He gathered his material from hither and yon, and it’s a grave mistake (repeated endlessly by half wits) to assume that what he reports concerning one particular time and place was in any sense universal. Such a bad habit is the bane of English social history. Nonetheless, he quotes Herrick’s poem on St Distaff’s Day, and this poem leads me to believe that the day’s activities had some currency for a time.  This comes from the anthology, Hesperides, published in 1647:

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Saint Distaffs day, or the morrow after
Twelfth day.

Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaffs day:
From the Plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.
Bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men.
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation.

Given that the poem is set in imperatives it’s difficult to assess whether Herrick is recommending these activities, or describing a known state of affairs.  The general suggestion seems to be that men and women should go back to work after the Christmas break but should do so lightly and with some playfulness thrown in before settling in for the long haul.  I’d say that ploughmen burning women’s flax and their clothes, and women drenching men with water for revenge – all as a jolly jape, or as a routine sport – is unlikely. But the command ”Partly worke and partly play/ Ye must on S. Distaffs day” is probably a fair observation on the actual state of affairs, given that Plough Monday games (on the Monday after Epiphany) are well attested in many rural areas, especially East Anglia http://www.bookofdaystales.com/plough-monday/ .

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Chambers has nothing to add of substance about observing the day but does note:

This mirthful observance recalls a time when spinning was the occupation of almost all women who had not anything else to do, or during the intervals of other and more serious work—a cheering resource to the solitary female in all ranks of life, an enlivenment to every fireside scene. To spin—how essentially was the idea at one time associated with the female sex! even to that extent, that in England spinster was a recognized legal term for an unmarried woman—the spear side and the distaff side were legal terms to distinguish the inheritance of male from that of female children—and the distaff became a synonym for woman herself: thus, the French proverb was:

‘The crown of France never falls to the distaff.’

Now, through the change wrought by the organised industries of Manchester and Glasgow, the princess of the fairy tale who was destined to die by a spindle piercing her hand, might wander from the Land’s End to John O’ Groat’s House, and never encounter an article of the kind, unless in an archaeological museum.

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A distaff is a rod that holds the material to be spun, either by spinning wheel or spindle, and was in use from ancient Egyptian times until the 19th century Industrial Revolution. The word “distaff” is still sometimes used for the maternal line or side of a family, given that using a distaff was largely (but not exclusively) women’s work.  Thus playfulness on St Distaff’s Day would seem to signify disrupting women’s work, whereas Plough Monday disrupted men’s activities. I find zero evidence for the belief that this was a Medieval custom or even that it was a particularly widespread one. Herrick’s poem seems to be the sole source and it is 17th century, and of dubious reliability. Nonetheless, you’ll read endless nonsense from spinners and weavers guilds about how the day was commonly observed throughout Medieval Europe, usually in promotional literature advertising their events in early January.

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For a recipe I’ve chosen fried apple pies from the 1653 cookbook A True Gentlewomans Delight

To fry Applepies.

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

It’s fairly straightforward.  They are really a version of empanaditas. You have to be careful to fry them slowly so that the apples cook fully in the process and so that the butter does not burn.  Here is my version in pictures.

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Jan 052017
 

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Today is the birthday (1855) of King Camp Gillette, a US businessman who invented a best selling version of the safety razor. Several models were in existence before Gillette’s design; Gillette’s innovation was the thin, inexpensive, disposable blade of stamped steel. Gillette is widely credited with inventing the so-called razor and blades business model, where razors are sold cheaply to increase the market for blades, but in fact he adopted this model only after his competitors did.

Gillette’s ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1630. He was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and raised in Chicago, Illinois. While working as a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company in the 1890s, Gillette noticed that the bottle caps, with the cork seal he sold, was thrown away after the bottle was opened. This made him realize the value in basing a business on a product that was used a few times, then discarded. Men shaved with straight razors that needed sharpening every day using a leather strop. Thus a razor whose blade was relatively cheap and could be thrown away when it dulled would meet a real need and likely be profitable.

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Safety razors had been developed in the mid-19th century, but still used a forged blade. In the 1870s, the Kampfe Brothers introduced a type of razor along these lines. Gillette improved these earlier safety-razor designs, and introduced the high-profit-margin stamped razor blade steel blade. Gillette’s razor retailed for a substantial $5 — half the average working man’s weekly pay — yet sold by the millions.

The most difficult part of development was engineering the blades, as thin, cheap steel was difficult to work and sharpen. This accounts for the delay between the initial idea and the product’s introduction. Steven Porter, a machinist working with Gillette, used Gillette’s drawings to create the first disposable razor that worked. William Emery Nickerson, an expert machinist and partner of Gillette, changed the original model, improving the handle and frame so that it could better support the thin steel blade. Nickerson designed the machinery to mass-produce the blades.

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To sell the product, Gillette founded the American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901 (changing the company’s name to Gillette Safety Razor Company in July 1902). Gillette obtained a trademark registration (0056921) for his portrait and signature on the packaging. Production began in 1903, when he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades.

The second year, he sold 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades, thanks in part to Gillette’s low prices, automated manufacturing techniques and good advertising. Sales and distribution were handled by a separate company, Townsend and Hunt, which was absorbed by the parent company for $300,000 in 1906. By 1908, the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Germany. Razor sales reached 450,000 units and blade sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, the company provided all American soldiers with a field razor set, paid for by the government. Gillette vetoed a plan to sell the patent rights in Europe, believing correctly that Europe would eventually provide a very large market. Gillette and a fellow director John Joyce, battled for control of the company. Gillette eventually sold out to Joyce, but his name remained on the brand. In the 1920s, as the patent expired, the Gillette Safety Razor Company emphasized research to design ever improved models, realizing that even a slight improvement would induce men to adopt it.

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Gillette was also a Utopian Socialist. He published The Human Drift (1894) which advocated that all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and that everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910) was a prospectus for a company set up to create this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a fee of one million dollars. (Roosevelt declined the offer.) Gillette’s last book, The People’s Corporation (1924), was written with Upton Sinclair and later inspired Glen H. Taylor (1948 Progressive Party VP candidate).

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In his later life he traveled extensively, and was universally recognized from his picture on the packets of razor blades. People were surprised that he was a real person rather than just a marketing image. A Gillette company history stated that in non-English speaking countries people would often ask for “the kind with the Man’s Face” blades. In the late 1920s, Gillette was known as a frequent guest of Nellie Coffman, proprietor of the Desert Inn in Palm Springs, California. He was often seen wandering about the grounds and lobby in a tattered old bathrobe. When Coffman was asked why she allowed such a low life to hang out at her establishment, she responded, “Why that is King C. Gillette. He has practically kept this place in the black the last few years.”

Gillette died bankrupt and penniless (due to the Wall Street Crash) on July 9, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He was interred in the lower levels of the Begonia Corridor in the Great Mausoleum located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

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The term “razor thin” can be attributed to Gillette’s disposable razors, and carpaccio fits the bill for today’s celebration, because it is a dish of raw meat or fish that is very thinly sliced (or pounded thin).  It was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani from Harry’s Bar in Venice and popularized during the second half of the 20th century. It was named after Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. The beef was served with lemon, olive oil, and white truffle or Parmesan cheese. Later, the term was extended to dishes containing other raw meats or fish, thinly sliced and served with lemon or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper. Cipriani originally prepared the dish for the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he learned that the doctors had recommended that she eat raw meat and named it carpaccio after Vittore Carpaccio because of his characteristic red and white tones.

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The typical Piedmont carpaccio is made with very thin slices of beef placed on a dish with lemon, olive oil, and shavings of white truffle or Parmesan cheese, and can be topped with arugula. The meat typically used for carpaccio is beef sirloin. Since this dish is served raw, the meat must be very fresh. Less commonly, reflecting Piedmont tradition, carpaccio can also be made with minced meat and garlic, called “carne cruda”.

Today the term carpaccio is sometimes used for any preparation made with thinly sliced raw meat, fish or vegetables (usually seasoned with lemon, or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper) or fruit. Carpaccio is also a popular appetizer in neighboring Friuli and Slovenia, where it is usually served on rucola with a slice of lemon, Parmesan cheese, and toasted French bread.

I usually buy beef or smoked fish for a carpaccio already sliced because my knives are not sharp enough to do a good job. To get beef razor thin your knife must be razor sharp.  The lack of sharp knives in my friends’ kitchens is the bane of my existence when I go to help them cook. I have two Chinese knives that are sharp enough for most purposes, and I have a sharpening stone. But they are not made of high enough quality steel to get an edge adequate for carpaccio.

Dec 302016
 

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Today is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday that commemorates the execution of patriot José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, popularly known as José Rizal, on this date in 1896 by Spanish colonial authorities. He was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement which advocated political reforms for the colony under Spain. His sole “crime” was that of writing in opposition to Spanish rule. I am a great admirer of rebels like Rizal; they show how powerful writing can be, and how much writers are to be feared by the corrupt and inhumane. Guns, tanks, bombs, police brutality etc. etc. are certainly things to be mortally afraid of, but it is the words of the poet that endure.

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Rizal was born in 1861 in the town of Calamba in Laguna province. He had nine sisters and one brother. His parents were leaseholders of a hacienda and an accompanying rice farm owned by the Dominicans. Both their families had adopted the additional surnames of Rizal and Realonda in 1849, after Governor General Narciso Clavería y Zaldúa decreed the adoption of Spanish surnames among the Filipinos for census purposes (though they already had Spanish names).

Like many families in the Philippines, the Rizals were of mixed origin. José’s patrilineal lineage could be traced back to Fujian in China through his father’s ancestor Lam-Co, a Chinese merchant who immigrated to the Philippines in the late 17th century. Lam-Co traveled to Manila from Amoy in China, possibly to avoid the famine or plague in his home district, and more probably to escape the Manchu invasion. He finally decided to stay in the islands as a farmer. In 1697, to escape the bitter anti-Chinese prejudice that existed in the Philippines, he converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Domingo Mercado and married the daughter of an indigenous Philippines resident. On his mother’s side, Rizal’s ancestry included Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Tagalog blood. His mother’s lineage can be traced to the affluent Florentina family of Chinese mestizo families originating in Baliuag, Bulacan.

From an early age, Rizal showed a precocious intellect. He learned the alphabet from his mother at 3, and could read and write at age 5. Upon enrolling at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, he dropped the last three names that made up his full name, on the advice of his brother, Paciano and the Mercado family, thus rendering his name as “José Protasio Rizal”. Of this, he later wrote: “My family never paid much attention [to our second surname Rizal], but now I had to use it, thus giving me the appearance of an illegitimate child!” This was to enable him to travel freely and disassociate him from his brother, who had gained notoriety with his earlier links to Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (popularly known as Gomburza) who had been accused and executed for treason.

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Despite the name change, José, as “Rizal” soon distinguished himself in poetry writing contests, impressing his professors with his facility with Castilian and other foreign languages, and later, in writing essays that were critical of the Spanish historical accounts of the pre-colonial Philippine societies. In 1891, the year he finished El Filibusterismo, this second surname had become so well known that, as he writes to another friend, “All my family now carry the name Rizal instead of Mercado because the name Rizal means persecution! Good! I too want to join them and be worthy of this family name…”

Rizal first studied under Justiniano Aquino Cruz in Biñan, Laguna, before he was sent to Manila. He took the entrance examination in Colegio de San Juan de Letran but he then enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated as one of the nine students in his class declared sobresaliente or outstanding. He continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas where he did take up a preparatory course in law. Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he decided to switch to medicine at the medical school of Santo Tomas specializing later in ophthalmology.

Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. He also attended medical lectures at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. In Berlin, he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the Anthropological Society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg”, which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West.

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At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker. There he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope (invented by Hermann von Helmholtz) to later operate on his own mother’s eye. From Heidelberg, Rizal wrote his parents: “I spend half of the day in the study of German and the other half, in the diseases of the eye. Twice a week, I go to the bierbrauerie, or beerhall, to speak German with my student friends.” He lived in a Karlstraße boarding house then moved to Ludwigsplatz. There, he met Reverend Karl Ullmer and stayed with him in Wilhelmsfeld, where he wrote the last few chapters of Noli Me Tángere.

Rizal’s amazing multifacetedness was well known. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he dabbled, with varying degrees of expertise, in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. Rizal’s life is one of the most documented of 19th century Filipinos due to the vast and extensive records written by and about him. He wrote in several languages and translated many for publication. Overall he was fully conversant in 22 languages. He was also well traveled. He lived and worked in various parts of Asia and Europe, and also visited the United States.

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Rizal’s two most famous novels were originally published in Europe:  Noli Me Tángere, published in Berlin in 1887, and El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent in 1891. These works angered both the Spanish colonial elite and many rich, educated Filipinos. Among other things,They are critical of Spanish friars and the power of the Church. Rizal’s friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, an Austria-Hungary-born professor and historian, wrote that the novel’s characters were drawn from real life and that every episode could be repeated on any day in the Philippines.

Blumentritt was the grandson of the Imperial Treasurer at Vienna in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and a staunch defender of the Catholic faith. This did not dissuade him from writing the preface of El Filibusterismo after he had translated Noli Me Tángere into German. As Blumentritt had warned, these books (and many other published essays on conditions under Spanish rule) resulted in Rizal’s being prosecuted as the inciter of revolution. He was eventually tried by the military, convicted, and executed. This act triggered an enormously adverse reaction in the Philippines and helped fuel the Philippine Revolution of 1896 which ended Spanish rule.

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Moments before his execution on December 30, 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, a backup force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot the executioners should they fail to obey orders. His last words were those of Jesus Christ: “consummatum est”, – it is finished. He was certainly a deliberate martyr. Rizal was arrested in Spain en route to Cuba and transported back to Manila for trial. During the return journey he was given ample opportunity to escape but refused to take it. He was 35 years old when he was executed.

He was secretly buried in Pacò Cemetery in Manila with no identification on his grave. His sister Narcisa toured all possible gravesites and found freshly turned earth at the cemetery with guards posted at the gate. Assuming this could be the most likely spot she made a gift to the caretaker to mark the site “RPJ”, Rizal’s initials in reverse.

His undated poem, “Mi último adiós” believed to be written a few days before his execution, was hidden in an alcohol stove, which was later handed to his family with his few remaining possessions, including the final letters and his last bequests. During their visit, Rizal reminded his sisters in English, “There is something inside it”, referring to the alcohol stove given by the Pardo de Taveras which was to be returned after his execution, thereby emphasizing the importance of the poem. This instruction was followed by another, “Look in my shoes”, in which another item was secreted. Exhumation of his remains in August 1898, under US rule, revealed he had not been buried in a coffin, and whatever was in his shoes had disintegrated. Now he is buried in Rizal Monument in Manila.

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In his letter to his family he wrote: “Treat our aged parents as you would wish to be treated…Love them greatly in memory of me…December 30, 1896.” He gave his family instructions for his burial: “Bury me in the ground. Place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If later you wish to surround my grave with a fence, you can do it. No anniversaries.”

This last request was not honored. Rizal Day was first instituted with a decree from President Emilio Aguinaldo issued December 20, 1898 and celebrated December 30, 1898 as a national day of mourning for Rizal in Malolos, Bulacan and all victims of the Spanish colonial rule of the Philippines. Daet, Camarines Norte was the first town to follow the decree, building a monument designed by Lt. Col. Antonio Sanz, led by Sanz and Lt. Col. Ildefonso Alegre, and financed by the townspeople of Camarines Norte and the rest of the Bicol Region.

With the victory of the US over Spain in the Spanish–American War, the US took control of the Philippines. In an effort to demonstrate that they were more pro-Filipino than the Spaniards, the US Governor-General William Howard Taft in 1901 named Rizal a Philippine national hero. A year later, on February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act No. 345, which made December 30 a public holiday. To underscore the solemnity of the event, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act No. 229 into law on June 9, 1948 that prohibits cockfighting, horse racing, and jai-alai every December 30. The law also requires that flags across the country remain at half staff throughout the day.

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Adobo is an obvious dish to celebrate the life and work of Rizal. I gave a recipe for chicken adobo here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/araw-ng-kasarinlan-independence-day-philippines/ Now it’s time for pork adobo. This is not just a change in meats, but in cooking style in general. Although the name adobo is taken from Spanish, the cooking method has evolved from techniques indigenous to the Philippines. Cooking meat in vinegar and salt dates back to before the Spanish conquest and was used for both pork and chicken. When the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they encountered this cooking process. It was first recorded in the dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala (1613) compiled by the Spanish Franciscan missionary Pedro de San Buenaventura. He referred to it as adobo de los naturales (“adobo of the native peoples”). Dishes prepared in this manner eventually came to be known by this name, with the original term for the dish is now lost. Chinese traders introduced soy sauce which has replaced salt in the dish. However, there are adobo purists who continue to use salt in their adobo.

There are, of course, numerous variants of the adobo recipe in the Philippines. The most basic ingredient of adobo is vinegar, which is usually coconut vinegar, rice vinegar, or cane vinegar (although sometimes white wine or cider vinegar can also be used). Almost every ingredient can be changed according to personal preference. Even people in the same household can cook adobo in significantly different ways. Adobo without soy sauce is known as adobong puti (“white adobo” or “blond adobo”), which uses salt instead, to contrast it with adobong itim (“black adobo”), the more prevalent versions with soy sauce.

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The following is just a suggestion from the hundreds of possibilities. The kind of vinegar you choose makes all the difference. I use rice wine vinegar which is not very traditional, but I prefer the flavor to harsher vinegars.

Adobong Puti

Ingredients

2 lbs (1 kg) pork belly, cubed
1 cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1  bay leaf
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 (or more) black peppercorns, cracked
cooking oil (for deep frying)
1 tsp sugar

Instructions

Combine the pork, vinegar, garlic, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, and 1 cup of cold water in a large stock pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the pork is tender (at least 1 hour).

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the broth and leave it to dry on the surface. You can pat it with paper towels if need be.

Heat the oil to 350°F/175°C and deep fry the pork in small batches until it is golden on all sides.

Return the pork to the broth and simmer until the liquid has been reduced by a half. Add the sugar and adjust the seasonings to taste. I often add a little extra minced garlic and some freshly ground black pepper at the end. Simmer a few minutes longer.

Serve hot in deep bowls with rice and a tomato salad.

Serves 6

Dec 292016
 

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Today is the birthday (1800) of Charles Goodyear who was a self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer who developed vulcanized rubber, for which he received patent number 3633 from the United States Patent Office in 1844. Although Goodyear can be credited with the development of a specific process for vulcanizing rubber, he was far from the first person to invent a method for using rubber in stable form. Ancient Mesoamericans used stabilized rubber for balls and other objects as early as 1600 BCE.

Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Amasa Goodyear, and the oldest of six children. His father was a descendant of Stephen Goodyear of London, one of the founders of the colony of New Haven in 1638. In 1814, Charles left his home and went to Philadelphia to learn the hardware business. He worked industriously until he was twenty-one years old, and then, returning to Connecticut, entered into partnership in his father’s business in Naugatuck, CT where they manufactured not only ivory and metal buttons, but also a variety of agricultural implements.

In August 3, 1824 he married Clarissa Beecher. Two years later the family moved to Philadelphia, and there Charles Goodyear opened a hardware store. This is where he did most of his work. His specialties were the agricultural implements that his firm had been manufacturing, and after the initial distrust of domestically made goods had faded — all agricultural implements were imported from England at that time—he was able to create a successful business for a while although it ultimately failed and his health broke down.

Between the years 1831 and 1832, Goodyear began investigating what was called “gum elastic” (natural rubber). The Roxbury Rubber Company, of Boston, had been for some time experimenting with the gum, and believed it had found means for manufacturing goods from it. It had a large plant and was sending its goods all over the country. It was some of Roxbury’s goods that first attracted Goodyear’s attention. Soon after this, Goodyear visited New York, and his attention went to life preservers, and it struck him that the tube used for inflation was not very effective nor well-made. Therefore, upon returning to Philadelphia, he made tubes and brought them back to New York and showed them to the manager of the Roxbury Rubber Company.

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The manager was pleased with the ingenuity that Goodyear had shown in manufacturing the tubes. He confessed to Goodyear that the business was on the verge of ruin, and that his products had to be tested for a year before it could be determined if they were perfect or not. To their surprise, thousands of dollars worth of goods that they had determined to be of good quality were being returned, the gum having rotted, making them useless. Goodyear at once made up his mind to experiment on this gum and see if he could overcome the problems with these rubber products.

However, when he returned to Philadelphia, a creditor had him arrested and imprisoned. While there, he tried his first experiments with India rubber. The gum was inexpensive then, and by heating it and working it in his hands, he managed to incorporate in it a certain amount of magnesia which produced a beautiful white compound and appeared to take away the stickiness. He thought he had discovered the secret, and through the kindness of friends was able to improve his invention in New Haven. The first thing that he made was shoes, and he used his own house for grinding, calendering and vulcanizing, with the help of his wife and children. His compound at this time consisted of India rubber, lampblack, and magnesia, the whole dissolved in turpentine and spread upon the flannel cloth which served as the lining for the shoes. It was not long, however, before he discovered that the gum, even treated this way, became sticky. His creditors, completely discouraged, decided that he would not be allowed to go further in his research.

Goodyear, however, had no intention of stopping his experiments. He sold his furniture and placed his family in a boarding house, and then went to New York and in an attic, helped by a friendly druggist, continued his experiments. His next step was to compound the rubber with magnesia and then boil it in quicklime (calcium oxide) and water. This appeared to solve the problem. Almost at once he received international acclaim for this innovation and he seemed on the road to success, until one day he noticed that a drop of weak acid, falling on the cloth, neutralized the alkali and immediately caused the rubber to become soft again. This proved to him that his process was not yet completely successful. He therefore continued experimenting, and after preparing his mixtures in his attic in New York, would walk three miles to a mill in Greenwich Village to try various experiments.

In the line of these, he discovered that rubber dipped in nitric acid formed a surface cure, and he made many products with this acid cure which were held in high regard, and he even received a letter of commendation from Andrew Jackson. Exposure to harsh chemicals, such as nitric acid and lead oxide, adversely affected his health, and once nearly suffocated him by gas generated in his laboratory. Goodyear survived, but the resulting fever came close to taking his life.

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Together with an old business partner, he built up a factory and began to make clothing, life preservers, rubber shoes, and a great variety of rubber goods. They also had a large factory with special machinery, built on Staten Island, where he moved his family and again had a home of his own. Just about this time, when everything looked bright, the panic of 1837 came and swept away the entire fortune of his associate and left Goodyear penniless.

His next move was to go to Boston, where he became acquainted with J. Haskins, of the Roxbury Rubber Company. Goodyear found in him a good friend, who lent him money and stood by him when no one would have anything to do with him. He was also assisted by a Mr. Chaffee who not only lent a kindly ear (and money), but also helped resolve a problem that Goodyear had with the solvent he was using by inventing a machine for doing the mixing of the rubber and chemicals.

Goodyear used this new method for making rubber shoes and received a patent which he sold to the Providence Company in Rhode Island. However, a method had not yet been found to process rubber so that it would withstand hot and cold temperatures and acids, and, in consequence, the rubber goods were constantly growing sticky, decomposing and being returned to the manufacturers.

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Several years earlier, Goodyear had, however, started a small factory at Springfield, Massachusetts, to which he moved his primary operations in 1842. The factory was run largely by Nelson and Henry Goodyear, Charles’ brothers with financial backing from Goodyear’s brother-in-law, who was a wealthy woolen manufacturer. The work of making the use of rubber practical continued. In 1844, in Springfield, the process was sufficiently perfected that Goodyear felt it safe to take out a patent. The first vulcanization of rubber is considered one of the major “firsts” that contributes to the City of Springfield’s nickname, “The City of Firsts.”  In 1844, Goodyear’s brother Henry introduced another mechanical mixing process in place of the use of solvents.

In the year 1852 Goodyear went to Europe, a trip that he had long planned, and saw Thomas Hancock, then in the employ of Charles Macintosh & Company. Hancock claimed to have invented vulcanization independently, and received a British patent, initiated in 1843, but finalized in 1844. In 1855, in the last of three patent disputes with fellow British rubber pioneer, Stephen Moulton, Hancock’s patent was challenged with the claim that Hancock had copied Goodyear. Goodyear attended the trial. If Hancock lost, Goodyear stood to have his own British patent application granted, allowing him to claim royalties from both Hancock and Moulton. Both had examined Goodyear’s vulcanized rubber in 1842, but several chemists testified that it would not have been possible to determine how it was made by studying it. Hancock prevailed.

Despite his misfortune with patents, Goodyear wrote, “In reflecting upon the past, as relates to these branches of industry, the writer is not disposed to repine, and say that he has planted, and others have gathered the fruits. The advantages of a career in life should not be estimated exclusively by the standard of dollars and cents, as is too often done. Man has just cause for regret when he sows and no one reaps.”

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Goodyear died on July 1, 1860, while traveling to see his dying daughter. After arriving in New York, he was informed that she had already died. He collapsed and was taken to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, where he died at the age of 59. He is buried in New Haven at Grove Street Cemetery. In 1898, almost four decades after his death, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was founded and named after Goodyear by Frank Seiberling.

Rubber used to be common for kitchen utensils but it is now mostly replaced with various rubber-like synthetics. My rubber spatula has always been an indispensible tool when dumping doughy ingredients from a bowl to a cooking vessel, for example, because its flexibility ensures that nothing is wasted. Much to my constant and instant regret, I don’t use rubber gloves enough (i.e. at all) when I am cutting up hot peppers. You’d think I’d learn. I’ve had a few rubber moulds that I thought would be great because of their flexibility in unmoulding, but in actual experience rigid moulds are better (for me).

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Thinking about rubber spatulas puts me in mind of cake recipes, and Goodyear’s home of Connecticut reminds me of a favorite Connecticut cake recipe: election cake. It’s unusual in that yeast is the rising agent. Folklore has it that the cake was originally made for election day in 18th century Connecticut as a special treat  because holidays such as Christmas were outlawed by the Puritans, yet people still wanted celebratory occasions. I’m skeptical, but it’s a good cake. This recipe comes from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book  (1844).  The quantities are typically large for period recipes. I would halve it and make two cakes.

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Old Harford Election Cake

Five pounds dried and sifted flour.

Two pounds of butter.

Two pounds of sugar.

Three gills of distillery yeast, or twice the quantity of home-brewed.

Four eggs.

A gill of wine and a gill of brandy.

Half an ounce of nutmegs, and two pounds of fruit.

A quart of milk.

Rub the butter very fine into the flour, add half the sugar, then the yeast, then half the milk, hot in winter, and blood warm in summer, then the eggs well beaten, the wine, and the remainder of the milk. Beat it well, and let it stand to rise all night. Beat it well in the morning, adding the brandy, the sugar, and the spice. Let it rise three or four hours, till very light. When you put the wood into the oven, put the cake in buttered pans, and put in the fruit as directed previously. If you wish it richer, add a pound of citron.

 

Dec 262016
 

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Today is the birthday (1537) – O.S. January 7 – of Yi I (Hangul: 이이; Hanja: 李珥one of the two most prominent Korean Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty, the other being his older contemporary, Yi Hwang (Toegye). Yi I is often referred to by his pen name Yulgok (“Chestnut valley”). He is not only known as a scholar but also as a revered politician and reformer.

Yi I was born in Gangneung, Gangwon Province in 1537. His father was a Fourth State Councillor (jwachanseong 좌찬성) and his mother, Shin Saimdang, was an accomplished artist and calligraphist. He was the grand nephew of Yi Gi, prime minister from 1549 to 1551. In his early years he was the student of Baik In-geol, successor to the master Jo Gwang-jo. It is reputed that by the age of 7 he had finished his lessons in the Confucian classics, and passed the Civil Service literary examination at the age of 13. Yi I secluded himself in Kumgang-san following his mother’s death when he was 16 and stayed for 3 years, studying Buddhism. He left the mountains at 20 and devoted himself to the study of Confucianism.

He married at 22 and in the same year passed special exams with top honors with a winning thesis titled Cheondochaek (hangul:천도책, hanja: 天道策, “Book on the Way of Heaven”), which was widely regarded as a literary masterpiece, displaying his knowledge of history and the Confucian philosophy of politics, and also reflecting his profound knowledge of Taoism. He continuously received top honors in civil exams 9 times in a row. His father died when he was 26. He served in various positions in government from the age of 29, and visited the Ming Dynasty as seojanggwan (hangul: 서장관, hanja: 書狀官, document officer) in 1568. He also participated in the writing of the Myeongjong Annals and at 34, wrote Dongho Mundap, an eleven-article political memorial devoted to clarifying his conviction that a righteous government could be achieved.

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Due to his vast experience in different offices over the years, Yi I was able to establish a wide vision of politics and with the deep trust of the king, became one of the central figures of politics by the time he was 40. His many documents and theses were presented to the royal court but when political conflicts escalated in 1576, his efforts proved fruitless and he returned home. Following his return, he devoted his time to studies and education of his students and wrote several books.

He returned to office at 45 and while holding various ministerial positions, wrote a great deal to record crucial political events and show his efforts to ease the political conflicts that were rampant at that time. However, King Seonjo was noncommittal in his attitude and it became difficult for Yi I to remain in a neutral position in the conflicts. He left office in 1583 and died the following year.

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According to legend, he had a pavilion built near the ford of the Imjin River in his lifetime and instructed his heirs to set it ablaze when the king had to flee northward from Seoul, to provide a guiding beacon. This took place during Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea at the Imjin war.

Yi I was not only known as a philosopher but also as a social reformer. He did not completely agree with the dualistic Neo-Confucianism teachings followed by Yi Hwang. His school of Neo-Confucianism placed emphasis on the more concrete, material elements; rather than inner spiritual perception, this practical and pragmatic approach valued external experience and learning. Unlike Yi Hwang, who suffered through tumultuous times and did not enjoy being in politics, Yi I was an active official who thought it important to implement Confucian values and principles to government administration. He emphasized learning and self-cultivation as the base of proper administration. Yi I is also well known for his foresight about national security. He proposed to draft and reinforce the army against a possible Japanese attack. His proposal was rejected by the central government but his concerns proved to be well-founded soon after his death, during the Imjin war.

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To celebrate Yi I I am going to wax lyrical about kimchi for a spell. Kimchi ( 김치), also spelled kimchee or gimchi, is, for me, the quintessential Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings, and I like to keep some on hand at all times although in some places where I have lived in recent years it is not always easy to get hold of. Commercially available varieties work well enough, but they do not reflect the huge variety and complexity of products available in Korea. In traditional preparations, kimchi was stored underground in jars to keep cool and unfrozen during the winter months. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, garlic, ginger or cucumber as the main ingredients.

The term ji was used until the pre-modern terms chimchae, dimchae, and timchae were adopted in the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The word then was modified into jimchi, and is currently kimchi. Red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) are now used as the main ingredient for the flavor and heat for many varieties of kimchi. In the 12th century, other spices, creating flavors such as sweet and sour, and colors, such as white and orange, were added.

Kimchi is, hands down Korea’s ultimate national dish. During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War its government requested U.S. help to ensure that South Korean troops could obtain it in the field. South Korean president Park Chung-hee told U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.” It was also sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multimillion-dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odor without affecting taste.

Kimchi varieties are determined by the main vegetable ingredients and the mix of seasoning used to flavor the kimchi. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 historic and current varieties of kimchi. Ingredients can be replaced or added depending on the type of kimchi being made. The most common seasonings include brine, scallions, spices, ginger, chopped radish, garlic, saeujeot (새우젓, shrimp sauce), eoriguljeot (어리굴젓, oyster sauce), and aekjeot (액젓, fish sauce).

Kimchi can be categorized by main ingredients, regions or seasons. Currently there are over 180 varieties of kimchi. The most common variations are baechukimchi (배추김치, napa cabbage kimchi), baechugeotjeori (배추겉절이, unfermented napa cabbage kimchi), bossam kimchi (보쌈김치), baekkimchi (백김치, white kimchi), dongchimi (동치미, water-based kimchi), chonggakkimchi (총각김치, chonggak radish kimchi), kkakdugi (깍두기, radish kimchi), oisobagi (오이소박이, cucumber kimchi), and pakimchi (파김치, green onion kimchi).

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Kimchi from the northern parts of Korea tends to have less salt and red chili and usually does not include brined seafood for seasoning. Northern kimchi often has a watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern parts of Korea, such as Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do, uses salt, chili peppers and myeolchijeot (멸치젓, brined anchovy allowed to ferment) or saeujeot (새우젓, brined shrimp allowed to ferment), myeolchiaekjeot (멸치액젓), kkanariaekjeot (까나리액젓), liquid anchovy jeot, similar to fish sauce used in Southeast Asia, but thicker.

Saeujeot (새우젓) or myeolchijeot is not added to the kimchi spice-seasoning mixture, but is simmered first to reduce odors, eliminate tannic flavor and fats, and then is mixed with a thickener made of rice or wheat starch (풀). This technique has been falling into disuse for the past 40 years.

White kimchi (baek kimchi) is baechu (napa cabbage) seasoned without chili pepper and is neither red in color nor spicy. White radish kimchi (dongchimi) is another example of a kimchi that is not spicy. The watery white kimchi varieties are sometimes used as an ingredient in a number of dishes such as cold noodles in dongchimi brine (dongchimi guksu).

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Different types of kimchi were traditionally made at different times of the year, based on when various vegetables were in season and also to take advantage of hot and cold seasons before the era of refrigeration. Although the advent of modern refrigeration — including kimchi refrigerators specifically designed with precise controls to keep different varieties of kimchi at optimal temperatures at various stages of fermentation — has made this seasonality unnecessary, Koreans continue to consume kimchi according to traditional seasonal preferences.

Traditionally, the greatest varieties of kimchi were available during the winter. In preparation for the long winter months, many types of kimjang kimchi (김장 김치) were prepared in early winter and stored in the ground in large kimchi pots. Today, many city residents use modern kimchi refrigerators offering precise temperature controls to store kimjang kimchi. November and December are traditionally when people begin to make kimchi. Women often gather together in each other’s homes to help with winter kimchi preparations. “Baechu kimchi” is made with salted baechu filled with thin strips of radish, parsley, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, shredded red pepper, manna lichen (석이 버섯), garlic, and ginger.

After that little discourse you are on your own. Find whatever you can. My common habit is to eat kimchi with rice, or make it into a soup or stew (kimchi-guk or kimchi jjigae). It’s your choice whether to make it with or without pork. I usually don’t but it makes a hearty meal with it. Without the pork I just heat all the ingredients in water for a few minutes and garnish with green onions.

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Kimchi Jjigae

Ingredients

2 cups chopped kimchi
½ lb pork shoulder (or pork belly), cut into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp hot pepper paste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 green onions, chopped
14 oz tofu, cut into bite sized cubes

Instructions

Place all the ingredients except the tofu and green onions in a heavy stock pot and cover with cold water. Simmer until the pork is tender (40 minutes to 1 hour).

Add the tofu and continue simmering until it is warmed through (10 minutes or less).

Serve in deep bowls garnished with green onions and accompanied with rice.