Jul 052020
 

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Jun 262020
 

Today is the birthday (1817) of Patrick Branwell Brontë, better known as simply Branwell Brontë, an English painter and writer. He was the only son of the Brontë family, and brother of the writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Branwell Brontë was the fourth of six children and the only son of Patrick Brontë (1777–1861) and his wife, Maria Branwell Brontë (1783–1821). He was born in Thornton, near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, and moved with his family to Haworth when his father was appointed to the perpetual curacy in 1821.

While four of his five sisters were sent to Cowan Bridge boarding school, Branwell was educated at home by his father, who gave him a classical education. Elizabeth Gaskell, biographer of his sister, Charlotte Brontë, says of Branwell’s schooling “Mr. Brontë’s friends advised him to send his son to school; but, remembering both the strength of will of his own youth and his mode of employing it, he believed that Branwell was better at home, and that he himself could teach him well, as he had told others before.” His two elder sisters died just before his eighth birthday in 1825, and their loss affected him deeply.

Branwell’s map of Angria

Even as a young boy Brontë read extensively, and was especially fond of the “Noctes Ambrosianae”, literary dialogues published in Blackwood’s Magazine. He took leadership role with Charlotte in a series of fantasy role-playing games which they jointly wrote and performed about the “Young Men” — characters based on a set of wooden soldiers. The plays evolved into an intricate saga based in West Africa about the fictitious Glasstown confederacy. From 1834, he both collaborated and competed with his sister Charlotte to describe another imaginary world, Angria. Branwell’s particular interest in these invented worlds were their politics and wars, including the destructive rivalry between their heroes, Charlotte’s Arthur Wellesley, duke of Zamorna, and his Alexander Percy, earl of Northangerland. At age 11 in January 1829 he began producing a magazine, later named Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine which included his poems, plays, criticisms, histories and dialogues.

Unlike his sisters, Branwell was not prepared for a specific career. In his only real attempt to find work, on the death of James Hogg, a Blackwood’s writer, the 18-year-old Branwell wrote to the magazine suggesting himself as a replacement. Between 1835 and 1842, Brontë wrote a total of six times to the magazine, sending poems and  offering his services. His letters were left unanswered.

In 1829–30, Patrick Brontë engaged John Bradley, an artist from neighboring Keighley, as drawing-master for the children. Bradley was an artist of some local repute, rather than a professional instructor, but he may well have fostered Branwell’s enthusiasm for art and architecture. Bradley emigrated to America in 1831, and Branwell continued his studies under the portrait painter William Robinson. In 1834 he painted a portrait of his three sisters. He included his own image but became dissatisfied with it and painted it out. This portrait is now one of the best-known images of the sisters and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1835, he wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Arts seeking to be admitted. Earlier biographers reported a move to London to study painting, which quickly ended following Brontë’s dissolute spending on drink. Other biographers speculated that he was too intimidated to present himself at the Academy. More recent scholarship suggests that Brontë did not send the letter or even make the trip to London. According to Francis Leyland, Brontë’s friend and a future biographer of the family, his first job was as an usher at a Halifax school. More certainly, Brontë worked as a portrait painter in Bradford in 1838 and 1839. Though certain of his paintings, for example that of his landlady Mrs. Kirby and a portrait of Emily show talent for comedic and serious styles, other portraits lack life. He returned to Haworth in debt in 1839.

With his father, Branwell reviewed the classics with a view to future employment as a tutor. At the beginning of January 1840, he started employment with the family of Robert Postlethwaite in Broughton-in-Furness. During this time he wrote letters to his pub friends in Haworth which give “a vivid picture of Branwell’s scabrous humour, his boastfulness, and his need to be accepted in a man’s world”. In his own words he started the job off with a riotous drinking session in Kendal.

During this employment he continued his literary work, including sending poems and translations to Thomas De Quincey and Hartley Coleridge who both lived in the Lake District. At Coleridge’s invitation, he visited him at his cottage and encouraged him to pursue his translations of Horace’s Odes. In June 1840 he sent the translations to Coleridge, despite having been sacked by the Postlethwaites. According to Juliet Barker’s biography of the Brontës, he may have fathered an illegitimate child during time in the town, but others suspect that it may be more of his boasting.

Branwell portrait of Anne or Emily

Coleridge began an encouraging letter about the quality of the translations in November–December 1840 but never finished it. In October 1840, Branwell moved near to Halifax, where he had many good friends including the sculptor Joseph Bentley Leyland and Francis Grundy. He obtained employment with the Manchester and Leeds Railway, initially as ‘assistant clerk in charge’ at Sowerby Bridge railway station. Later, on 1 April 1841, he was promoted to ‘clerk in charge’ at Luddendenfoot railway station in West Yorkshire. In 1842 he was dismissed due to a deficit in the accounts of £11–1s–7d. This had probably been stolen by Watson, the porter, who was left in charge when Branwell went drinking, but was attributed to incompetence rather than theft and the missing sum was deducted from his salary. A description by Francis Leyland of Branwell at this time described him as “rather below middle height, but of a refined and gentleman-like appearance, and of graceful manners. His complexion was fair and his features handsome; his mouth and chin were well-shaped; his nose was prominent and of the Roman type; his eyes sparkled and danced with delight, and his forehead made up of a face of oval form which gave an irresistible charm to its possessor, and attracted the admiration of those who knew him.” Another described him less flatteringly as “almost insignificantly small” and with “a mass of red hair which he wore brushed off his forehead – to help his height I fancy… small ferrety eyes, deep sunk and still further hidden by the never removed spectacles.”

In January 1843, after nine months at Haworth, Branwell took up another tutoring position in Thorp Green, where he was to tutor the Reverend Edmund Robinson’s young son. His sister Anne had been the governess there since May 1840. As usual, at first things went well, with Charlotte reporting in January 1843 that her siblings were “both wonderously valued in their situations.” During his 30 months service Branwell corresponded with several old friends about his increasing infatuation with Robinson’s wife Lydia. He wrote, perhaps unreliably, to one of his friends that “my mistress is DAMNABLY TOO FOND OF ME” and sent him a “lock of her hair, wch has lain at night on his breast – wd to God it could do so legally !” In July 1845, he was dismissed from his position. According to Gaskell, he received a letter “sternly dismissing him, intimating that his proceedings were discovered, characterizing them as bad beyond expression and charging him, on pain of exposure, to break off immediately, and for ever, all communication with every member of the family.” For several months after his dismissal, he regularly received small amounts of money from Thorp Green, sent by Lydia Robinson herself, probably to dissuade him from blackmailing her husband (or herself).

Branwell returned home to his family at the Haworth parsonage, where he looked for another job, wrote poetry and attempted to adapt Angrian material into a book called And the Weary are at Rest. During the 1840s, several of his poems were published in local newspapers under the name of Northangerland, making him the first of the Brontës to be a published poet. Soon however, after Rev. Robinson’s death, Lydia Robinson made clear that she was not going to marry Branwell, who then “declined into chronic alcoholism, opiates and debt”. Charlotte’s letters from this time demonstrate that she was angered by his behavior. In January 1847, he wrote to his friend Leyland about the easy existence he hoped for: “to try and make myself a name in the world of posterity, without being pestered by the small but countless botherments.” His behavior became increasingly impossible and embarrassing to the family. He managed to set fire to his bed, after which his father had to sleep with him for the safety of the family. Towards the end of his life he was sending notes to a friend asking of “Five pence worth of Gin”. It is not known whether he was even informed of the 1847 debut novels of his three sisters.

Branwell’s caricature of his own death.

On 24 September 1848, Branwell Brontë died at Haworth parsonage, most likely due to tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and laudanum and opium addiction, despite the fact that his death certificate notes “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” as the cause. Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte reports an eye-witness account that Brontë, wanting to show the power of the human will, decided to die standing up, “and when the last agony began, he insisted on assuming the position just mentioned.” On 28 September 1848, he was interred in the family vault.

Some of Branwell’s art is reproduced in this post, and if you care to you can examine his poetry here https://allpoetry.com/Patrick-Branwell-Bronte   I am not going to excerpt any of it here because it is mediocre – at best.  That may well sum up his life.  His sisters showed much more imagination, creativity, and sheer effort in their literary productions.  I do not believe that Branwell had less potential, but he certainly lacked dedication and application.  A cautionary tale.

I have mentioned some of the dining habits of the Brontë household at Haworth here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/emily-bronte/ which includes a recipe for a pie that Emily enjoyed making.  On 24th November 1834, Emily writes, “we are going to have for Dinner Boiled Beef Turnips, potato’s and applepudding the kitchin is in a very untidy state.” Boiled beef with turnips and potatoes would seem to me to be a hearty but basic recipe which you could make in celebration.  Or you might try this richer version from Mrs Beeton. The “ketchup” she is referring to is mushroom ketchup, not the tomato version that is common these days.  You can find it in some supermarkets, or order it online.

STEWED BEEF or RUMP STEAK (an Entree).

INGREDIENTS.—About 2 lbs. of beef or rump steak, 3 onions, 2 turnips, 3 carrots, 2 or 3 oz. of butter, 1/2 pint of water, 1 teaspoonful of salt, 1/2 do. of pepper, 1 tablespoonful of ketchup, 1 tablespoonful of flour.

Mode.—Have the steaks cut tolerably thick and rather lean; divide them into convenient-sized pieces, and fry them in the butter a nice brown on both sides. Cleanse and pare the vegetables, cut the onions and carrots into thin slices, and the turnips into dice, and fry these in the same fat that the steaks were done in. Put all into a saucepan, add 1/2 pint of water, or rather more should it be necessary, and simmer very gently for 2-1/2 or 3 hours; when nearly done, skim well, add salt, pepper, and ketchup in the above proportions, and thicken with a tablespoonful of flour mixed with 2 of cold water. Let it boil up for a minute or two after the thickening is added, and serve. When a vegetable-scoop is at hand, use it to cut the vegetables in fanciful shapes, and tomato, Harvey’s sauce, or walnut-liquor may be used to flavour the gravy. It is less rich if stewed the previous day, so that the fat may be taken off when cold; when wanted for table, it will merely require warming through.

 Time.—3 hours. Average cost, 1s. per lb.

 Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

 Seasonable at any time.

 

Jun 122020
 

Today is a curious coincidence day called Loving Day in the US and Dia dos Namorados (Lovers’ Day) in Brazil.  The coincidence is an odd one because the “Loving” in Loving Day refers not to the act of loving, but to a married couple called Mildred and Richard Loving who were convicted and sentenced to prison for violating Virginia’s miscegenation laws.  On this date in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), which struck down laws banning interracial marriage as violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S. and is remembered annually on Loving Day. It has been the subject of several songs and three movies, including the 2016 film Loving. Beginning in 2013, it was cited as precedent in U.S. federal court decisions holding restrictions on same-sex marriage in the United States unconstitutional, including in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.

The case involved Mildred Loving, who was defined by Virginia state law as a woman of color, and her white husband Richard Loving. In 1958 they were sentenced to a year in prison for marrying each other. Their marriage violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which criminalized marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored”. The Lovings appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which upheld it. They then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear their case.

On June 12, 1967, the Court issued a unanimous decision in the Lovings’ favor and overturned their convictions. The Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. Virginia had argued that its law was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the punishment was the same regardless of the offender’s race, and thus it “equally burdened” both whites and non-whites. The Court found that the law nonetheless violated the Equal Protection Clause because it was based solely on “distinctions drawn according to race” and outlawed conduct namely, getting married that was otherwise generally accepted and which citizens were free to do.

Dia dos Namorados (Lovers’ Day) is celebrated on June 12 in Brazil, due to the date’s proximity to Saint Anthony’s Day on June 13. The date is celebrated in a manner similar to the way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 in many other parts of the world, with gifts, romantic activities, decorations and festivities. The term “Dia dos Namorados” is also used in other Portuguese-speaking countries to refer to the Valentine’s Day.

Anthony of Padua, died on June 13, 1231, in Padua in Italy and, therefore, that date is the day on which he is especially venerated. In addition to having been canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, Anthony of Padua is recognized as a general in the Brazilian Army. In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12, that is, Saint Anthony’s Eve. Saint Anthony is recognized for blessing young couples with happy and prosperous marriages. Celebrations for Dia dos Namorados in Brazil and those for Valentine’s Day in most other countries are similar. Typically, couples exchange romantic gifts, such as chocolates or flowers, and they may also share a date night. Additionally, beautifying home decorations are common as a part of the celebration. The day is festive, with colorful street decorations, parades and carnivals. Single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. In addition to prayer on the Eve, one might conceal a love letter in a pot of basil to pass to a prospective suitor.

Chocolate is, of course, called for on Lover’s Day, and the great Brazilian treat is the brigadeiro.  It is a ball of special chocolate ganache rolled in something delectable, and is a staple sweet throughout Brazil.  There are numerous videos on YouTube, so take your pick.

 Posted by at 7:21 am
May 282020
 

The eclipse of Thales was a solar eclipse that was, according to Histories of Herodotus, accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus. If Herodotus’ account is accurate, this eclipse is the earliest recorded as being known in advance of its occurrence. Many historians believe that the predicted eclipse was the solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BCE. How exactly Thales predicted the eclipse remains uncertain; some scholars assert the eclipse was never predicted at all. Others have argued for different dates, but only the eclipse of 28 May 585 BCE matches the conditions of visibility necessary to explain the historical event. I have mentioned this eclipse before http://www.bookofdaystales.com/solar-eclipses/ but in that post I was more interested in eclipses in general as ways of dating ancient events.

Herodotus’ Histories 1.73-74 states that a war started in the period between the Medes and the Lydians. There were two reasons for the war: the two sides had clashing interests in Anatolia, but also there was a motive of vengeance: some Scythian hunters employed by the Medes who once returned empty-handed were insulted by king Cyaxares. In revenge the hunters slaughtered one of his sons and served him to the Medes. The hunters then fled to Sardis, the capital of the Lydians. When Cyaxares asked for the Scythians to be returned to him, Alyattes refused to hand them over; in response, the Medes invaded.

Afterwards, on the refusal of Alyattes to give up his suppliants when Cyaxares sent to demand them of him, war broke out between the Lydians and the Medes, and continued for five years, with various success. In the course of it the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes. Among their other battles there was one night engagement. As, however, the balance had not inclined in favor of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on. [Histories 1:74]

As part of the terms of the peace agreement, Alyattes’ daughter Aryenis was married to Cyaxares’ son Astyages, and the Halys River (now known as the Kızılırmak River) was declared to be the border of the two warring nations.

An alternate hypothesis regarding the date of the battle argues that Herodotus was carelessly recounting events that he did not personally witness, and that the solar eclipse story is a misinterpretation of his text. According to this view, what happened could have been a lunar eclipse right before moonrise, at dusk. If the warriors had planned their battle activities expecting a full moon as in the previous few days, it would have been quite a shock to have dusk fall suddenly as an occluded moon rose. If this hypothesis is correct, the battle’s date would be not 585 BCE (date given by Pliny based on the date of solar eclipse), but possibly 3 September 609 BCE or 4 July 587 BCE, dates when such dusk-time lunar eclipses did occur. Generally speaking, I find this argument unconvincing. It is hard to confuse lunar and solar eclipses, and their effects on armies would have been radically different.

While doubt has been cast on the truth of the story, there are other accounts of it besides that of Herodotus. Diogenes Laërtius says that Xenophanes, who lived in the same century as Thales, was impressed with the prediction, and he also gives additional testimonies from the pre-Socratics, Democritus and Heraclitus. At the time of Thales’ purported prediction it was not yet known that eclipses were caused by the Moon coming between the Earth and the Sun, a fact that would not be discovered until over a century later by either Anaxagoras or Empedocles.

If the account is true, it has been suggested that Thales would have had to calculate the timing of any eclipse by recognizing patterns in the periodicities of eclipses. It has been postulated that Thales may have used the Saros cycle in his determination, or that he may have had some knowledge of Babylonian astronomy. However, Babylonians were far from being able to predict the local conditions of solar eclipses at that point, which makes this hypothesis highly unlikely. In fact, there is no known cycle that can be reliably used to predict an eclipse for a given location and, therefore, any accurate prediction would have been pure luck.

The eclipse peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9°N 46.2°W and the umbral path reached south-western Anatolia in the evening hours, and the Halys River is just within the error margin for delta-T provided.

On the whole, I do not think that emulating the Scythians’ dish of serving up the king’s son on a platter would be a suitable way to celebrate the day, but there are alternatives.  One is mare’s milk cheese.  The Scythians were noted for this cheese by Herodotus:

Now the Scythians blind all their slaves, because of the milk they drink; and this is how they get it: taking tubes of bone very much like flutes, they insert these into the genitalia of the mares and blow into them, some blowing while others milk. According to them, their reason for doing this is that blowing makes the mare’s veins swell and her udder drop. When done milking, they pour the milk into deep wooden buckets, and make their slaves stand around the buckets and shake the milk; they draw off what stands on the surface and value this most; what lies at the bottom is less valued. This is why the Scythians blind all prisoners whom they take: for they do not cultivate the soil, but are nomads.

Herodotus Histories 4:2

The author of the Hippocratic treatise On Generation, On the Nature of the Child and Diseases IV (which dates to the end of the 5th century BCE or the beginning of the 4th) compares the physiological process whereby a bad humor is heated and agitated in the human body to the making of mare’s cheese by the Scythians:

If the man is not purged, as the humor is stirred, there is produced an amount that is excessive. This is similar to what the Scythians make with mare’s milk. For they pour the milk into wooden bowls and shake it. As it is stirred, it foams up and separates. The fatty part, which they call butter, as it is light rises to the surface; the heavy and thick portion sinks to the bottom; they separate it and dry it. When it has become firm and dry, they call it ‘hippakē’. The whey of the milk is in the middle. Similarly in the case of man: when all the humour in his body is stirred, all the humours are separated by the principles I have mentioned: the bile rises to the top, as it is lightest; then comes the blood; third the phlegm; and the water, as it is the heaviest of the humours. (Diseases 4.51, 7.584 Littré)

Mare’s milk is fairly commonly available in central Asia (even in supermarkets) and I was offered it several times when I was in Kyrgyzstan 2 years ago.  Kyrgyz nomads are also known for making cheese from mare’s milk although the process is a bit tricky because the milk will not coagulate using cow rennet.  You can use camel rennet and maybe yak rennet also.  But there are other processes that can be employed as well, as in the above quote.  I doubt you will find mare’s milk cheese outside of central Asia, but give it a try.  It is a little reminiscent of goat’s milk cheese.  If not, maybe you can find mare’s milk.  It is normally called kumis (Russian term).

May 232020
 

Today is the birthday of Sir Charles Barry FRS RA (1795 – 1860) who is not exactly a household name these days, but it ought to be if for no other reason than that he designed many landmarks in London that are now iconic (including the tower that houses Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament).  As such we can say that he rivals Christopher Wren in his legacy. He was also notable for designing numerous other buildings and gardens around England. He is applauded by cognoscenti for his major contribution to the use of Italianate architecture in Britain, especially the use of the Palazzo as the basis for the design of country houses, city mansions and public buildings. He also developed the Italian Renaissance garden style for the many gardens he designed around country houses.

Barry’s first commissions were churches in neo-Gothic style:

 

After that he was commissioned to design public buildings in urban settings:

Eventually he was involved in numerous projects in London – more than the Houses of Parliament.  He redesigned Trafalgar Square, for example, so that how it appears today is mostly attributable to Barry.

Barry was also celebrated for his designs of country houses including Cliveden which was very close to where I went to school as a teenager, and where I occasionally took walks.

Mrs Beeton is called for when it comes to a suitable recipe, and I spotted this quote as I was thumbing through (incidental homage to Trafalgar and the Houses of Parliament):

The ministers of the Crown have had a custom, for many years, of having a “whitebait dinner” just before the close of the session. It is invariably the precursor of the prorogation of Parliament, and the repast is provided by the proprietor of the “Trafalgar”

So . . . fried whitebait it is.  Mrs Beeton continues:

WHITEBAIT.—This highly-esteemed little fish appears in innumerable multitudes in the river Thames, near Greenwich and Blackwall, during the month of July, when it forms, served with lemon and brown bread and butter, a tempting dish to vast numbers of Londoners, who flock to the various taverns of these places, in order to gratify their appetites. The fish has been supposed be the fry of the shad, the sprat, the smelt, or the bleak. Mr. Yarrell, however, maintains that it is a species in itself, distinct from every other fish. When fried with flour, it is esteemed a great delicacy.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—A little flour, hot lard, seasoning of salt.

Mode.—This fish should be put into iced water as soon as bought, unless they are cooked immediately. Drain them from the water in a colander, and have ready a nice clean dry cloth, over which put 2 good handfuls of flour. Toss in the whitebait, shake them lightly in the cloth, and put them in a wicker sieve to take away the superfluous flour. Throw them into a pan of boiling lard, very few at a time, and let them fry till of a whitey-brown colour. Directly they are done, they must he taken out, and laid before the fire for a minute or two on a sieve reversed, covered with blotting-paper to absorb the fat. Dish them on a hot napkin, arrange the fish very high in the centre, and sprinkle a little salt over the whole.

May 212020
 

Today is the birthday of Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744), considered one of the greatest English poets, and the foremost poet of the early eighteenth century. He is best known for his satirical and discursive poetry, including The Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, and An Essay on Criticism, as well as for his translation of Homer. After Shakespeare, Pope is the second-most quoted writer in the English language, as per The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations some of his verses having even become popular idioms in common parlance.

Pope’s poetic career testifies to his persistence in the face of disadvantages, of health and of circumstance. He and his family were Catholics and thus fell subject to the Test Acts, prohibitive measures which severely hampered the prosperity of Catholics after the abdication of James II. Catholics were banned from living within ten miles of London, and from attending public schools or universities. For this reason, except for a few spurious Catholic schools, Pope was largely self-educated. He was taught to read by his aunt and became a lover of books. He learned French, Italian, Latin, and Greek by himself, and discovered Homer at the age of six. As a child Pope survived being once trampled by a cow, but when he was 12 began struggling with tuberculosis of the spine (Pott disease), along with fits of crippling headaches which troubled him throughout his life.

In the year 1709, Pope showcased his precocious metrical skill with the publication of Pastorals, his first major poems. They earned him instant fame. By the time he was 23 he had written An Essay on Criticism, released in 1711. A kind of poetic manifesto in the vein of Horace’s Ars Poetica, the essay was met with enthusiastic attention and won Pope a wider circle of prominent friends, most notably Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, who had recently started collaborating on the influential The Spectator. The critic John Dennis, having located an ironic and veiled portrait of himself, was outraged by what he considered the impudence of the younger author. Dennis hated Pope for the rest of his life, and, save for a temporary reconciliation, dedicated his efforts to insulting him in print, to which Pope retaliated in kind, making Dennis the butt of much satire.

The Rape of the Lock, perhaps the poet’s most famous poem, appeared first in 1712, followed by a revised and enlarged version in 1714. When Lord Petre forcibly snipped off a lock from Miss Arabella Fermor’s head (the “Belinda” of the poem), the incident gave rise to a high-society quarrel between the families. With the idea of allaying this, Pope treated the subject in a playful and witty mock-heroic epic. The narrative poem brings into focus the onset of acquisitive individualism and conspicuous consumption, where purchased goods assume dominance over moral agency.

A folio comprising a collection of his poems appeared in 1717, together with two new ones written about the passion of love. These were Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady and the famous proto-romantic poem Eloisa to Abelard. Though Pope never married, about this time he became strongly attached to Lady M. Montagu, whom he indirectly referenced in the popular poem Eloisa to Abelard, and to Martha Blount, with whom his friendship continued throughout his life.

In his career as a satirist, Pope made his share of enemies as the critics, politicians, and certain other prominent figures felt the sting of his sharp-witted satires. Some were so virulent, that Pope even carried pistols at one point while walking his dog. After 1738, Pope composed relatively little. He toyed with the idea of writing a patriotic epic called Brutus. He mainly revised and expanded his masterpiece The Dunciad. Book Four appeared in 1742, and a complete revision of the whole poem in the following year. In this version, he replaced Lewis Theobald with the Poet Laureate Colley Cibber, as “king of dunces”. However, his real target in the poem is the Whig politician Robert Walpole. By now Pope’s health was failing, and when told by his physician, on the morning of his death, that he was better, Pope replied: “Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms”.

Here are some memorable lines:

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

If you want to know what God thinks about money just look at the people He gives it to.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast

Man never thinks himself happy, but when he enjoys those things which others want or desire.

The more you read Pope, the more you realize how profoundly he influenced common rhetoric.

For my recipe today I have chosen Orange Fool from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) by Hannah Glasse. I chose it because I like the recipe but also because a YouTube video of the recipe (below) caused great indignation from Trump supporters because they were convinced it was making fun of Trump.  Pope would be laughing his heart out at that idiocy.

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool.
But you yourself may prove to show it,
Every fool is not a poet.

A fool is a fruit dessert popular since the 16th century.  The word “fool” in this case may be a cognate of the Arabic “ful” which is made of mashed beans (an old fav of mine).  The original is as follows:

Take the Juice of six Oranges and Six Eggs well beaten, a Pint of Cream, a quarter of a Pound of Sugar, a little Cinnamon and Nutmeg; mix all together, and keep stirring over a slow Fire, till it is thick, then put in a little Piece of Butter, and keep stirring till cold, and dish it up.

Not hard to replicate.  You would be best served using a double boiler to avoid turning the mixture to scrambled eggs.  Or . . . you can follow this video:

May 202020
 

On this date in 325 the First Council of Nicaea (Νίκαια), the first of many ecumenical (lit. “the whole world”) councils of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) The council was called by Constantine I, the first nominally Christian Roman emperor, to establish doctrinal unity in the empire. Its main accomplishments were (temporary) settlement of the Christological issue of the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first version of the Nicene Creed, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.

This is the kind of theological history I have been teaching for years, and was part of my recent foray into early church history at a theological college in Phnom Penh.  Therefore, I could go on and on and on about the Council.  But I will spare you.  The Byzantine recipe for a fluffy omelet is much more interesting.  The thing is that I hate doctrine with a passion.  I was bored with it when I studied theology at Oxford in the 1970s and I am still bored with it.  It is meaningless – except to sticklers who insist on making logical sense out of pronouncements in the Greek Bible that are contradictory and simply cannot be reconciled logically.  The Christological problem is a great example.

Because John’s gospel starts by saying that Jesus of Galilee was the eternal creative word of God (the Logos) made flesh, subsequent scholars tried to make sense out of who this Jesus really was.  Mark’s gospel is a lot simpler.  He casts Jesus as the Jewish messiah, a “king” come to save the people of Judah from oppression.  The fact that he was a spiritual rather than earthly king took a little explaining, but he did not make the claim that Jesus was God – simply using the cryptic Son of Man (from the book of Daniel) as his title.  John’s claim is much more all-encompassing, and very difficult to integrate with the facts on the ground.  How can Jesus be the eternal God and a man at the same time?  This is the Christological Problem.

At the time there were two conflicting viewpoints: (1) Jesus was fully God and fully human, and was co-eternal from all time with God the Father, and (2) Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, but was created by God the Father.  The latter opinion was promulgated by Arius (Ἄρειος) a Libyan presbyter and ascetic, and priest in Baucalis in Alexandria in Egypt. His point of view – known as Arianism – was widespread in the 3rd and 4th centuries.  The Council of Nicaea spent the bulk of its time debating positions #1 and #2.  Arius was present and defended his position vigorously. At one point (so it is said), St Nicholas of Myra (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-nicholas-of-myra/ ) – yup, Santa Claus – got so enraged with Arius’s rhetoric that he got up and slapped him in the face.

The Nicene Creed that developed during the deliberations of the Council accepted position #1 and rejected Arianism.  So if you are Christian and sing carols at Christmas you will recall from O Come All Ye Faithful, the line “begotten not created” (if you pay any attention to words).  That is, Jesus (the Word), was not created: he is co-eternal with the Father.  If this kind of theology floats your boat I pity you.  I did have to assent to it at my ordination, but I do not find it significant in my Christian life.

The Council also fixed on a date for Easter to be observed through all Christendom – and, most especially, wanted to distinguish it from Passover, even though the two are indelibly related.  This they (sort of) achieved, setting up calendric problems that lasted for over 15 centuries – requiring eventually a move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

Nicaea, and later İznik, was, and is, famous for a kind of fluffy omelet called sphongia. Here is a recipe in Byzantine Latin:

ova quattuor, lactis heminam, olei unciam in se dissolvis, ita ut unum corpus facias. in patellam subtilem adicies olei modicum, facies ut bulliat, et adicies impensam quam parasti. una parte cum fuerit coctum, in disco vertes, melle perfundis, piper adspargis et inferes.

 The Latin is a little obscure but my (very) rough translation is as follows:

Four eggs, one cup (half a pint) of milk and an ounce of oil well beaten, to make a mixture. In a pan put a little oil, heat, and add the egg mixture. When it is cooked on one side, place on a dish, pour over honey, add pepper, and serve.

The addition of honey and pepper makes for an interesting dish.  Here is a modern interpretation:

 

Feb 232020
 

Today is the birthday (1633) of Samuel Pepys PRS, an administrator of the navy of England, Member of Parliament, and president of the Royal Society, who is most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Pepys had no maritime experience, but he rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both Charles II and James II through patronage, hard work, and his talent for administration. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the development of a professional and efficient Royal Navy. The detailed private diary that Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century and is one of the most important primary sources for the Restoration period. It provides personal insights and revelations as well as eyewitness accounts of famous events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.

The diary is of rare importance because, in the days before photography, video, internet, social media, and so forth, it opens a window for us on to the way a citizen viewed life in London in the 17th century. He was, admittedly, a well-connected citizen, and was also, in many respects, an unusual man. It is a grave mistake to generalize from Pepys to all bourgeois Englishmen of the period, as it is with all diaries in all periods (a mistake that social historians are prone to repeatedly). It is also a grave mistake to believe that now that we have so many forms of documentation at our disposal, we no longer need to record events and feelings in personal diaries. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Pepys’s diary is a reasonably accurate record of his inner monologue, and there is no substitute for such. I will give you some brief biographical information and then spend the bulk of the post in quotes from the diary.

Pepys was born in Salisbury Court off Fleet Street in London. To a prosperous upper-middle class family. He was the fifth of eleven children, but because child mortality was high, he was soon the oldest survivor. He was baptized at St Bride’s Church on 3rd March 1633. He attended Huntingdon Grammar School before being educated at St Paul’s School in London, c. 1646-1650. In 1650, he went to the University of Cambridge, having received two exhibitions from St Paul’s School and a grant from the Mercers’ Company. In October, he was admitted as a sizar to Magdalene College; he moved there in March 1651 and took his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1654. Later in 1654 or early in 1655, he entered the household of one of his father’s cousins, Sir Edward Montagu, who was later created the 1st Earl of Sandwich. Pepys married fourteen-year-old Elisabeth de St Michel, a descendant of French Huguenot immigrants, first in a religious ceremony on 10th October 1655 and later in a civil ceremony on 1st December 1655 at St Margaret’s, Westminster.

On January 1st 1659/1660, Pepys began his diary. January 1st was not officially New Year’s Day in the 17th century; March 25th was. But many people, including Pepys, considered January 1st to be the beginning of a new year and Pepys decided to put pen to paper to mark a new beginning in his life and in the year. He notes in his entry that January 1st is the Feast of the Circumcision (the 8th day after the birth of Jesus when circumcision was prescribed for newborns). Otherwise, it was a pretty average Sunday:

Jan. 1st (Lord’s day). This morning (we living lately in the garret,) I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other, clothes but them. Went to Mr. Gunning’s chapel at Exeter House, where he made a very good sermon upon these words:–“That in the fulness of time God sent his Son, made of a woman,” &c.; showing, that, by “made under the law,” is meant his circumcision, which is solemnized this day. Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey, and in the doing of it she burned her hand. I staid at home all the afternoon, looking over my accounts; then went with my wife to my father’s, and in going observed the greatposts which the City have set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street. Supt at my father’s, where in came Mrs. The. Turner and Madam Morrice, and supt with us. After that my wife and I went home with them, and so to our own home.

Pepys wrote the diary using a version of shorthand that would make it unreadable to the casual eye, and he had no intention of making it public during his lifetime. He did, however, take care to have it bound and preserved for posterity. It was not published until the early 19th century, and even then it was heavily expurgated because of crude language and frequent references to sex. It is now available online in its entirety — http://www.limpidsoft.com/ipad8/samuelpepys.pdf   Here are some quotes I find appealing:

But Lord! To see the absurd nature of Englishmen that cannot forbear laughing and jeering at everything that looks strange.

Mighty proud I am that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends.

But it is pretty to see what money will do.

Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better, and do mind my business better, and do spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.

And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague.

I do still see that my nature is not to be quite conquered, but will esteem pleasure above all things, though yet in the middle of it, it has reluctances after my business, which is neglected by my following my pleasure. However musique and women I cannot but give way to, whatever my business is.

Unlike God the artist does not start with nothing and make something of it. He starts with himself as nothing and makes something of the nothing with the things at hand. 

The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and, out of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.

I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.

Fight the good fight; and always call to mind that it is not you who are mortal, but this body of ours. For your true being is not discerned by perceiving your physical appearance. But ‘what a man’s mind is, that is what he is’ not that individual human shape that we identify through our senses.

Pepys frequently notes what he ate at meals, and it is quite evident that venison was his favorite meat, and that venison pies or pasties appealed to him greatly. He does, however, quite often note that the venison at a dinner was not up to his standards. In this case the dinner was all right, but the venison pasty was, in fact, beef:

I went home and took my wife and went to my Cosen Tho. Pepys’s and found them just sat down to dinner, which was very good; only the venison pasty was palpable beef, which was not handsome.

Venison pies and pasties are frequently mentioned in 17th century dinner menus and they were obviously popular. They were large enough to serve a whole table and were often elaborately decorated. If they were to be given as gifts, the pastry was construction grade and might not even be particularly edible. Served for a normal dinner, the pastry was more likely to be a standard mix of flour, butter, and eggs. It was common to cook the venison for many hours, and to pound it into a paste with wine and spices before filling the pie. Here is a recipe for a stew of venison from The English and French Cook of 1674. With a little imagination you could convert the stew to a pie filling and, using either slack paste or shortcrust pastry, make a finished pie. I’ll leave that part to you.

Potage of Venison.

Take a Haunch of Venison, and cut it into six pieces, and place them in the bottom of a Pan or Pot, then put in no more Water than will cover it, let it boil, then scum it, after that add to it a good quantity of whole Pepper; when it is half boiled, put in four whole Onions, Cloves, and large Mace, some sliced Ginger, Nutmeg, three or four faggots of sweet Herbs, let it boil till the Venison be very tender, and a good part of the broth be wasted; after this pour out the broth from the meat into a Pipkin, keep your Venison hot in the same Pot by adding other hot broth unto it; then take a couple of red-Beet roots, having very well parboil’d them before, cut them into square pieces as big as a shilling, and put them into the broth which is in your Pipkin, and let them boil till they are very tender, add unto the boiling four Anchovies minced, then dish up your Venison on Sippets of French-bread, then pour on your broth, so much as will near-upon fill the Dish, then take your roots by themselves, and toss them in a little drawn Butter, and lay them all over the Venison; if the Beets be good, it will make the broth red enough, which you must have visible round about the Dish sides, but if it prove pale, put to it some Saunders: This is a very savory Potage.

 

Dec 162019
 

The Bill of Rights 1689 is a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England that sets out certain basic civil rights and clarifies who would be next to inherit the Crown. It received the Royal Assent on this date in 1689 and is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in February 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense within the rule of law. It also includes no right of taxation without Parliament’s agreement. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.

These ideas reflected the political views of John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. The Bill also sets out – or, in the view of its drafters, restates – certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the models for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789 (including the notorious 2nd Amendment), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Here is a recipe for rich meat broth from A True Gentlewomans Delight of 1653 that is not only contemporary with the English Bill of Rights, but also puts me in mind of classic Christmas recipes, such as mincemeat.  Although it is a recipe for meat broth to be served as a savory dish, it contains currants, raisins, and prunes and spiced with mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also has a great deal of sugar.  The recipe calls for Saunders which is red sandalwood (giving a yellowish-red tint).  If you do replicate this dish, you might want to reduce the quantities.

DESCRIPTION: How to make a rich broth of lamb or beef

To make stewed Broth.

Take a neck of Mutton, or a rump of Beef, let it boyle, and scum your pot clean, thicken your pot with grated bread, and put in some beaten Spice, as Mace, nutmegs, Cinnamon, and a little Pepper, put in a pound of Currans, a pound and a half of Raisins of the Sun, two pounds of Prunes last of all, then when it is stewed, to season put in a quart of Claret, and a pint of Sack, and some Saunders to colour it, and a pound of Sugar to sweeten it, or more if need be, you must seeth some whole Spice to garnish your dish with all, and a few whole Prunes out of your pot.

Dec 132019
 

Today is the birthday of Phillips Brooks (1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, who, when he was rector of Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia wrote the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He was inspired by visiting the village of Bethlehem in Israel in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church, and his organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) added the music.

Redner’s tune, “St. Louis”, is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States. Redner recounted the story of its composition:

As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday-school service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday. Mr. Brooks came to me on Friday, and said, ‘Redner, have you ground out that music yet to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? I replied, ‘No,’ but that he should have it by Sunday. On the Saturday night previous my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday-school lesson than I did about the music. But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony. Neither Mr. Brooks nor I ever thought the carol or the music to it would live beyond that Christmas of 1868.

 My recollection is that Richard McCauley, who then had a bookstore on Chestnut Street west of Thirteenth Street, printed it on leaflets for sale. Rev. Dr. Huntington, rector of All Saints’ Church, Worcester, Mass., asked permission to print it in his Sunday-school hymn and tune book, called The Church Porch, and it was he who christened the music ‘Saint Louis.’

Growing up in England, I knew a completely different tune, which I – mistakenly – thought was the original (because I thought it was an English carol). I am well used to favorite carols having different tunes in England and the US.  I actually prefer the English tune which was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and based on an English folk ballad called “The Ploughboy’s Dream” which he had collected from a Mr. Garman of Forest Green, Surrey in 1903. Henry Garman was born in 1830 in Sussex, and in the 1901 census was living in Ockley, Surrey. Vaughan Williams’ manuscript notes he was a “labourer of Forest Green near Ockley – Surrey. (Aged about 60?)”, although Mr Garman would have been nearer 73 when he sang the tune. It is called “Forest Green” now.

When I was a pastor, I frequently sang this as a duet with my late wife at Christmas (with me singing the bass line).

There are also two tunes by H. Walford Davies, called “Wengen”, and “Christmas carol.” “Wengen” was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1922, meanwhile “Christmas Carol” is usually performed only by choirs rather than as a congregational hymn. This is because the first two verses are for treble voices with organ accompaniment, with only the final verse as a chorale/refrain harmony. This setting includes a recitative from the Gospel of Luke at the beginning, and cuts verses 2 and 4 of the original 5-verse carol. This version is often performed at the service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Kings College, Cambridge.

Here is a Christmas recipe from my own YouTube channel, Juan’s Whirled (so you can hear my voice if this blog is the only way you know me).  It’s my take on mincemeat pie with actual meat in it – as might be prepared centuries ago.  Please subscribe to the channel if you are new to it.