Feb 232019
 

The Siege of the Alamo began on this date in 1836 and ended on March 6th in the Battle of the Alamo. In 1835, as the Mexican government began to shift away from a federalist model, violence erupted in several Mexican states, including the border region Mexican Texas. By the end of the year, Texian forces had expelled all Mexican soldiers from the area. In Mexico City, president Antonio López de Santa Anna had begun gathering an army to retake Texas.

When Mexican troops departed San Antonio de Béxar (now San Antonio, Texas), Texian soldiers established a garrison at the Alamo Mission, a former Spanish religious outpost which had been converted to a makeshift fort. Described by Santa Anna as an “irregular fortification hardly worthy of the name”, the Alamo had been designed to withstand an attack by local Indians, not an artillery-equipped army. The complex sprawled across 3 acres, providing almost 1,320 feet of perimeter to defend (the size of a modern 400 meter race track). An interior plaza was bordered on the east by the chapel and to the south by a one-storey building known as the Low Barracks. A wooden palisade stretched between these two buildings. The two-storey Long Barracks extended north from the chapel. At the northern corner of the east wall stood a cattle pen and horse corral. The walls surrounding the complex were at least 2’9” thick and ranged from 9–12 ft high.

On February 11th, the commander of the Alamo, colonel James C. Neill, left the Alamo to recruit additional reinforcements and gather supplies. In his absence, the garrison was jointly commanded by newcomers William B. Travis—a regular army officer— and James Bowie, who had commanded a volunteer company. As the Texians struggled to find men and supplies, Santa Anna’s army began marching north. On February 12th they crossed the Rio Grande. On February 16th and February 18th local resident Ambrosio Rodriguez warned his good friend William Barret Travis that their relatives further south claimed that Santa Anna was on the march towards Béxar. Two days later Juan Seguin’s scout Blas María Herrera reported that the vanguard of the Mexican army had crossed the Rio Grande. There had been many rumors of Santa Anna’s imminent arrival, but Travis ignored them. For several hours that night a council of war held at the Alamo argued over whether to believe the rumors. Travis was convinced that the Mexican army would not arrive in Béxar until at least mid-March. He, and others in the Texian army thought Santa Anna would not march until spring, when the grass had begun to grow again. They overlooked the fact that mesquite grass sprouted earlier than normal grass. Travis had also assumed that Santa Anna would not have begun gathering troops for an invasion of Texas until after he had learned of the expulsion of the Mexican forces from San Antonio. The Texians did not realize that Santa Anna had begun preparations for an invasion months before.

Despite the Texian disbelief, by the evening of February 20th many of the residents of Béxar began to pack their belongings in preparation for leaving. The next day, fifteen of the Tejano volunteers at the Alamo resigned. Juan Seguin, Tejano captain, had asked Travis to release the men so that they could help evacuate their families, who were in the path Santa Anna would take to reach Béxar. Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande on February 16th. The next night, his army camped on the Nueces River, 119 miles from Béxar. Texians had previously burned the bridge over the Nueces, forcing the Mexicans to build a makeshift structure of branches and dirt in the pouring rain. The delay was brief, and on February 19th the vanguard of the army camped along the Frio River, 68 miles from Béxar. The following day they reached Hondo, less than 50 miles away. By 1:45 pm on February 21st Santa Anna and his vanguard had reached the banks of the Medina River, 25 miles from Béxar. Waiting there were dragoons under Colonel Ramirez y Sesma, who had arrived the previous evening. With no idea that the Mexican army was so close, all but 10 members of the Alamo garrison joined about 2000 Béxar residents at a fiesta to celebrate George Washington’s birthday.  Centralists in Béxar soon alerted Santa Anna to the party, and he ordered General Ramirez y Sesma to lead a cavalry force to take the Alamo while the garrison celebrated elsewhere. The raid had to be called off when sudden rains made the Medina unfordable. The next night, Santa Anna and his army camped at Leon Creek, 8 miles west of what is now central San Antonio.

In the early hours of February 23, residents began fleeing Béxar, fearing the Mexican army’s imminent arrival. Although unconvinced by the reports, Travis stationed a soldier in the San Fernando church bell tower—the highest location in town—to watch for signs of an approaching force. Travis then sent captain Philip Dimitt and lieutenant Benjamin Noble to scout for the Mexican army’s location. At approximately 2:30 that afternoon the church bell began to ring; the soldier stationed in the tower claimed to have seen flashes in the distance. Dimitt and Noble had not returned, so Travis sent Dr. James Sutherland and John W. Smith on horseback to scout the area. Smith and Sutherland spotted members of the Mexican cavalry within 1.5 miles of the town and returned to Béxar at a run.

According to later reports from Santa Anna, the cavalry, under General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma, were supposed to execute a surprise attack on the morning of February 23rd. Historian Thomas Ricks Lindley concluded that Sesma’s troops had captured a Texian spy, Trinidad Coy, who lied about a Texian ambush further ahead, prompting Sesma to halt at 7 a.m. and wait for reinforcements. Historian Lon Tinkle speculated that the combination of the church bell ringing and the sight of the two Texian scouts led Sesma to believe that the Texians were planning an assault on the cavalry.

At this point there were approximately 156 effective Texian soldiers in the Alamo, with another 14 in the hospital. The men were completely unprepared for the arrival of the Mexican army, and had no food in the mission. The men quickly herded cattle in the Alamo and scrounged for food in nearby houses. They were able to gather enough beef and corn into the Alamo to last a month. The Alamo garrison also had a large supply of captured Mexican muskets, with over 19,000 paper cartridges, but only a limited supply of powder for the artillery. Several members of the garrison dismantled the blacksmith shop of Antonio Saez and moved much of the material into the Alamo. A few members of the garrison brought their families into the Alamo to keep them safe. Among these was Alamaron Dickinson, who fetched his wife Susanna and their daughter Angelina, and Bowie, who brought his deceased wife’s cousins, Gertrudis Navarro and Juana Navarro Alsbury and Alsbury’s young son into the fort. It is likely that Navarro and Alsbury also brought their family’s servants, Sam and Bettie.

While the bulk of the garrison prepared for the attack, a few Texians remained in Béxar and raised a flag in the middle of Military Plaza. According to historian J.R. Edmondson, “The flag was a variation of the Mexican tricolor with two stars, representing the separated states of Texas and Coahuila, gleaming from the white center bar.” Within an hour the first of the Mexican cavalry, commanded by colonel Jose Vicente Minon, entered Béxar. The Texians lowered their flag and brought it into the Alamo.

As the Mexican cavalry approached, Travis dispatched a man named John Johnson to ask Colonel James Fannin, 100 miles southeast, to send reinforcements immediately. Travis then sent Smith and Sutherland to bring a message to the alcade at Gonzales, 70 miles (110 km) away. The note to Gonzales read: “The enemy in large force is in sight. We want men and provisions. Send them to us. We have 150 men and are determined to defend the Alamo to the last.”

By late afternoon, Béxar was occupied by about 1500 Mexican troops, who quickly raised a blood-red flag signifying “No Quarter.” Soon after, a Mexican bugler sounded the request for parley. Travis ordered the Alamo’s 18-pounder cannon fired. The Mexican army responded with four balls from 7-in howitzers; the balls hit the interior of the Alamo but caused no damage or injuries. Santa Anna later reported that the initial Texian cannon fire killed two Mexican soldiers and wounded eight others. No other Mexican officer, however, reported fatalities from that day.

Bowie believed that Travis had acted hastily and sent Green B. Jameson to meet with Santa Anna. Jameson carried a letter addressed to “The Commander of the invading forces below Bejar” and signed “Commander of the volunteers of Bejar.” Angry that Bowie presented himself as Santa Anna’s equal, the Mexican general refused to meet with Jameson, but allowed colonel Juan Almonte and José Bartres to parley. Almonte later said that Jameson asked for an honorable surrender, but Bartres replied “I reply to you, according to the order of His Excellency, that the Mexican army cannot come to terms under any conditions with rebellious foreigners to whom there is no recourse left, if they wish to save their lives, than to place themselves immediately at the disposal of the Supreme Government from whom alone they may expect clemency after some considerations.” Travis was angered that Bowie had acted unilaterally and sent his own emissary to the Mexican army; he received the same response. Bowie and Travis then mutually agreed to fire the cannon again.

By the time the parleys were over it was nightfall, and the firing ceased. That evening the Mexicans erected an artillery battery near the Veramendi house. Santa Anna also sent General Ventura Mora’s cavalry to circle to the north and east of the Alamo to prevent the arrival of Texian reinforcements. According to Edmondson, the Texians sent a small party to forage that evening. They returned with six pack mules and a prisoner, a Mexican soldier who would later be used to interpret Mexican bugle calls. The Texians received one reinforcement that night, when one of Seguin’s men, Gregorio Esparza, arrived with his family. Texian sentries refused to open the gate, but others helped the family climb through the window of the chapel. Several other Texian soldiers were unable to make it into the Alamo. Dimitt and Noble, who had been scouting for signs of the Mexican army, were told by a local that Béxar was surrounded, and they would be unable to re-enter the town. Andrew Jackson Sowell and Byrd Lockhart had been out that morning looking for provisions; on hearing that the Alamo was surrounded they left for their homes in Gonzales. Thus ended the first day of the siege.

San Antonio is a great foodie town these days. Last time I visited I pigged out on menudo, tacos de lengua, cabrito, etc. This is not your usual Tex-Mex fare of nachos, fajitas, and crunchy tacos, but – to me at least – a much more engaging cuisine. Standard Tex-Mex with its reliance on an abundance of cheese, seems geared to a rather bland palate (and palette). The dishes you get in San Antonio, provided you are looking in the right places, are strongly influenced by northern Mexican styles and have less of Texas about them. Here’s a fairly stock sopa de fideos (noodle soup) that you can readily find in the region. The Spanish word “fideo” means “noodle” but what counts as a fideo varies all over the Spanish-speaking world. In Mexico fideos are close to spaghetti. I’ve given the recipe in Mexican Spanish, which actually does not come naturally to me. Spanish dialects are mostly mutually intelligible but food vocabulary is the main area where the dialects part company.

Sopa de Fideos

Ingredientes

2 cucharadas de aceite vegetal
8 onzas de pasta de fideos
10 onzas de jitomates asados
1 diente de ajo grande o 2 dientes pequeños
½ taza de cebolla blanca picada
6 tazas de caldo de pollo
sal y pimienta al gusto
queso fresco Mexicano desmenuzado y aguacate en cubitos.

Instrucciones

Coloca los jitomates, el ajo y la cebolla asados ​​en tu licuadora. Procesa hasta que tengas una mezcla suave. Cuela esta mezcla usando un colador en un recipiente y reserve. Algunas personas pasan la salsa de tomate por el colador, eso es al gusto personal tuyo y de como te gusta tu sopa de fideo.

Calienta el aceite en una cacerola grande a fuego medio bajo y agrega el fideo. Fríe los fideos ligeramente, revolviendo a menudo, hasta que tengan un color dorado claro, 3-4 minutos.

Vierta la mezcla de jitomate en la cacerola y cocina durante 1 minuto aproximadamente. Agrega el caldo de pollo (o agua mezclada con el consomé de pollo en polvo). Lleva a ebullición, luego reduzce la temperatura a media-baja y cubra la cacerola. Cocina a fuego lento hasta que los fideos estén suaves, aproximadamente 8 minutos. Sazona con sal y pimienta al gusto.

Para servir, divida la sopa de fideo en tazones y adorna con queso fresco y aguacate en cubitos

Feb 212019
 

Today was an ancient Roman public festival called Feralia according to Ovid in Book II of his Fasti, the only record of this holiday. This day marked the end of Parentalia, a nine-day festival (13–21 February) honoring dead ancestors, who went under various names including Lares, Manes, Lemures, Genii, and others, depending on the source. On this date Roman citizens were instructed to bring offerings to the tombs of their dead ancestors which consisted of at least “an arrangement of wreaths, a sprinkling of grain and a bit of salt, bread soaked in wine, and violets scattered about.” Additional offerings were permitted, however the dead were appeased with just these. These simple offerings may be an allusion to Aeneas, who poured wine and scattered violet flowers on Anchises’ tomb.

Ovid tells of a time when Romans, in the midst of war, neglected Feralia, which prompted the spirits of the departed to rise from their graves in anger, howling and roaming the streets. After this event, tribute to the tombs were then made and the ghastly hauntings ceased. To indicate public mourning, marriages of any kind were prohibited on the Feralia, and Ovid urged mothers, brides, and widows to refrain from lighting their wedding torches. Magistrates stopped wearing their insignia and any worship of the gods was prohibited as it “should be hidden behind closed temple doors; no incense on the altar, no fire on the hearth.”

No record of public rituals survives, however on this day as described by Ovid, an old drunken woman sits in a circle with girls performing rites in the name of the mute goddess Tacita who is identified with the nymph Lara or Larunda. The ritual consists of the old woman placing three bits of incense, with three of her fingers, beneath a threshold where a mouse is buried. She then rolls seven black beans in her mouth, and smears the head of a fish with pitch, impaling it with a bronze needle, and roasting it in a fire. After she formally declaims the purpose of her actions, saying, “I have gagged spiteful tongues and muzzled unfriendly mouths” (Hostiles linguas inimicaque uinximus ora). The use of the black beans in the old woman’s ritual may be related to rites that lend themselves to another festival of the dead in the month of May, called Lemuria. During Lemuria the dead ancestor spirits, particularly the unburied, called lemures, emerge from their graves and visit the homes in which they had lived. It was then necessary to confront the unwelcome spirits and lure them out of one’s house using specific actions and chants. According to Ovid, this includes the use of black beans to lure a spirit out of the home:

And after washing his (the householder) hands clean in spring water, he turns, and first he receives black beans and throws them away with face averted; but while he throws them, he says: ‘These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine.’ This he says nine times, without looking back: the shade is thought to gather the beans, and to follow unseen behind. Again he touches water, and clashes Temesan bronze, and asks the shade to go out of his house. When he has said nine times, ‘Ghosts of my fathers, go forth!’ he looks back, and thinks that he has duly performed the sacred rites.

Perhaps the black beans carried with them connotations of warding away or dispelling bad things in general, whether it be unwelcome spirits haunting a household as seen during Lemuria, or preventing undesired gossip towards an individual as in the old woman’s ritual during Feralia.

It is implied through Ovid’s choice of words, “hostiles linguas inimicaque ora”, that the ritual is intended to curb gossip about a girl’s reputation. Gossip of such a nature and its consequences are the subject for the cause, which Ovid offers, of the Dea Tacita festival, which was held on the same day as the Feralia. Ovid then tells a story to explain the origins of Dea Tacita, starting with Jupiter’s untamed lust for the nymph Juturna. Juturna, aware of Jupiter’s lust for her, hides within the Hazelwood forest and dives into her sisters’ waters. Jupiter then gathers all the nymphs in Latium seeking their help in capturing Juturna, saying, “Your sister is spiting herself by shunning her own advantage, an entanglement with the highest god. Look out for us both. What will be a great pleasure for me will be in your sister’s great interest. Block her as she flees at the bank of the river to keep her from jumping into its waters.” One of the informed nymphs, Lara, could not hold her tongue and warns Juturna to flee. In addition, she approaches Jupiter’s wife Juno, saying, “Your husband loves the Naiad Juturna.” As a result, Jupiter rips out Lara’s tongue in anger and summons Mercury to escort her to be a nymph in the Underworld. During this mission, Mercury becomes lustful of Lara and rapes her, begetting twins. These twins become the Lares, the guardians of intersections and households who watch over the city of Rome.

Well, the Roman gods were not of the highest moral order, certainly. But there is an important issue here. The tales of the high gods and their worship were important to Romans, but there was a certain amount of skepticism concerning the tales from the intelligentsia, and temple worship was primarily for the rich and powerful. Lares and Manes were a different matter entirely.  Archeological evidence indicates that Lares and Manes were honored in a variety of places including in households, at crossroads, and in other venues commonly frequented. The veneration of the spirits of dead ancestors and spirits of key places is very reminiscent of current Hindu and Buddhist practices. Here in Cambodia, every household has a shrine dedicated to the spirits of the house at which occupants light candles and incense and dedicate food and drink on special occasions. In Nepal I came across shrines just about everywhere I went – crossroads, hilltops, wells . . . Very much like Roman Lares.

Ovid’s description of the ritual with the drunken old woman mildly suggests a recipe, but I am a bit flummoxed by his reference to black beans. What we know as black beans now are originally from South America, so he can’t mean them. Indian urad dahl are black, but I doubt they had made it to Rome in Ovid’s day. However, he talks about blackening a fish with pitch, so it could be that they blackened the beans as well. The common bean in Ovid’s time would have been the fava bean. I wouldn’t recommend eating a grilled fish covered in pitch (nor beans either), but there is an opening here.

Boil fresh fava beans (broad beans for you Brits), and mash them well. Top with a nice piece of grilled fish.

 

Feb 202019
 

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published Manifeste du futurisme (Manifesto of Futurism) in the newspaper Le Figaro on this date in 1909. Futurism was an avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by Marinetti, a poet, and he first launched the movement in an Italian version of the Manifesto, which he published for the first time on 5th February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. The French edition, published today, was an expansion of the strictly Italian movement to a wider audience, so I have chosen it as the anniversary. Laying my cards on the table before proceeding, I find most of the stated aims of the movement absolutely repugnant, but it does have redeeming features. Futurism’s glorification of violence, I find especially appalling, as well as its naked nationalism. This is the crucible of Mussolini and fascism. Its intoxication with modernity, speed, and energy, I find more laughable than repellant, and its rejection of the past has good and bad qualities. I’m all for rejecting habit and custom if they simply act as comfortable cocoons, but the wholesale rejection of history is counterproductive. Futurism’s unapologetic misogyny is beneath contempt. As we shall also see when it comes to cooking – which futurists had a great deal to say about – newness simply for the sake of newness has its pitfalls.

Marinetti was soon joined by the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. Marinetti expressed a passionate loathing of everything old, especially political and artistic tradition. “We want no part of it, the past”, he wrote, “we the young and strong Futurists!” The Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature, and they were passionate nationalists. They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation. Originality, however daring, however violent, bore “the smear of madness.” They dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science. Publishing manifestos was a feature of Futurism, and the Futurists (usually led or prompted by Marinetti) wrote them on many topics, including painting, architecture, religion, clothing and cooking.

The founding manifesto did not contain a positive artistic program, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1914). This committed them to a “universal dynamism”, which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.”

The Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter. In 1910 and 1911 they used the techniques of Divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Giovanni Segantini and others. Later, Severini, who lived in Paris, attributed their backwardness in style and method at this time to their distance from Paris, the center of avant-garde art. Severini was the first to come into contact with Cubism and following a visit to Paris in 1911 the Futurist painters adopted the methods of the Cubists. Cubism offered them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism.

They often painted modern urban scenes. Carrà’s (1910–11) is a large canvas representing events that the artist had himself been involved in, in 1904. The action of a police attack and riot is rendered energetically with diagonals and broken planes. His Leaving the Theatre (1910–11) uses a Divisionist technique to render isolated and faceless figures trudging home at night under street lights. Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) represents scenes of construction and manual labor with a huge, rearing red horse in the center foreground, which workmen struggle to control. His States of Mind, in three large panels, The Farewell, Those who Go, and Those Who Stay, is considered a masterpiece of Futurism. The work attempts to convey feelings and sensations experienced in time, using new means of expression, including “lines of force”, which were intended to convey the directional tendencies of objects through space, “simultaneity”, which combined memories, present impressions and anticipation of future events, and “emotional ambience” in which the artist seeks by intuition to link sympathies between the exterior scene and interior emotion.

The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914). Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists’ insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leash —and the feet of the woman walking it —have been multiplied to a blur of movement. It illustrates the precepts of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting that, “On account of the persistence of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.” His Rhythm of the Bow (1912) similarly depicts the movements of a violinist’s hand and instrument, rendered in rapid strokes within a triangular frame.

The adoption of Cubism determined the style of much subsequent Futurist painting, which Boccioni and Severini in particular continued to render in the broken colors and short brush-strokes of Divisionism. But Futurist painting differed in both subject matter and treatment from the quiet and static Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Although there were Futurist portraits (e.g. Carrà’s Woman with Absinthe (1911), Severini’s Self-Portrait (1912), and Boccioni’s Matter (1912)), it was the urban scene and vehicles in motion that typified Futurist painting—e.g. Boccioni’s The Street Enters the House (1911), Severini’s Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912), and Russolo’s Automobile at Speed (1913).

In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realize the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of “dynamism”. The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze posthumously and exhibited in the Tate Modern. (It now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins). He explored the theme further in Synthesis of Human Dynamism (1912), Speeding Muscles (1913) and Spiral Expansion of Speeding Muscles (1913). His ideas on sculpture were published in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture. In 1915 Balla also turned to sculpture making abstract “reconstructions”, which were created out of various materials, were apparently moveable and even made noises. He said that, after making twenty pictures in which he had studied the velocity of automobiles, he understood that “the single plane of the canvas did not permit the suggestion of the dynamic volume of speed in depth … I felt the need to construct the first dynamic plastic complex with iron wires, cardboard planes, cloth and tissue paper, etc.”

In 1914, personal quarrels and artistic differences between the Milan group, around Marinetti, Boccioni, and Balla, and the Florence group, around Carrà, Ardengo Soffici (1879–1964) and Giovanni Papini (1881–1956), created a rift in Italian Futurism. The Florence group resented the dominance of Marinetti and Boccioni, whom they accused of trying to establish “an immobile church with an infallible creed”, and each group dismissed the other as passéiste (backward-looking).

Futurism had from the outset admired violence and was intensely patriotic. The Futurist Manifesto had declared, “We will glorify war —the world’s only hygiene —militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.” Although it owed much of its character and some of its ideas to radical political movements, it was not much involved in politics until the autumn of 1913. Then, fearing the re-election of Giolitti, Marinetti published a political manifesto. In 1914 the Futurists began to campaign actively against the Austro-Hungarian empire, which still controlled some Italian territories, and Italian neutrality between the major powers. In September, Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag. When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, many Futurists enlisted. The experience of the war affected several Futurists, particularly Marinetti, who fought in the mountains of Trentino at the border of Italy and Austria-Hungary, actively engaging in propaganda. The combat experience also influenced Futurist music.

The outbreak of war disguised the fact that Italian Futurism had come to an end. The Florence group had formally acknowledged their withdrawal from the movement by the end of 1914. Boccioni produced only one war picture and was killed in 1916. Severini painted some significant war pictures in 1915 (e.g. War, Armored Train, and Red Cross Train), but in Paris turned towards Cubism and post-war was associated with the Return to Order.

After the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This revival was called il secondo Futurismo (Second Futurism) by writers in the 1960s. The art historian Giovanni Lista has classified Futurism by decades: “Plastic Dynamism” for the first decade, “Mechanical Art” for the 1920s, “Aeroaesthetics” for the 1930s.

The Futurists had a great to say about cooking and dining. The Futurist movement recognized that people “think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink” so cooking and eating needed to become subservient to the proper aesthetic experience that Futurism favored. Revolutionary in its expectations of overturning set patterns, some of its more interesting ideas for the realm of cuisine were:

  • No more pasta, as it causes lassitude, pessimism and lack of passion
  • Perfect meals requiring originality and harmony in table setting, including all implements, food aesthetics and tastes, and absolute originality in the food
  • Sculpted foods, including meats whose main appeal is to the eye and imagination
  • Abolition of the knife and fork
  • Use of perfumes to enhance the tasting experience

The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking also proposed that the way in which meals were served be fundamentally changed. For example:

  • Some food on the table would not be eaten, but only experienced by the eyes and nose
  • Food would arrive rapidly and contain many flavors, but only a few mouthfuls in size
  • All political discussion and speeches would be forbidden
  • Music and poetry would be forbidden except during certain intervals

A multi-course meal featured in Marinetti’s The Futurist Cookbook he called a tactile dinner. Pajamas have been prepared for the dinner, each one covered with a different material such as sponge, cork, sandpaper, or felt. As the guests arrive, each puts on a pair of the pajamas. Once all have arrived and are dressed in pajamas, they are taken to an unlit, empty room. Without being able to see, each guest chooses a dinner partner according to their tactile impression. The guests then enter the dining room, which consists of tables for two, and discover the partner they have selected.

The meal begins. The first course is a ‘polyrhythmic salad,’ which consists of a box containing a bowl of undressed lettuce leaves, dates and grapes. The box has a crank on the left side. Without using cutlery, the guests eat with their right hand while turning the crank with their left. This produces music to which the waiters dance until the course is finished.

The second course is ‘magic food’, which is served in small bowls covered with tactile materials. The bowl is held in the left hand while the right picks out balls made of caramel and filled with different ingredients such as dried fruits, raw meat, garlic, mashed banana, chocolate, or pepper. The guests cannot guess what flavor they will encounter next.

The third course is ‘tactile vegetable garden,’ which is a plate of cooked and raw green vegetables without dressing. The guest eats the vegetables without the use of their hands, instead burying their face in the plate of vegetables, feeling the sensation of the greens on their face and lips. Each time a guest raises their head to chew, the waiters spray their face with perfume.

Here is a video to give you some idea:

 

Feb 192019
 

Today is the birthday (1594) of Henry Frederick Stuart, prince of Wales KG, the elder son of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Henry was in line to be the king of England and Scotland, but he died at age 18, probably of typhoid fever, so his younger brother, Charles, ascended the throne when James died. We all know that Charles went on to challenge Parliament, initiate a civil war, and had his head chopped off as a prelude to the first and only English republic. Henry might have ascended as Henry IX had he lived, and history might have taken a radically different course. Henry was not the stubborn hothead that his brother was. Hence my title – What Might Have Been?

The prince’s name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was born at Stirling Castle, Scotland and became duke of Rothesay, earl of Carrick, baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and prince and great steward of Scotland automatically on his birth. Henry’s baptism on 30th August 1594 was celebrated with complex theatrical entertainments written by poet William Fowler and a ceremony in a new Chapel Royal at Stirling purpose-built by William Schaw. His father placed him in the care of John Erskine, earl of Mar at Stirling Castle, out of the care of the boy’s mother, because James worried that the queen’s Catholicism might affect the son. Although the child’s removal caused enormous tension between Anne and James, Henry remained under the care of Mar family until 1603, when James became king of England and his family moved south.

One of his tutors until he went to England was Sir George Lauder of the Bass, a Privy Counsellor and he was also tutored in music by Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. Henry’s tutor Adam Newton continued to serve him in England, and some Scottish servants from Stirling were retained, including poet David Murray. The king greatly preferred the role of schoolmaster to that of father, and he wrote texts for the schooling of his children. James directed that Henry’s household “should rather imitate a College than a Court.” Henry passionately engaged in such physical pursuits as hawking, hunting, jousting and fencing, and from a young age studied naval and military affairs and national issues, about which he often disagreed with his father. He also disapproved of the way his father conducted the royal court, disliked Robert Carr, a favorite of his father, and esteemed Sir Walter Raleigh, wishing him to be released from the Tower of London.

The prince’s popularity rose so high that it threatened his father. Relations between the two could be tense, and on occasion surfaced in public. At one point, the two were hunting near Royston when James criticized his son for lacking enthusiasm for the chase, and Henry initially moved to strike his father with a cane, but rode off. Most of the hunting party then followed the son.

Henry is said to have disliked his younger brother, Charles, and to have teased him, although this derives from only one anecdote: when Charles was nine years of age, Henry snatched the hat off a bishop and put it on the younger child’s head, then told his younger brother that when he became king he would make Charles archbishop of Canterbury, and then Charles would have a long robe to hide his ugly rickety legs. Charles stamped on the cap and had to be dragged off in tears.

With his father’s accession to the throne of England in 1603, Henry at once became duke of Cornwall. In 1610 he was further invested as prince of Wales and earl of Chester, thus for the first time uniting the six automatic and two traditional Scottish and English titles held by heirs-apparent to the two thrones. As a young man, Henry showed great promise and was beginning to be active in leadership matters. Among his activities, he was responsible for the reassignment of Sir Thomas Dale to the Virginia Company of London’s struggling colony in North America.

Henry died from typhoid fever at the age of 18, during the celebrations that led up to his sister Elizabeth’s wedding. (The diagnosis can be made with reasonable certainty from written records of the post-mortem examination, although at the time there were rumors of poisoning.) He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Prince Henry’s death was widely regarded as a tragedy for the nation. His body lay in state at St. James’s Palace for four weeks. On 7th December, over a thousand people walked in the mile-long cortège to Westminster Abbey to hear a two-hour sermon delivered by George Abbot, the archbishop of Canterbury. As Henry’s body was lowered into the ground, his chief servants broke their staves of office at the grave. An insane man ran naked through the mourners, yelling that he was the boy’s ghost. Immediately after Henry’s death, his brother Charles fell ill, but he was the chief mourner at the funeral, which his father, king James (who detested funerals) refused to attend.

Henry’s titles of duke of Cornwall and duke of Rothesay passed to Charles, who until then had lived in Henry’s shadow. Four years later Charles, by then 16 years old, was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester. How different might have British history been had Henry lived, and, especially, if he had produced legitimate heirs? In more ways than I care to count, the Stuarts after James VI and I were a fiasco. Charles led the country into civil war, his son Charles was a profligate, and his second son, James, had to flee the country in disgrace. His replacement, William III, created immense problems in Ireland, and childless Anne barely held on to be replaced by the German Hanoverians whose passionless sterility is still with us. Could Henry have breathed new life into the monarchy? Maybe I should write a fictional historical novel.

Meanwhile, the Stuart age saw the rise in popularity in chocolate from the New World. The first chocolate houses in London opened in the seventeenth century, and rivalled the new fangled coffee houses (and tea drinking) – all three becoming fads in Stuart England. Chocolate was primarily a drink until the 19th century, but this 17th century recipe more closely resembles a dessert than a drink.

To make chocolate cream;
Take a quart of cream, 3 ounces of chocolate grated, boyle it well together and let it stand till tis cold, &yn put in ye whites of 6 eggs beaten to a froth & sweeten it to your taste & then mill it up.

Feb 022019
 

On this date in 1585, fraternal twins, Hamnet and Judith, born to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, were baptized. Their date of birth (as with Shakespeare), is not recorded. They were probably born in the same house where their father was born, and certainly raised there. They were probably named after Hamnet Sadler, a baker, who witnessed Shakespeare’s will, and his wife, Judith. According to the record of Sadler’s baptism on 23rd March 1560 in the Register of Solihull he was christened Hamlette Sadler, which has caused some idle speculation among literary historians concerning Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and his son’s name – the kind of musing that occupies doctoral candidates with nothing better to do with their time.

By the time the twins were four, their father was already a London playwright and, as his popularity grew, he was probably not regularly at home in Stratford with his family. Hamnet may have completed Lower School, which would have been normal, before his death at the age of eleven (possibly from the bubonic plague). He was buried in Stratford on 11th August 1596. At that time in England about a third of all children died before age 10.

Judith Shakespeare was almost certainly illiterate. In 1611, she witnessed the deed of sale of a house for £131 to William Mountford, a wheelwright of Stratford, from Elizabeth Quiney, her future mother-in-law, and Elizabeth’s eldest son Adrian. Judith signed twice with a mark instead of her name. On 10th February 1616, Judith Shakespeare married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford, in Holy Trinity Church. The assistant vicar, Richard Watts, who later married Quiney’s sister Mary, probably officiated. The wedding took place during the pre-Lenten season of Shrovetide, which was not a lawful time for marriages. In 1616, the period in which marriages were banned without dispensation from the church, including Ash Wednesday and Lent, started on 23rd January, Septuagesima Sunday and ended on 7th April, the Sunday after Easter. Hence the marriage required a special license issued by the Bishop of Worcester, which the couple had failed to obtain. Presumably they had posted the required banns in church, but this was not considered sufficient. The infraction was a minor one apparently caused by the minister, as three other couples were also wed that February. Quiney was nevertheless summoned by Walter Nixon to appear before the Consistory court in Worcester. (This same Walter Nixon was later involved in a Star Chamber case and was found guilty of forging signatures and taking bribes). Quiney failed to appear by the required date. The register recorded the judgement, which was excommunication, on or about 12th March 1616. It is unknown if Judith was also excommunicated, but in any case the punishment did not last long. In November of the same year they were back in church for the baptism of their firstborn child.

The marriage did not begin well. Quiney had recently got another woman pregnant, Margaret Wheeler, who died in childbirth along with her child. Both were buried on 15th March 1616. On 26th March, Quiney appeared before the Bawdy Court, which dealt, among other things, with “whoredom and uncleanliness.” Confessing in open court to “carnal copulation” with Margaret Wheeler, he submitted himself for correction and was sentenced to open penance in a white sheet (according to custom) before the Congregation on three Sundays. He also had to admit to his crime, this time wearing ordinary clothes, before the Minister of Bishopton in Warwickshire. The first part of the sentence was remitted, essentially letting him off with a five-shilling fine to be given to the parish’s poor. As Bishopton had no church, but only a chapel, he was spared any public humiliation.

Where the Quineys lived after their marriage is unknown: but Judith owned her father’s cottage on Chapel Lane, Stratford; while Thomas had held, since 1611, the lease on a tavern called “Atwood’s” on High Street. The cottage later passed from Judith to her sister as part of the settlement in their father’s will. In July 1616 Thomas swapped houses with his brother-in-law, William Chandler, moving his vintner’s shop to the upper half of a house at the corner of High Street and Bridge Street. This house was known as “The Cage” and is the house traditionally associated with Judith Quiney. In the 20th century The Cage was for a time a Wimpy Bar before being turned into the Stratford Information Office.

The Cage provides further insight into why Shakespeare would not have trusted Judith’s husband. Around 1630 Quiney tried to sell the lease on the house but was prevented by his kin. In 1633, to protect the interests of Judith and the children, the lease was signed over to the trust of John Hall, Susanna Shakespeare’s husband (Judith’s brother-in-law), Thomas Nash, the husband of Judith’s niece, and Richard Watts, vicar of nearby Harbury, who was Quiney’s brother-in-law and who had officiated at Thomas and Judith’s wedding. Eventually, in November 1652, the lease to The Cage ended up in the hands of Thomas’ eldest brother, Richard Quiney, a grocer in London.

The inauspicious beginnings of Judith’s marriage, in spite of her husband and his family being otherwise unexceptional, has led to speculation that this was the cause for William Shakespeare’s hastily altered last will and testament. He first summoned his lawyer, Francis Collins, in January 1616. On 25 March he made further alterations, probably because he was dying and because of his concerns about Quiney. In the first bequest of the will there had been a provision “vnto my sonne in L[aw]”; but “sonne in L[aw]” was then struck out, with Judith’s name inserted in its stead. To this daughter he bequeathed £100 (equivalent to £18,439 in 2018) “in discharge of her marriage porcion”; another £50 (£9,220 in 2018) if she were to relinquish the Chapel Lane cottage; and, if she or any of her children were still alive at the end of three years following the date of the will, a further £150 (£27,659 in 2018), of which she was to receive the interest but not the principal. This money was explicitly denied to Thomas Quiney unless he were to bestow on Judith lands of equal value. In a separate bequest, Judith was given “my broad silver gilt bole.”

Finally, for the bulk of his estate, which included his main house, New Place, his two houses on Henley Street and various lands in and around Stratford, Shakespeare had set up an entail. His estate was bequeathed, in descending order of choice, to the following: 1) his daughter, Susanna Hall; 2) upon Susanna’s death, “to the first sonne of her bodie lawfullie yssueing & to the heires Males of the bodie of the saied first Sonne lawfullie yssueing”; 3) to Susanna’s second son and his male heirs; 4) to Susanna’s third son and his male heirs; 5) to Susanna’s “ffourth … ffyfth sixte & Seaventh sonnes” and their male heirs; 6) to Elizabeth Hall, Susanna and John Hall’s firstborn, and her male heirs; 7) to Judith and her male heirs; or 8) to whatever heirs the law would normally recognize. This elaborate entail is usually taken to indicate that Thomas Quiney was not to be entrusted with Shakespeare’s inheritance, although some have speculated that it might simply indicate that Susanna was the favored child.

Judith and Thomas Quiney had three children:

Shakespeare (baptized 23 November 1616– buried 8 May 1617)

Richard (baptized 9 February 1618 – buried 6 February 1639)

Thomas (baptized 23 January 1620 – buried 28 January 1639)

Shakespeare was named for his grandfather. Richard’s name was common among the Quineys: his paternal grandfather and an uncle were named Richard.

Shakespeare Quiney died at six months of age. Richard and Thomas Quiney were buried within one month of each other, 21 and 19 years old respectively. The deaths of all of Judith’s children resulted in new legal consequences. The entail on her father’s inheritance led Susanna, along with her daughter and son-in-law, to make a settlement using a rather elaborate legal device for the inheritance of her own branch of the family. Legal wrangling continued for another thirteen years, until 1652.

Judith Quiney died before 9th February 1662 (the day of her burial and a week after her 77th birthday). She outlived her last surviving child by 23 years. She was buried in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, but the exact location of her grave is unknown. Of her husband, the records show little of his later years. It has been speculated that he may have died in 1662 or 1663, when the parish burial records are incomplete, or that he may have left Stratford-upon-Avon.

In The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 1, Scene 1 we have: “Wife, bid these gentlemen welcome. Come, we have a hot venison pasty to dinner: come, gentlemen . . .” which gives an idea for a recipe. Sadly, modern attempts at recreating an Elizabethan venison pasty or pie filling do not take into account the Tudor proclivity for using sweet spices and fruit in with meat, so let’s start here with Hannah Wolley who is a later than Shakespeare’s time, but the ideas are still Tudor in style:

To rost a Haunch or a Shoulder of Venison, or a Chine of Mutton

Take either of these, and lard it with Lard, and stick it thick with Rosemary, then rost it with a quick fire, but do not lay it too near; baste it with sweet butter: then take half a Pint of Claret wine, a little beaten Cinamon and Ginger, and as much sugar as will sweeten it, five or six whole Cloves, a little grated bread, and when it is boiled enough, put in a little Sweet butter, a little Vinegar, and a very little Salt, when your meat is rosted, serve it in with Sauce, and strew salt about your Dish.

My idea would be to start with ground or finely chopped venison. Brown it in a little oil with some chopped onions and chopped bacon, then add red wine and beef stock plus rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and simmer for several hours. You could also add red currants or pitted prunes. When the sauce has reduced, add breadcrumbs to thicken. Line a deep pastry dish with hot water pastry, fill with the meat mixture, cover with a pastry lid, and bake until golden. Could be served hot or cold.

Feb 012019
 

Today is the birthday (1801) of Émile Maximilien Paul Littré , a French lexicographer and philosopher, best known for his Dictionnaire de la langue française, commonly called Le Littré. As a mild coincidence, on this date in 1884, the first volume (A to Ant) of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. So it could be Dictionary Day.

Littré was born in Paris and studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. He also devoted himself to learning English and German, classical and Sanskrit literature, and philology. Yet he originally decided to become a student of medicine in 1822. He passed all his examinations in due course, and had only his thesis to prepare in order to obtain his degree as doctor when, in 1827, his father died leaving his mother without means. He abandoned his degree at once despite his keen interest in medicine, and, while attending lectures by Pierre Rayer, began teaching Latin and Greek to earn a living. He served as a soldier for the populists during the July Revolution of 1830, and was one of the members of the National Guard who followed Charles X to Rambouillet. In 1831, he obtained an introduction to Armand Carrel, the editor of Le National, who gave him the task of reading English and German papers for excerpts. By chance, in 1835, Carrel discovered Littré’s skills as a writer and from that time on, he was a constant contributor to the journal, eventually becoming its director.

In 1836, Littré began to contribute articles on a wide range of subjects to the Revue des deux mondes, and in 1837, he married. In 1839, the first volume of his complete works of Hippocrates appeared in print. Due to the outstanding quality of this work, he was elected to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in the same year. He noticed the works of Auguste Comte, the reading of which formed, as he himself said, “the cardinal point of his life.” From this time forward, the influence of positivism affected his own life, and, what is of more importance, he influenced positivism, giving as much to this philosophy as he received from it. He soon became a friend of Comte, and popularized his ideas in numerous works on the positivist philosophy. He continued translating and publishing his edition of Hippocrates’ writings, which was not completed until 1862, and he published a similar edition of Pliny’s Natural History. After 1844, he took Fauriel’s place on the committee engaged to produce the Histoire littéraire de la France, where his knowledge of the early French language and literature was invaluable.

Littré started work on his great Dictionnaire de la langue française in about 1844, which was not to be completed until thirty years later. He participated in the revolution of July 1848, and in the repression of the extreme Republican Party in June 1849. His essays, contributed during this period to the National, were collected together and published under the title of Conservation, revolution et positivisme in 1852, and show a thorough acceptance of all the doctrines propounded by Comte. However, during the later years of Comte’s life, he began to perceive that he could not wholly accept all the dogmas or the more mystical ideas. He concealed his differences of opinion, and Comte failed to recognize that his pupil had outgrown him, as he himself had outgrown his master Henri de Saint-Simon.

Comte’s death in 1858 freed Littré from any fear of alienating his master. He published his own ideas in his Paroles de la philosophie positive in 1859. Four years later, in a work of greater length, he published Auguste Comte et la philosophie positive, which traces the origin of Comte’s ideas through Turgot, Kant, and Saint-Simon. The work eulogizes Comte’s own life, his method of philosophy, his great services to the cause and the effect of his works, and proceeds to show where he himself differs from him. He approved wholly of Comte’s philosophy, his great laws of society and his philosophical method, which indeed he defended against John Stuart Mill. However, he stated that, while he believed in a positivist philosophy, he did not believe in a “religion of humanity”.

About 1863, after completing his translations of Hippocrates and his Pliny, he began work in earnest on his great French dictionary. He was invited to join the Académie française, but declined, not wishing to associate himself with Félix Dupanloup, bishop of Orléans, who had denounced him as the head of the French materialists in his Avertissement aux pères de famille. At this time, he also started La Revue de philosophie positive with Grégoire Wyrouboff, a magazine that embodied the views of modern positivists.

Thus, his life was absorbed in literary work until the events that overthrew the Second Empire called him to take a part in politics. He felt himself too old to undergo the privations of the Siege of Paris, and retired with his family to Brittany. He was summoned by Gambetta to Bordeaux to lecture on history, and thence to Versailles to take his seat in the senate to which he had been chosen by the département of the Seine. In December 1871, he was elected a member of the Académie française in spite of the renewed opposition of Msgr. Dupanloup, who resigned his seat rather than receive him.

Littré’s Dictionnaire de la langue française (“Dictionary of the French Language”) was completed in 1873 after nearly 30 years of work. The draft was written on 415,636 sheets, bundled in packets of one thousand, stored in eight white wooden crates that filled the cellar of Littré’s home in Mesnil-le-Roi. The landmark effort gave authoritative definitions and usage descriptions to every word based on the various meanings it had held in the past. When it was published by Hachette, it was the largest lexicographical work on the French language at that time.

In 1874, Littré was elected senator for life of the Third Republic. His most notable writings during these years were his political papers that attacked and revealed the confederacy of the Orléanists and Legitimists against the Republic; his re-editions of many of his old articles and books, among others the Conservation, révolution et positivisme of 1852 (which he reprinted word for word, appending a formal, categorical renunciation of many of the Comtist doctrines therein contained); and a little tract, Pour la dernière fois, in which he maintained his unalterable belief in the philosophy of materialism.

Littré died in 1881 and is interred at Montparnasse Cemetery.

(click to enlarge)

Here is Antonin Carême’s recipe for orange jelly inside whole orange skins from Patissier royal Parisien, 1815. He uses isinglass to set the juice into a jelly but you can use gelatin.

Gelée d’oranges en écorces

Choose ten good oranges with a nice, deep color. Cut a hole with a parer with a diameter of 3 centimeters, so that the stem of the orange is exactly in the center. Empty the orange, little by little with a small spoon. Submerge the emptied oranges at once in cold water, to firm up the skin and keep it fresh. Be careful not to break the skin with the spoon. If this happens, mend the damaged spot with some butter (to keep the jelly from running out). But that is only possible if the damage is small. Otherwise, empty new oranges, to replace the damaged ones.

When the juice has been filtered, add the juice of two lemons, and syrup and isinglass. Then put the oranges in a large colander, and surround them with crushed ice. Keep two inches distance between the oranges to make the jelly set sooner. Then fill the oranges with the jelly.

Before serving, replace the covers on the oranges. Wipe the oranges and place six of them on a beautifully pleated damask napkin, and the seventh slightly higher in the center. Decorate with orange leaves, oleander or ivy.

For a splendid way of serving, place the oranges in a basket of confectionery, and to make it even more decorative, place a cloche of spun sugar over it.

 

Jan 222019
 

Today is the birthday (1572) of John Donne, an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons.  I have known of Donne since I was around 10 and my father showed me a copy of this famous piece in a collection he had (with original spelling):

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

This was all I knew of Donne for many years. I put him down as an insightful preacher and left it at that. Discovering all the phases he went through in life was an eyeopener.

Donne was born into a recusant Catholic family in Elizabethan England at a time when practicing Catholicism was illegal. His mother was the great niece of Thomas More, and a number of his close relatives were executed for their faith. In 1583, the 11-year-old Donne began studies at Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford. After three years of studies there, Donne was admitted to the University of Cambridge, where he studied for another three years. However, Donne could not obtain a degree from either institution because of his Catholicism, since he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. In 1591 Donne was accepted as a student at the Thavies Inn legal school, one of the Inns of Chancery in London. In 1592 he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court. In 1593, five years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada and during the intermittent Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), queen Elizabeth issued the first English statute against sectarian dissent from the Church of England, titled “An Act for restraining Popish recusants”. Donne’s brother Henry was also a university student prior to his arrest in 1593 for harboring a Catholic priest, William Harrington, whom he betrayed under torture. Harrington was tortured on the rack and executed. Henry Donne died in Newgate Prison of bubonic plague, leading Donne to wonder about the value of his Catholic faith.

During and after his education, Donne spent much of his considerable inheritance on women, literature, pastimes and travel. Although no record details precisely where Donne traveled, he did cross Europe and later fought with the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish at Cadiz (1596) and the Azores (1597), and witnessed the loss of the Spanish flagship, the San Felipe.

By the age of 25, Donne was appointed chief secretary to the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton, and was established at Egerton’s London home, York House, Strand close to the palace of Whitehall, then the most influential social center in England. During the next four years Donne fell in love with Egerton’s niece Anne More, and they were secretly married just before Christmas in 1601, against the wishes of both Egerton and George More, who was Lieutenant of the Tower and Anne’s father. Upon discovery, this wedding ruined Donne’s career, getting him dismissed and put in Fleet Prison, along with the Church of England priest Samuel Brooke, who married them, and the man who acted as a witness to the wedding. Donne was released shortly thereafter when the marriage was proven valid, and he soon secured the release of the other two.

After his release, Donne had to accept a retired country life in a small house in Pyrford, Surrey, owned by Anne’s cousin, Sir Francis Wooley, where they resided until the end of 1604. In spring 1605 they moved to another small house in Mitcham, London, where he scraped a meager living as a lawyer, while Anne Donne bore a new baby almost every year. Though he also worked as an assistant pamphleteer to Thomas Morton writing anti-Catholic pamphlets, Donne was in a constant state of financial insecurity.

Anne gave birth to 12 children in 16 years of marriage, (including two stillbirths—their eighth and then, in 1617, their last child). She spent most of her married life either pregnant or nursing. She died on 15th August 1617, five days after giving birth to their 12th child, a still-born baby. Donne mourned her deeply, and wrote of his love and loss in his 17th Holy Sonnet.

In 1602 John Donne was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Brackley, but membership was not a paid position. Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, being succeeded by James VI of Scotland as James I of England. The fashion for coterie poetry of the period gave Donne a means to seek patronage, and many of his poems were written for wealthy friends or patrons, especially MP Sir Robert Drury of Hawsted (1575–1615), whom he met in 1610 and became Donne’s chief patron, furnishing him and his family an apartment in his large house in Drury Lane.

In 1610 and 1611 Donne wrote two anti-Catholic polemics: Pseudo-Martyr and Ignatius His Conclave for Morton. He then wrote two Anniversaries, An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of the Progress of the Soul (1612).

Donne sat as an MP again, for Taunton, in the Addled Parliament of 1614. Although James was pleased with Donne’s work, he refused to reinstate him at court and instead urged him to take holy orders. At length, Donne acceded to the king’s wishes, and in 1615 was ordained priest in the Church of England. In 1615 Donne was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Cambridge University, and became a Royal Chaplain in the same year, and a Reader of Divinity at Lincoln’s Inn in 1616, where he served in the chapel as minister until 1622. In 1618 he became chaplain to viscount Doncaster, who was on an embassy to the princes of Germany. Donne did not return to England until 1620. In 1621 Donne was made dean of St Paul’s, a leading and well-paid position in the Church of England, which he held until his death in 1631. In late November and early December 1623 he suffered a nearly fatal illness, thought to be either typhus or a combination of a cold followed by a period of fever. During his convalescence he wrote a series of meditations and prayers on health, pain, and sickness that were published as a book in 1624 under the title of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. One of these meditations, Meditation XVII, is “No man is an Iland”. In 1624 he became vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West, and 1625 a prolocutor to Charles I. He earned a reputation as an eloquent preacher and 160 of his sermons have survived, including Death’s Duel, his famous sermon delivered at the Palace of Whitehall before King Charles I in February 1631.

Donne died on 31 March 1631 and was buried in old St Paul’s Cathedral, where a memorial statue of him by Nicholas Stone was erected with a Latin epigraph probably composed by himself. The memorial was one of the few to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666 and is now in St Paul’s Cathedral. The statue was claimed by Izaac Walton in his biography to have been modeled from the life by Donne in order to suggest his appearance at the resurrection. This was to start a vogue in such monuments during the course of the 17th century.

Here is a recipe from the 1596 edition of THE good huswifes Jewell. Wherein is to be found most excellend and rare Deuises for conceites in Cookery, found out by the practise of Thomas Dawson.&c. The spelling and tone will remind you of Donne, and the recipe is quite extraordinary. It seems that the resultant broth is meant to be medicinal. I am sure it would have had a complex flavor, although the gold would not have added anything.

To stewe a Cocke.

You must cutte him in sixe peeces, and washe hym cleane, and take prumes, Currantes and Dates cutte verye small, and Reasons of the Sunne, and Suger beaten verye small, Cinamone, Gynger and Nutmegs likewise beaten, and a litle Maydens hayre cutte verye small, and you must put him in a Pipkin, & put in almost a pinte of Muscadine, and then your spice and Suger vppon your Cocke, and put in your fruite betweene euery quarter, and a peece of Golde betweene euery peece of your cocke, then you must make a Lidde of Wood fit for your pipkyn, and close it as close as you can with paste, that no ayre come out, nor water can come in, and then you must fill two brasse pots full of water, and set on the fire, and make fast the pipkin in one of the Brasse pottes, so that the pipkins feete touch not the brasse pot bottom, nor the pot sides, and so let them boyle foure and twentie howres, and fill vp the pot still as it boyles away, with the other pot that standes by, and when it is boyled take out your Golde, and let him drinke it fasting, and it shall helpe him, this is approoued.

Jan 212019
 

Today is the birthday (1869) of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Григо́рий Ефи́мович Распу́тин), now usually simply referred to as Rasputin, a Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man who befriended the family of Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, and gained considerable influence in late imperial Russia before being murdered by Russian nobles.

Rasputin was born a peasant in the small village of Pokrovskoye, along the Tura River in the Tobolsk Governorate (now Tyumen Oblast) in Siberia. There are few records of Rasputin’s parents. His father, Efim (sometimes spelled Yefim), was a peasant farmer and church elder who had been born in Pokrovskoye in 1842, and married Rasputin’s mother, Anna Parshukova, in 1863. Efim also worked as a government courier, ferrying people and goods between Tobolsk and Tyumen. The couple had seven other children, all of whom died in infancy and early childhood; there may have been a ninth child, Feodosiya.

Almost nothing is known about Rasputin’s childhood. Historians agree, however, that like most Siberian peasants, including his mother and father, Rasputin was never formally educated, and he remained illiterate well into his early adulthood. Local archival records suggest that he had a somewhat unruly youth – possibly involving drinking, small thefts, and disrespect for local authorities – but contain no evidence of his being charged with stealing horses, blasphemy, or bearing false witness, all major crimes that he was later rumored to have committed as a young man.

In 1886, Rasputin traveled to Abalak, where he met a peasant girl named Praskovya Dubrovina. After a courtship of several months, they married in February 1887. Praskovya remained in Pokrovskoye throughout Rasputin’s later travels and rise to prominence, and remained devoted to him until his death. The couple had seven children, though only three survived to adulthood: Dmitry (b. 1895), Maria (b. 1898) and Varvara (b. 1900).

In 1897, Rasputin developed a passion for religion and left Pokrovskoye to go on a pilgrimage. His reasons for doing so are unclear, but whatever his reasons, Rasputin’s departure was a radical life change: he was 28, had been married ten years, and had an infant son with another child on the way. Rasputin had undertaken earlier, shorter pilgrimages to the Holy Znamensky Monastery at Abalak and to Tobolsk’s cathedral, but his visit to the St. Nicholas Monastery at Verkhoturye in 1897 was transformative. There, he met and was “profoundly humbled” by a starets (elder) known as Makary. Rasputin may have spent several months at Verkhoturye, and it was perhaps here that he learned to read and write, but he later complained about the monastery itself, claiming that some of the monks engaged in homosexuality and criticizing monastic life as too coercive. He returned to Pokrovskoye a changed man, looking disheveled and behaving differently from previously. He became a vegetarian, swore off alcohol, and prayed and sang much more fervently than he had in the past. Rasputin spent the years that followed living as a Strannik, (a holy wanderer, or pilgrim), leaving Pokrovskoye for months or even years at a time to wander the country and visit a variety of different holy sites. It is possible that Rasputin wandered as far as Athos in Greece – the center of Orthodox monastic life – in 1900.

By the early 1900s, Rasputin had developed a small circle of acolytes, primarily family members and other local peasants, who prayed with him on Sundays and other holy days when he was in Pokrovskoye. Building a makeshift chapel in Efim’s root cellar – Rasputin was still living within his father’s household at the time – the group held secret prayer meetings there. These meetings were the subject of some suspicion and hostility from the village priest and other villagers. It was rumored that female followers were ceremonially washing him before each meeting, that the group sang strange songs that the villagers had not heard before, and even that Rasputin had joined the Khlysty, a religious sect whose ecstatic rituals were rumored to included self-flagellation and sexual orgies.

Word of Rasputin’s activity and charisma began to spread in Siberia during the early 1900s. Some time between 1902 and 1904, he traveled to the city of Kazan on the Volga river, where he acquired a reputation as a wise and perceptive starets, who could help people resolve their spiritual crises and anxieties. Despite rumors that Rasputin was having sex with some of his female followers, he won over the father superior of the Seven Lakes monastery outside Kazan, as well as a local church officials archimandrite Andrei and bishop Chrysthanos, who gave him a letter of recommendation to bishop Sergei, the rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary at the Alexander Nevsky monastery, and arranged for him to travel to St. Petersburg, either in 1903 or in the winter of 1904–1905.

Upon meeting Sergei at the Nevsky Monastery, Rasputin was introduced to a number of different church leaders, including archimandrite Feofan, who was the inspector of the theological seminary, was well-connected in St. Petersburg society, and later served as confessor to the Tsar and his wife. Feofan was so impressed with Rasputin that he invited him to stay in his home, and became one of Rasputin’s most important and influential friends in St. Petersburg. By 1905 Rasputin had formed friendships with several members of the aristocracy, including the “Black Princesses,” Militsa and Anatasia of Montenegro, who had married the Tsar’s cousins (Grand Duke Peter Nikolaevich and Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich), and were instrumental in introducing Rasputin to the tsar and his family.

Rasputin first met the Tsar on November 1st, 1905, at the Peterhof Palace. The tsar recorded the event in his diary, writing that he and Alexandra had “made the acquaintance of a man of God – Grigory, from Tobolsk province.” Rasputin did not meet the Tsar and his wife again for some months: he returned to Prokovskoye shortly after their first meeting and did not return to St. Petersburg until July 1906. On his return, Rasputin sent Nicholas a telegram asking to present the tsar with an icon of Simeon of Verkhoturye. He met with Nicholas and Alexandra on July 18th  and again in October, when he first met their children. At some point, the royal family became convinced that Rasputin possessed the power to heal Alexei of his hemophilia, but historians disagree over when. Much of Rasputin’s influence with the royal family stemmed from the belief by Alexandra and others that he had eased the pain and stopped the bleeding of the tsarevich on several occasions.

During the summer of 1912, Alexei developed a hemorrhage in his thigh and groin after a jolting carriage ride near the royal hunting grounds at Spala, which caused a large hematoma. In severe pain and delirious with fever, the tsarevich appeared to be close to death. In desperation, the Tsarina asked Vyrubova to send Rasputin (who was in Siberia) a telegram, asking him to pray for Alexei. Rasputin wrote back quickly, telling the Tsarina that “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.” The next morning, Alexei’s condition was unchanged, but Alexandra was encouraged by the message and regained some hope that Alexei would survive. Alexei’s bleeding stopped the following day. Alexandra believed that Rasputin had performed a miracle, and concluded that he was essential to Alexei’s survival.

The royal family’s – and especially Alexandra’s – belief that Rasputin possessed the power to heal Alexei brought him considerable status and power at court. The tsar appointed Rasputin his lampadnik, or lamplighter, who was charged with keeping the lamps that burned in front of religious icons in the palace lit and thus had regular access to the palace and royal family. By December 1906, Rasputin had become close enough to the royal family to ask a special favor of the Tsar – that he be permitted to change his surname to Rasputin-Novyi (Rasputin-New). Nicholas granted the request and the name change was speedily processed, suggesting that the Tsar viewed – and treated – Rasputin favorably at that time. Rasputin used his status and power to full effect, accepting bribes and sexual favors from admirers and working diligently to expand his influence. He soon became a controversial figure; he was accused by his enemies of religious heresy and rape, was suspected of exerting undue political influence over the tsar, and was even rumored to be having an affair with the tsarina.

Even before Rasputin’s arrival in St. Petersburg in 1903, alternative religious movements such as spiritualism and theosophy had become increasingly popular among the city’s aristocracy, and many of them were intensely curious about the occult and the supernatural more generally. While fascinated by him, the Saint Petersburg elite did not widely accept Rasputin. He did not fit in with the royal family, and he and the Russian Orthodox Church had a very strained relationship. The Holy Synod frequently attacked Rasputin, accusing him of a variety of immoral or evil practices. Because Rasputin was a court official, though, he and his apartment were under 24-hour surveillance, and, accordingly, there exists some credible evidence about his lifestyle in the form of the famous “staircase notes” – reports from police spies, which were not given only to the tsar but also published in newspapers.

Like many spiritually minded Russians, Rasputin spoke of salvation as depending less on the clergy and the church than on seeking the spirit of God within. He also maintained that sin and repentance were interdependent and necessary to salvation. Thus, he claimed that yielding to temptation (and, for him personally, this meant sex and alcohol), even for the purposes of humiliation (so as to dispel the sin of vanity), was needed to proceed to repentance and salvation. Rasputin was deeply opposed to war, both from a moral point of view and as something which was likely to lead to political catastrophe. During the years of World War I, Rasputin’s increasing drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and willingness to accept bribes (in return for helping petitioners who flocked to his apartment), as well as his efforts to have his critics dismissed from their posts, made him appear increasingly cynical. Attaining divine grace through sin seems to have been one of the central secret doctrines which Rasputin preached to (and practiced with) his inner circle of society ladies.

During World War I, Rasputin became the focus of accusations of unpatriotic influence at court. The unpopular tsarina, meanwhile, who was of Anglo-German descent, was accused of acting as a spy in German employ. When Rasputin expressed an interest in going to the front to bless the troops early in the war, the commander-in-chief, grand duke Nicholas, promised to hang him if he dared to show up there. Rasputin then claimed that he had a revelation that the Russian armies would not be successful until the tsar personally took command. With this, the ill-prepared tsar proceeded to take personal command of the Russian army, with dire consequences for himself as well as for Russia. While Nicholas was away at war, Rasputin’s influence over Alexandra increased. He soon became her confidant and personal adviser, and he convinced her to fill some governmental offices with his own handpicked candidates. To advance his power further in the highest circles of Russian society, Rasputin cohabited with upper-class women in exchange for granting political favors.

World War I, the ossifying effects of feudalism, and a meddling government bureaucracy all contributed to Russia’s declining economy at a very rapid rate. Many at the time laid the blame with Alexandra and with Rasputin, because of his influence over her.

Rasputin’s influence over the royal family was used against him and the Romanovs by politicians and journalists who wanted to weaken the integrity of the dynasty, force the tsar to give up his absolute political power and separate the Russian Orthodox Church from the state. Rasputin unintentionally contributed to their propaganda by having public disputes with clergy members, bragging about his ability to influence both the tsar and tsarina, and also by his dissolute and very public lifestyle. Nobles in influential positions around the Tsar, as well as some parties of the Duma, clamored for Rasputin’s removal from the court.

On 12th July [O.S. 29th June] 1914 a 33-year-old peasant woman named Chionya Guseva attempted to assassinate Rasputin by stabbing him in the stomach outside his home in Pokrovskoye. Rasputin was seriously wounded, and for a time it was not clear that he would survive. After surgery and some time in a hospital in Tyumen, however, he did recover.

Having decided that Rasputin’s influence over the Tsarina had made him a threat to the empire, a group of nobles led by prince Felix Yusupov, the grand duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich concocted a plan to kill Rasputin in December 1916, apparently by luring Rasputin to the Yusupovs’ Moika Palace. Rasputin was murdered during the early morning on 30th December [O.S. 17th December] 1916, at the home of Felix Yusupov. The circumstances of Rasputin’s death have been the subject of considerable speculation and have led to wild stories concerning his invulnerability.

Yusupov

According to Yusupov written account, he invited Rasputin to his home shortly after midnight and ushered him into the basement. Yusupov offered Rasputin tea and cakes which had been laced with cyanide. At first, Rasputin refused the cakes, but then began to eat them. To Yusupov’s surprise, Rasputin did not appear to be affected by the poison. Rasputin then asked for some Madeira wine (which had also been poisoned) and drank three glasses, but still showed no sign of distress. At around 2:30 am, Yusupov excused himself to go upstairs, where his fellow conspirators were waiting. Taking a revolver from Dmitry Pavlovich, Yusupov returned to the basement and, referring to a crucifix that was in the room, told Rasputin that he’d “better look at the crucifix and say a prayer,” then shot him once in the chest. Believing him to be dead, they then drove to Rasputin’s apartment, with Sukhotin wearing Rasputin’s coat and hat, in an attempt to make it look as though Rasputin had returned home that night. Upon returning to the Moika Palace, Yusupov went back to the basement to ensure that Rasputin was dead. Suddenly, Rasputin leapt up and attacked Yusupov, who – with some effort – freed himself and fled upstairs. Rasputin followed and made it into the palace’s courtyard before being shot by Purishkevich and collapsing into a snowbank. The conspirators then beat Rasputin with a club, wrapped his body in cloth, drove it to the Petrovsky Bridge and dropped it into the Malaya Nevka River. They claim that Rasputin was seen to be struggling as he floated down the river but that the cold water finally killed him.

The coroner’s report of the autopsy does not confirm this story. It says that there was undigested alcohol, but no cyanide in his stomach. So, either the doctor’s technique was flawed or Yusupov did not have genuine cyanide (which I suspect is the case). The report does not indicate any signs of the body having been beaten, nor was there any water in the lungs, meaning Rasputin was already dead when his body was thrown in the river. The body had three bullet wounds, two in the back that were not fatal, and one in the forehead delivered at point-blank range when Rasputin was supine. All of this suggests that Yusupov was weaving a detailed fantasy in his written testimony and that he shot Rasputin in the back and then, when he still showed signs of life while on the ground, shot him in the head, and then dumped the body in the river: less dramatic, but more believable.

It might be morbid to give a recipe for a favorite 19th century Russian cake to celebrate Rasputin, but I would not be the first. Here is a detailed video recipe for medovik – Russian honey cake. Note that there is no cyanide in the recipe.

Jan 102019
 

On this date in 1920 the Treaty of Versailles, the most important of the peace treaties that brought the First World War to an end went into effect. Armistice had been declared on November 11th 1918, and from then until June 1919 the Allied Powers hammered out their demands. The Treaty was signed on 28th June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I, but it did not take effect until January 10th 1920. The Treaty officially ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers and laid out the terms of peace. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21st October 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed roughly 100 years after the Treaty of Vienna both having much the same ideals – to prevent large scale wars breaking out in Europe, but with absolutely knuckleheaded provisions that ensured that no one would be happy and conflict would certainly arise as a consequence of the provisions. In fact, in can be argued that the First World War was a long term consequence of the Treaty of Vienna, and that the Second World War was a rather shorter term consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, although the Great Depression was an important additional factor in the rise of Hitler and fascism; (then again, the Depression might have been weathered better by Germany were it not for crippling reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles). The ending of the Second World War was somewhat more sane, in that the Allied victors saw that helping the defeated nations to rebuild would be more conducive to peace than crippling and hogtying them.  The Allies also encouraged the development of trade agreements across the continent that led to the European Economic Community and, eventually, the European Union, again with the idea that cooperation rather than revenge healed wounds better and potentially permanently.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required that “Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2019). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content, and Germany was neither pacified, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.

Although it is often referred to as the “Versailles Conference”, only the actual signing of the treaty took place at the historic palace. Most of the negotiations were in Paris, with the “Big Four” (UK, US, France and Italy) meeting generally at the Quai d’Orsay.

By 1920 the palace at Versailles had long since been abandoned as a royal residence, but its grandeur remained, hence making it a fitting locale for the signing of a grand treaty. In its grandest days under Louis XIV, Versailles was the scene of many sumptuous banquets, and some of the menus remain. On one of these menus is a dish that caught my eye, wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy. Cromesquis are minced meat patties that are breaded and deep fried, and à la Villeroy means that they are coated with bechamel sauce before being breaded.

Wild duck is usually not especially tender but it is very flavorful. It can be roasted plain, but mincing the meat ensures that it is not stringy or chewy. I am not sure whether in Louis XIV’s time the meat was chopped raw, or the duck was cooked first. If you have a wild duck you can parboil or roast it before making cromesquis, but parboiling will dull the flavor. Briefly roasting (around 20 minutes) in a very hot oven would be all right, as would chopping the meat raw. Either way, make croquettes of the meat and dip them in bechamel sauce. Place them on waxed paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate so that the bechamel solidifies and coheres.  Place beaten egg and breadcrumbs in separate dishes, and, using the wet hand, dry hand method. Dip the meat croquettes in beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Deep fry until golden and serve very hot.

Jan 082019
 

Today (the day after Plough Monday) was the day when the Whittlesea Straw Bear came out for his annual dance. The festival of the Straw Bear or “Strawbower” is a nineteenth century custom known only from a small area of Fenland on the borders of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, including Ramsey Mereside. Whittlesey (modern spelling) is in the Fens in northern Cambridgeshire. A man covered completely in an outfit made of straw, accompanied by a keeper who led him around on a chain, and a musician, pranced around the streets — the keeper rattling a collecting box. The custom died out around 1909 because the local police inspector regarded it as basic begging with little merit. It was revived in rather different form in 1980. Now the Straw Bear is the centerpiece of a weekend long folk festival and has little resemblance to the original custom. Here is an old description of the original custom and the music used:

https://soundcloud.com/strawbearmusic/straw-bear-festival-rattlebone

The festival has now expanded to cover the whole weekend when the Bear appears (not Plough Tuesday nowadays, but the second weekend in January instead). On the Saturday of the festival, the Bear processes around the streets with its attendant “keeper” and musicians, followed by numerous dance sides (mostly visitors), including morris men and women, molly dancers, rapper and longsword dancers, clog dancers and others, who perform at various points along the route. This is from 2016:

East Anglia has a number of suet puddings to its name, and I am fond of all of them, especially at this time of year if I am in northern Europe. I’ll give you the traditional nineteenth-century version of pork fillet pudding from Cambridgeshire. In Victorian times, cooks made boiled suet puddings by lining a pudding cloth (unbleached muslin) with suet pastry, adding a filing, then drawing up the pastry to make a package, then pulling together the cloth to make a bundle. They then simmered the bundle directly in boiling water. I have done this, but I prefer to line a pudding basin with a double layer of cheesecloth overlapping the sides, line it with suet pastry, add the filling, put on a pastry top, then fold over the excess cheesecloth, and tie the top of the pudding basin with a lid of greaseproof paper. Then steam the pudding in a steamer with the basin clear of the boiling water. This way the suet crust does not get all soggy. So . . .

Take a lump of suet pastry and roll it our to form a 12” square. Place the pastry over a slightly larger pudding cloth and place a pork fillet in the middle. Peel and finely chop and onion and gently sauté it in a little butter until it is soft. Add a generous amount of dried sage and sauté a little longer until the sage is aromatic. Spread the sage and onion mix over the pork, draw up the corners of the pastry to form a package, and tie the pudding cloth around the pudding in a well sealed bundle. Place in simmering water, and simmer, covered for about 4 hours. Check the water level periodically and top up with boiling water from a kettle if the level gets low.