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.

Jan 072019
 

Today is the birthday (1502) of Ugo Boncompagni who became pope Gregory XIII in 1572. He is best known for commissioning his namesake Gregorian calendar, but his influence in his day was much more widespread. Remember, his lifespan covered the major upheaval in Europe of the Protestant Reformation.

Gregory was the son of Cristoforo Boncompagni (1470 – 1546) and Angela Marescalchi, born in Bologna, where he studied law, graduating in 1530. Later he taught jurisprudence for some years. He had an illegitimate son, Giacomo, after an affair with Maddalena Fulchini, before he took holy orders. At the age of 36 he was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul III (1534–1549), under whom he held successive appointments as first judge of the capital, abbreviator, and vice-chancellor of the Campagna. Pope Paul IV (1555–1559) attached him as datarius to the suite of cardinal Carlo Carafa, Pope Pius IV (1559–1565) made him cardinal-priest of San Sisto Vecchio basilica and sent him to the Council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563 to address the crisis in the Catholic church created by the Protestant Reformation and to launch the Counter Reformation.

He also served as a legate to Philip II of Spain (1556–1598), being sent by the Pope to investigate the cardinal of Toledo. It was there that he formed a lasting and close relationship with Philip, which was to become a key component of his foreign policy as Pope, especially in his dealings with England and Ireland.

Upon the death of Pius V (1566–1572), the conclave chose Boncompagni as pope, who assumed the name of Gregory XIII in homage to the great reforming Pope, Gregory I (590–604), surnamed the Great. It was a very brief conclave, lasting less than 24 hours. Many historians have attributed this to the influence and backing of the Spanish king. Gregory XIII’s character seemed to be perfect for the needs of the church at the time. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was to lead a faultless personal life, becoming a model of simplicity. Additionally, his legal brilliance and management abilities meant that he was able to respond and deal with major problems quickly and decisively, although not always successfully.

Once he came pope, Gregory XIII’s rather worldly concerns became secondary and he dedicated himself to reform of the Catholic Church. He committed himself to putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent. He allowed no exceptions for cardinals to the rule that bishops must take up residence in their sees, and designated a committee to update the Index of Forbidden Books. He was the patron of a new and greatly improved edition of the Corpus juris canonici. In a time of considerable centralization of power, Gregory XIII abolished the consistories of cardinals, replacing them with colleges, and appointing specific tasks for these colleges to work on. He was renowned for having a fierce independence; some confidants noted that he neither welcomed interventions nor sought advice. The power of the papacy increased under him, whereas the influence and power of the cardinals substantially decreased.

A central part of the strategy of Gregory XIII’s reform was to apply the recommendations of Trent. He was a liberal patron of the recently formed Society of Jesus throughout Europe, for which he founded many new colleges. The Roman College of the Jesuits grew substantially under his patronage, and became the most important center of learning in Europe for a time. It is now named the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope Gregory XIII also founded numerous seminaries for training priests, beginning with the German College at Rome, and put them in the charge of the Jesuits.

In 1575 he gave official status to the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of priests without vows, dedicated to prayer and preaching (founded by Saint Philip Neri). In 1580 he commissioned artists, including Ignazio Danti, to complete works to decorate the Vatican and commissioned The Gallery of Maps. Also noteworthy during his pontificate as a further means of putting into practice the recommendations of the Council of Trent is the transformation in 1580 of the Dominican studium founded in the 13th century in Rome into the College of St. Thomas, the precursor of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum.

Pope Gregory XIII is best known for his commissioning of a new calendar started by the Calabrian doctor/astronomer Aloysius Lilius with the aid of Jesuit priest/astronomer Christopher Clavius who made the final modifications. The reason for the reform was that the average length of the year in the Julian calendar was too long. It treated each year as 365 days, 6 hours in length, whereas calculations showed that the actual mean length of a year is slightly less (365 days, 5 hours and 49 minutes). As a result, the date of the actual vernal equinox had slowly (over the course of 13 centuries) slipped to 10th March, while the computus (calculation) of the date of Easter still followed the traditional date of 21st March.

This was verified by the observations of Clavius, and the new calendar was instituted when Gregory decreed, by the papal bull Inter gravissimas of 24th February 1582, that the day after Thursday, 4th October 1582 would be not Friday, 5 October, but Friday, 15 October 1582. The new calendar duly replaced the Julian calendar, in use since 45 BCE, although it took centuries to come into universal use, particularly because of resistance in Protestant countries.

Though he expressed the conventional fears of the danger from the Turks, Gregory XIII’s attentions were more consistently directed to the dangers from the Protestants. He also encouraged the plans of Philip II to dethrone Elizabeth I of England, thus helping to develop an atmosphere of subversion and imminent danger among English Protestants, who looked on any Catholic as a potential traitor (right through the reigns of all the Stuart monarchs).

In 1578, to further the plans of exiled English and Irish Catholics such as Nicholas Sanders, William Allen, and James Fitzmaurice FitzGerald, Gregory outfitted adventurer Thomas Stukeley with a ship and an army of 800 men to land in Ireland to aid the Catholics against the Protestant colonies. To his dismay, Stukeley joined his forces with those of king Sebastian of Portugal against Emperor Abdul Malik of Morocco instead.

Another papal expedition sailed to Ireland in 1579 with only 50 soldiers under the command of Fitzmaurice, accompanied by Sanders as papal legate.[citation needed] All of the soldiers and sailors on board, as well as the women and children who accompanied them, were beheaded or hanged on landing in Kerry, in the Smerwick Massacre. Gregory’s greatest success came in his patronage of colleges and seminaries which he founded in continental Europe for expatriate Irish and English Catholics, among others. In 1580 he was persuaded by English Jesuits to moderate or suspend the Bull Regnans in Excelsis (1570) which had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catholics were advised to obey the queen outwardly in all civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow.

After the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres of Huguenots in France in 1572, Gregory celebrated a Te Deum mass. However, some hold that he was ignorant of the nature of the plot at the time, having been told the Huguenots had tried to take over the government but failed. Three frescoes in the Sala Regia Palace of the Vatican depicting the events were painted by Giorgio Vasari, and a commemorative medal was issued with Gregory’s portrait and on the obverse a chastising angel, sword in hand and the legend UGONOTTORUM STRAGES (“Overthrow of the Huguenots”).

In Rome Gregory XIII built the magnificent Gregorian chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter, and extended the Quirinal Palace in 1580. He also turned the Baths of Diocletian into a granary in 1575. He appointed his illegitimate son Giacomo, castellan of Sant’Angelo and Gonfalonier of the Church, and Venice, anxious to please Gregory, enrolled him among its nobles. Philip II of Spain appointed him general in his army. Gregory also helped his son to become a powerful feudatary through the acquisition of the Duchy of Sora, on the border between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Gregory died on 10th April 1585.

Gregory was born, raised, and practiced law in Bologna before moving to Rome, so that a recipe for ragù alla bolognese is suitable even though the first documented recipe comes from the late 18th century – well after Gregory’s time. Can’t have everything. In Italian cuisine this sauce is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragù and to prepare lasagne alla bolognese. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its preparation involves several techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of fatty pork or pancetta. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato concentrate or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce. What is called Bolognese sauce outside of Italy is usually more akin to southern Italian sauces that are heavy with tomatoes, whereas ragù from Bologna is not. Also, ragù is not served with spaghetti in Italy, where the ubiquitous US and UK “spag Bol” is unheard of and unthinkable (much the same as spaghetti and meatballs is an abomination).

The earliest documented recipe for a meat-based sauce (ragù) served with pasta comes from late 18th century Imola, near Bologna. Pellegrino Artusi published a recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being bolognese in his cookbook published in 1891. Artusi’s recipe, which he called maccheroni alla bolognese, is thought to derive from the mid-19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna (maccheroni being a generic term for pasta, both dried and fresh). The recipe only partially resembles the ragù alla bolognese that is traditionally associated with tagliatelle. The sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi commented that the taste could be made even more pleasant by adding small pieces of dried mushroom, a few slices of truffle, or chicken liver cooked with the meat and diced. As a final touch, he also suggested adding half a glass of cream to the sauce when it was completely done to make it taste even smoother. Artusi recommended serving this sauce with a medium size pasta (“horse teeth”) made from durum wheat. The pasta was to be made fresh, cooked until it was firm, and then flavored with the sauce and Parmigiano cheese.

The trick to cooking ragù alla bolognese traditionally is to take your time. Let the meat and vegetables simmer in broth for hour upon hour until the sauce is thick, rich and flavorful. Then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the taste mature. You can follow Artusi’s directions, or add a little tomato paste to the broth. But do not add too much. This is not a Neapolitan sauce. If you are in any doubt, hop a plane to Italy and head to any trattoria in Bologna. You will not find a bad ragù; you will have to wait, though. This is not fast food.

Dec 152018
 

Francesco Vincenzo Zahra, a Maltese painter who mainly painted religious works in the Neapolitan Baroque style was baptized on this date in 1710. His date of birth is unknown. His works may be found in many churches around the Maltese Islands, as well as in some private collections and museums.

Zahra was born in Senglea, the son of the stone carver Pietro Paolo Zahra and Augustina Casanova. Zahra’s career as an artist lasted for four decades, and he came to be considered as the greatest painter from Malta of the 18th century. He painted in the Baroque style and was strongly influenced from the art scene of Naples. Zahra’s works include many religious paintings, including altarpieces or other large paintings for churches, vault murals and devotional paintings for private commissions. He is also responsible for a number of portraits, drawings for reredoses, some furniture in churches, and works in marble.

He probably began to paint at a young age, and he likely trained at Gio Nicola Buhagiar’s workshop in the 1730s. By around 1740, his style began to mature and develop further than that of his tutor Buhagiar. Zahra became the most prolific Maltese painter by around 1745, being rivaled only by the French artist Antoine de Favray who at that time worked in Malta. Zahra’s style further developed over the years, and in around the mid-1750s his figures and the atmosphere of his paintings had changed, showing influences from Mattia Preti and Favray himself.

Zahra’s first significant commission came in 1732, when he painted an altarpiece depicting Three Dominican Saints Adoring the Holy Name of Jesus for the Church of Santa Maria della Grotta in Rabat. His most significant work includes the paintings on the ceiling of the Chapter Hall of the Mdina Cathedral, which were done in 1756.

Zahra moved from his hometown Senglea to the capital Valletta. He was married to Teresa Fenech from 26th February 1743 until her premature death on 27th May 1751. They had five children together, three of whom survived infancy. Zahra died on 19 August 1773 at the age of 62.

Here is your gallery:

Pie made from the fish the Maltese call lampuki is a local favorite. In the US and English-speaking world, lampuki is called mahi-mahi or, sometimes, dolphinfish or dorado. This is not your usual fish pie. It has a mix of black olives, sultanas, and capers to complement the fish.

Torta tal-lampuki

Ingredients:

400 gm flaky pastry
800 gm lampuki fillets cut in bite-sized pieces
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
150 gm diced carrots
12 black olives, pitted and halved
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp of sultanas dehydrated in warm water
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
250 ml/1 cup fish stock
olive oil
salt and pepper
beaten egg

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Steam the fish quickly until it is barely cooked. Drain and set aside.

Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and sauté the chopped onions and garlic until soft. Add the tomato purée, cauliflower, and carrots together with 1 cup of fish stock, and cook until the vegetables are tender.  Add the olives, capers and sultanas, and stir. Remove from the heat.

Line a pie dish with ¾ of the pastry.  Place half of the vegetable mixture into the pie dish and spread the fish evenly over it, then cover the fish with the remaining half of the vegetables.  Spread the remaining pastry over the filling and brush it with some beaten egg.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

 

Dec 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1546) of Tyge Ottesen Brahe, known in the English-speaking world as Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman, astronomer, and writer known for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical and planetary observations. He was born in the then-Danish (now Swedish) peninsula of Scania. His observations, done only with the naked eye before telescopes were available, were about five times more accurate than the best available observations at the time.

Tycho aspired to a level of accuracy in his estimated positions of celestial bodies of being consistently within a arcminute of their real celestial locations, and also claimed to have achieved this level. But, in fact, many of the stellar positions in his star catalogues were less accurate than that. To perform the huge number of multiplications needed to produce much of his astronomical data, Tycho relied heavily on a new technique called prosthaphaeresis, an algorithm for approximating products based on trigonometric identities that predated logarithms.

Although Tycho admired Copernicus and was the first to teach his theory in Denmark, he was unable to reconcile Copernican theory with the basic laws of Aristotelian physics, that he considered to be foundational. He was also critical of the observational data that Copernicus built his theory on, which he correctly considered to have a high margin of error. Instead, Tycho proposed a “geo-heliocentric” system in which the Sun and Moon orbited the Earth, while the other planets orbited the Sun. Tycho’s system had many of the same observational and computational advantages that Copernicus’ system had, and both systems could also accommodate the phases of Venus, although Galileo had yet to discover them. Tycho’s system provided a safe position for astronomers who were dissatisfied with older models but were reluctant to accept heliocentrism and the Earth’s motion. It gained a considerable following after 1616 when Rome declared that the heliocentric model was contrary to both philosophy and Scripture, and could be discussed only as a computational convenience that had no connection to fact. Tycho’s system also offered a major innovation: while both the purely geocentric model and the heliocentric model as set forth by Copernicus relied on the idea of transparent rotating crystalline spheres to carry the planets in their orbits, Tycho eliminated the spheres entirely. Kepler, as well as other Copernican astronomers, tried to persuade Tycho to adopt the heliocentric model of the solar system, but he was not persuaded. According to Tycho, the idea of a rotating and revolving Earth would be “in violation not only of all physical truth but also of the authority of Holy Scripture, which ought to be paramount.”

With respect to physics, Tycho held that the Earth was just too sluggish and heavy to be continuously in motion. According to the accepted Aristotelian physics of the time, the heavens (whose motions and cycles were continuous and unending) were made of “Aether” or “Quintessence.” This substance, not found on Earth, was light, strong, unchanging, and its natural state was circular motion. By contrast, the Earth (where objects seem to have motion only when moved) and things on it were composed of substances that were heavy and whose natural state was rest. Accordingly, Tycho said the Earth was a “lazy” body that was not readily moved. Thus while Tycho acknowledged that the daily rising and setting of the sun and stars could be explained by the Earth’s rotation, as Copernicus had said, he, nonetheless believed that, “such a fast motion could not belong to the earth, a body very heavy and dense and opaque, but rather belongs to the sky itself whose form and subtle and constant matter are better suited to a perpetual motion, however fast.”

With respect to the stars, Tycho also believed that, if the Earth orbited the Sun annually, there should be an observable stellar parallax over any period of six months, during which the angular orientation of a given star would change thanks to Earth’s changing position. (This parallax does exist, but is so small it was not detected until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel discovered a parallax of 0.314 arcseconds of the star 61 Cygni.) The Copernican explanation for this lack of parallax was that the stars were such a great distance from Earth that Earth’s orbit was almost insignificant by comparison. However, Tycho noted that this explanation introduced another problem: Stars as seen by the naked eye appear small, but of some size, with more prominent stars such as Vega appearing larger than lesser stars such as Polaris, which in turn appear larger than many others. Tycho had determined that a typical star measured approximately a minute of arc in size, with more prominent ones being two or three times as large. In writing to Christoph Rothmann, a Copernican astronomer, Tycho used basic geometry to show that, assuming a small parallax that just escaped detection, the distance to the stars in the Copernican system would have to be 700 times greater than the distance from the sun to Saturn. Moreover, the only way the stars could be so distant and still appear the sizes they do in the sky would be if even average stars were gigantic — at least as big as the orbit of the Earth, and of course vastly larger than the sun. And, Tycho said, the more prominent stars would have to be even larger still. And what if the parallax was even smaller than anyone thought, so the stars were yet more distant? Then they would all have to be even larger still. . . which, in fact, they are.

Kepler used Tycho’s records of the motion of Mars to deduce laws of planetary motion, enabling calculation of astronomical tables with unprecedented accuracy (the Rudolphine Tables) and providing powerful support for a heliocentric model of the solar system. Galileo’s 1610 telescopic discovery that Venus shows a full set of phases refuted the pure geocentric Ptolemaic model. After that it seems 17th-century astronomy mostly converted to geo-heliocentric planetary models that could explain these phases just as well as the heliocentric model could, but without the latter’s disadvantage of the failure to detect any annual stellar parallax that Tycho and others regarded as refuting it.

The three main geo-heliocentric models were the Tychonic, the Capellan with just Mercury and Venus orbiting the Sun such as favored by Francis Bacon, for example, and the extended Capellan model of Riccioli with Mars also orbiting the Sun whilst Saturn and Jupiter orbit the fixed Earth. But the Tychonic model was probably the most popular, albeit probably in what was known as ‘the semi-Tychonic’ version with a daily rotating Earth. This model was advocated by Tycho’s ex-assistant and disciple Longomontanus in his 1622 Astronomia Danica that was the intended completion of Tycho’s planetary model with his observational data, and which was regarded as the canonical statement of the complete Tychonic planetary system.

The ardent anti-heliocentric French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Morin devised a Tychonic planetary model with elliptical orbits published in 1650 in a simplified, Tychonic version of the Rudolphine Tables. Some acceptance of the Tychonic system persisted through the 17th century and in places until the early 18th century; it was supported (after a 1633 decree about the Copernican controversy) by “a flood of pro-Tycho literature” of Jesuit origin. Among pro-Tycho Jesuits, Ignace Pardies declared in 1691 that it was still the commonly accepted system, and Francesco Blanchinus reiterated that as late as 1728. Persistence of the Tychonic system, especially in Catholic countries, has been attributed to its satisfaction of a need (relative to Catholic doctrine) for “a safe synthesis of ancient and modern”. After 1670, even many Jesuit writers only thinly disguised their Copernicanism. But in Germany, the Netherlands, and England, the Tychonic system vanished from scientific literature much earlier.

No dish better suits the celebration of Tycho Brahe than spettekaka or spettkaka (spiddekaga in native Scanian) a dessert that originates in the province of Scania (Skåne) where he was born.  The name means “cake on a spit” which, as you will see from the video, exactly describes its production. A mixture consisting mainly of eggs, potato starch flour and sugar is squirted slowly on to a conical spit which is being rotated over an open fire or other heat source. So, a spinning dessert for an advocate of spinning bodies in space. Spettekaka can range in size anywhere from a few inches to several feet in height and over a foot in diameter. The very large cakes are served by sawing cuboids from the cake, leaving as much standing as possible. Spettekaka is frequently served accompanied by dark coffee, vanilla ice cream and port wine.

This video shows how spettekaka is made. Sorry it is in Swedish, but you’ll get the gist:

Dec 132018
 

On this date in 1640 Robert Plot FRS was baptized. His date of birth is not recorder. He was an English naturalist, first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. He also hold the unique distinction of being the only seventeenth century English scientist who was wrong about absolutely every theory he proposed. I happen to know about him because he wrote about a strange English traditional custom, and his description is the oldest description of traditional dance we have.

Plot was born in Borden in Kent and educated at the Wye Free School. He entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford in 1658 where he received his BA in 1661 and an MA in 1664. He subsequently taught and served as dean and vice principal at Magdalen Hall while preparing for his BCL and DCL, which he received in 1671 before moving to University College in 1676. By this time, Plot had already developed an interest in the systematic study of natural history and antiquities. In June 1674, with patronage from John Fell, the bishop of Oxford, and Ralph Bathhurst, vice-chancellor of the university, Plot began studying and collecting artefacts throughout the nearby countryside, publishing his findings three years later in The Natural History of Oxford-shire. In this work, he described and illustrated various rocks, minerals and fossils, including the first known illustration of a dinosaur bone which he attributed to a giant (later recognized as the femur of a Megalosaurus), but believed that most fossils were not remains of living organisms but rather crystallizations of mineral salts with a coincidental zoological form.

The favorable reception of his findings not only earned him the nickname of the “learned Dr. Plot,” but also led to his election into the Royal Society of London on 6th December 1677, where he served as the society’s secretary and joint editor of the Philosophical Transactions (144–178) from 1682 through 1684. Another consequence of his success was his appointment as the first keeper of the newly established Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1683, as well as his simultaneous appointment as the first professor of chemistry in the new well-equipped laboratory housed within the museum.

In the field of chemistry he searched for a universal solvent that could be obtained from wine spirits, and believed that alchemy was necessary for medicine. In 1684, Plot published De origine fontium, a treatise on the source of springs, which he attributed to underground channels originating from the sea. Plot shifted his focus towards archaeology in the 1686 publication of his second book, The Natural History of Staffordshire, but misinterpreted Roman remains as Saxon. He also describes a double sunset viewable from Leek, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, and, for the first time, the Polish swan, a pale morph of the Mute swan.

Here is his description of the horn dance:

  1. At Abbots, or now rather Pagets Bromley, they had al∣so within memory, a sort of sport, which they celebrated at Christmas (on New-year, and Twelft-day) call’d the Hobby-horse dance, from a person that carryed the image of a horse between his leggs, made of thin boards, and in his hand a bow and arrow, which passing through a hole in the bow, and stopping upon a sholder it had in it, he made a snapping noise as he drew it to and fro, keeping time with the Musick: with this Man danced 6 others, carrying on their shoulders as many Rain deers heads, 3 of them painted white, and 3 red, with the Armes of the cheif families (viz. of Paget, Bagot, and Wells) to whom the revenews of the Town cheifly belonged, depicted on the palms of them, with which they danced the Hays, and other Country dances. To this Hobby-horse dance there also belong’d a pot, which was kept by turnes, by 4 or 5 of the cheif of the Town, whom they call’d Reeves, who provided Cakes and Ale to put in this pot; all people who had any kindness for the good in∣tent of the Institution of the sport, giving pence a piece for themselves and families; and so forraigners too, that came to see it: with which Mony (the charge of the Cakes and Ale be∣ing defrayed) they not only repaired their Church but kept their poore too: which charges are not now perhaps so cheer∣fully boarn.

There is no telling how accurate this description is, but it is unusually detailed for the era. You can find more on the dance in this post: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/abbots-bromley-horn-dance/  It contains a full appraisal of historical sources.

In 1687, Plot was made a notary public by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as appointed the registrar to the Norfolk Court of Chivalry. Plot resigned from his posts at Oxford in 1690, thereafter marrying Rebecca Burman of London and retiring to his property of Sutton Barne in his hometown of Borden, where he worked on The Natural History of Middlesex and Kent but never completed. The office of Mowbray Herald Extraordinary was created in January 1695 for Plot, who was made registrar of the College of Heralds just two days later. Although able to go on an archaeological tour of Anglia in September 1695, Plot was greatly suffering from urinary calculi, and succumbed to his illness on 30th April 1696. He was buried at Borden Church, where a plaque memorializes him.

Here is a 17th century recipe for an apple paste from A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1617) used to make fake plums. It reminds me a little of marzipan fruits, and also makes a sardonic comment on Plot who appeared unable to see things for what they really were. The recipe is vague as to the temperature you have to achieve with the apple and sugar mix. I’m thinking around 250°F/120°C.

To make Paste of Pippins, after the Genua fashion, some like leaves, some like Plums, with stalkes and stones.

 Take and pare faire yellow Pippins, cut them in small pieces, stew them betwixt two dishes with two or three spoonefuls of Rosewater, and when they be boiled very tender, straine them then boile the weight of the pulp in double refined Sugar vnto a Candie height, and if you please put in a graine of Muske, and a quarter of an ounce of fine white ginger searced, and so let it boile vntill you see it come from the bottome of the Posnet, then fashion it on a sheete of glasse in some prettie forme as you thinke best, and stoue it either in a Stoue, or in a warme Ouen. If you desire to haue any of it red, colour it with a spoonefull of Conserue of Damsons, before you fashion it vpon your glasse or plate, and that will make shew as though it were made of red Plums. If you put a stone betwixt two halfes, will shew like a Plum, you may keepe Cherrie stalkes drie for the same purpose.