Sep 232017
 

Today is the birthday (63 BCE) of Augustus, founder of the Roman Principate and first Roman emperor, who controlled the Roman Empire from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. He is a monumentally pivotal figure in ancient Roman history in the period known commonly as the Roman Revolution: the timespan seeing the tail end of the Roman Republic with the assassination of Julius Caesar, civil war with Augustus as a key player, and the emergence of the Roman Empire. Here are the bare bones.

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. Julius Caesar was his maternal great-uncle, and, under the name Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). Octavian was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, when Octavian was 20, upon which he, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat Caesar’s assassins. These were unsettled times in Rome. Powerful generals such as Caesar and Pompey wanted to wield greater individual power than the Senate and ended up in a civil war with Caesar triumphant. Thereafter Caesar’s power grew until many people were afraid that he would seek to be king. So they assassinated him. Getting rid of one man with ambitions for individual power did not return the Roman Republic to its old ways, however.

The Second Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus were the First) defeated the assassins in various stages culminating in their victory at the Battle of Philippi.  Afterwards the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators, but the alliance was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BCE.

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian (Augustus after 27 BCE) restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire. Historians routinely refer to Augustus as the first emperor, but Latin titles are a bit confusing. Octavian was styled Imperator (from which we get “Emperor”) as early as 38 BCE, but Imperator should really be translated “Commander” (or “Conquering Hero”) rather than “Emperor.” It was a title bestowed routinely on victorious generals as well as certain magistrates in the time of the Republic, and could still be used by certain generals in the early Empire. It was only later in the Empire that it was the exclusive title of the Empire’s rulers.  We shouldn’t let linguistic quibbles get in the way of historical facts, however. Augustus, de facto, was the first Roman Emperor.

I’ve studied this transition period quite extensively ever since I chose it as a special paper for my history A-levels and for my Oxford entrance exams. It all seemed tremendously momentous when I first came to the period as a teen. Now, as a (hopefully) mature historian, I am given to wonder whether the changes that Augustus wrought as emperor were as obvious to people living at the time as they are to us now.  History frequently looks back at dates and events as crucial turning points.  Did they seem like turning points at the time? I’m given to doubt it.  History has a funny way of looking at things – in hindsight.

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from major conflict for more than two centuries thereafter, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” (a war over the imperial succession). Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have no serious rivals and when you have absolute power. Before Augustus the Republic was a mess, torn apart year after year by powerful men and factions seeking control and dominance.  The assassins finished off Caesar, then the Second Triumvirate finished off the assassins, then Octavian polished off the other triumvirs, and stood supremely alone at the top of the pile. Once that feat was accomplished and his hold on the reins of power was firmly established, it would have been mighty foolhardy to challenge him.  The times of challenging the emperor’s power lay in the future.

Augustus died in 14 CE at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. Seems a bit far-fetched to me.

If you are paying attention you will note that Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born (around 3 BCE). Yup, Jesus was probably born in the year 3 Before Christ !!! He died around 30 CE at the age of 33. If we are to believe Luke’s gospel (which I don’t) the legendary census that sent a pregnant Mary and her espoused, Joseph, to Bethlehem from their native Galilee, where she gave birth, was commanded by Augustus. As I have commented here several times before, the idea of a census covering the entire Roman Empire requiring every man, woman, and child to up stakes and leave their homes to go back to their ancestral homelands is both laughable and physically impossible. If Augustus had actually had such a ludicrously deranged idea he would have been locked up.

Tiberius

He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.

The common staple of rich and poor alike at the time of the Roman Revolution was puls, a porridge made from farro.  Farro is whole wheat grain produced from a specific kind of wheat.  You can find it pearled in health food stores in the US, but in Italy to this day they sell it unpearled in regular supermarkets. In ancient Rome puls was the normal breakfast food for the common people, but it could be eaten for any meal.  Vegetables or meat might be added to a main dish, or fruit and honey for a sweet one.

To make farro into a dish that almost certainly resembles ancient puls combine 1 part farro to 2 parts water (with salt to taste) in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered until the grains are al dente (!) – ignoring the irony of using modern Italian as an English cooking term – and the liquid is mostly absorbed.  For a soupier dish use more water. It can be eaten plain on its own (as the poorer Romans would have done) or as a side dish. Otherwise you can add what you will to dress it up – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Something similar is served in Tuscany these days as a breakfast dish with coffee as the liquid and candied fruit added for flavoring. Not my thing – at all.

 

 

Sep 162017
 

Today is the birthday (1886) of Jean or Hans Arp, an Alsation (French-German) sculptor, painter, poet, and abstract artist who worked in a variety of media including torn and pasted paper. When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as “Hans” and when he spoke in French he referred to himself as “Jean.” Arp was born in Strasbourg, the son of a French mother and a German father, during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after France had ceded it to Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law required that his name become Jean.

In 1904, after leaving the École des Arts et Métiers in Strasbourg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule in Weimar, Germany, and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. Arp was a founder-member of the Moderne Bund in Lucerne, participating in their exhibitions from 1911 to 1913.

In 1912, he went to Munich, called on Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, was encouraged by him in his researches and exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Later that year, he took part in a major exhibition in Zürich, along with Henri Matisse, Robert Delaunay and Kandinsky. In Berlin in 1913, he was taken up by Herwarth Walden, the dealer and magazine editor who was at that time one of the most powerful figures in the European avant-garde.

In 1915, he moved to Switzerland to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate, he avoided being drafted into the German Army: he took the paperwork he had been given and, in the first blank, wrote the date. He then wrote the date in every other space as well, then drew a line beneath them and carefully added them up. He then took off all his clothes and went to hand in his paperwork. I’d be inclined to argue that Dada was born at that moment !!

Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916. In 1920, as Hans Arp, along with Max Ernst and the social activist Alfred Grünwald, he set up the Cologne Dada group. However, in 1925, his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the surrealist group at the Galérie Pierre in Paris.

In 1926, Arp moved to the Paris suburb of Meudon. In 1931, he broke with the Surrealist movement to found Abstraction-Création, working with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création and the periodical, Transition. Beginning in the 1930s, the artist expanded his efforts from collage and bas-relief to include bronze and stone sculptures. He produced several small works made of multiple elements that the viewer could pick up, separate, and rearrange into new configurations.

Throughout the 1930s and until the end of his life, he wrote and published essays and poetry. In 1942, he fled from his home in Meudon to escape German occupation and lived in Zürich until the war ended. Arp visited New York City in 1949 for a solo exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery. In 1950, he was invited to execute a relief for the Harvard University Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was also commissioned to do a mural at the UNESCO building in Paris.

Here’s your gallery:

Arp died in 1966, in Basel.

Baeckeoffe (“baker’s oven”) is a classic dish from the French region of Alsace where Arp was born. Baeckeoffe is actually from the Alsatian dialect of German. The dish is a mix of sliced potatoes, sliced onions, cubed mutton, beef, and pork which have been marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and slow-cooked in a sealed ceramic casserole dish. Leeks, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrots and marjoram are other commonly added ingredients for flavor and color.

There are several stories concerning the origin of the dish based on the name.  I suspect that they are all rubbish.  Let’s, first of all, talk about bakers’ ovens. Until the 20th century the average-to-poor household in various European countries, including England, did not have an oven. If you wanted to roast something, you took it to the baker’s. There’s a famous scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol about people on Christmas Day going to the baker’s to get their dinner roasts. Bakers had very large ovens lined with fire brick.  They lit a roaring fire in them, got the bricks red hot, then raked out the fire and started the baking process. Over the course of the day the oven cooled, and so it was a rare art to be able to shift items around in the oven and be sure they all cooked correctly as the oven cooled.

One story claims that Baekeoffe was inspired by Hamin, an Ashkenazi traditional dish for Shabbat. Because of the spiritual prohibition against cooking from Friday night to Saturday night, the Jews had to prepare food for Saturday on Friday afternoon, and then would give the dish to the baker, who would keep it warm in his oven until Saturday noon.

A second story claims that traditionally Lutheran households would prepare Baeckeoffe on Saturday evening and leave it with the baker to cook in his gradually cooling oven on Sunday while they attended the lengthy – many hours – Lutheran church services which were more typical in the 19th century than now. The baker would take a “rope” of dough and line the rim of a large, heavy ceramic casserole, then place the lid upon it for an extremely tight seal. This kept the moisture in the container. On the way back from church, the women would pick up their casserole and a loaf of bread. This provided a meal to the Alsatians that respected the strict Lutheran rules of their Sabbath. Part of the ritual of serving the dish is breaking the crust formed by the rope of dough.

The third version of the story of the origin of this dish is that women in France would do laundry on Mondays and thus not have time to cook. They would drop the pots off at the baker on Monday morning and do the laundry. When the children returned home from school they would then pick up the pot at the baker and carry it home with them. This version of the story is favored by a number of food historians, but I think they are all hokum.

Baeckeoffe

Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
2 small leeks, white and pale green parts, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp whole juniper berries
1 ½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
3 cups (one 750 ml bottle) dry white wine, such as an Alsatian pinot gris, plus more, if needed, for the pot
1 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 lb boneless pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1¼ inch cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 lb Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced

Instructions

In a large bowl or very large plastic bag with a secure seal, mix together the onions, leeks, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme, parsley, wine, beef, pork, lamb, and salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well, seal, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Mix the meats and marinade occasionally. If they are in a bag, squeeze out the air before sealing and just turn it over once or twice.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°F. Smear the olive oil all over the bottom of a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven.

Cover the bottom of the pot with half of the potatoes. Strain the solids and meat from the marinade, reserving both separately. Spread the meats and vegetables on top of the potatoes and then top with the remaining potatoes. Carefully pour the reserved marinade over the potatoes. If the liquid does not cover the top of the potatoes, add more wine or water until they are just covered.

Cover the pot and bring the stew to a gentle simmer on top of the stove. Place the pot in the oven and bake until the meats are very tender, about 3 ½ hours. Serve, directly from the casserole, in warm, generously sized soup plates. Serve with crusty bread.

Serves 10 generously.

 

Sep 132017
 

Today is the birthday (1916) of Roald Dahl best known for his children’s books which have become very popular films, but also as a short story writer and poet, not to mention Second World War flying ace and MI6 agent who rose to the rank of (acting wing commander), and ardent activist for multiple causes, particularly childhood diseases. He was born in Wales to Norwegian parents, hence the very unBritish name. Despite his Norwegian background he fits squarely in a very long line of English children’s authors with eccentric imaginations (and personalities) bordering on the clinically insane. I’ve posted on many of them in the past including such luminaries as Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis, et al – not to mention Douglas Adams who wrote for adults but in the same loony, but brilliant, vein. In the limited space I have here I want to focus on Dahl’s personal life as an avenue into his writing. I’ll start with a poorly remembered anecdote I read years ago.

Dahl had very particular writing habits which I will get to in a minute.  One day he got a call from the local police while he was at work writing, informing him that his young son (maybe 12 years old) had driven the family car down to the local village to buy sweets but couldn’t get it started to get back home. Dahl was royally pissed off, not because his underage son had stolen the family car, but because his writing routine had been disturbed. I find this story most endearing, and indicative of the man. He was quite willing to forgive his son for the misdemeanor, in fact he admired his inventiveness. After all, he was trying to honor his father’s need for solitude whilst writing – but he wanted sweeties and thought he had found a way. Dahl was just ticked off because his son’s plan backfired and, in consequence,  inconvenienced him. He was tempted to get his son on the phone and instruct him in how to start the car so that he could get back to work. The thing is that Dahl wanted children to have happy childhoods, and most of this stems from the fact that his was miserable.

If I can be overgeneral for a moment I’d like to contrast English fantasy heroes with US ones. US comics and movies are replete with adult superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, Captain America, et al, fighting evil with SUPER power, whereas English novels have heroes who are either children (Barrie, Lewis, J.K. Rowling), or weak little people (Tolkein’s hobbits), who gain the day through ingenuity, courage, and integrity rather than brute strength. There we have the perfect metaphor for the world we live in today.  The US spends more on the armed forces and weaponry than the next top 10 military nations in the world – COMBINED – yet loses out, decade after decade, to much smaller and weaker nations, and has done so since the Second World War.  First there was Korea, then Vietnam, and now we have Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria . . . and on and on. Yet they never learn. Trump is calling for a yet bigger military budget to “rebuild” the country’s forces.  All it took in 2001 to completely cripple the country, and send shock waves of fear to every corner, was a few determined men (armed with box cutters) who had some rudimentary flight training and plane tickets. When I need help with a giant problem, give me Matilda over Captain America every time. Will Goliath ever learn that he’s going to lose to David time and time again?

Dahl’s childhood is painstakingly detailed in his autobiographical Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) which gives great insight into how and why he became the writer he was. Dahl was named after the Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, and his first language was Norwegian, which he spoke at home with his parents and his sisters Astri, Alfhild and Else. In 1920, when Dahl was 3 years old, his 7-year-old sister, Astri, died from appendicitis. Weeks later, his father died of pneumonia at the age of 57. With the option of returning to Norway to live with relatives, Dahl’s mother decided to remain in Wales, because Harald had wished to have their children educated in British schools, which he considered the world’s best.

Dahl first attended the Cathedral School, Llandaff. At the age of 8, he and four of his friends (one named Thwaites) were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop, which was owned by a “mean and loathsome” old woman called Mrs Pratchett. This was known among the five boys as the “Great Mouse Plot of 1924”. Dahl later glorified gobstoppers, a perennial favorite of English schoolboys, in “Everlasting Gobstopper” and later in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Thereafter, he transferred to a boarding school in England: St Peter’s in Weston-super-Mare. Dahl’s parents had wanted him to be educated at an English public school and, because of a then regular ferry link across the Bristol Channel, this proved to be the nearest. His time at St Peter’s was an unpleasant experience for him. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother every week but never revealed to her his unhappiness. Only after her death in 1967 did he find out that she had saved every single one of his letters, in small bundles held together with green tape.

From 1929, he attended Repton School in Derbyshire. Dahl had unhappy experiences of the school, describing an environment of ritual cruelty and acting as personal servants for older boys (fagging) along with terrible beatings. These violent experiences are described in Donald Sturrock’s biography of Dahl. There are, of course, strong echoes of these darker experiences in Dahl’s writings and his hatred of cruelty and corporal punishment. According to Boy: Tales of Childhood, a friend named Michael was viciously caned by headmaster Geoffrey Fisher, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and went on to crown Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Dahl was never seen as a particularly talented writer in his school years, with one of his English teachers writing in his school report “I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.” One has to wonder to what degree his boyhood creativity and imagination were lost on brutish idiots.

Dahl was exceptionally tall for his era, reaching 6 feet 6 inches as an adult. During his years at Repton, Cadbury, the chocolate company, would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl dreamt of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr Cadbury himself: inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

Throughout his childhood and adolescent years, Dahl spent the majority of his summer holidays with his mother’s family in Norway, and wrote about many happy memories from those expeditions in Boy: Tales of Childhood. He served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence officer, rising to the rank of acting wing commander. His rise to prominence as a writer began after the war in the 1940s.

Dahl married American actress Patricia Neal on 2 July 1953 at Trinity Church in New York City. Their marriage lasted for 30 years and they had five children.

On 5 December 1960, his four-month-old son, Theo Dahl, was severely injured when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. For a time, he suffered from hydrocephalus and, as a result, his father became involved in the development of what became known as the “Wade-Dahl-Till” (or WDT) valve, a device to alleviate the condition. The valve was a collaboration between Dahl, hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, and was used successfully on almost 3,000 children around the world.

In November 1962, Olivia died of measles-induced encephalitis at age 7. Her death left Dahl “limp with despair” and gave him a feeling of guilt that he could not do anything for her. Dahl subsequently became a vocal proponent of immunization and dedicated his 1982 book The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) to his daughter. After Olivia’s death, Dahl lost faith in God. While mourning her loss he had sought spiritual guidance from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher (of schoolboy caning fame), but became dismayed when Fisher told him that although Olivia was in Paradise, her beloved dog Rowley would never join her there. Dahl wrote: “I wanted to ask him how he could be so absolutely sure that other creatures did not get the same special treatment as us. I sat there wondering if this great and famous churchman really knew what he was talking about and whether he knew anything at all about God or heaven, and if he didn’t, then who in the world did?”

In 1965, Patricia Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy. Dahl took control of her rehabilitation and she re-learned to talk and walk, and even returned to her acting career, an episode in their lives which was dramatized in the film The Patricia Neal Story (1981), in which the couple were played by Glenda Jackson and Dirk Bogarde. Following a divorce from Neal in 1983, Dahl married Felicity “Liccy” Crosland.

Roald Dahl died on 23 November 1990, at the age of 74 of a rare cancer of the blood, myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford, and was buried in the cemetery at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a “sort of Viking funeral”. He was buried with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw. To this day, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave.

Before giving a recipe let me return to his writing habits which were suitably meticulous and eccentric. Dahl had a “writing hut” in his garden where he worked from 10:30 to noon every morning and 4 to 6 every afternoon, timing the routine precisely. He wrote only with US materials, sent to him periodically from New York: number 2 yellow pencils with attached erasers and yellow legal pads. He calculated that he wore down a pencil about every 2 hours, so he started the day with 6 sharpened pencils which he kept on a jar on his desk. He started each day with 6 so that he would not have to interrupt his writing with sharpening. He constantly wrote and rewrote because, like Oscar Wilde, he was extremely exacting about word choice. This led to a constantly overflowing waste-paper basket which he would periodically empty, burning the papers in a bonfire. As a result, we have little insight into his writing process. His secretary, Wendy, turned his finished manuscripts into typescripts for publication. As a writer I will say that this is an incredibly dangerous way of writing. How many tales are there of writers losing precious manuscripts by leaving them on a train or having them destroyed by accident?  Make copies people !!!!

I think that in honor of James and the Giant Peach a peach cobbler recipe is in order, but bear in mind that Dahl’s favorite lunch was Norwegian prawns with lettuce and mayonnaise washed down with a gin and tonic and followed by a chocolate bar. You can do a lot of things with peaches, but James and the Giant Peach links the US and England, and so does peach cobbler, a Southern recipe that is like an English fruit batter pudding – but not. It’s a magic recipe in a way, with the batter starting out on the bottom, but ending up on top.

Peach Cobbler

Ingredients

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar, divided
1 tbsp baking powder
salt
1 cup milk
4 cups fresh peeled and sliced peaches
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish.

Combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Add the milk and stir with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour the batter over butter without stirring.

Bring the remaining 1 cup sugar, peach slices, and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Immediately pour them over batter without stirring.

Bake at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Cobbler can be served hot straight from the oven or cold.  It is commonly served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sep 122017
 

Today is another coincidence day.  On this date in 1634 a Hospitaller gunpowder factory in Valletta on Malta accidentally blew up, killing 22 people and causing severe damage to a number of buildings. On this date in 1940 297,000 pounds of gunpowder blew up in a series of explosions at the Hercules Powder Factory of Kenvil, New Jersey, killing 51 workers and leveling a wide area. I guess that makes today a good day to talk about gunpowder.

There’s no doubt that gunpowder transformed the world and I’ve written about one aspect of this transformation: gunpowder put an end to fighting in heavy armor which, ironically, led to a glorification of the armor-clad knight in chivalric tales that were a nostalgic look back at a golden age that almost certainly never existed. All the tales of Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, etc. are pure inventions of imagination with nothing whatsoever to do with historical reality. Seemingly people are constantly in search of an imaginary simpler and better world from the past – now out of reach. My academic interest, once upon of time, was with the invention of the Robin Hood legend which grew out of the same false nostalgia for a simpler age when a man of strong moral fibre, armed with only a bow and arrow (and occasionally sword or quarter staff) could right the wrongs of the world. Despite much historical wishful thinking, neither Robin Hood nor anyone like him ever existed. He is pure fiction emerging from the age of gunpowder in Europe.

There’s also a misguided belief, perpetrated by pseudo-historians, that gunpowder was invented by the Chinese for fireworks and other pleasures, but Europeans turned it into weapons of war.  Nope.  The Chinese used gunpowder in war for centuries as well as for fireworks. Gunpowder is now classed as one of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China: the magnetic compass, papermaking, printing, and gunpowder. These inventions were ascribed to Europeans in the Renaissance as evidence of their superiority over the Greeks and Romans of the ancient world, but now we know better. The Chinese got there first.

Gunpowder was the first chemical explosive and propellant to be invented. Gunpowder is the first physical explosive and propellant. Before its invention, many incendiary and burning devices had been used, including Greek fire but they were not explosive. The invention of gunpowder is usually attributed to experimentation in Chinese alchemy by Taoists in the pursuit of immortality. It was invented during the late Tang dynasty (9th century) but the earliest record of a written formula appeared in the Song dynasty (11th century).

Knowledge of gunpowder spread rapidly throughout the Old World possibly as a result of the Mongol conquests during the 13th century, with the earliest written formula for it outside of China contained within the Opus Majus, a 1267 treatise by the English friar Roger Bacon. It was employed in warfare to some effect from at least the 12th century in weapons such as fire arrows, bombs, and the fire lance before the appearance of the gun. While the fire lance was eventually supplanted by the gun, other gunpowder weapons such as rockets continued to be used in China, Korea, India, and eventually Europe. Bombs too never ceased to develop and continued to progress into the modern day as grenades, mines, and other explosive implements.

Rather than give you a long, dreary historical account, here’s a gallery of Chinese gunpowder weapons from the 12th and 13th centuries, consisting mostly of fire arrows (arrows with flaming gunpowder attached), hand-held cannons, and grenades.

 

Here then is a gallery of European gunpowder weapons, mostly cannons, showing that there was actually a fairly smooth evolution from China to Europe.

The two explosions that occurred on this date were both in munitions factories: a constant hazard in the manufacture of gunpowder. The thing about gunpowder is that the ingredients – charcoal, saltpeter (potassium nitrate), and sulfur – are not especially harmful by themselves. They are particularly inflammable when combined but also not especially harmful, certainly not explosive, unless they are confined in a tight space. I’ve made gunpowder since I was a small boy just for the fun of seeing it fizzle and burn. When gunpowder is tightly confined, the copious hot gases that are produced when it burns are deadly as a propellant or an explosive. The exact mixture of the three ingredients is very important, and was the subject of experiments for centuries. For example, the saltpeter is necessary to produce oxygen for the burning of the sulfur and charcoal, but too much saltpeter reduces the explosive effect of the gunpowder (as does not enough). Munitions factories generally have their gunpowder packed tightly, so it’s important to be very careful near it. A careless spark can be fatal.

The Hospitaller gunpowder factory in Valletta was built some time in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, replacing an earlier one in Fort St. Angelo in Birgu. It was located in the lower part of Valletta, close to the Slaves’ Prison. The explosion in 1641 damaged the nearby Jesuit church and college. The church’s façade was rebuilt in around 1647 by the architect Francesco Buonamici, while the damaged parts of the college were also rebuilt after the explosion.

The gunpowder factory was not rebuilt. In around 1667, a new factory was constructed in Floriana, far away from any residential areas. This factory was incorporated into the Ospizio complex in the early 18th century

The explosion at the Hercules Powder plant in Kenvil, New Jersey in 1941 leveled over 20 buildings. The explosions shook the area so forcefully that cars were bounced off the roads, most windows in homes miles away were broken and articles flew off shelves and walls. The explosions were felt as far away as Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and were picked up by the seismograph at Fordham University in New York, about 50 miles east of Kenvil. Not only were windows broken, but telephone wires were torn apart from their poles. Many windows in both Roxbury and Wharton high schools were shattered.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new.  Was the explosion an industrial accident or Nazi sabotage ?????? I don’t know enough about the event to draw an educated conclusion, but my money is on it being an accident. In war time fears are heightened, and it’s an easy cop-out to blame the enemy for catastrophic events rather than take responsibility yourself. The latter takes more spine than most people possess.

For a recipe I could go two ways, and I will take both paths.  There are actual recipes that use gunpowder. I imagine that they’re pretty unsavory (because of the sulfur), but they do exist. In fact sulfur does have various culinary uses. I used to be able to buy it in bulk for my home chemistry experiments from the grocery in South Australia as a boy in the early 1960s. Sulfur is actually a critical nutrient, found particularly in strong onions, to aid in vitamin D absorption and in the correct glucose metabolism. There are records of soldiers through history using gunpowder to add taste to field rations when they had no salt. But there’s also this one from the Old Foodie found here — http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2011/11/gunpowder-in-kitchen.html

Tongues, to cure. No. 1.

Take two fine bullocks’ tongues; wash them well in spring water; dry them thoroughly with a cloth, and salt them with common salt, a quarter of a pound of saltpetre, a quarter of a pound of treacle, and a quarter of a pound of gunpowder. Let them lie in this pickle for a month; turn and rub them every day; then take them out and dry them with a cloth; rub a little gunpowder over them, and hang them up for a month, when they will be fit to eat, previously soaking a few hours as customary.

The lady’s own cookery book, and new dinner-table director (1844) by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury

Try it at your peril. Actually, I don’t suppose it’s all that bad.

Then there’s ingredients or dishes called “gunpowder” because they resemble it.  There is Chinese gunpowder tea of course.  In Chinese it’s called 珠茶(zhū chá), literally “pearl tea.” Each leaf is rolled into a small round pellet which English colonists thought resembled grains of gunpowder. This rolling method of shaping tea is most often applied either to dried green tea (the most commonly encountered variety outside China) or oolong tea.

I’ll go with a south Indian dish which is called gunpowder in English, also known as chutney podi, a ground, powdered mix of toasted urad dal, chana dal, toor dal, grated coconut, dried red chiles,curry leaves, tamarind, jaggery, and salt, which can also be seasoned with mustard seeds, turmeric, and asafetida. It is mixed with oil or ghee and eaten with flatbread, rice, idli, or whatever. It can also be made with peanuts in place of some of the dal.  It is considered comfort food in many parts of south India.

Gunpowder or Chutney Podi

Ingredients:

250gm chana dal
250gm toor dal
6 dried red chiles
1 tbsp roasted Bengal gram (putana)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tbsp black sesame seeds

Instructions

Dry roast all the ingredients separately. There are various ways to do this.  I use a dry cast-iron skillet on medium heat. You have to stir the ingredients frequently making sure that they toast and become fragrant, but do not burn.

Let each of the ingredients cool, then mix them all together. Grind them to a powder, in batches if necessary.  I use a coffee grinder for this step (not one I use for coffee).

Serve with ghee or oil to accompany idli, flatbread, or rice.

Sep 112017
 

On this date in 1541, Michimalonco and a large band of local Indians attacked the newly founded Spanish settlement of Santiago (now in Chile) after seven caciques were taken hostage by Spaniards following an uprising. Michimalonco is a bit of a shadowy figure because the historical records for this period are so sparse. Michima means “foreigner” and lonco means “head” or “chief” in the Mapudungun language. He was an indigenous chief said to be a great warrior, born in the Aconcagua Valley but educated in Cusco under the Inca Empire. Hence he was known in Quechua as a “foreigner” because he was not an Inca (and spoke Quechua with an accent). His actual name is not now known. When he first presented himself to the Spanish he was naked and covered with a black pigment. He had seven wives and lived between the Jahuel Valley and Putaendo Valley at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Santiago in 1541 was a new settlement founded by Pedro de Valdivia, who led Spanish forces south to Chile from Peru to conquer the region. He was accompanied by his mistress Inés Suárez, (c. 1507–1580), eventually a conquistador in her own right, and one of the leaders of the Spanish in Santiago at the time of Michimalonco’s attack. Suárez’s husband had died before she reached Peru (she told a compatriot that he died at sea) and the next information that is known of her is from 1539, when she applied for and was granted, as the widow of a Spanish soldier, a small plot of land in Cuzco and encomienda rights to a number of Indian slaves. Shortly afterwards she became Valdivia’s mistress which later caused considerable scandal because he was married at the time (and was eventually forced to leave her and bring his wife to Chile from Spain). I am not entirely sure why the Spanish nobility were so up in arms about the affair since this kind of thing was perfectly normal among the European aristocracy.

The earliest mention of Suárez’ friendship with Valdivia was after he returned from the Battle of Las Salinas (1538). Although they were from the same area of Spain and at least one novelist relates a tale of long-standing love between them, there is no real evidence that they had met prior to her arrival in Cuzco. In late 1539, over the objections of Francisco Martínez and encouraged by some of his captains, Valdivia, using the intermediary services of a priest, requested official permission for Suárez to become a part of the group of 12 Spaniards he was leading to the South. Francisco Pizarro, in his letter to Valdivia (January 1540) granting permission for Suárez to accompany Valdivia as his domestic servant, addressed the following words to Suárez, “…as Valdivia tells me, the men are afraid to go on such a long trip and you very courageously put yourself in the face of that danger…”

During the long and harrowing trip to the south, Suárez, in addition to caring for Valdivia and treating the sick and wounded, found water for them in the desert, and saved Valdivia when one of his rivals tried to undermine his enterprise and take his life. The Indians, having already experienced the incursions of the Spaniards, (Diego de Almagro, 1535–1536) burned their crops and drove off their livestock, leaving nothing for Valdivia’s band and their animals.

In December 1540, eleven months after they left Cuzco, Valdivia and his band reached the valley of the Mapocho river, where Valdivia was to establish the capital of the territory. The valley was extensive and well populated with natives. Its soil was fertile and there was abundant fresh water. Two high hills provided defensive positions. Soon after their arrival, Valdivia tried to convince the Indians of his good intentions, sending delegations bearing gifts for the caciques.

The Indians kept the gifts but, united under the leadership of Michimalonco, attacked the Spanish and were at the point of overwhelming them. Suddenly, the Indians threw down their weapons and fled. Captured Indians declared that they had seen a man, mounted on a white horse and carrying a naked sword, descend from the clouds and attack them. The Spaniards decided it was a miraculous appearance of Santo Iago (Saint James the Greater who had already been seen during the Reconquista at the battle of Clavijo) and, in thanks, named the new city Santiago del Nuevo Extremo. The city was officially dedicated on February 12, 1541.

In August 1541 Suárez uncovered another plot to unseat Valdivia. After the plot was put down, Valdivia invited seven caciques to meet with him to arrange for the delivery of food to the settlement. When the Indians arrived, Valdivia had them held as hostages for the safe delivery of the provisions and the safety of outlying settlements. On the September 9, Valdivia took 40 men and left the city to put down an uprising of Indians near Aconcagua.

Early on the morning of September 10, 1541, a young yanakuna (Inca servant) brought word to Captain Alonso de Monroy, who had been left in charge of the city, that the woods around the city were full of Indians. Suárez was asked if she thought that the Indian hostages should be released as a peace gesture. She replied that it was a bad idea because if the Indians overpowered the Spanish the hostages would provide their only bargaining power. Monroy issued a call for a council of war.

Just before dawn on September 11, mounted Spanish soldiers rode out to engage the Indians, whose numbers were estimated first at 8,000 and later at 20,000, led by Michimalonco. In spite of the advantage of their horses and their skill with their swords, by noon the Spanish were pushed into a retreat toward the east, across the Mapocho River; and, by mid-afternoon, they were backed up to the plaza itself. All day the battle raged. Fire arrows and torches set fire to most of the city. Four Spaniards were killed along with dozens of horses and other animals. The situation became desperate. The priest, Rodrigo González Marmolejo, said later that the fight was like the Day of Judgment for the Spanish and that only a miracle saved them.

All day Suárez had been carrying food and water to the fighting men, nursing the wounded, giving them encouragement and comfort. The historian Mariño de Lobera wrote of her activities during the battle:

 …and she went among them, she told them that if they felt fatigued and if they were wounded she would cure them with her own hands… she went where they were, even among the hooves of the horses; and she did not just cure them, she animated them and raised their morale, sending them back into the battle renewed… one caballero whose wounds she had just treated, was so tired and weak from loss of blood that he could not mount his horse. This woman was so moved by his plea for help that she put herself into the midst of the fray and helped him to mount his horse.

Suárez recognized the discouragement of the men and the extreme danger of the situation; she offered a suggestion. All day the seven caciques who were prisoners of the Spaniards, had been shouting encouragement to their people. Suárez proposed that the Spanish decapitate the seven and toss their heads out among the Indians in order to frighten them. There was some objection to the plan, since several men felt that the fall of the city was imminent and that the captive caciques would be their only bargaining advantage with the Indians. Suárez insisted that hers was the only viable solution to their problem. She then went to the house where the caciques were guarded by Francisco Rubio and Hernando de la Torre and gave the order for the execution. Mariño de Lobera tells that the guard, La Torre, asked, “In what manner shall we kill them, my lady?” “In this manner,” she replied, and, seizing la Torre’s sword, she herself cut off their heads. After the seven were decapitated and their heads thrown out among the Indians, Suárez put on a coat of mail and a helmet and rode out on her white horse. According to an eyewitness, “…she went out to the plaza and put herself in front of all the soldiers, encouraging them with words of such exaggerated praise that they treated her as if she were a brave captain,…instead of a woman masquerading as a soldier in iron mail.”

The Spanish took advantage of the confusion and disorder engendered among the Indians by the gory heads, and spurred on by the courageous woman who now led them, succeeded in driving the now disordered Indians from the town. One historian wrote, “The Indians said afterward that the Christians would have been defeated were it not for a woman on a white horse.”In 1545, in recognition of her courage and valor, Valdivia rewarded Suárez with an encomienda. His testament of dedication said in part:

    …in battle with the enemies who did not take into account the caciques who were our prisoners, they that were in the most central place – to which the Indians came, …throwing themselves on you, and you, seeing how weakened your beleaguered forces were then, you made them kill the caciques who were prisoners, putting your own hands on them, causing the majority of the Indians to run away and they left off fighting when they witnessed the evidence of the death of their chieftains; …it is certain that if they had not been killed and thrown among their countrymen, there would not be a single Spaniard remaining alive in all this city… by taking up the sword and letting it fall on the necks of the cacique prisoners, you have saved all of us.

Had it not been for Suárez’ actions the city would have certainly fallen. You’ll have to decide for yourself what this episode says about the conquistadores. After the defeat Michimalonco fled to the Andes mountain valleys. He hid there for a couple of years but, feeling homesick, he went back to the valley and allied his forces with the Spanish and went to fight the Mapuches in the south. The ultimate success of the Spanish, in both Inca and Aztec territory, was achieved by a simple policy of using Indian forces against Indians, since the Spanish were seriously outnumbered in the early years of conquest. It’s the ages old policy of “divide and conquer” which the Romans knew all about 1,500 years earlier (“divide et impera”). If local Indian forces had been united against Spanish, British, French, or Dutch incursions into the Americas, the invaders never would have succeeded. Because they were divided among themselves they were easy prey.

Chilean cuisine, like all of South American cuisine, is a mix of local and European influences. The Spanish brought grapes, olives, walnuts, chestnuts, rice, wheat, citrus fruits, sugar, garlic, and spices. They also brought chicken, beef, sheep, pigs, rabbits, milk, cheeses, and sausages. The local Indians used corn in many of their dishes. The combination of the Spanish and indigenous ingredients resulted in popular corn-based dishes that are still part of the typical diet. Popular dishes include humitas (corn that is pureed and cooked in corn husks) and pastel de choclo (corn and meat pie).

Pastel de Choclo

Ingredients

4 cups frozen corn
8 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled)
3 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
4 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp oil
1 lb ground beef
salt and pepper
ground cumin
1 cup black olives
1 cup raisins
2 pieces of cooked chicken breast, cut into cubes or strips
2 tbsp confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat the corn, basil, salt, and butter in a large pot. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Fry the onions in oil until they are soft. Add the ground meat and stir to brown. Drain the grease from the pan. Season with salt, pepper, and ground cumin to taste.

Use an oven-proof dish to prepare the pie. Spread the onion and ground meat mixture on the bottom of the dish, then arrange the olives and raisins on top. Place chicken pieces over the top. Cover the filling with the corn mixture, then sprinkle on the confectioners’ sugar.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Serve hot.

Sep 102017
 

Today is surmised to be the birthday (1659) of the English composer Henry Purcell although there are no official records concerning his birth. The date is conjectured based on circumstantial evidence, but I’ll go with it. In my humble opinion Purcell is the greatest English composer, and one of my favorites of all time.  He had a profound influence on Baroque music in what some musicologists consider an English style, and no other native-born English composer approached his fame until the likes of Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and Benjamin Britten came along in the 20th century. Even so, I rank them as second rate in comparison with Purcell. I have published several of my researches on Purcell’s music and its influence, and have written two compositions using his music in them. Yup, I’m a fan.  I could say a lot about the man and his music but I’ll limit myself to some biographical details and comment on a small fraction of his work. Most importantly, historical details about his life and work are often shadowy because of a paucity of primary sources.

Purcell was born in St Ann’s Lane, Old Pye Street Westminster – the area of London later known as Devil’s Acre. His father, also Henry Purcell, whose older brother, Thomas Purcell, (d. 1682) was a musician, was a gentleman of the Chapel Royal and sang at the coronation of King Charles II. Henry the elder had three sons: Edward, Henry and Daniel. Daniel Purcell (d. 1717), the youngest of the brothers, was also a prolific composer who wrote the music for much of the final act of The Indian Queen after Henry Purcell’s death. Henry Purcell’s family lived just a few hundred yards west of Westminster Abbey from 1659 onwards.

After his father’s death in 1664, Purcell was placed under the guardianship of his uncle Thomas, who showed him great affection and kindness. Thomas was himself a gentleman of His Majesty’s Chapel, and arranged for Henry to be admitted as a chorister. Henry studied first under Captain Henry Cooke (d. 1672), Master of the Children, and afterwards under Pelham Humfrey (d. 1674), Cooke’s successor. Henry was a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke in 1673, when he became assistant to the organ-builder John Hingston, who held the post of keeper of wind instruments to the king.

Purcell is said to have been composing at 9 years old, but the earliest work that can be certainly identified as his is an ode for the King’s birthday, written in 1670. (The dates for his compositions are often uncertain, despite considerable research.) It is assumed that he wrote the three-part song “Sweet tyranness, I now resign” as a child. After Humfrey’s death, Purcell continued his studies under Dr John Blow. He attended Westminster School and in 1676 was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey. Purcell’s earliest anthem “Lord, who can tell” was composed in 1678. It is a psalm that is prescribed for Christmas Day and also to be read at morning prayer on the fourth day of the month.

In 1679, he wrote songs for John Playford’s Choice Ayres, Songs and Dialogues, and his music was an integral part of Playford’s Dancing Master through many editions of the work. This is one of the areas I know best and I have written about it extensively – I’ll try to be brief !!! One of my favorite Purcell tunes is this one used for Playford’s dance, “Hole in the Wall.” Here it is on period instruments:

Purcell also used it as one of his incidental musical pieces (#8 Hornpipe, Z 570) for a 1695 revival of Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge, an adaptation by Aphra Behn of a c. 1600 tragedy Lust’s Dominion. The lingering question, posed in part by rendition on period instruments, is how Purcell’s music sounded in his time. A lot is guesswork. Reconstructing the dances (my realm) is even greater guesswork. This is a version from the film, Becoming Jane, which I would take with a huge grain of salt to begin with. Period films have at least one obligatory dance scene, and in this case it is both completely anachronistic (100 years off), and unlikely to be any more than a whiff of the “real thing.”

I’ll make (minor) allowances for dramatic license. The smiling and flirting may well be legitimate; the bobbing up and down whilst walking through the dance is completely made up. We have not the slightest idea how they moved.

In 1679, Blow, who had been appointed organist of Westminster Abbey in 1669, resigned his office in favour of his pupil. Purcell now devoted himself almost entirely to the composition of sacred music, and for six years severed his connection with the theatre. However, during the early part of the year, probably before taking up his new office, he had produced two important works for the stage, the music for Nathaniel Lee’s Theodosius, and Thomas d’Urfey’s Virtuous Wife. Between 1680 and 1688 Purcell wrote music for seven plays.[11] The composition of his chamber opera Dido and Aeneas, which forms a very important landmark in the history of English dramatic music, has been attributed to this period, and its earliest production may well have predated the documented one of 1689. It was written to a libretto furnished by Nahum Tate, and performed in 1689 in cooperation with Josias Priest, a dancing master and the choreographer for the Dorset Garden Theatre. Priest’s wife kept a boarding school for young gentlewomen, first in Leicester Fields and afterwards at Chelsea, where the opera was performed. It is occasionally considered the first genuine English opera, though that title is usually given to Blow’s Venus and Adonis. As in Blow’s work, the action does not progress in spoken dialogue but in Italian-style recitative. At the time, Dido and Aeneas never found its way to the theatre, though it appears to have been very popular in private circles. The composition of Dido and Aeneas gave Purcell his first chance to write a sustained musical setting of a dramatic text. It was his only opportunity to compose a work in which the music carried the entire drama.

Soon after Purcell’s marriage, in 1682, on the death of Edward Lowe, he was appointed organist of the Chapel Royal, an office which he was able to hold simultaneously with his position at Westminster Abbey. In 1685, he wrote two of his finest anthems, “I was glad” and “My heart is inditing,” for the coronation of King James II. He weathered the storms of the Glorious Revolution and became a favorite of Queen Mary II. In 1690 he composed a setting of a birthday ode for the queen Mary, “Arise, my muse” and 4 years later wrote one of his most elaborate and magnificent works: a setting for another birthday ode for the Queen, written by Nahum Tate, entitled “Come Ye Sons of Art.”

Purcell wrote the music for Mary’s funeral in 1695: a masterpiece that is still duly celebrated.

The initial march, in C minor, was written for a quartet of flatt trumpets (Baroque slide trumpets), which could play notes outside of the harmonic series and thus in a minor key. Thus the music was revolutionary for its time.  Stanley Kubrick reused it, reworked by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos for Moog synthesizer, as incidental music for A Clockwork Orange, and, as such, is well known in certain quarters.

Purcell died in 1695 at his home in Marsham Street, at the height of his career. He is believed to have been 35 or 36 years old at the time. The cause of his death is unclear: one speculation is that he caught a chill after returning home late from the theater one night to find that his wife had locked him out. Another is that he succumbed to tuberculosis.

Purcell is buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey. The music that he had composed for queen Mary’s funeral was performed during his as well.  Following his death, the officials at Westminster honored him by unanimously voting that he be buried with no expense in the north aisle of the Abbey. His epitaph reads: “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded.”

Recreating period recipes is fraught with difficulties similar to those in recreating period music and dance.  Here’s 2 from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, first printed in 1669. The first is seemingly easy to reproduce:

SALLET OF COLD CAPON ROSTED

It is a good Sallet, to slice a cold Capon thin; mingle with it some Sibbolds, Lettice, Rocket and Tarragon sliced small. Season all with Pepper, Salt, Vinegar and Oyl, and sliced Limon. A little Origanum doth well with it.

The trick here is to figure out what “Sibbolds” are. I did a bit of head scratching, and when I looked online I found nothing at first other than an amateur effort at interpreting the recipe which called sibbolds “a leafy green” — which is nonsense. “Sibbolds” is clearly an alternate spelling of “sibboulets” – a diminutive of “sibol” or “cibol” (cognate with French ciboule), a perennial onion plant, Allium fistulosum, commonly called Welsh onion. Do your homework people !!!

This looks like a fairly modern recipe for chicken salad which you can replicate with little effort, although your ingredients will have to be modern varieties. As is usual with 17th century salads, what we now call “herbs” (tarragon and oregano) were chopped in with the lettuce and rocket (arugula) – which were also referred to as herbs in those days – rather than mixed with the oil and vinegar as in a French vinaigrette. The sliced lemon is a nice touch.

What do you make of this cake recipe?

TO MAKE A CAKE

Take eight wine quarts of flower; one pound of loaf Sugar beaten and searsed; one ounce of Mace, beat it very fine: then take thirty Eggs, fifteen whites, beat them well; then put to them a quart of new Ale-yest; beat them very well together, and strain them into your flower; then take a pint of Rose-water, wherein six grains of Ambergreece and Musk have been over night. Then take a pint and half of Cream or something more, and set it on the fire, and put into it four pounds and three quarters of Butter; And when it is all melted, take it off the fire and stir it about, until it be pretty cool; And pour all into your flower, and stir it up quick with your hands, like a lith pudding; Then dust a little flower over it, and let it stand covered with a Flannel, or other woollen cloth, a quarter of an hour before the fire, that it may rise; Then have ready twelve pounds of Currants very well washed and pick’d, that there may be neither stalks, nor broken Currants in them. Then let your Currants be very well dryed before the fire, and put warm into your Cake; then mingle them well together with your hands; then get a tin hoop that will contain that quantity, and butter it well, and put it upon two sheets of paper well buttered; so pour in your Cake, and so set it into the oven, being quick that it may be well soaked, but not to burn. It must bake above an hour and a quarter; near an hour and half. Take then a pound and half of double refined Sugar purely beaten and searsed; put into the whites of five Eggs; two or 3 spoonfuls of rose-water; keep it a beating all the time, that the Cake is a baking which will be two hours; Then draw your Cake out of the oven, and pick the dry Currants from the top of it, and so spread all that you have beaten over it, very smooth, and set it a little into the oven, that it may dry.

By my estimation you’d need a forklift to get it in the oven.  2 gallons of flour? 1 pound of sugar? 30 eggs plus 15 egg whites? Almost 5 pounds of butter? 12 pounds of currants?  . . .etc etc. And . . . you bake it in ONE tin for a little over 90 minutes (the instructions cannot decide whether it should be an hour and a quarter or 2 hours). The icing looks to be a version of what we now call royal icing. My strong suspicion is that Kenelm Digby, or his editor, never tried this recipe, and actually had no idea what he was talking about. If you examine the recipe closely enough you could make some reasonable simulacrum. It’s a version of yeast cake with currants.

 

Sep 062017
 

Today is the birthday (1766) of John Dalton FRS, English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist, best known (by people who know about these things) for proposing the basis of modern atomic theory. Dalton was born into a Quaker family in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, in the Lake District. His father was a weaver. He received his early education from his father and from Quaker John Fletcher, who ran a private school in the nearby village of Pardshaw Hall. Dalton’s family did not have enough money to support him in school for long, so he began to earn his living at the age of 10 in the service of a wealthy local Quaker, Elihu Robinson. It is said he began teaching at a local school at age 12, and became proficient in Latin at age 14.

When he was 15, Dalton joined his older brother Jonathan in running a Quaker school in Kendal, about 45 miles (72 km) from his home. Around the age of 23, Dalton may have considered studying law or medicine, but his relatives did not encourage him, perhaps because being a Dissenter, he was barred from attending English universities. He acquired most of his scientific knowledge from informal instruction by John Gough, a blind natural philosopher. At the age of 27 he was appointed teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy at the “New College” in Manchester, a dissenting academy. He remained there until the age of 34, when the college’s worsening financial situation led him to resign his post and take up a new career as a private tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy.

Dalton’s early life was strongly influenced by Elihu Robinson, who was a competent meteorologist and instrument maker, and who interested him in problems of mathematics and meteorology. In 1787 at age 21 he began his meteorological diary in which, during the succeeding 57 years, he entered more than 200,000 observations. He rediscovered George Hadley’s theory of global atmospheric circulation (now known as the Hadley cell) around this time. In 1793 Dalton’s first publication, Meteorological Observations and Essays, contained the seeds of several of his later discoveries but despite the originality of his treatment, little attention was paid to them by other scholars. His Elements of English Grammar, was published in 1801.

After leaving the Lake District, Dalton returned annually to spend his holidays studying meteorology and climbing mountains to measure their height. He took measurements of temperature and humidity at various altitudes which he estimated using a barometer. Until the Ordnance Survey published maps for the Lake District in the 1860s, Dalton was one of the few sources of information on altitudes in the region.

In 1794, shortly after his arrival in Manchester, Dalton was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, the “Lit & Phil”, and a few weeks later he communicated his first paper on “Extraordinary facts relating to the vision of colours”, in which he postulated that inability in color perception was caused by discoloration of the liquid medium of the eyeball. Both he and his brother were color blind, and so postulated (correctly) that the condition must be hereditary. He was able to recognize only blue, purple, and yellow. At the time (and still to an extent today), being colorblind was a severe handicap to being an analytic chemist.

The most important of all Dalton’s investigations concern atomic theory in chemistry. How he came up with the theory is not fully understood. The theory may have been suggested to him either by researches on ethylene (olefiant gas) and methane (carburetted hydrogen) or by analysis of nitrous oxide (protoxide of azote) and nitrogen dioxide (deutoxide of azote). These investigations may have led him to the idea that chemical combination (the production of definable compounds) consists in the interaction of atoms of definite and characteristic weight. Or the idea of atoms may have arisen in his mind as a purely physical concept, forced on him by study of the physical properties of the atmosphere and other gases. The first published indications of this idea are to be found at the end of his paper “On the Absorption of Gases by Water and other Liquids” where he says:

Why does not water admit its bulk of every kind of gas alike? This question I have duly considered, and though I am not able to satisfy myself completely I am nearly persuaded that the circumstance depends on the weight and number of the ultimate particles of the several gases. This is the germ of the idea that elements are composed of atoms and that the atoms of different elements have different weights.

The main points of Dalton’s atomic theory are:

Elements are made of extremely small particles called atoms.

 Atoms of a given element are identical in size, mass, and other properties; atoms of different elements differ in size, mass, and other properties.

 Atoms cannot be subdivided, created, or destroyed.

 Atoms of different elements combine in simple whole-number ratios to form chemical compounds.

Dalton published his table of relative atomic weights containing six elements, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus, with the atom of hydrogen conventionally assumed to weigh 1. He provided no indication in this paper how he had arrived at these numbers but in his laboratory notebook, dated 6 September 1803, is a list in which he set out the relative weights of the atoms of a number of elements, derived from analysis of water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, etc. by chemists of the time.

Compounds were listed as binary, ternary, quaternary, etc. (molecules composed of two, three, four, etc. atoms) in the New System of Chemical Philosophy depending on the number of atoms a compound had in its simplest, empirical form. Dalton hypothesized the structure of compounds can be represented in whole number ratios. So, one atom of element X combining with one atom of element Y is a binary compound; one atom of element X combining with two elements of Y is a ternary compound, and so on. Many of the first compounds listed in the New System of Chemical Philosophy correspond to modern views, although many others do not.

Dalton used his own symbols to visually represent the atomic structure of compounds (see above). They were depicted in the New System of Chemical Philosophy, where he listed 20 elements and 17 simple molecules.

He always objected to the chemical notation devised by Jöns Jakob Berzelius (the one using letters for elements that we use today), although most thought that it was much simpler and more convenient than his own cumbersome system of circular symbols.

Dalton never married and had only a few close friends. As a Quaker, he lived a modest and unassuming personal life. For the 26 years prior to his death, Dalton lived in a room in the home of the Rev W. Johns, a published botanist, and his wife, in George Street, Manchester. Dalton and Johns died in the same year (1844).

Dalton’s daily round of laboratory work and tutoring in Manchester was broken only by annual excursions to the Lake District and occasional visits to London. In 1822 he paid a short visit to Paris, and attended several of the earlier meetings of the British Association at York, Oxford, Dublin and Bristol.

Dalton suffered a minor stroke in 1837, and a second in 1838 left him with a speech impairment, although he remained able to perform experiments. In May 1844 he had another stroke. On 26th July 1844 he recorded with trembling hand his last meteorological observation. On 27th July 1844, in Manchester, Dalton fell from his bed and was found lifeless by his attendant. He was accorded a civic funeral with full honors. His body lay in state in Manchester Town Hall for four days and more than 40,000 people filed past his coffin. The funeral procession included representatives of the city’s major civic, commercial, and scientific bodies. He was buried in Manchester in Ardwick cemetery which was later converted to a playing field, and all the graves moved.

Dalton was a native of Cumbria but he spent all of his working life as a scientist in Manchester so a Manchester recipe is suitable to celebrate his birthday.  Manchester tart is a perennial favorite that used to be a mainstay of school lunches. It’s a rich mixture of raspberries, raspberry jam, and egg custard baked in a tart shell. Some people add sliced bananas as well.

Manchester Tart

Ingredients

butter, for greasing
500g shortcrust pastry
plain flour, for dusting
200g raspberry jam
3 tbsp plain desiccated coconut
3 tbsp desiccated coconut, toasted in a dry frying pan until golden-brown
300g fresh raspberries
500ml milk
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped out with a knife
5 egg yolks
125g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
400ml double cream, whipped until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Grease a 24 cm tart tin with butter. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on to a lightly floured work surface to a 0.5cm thickness. Line the prepared tart tin with the pastry. Prick the pastry several times with a fork, then chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Place a sheet of baking parchment into the chilled pastry case and half-fill with dried beans. Transfer the pastry case to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Remove the beans and baking parchment and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 4-5 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.

Spread the raspberry jam over the pastry base in an even layer. Sprinkle over the three tablespoons of non-toasted desiccated coconut and half of the fresh raspberries. Set the pastry base aside.

Bring the milk, vanilla pod and vanilla seeds to the boil in a pan, then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod.

In a bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Pour the hot milk and vanilla mixture over the egg and sugar mixture, whisking continuously, until the mixture is smooth and well combined. Return the mixture to the pan over a medium heat. Whisk in the cornflour, gradually until well combined, then heat, stirring continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer the custard mixture to a clean bowl and dust with the icing sugar to prevent a skin forming on the surface of the custard. Set aside to cool, then chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Fold the whipped double cream into the chilled custard mixture until well combined. Spoon the custard and cream mixture into the pastry case in an even layer. Sprinkle over the remaining fresh raspberries.

To serve, sprinkle over the three tablespoons of toasted desiccated coconut. Serve immediately.

Sep 052017
 

William Dampier, English explorer and navigator who became the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia, and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times was baptized on this date in 1651. He has also been described as one of the most important British explorers between Sir Walter Raleigh and James Cook, although I imagine few people in England would recognize his name these days. At the end of this post I’ll detail some of his acts that you might know without necessarily knowing he was involved.

Dampier was born at Hymerford House in East Coker, Somerset, in 1651. His precise date of birth is not recorded. He was educated at King’s School, Bruton. Dampier sailed on two merchant voyages to Newfoundland and Java before joining the Royal Navy in 1673. He took part in the two Battles of Schooneveld in June of that year. Dampier’s service was cut short by a catastrophic illness, and he returned to England for several months of recuperation. For the next several years he tried his hand at various careers, including plantation management in Jamaica and logging in Mexico, before he eventually joined another sailing expedition. Returning to England, he married around 1679, only to leave for the sea a few months later.

In 1679, Dampier joined the crew of the buccaneer (or pirate) Captain Bartholomew Sharp on the Spanish Main of Central America, twice visiting the Bay of Campeche, or “Campeachy” as it was then known, on the north coast of Mexico. This led to his first circumnavigation, during which he accompanied a raid across the Isthmus of Darién in Panama and took part in the capture of Spanish ships on the Pacific coast of that isthmus. The pirates then raided Spanish settlements in Peru before returning to the Caribbean. Dampier made his way to Virginia, where in 1683 he was engaged by the privateer John Cooke. Cooke entered the Pacific via Cape Horn and spent a year raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, the Galápagos Islands, and Mexico. This expedition collected buccaneers and ships as it went along, at one time having a fleet of ten vessels. Cooke died in Mexico, and a new leader, Edward Davis, was elected captain by the crew, taking the ship Batchelor’s Delight, with future Captain George Raynor in the crew.

Dampier transferred to the privateer Charles Swan’s ship, Cygnet, and on 31 March 1686 they set out across the Pacific to raid the East Indies, calling at Guam and Mindanao. Spanish witnesses saw the predominantly English crew as not only pirates and heretics but also cannibals. Leaving Swan and 36 others behind on Mindanao, the rest of the privateers sailed on to Manila, Poulo Condor, China, the Spice Islands, and New Holland. Contrary to Dampier’s later claim that he had not actively participated in actual piratical attacks during this voyage, he was in fact selected in 1687 to command one of the Spanish ships captured by Cygnet‘s crew off Manila.

On 5 January 1688, Cygnet “anchored two miles from shore in 29 fathoms” on the northwest coast of Australia, near King Sound. Dampier and his ship remained there until March 12, and while the ship was being careened (turned on its side for cleaning and repair) Dampier made notes on the fauna and flora and the indigenous peoples he found there. Among his fellows were a significant number of Spanish sailors, most notably Alonso Ramírez, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Later that year, by agreement, Dampier and two shipmates were marooned on one of the Nicobar Islands. They obtained a small canoe which they modified after first capsizing and then, after surviving a great storm at sea, called at “Acheen” (Aceh) in Sumatra.

Dampier returned to England in 1691 via the Cape of Good Hope, penniless but in possession of his journals. He also had as a source of income a slave known as Prince Jeoly (or Giolo), from Miangas (now Indonesia), who became famous for his tattoos (or “paintings” as they were known at the time). Dampier exhibited Jeoly in London, thereby also generating publicity for a book based on his diaries.

The publication of the book, A New Voyage Round the World, in 1697 was a popular sensation, creating interest at the Admiralty. In 1699, Dampier was given command of the 26-gun warship HMS Roebuck, with a commission from King William III. His mission was to explore the east coast of New Holland (Australia) and Dampier’s intention was to travel there via Cape Horn.

The expedition set out on 14 January 1699, too late in the season to attempt the Horn, so it headed to New Holland via the Cape of Good Hope instead. Following the Dutch route to the Indies, Dampier passed between Dirk Hartog Island and the Western Australian mainland into what he called Shark Bay on 6 August 1699. He landed and began producing the first known detailed record of Australian flora and fauna. The botanical drawings that were made are believed to be by his clerk, James Brand. Dampier then followed the coast north-east, reaching the Dampier Archipelago and Lagrange Bay, just south of what is now called Roebuck Bay, all the while recording and collecting specimens, including many shells. From there he bore northward for Timor. Then he sailed east and on 3rd December 1699 rounded New Guinea, which he passed to the north. He traced the south-eastern coasts of New Hanover, New Ireland and New Britain, charting the Dampier Strait between these islands (now the Bismarck Archipelago) and New Guinea. En route, he paused to collect specimens such as giant clams.

By this time, Roebuck was in such bad condition that Dampier was forced to abandon his plan to examine the east coast of New Holland while less than a hundred miles from it. In danger of sinking, he attempted to make the return voyage to England, but the ship foundered at Ascension Island on 21 February 1701. While anchored offshore the ship began to take on more water and the carpenter could do nothing with the worm-eaten planking. As a result, the vessel had to be run aground. Dampier’s crew was marooned there for five weeks before being picked up on 3 April by an East Indiaman and returned home in August 1701.

Although many papers were lost with Roebuck, Dampier was able to save some new charts of coastlines, and his record of trade winds and currents in the seas around Australia and New Guinea. He also preserved a few of his specimens. In 2001, the Roebuck wreck was located in Clarence Bay, Ascension Island, by a team from the Western Australian Maritime Museum. Because of his widespread influence, and also because so little exists that can now be linked to him, it has been argued that the remains of his ship and the objects still at the site on Ascension Island – while the property of Britain and subject to the island government’s management – are actually the shared maritime heritage of those parts of the world first visited or described by him. His account of the expedition was published as A Voyage to New Holland in 1703.

On his return from the Roebuck expedition, Dampier was court martialed for cruelty. On the outward voyage, Dampier had his lieutenant, George Fisher, removed from the ship and jailed in Brazil. Fisher returned to England and complained about his treatment to the Admiralty. Dampier aggressively defended his conduct, but he was found guilty. His pay for the voyage was docked, and he was dismissed from the Royal Navy.

The War of the Spanish Succession had broken out in 1701, and English privateers were being readied to act against French and Spanish interests. Dampier was appointed commander of the 26-gun ship St George, with a crew of 120 men. They were joined by the 16-gun Cinque Ports with 63 men, and sailed on 11 September 1703 from Kinsale, Ireland. The two ships made a storm-tossed passage round Cape Horn, arriving at the Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile in February 1704. While watering and provisioning there, they sighted a heavily armed French merchantman, which they engaged in a seven-hour battle but were driven off.

Dampier succeeded in capturing a number of small Spanish ships along the coast of Peru, but released them after removing only a fraction of their cargoes because he believed they “would be a hindrance to his greater designs.” The greater design he had in mind was a raid on Santa María, a town on the Gulf of Panama rumored to hold stockpiles of gold from nearby mines. When the force of seamen he led against the town met with unexpectedly strong resistance, however, he withdrew. In May 1704, Cinque Ports separated from St George and, after putting Alexander Selkirk ashore alone on an island for complaining about the vessel’s seaworthiness, sank off the coast of what is today Colombia. Some of its crew survived being shipwrecked but were made prisoners of the Spanish.

It was now left to St George to make an attempt on the Manila galleon, the main object of the expedition. The ship was sighted on 6 December 1704, probably Nuestra Señora del Rosario. It was caught unprepared and had not run out its guns. But while Dampier and his officers argued over the best way to mount an attack, the galleon got its guns loaded and the battle was joined. St George soon found itself out-sized by the galleon’s 18- and 24-pounders, and, suffering serious damage, they were forced to break off the attack.

The failure to capture the Spanish galleon completed the break-up of the expedition. Dampier, with about thirty men, stayed in St George, while the rest of the crew took a captured barque across the Pacific to Amboyna in the Dutch settlements. The undermanned and worm-damaged St George had to be abandoned on the coast of Peru. He and his remaining men embarked in a Spanish prize for the East Indies, where they were thrown into prison as pirates by their supposed allies the Dutch but later released. Now without a ship, Dampier made his way back to England at the end of 1707.

In 1708, Dampier was engaged to serve on the privateer Duke, not as captain but as sailing master. Duke beat its way into the South Pacific Ocean round Cape Horn in consort with a second ship, Duchess. Commanded by Woodes Rogers, this voyage was more successful: Selkirk was rescued on 2 February 1709, and the expedition amassed £147,975 (equivalent to £19.9 million today) worth of plundered goods. Most of that came from the capture of a Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación y Desengaño, along the coast of Mexico in December 1709.

In January 1710, Dampier crossed the Pacific in Duke, accompanied by Duchess and two prizes. They stopped at Guam before arriving in Batavia. Following a refit at Horn Island (near Batavia) and the sale of one of their prize ships, they sailed for the Cape of Good Hope where they remained for more than three months awaiting a convoy. They left the Cape in company with 25 Dutch and English ships, with Dampier now serving as sailing master of Encarnación.[36] After a further delay at the Texel, they dropped anchor on the Thames in London on 14 October 1711.

Dampier may not have lived to receive all of his share of the expedition’s gains. He died in the Parish of St Stephen Coleman Street, London. The exact date and circumstances of his death, and his final resting place, are all unknown. His will was proven on 23 March 1715, and it is generally assumed he died earlier that month, but this is not known with any certainty. His estate was almost £2,000 in debt.

Dampier influenced several people in a variety of fields who are now better known than he is:

He made important contributions to navigation, collecting for the first time data on currents, winds and tides across all the world’s oceans that were used by James Cook and Horatio Nelson.

His travel journals depicting Panama may have influenced the undertaking of the ill-fated Darien Scheme, leading to the Act of Union of 1707.

Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was likely inspired by accounts of real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, whom Dampier rescued.

Jonathan Swift explicitly mentions Dampier in his Gulliver’s Travels as a mariner comparable to Lemuel Gulliver.

His notes on the fauna and flora of north-western Australia were studied by naturalist and scientist Joseph Banks, who made further studies during the first voyage with James Cook.

His reports on breadfruit led to William Bligh’s ill-fated voyage in HMS Bounty.

Another storied crew mate of Dampier’s, Simon Hatley, who is best remembered for shooting an albatross while his ship battled storms off Cape Horn, influenced the writing of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

His observations and analysis of natural history helped Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin develop their scientific theories.[44]

His observations (and those of Mr William Funnell) during his expeditions are mentioned several times by Alfred Russel Wallace in his book The Malay Archipelago, and compared to his own observations made on his 19th-century voyages.

Here’s a sufficiently crazy and exotic 17th century recipe to celebrate Dampier. It comes from a cookbook usually called The English and French Cook whose full title is, The English and French cook: describing the best and newest ways of ordering and dressing all sorts of flesh, fish and fowl, whether boiled, baked, stewed, roasted, broiled, frigassied, fryed, souc’d, marrinated, or pickled; with their proper sauces and garnishes: together with all manner of the most approved soops and potages used, either in England or France. By T. P. J. P. R. C. N. B. and several other approved cooks of London and Westminster.  London : printed for Simon Miller at the Star, at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1674.

I’m not sure what to make of the name of the dish. As in 17th century usage, “herbs” means any annual greens. Why are they out of sight? This is a wonderful collection of edible leaves.  The only one needing explanation is “succory” which is chicory. Sippets are slices of toast.

Potage without the sight of Herbs.

Having minced several sorts of sweet Herbs very small, stamp them with your Oatmeal, then strain them through a strainer with some of the broth of the Pot, boil your Herbs and Oatmeal with your Mutton, and some Salt, let your Herbs be Violet-leaves, Strawberry-leaves, Succory, Spinage, Scallions, Parsley and Marry-gold-flowers; having boiled them enough, serve them on Sippets.

 

Sep 042017
 

On this date in 1949 there were full scale riots outside Peekskill NY (Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County) protesting a concert given by Paul Robeson and others. They were, ostensibly anti-communist riots but with strong elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I want to highlight them today to point out that rioting in support of White supremacy, White nationalism, along with police brutality against African-Americans has a long history in the United States, and not only in the South.The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, and sympathies with communism and anti-colonialist sentiments. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill.

Robeson had given three earlier concerts in Peekskill without incident, but subsequently Robeson had been increasingly vocal against the Ku Klux Klan and other forces of White supremacy, both domestically and internationally. Robeson had made the transformation from someone who was primarily a singer into a political persona with vocal support for what were at the time popularly considered “communist” causes, including the decolonization of Africa, anti-Jim Crow legislation, and peace with the USSR. Robeson had also appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to oppose a bill that would require communists to register as foreign agents and, just months before the concerts in 1949, he had appeared at the Soviet-sponsored World Peace Conference in Paris. Referring to the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR, his exact words were:

We in America do not forget that it was the backs of White workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of Blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong…We shall support peace and friendship among all nations, with Soviet Russia and the People’s Republics.

What came over the wires to news agencies via the AP in the United States was as follows,

We colonial peoples have contributed to the building of the United States and are determined to share its wealth. We denounce the policy of the United States government which is similar to Hitler and Goebbels…. It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against the Soviet Union which in one generation has lifted our people to full human dignity.

Research by historians would later show that the AP had put a prepared dispatch on the wires as Robeson was starting his speech, not reporting what he actually said. The false reporting was not investigated by the US press for its veracity and there was nationwide condemnation of Robeson. In the early stages of the Cold War and its accompanying wide anti-communist sentiments in the West, this statement was seen by many as especially anti-American. The local paper, the Peekskill Evening Star, condemned the concert and encouraged people to make their position on communism felt, but did not directly espouse violence. There was a strong racial element to the riots, including burning crosses and lynching an effigy of Robeson both in Peekskill and in other areas of the United States.

The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27th in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, a mob of locals attacked concert-goers with baseball bats and rocks. The local police arrived hours later and did little to intervene. Thirteen people were seriously injured, Robeson was lynched in effigy and a cross was seen burning on an adjacent hillside. The concert was then postponed until September 4th. Following the concert, new requests for Klan memberships from the Peekskill area numbered 748.

Robeson’s longtime friend and Peekskill resident, Helen Rosen, who had agreed to collect Robeson at the train station, had heard on the radio that protesters were massing at the concert grounds. Robeson drove with Rosen and two others to the concert site and saw marauding groups of youngsters, a burning cross on a nearby hill and a jeering crowd throwing rocks and chanting “Dirty Commie” and “Dirty Kikes.” Robeson made more than one attempt to get out of the car and confront the mob but was restrained by his friends.

The media were flooded with reactions and charges. The Joint Veterans Council of Peekskill refused to admit any involvement, describing its activities as a “protest parade… held without disorder and… perfectly disbanded.” Peekskill police officials said the picnic grounds had been outside their jurisdiction.  A state police spokesman said there had never been a request for state troopers. The commander of Peekskill Post 274 of the American Legion stated: “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached.”

Following a meeting of local citizens, union members, and Robeson supporters who formed “The Westchester Committee for Law and Order” it was unanimously determined that Robeson should be invited back to perform in Peekskill. Representatives from various left-wing unions – the Fur and Leather Workers, the Longshoremen and the United Electrical Workers – all agreed to converge and serve as a wall of defense around the concert grounds. Ten union men slept on the property of the Rosens, effectively guarding it. A call was then put out by the “Emergency Committee to Protest the Peekskill Riot.” On Tuesday, August 30, an overflow crowd of 3,000 people assembled peacefully and without incident at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to hear Robeson speak:

I will be loyal to America of true traditions; to the America of the abolitionists, of Harriet Tubman, of Thaddeus Stevens, of those who fought for my people’s freedom, not of those who tried to enslave them. And I will have no loyalty to the Forrestals, to the Harrimans, to the WallStreeters… the surest way to get police protection is to have it very clear that we’ll protect ourselves, and good!… I’ll be back with my friends in Peekskill…

The re-scheduled (September 4, 1949) concert itself was free from violence, though marred by the presence of a police helicopter overhead and the flushing out of at least one sniper’s nest. The concert was located on the grounds of the old Hollow Brook Golf Course in Cortlandt Manor, near the site of the original concert. 20,000 people showed up. Security was organized by the Communist Party and Communist dominated labor unions. The men were directed by the Communist Party and some unions to form a line around the outer edge of the concert area and were sitting with Robeson on the stage. They were there to fight any protestors who objected to Robeson’s presence. They effectively kept the local police from the concert area. The musicians performed without incident.

Setlist (incomplete)

Sylvia Kahn: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Piano performances by Leonid Hambro and Ray Lev[19] including works by Chopin and Bach, Prokofiev and Ravel

Singing by soprano Hope Foye

Pete Seeger: “T For Texas”, “If I Had a Hammer”,[18] and another song[23]

Paul Robeson: “Go Down Moses”, the English ballad “No John No”, and “Farewell, My Son, I’m Dying” («Прощай, мой сын, умираю…», Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu…), the final aria from Boris Godunov, and other songs including “America the Beautiful” and traditional spirituals, ending with “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson’s accompaniment was provided by Larry Brown.

 

The aftermath of the concert was far from peaceful, however. After some violence to south-going buses near the intersection of Locust Avenue and Hillside Avenue, concertgoers were diverted to head northward to Oregon Corners and forced to run a gauntlet, miles long, of veterans and their families, who threw rocks through windshields of the cars and buses. Much of the violence was also caused by anti-Communist members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters. An angry mob of rioters chanted “go on back to Russia, you niggers” and “white niggers”, some of the concertgoers and union members, along with writer Howard Fast and others assembled a non-violent line of resistance, locked arms, and sang the song “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Some people were reportedly dragged from their vehicles and beaten. Over 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged as police stood by.

One car carried Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Seeger’s wife Toshi, and his infant children. Guthrie pinned a shirt to the inside of the window to stop it shattering. “Wouldn’t you know it, Woody pinned up a red shirt,” Hays recalled. Seeger used some of the thrown rocks to build the chimney of his cabin in the Town of Fishkill, New York, to stand as a reminder of that incident.

The first African-American combat pilot and decorated World War I veteran, Eugene Bullard, was knocked to the ground and beaten by the mob, which included White members of state and local law enforcement. The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning, Sidney Poitier-narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted for the assault. Graphic photos of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper and concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s pictorial biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Following the riots, more than 300 people went to Albany to voice their indignation to Governor Thomas Dewey, who refused to meet with them, blaming communists for provoking the violence. Twenty-seven plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Westchester County and two veterans’ groups. The charges were dismissed three years later.

Following the riots, House Representative John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi) condemned Robeson on the house floor. When Republican New York Congressman Jacob Javits spoke to the United States House of Representatives, deploring the Peekskill riots as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly, Rankin replied angrily. “It was not surprising to hear the gentlemen from New York defend the Communist enclave,” Rankin bellowed, saying that he wanted it known that the American people are not in sympathy “with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.” On a point of order, American Labor Party House Representative Vito Marcantonio protested to speaker Rayburn that “the gentlemen from Mississippi used the word ‘nigger.’ I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race.” Rayburn claimed that Rankin had not said “nigger” but “Negro” but Rankin yelled over him saying “I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say.” Speaker Rayburn then defended Rankin, ruling that “the gentlemen from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order… referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation.” Then Representative Edward E. Cox (D-Georgia) denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Within a few days, hundreds of editorials and letters appeared in newspapers across the nation and abroad, by prominent individuals, organizations, trade unions, churches and others. They condemned not only the attacks but also the failure of Governor Dewey and the State Police to protect the lives and property of citizens, and called for a full investigation of the violence and prosecution of the perpetrators. Despite condemnation from progressives and civil rights activists, the mainstream press and local officials overwhelmingly blamed Robeson and his fans for “provoking” the violence. Following the Peekskill riots, other cities became fearful of similar incidents, and over 80 scheduled concert dates of Robeson’s were canceled.

On September 12, 1949, in response to Robeson’s controversial status in the press and leftist affiliations, the National Maritime Union convention considered a motion that Robeson’s name be removed from the union’s honorary membership list; the motion was withdrawn for lack of support among members. Later that month, the All-China Art and Literature Workers’ Association and All-China Association of Musicians of Liberated China protested the Peekskill attack on Robeson. On October 2, 1949, Robeson spoke at a luncheon for the National Labor Conference for Peace, Ashland Auditorium, Chicago, and referenced the riots.

In recent years, Westchester County has gone to great lengths to make amends to the survivors of the riots by holding a commemorative ceremony, at which an apology was made for their treatment. In September 1999, county officials held a “Remembrance and Reconciliation Ceremony, 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1949 Peekskill riots.” It included speakers Paul Robeson, Jr., Peter Seeger and several local elected officials.

When I celebrated Robeson’s birthday here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/paul-r/  I mentioned the heirloom Paul Robeson tomato which was bred in the Soviet Union in honor of his visit. If you can get hold of some, a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich would be in order.  Also in his honor, several cake recipes appeared in cookbooks in the Soviet Union – all full of chocolate and very rich layered cakes. Here’s a couple of sites that have rather incomplete recipes (in Russian and in bad translation):

https://www.edimdoma.ru/retsepty/8383-tort-pol-robson

https://bashny.net/t/en/350946

This gallery may inspire you.

The cakes all have one thing in common: they are made of black and white layers (very subtle).  Some are covered in chocolate icing, some with a mix of cream and chocolate.

Sep 012017
 

Cetshwayo kaMpande (c. 1826 – 8 February 1884) became king of the Zulu Kingdom on this date in 1873, and remained king until 1879 when he was deposed by the British following the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. His name has been transliterated as Cetawayo, Cetewayo, Cetywajo and Ketchwayo. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana. Let’s get a few things clear at the outset. First, the idea that the British were in South Africa to shoulder the “White man’s burden” of civilizing Africans is rank nonsense. The Zulu had their own nation and social structure that was certainly equal in many ways to British culture. The British army had a tough time defeating them. Superior weaponry turned the tide, and the result was virtual enslavement and apartheid. Not exactly my idea of “civilization.” The British (and Dutch) were in South Africa for economic gain (both cheap labor and greed for resources), pure and simple. Cetshwayo was murderously ruthless, and he and his ilk were equally ruthless in training Zulu warriors. Therefore, I am not holding him up as someone to emulate. Cetshwayo’s great uncle was the legendary Shaka, the Zulu king who established the Zulu as a regional power. His methods were brutal and no mistake:

As he conquered a tribe, he enrolled its remnants in his army, so that they might in their turn help to conquer others. He armed his regiments with the short stabbing assegai, instead of the throwing assegai which they had been accustomed to use, and kept them subject to an iron discipline. If a man was observed to show the slightest hesitation about coming to close quarters with the enemy, he was executed as soon as the fight was over. If a regiment had the misfortune to be defeated, whether by its own fault or not, it would on its return to headquarters find that a goodly proportion of the wives and children belonging to it had been beaten to death by Shaka’s orders, and that he was waiting their arrival to complete his vengeance by dashing out their brains. The result was, that though Shaka’s armies were occasionally annihilated, they were rarely defeated, and they never ran away.

Cetshwayo was a son of Zulu king Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi and grandson of Senzangakhona kaJama. In 1856 he defeated and killed in battle his younger brother Mbuyazi, Mpande’s favourite, at the Battle of Ndondakusuka. Almost all Mbuyazi’s followers were massacred in the aftermath of the battle, including five of Cetshwayo’s own brothers. Like Nero, he killed his own mother, and then caused several people to be executed because they did not show sufficient sorrow at her death. Following this he became the effective ruler of the Zulu people. He did not ascend to the throne, however, as his father was still alive. Stories from that time regarding his huge size vary, saying he stood somewhere between 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) tall and 6 feet 8 inches (203 cm) and weighed close to 25 stone (350 lb; 160 kg).

His other brother, Umtonga, was still a potential rival. Cetshwayo also kept an eye on his father’s new wives and children for potential rivals, ordering the death of his favorite wife Nomantshali and her children in 1861. Though two sons escaped, the youngest was murdered in front of the king. After these events Umtonga fled to the Boers’ side of the border and Cetshwayo had to make deals with the Boers to get him back. In 1865, Umtonga did the same thing, apparently making Cetshwayo believe that Umtonga would organize help from the Boers against him, the same way his father had overthrown his predecessor, Dingaan.

Mpande died in 1872. His death was concealed at first, to ensure a smooth transition. Cetshwayo was installed as king on 1 September 1873. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, who annexed the Transvaal for Britain, crowned Cetshwayo as king in a rather shoddy and farcical ceremony, but quickly turned on the Zulus because he felt he was being undermined by Cetshwayo’s skilful negotiating for land area compromised by encroaching Boers, and the fact that the Boundary Commission established to examine the ownership of the land in question actually ruled in favor of the Zulus. The report was subsequently buried. As was customary, Cetshwayo established a new capital for the Zulu nation and called it Ulundi (the high place). He expanded his army and readopted many of Shaka’s methods. He also equipped his impis with muskets, though evidence of their use is limited. He banished European missionaries from his land. He also may have incited other native African peoples to rebel against Boers in Transvaal.

In 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner for South Africa, sought to confederate South Africa the same way Canada had been, and felt that this could not be done while there was a powerful and independent Zulu state. So, he began to demand reparations for border infractions and forced his subordinates to send carping messages complaining about Cetshwayo’s rule, seeking to provoke the Zulu King. They succeeded, but Cetshwayo kept his calm, considering the British to be his friends and being aware of the power of the British army. He did, however, state that he and Frere were equals and since he did not complain about how Frere ruled, the same courtesy should be observed by Frere in regard to Zululand. Eventually, Frere issued an ultimatum that demanded that he should effectively disband his army. Cetshwayo’s refusal led to the Zulu War in 1879, though it should be noted that he continually sought to make peace after the first battle at Isandhlwana. After an initial crushing but costly Zulu victory over the British at the Battle of Isandlwana, and the failure of the other two columns of the three-pronged British attack to make headway (one was bogged down in the Siege of Eshowe), the British retreated, other columns suffering two further defeats to Zulu armies in the field at the Battle of Intombe and the Battle of Hlobane. However, the British follow-up victories at the famous Battle of Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Kambula restored some British hope. While this retreat gave the chance for a Zulu counter-attack deep into Natal, Cetshwayo refused, his intention only being to repulse the British, not provoke further reprisals.

However, the British then returned to Zululand with a far larger and better armed force, finally capturing the Zulu capital at the Battle of Ulundi, in which the British, having learned their lesson from their defeat at Isandlwana, set up a hollow square on the open plain, armed with cannons and Gatling Guns. The battle lasted approximately 45 minutes before the British unleashed the cavalry to rout the Zulus. After Ulundi was taken and torched on 4 July, Cetshwayo was deposed and exiled, first to Cape Town, and then to London, returning to Zululand only in 1883.

From 1881, his cause had been taken up by, among others, Lady Florence Dixie, correspondent of the London Morning Post, who wrote articles and books in his support. This, along with his gentle and dignified manner, gave rise to public sympathy and the sentiment that he had been ill-used and shoddily treated by Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford.

By 1882 differences between two Zulu factions—pro-Cetshwayo uSuthus and three rival chiefs UZibhebhu—had erupted into a blood feud and civil war. In 1883, the British tried to restore Cetshwayo to rule at least part of his previous territory but the attempt failed. With the aid of Boer mercenaries, Chief UZibhebhu started a war contesting the succession and on 22 July 1883 he attacked Cetshwayo’s new kraal in Ulundi. Cetshwayo was wounded but escaped to the forest at Nkandla. After pleas from the Resident Commissioner, Sir Melmoth Osborne, Cetshwayo moved to Eshowe, where he died a few months later on 8 February 1884, aged between 57 and 60, presumably from a heart attack, although there are some theories that he may have been poisoned. His body was buried in a field within sight of the forest, to the south near Nkunzane River. The remains of the wagon which carried his corpse to the site were placed on the grave, and may be seen at Ondini Museum, near Ulundi.

Cetshwayo is remembered by historians as being the last king of an independent Zulu nation. His son Dinizulu, as heir to the throne, was proclaimed king on 20 May 1884, supported by (other) Boer mercenaries.

Current-day Zulu cooking is an eclectic mix of influences including indigenous ingredients along with ingredients and cooking methods from Europe and India courtesy of European colonization and a heavy influx of indentured workers from India. I’ve already given a traditional recipe here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/freedomunfreedom-day-south-africa/

Here is Zulu cabbage:

Zulu Cabbage

Ingredients

vegetable oil

1 onion, peeled and sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 small head white cabbage, sliced

12 oz can tomatoes, with juice

1 tbsp curry powder

salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat a little oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and pepper until they are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste if you are so inclined.  For me the curry is sufficient.  Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes depending on how well cooked you prefer the cabbage. I prefer mine al dente. You should let the water from the tomatoes evaporate, but do not let the dish get completely dry so that it sticks.

Serve hot.