Apr 122019
 

On this date in 1204, the Fourth Crusader army, directed by the pope to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim forces, but instead besieging Constantinople, breached the walls of the city which led to the sack of Constantinople: one of the most heinous crimes in the history of warfare anywhere in the world. I was taught Byzantine church history at Oxford by a Greek Orthodox archimandrite, and when he spoke of the events of 1204 there was real anger in his eyes and voice.  At the time, the Sack of Constantinople was over 750 years in the past, but his fury at its barbarity remained fresh. Think of it. The Crusaders claimed to be Christians on a mission to free holy sites from infidels (a dubious mission in its own right), and instead they raped, robbed, and murdered other Christians. Ever since the East/West schism of 1054 (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/east-west-schism/ ) the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic Churches had been at loggerheads theologically, but they had recognized that they were both Christian and could conceivably have found a way to come back together under one communion given enough diplomacy. After the Sack of Constantinople, reconciliation was unthinkable (and remains so). I won’t go into much detail – enough to give you the flavor. What I particularly want to show is that the Crusades in general, and the Fourth Crusade in particular, were not primarily about devotion to Christian faith, but were about greed and financial gain.

The majority of the crusading army that set out from Venice in early October 1202 originated from areas within France. The crusade was to be ready to sail on 24th June 1203 and make directly for the Ayyubid capital, Cairo, which they would conquer as a stepping stone to Jerusalem. This agreement was ratified by pope Innocent III, with a solemn ban on attacks on Christian states. The Venetians, under their aged and blind doge Dandolo, would not let the crusaders leave without paying the full amount agreed to for their transport vessels and equipment, originally 85,000 silver marks. The crusaders could initially pay only 35,000 silver marks. The doge threatened to keep them interned unless full payment was made, so a further 14,000 marks was collected, and that only by reducing the crusaders to extreme poverty. This was disastrous to the Venetians, who had halted their commerce for a great length of time to prepare this expedition. In addition, about 14,000 men or as many as 20–30,000 men (out of Venice’s population of 60–100,000 people) were needed to man the entire fleet, placing further strain on the Venetian economy.

Dandolo and the Venetians considered what to do with the Crusade. It was too small to pay its fee, but disbanding the force gathered would harm Venetian prestige and cause significant financial and trading loss. Dandolo, who joined the crusade during a public ceremony in the church of San Marco di Venezia, proposed that the crusaders pay their debts by intimidating many of the local ports and towns down the Adriatic, culminating in an attack on the port of Zara in Dalmatia. The city had been dominated economically by Venice throughout the 12th century but had rebelled in 1181 and allied itself with king Emeric of Hungary and Croatia. Subsequent Venetian attempts to recover control of Zara had been repulsed, and by 1202 the city was economically independent, under the protection of the king.

King Emeric was Catholic and had himself taken the cross in 1195 or 1196. Many of the crusaders were opposed to attacking Zara, and some, including a force led by the elder Simon de Montfort, refused to participate altogether and returned home. While the papal legate to the Crusade, cardinal Peter of Capua, endorsed the move as necessary to prevent the Crusade’s complete failure, the pope was alarmed at this development and wrote a letter to the crusading leadership threatening excommunication.

In 1202, pope Innocent, despite wanting to secure papal authority over Byzantium, wrote forbidding the Crusaders from committing any atrocious acts against their Christian neighbors. However, this letter was concealed from the bulk of the army who arrived at Zara on 10–11 November 1202, and the attack proceeded. The citizens of Zara made reference to the fact that they were fellow Catholics by hanging banners marked with crosses from their windows and the walls of the city, but nevertheless the city fell on 24th November 1202 after a brief siege. There was extensive pillaging, and the Venetians and other crusaders came to blows over the division of the spoils. Order was achieved, and the leaders of the expedition agreed to winter in Zara, while considering their next move. The fortifications of Zara were demolished by the Venetians. When Innocent III heard of the sack, he sent a letter to the crusaders excommunicating them and ordering them to return to their holy vows and head for Jerusalem. Out of fear that this would dissolve the army, the leaders of the crusade decided not to inform their followers of this. In February 1203 he rescinded the excommunications against all non-Venetians in the expedition, apparently believing that they had been coerced by the Venetians.

In January 1203, en-route to Jerusalem, the Crusader leadership, still lacking funds, entered into an agreement with the Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos to divert the Crusade to Constantinople and restore his deposed father as emperor. The intent of the Crusaders was then to continue to Jerusalem with promised Byzantine financial and military aid. On 23rd June 1203, the bulk of the Crusaders reached Constantinople, while smaller contingents continued to Acre. In August, following clashes outside Constantinople, Alexios was crowned co-Emperor. However, in January 1204, he was deposed by a popular uprising. The Crusaders were no longer able to receive their promised payments from Alexios. Following the murder of Alexios on 8th February, the Crusaders decided on the outright conquest of the city. On 12th April 1204, the weather conditions finally favored the Crusaders so that they could cross the Bosporus and assail the fortress of Constantinople. A strong northern wind aided the Venetian ships in coming close to the walls, and after a short battle approximately seventy crusaders managed to enter the city. Some were able to knock holes in the walls, large enough for only a few knights at a time to crawl through. The Venetians were also successful at scaling the walls from the sea, though there was fighting with the Varangians. The Anglo-Saxon “axe bearers” had been amongst the most effective of the city’s defenders, but they now attempted to negotiate higher wages from their Byzantine employers, before dispersing or surrendering. The Crusaders captured the Blachernae section of the city in the northwest and used it as a base to attack the rest of the city. While attempting to defend themselves with a wall of fire, however, they burned even more of the city. The Crusaders completely took the city on 13th April.

The Crusaders sacked Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient Greco-Roman and medieval Byzantine works of art were stolen or ruined. Many of the civilian population of the city were killed and their property looted. Despite the threat of excommunication, the crusaders destroyed, defiled and looted the city’s churches and monasteries. It was said that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks. The Venetians received 150,000 silver marks that was their due, while the crusaders received 50,000 silver marks. A further 100,000 silver marks were divided evenly up between the crusaders and Venetians. The remaining 500,000 silver marks were secretly kept back by many crusader knights. Only a handful of the Crusaders continued to the Holy Land thereafter.

The conquest of Constantinople was followed by the fragmentation of the Empire into three rump states centered in Nicaea, Trebizond and Epirus. The Crusaders then founded several Crusader states in former Byzantine territory, largely hinged upon the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The presence of the Latin Crusader states almost immediately led to war with the Byzantine successor states and the Bulgarian Empire. The Nicaean Empire eventually recovered Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire in 1261. The Crusade is considered to be one of the most prominent acts that solidified the schism between the Greek and Latin Christian churches, and dealt an irrevocable blow to the already weakened Byzantine Empire, paving the way for Muslim conquests in Anatolia and Balkan Europe in the coming centuries.

In a nutshell, the Fourth Crusade, rather than achieving its stated aim of “liberating” regions from Muslims, saw to it that the Middle East and much of the Mediterranean and eastern Europe came under Muslim rule. The simple fact is, however, that the Crusades were not about the importance of Christianity and spreading the Gospel, but about greed and power – pure and simple. That was the nature of Medieval warfare, and things have not changed a great deal.

Here is a slightly strange video attempting to reconstruct Byzantine cooking:

Constantinople was a crossroads in Medieval times with its cuisine showing influences from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and, in turn, influenced the cuisines of Europe thereafter. Istanbul (modern Constantinople) is still a crossroads, and the cuisine is still eclectic.

Apr 112019
 

Today is the birthday (1357) of John I (João I) of Portugal, who was king of Portugal from 1385 until his death in 1433. He is recognized chiefly for his role in Portugal’s victory in a succession war with Castile, preserving his country’s independence and establishing the Aviz (or Joanine) dynasty on the Portuguese throne. His long reign of 48 years, the longest of all Portuguese monarchs, saw the beginning of Portugal’s overseas expansion. John’s well-remembered reign in his country earned him the epithet of Fond Memory (de Boa Memória). He was also referred to as “the Good” (o Bom), sometimes “the Great” (o Grande), and more rarely, especially in Spain, as “the Bastard” (Bastardo).

John was born in Lisbon, son of king Peter I of Portugal with a woman named Teresa, who, according to the royal chronicler Fernão Lopes, was a noble Galician. In 1364, by request of Nuno Freire de Andrade, a Galician Grand Master of the Order of Christ, John was created Grand Master of the Order of Aviz. On the death without a male heir of his half-brother, king Ferdinand I, in October 1383, strenuous efforts were made to secure the succession for Beatrice, Ferdinand’s only daughter. As heir presumptive, Beatrice had married king John I of Castile, but popular sentiment was against an arrangement in which Portugal would have been virtually annexed by Castile. The 1383–1385 Portuguese interregnum followed, a period of political anarchy, when no monarch ruled the country.

On 6th April 1385, the Council of the Kingdom (the Portuguese Cortes) met in Coimbra and declared John, then Master of Aviz, to be king of Portugal. This was followed by the liberation of almost all of the Minho Province in the course of two months as part of a war against Castile in opposition to its claims to the Portuguese throne. Soon after, the king of Castile again invaded Portugal with the purpose of conquering Lisbon and removing John I from the throne. John I of Castile was accompanied by French allied cavalry while English troops and generals took the side of John of Aviz. John and Nuno Álvares Pereira, his constable and talented supporter, repelled the attack in the decisive Battle of Aljubarrota on 14th August 1385. John I of Castile then retreated. The Castilian forces abandoned Santarém, Torres Vedras and Torres Novas, and many other towns were delivered to John I by Portuguese nobles from the Castilian side. As a result, the stability of the Portuguese throne was permanently secured.

On 11th February 1387, John I married Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, who had proved to be a worthy ally. The marriage consolidated an Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, cemented in the Treaty of Windsor that endures to the present day.

John I of Castile died in 1390 without issue from his wife Beatrice, which meant that a competing legitimate bloodline with a claim to the throne of Portugal died out. John I of Portugal was then able to rule in peace and concentrate on the economic development and territorial expansion of his realm. The most significant military actions were the siege and conquest of the city of Ceuta by Portugal in 1415, and the successful defense of Ceuta from a Moroccan counterattack in 1419. These measures were intended to help seize control of navigation off the African coast and trade routes from the interior of Africa.

The raids and attacks of the Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula created captives on both sides who were either ransomed or sold as slaves. The Portuguese crown extended this practice to North Africa. After the attack on Ceuta, the king sought papal recognition of the military action as a Crusade. Such a ruling would have enabled those captured to be legitimately sold as slaves. In response to John’s request, pope Martin V issued the Papal bull Sane charissimus of 4th April 1418, which confirmed to the king all of the lands he might win from the Moors. Under the auspices of his son, Henry the Navigator, voyages were organized to explore the African coast. These led to the discovery of the uninhabited islands of Madeira in 1417 and the Azores in 1427 which were claimed by the Portuguese crown.

Contemporaneous writers describe John as a man of wit who was intent on concentrating power on himself, but at the same time possessed a benevolent and kind demeanor. His youthful education as master of a religious order made him an unusually learned king for the Middle Ages. His love for knowledge and culture was passed on to his sons, who are often referred to collectively by Portuguese historians as the “illustrious generation” (Ínclita Geração): Edward, the future king, was a poet and a writer; Peter, duke of Coimbra, was one of the most learned princes of his time; and Henry the Navigator, the duke of Viseu, invested heavily in science and the development of nautical pursuits. In 1430, John’s only surviving daughter, Isabella, married Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and enjoyed an extremely refined court culture in his lands. She was the mother of Charles the Bold.

Here is a video of the making of a traditional Portuguese dish – cataplana (named after the cooking vessel – a fish stew.

Apr 102019
 

On this date in 1815 the eruption of Mount Tambora, one of the most powerful in recorded history, reached its peak. With a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7, it is the most recently known VEI-7 event and the only unambiguously confirmed VEI-7 eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in about 180 CE. By comparison, the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883 (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/krakatoa/ ) which produced the loudest explosion ever recorded, was a mere VEI-6 event. Indonesia has its moments.

Mount Tambora experienced several centuries of dormancy before 1815, caused by the gradual cooling of hydrous magma in its closed magma chamber. Inside the chamber at depths between 1.5 and 4.5 kilometers (0.93 and 2.80 mi), the exsolution of a high-pressure fluid magma formed during cooling and crystallization of the magma. An over-pressurization of the chamber of about 4,000–5,000 bar (58,000–73,000 psi) was generated, with the temperature ranging from 700–850 °C (1,292–1,562 °F). In 1812, the volcano began to rumble and generated a dark cloud.

On 5th April 1815, a very large eruption occurred, followed by thunderous detonation sounds heard in Makassar on Sulawesi 380 kilometers (240 mi) away, Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java 1,260 kilometers (780 mi) away, and Ternate on the Molucca Islands 1,400 kilometers (870 mi) away. On the morning of 6th April, volcanic ash began to fall in East Java with faint detonation sounds lasting until 10th April. What was first thought to be the sound of firing guns was heard on 10th April on Sumatra, more than 2,600 kilometers (1,600 mi) away.

At about 7 pm on 10th April, the eruptions intensified. Three columns of flame rose up and merged. The whole mountain was turned into a flowing mass of fire. Pumice stones of up to 20 centimeters (7.9 in) in diameter started to rain down around 8 pm, followed by ash at around 9–10 pm. Pyroclastic flows cascaded down the mountain to the sea on all sides of the peninsula, wiping out the village of Tambora. Loud explosions were heard until the next evening. The ash veil spread as far as West Java and South Sulawesi. A nitrous odor was noticeable in Batavia, and heavy tephra-tinged rain fell, finally receding between 11th and 17th April.

An estimated 41 cubic kilometers (9.8 cu mi) of pyroclastic trachyandesite were ejected, weighing about 10 billion tonnes. This left a caldera measuring 6–7 kilometers (3.7–4.3 mi) across and 600–700 meters (2,000–2,300 ft) deep. The density of fallen ash in Makassar was 636 kg/m3 (1,072 lb/cu yd). Before the explosion, Mount Tambora’s peak elevation was about 4,300 meters (14,100 ft), making it one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago. After the explosion, its peak elevation had dropped to only 2,851 meters (9,354 ft), about two-thirds of its previous height. The 1815 Tambora eruption is the largest observed eruption in recorded history. The explosion was heard 2,600 kilometers (1,600 mi) away, and ash fell at least 1,300 kilometers (810 mi) away.

All vegetation on the island was destroyed. Uprooted trees, mixed with pumice ash, washed into the sea and formed rafts up to 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) across. Between 1st and 3rd October the British ships Fairlie and James Sibbald encountered extensive pumice rafts about 3,600 kilometers (2,200 mi) west of Tambora. Clouds of thick ash still covered the summit on 23rd April. Explosions ceased on 15th  July, although smoke emissions were observed as late as 23rd August. Flames and rumbling aftershocks were reported in August 1819, four years after the event.

A moderate-sized tsunami struck the shores of various islands in the Indonesian archipelago on 10th April, with a height of up to 4 meters (13 ft) in Sanggar around 10 pm. A tsunami of 1–2 meters (3 ft 3 in–6 ft 7 in) in height was reported in Besuki, East Java, before midnight, and one of 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in height in the Molucca Islands. The total death toll has been estimated to be around 4,600.

The eruption column reached the stratosphere at an altitude of more than 43 kilometers (141,000 ft). The coarser ash particles settled out one to two weeks after the eruptions, but the finer ash particles stayed in the atmosphere from a few months to a few years at altitudes of 10–30 kilometers (33,000–98,000 ft). Longitudinal winds spread these fine particles around the globe, creating optical phenomena. Prolonged and brilliantly colored sunsets and twilights were seen frequently in London between 28th June and 2nd July, and 3rd September and 7th October 1815. The glow of the twilight sky typically appeared orange or red near the horizon and purple or pink above.

During the northern hemisphere summer of 1816, global temperatures cooled by 0.53 °C (0.95 °F). This very significant cooling directly or indirectly caused 90,000 deaths. The eruption of Mount Tambora was the most significant cause of this climate anomaly. While there were other eruptions in 1815, Tambora eclipsed all others by at least one order of magnitude (VEI-7 is ten times stronger than VEI-6).

In the spring and summer of 1815, a persistent “dry fog” was observed in the northeastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the “fog”. It was identified as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the “Year Without a Summer”. Average global temperatures decreased by about 0.4 to 0.7 °C (0.7 to 1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On 4th June 1816, frosts were reported in the upper elevations of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and northern New York. On 6th June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 cm (12 in) deep accumulated near Quebec City from 6th to 10th June 1816.

Sumbawa’s cuisine contains numerous dishes that are common to Indonesia but with their own twist. Babingka cake can be found throughout the region, but Sumbawa’s is a little simpler than others. It is made with ketan flour, a flour made from glutinous rice.

Babingka

Ingredients

250 gm ketan flour
100 gm grated coconut
250 ml coconut milk
100 gm brown sugar
25 ml white sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a greased 8” x 10” baking tin with baker’s parchment.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Pour into the baking tin, and bake until golden (about 40 minutes).

Cool in the tin a few minutes, then turn on to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into squares.

Apr 092019
 

Today is the birthday (1336) of Timur (Persian: تیمور‎ Temūr, Chagatai: Temür), historically known as Amir Timur and Tamerlane (Persian: تيمور لنگ‎ Temūr(-i) Lang, “Timur the Lame”), the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia, and the first ruler in the Timurid dynasty. It is not normally my custom to celebrate brutal conquerors, and I am not going to spend much time on his bloody exploits. I’ll give a brief potted history, and then turn to the fact that he was the focus of so many works of stage and literature from soon after his death to the present day – with the ever-lingering question hovering: WHY?

Timur was born in Transoxiana (in modern-day Uzbekistan), speaking Chagatai as his native language, and by the age of 34 had gained control of the western Chagatai Khanate. From that base, he led military campaigns across Western, South and Central Asia, the Caucasus and southern Russia, and emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. From these conquests, he founded the Timurid Empire, but this empire fragmented shortly after his death. Timur was the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more structured and lasting Gunpowder Empires in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Timur envisioned the restoration of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan (d. 1227) even though he was not ethnically related to, nor a descendant of, Genghis Khan. For example he justified his Iranian, Mamluk, and Ottoman campaigns as a re-imposition of legitimate Mongol control over lands taken by usurpers. To legitimize his conquests, Timur relied on Islamic symbols and language, referred to himself as the “Sword of Islam”, and patronized educational and religious institutions. Timur also decisively defeated the Christian Knights Hospitaller at the Siege of Smyrna, styling himself a ghazi (holy warrior). By the end of his reign, Timur had gained complete control over all the remnants of the Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, and the Golden Horde, and even attempted to restore the Yuan dynasty in China. Timur’s armies were inclusively multi-ethnic and were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which his campaigns laid to waste. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population at the time.

Timur was the grandfather of the Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician Ulugh Beg (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ulugh-beg/ ), who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur (1483–1530), founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for over three centuries, from 1526 until 1857. Timur was a great patron of art and architecture, and interacted with intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ibn-khaldoun/ ) and Hafiz-i Abru.

Literary versions of the life of Timur abound. Tamburlaine the Great, written by Christopher Marlowe (1587) was a milestone in Elizabethan drama, breaking new ground with its use of blank verse, strong passions, and larger-than-life characters. It could well have been one of the first London plays that Shakespeare saw (and was influenced by). Marlowe’s play was successful enough to prompt the writing of a sequel. Marlowe was not concerned about historical accuracy, and portrayed Timur as a Scythian shepherd who rose to great heights, and mostly invented the events in his life. Still, the theme was popular for a time.

The 18th century saw numerous musical productions, including Tamerlano (1724), an opera by George Frideric Handel, in Italian, based on the 1675 play Tamerlan ou la mort de Bajazet by Jacques Pradon; Bajazet (1735), an opera by Antonio Vivaldi that portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur; and Il gran Tamerlano (1772): opera by Josef Mysliveček that also portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur.

Tamerlane (1827) is the first published poem of Edgar Allan Poe. It is epic in length, but mostly concerns Timur’s abandonment of his first love, a peasant girl, in favor of conquest and fame. On his deathbed he laments trading an empire for a broken heart. In the 20th century we have Tamerlane, an historical novel by Harold Lamb, Lord of Samarkand by Robert E. Howard, and Tamerlan, a novel in Spanish by Colombian writer Enrique Serrano. Into the 21st century we have Tamburlaine: Shadow of God, a BBC Radio 3 play by John Fletcher, broadcast 2008, a fictitious account of a meeting between Tamburlaine, Ibn Khaldun, and Hafez.

It is said that Timur’s favorite food was plov (i.e. pilaf) and nowadays you can easily get a dish called (something like) Timur’s plov in many parts of Central Asia. I was invited to an impromptu cooking class in Kyrgyzstan to make a version, and was happy to primarily take photos and taste the result (rather than spend holiday time peeling and chopping vegetables). The good part of the lesson was that the local cook had an enormous vessel for cooking the plov that looked like a giant cast iron wok over a wood fire.  The quantities here are not quite banquet sized, but the recipe will feed 10 royally. This is not a complex plov, as many are, with cascades of ingredients, but perfectly basic. It is not, however, easy to make unless you know what you are doing. After the recipe I will give a video.  You will see that the experience comes in when it comes to adding liquid to cook the rice.

Timur’s Plov

Ingredients

1 kg rice, thoroughly washed in cold running water
500 gm lamb, cut in chunks
1 kg carrots, peeled and cut into strips
4 onions, peeled and sliced
vegetable oil
salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper

Instructions

Heat some oil in a cauldron until a little smoke appears. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they take on a little color. Add the meat and continue the browning process. Finally add the carrots and continue to cook until they are browned a little. Add water to cover plus salt, cumin, and cayenne to taste, bring to a boil, and cook for about 45 minutes.

Add the rice plus more water to come slightly above the surface of rice. The amount of water is critical. Cook uncovered until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, and then cover and cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes.

Apr 082019
 

The core building of the current Winchester cathedral was consecrated on this date in 1093. According to the Annals of Winchester, “in the presence of almost all the bishops and abbots of England, the monks came with the highest exultation and glory from the old minster to the new one: on the Feast of S. Swithun they went in procession from the new minster to the old one and brought thence S. Swithun’s shrine and placed it with honour in the new buildings, and on the following day Walkelin’s men first began to pull down the old minster.” In a somewhat cryptic and telegraphic way we have a statement here that puts in a nutshell how the great gothic cathedrals of England came to be: the old one was small and decrepit, so they built a replacement and tore the old one down after moving all the sacred relics from the old to the new. Then they continued to expand the new one. Medieval cathedrals were a neverending work in progress – not to mention the fact that bits fell down from time to time because architectural and engineering knowledge was lacking in spots.

Winchester cathedral was founded in 642 on a site immediately to the north of the present one. This building became known as the Old Minster. It became part of a monastic settlement in 971. Saint Swithun (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/saint-swithun/ ) was buried near the Old Minster and then in it, before being moved to the new Norman cathedral. So-called mortuary chests said to contain the remains of Saxon kings such as king Eadwig of England, first buried in the Old Minster, and his wife Ælfgifu, are in the present cathedral.

In 1079, Walkelin, first Norman bishop of Winchester, began work on a completely new cathedral. Much of the limestone used to build the structure was brought across from quarries around Binstead, Isle of Wight. Nearby Quarr Abbey draws its name from these workings, as do several nearby places such as Stonelands and Stonepitts. The remains of the Roman trackway used to transport the blocks are still evident across the fairways of the Ryde Golf Club, where the stone was hauled from the quarries to the hythe at the mouth of Binstead Creek, and thence by barge across the Solent and up to Winchester.

A substantial amount of the fabric of Walkelin’s building, including crypt, transepts and the basic structure of the nave, survives. The original crossing tower, however, collapsed in 1107, an accident blamed by the cathedral’s medieval chroniclers on the burial of the dissolute William Rufus beneath it in 1100. Its replacement, which survives today, is still in the Norman style, with round-headed windows. It is a squat, square structure, 50 feet (15 m) wide, but rising only 35 feet (11 m) above the ridge of the transept roof. The Tower is 150 feet (46 m) tall.

According to the Cathedral’s burial records the remains of some of the following may still be found in mortuary chests in the crypt: Cynegils, king of Wessex (611–643), Cenwalh, king of Wessex (643–672), Cynewulf, king of Wessex (757-786), Ecbert, king of Wessex (802–839), Ethelwulf, king of Wessex (839–856), Eadred, king of England (946–955), Eadwig, king of England and later Wessex (955–959), Cnut or Canute, king of England (1016–1035), Denmark and Norway, his wife Emma of Normandy (d. 1052) (also queen consort to Ethelred II, king of England), William II ‘Rufus’, king of England (1087–1100), Wini, the first Bishop of Winchester (d. 670), Alfwyn, Bishop of Winchester (d. 1047) and Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1072). Forensic anthropologists are currently examining the bones which have already been carbon dated to Anglo-Saxon and early Norman times.

When I posted concerning St Swithun I was stuck for recipes and mentioned only a local cheese. But rural Hampshire is well known for game and for recipes to cook it. I am not sure how I missed this fact. Raised game pie is popular, but I have already given a recipe in another post. Instead here is a pie that is a version of cottage pie using game rather than beef.

Gamekeeper’s Pie

Ingredients

1 kg coarsely minced game
salt and pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
200 ml cider
beef stock

3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
200 gm parsnips, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
butter

Instructions

Season the game with salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1–2 tbsp oil in a heavy skillet over high heat, then brown the meat in small batches for a few minutes, turning it with a wooden spoon. Drain in a colander to remove all the fat.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently fry the onions with the garlic, juniper and chopped thyme until very soft. Add the meat, dust it with flour and add the tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Worcestershire sauce, then slowly stir in the cider and beef stock to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for about 1 hour until the liquid has thickened. Check the seasoning and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F

Apr 072019
 

Friction matches are recorded as having been sold for the first time on this date in 1827 by their inventor John Walker (29 May 1781 – 1 May 1859). Several inventors worked on similar ideas around the same time, but Walker is the first, even though his contribution is now mostly forgotten, especially since he did not take out a patent. Matches were a great boon because before their invention, striking a light was a pain in the neck. Most European households kept a fire going at all times (day and night), so that they did not have to start a new one. If they had a wood stove for cooking, they could bank the fire down when not in use (including overnight) and then crank it up when needed. This fire could be used to light spills or tapers for lighting candles, lanterns, pipes, cigars and whatnot, but it was all an incredible nuisance, and should it go out, relighting it was a nuisance. Apart from getting a light from a neighbor, there was the tinder box – a box filled with some easily combustible material, and with flint and steel attached to strike a spark. Getting a flame going required skill and patience, and was not something most people could, or would, do if there was an alternative. Enter matches.

John Walker was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, in 1781. He went to the local grammar school and was afterwards apprenticed to Watson Alcock, the principal surgeon of the town, serving him as an assistant. He had, however, an aversion to surgical operations, and had to leave the profession, turning instead to chemistry. After studying in Durham and York, he set up a small business as a pharmacist at 59 High Street, Stockton, around 1818.

Walker developed an interest in finding a means of obtaining fire easily. Several chemical mixtures were already known which would ignite by a sudden explosion, but it had not been found possible to transmit the flame to a slow-burning substance like wood. While Walker was preparing a lighting mixture on one occasion, a match which had been dipped in it took fire caused by accidental friction upon the hearth. He at once appreciated the practical value of the discovery, and started making friction matches. They consisted of wooden splints or sticks of cardboard coated with sulphur and tipped with a mixture of sulphide of antimony, potassium chlorate, and gum, the sulphur serving to communicate the flame to the wood.

Walker set the price of a box of 50 matches at one shilling. With each box was supplied a piece of sandpaper, folded double, through which the match had to be drawn to ignite it. He named the matches “Congreves” in honor of the inventor and rocket pioneer, Sir William Congreve. He did not divulge the exact composition of his matches. Two and a half years after Walker’s invention was made public, Isaac Holden arrived, independently, at the same idea of coating wooden splinters with sulphur. The exact date of his discovery, according to his own statement, was October 1829. Previous to this date, Walker’s sales-book contains an account of no fewer than 250 sales of friction matches, the first entry bearing the date 7th April 1827. Because he was already comfortably well off from his sales, Walker refused to patent his invention, despite being encouraged to by Michael Faraday and others, instead making it freely available for anyone to make. He received neither fame nor wealth for his invention, although he was able to retire some years later. The credit for his invention was attributed only after his death.

Following the ideas laid out by the French chemist, Charles Sauria, who in 1830 invented the first phosphorus-based match by replacing the antimony sulfide in Walker’s matches with white phosphorus, matches were first patented in the United States in 1836, in Massachusetts, being smaller in size and safer to use. White phosphorus was later banned for public usage because of its toxicity. Today’s modern safety matches were created by the Swedish chemist, Gustaf Erik Pasch.

The parmo is another Teesside invention from more recent times. The parmo is said to have been created by Nicos Harris, a chef with the US army in World War II. He was wounded in France, but was brought to the United Kingdom to be treated in a British hospital. Eventually, he moved to Middlesbrough and opened a restaurant on Linthorpe Road, where he created the parmo at The American Grill in 1958. The parmo or Teesside Parmesan is a breaded cutlet dish and a popular item of take-away food in the North East of England. Similar to a schnitzel, it traditionally consists of chicken in breadcrumbs topped with a white béchamel/Parmesan sauce and, usually, Cheddar cheese melted on top. So, it is New York-Italian cuisine transplanted to the UK and re-invented. If you are an experienced cook, that description is all you need, but here’s a video to help:

Apr 062019
 

Today may be the birthday Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides, and also referred to by the acronym Rambam. His birthday depends what year he was born in because it is recorded that he was born on Passover Eve, but either in 1135 or 1138. So, it could be today or March 30th. Maimonides was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer and physician. His fourteen-volume Mishneh Torah still carries significant canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law. He did have contemporary critics in Spain, but he was revered by many Arab and Muslim scholars as well as being influenced by them.

Maimonides was born in Córdoba during the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula. At an early age, he developed an interest in sciences and philosophy. He read those Greek philosophers accessible in Arabic translations, and was deeply immersed in the sciences and learning of Islamic culture. Though the Gaonic Talmudic academic tradition, especially in its North African version, formed the basis of his legal thought, Muslim law, including Almohad legal thought, also had a substantial influence. Maimonides was not known as a supporter of mysticism, although a strong intellectual type of mysticism has been discerned in his philosophy. He expressed disapproval of poetry, the best of which he declared to be false, since it was founded on pure invention.

The Almohads conquered Córdoba in 1148, and abolished dhimmi status (i.e., state protection, through payment of a tax, the jizya, of the life and possessions of non-Muslims). The loss of this status left the Jewish and Christian communities with conversion to Islam, death, or exile as their options. Many Jews were forced to convert, but due to suspicion by the authorities of fake conversions, the new converts had to wear identifying clothing that set them apart and made them subject to public scrutiny. Maimonides’ family chose exile. For the next ten years, Maimonides moved about in southern Spain, eventually settling in Fez in Morocco. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah, between 1166 and 1168.

Following this period in Morocco, together with two sons, he journeyed in Palestine before settling in Egypt around 1168. While in Cairo, he studied in a yeshiva attached to a small synagogue (which now bears his name). Maimonides shortly thereafter was instrumental in helping rescue Jews taken captive during the Christian King Amalric’s siege of the Egyptian town of Bilbays. He sent five letters to the Jewish communities of Lower Egypt asking them to pool money together to pay the ransom. The money was collected and then given to two judges sent to Palestine to negotiate with the Crusaders. The captives were eventually released.

Following this triumph, the family, hoping to increase their wealth, gave their savings to Maimonides’ youngest brother, David ben Maimon, a merchant. Maimonides directed his brother to procure goods only at the Sudanese port of ‘Aydhab. After a long arduous trip through the desert, however, David was unimpressed by the goods on offer there. Against his brother’s wishes, David boarded a ship for India, since great wealth was to be found in the East. Before he could reach his destination, David drowned at sea some time between 1169 and 1177.

In a letter (discovered later in the Cairo Geniza), he wrote:

The greatest misfortune that has befallen me during my entire life—worse than anything else—was the demise of the saint, may his memory be blessed, who drowned in the Indian sea, carrying much money belonging to me, to him, and to others, and left with me a little daughter and a widow. On the day I received that terrible news I fell ill and remained in bed for about a year, suffering from a sore boil, fever, and depression, and was almost given up. About eight years have passed, but I am still mourning and unable to accept consolation. And how should I console myself? He grew up on my knees, he was my brother, [and] he was my student.

Around 1171, Maimonides was appointed the Nagid (leader) of the Egyptian Jewish community. With the loss of the family funds tied up in David’s business venture, Maimonides assumed the vocation of physician, for which he was to become famous. He had trained in medicine in both Córdoba and in Fez. Gaining widespread recognition, he was appointed court physician to the Grand Vizier, al Qadi al Fadil, then to Sultan Saladin, after whose death he remained a physician to the royal family.

In his medical writings, Maimonides described many conditions, including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia, and he emphasized moderation and a healthy lifestyle. His treatises became influential for generations of physicians. He was knowledgeable about Greek and Arabic medicine, and followed the principles of humorism in the tradition of Galen. He did not blindly accept authority, however, but used his own observation and experience. Maimonides displayed in his interactions with patients attributes that today would be called intercultural awareness and respect for the patient’s autonomy. Although he frequently wrote of his longing for solitude in order to come closer to God and to extend his reflections – elements considered essential in his philosophy to the prophetic experience – he gave over most of his time to caring for others. In a famous letter, Maimonides describes his daily routine: After visiting the Sultan’s palace, he would arrive home exhausted and hungry, where: “I would find the antechambers filled with gentiles and Jews … I would go to heal them, and write prescriptions for their illnesses … until the evening … and I would be extremely weak.” As he goes on to say in this letter, even on the Sabbath he would receive members of the community.

In 1173/4, Maimonides wrote his famous Iggeret Teman (Epistle to Yemen). Maimonides died on December 12th, 1204 (20th of Tevet 4965) in Fustat in Egypt at the age of 69. It is widely believed that he was briefly buried in the study room (beit hamidrash) of the synagogue courtyard, and that, soon after, in accordance with his wishes, his remains were exhumed and taken to Tiberias in Galilee, where he was re-interred. The Tomb of Maimonides on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in present-day Israel marks his grave.

Here is a recipe for a Passover dish from the Sephardic community. It is a kind of pie or lasagna made with matzoth rather than pastry or pasta. In Spain it is called mina de maza, in Italian, scacchi.

Mina de Maza

Ingredients:

Spinach Filling

2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
10 oz spinach, chopped
8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz farmer cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg
1 tbsp minced fresh dill

Mushroom-Artichoke Filling

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
8 oz artichoke hearts, sliced
salt and pepper
2 tbsp roasted pine nuts

8 regular matzah squares
2 cups vegetable broth
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

butter for greasing the pan

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ pan with butter. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 2-quart pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion until golden. Add the spinach, and cook until wilted. Mix in the feta, farmer cheese, eggs, seasonings, and dill, and then set aside.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan and add the garlic. Cook for 20 seconds over medium high heat, and then mix in the mushrooms, sautéing them for about 5 minutes, until they have given up most of their moisture. Add the artichokes and stir to heat through. Mix in the toasted pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Warm the broth. Pour into an 8-inch square casserole or a deep dish that will hold the liquid and soak 2 sheets of matzah at a time until they are soft and pliable. Once you have 4 soft matzoth, fit them into the bottom and sides of the buttered dish. Spread the spinach mixture over the matzoth, then top with the mushroom mixture. Soak the remaining 4 sheets of matzah in the broth and then cover the filling, trimming or tucking in the sides.

Add the remaining egg to the leftover broth in the dish (if there is no broth left, combine an additional ½ cup of  broth with the egg) and pour it evenly over the entire casserole. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot or at room temperature

 

Apr 052019
 

Today (or close to it) is the traditional Chinese Cold Food or Hanshi Festival which developed from the local commemoration of the death of the Jin nobleman Jie Zitui in the 7th century BCE. Its name derives from the tradition of avoiding the lighting of any kind of fire, even for the preparation of food. Cold Food Festival is not an official holiday in any country or region, but it continues to see some observance in China, Korea, and Vietnam generally as part of Tomb-Sweeping Festivals (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/qingming-festival/ ).

The usual story for the origin of the Cold Food and Tomb-Sweeping Festivals concerns the 7th-century-BC Jin nobleman Jie Zhitui, a model of self-sacrificing loyalty. During the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history, the Zhou Kingdom began to break up into its constituent parts and their lords gained more and more freedom from central control. One of these states was Jin, around modern Shanxi. As was common among wealthy Chinese at the time, its lord had many wives. One of them, Li Ji, was of lower status and came from the Rong tribes who lived to China’s west, but successfully schemed to become a full wife and to establish her son as the lord’s successor. Her older stepson Ji Chong’er was framed for revolting against the lord in 655 BCE, forcing the prince to flee for his life to his mother’s family among the Di tribes north of China. Only 15 of his men followed him into exile. These included Jie Zhitui, who entertained the prince with his poems and music. He was so considerate of his lord that once, when their supplies were stolen while traveling through Wey, he used meat from his own thigh to make soup to relieve the prince’s hunger.

In 636 BC, the duke of Qin finally invaded Jin on Chong’er’s behalf and installed him as its duke. (Posthumously, he became known as the “Wen” or “Civilized Duke” of Jin.) In 635 BCE, the new duke was generous to those who had helped him in adversity but overlooked Jie, who sadly withdrew into poor obscurity in the forests near Mt Mian. The duke sent repeated envoys to lure Jie back to court, but he felt no ambition for political power. Too loyal to directly criticize his master but too principled to accept a place in a corrupt administration, he opted to simply remain in seclusion. Annoyed, the duke ordered a forest fire to be started around three sides of the mountain to smoke Jie and his mother out of hiding.

Instead of coming out, they were burnt alive. Jie’s charred corpse was found still standing, embracing or tightly bound to a tree. In his remorse, the duke renamed the mountain Mt. Jie, established the town still known as Jiexiu (“Jie’s Rest”), and inaugurated the Cold Food Festival as a memorial period for Jie. In addition to the festival, the story also occasioned the Chinese proverb: “while some can burn off an entire mountain, others are kept from even lighting up to eat their rice”.

The Cold Food Festival is first mentioned in Huan Tan’s New Discussions, composed around the beginning of the 1st century CE. It records that the commoners of Taiyuan Commandery avoided using fire in preparing their food for five days around midwinter, upholding this taboo even when they are gravely ill. This was done in Jie Zhitui’s honor. A biography in the Book of the Later Han relates how the magistrate for Bingzhou (i.e., Taiyuan) found people rich and poor observing a “dragon taboo” against lighting a fire during the month of Jie’s death in midwinter, lest they anger his spirit. Many of the old and young died every year because of the hardship this brought. The magistrate Zhou Ju (周舉) wrote an oration around 130 CE praising Jie but admonishing the people for a tradition that harmed so many that it could not have been what the sage intended. He then had the oration displayed at Jie’s temple and distributed among the poor. This did not end the Cold Food Festival, but the biography notes that local superstitions did improve “to a certain extent”.

At some point over the next century,  moved from the festival moved from the middle of winter to late spring, 105 days after the dongzhi solar term. Since it also spread from Taiyuan to the surrounding commanderies of Shangdang, Xihe, and Yanmen and was still causing some hardship, The Han warlord Cao Cao attempted to outlaw the Cold Food Festival in 206 CE. The heads of offending families were liable for 6 months’ hard labor, their local official was liable for one month himself, and their magistrate was to lose one month’s salary. Cao Cao’s effort was a failure, with observance of the Cold Food Festival on Qingming and for up to a month around it being reported by the mid-3rd century. Shi Le, the Jie emperor of the Later Zhao in the early 4th century, again tried to forbid it. The next year a massive hailstorm devastated crops and forests throughout Shanxi. On the advice of his ministers, he again approved the festival in the region around Taiyuan. The Northern Wei similarly banned the festival in 478 and 496, but were also compelled to approve its observance around Mt Mian. These prohibitions failed to such an extent that, by the time of Jia Sixie’s c. 540 Qimin Yaoshu, a day-long Cold Food Festival had spread across most of China, moved to the day before the Qingming solar term.

The Cold Food Festival grew to a three-day period and began to incorporate ancestral veneration under the Tang and remained more important than celebrations of the Qingming solar term as late as the Song. The present Tomb-Sweeping Festival on Qingming grew by incorporating the Cold Food observances along with the separate holiday of Shangsi. The Cold Food Festival had almost completely disappeared by the end of the Qing.

The Cold Food Festival involves a strict taboo against using fire, usually under the superstitious belief that violations led to violent weather. Up to the 6th century, there was a patch of blackened trees on Mt Mian that were used for local worship of Jie Zhitui and had a reputation for miracles. Traditional cold foods included lǐlào (醴酪), a kind of congee flavored with apricot pits and malt sugar. Later activities included visiting ancestral tombs, cock fighting, playing on swings, beating blankets, and tug-of-war games. Nowadays there are only pockets of celebration of the Cold Food Festival although it has influenced some of the activities and traditional foods for the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. In the city of Jiexiu in Shanxi Province, near where Jie died, locals still commemorate the festival, but even there the tradition of eating cold food is no longer practiced.

It is not all that difficult to make lǐlào but getting the ingredients outside of China may be a challenge.  If you can speak Chinese you might be able to get them from a Chinese market. You need to be careful because recipes in English call for “almonds” but this is a mistranslation of the Chinese. The recipe calls for the pits of various species of apricot which look and taste something like bitter almonds, but are not almonds at all. You may be able to find maltose in health food stores. Here is a modern Chinese recipe followed by my loose translation (done with assistance since my Chinese language skills are limited). I could not find a video as an aid, unfortunately.

醴酪

  1. 准备大麦仁30克,新疆巴旦木也就是大杏仁50克,麦芽糖
  2. 大麦仁用清水浸泡一夜,大杏仁剥壳,用温水浸泡一夜
  3. 泡好的杏仁剥掉外衣,留下洁白的杏仁备用
  4. 麦仁和杏仁一起放入料理机的果浆杯内,加入材料2倍的凉白开磨成杏仁浆
  5. 磨好的杏仁浆用细筛过滤,浓浆流入锅里
  6. 开中小火,一边熬煮一边搅拌
  7. 煮到杏仁浆烧开,再继续煮5分钟至杏仁浆浓稠即可
  8. 煮好的杏仁浆盛入碗里,调入麦芽糖即可食用,也可以调入蜂蜜

lǐlào

  1. You need 30 grams of barley kernel, 50 grams of apricot pits, maltose
  2. Soak the barley kernels and apricot pits in warm water overnight.
  3. Peel the skins off the apricot pits to reveal the white nut.
  4. [Not entirely sure of this translation] Put the kernels and pits into a food processor with an equal quantity of water and grind to a pulp.
  5. Filter the pulp through a fine sieve and let a thick slurry flow into a pan.
  6. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
  7. Bring the mix to a slow boil and cook for 5 minutes until the almond pulp is thick.
  8. Put the pulp in a bowl and add maltose to taste (or honey).
Apr 042019
 

Today is the birthday (1572) of William Strachey, an English writer whose works are among the primary sources for the early history of the English colonization of North America. He is best remembered today as the eye-witness reporter of the 1609 shipwreck on the uninhabited island of Bermuda of the colonial ship Sea Venture, which was caught in a hurricane while sailing to Virginia.

Strachey was born in Saffron Walden, Essex, the grandson of William Strachey (died 1587),[1] and the eldest son of William Strachey (died 1598) and Mary Cooke (died 1587), the daughter of Henry Cooke, Merchant Taylor of London. Strachey was brought up on an estate purchased by his grandfather in the 1560s. In 1588, at the age of 16, he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree. In 1605 he was at Gray’s Inn, but there is no evidence that he made the law his profession. In 1602 he inherited his father’s estate following a legal dispute with Elizabeth Brocket, his stepmother.

Strachey wrote a sonnet, “Upon Sejanus”, which was published in the 1605 edition of the 1603 play Sejanus His Fall by Ben Jonson. Strachey also kept a residence in London, where he regularly attended plays. He was a shareholder in the Children of the Revels, a troupe of boy actors who performed ‘in a converted room in the former Blackfriars monastery’, as evidenced by his deposition in a lawsuit in 1606. Strachey became friends with the city’s poets and playwrights, including Thomas Campion, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Hugh Holland, John Marston, George Chapman, and Matthew Roydon, many of them members of the “Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen” who met at the Mermaid Tavern.

By 1605 Strachey was in precarious financial circumstances from which he spent the rest of his life trying to recover. In 1606 he used a family connection to obtain the position of secretary to Thomas Glover, the English ambassador to Turkey. He traveled to Constantinople, but quarreled with the ambassador and was dismissed in March 1607 and returned to England in June 1608. He then decided to mend his fortunes in the New World, and in 1609 purchased two shares in the Virginia Company and sailed to Virginia on the Sea Venture with Sir Thomas Gates and Sir George Somers in the summer of that year.

The ship was blown off course by a hurricane. Leaking, and with its foundering imminent, the ship was run aground off the coast of Bermuda, accidentally beginning England’s colonization of the archipelago. The group was stranded on the island for almost a year, during which they constructed two small boats in which they eventually completed the voyage to Virginia.

Strachey wrote an eloquent letter dated 15 July 1610, to an unnamed “Excellent Lady” in England about the Sea Venture disaster, including an account of the precarious state of the Jamestown colony. Being critical of the management of the colony, it was suppressed by the Virginia Company. After the dissolution of the company it was published in 1625 by Samuel Purchas as “A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight”. It is generally thought to be one of the sources for Shakespeare’s The Tempest because of certain verbal, plot and thematic similarities. Strachey’s writings are among the few first-hand descriptions of Virginia in the period. His glossary of words of Powhatan is one of only two records of the language (the other being Captain John Smith’s)

Strachey remained at Jamestown for less than a year, but during that time he became the Secretary of the Colony after the drowning death of Matthew Scrivener in 1609. He returned to England probably in late 1611 and published a compilation of the colonial laws put in place by the governors. He then produced an extended manuscript about the Virginia colony, The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia, dedicating the first version to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, in 1612. The manuscript included his eyewitness account of life in early Virginia, but borrowed heavily from the earlier work of Richard Willes, James Rosier, John Smith, and others. Strachey produced two more versions during the next six years, dedicating one to Francis Bacon and the other to Sir Allen Apsley. It too was critical of the Virginia Company management of the colony, and Strachey failed to find a patron to publish his work, which was finally first published in 1849 by the Hakluyt Society.

Strachey died of unknown causes in June 1621. The parish register of St. Giles, Camberwell, in Southwark records his burial on 21st June 1621. He died in poverty, leaving this verse:

Hark! Twas the trump of death that blew
My hour has come. False world adieu
Thy pleasures have betrayed me so
That I to death untimely go.

In 1996, Strachey’s signet ring was discovered in the ruins of Jamestown, identified by the family seal, an eagle.

Because Strachey was born in Saffron Walden, a recipe involving saffron is called for. Saffron Walden used to be called simply Walden, then Chepyng (i.e. Market) Walden when a market was moved there in the 13th century. It became Saffron Walden in the 16th century when it became the center for growing saffron crocuses, and saffron became a favored ingredient in many dishes – rivaling spices from the East.

Saffron is one of my favorite spices and I use it a lot when it is easy to get. Right now it isn’t, but when I lived in Italy it was really abundant and not dreadfully expensive, so I always had plenty to hand. For a celebration of the day I recommend you use saffron in your favorite way.  Meanwhile here is a period recipe from The English Huswife: Containing the inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a Compleat Woman… by G. Markham (1615).  I do not recommend the recipe, partly because of the sheer quantity, partly because I am not a fan of bread pudding, although it might be all right because it seems more like a classic suet pudding (i.e. boiled) rather than a baked dish like modern bread pudding.

To make bread Puddings

Take the Yelks and Whites of a dozen or fourteen Eggs, and having beat them very well, put unto them the fine powder of Cloves, Mace, Nutmegs, Sugar, Cinnamon, Saffron, and Salt; then take the quantity of two loaves of white grated Bread, Dates very small shred, and great store of Currants, with good plenty either of Sheeps, Hogs or Beef suet beaten and cut small: then when all is mixt, and stirred well together, and hath stood a while to settle, then fill it into the Farms, as hath been before shewed, and in like manner boyl them, cook them, and serve them to the Table.

 

Apr 032019
 

Today is the birthday (1778) of Pierre-Fidèle Bretonneau, a French physician who was a pioneer in many ways.  He was born in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, in the Loir-et-Cher département. His father was a surgeon. He studied with his uncle, the vicar at Chenonceaux (Indre-et-Loire) department along with the children of the Chenonceau château. Madame Dupin, the grandmother of George Sand, financed his medical studies in Paris. He married a protégé of Madame Dupin and settled in Renaudière in Chenonceaux (the Renaudière is currently a restaurant and hotel). He had a laboratory at his disposal and occupied himself with gardening in his spare time.

Bretonneau was the mayor of Chenonceaux from 1803 to 1807. He spent 15 years in Chenonceaux gaining experience, wrote his thesis in medicine in 1815, and then became medical director at the hospital in Tours; which currently bears his name. He continued his study of disease and founded the medical school at Tours. He believed in “morbid seeds” (i.e. bacteria and viruses) that spread specific diseases from person to person. It is one of the great oddities of medicine that bacteria were first observed by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in 1676, using a single-lens microscope of his own design. He then published his observations in a series of letters to the Royal Society of London. They were just at the limit of what his simple lenses could make out and, in one of the most striking hiatuses in the history of science, no one else would see them again for well over a century. Bretonneau hypothesized that disease was caused by bacteria in 1855, however, a microscope was not available to him and he was unable to confirm his hypothesis. He also discovered that the same illness could manifest itself differently in different patients. He identified typhoid fever and named diphtheria, (from Greek diphthera “leather” describing the appearance of a pseudomembrane in the throat), and distinguished between scarlet fever and diphtheria in 1826.

Probably Bretonnuau’s greatest claim to fame is that he performed the first successful tracheotomy in 1825. The procedure is now routine, of course, and can be lifesaving, as in cases of diphtheria.

Bretonneau died in 1862 in Paris. He is buried in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, near Tours.

Tours is well known for its lamb which can be served with a local sauce or made into a stew depending on the cut.  The simplest method is to cut noisettes from a rack of lamb, sear them in a hot skillet, and then roast them for about 6 minutes in a 200°C oven. Do not overcook them; lamb should be a little pink. Meanwhile make a sauce of lamb stock infused with thyme and rosemary and a dash of cider vinegar. Reduce and finish with a knob of butter.

Tours lamb stew is more complicated although the idea is not so very different (just more complex). Cut 1 kilo of lamb shoulder into strips, and brown in olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 100 grams of thinly sliced onions and your choice of finely chopped vegetables (peppers, leeks, carrots, celery and fennel). Continue to cook until the vegetables soften. Dust with flour. Add a tablespoonful of tomato puree, one cup of dry Vouvray wine, 100 grams of chopped tomatoes, and cover with lamb stock.  Add a bouquet garni of orange zest, rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns and garlic. Season to taste with salt. Simmer, covered, for 1½ hours.