Nov 302016
 

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Today is the birthday (1835) of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, U.S. writer, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer. Among his most acclaimed novels are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often cited as one of a genre: “The Great American Novel.” Many, many U.S. giant authors, such as Faulkner and Hemingway, saw Twain as an eternal inspiration. There’s not much I can add. My favorite of his is  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) which launched the literary genre sometimes known as alternate history. I’ll give a short appraisal followed by a few poignant quotes. These days I find Twain a bit leaden to read in full, but his pithy aphorisms never fail to please me.

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Twain was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, which later provided the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. After an apprenticeship with a printer, Twain worked as a typesetter and contributed articles to the newspaper of his older brother, Orion Clemens. He later became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before heading west to join Orion in Nevada. He referred humorously to his lack of success at mining, turning to journalism for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. In 1865, his humorous story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published, based on a story he heard at Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, where he had spent some time as a miner. The short story brought international attention, and was even translated into classic Greek. His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he was a friend to presidents, artists, industrialists, and European royalty.

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Though Twain earned a great deal of money from his writings and lectures, he invested in ventures that lost money, notably the Paige Compositor, a mechanical typesetter, which failed because of its complexity and imprecision. In the wake of these financial setbacks, he filed for protection from his creditors via bankruptcy, and with the help of Henry Huttleston Rogers eventually overcame his financial troubles. Twain chose to pay all his pre-bankruptcy creditors in full, though he had no legal responsibility to do so.

This movie of Twain, now famous, was shot by Edison in 1909:

Twain was born shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it”, too. He died the day after the comet returned.

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Limiting myself to just a few quotes from Twain is pure torture. There are thousands of gems. I don’t like his full prose, but pithy aphorisms poured from his pen:

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.

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Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

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Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.

When Twain traveled in France and Italy he yearned for U.S. food. This strikes me as absurd, but I understand. This quote from A Tramp Abroad sums it up. Take your pick:

It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one — a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive — as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with cream

Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.

American coffee, with real cream.

American butter.

Fried chicken, Southern style.

Porter-house steak.

Saratoga potatoes.

Broiled chicken, American style.

Hot biscuits, Southern style.

Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.

Hot buckwheat cakes.

American toast. Clear maple syrup.

Virginia bacon, broiled.

Blue points, on the half shell.

Cherry-stone clams.

San Francisco mussels, steamed.

Oyster soup. Clam Soup.

Philadelphia Terapin soup.

Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.

Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.

Baltimore perch.

Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.

Lake trout, from Tahoe.

Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.

Black bass from the Mississippi.

American roast beef.

Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.

Cranberry sauce. Celery.

Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.

Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.

Prairie liens, from Illinois.

Missouri partridges, broiled.

‘Possum. Coon.

Boston bacon and beans.

Bacon and greens, Southern style.

Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.

Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.

Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.

Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.

Mashed potatoes. Catsup.

Boiled potatoes, in their skins.

New potatoes, minus the skins.

Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.

Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.

Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.

Green corn, on the ear.

Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.

Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.

Hot egg-bread, Southern style.

Hot light-bread, Southern style.

Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.

Apple dumplings, with real cream.

Apple pie. Apple fritters.

Apple puffs, Southern style.

Peach cobbler, Southern style

Peach pie. American mince pie.

Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.

All sorts of American pastry.

Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.

Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.

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I will admit that Georgia peach pie is hard to beat. But as always, go to Georgia for the best. This will do in the meantime:

Georgia Peach Pie

Ingredients

2 flaky pie crusts (see Hints)

Filling

3 tbsp butter, cut in small pieces
5 lbs peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tsp. salt

Wash

1 egg, beaten with a little milk

Instructions

Line a pie dish with pastry.

Toss all the pie filling ingredients in a bowl and pour them in the pie dish.

Top with a second pie crust. Cut a few holes to vent the steam, and brush with egg wash.

Bake at 400°F for about 1 hour. Cover the pastry with foil if it is browning too quickly.

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