Nov 082018
 

Today is the birthday (1656 [O.S. 29th October]) of Edmond Halley FRS, an English astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist, and physicist, known for the comet named after him, whose periodicity he accurately calculated.

Halley was born in Haggerston, in east London. His father came from a Derbyshire family and was a wealthy soap-maker in London. As a child, Halley was very interested in mathematics. He studied at St Paul’s School where he developed his initial interest in astronomy, and from 1673 at The Queen’s College, Oxford. While still an undergraduate, Halley published papers on the Solar System and sunspots. At Oxford, Halley was introduced to John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal. Influenced by Flamsteed’s project to compile a catalog of northern stars, Halley proposed to do the same for the Southern Hemisphere.

In 1676, Halley visited the south Atlantic island of Saint Helena and set up an observatory with a large sextant with telescopic sights to catalogue the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. While there he observed a transit of Mercury across the Sun, and realized that a similar transit of Venus could be used to determine the absolute size of the Solar System. He returned to England in May 1678. In the following year he went to Danzig (Gdańsk) on behalf of the Royal Society to help resolve a dispute. Because astronomer Johannes Hevelius did not use a telescope, his observations had been questioned by Robert Hooke. Halley stayed with Hevelius and he observed and verified the quality of Hevelius’ observations. In 1679, Halley published the results from his observations on St. Helena as Catalogus Stellarum Australium which included details of 341 southern stars. These additions to contemporary star maps earned him comparison with Tycho Brahe: e.g. “the southern Tycho” as described by Flamsteed. Halley was awarded his M.A. degree at Oxford and elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 22. In September 1682 he carried out a series of observations of what became known as Halley’s Comet, though his name became associated with it because of his work on its orbit and predicting its return in 1758 (which he did not live to see).

In 1686, Halley published the second part of the results from his Saint Helena expedition, a paper and chart on trade winds and monsoons. The symbols he used to represent trailing winds still exist in most modern-day weather chart representations. In this article he identified solar heating as the cause of atmospheric motions. He also established the relationship between barometric pressure and height above sea level. His charts were an important contribution to the emerging field of information visualization.

Halley spent most of his time on lunar observations, but was also interested in the problems of gravity. One problem that attracted his attention was the proof of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. In August 1684, he went to Cambridge to discuss this with Isaac Newton, much as John Flamsteed had done four years earlier, only to find that Newton had solved the problem, at the instigation of Flamsteed with regard to the orbit of comet Kirch, without publishing the solution. Halley asked to see the calculations and was told by Newton that he could not find them, but promised to redo them and send them on later, which he eventually did, in a short treatise entitled, “On the motion of bodies in an orbit.” Halley recognized the importance of the work and returned to Cambridge to arrange its publication with Newton, who instead went on to expand it into his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica published at Halley’s expense in 1687. Halley’s first calculations with comets were thereby for the orbit of comet Kirch, based on Flamsteed’s observations in 1680-1. Although he was to accurately calculate the orbit of the comet of 1682, he was inaccurate in his calculations of the orbit of comet Kirch. They indicated a periodicity of 575 years, thus appearing in the years 531 and 1106, and presumably heralding the death of Julius Caesar in a like fashion in  (45 BCE). It is now known to have an orbital period of circa 10,000 years.

In 1691, Halley built a diving bell, a device in which the atmosphere was replenished by way of weighted barrels of air sent down from the surface. In a demonstration, Halley and five companions dived to 60 feet (18 m) in the River Thames, and remained there for over an hour and a half. Halley’s bell was of little use for practical salvage work, as it was very heavy, but he made improvements to it over time, later extending his underwater exposure time to over 4 hours. Halley suffered one of the earliest recorded cases of middle ear barotrauma. That same year, at a meeting of the Royal Society, Halley introduced a rudimentary working model of a magnetic compass using a liquid-filled housing to damp the swing and wobble of the magnetized needle.

In 1691, Halley sought the post of Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. While a candidate for the position, Halley faced the animosity of the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, and his religious views were questioned. His candidacy was opposed by both the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson, and Bishop Stillingfleet, and the post went instead to David Gregory, who had the support of Isaac Newton.

In 1692, Halley put forth the idea of a hollow Earth consisting of a shell about 500 miles (800 km) thick, two inner concentric shells and an innermost core. He suggested that atmospheres separated these shells, and that each shell had its own magnetic poles, with each sphere rotating at a different speed. Halley proposed this scheme to explain anomalous compass readings. He envisaged each inner region as having an atmosphere and being luminous (and possibly inhabited), and speculated that escaping gas caused the Aurora Borealis. He suggested, “Auroral rays are due to particles, which are affected by the magnetic field, the rays parallel to Earth’s magnetic field.”

In 1693 Halley published an article on life annuities, which featured an analysis of age-at-death on the basis of the Breslau statistics Caspar Neumann had been able to provide. This article allowed the British government to sell life annuities at an appropriate price based on the age of the purchaser. Halley’s work strongly influenced the development of actuarial science. The construction of the life-table for Breslau, which followed more primitive work by John Graunt, is now seen as a major event in the history of demography.

In 1698, Halley was given command of the Paramour, a 52 feet (16 m) pink (sailing ship), so that he could carry out investigations in the South Atlantic into the laws governing the variation of the compass. On 19th August 1698, he took command of the ship and, in November 1698, sailed on what was the first purely scientific voyage by an English naval vessel. Unfortunately, problems of insubordination arose over questions of Halley’s competence to command a vessel. Halley returned the ship to England to bring charges against his officers in July 1699. The result was a mild rebuke for his men, and dissatisfaction for Halley, who felt the court had been too lenient. Halley thereafter received a temporary commission as a Captain in the Royal Navy, recommissioned the Paramour on 24th August 1699 and sailed again in September 1699 to make extensive observations on the conditions of terrestrial magnetism. He accomplished this task in a second Atlantic voyage which lasted until 6th September 1700, and extended from 52 degrees north to 52 degrees south. The results were published in General Chart of the Variation of the Compass (1701). This was the first such chart to be published and the first on which isogonic, or Halleyan, lines appeared.

In November 1703, Halley was appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry at the University of Oxford, his theological enemies, John Tillotson and Bishop Stillingfleet having died, and received an honorary degree of doctor of laws in 1710. In 1705, applying historical astronomy methods, he published Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae, which stated his belief that the comet sightings of 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were of the same comet, which he predicted would return in 1758. Halley did not live to witness the comet’s return, but when it did, the comet became generally known as Halley’s Comet.

By 1706 Halley had learned Arabic and completed the translation started by Edward Bernard of Books V-VII of Apollonius’s Conics from copies found at Leiden and the Bodleian Library at Oxford. He also completed a new translation of the first four books from the original Greek that had been started by the late David Gregory. He published these along with his own reconstruction of Book VIII in the first complete Latin edition in 1710.

In 1716, Halley suggested a high-precision measurement of the distance between the Earth and the Sun by timing the transit of Venus. In doing so, he was following the method described by James Gregory in Optica Promota (in which the design of the Gregorian telescope is also described). It is reasonable to assume Halley possessed and had read this book given that the Gregorian design (a reflecting telescope) was the principal telescope design used in astronomy in Halley’s day. It is not to Halley’s credit that he failed to acknowledge Gregory’s priority in this matter. In 1718 he discovered the proper motion of the “fixed” stars by comparing his astrometric measurements with those given in Ptolemy’s Almagest. Arcturus and Sirius were two noted to have moved significantly, the latter having progressed 30 arc minutes (about the diameter of the moon) southwards in 1800 years.

In 1720, together with his friend the antiquarian William Stukeley, Halley participated in the first attempt to scientifically date Stonehenge. Assuming that the monument had been laid out using a magnetic compass, Stukeley and Halley attempted to calculate the perceived deviation introducing corrections from existing magnetic records, and suggested three dates (460 BCE, 220 CE and 920 CE), the earliest being the one accepted. These dates were wrong by thousands of years, but the idea that scientific methods could be used to date ancient monuments was revolutionary in its day.

Halley succeeded John Flamsteed in 1720 as Astronomer Royal, a position Halley held until his death. Halley died in 1742 at the age of 85. He was buried in the graveyard of the old church of St Margaret’s, Lee (since rebuilt), at Lee Terrace, Blackheath. He was interred in the same vault as the Astronomer Royal John Pond; the unmarked grave of the Astronomer Royal Nathaniel Bliss is nearby. His original tombstone was transferred by the Admiralty when the original Lee church was demolished and rebuilt – it can be seen today on the southern wall of the Camera Obscura at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. His marked grave can be seen at St Margaret’s Church, Lee Terrace.

For no other reason than the name, I give you a recipe for hasty pudding from a manuscript dated 1742. Hasty pudding was popular in the 18th century because, as the name implies, it was a quick and easy dessert. In this case, I suspect that the second sentence means to add the flour and butter mix to boiling milk and continue cooking. Otherwise the flour would not cook, and that would be rather nasty. Actually, the whole affair seems pretty nasty to me, but I like the idea of celebrating a man who tracked comets – which return slooooooooooowly – with a recipe for something hasty.

Hasty Pudding (1742)

Break an egg into fine flour, and with your hand work up as much as you can into as stiff a paste as possible.  Add milk boiling, and put in a little salt, some rose water, or orange-flower water, a few drops put to your taste, some butter, and keep stirring all one way till it is thick as you would have it, pour it oute and when it is in the dishe stick it all over with littel bits of butter, and beaten cinnamon over.

Nov 072018
 

Today is the birthday (1879) of Lev Davidovich Bronstein who took the revolutionary name, Leon Trotsky. By coincidence, the Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia also occurred on this date in 1917 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/october-revolution/  Trotsky was of Ukrainian-Jewish stock, born into a family of wealthy farmers in Yanovka or Yanivka, in the Kherson governorate of the Russian Empire (now Bereslavka, in Ukraine), a small village 24 km (15 mi) from the nearest post office. His parents were David Leontyevich Bronstein (1847–1922) and his wife Anna Lvovna (née Zhivotovskaya) (1850–1910). Trotsky’s father was born in Poltava, and later moved to Yanovka because it had a large Jewish community. The language spoken at home was a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian (known as Surzhyk). Trotsky’s younger sister, Olga, who also grew up to be a Bolshevik and a Soviet politician.

Trotsky initially supported the Menshevik Internationalists faction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, but joined the Bolsheviks just before the 1917 October Revolution, immediately becoming a leader within the Communist Party. He went on to become one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 to manage the Bolshevik Revolution.

During the early days of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the Soviet Union, he served first as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army, with the title of People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs. He became a major figure in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War (1918–1922).

After leading a failed struggle of the Left Opposition against the policies and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s and against the increasing role of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky was removed as Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs (January 1925), removed from the Politburo (October 1926), removed from the Central Committee (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November 1927), exiled to Alma–Ata (January 1928), and exiled from the Soviet Union (February 1929). As the head of the Fourth International, Trotsky continued to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union while in exile.

Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico City by Ramón Mercader, a Spanish-born NKVD agent. On 20th August 1940, Mercader attacked Trotsky with an ice axe and Trotsky died the next day in a hospital. Mercader acted upon instructions directly from Stalin and was nearly beaten to death by Trotsky’s bodyguards. He spent the next 20 years in a Mexican prison for the murder. Stalin presented Mercader with an Order of Lenin in absentia.

Trotsky’s ideas formed the basis of Trotskyism, a major school of Marxist thought that opposes the ideologies of Stalinism. He was written out of the history books under Stalin, and was one of the few Soviet political figures who was not rehabilitated by the government under Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s. There are many “what ifs” that amateur historians like to indulge in. What if Stalin had been purged and Trotsky had been the next leader of the Soviet Union?  etc. etc. All an idle waste of time.

I am not going to wear you out with a lot of biography and political history. You can read it for yourself. Here, instead, are some salient quotes. The first is especially prescient:

England is nothing but the last ward of the European madhouse, and quite possibly it will prove to be the ward for particularly violent cases.

If we had had more time for discussion we should probably have made a great many more mistakes.

There are no absolute rules of conduct, either in peace or war. Everything depends on circumstances.

Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.

Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one’s enemies.

From being a patriotic myth, the Russian people have become an awful reality.

The democratic regime is the most aristocratic way of ruling. It is possible only to a rich nation.

Everyone has the right to be stupid on occasion, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.

Not believing in force is the same as not believing in gravity.

Let a man find himself, in distinction from others, on top of two wheels with a chain – at least in a poor country like Russia – and his vanity begins to swell out like his tires. In America it takes an automobile to produce this effect.

Being an avid bicycle rider, I concur wholeheartedly with the last sentiment. I love riding my bike because I am its powerhouse; I am the master. On my bicycle I feel like king of the world.

Although not especially a Ukrainian-Jewish dish, gefilte fish is a popular favorite among easterm Ashkenazi Jews, and is such a popular favorite that it would be remiss of me not to include it one of my posts. This video is very detailed even though gefilte fish is not difficult to make. Even so, many cooks buy it readymade, but it is never as good as homemade.

Nov 062018
 

The Charter of the Forest (Carta Foresta) was first signed on this date in 1217 at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is a charter that re-established for free men rights of access to the royal forest that had been eroded by William the Conqueror and his heirs. Many of its provisions were in force for centuries afterwards. It was originally sealed in England by the young king Henry III, acting under the regency of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. It was in many ways a companion document to the Magna Carta, and redressed some applications of the Anglo-Norman Forest Law that had been extended and abused by William Rufus and thereafter.

To the Normans, “forest” meant an enclosed area where the monarch (or sometimes another aristocrat) had exclusive rights to animals of the chase and the greenery (“vert”) on which they fed. It did not consist only of trees, but included large areas of heathland, grassland and wetlands, productive of food, grazing and other resources. Lands became more and more restricted as king Richard and king John designated greater and greater areas as royal forest. At its widest extent, royal forest covered about one-third of the land of southern England. Thus, it became an increasing hardship on the common people to try to farm, forage, and otherwise use the land they lived on.

The Charter of the Forest was a complementary charter to the Magna Carta from which it had evolved. It was reissued in 1225 with a number of minor changes to wording, and then was joined with Magna Carta in the Confirmation of Charters in 1297.

At a time when royal forests were the most important potential source of fuel for cooking, heating and industries such as charcoal burning, and of such hotly defended rights as pannage (pasture for their pigs), estover (collecting firewood), agistment (grazing), or turbary (cutting of turf for fuel), this charter was exceptional in providing a degree of economic protection for free men (women had no rights) who used the forest to forage for food and to graze their animals. In contrast to Magna Carta, which dealt with the rights of barons, it restored to the common man some real rights, privileges and protections against the abuses of an encroaching aristocracy. For many years it was regarded as a development of great significance in England’s constitutional history, with the great seventeenth-century jurist Sir Edward Coke referring to it along with Magna Carta as the Charters of England’s Liberties, and Sir William Blackstone remarking in the eighteenth century that “There is no transaction in the antient part of our english history more interesting and important, than . . . the charters of liberties, emphatically stiled THE GREAT CHARTER and CHARTER OF THE FOREST . . . .”

The first chapter of the Charter protected common pasture in the forest for all those “accustomed to it”, and chapter nine provided for “every man to agist his wood in the forest as he wishes”. It added “Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.”. The Charter restored the area classified as “forest” to that of Henry II’s time.

Clause 10 repealed the death penalty (and mutilation as a lesser punishment) for capturing deer (venison), though transgressors were still subject to fines or imprisonment. Special Verderers’ Courts were set up within the forests to enforce the laws of the Charter.

By Tudor times, most of the laws served mainly to protect the timber in royal forests. However, some clauses in the Laws of Forests remained in force until the 1970s, and the special courts still exist in the New Forest and the Forest of Dean. In this respect, the Charter was the statute that remained longest in force in England (from 1217 to 1971), being finally superseded by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971.

To mark 800 years of the Charter of the Forest, in 2017 the Woodland Trust and more than 50 other cross-sector organizations joined forces to create and launch a Charter for Trees, Woods and People, reflecting the modern relationship with trees and woods in the landscape for people in the UK.

Here is a 13th-century recipe (sort of) from Henry of Huntingdon (c. 1088 – c. 1157). It is from Anglicanus ortus, eight books of poems and epigrams on herbs, spices, and gems united by a medical theme.

   Parsley is the best herb for mutton, the best for pork.
   If you ask the method, I will tell you. I’ll indicate for you
   the first meats in the first place, the second in the second.
   Take Pennyroyal, Cress, and Parsley;
   yet if that herb which the crowd is apt to call ius danna
   should be present, use it and not the Cress.

    Add Cost to these and mix in a bit of Pepper;
    you can now mix these with the mutton drippings.
   There will be no other flavor better suited to mutton,
   or so they relate who are devoted to these arts.
   Take Basil and Savory and Parsley
   and Cress, unless ius danna is near to you.

    Mix together Pepper and Cumin with these juices.
    In such a way, if you are eating cold pork,
    no other flavor would be made more pleasing than this.

Henry was a big fan of parsley, and in this poem he extols its virtues for making gravy with mutton fat. I presume he added broth, cream, or verjuice as well because fat and herbs alone would not make a particularly appetizing sauce, even for a Medieval Norman.

Nov 052018
 

José Matías Delgado y León was among several, including his nephew, Manuel José Arce, who issued the first Cry for Independence in Central America, on this date in 1811 in San Salvador. On this date he is said to have rung the bells of the Church of La Merced, as a public cry for liberty. El grito de libertad, or some variant, is a common phrase in Latin America for the first act in a region calling for independence (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/grito-de-dolores-mexican-independence/ ).

Delgado studied civil law, canon law, and theology in Guatemala at Tridentino Seminary, earning a doctorate from the University of San Carlos de Guatemala. He was ordained a priest, and returned to El Salvador, where from August 12th, 1797 he was provincial vicar of San Salvador, and became intensely involved in pastoral work. In 1808 he began the reconstruction of the old Parochial Church of San Salvador (today El Rosario Church), which was finished a decade later.

In San Salvador he became a leader of the movement for independence. On this date he rang out the cry for liberty in 1811 in San Salvador. The rebellion began with the confiscation of 3,000 guns and the funds in the royal treasury. The provincial intendant, Gutiérrez de Ulloa, was removed, as were most governmental employees. The rebels held the government for nearly a month before royal authority was restored from Guatemala. Delgado’s brothers Juan and Miguel were also members of the independence movement.

Manuel José Arce

In 1813 Delgado was elected a provincial deputy to the council in Guatemala City. He also became director of the Tridentino Seminary there. He was not in El Salvador at the time of the second insurrection in 1814, and did not take part in it. He was elected provincial deputy again in 1820, and on September 15th, 1821, he was among those who signed the Act of Independence of Central America in Guatemala City. On November 28th, 1821 he became political chief of the province of San Salvador.

When the Central American governmental junta voted to join the Mexican Empire (January 5th, 1822), Delgado (and many other Salvadorans) opposed this move. On January 11th 1822 in San Salvador, the city government, presided over by Padre Delgado, and many members of the public protested the decision. Also on January 11th, the government of El Salvador seceded from Guatemala in order to remain outside the Mexican Empire.

In April 1822 Colonel Manuel Arzú, in command of Guatemalan troops, occupied the Salvadoran cities of Santa Ana and Sonsonate. On June 3rd 1822, Arzú entered San Salvador, reaching the Plaza Major. Nine hours of fighting resulted in many casualties, burned houses and plundering, but the Guatemalans then withdrew. Delgado’s nephew, Colonel Manuel José Arce, was one of the commanders of the Salvadoran defenders. On June 6th 1822, Salvadoran troops reoccupied Santa Ana, and later also Ahuachapán and Sonsonate.

Manuel Arzú,

On December 2, 1822, fearing further encroachment from Guatemala, El Salvador officially asked for annexation to the United States. A delegation was sent to the United States to negotiate. That same month, Brigadier Vicente Filisola, Captain-General of Guatemala (within the Mexican Empire), marched toward San Salvador. He entered the city on February 9th 1823, declaring respect for people and goods, but also the annexation of the province to Mexico. This was the end of the government of José Matías Delgado.

On the fall of Mexican Emperor Agustín de Iturbide in 1823, Central America declared its independence. Delgado was elected one of the representatives to the constituent congress of the Federal Republic of Central America. This Congress met in Guatemala beginning on June 24th 1823, and Delgado was chosen to preside. On May 5th 1824 he was named the first bishop of San Salvador by the local civil authorities and not by the Catholic Church. This entangled him in a serious and long-lasting controversy with the Archbishop of Guatemala and the Vatican authorities that lasted until his death.

In 1824 he bought in Guatemala, with public money, the first official printing press in El Salvador. It was used to publish the first Salvadoran newspaper, El Semanario Político Mercantil. The first issue appeared on July 31st 1824.

Delgado died on November 12th 1832 in San Salvador. As his funeral procession passed the Plaza Mayor, mourners showered his coffin with white rose petals. His remains are interred at El Rosario Church. On January 22nd 1833 the National Assembly declared him Benemérito de la Patria (National Hero).

El Salvador’s most notable dish is the pupusa, a thick handmade corn flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, chicharrón (cooked pork ground to a paste consistency), refried beans, or loroco (a vine flower bud native to Central America). There are also vegetarian options, often with ayote (a type of squash) or garlic. Pupusas are served with salsa roja, a flavorful Salvadoran cooked tomato sauce, and with curtido, a pickled cabbage dish. Quesillo is a Salvadoran cheese curd that is perhaps the most popular filling for pupusas. This video will give you the basic idea, although you need to brush up your Spanish. It is good on how to shape the pupusas and cook them, but assumes you know how to make the dough, so a recipe follows.

Pupusas

Ingredients

3 cups masa harina (milled corn flour for making tortillas)
1 ½ cups warm water
½ tsp salt
½ cup mashed refried beans
1 cup chicharrón
1 cup grated quesillo
vegetable oil

Instructions

In a large bowl, mix the masa harina with the water and salt, stirring well. Add more water if necessary to obtain a soft dough that does not crack around the edges when flattened. Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes.

[see the video for this part] Divide the dough into about 6 pieces. Lightly oil your hands to keep the dough from sticking to them. Form each piece of dough into a ball, then make an indentation in the ball. Place your filling of choice in the indentation, and carefully wrap the dough around the filling to seal.

Flatten the ball into a disk, about ¼ inch thick, being careful to keep the filling from leaking out of the edges. This will take practice.

Wipe a very small amount of oil on to the surface of a heavy skillet. Heat the skillet over medium heat, and place the pupusas in the skillet.   Once the bottom of the pupusa is browned, flip it over and cook the other side, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and serve warm with a side of curtido and salsa roja.

Nov 042018
 

Today is the birthday (1884) of Henry George “Harry” Ferguson, an Irish-born, British mechanic and inventor who is noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor and whose name lives on in the name of the Massey Ferguson company. Ferguson was born in Growell, near Dromore, in County Down, present-day Northern Ireland, the son of a farmer, of Scottish descent. In 1902, Ferguson went to work with his brother, Joe, in his bicycle and car repair business. While working there as a mechanic, he developed an interest in aviation, visiting air shows abroad. In 1904, he began to race motorcycles.

The first person to accomplish powered flight in the UK was Alliot Verdon Roe in June 1908, who flew a plane of his own design, but this feat had not yet been achieved in Ireland. Ferguson began to develop a keen interest in the mechanics of flying and travelled to several air shows, including exhibitions in 1909 at Blackpool and Rheims where he took notes on the design of early aircraft. Harry convinced his brother that they should attempt to build an aircraft at their Belfast workshop and working from Harry’s notes, they worked on the design of a plane, the Ferguson monoplane.

After making many changes and improvements, they transported their new aircraft by towing it behind a car through the streets of Belfast up to Hillsborough Park to make their first attempt at flight. They were initially thwarted by propeller trouble but continued to make technical alterations to the plane. After a delay of nearly a week caused by bad weather, the Ferguson monoplane finally took off from Hillsborough on 31st December 1909. Harry Ferguson became the first Irishman to fly and the first Irishman to build and fly his own plane.

After falling out with his brother over the safety and future of aviation Ferguson decided to go it alone, and in 1911 founded a company selling Maxwell, Star, and Vauxhall cars, and Overtime Tractors. Ferguson saw at first hand the weakness of having tractor and plough as separate articulated units, and in 1917 he devised a plough that could be rigidly attached to a Model T Ford car—the Eros, which became a limited success, competing with the Model F Fordson. In 1917 Ferguson met Charles E. Sorensen while Sorensen was in England scouting production sites for the Fordson tractor. They discussed methods of hitching a plough to the tractor to make them a unit (as opposed to towing the plough like a trailer). In 1920 and 1921 Ferguson demonstrated early versions of his three-point linkage on Fordsons at Cork and at Dearborn. Ferguson and Henry Ford discussed putting the Ferguson system of hitch and implements on to Fordson tractors at the factory, but no deal was struck. At the time the hitch was mechanical. Ferguson and his team of longtime colleagues, including Willie Sands and Archie Greer, soon developed an hydraulic version, which was patented in 1926. After one or two false starts, Ferguson eventually founded  Ferguson-Sherman Inc., with Eber and George Sherman.

The new enterprise manufactured the Ferguson plough incorporating the patented “Duplex” hitch system mainly intended for the Fordson “F” tractor. Following several more years of development, Ferguson’s new hydraulic version of the three-point linkage was first seen on his prototype Ferguson “Black”, now in the Science Museum, Kensington, London. A production version of the “Black” was introduced in May 1936, made at one of the David Brown factories in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and designated Ferguson Model A tractor. In 1938, Ferguson’s interests were merged with those of David Brown to create the Ferguson-Brown Company.

In October 1938, Ferguson demonstrated his latest tractor to Henry Ford at Dearborn, and they made the famous “handshake agreement”. Ferguson took with him his latest patents covering future improvements to the Ferguson tractor and it is these that led to the Ford-Ferguson 9N introduced to the world on 29th June 1939. The 1938 agreement intended that the Ferguson tractor should also be made in the UK at the Ford Ltd factory at Dagenham, Essex but Ford did not have full control at Dagenham and, while Ford Ltd did import US-made 9N/2Ns, Dagenham did not make any.

Henry Ford II, Ford’s grandson, ended the handshake deal on 30th June 1947, following unsuccessful negotiations with Ferguson, but continued to produce a tractor, the 8N, incorporating Ferguson’s inventions, the patents on almost all of which had not yet expired, and Ferguson was left without a tractor to sell in North America. Ferguson’s reaction was a lawsuit demanding compensation for damage to his business and for Ford’s illegal use of his designs. The case was settled out of court in April 1952 for just over $9 million. The court case cost him about half of that and a great deal of stress and ill health.

By 1952, most of the important Ferguson patents had expired, and this allowed Henry Ford II to claim that the case had not restricted Ford’s activities too much. Naturally, all the world’s other tractor manufacturers could also use Ferguson’s inventions, which they duly did. A year later Ferguson merged with Massey Harris to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co, later Massey Ferguson.

As a consequence of Dagenham’s failure to make the tractors, Harry Ferguson made a deal with Sir John Black of the Standard Motor Company to refit their armaments factory at Banner Lane, Coventry. Production of the latest Ferguson tractor, the TE20, started in the autumn of 1946, with over 20,800 TEs being built by the end of 1947. To fill the gap in Ferguson’s sales in the US, thousands of TEs were shipped over from England. Production of a US version, the TO20, started at a new plant, owned by Harry Ferguson Inc, in October 1948, leaving the UK plant to supply the rest of the world. Ferguson’s research division went on to develop various cars and tractors, including the first Formula One four-wheel-drive car. Ferguson’s four-wheel drive system, using an open center differential gear, was used in Formula One race cars and in the Range Rover and later in constant four-wheel-drive Land Rovers.

Ferguson died at his home at Stow-on-the-Wold in 1960, the result of a barbiturate overdose; the inquest was unable to conclude whether this had been accidental or not.

A northern Irish dish is in order, even though Ferguson spent most of his business life in England. I have given a recipe for farls made with flour already http://www.bookofdaystales.com/typhoid-mary/ so here are potato farls. Potatoes are, of course, the great staple of Irish farming and cooking.

Irish Potato Farls

Ingredients

4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
salt
¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp melted butter

Instructions

Boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes, or until soft. Turn off the heat. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot to let them dry out. Mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher until smooth.

Place the warm mashed potato in medium bowl. Stir in the flour, melted butter, and salt to taste. Mix lightly until you have a dough and no pockets of dry flour.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to flatten the dough into a 9 inch circle about ¼ inch thick. Cut into quarters.

Sprinkle a little flour into the base of the skillet on medium-high heat and cook the farls for 3 minutes on each side or until evenly browned. Serve immediately.

Nov 032018
 

On this date in 1986 The Federated States of Micronesia, abbreviated FSM and also known simply as Micronesia, became an independent nation, consisting of four states – from west to east, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae – that are spread across the Western Pacific Ocean. Together, the states comprise around 607 islands (a combined land area of approximately 702 km2 or 271 sq mi) that cover a longitudinal distance of almost 2,700 km (1,678 mi) just north of the equator. They lie northeast of New Guinea, south of Guam and the Marianas, west of Nauru and the Marshall Islands, east of Palau and the Philippines, about 2,900 km (1,802 mi) north of eastern Australia and about 4,000 km (2,485 mi) southwest of the main islands of Hawaii. While the FSM’s total land area is quite small, it occupies more than 2,600,000 km2 (1,000,000 sq mi) of the Pacific Ocean, giving the country the 14th largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world. The independent sovereign island nation’s capital is Palikir, located on Pohnpei Island, while the largest city is Weno, located in the Chuuk Atoll.

The ancestors of the Micronesians settled over 4,000 years ago. A decentralized chieftain-based system eventually evolved into a more centralized economic and religious culture centered on Yap Island. Nan Madol, consisting of a series of small artificial islands linked by a network of canals, is often called the Venice of the Pacific. It is located on the eastern periphery of the island of Pohnpei and used to be the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty that united Pohnpei’s estimated 25,000 people from about 500 until 1500, when the centralized system collapsed.

European explorers—first the Portuguese in search of the Spice Islands (Indonesia) and then the Spanish—reached the Carolines in the 16th century. The Spanish incorporated the archipelago into the Spanish East Indies through the capital, Manila, and in the 19th century established a number of outposts and missions. In 1887, they founded the town of Santiago de la Ascension in what today is Kolonia on the island of Pohnpei. Following defeat in the Spanish–American War, the Spanish sold the archipelago to Germany in 1899 under the German–Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany incorporated it into German New Guinea. During World War I, Micronesia was captured by Japan. Following the war, the League of Nations awarded a mandate for Japan to administer the islands as part of the South Pacific Mandate.

During World War II, a significant portion of the Japanese fleet was based in Truk Lagoon. In February 1944, Operation Hailstone, one of the most important naval battles of the war, took place at Truk, in which many Japanese support vessels and aircraft were destroyed. Following World War II, Micronesia was administered by the United States under United Nations auspices in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands pursuant to Security Council Resolution 21. On May 10, 1979, four of the Trust Territory districts ratified a new constitution to become the Federated States of Micronesia. Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands chose not to participate. The FSM signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States, which entered into force on November 3, 1986, marking Micronesia’s emergence from trusteeship to independence. Independence was formally concluded under international law in 1990, when the United Nations officially ended the Trusteeship status pursuant to Security Council Resolution 683.

The great bulk of Micronesian islanders are engaged in subsistence farming and fishing. Fishing for tuna (known locally as angarap) is potentially very profitable when sold for export to Japan, and smaller fish with less value are frequently eaten at home. This recipe comes from Chuuk and is widely known throughout Micronesia. There is really very little to it, but fresh tuna is superb.

Angarap and Coconut

Ingredients

2 lbs fresh tuna, boned and cut in chunks
14 oz can of coconut milk
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Bring one cup of water and the coconut milk to a boil in a deep skillet. Reduce to a simmer and add the tuna, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Serve with breadfruit, taro or rice.

Nov 022018
 

Today is the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos), celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican heritage elsewhere. The holiday is sometimes called Día de los Muertos in Anglophone countries, a back-translation of its original name, Día de Muertos. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a public holiday. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer. Gradually, it was associated with October 31, November 1, and November 2 to coincide with the Western Christian triduum of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Visitors also leave possessions of the deceased at the graves.

At this point I could begin my usual rant of ridiculing the notion that indigenous people of Mexico have been observing a Day of the Dead for thousands of years, as I do with a host of folk customs; but I’ll keep it simple. We don’t know what indigenous peoples in Mexico did before Spanish colonization because most of those cultures did not have writing systems. We have only oral tradition and archeology to rely on, and they do not tell us much.  At one time there was a festival in late August dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, (literally “Lady of the Dead”), Queen of Mictlān, the underworld, ruling over the afterlife with Mictlāntēcutli, her husband. Her role is to watch over the bones of the dead and preside over the ancient festivals of the dead. She now presides over the contemporary festival as well. She is known as the “Lady of the Dead”, since it is believed that she was born, then sacrificed as an infant. Mictēcacihuātl was represented with a flayed body and with jaw agape to swallow the stars during the day.

The original Aztec celebrations dedicated to Mictēcacihuātl lasted an entire month, but under the influence of the Catholic church, the old celebrations were suppressed, and collapsed into the period of Hallowtide. Yet, some of the older practices remain. People go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl, Nāhuatl for “twenty flowers”). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto (Flower of the Dead). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. It is also believed the bright petals with a strong scent can guide the souls from cemeteries to their family homes.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or “the little angels”), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some families have ofrendas in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), and sugar skulls; and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrendas food, so though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places, people have picnics at the grave site, as well.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes; these sometimes feature a Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other people, scores of candles, and an ofrenda. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar, praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing, so when they dance, the noise will wake up the dead; some will also dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with ofrendas, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to Mexican heritage. People sometimes create short poems, called calaveras (skulls), mocking epitaphs of friends, describing interesting habits and attitudes or funny anecdotes. This custom originated in the 18th or 19th century after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, “and all of us were dead”, proceeding to read the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of the famous calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for skeleton), and foods such as sugar or chocolate skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls can be given as gifts to both the living and the dead.

Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits, often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones. It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped phalanges pieces. In some regions, it is eaten for months before the official celebration of Día de Muertos. In Oaxaca, pan de muerto is the same bread that is usually baked, with the addition of decorations. As part of the celebration, loved ones eat pan de muerto as well as the relative’s favorite foods. The bones represent the deceased one (difuntos or difuntas) and there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represent goddess Chimalma’s tears for the living. The bones are represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. The bread is topped with sugar. The classic recipe for pan de muerto is a simple sweet bread recipe, often with the addition of anise seeds, and other times flavored with orange flower water or orange zest. Here is a good instructional video, but you will need to understand some Spanish.

Nov 012018
 

On this date in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as painted by Michelangelo was exhibited to the public for the first time. We can get a small sense of the impact it had at the time from contemporary sources, but only a small sense. Now, of course, the ceiling is colossally famous, and there are hundreds of years of commentary (as well as soot and dirt) to delve through. Church officials can enter the chapel directly but plebs like me have to start at the ticket office and trek through what seems like miles and miles of hallways and apartments to get there, with galleries everywhere, stuffed with Raphaels, da Vincis, Giottos, Titians, Caravaggios, and on and on and on . . . The Sistine Chapel is at the very end, so that, first time through, you are in complete overload mode by the time you get there. I know the details of the painting very well from photographs I have studied, so when I go in person I am not really interested in examining minutiae. I go for the simple feeling of being in the presence of the actual work. Hard to explain. There are a few places in the world where when I stand there I have a feeling of being in the presence of something powerful. Standing where Darwin stood on Tierra del Fuego, standing outside the Cabildo in Buenos Aires, has the same effect on me.

I can’t give you a big lecture on the ceiling. You can read about that in any number of places. I’ll talk simply about architecture – real and illusory. The Sistine Chapel is 40.9 meters long and 14 meters wide. The ceiling rises to 13.4 meters above the main floor of the chapel. The vault is of quite a complex design and was not originally intended to have such elaborate decoration. Pier Matteo d’Amelia provided a plan for its decoration with the architectural elements picked out and the ceiling painted blue and dotted with gold stars, similar to that of the Arena Chapel decorated by Giotto at Padua.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

The chapel walls have three horizontal tiers with six windows in the upper tier down each side. There were also two windows at each end, but these were closed up above the altar when Michelangelo’s Last Judgement was painted, obliterating two lunettes. Between the windows are large pendentives which support the vault. Between the pendentives are triangularly shaped arches or spandrels cut into the vault above each window. Above the height of the pendentives, the ceiling slopes gently without much deviation from the horizontal. This is the real architecture. Michelangelo elaborated it with illusionary architecture.

The first element in the scheme of painted architecture is a definition of the real architectural elements by accentuating the lines where spandrels and pendentives intersect with the curving vault. Michelangelo painted these as decorative courses that look like sculpted stone moldings. These have two repeating motifs, a formula common in Classical architecture. Here, one motif is the acorn, the symbol of the family of both Pope Sixtus IV, who built the chapel, and Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo’s work. The other motif is the scallop shell, one of the symbols of the Madonna, to whose assumption the chapel was dedicated in 1483. The crown of the wall then rises above the spandrels, to a strongly projecting painted cornice that runs right around the ceiling, separating the pictorial areas of the biblical scenes from the figures of Prophets, Sibyls, and Ancestors, who literally and figuratively support the narratives. Ten broad painted crossribs of travertine cross the ceiling and divide it into alternately wide and narrow pictorial spaces, a grid that gives all the figures their own defined places.

A great number of small figures are integrated with the painted architecture, their purpose apparently purely decorative. These include two faux marble putti below the cornice on each rib, each one a male and female pair; stone rams-heads are placed at the apex of each spandrel; copper-skinned nude figures in varying poses, hiding in the shadows, propped between the spandrels and the ribs like animated bookends; and more putti, both clothed and unclothed strike a variety of poses as they support the nameplates of the Prophets and Sibyls. Above the cornice and to either side of the smaller scenes are an array of round shields, or medaillons. They are framed by a total of twenty more figures, the so-called Ignudi, which are not part of the architecture but sit on inlaid plinths, their feet planted convincingly on the fictive cornice. Pictorially, the Ignudi appear to occupy a space between the narrative spaces and the space of the chapel itself.

It is well known that Michelangelo had virtually no interest in food except as fuel. In fact he was often so absorbed in his art that he skipped meals.

Fred Plotkin writes:

Michelangelo lived almost 89 years, so he must have done something right in terms of his nutrition. I think that he probably would not be called a gastronome. He liked pears…a lot. His standard gift was to send 33 pears to someone – 33 for the 33 years of the life of Christ. He also had a cheese cellar, and in that cellar he kept several types of sheep’s milk cheese, one of them called marzolino. Marzolino for the month of March. It was only made in March, and he particularly loved that cheese. He had a vineyard and he produced some wine—1503, I discovered, was a good vintage. He produced some olive oil, and he ate bread. And that really was about it. There was not much more. He lived on pears, cheese, oil, wine, and bread.

These are your marching orders: marzolino cheese with bread and olive oil, plus some pears. Would make a nice sandwich. Very effective if grilled. Use whole grain bread and fine olive oil.

Oct 312018
 

Today is Samhain (pronounced, Sah – ween), the festival marking the beginning of winter in Gaelic Ireland. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Bealtaine (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August). Dates could be mutable, and the day began at sundown and ended at sundown. Samhain and Bealtaine, were, at one time, the most important, perhaps because they marked the times of the year when animals were moved between summer and winter pastures. Longtime readers will know that I get a tad snarky when writing about traditional customs, and today will be no exception. HINT: despite what you will read on all manner of blogs and websites, especially those written by neo-pagans, Samhain is NOT the “origin” of Halloween, any more than Christmas is a descendant of the Roman Saturnalia. Samhain and Halloween now share a great many customs because of the inevitable interchange of ideas over time between cultures, but they are DIFFERENT. For my earlier thoughts on some of this confusion you can go here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/hop-tu-naa/ and here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/allhallowtide/

Halloween, a.k.a. All Hallows Eve, is part of Hallowtide, a Christian festival inaugurated by the Catholic church in the 8th century. Previously, Christian martyrs as well as the souls of the dead were given special commemoration in May to close the Easter season, but Pope Gregory III (731–741) moved the feast to November 1st and suppressed the May feast. I seriously doubt that a pope born in Syria and consumed with political and religious strife in Italy and the Byzantine empire was influenced in his decision to make November 1st the date to honor the dead by the date of a festival in Ireland. Likewise, I am not convinced that Samhain was “originally” a pagan tradition, whatever that means anyway. It does, however, have significant non-Christian hallmarks, but this does not mean it “originated” in some murky pre-Christian past of Ireland, about which we have zero documentary evidence.

The 10th-century tale Tochmarc Emire (‘The Wooing of Emer’) lists Samhain as the first of the four quarter days of the year, marked by great gatherings where people held meetings, feasted, drank a lot, and held contests. According to other, later (11th to 14th century), Irish folk tales, Samhain (like Bealtaine) was a time when the doorways to the Otherworld opened, allowing supernatural beings and the souls of the dead to come into our world. The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn says that the sídhe (fairy mounds or portals to the Otherworld) were always open at Samhain. It says that the High King of Ireland hosted a great gathering at Tara each Samhain. Each year the fire-breather Aillen emerges from the Otherworld and burns down the palace of Tara after lulling everyone to sleep with his music. One Samhain, the young Fionn mac Cumhaill is able to stay awake and slays Aillen with a magical spear, for which he is made leader of the fianna. Acallam na Senórach (‘Colloquy of the Elders’) tells how three female werewolves emerge from the cave of Cruachan (an Otherworld portal) each Samhain and kill livestock. When Cas Corach plays his harp, they take on human form, and the fianna warrior Caílte then slays them with a spear.

Some tales seem to suggest that offerings or sacrifices were made at Samhain. In the Lebor Gabála Érenn (‘Book of Invasions’), each Samhain the people of Nemed had to give two-thirds of their children, their corn and their milk to the monstrous Fomorians. The Fomorians represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature; personifications of chaos, darkness, death, blight and drought. According to the later Dindsenchas and the Annals of the Four Masters—which were written by Christian monks—Samhain in ancient Ireland was associated with a god or idol called Crom Cruach. The texts claim that a first-born child would be sacrificed at the stone idol of Crom Cruach in Magh Slécht. They say that King Tigernmas, and three-fourths of his people, died while worshiping Crom Cruach there one Samhain.

The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn tells how each Samhain the men of Ireland went to woo a beautiful maiden who lives in the fairy mound on Brí Eile (Croghan Hill). It says that each year someone would be killed “to mark the occasion”, by persons unknown. Some scholars (of whom I am skeptical) argue that several ancient Irish bog bodies (such as Old Croghan Man) appear to have been kings who were ritually killed, perhaps around the time of Samhain. You can decide for yourself how widespread the beliefs described in these tales were, and whether human sacrifice at Samhain was actually practiced, but you’ll have to read the critical literature for yourself first. My feeling is that the conclusions in scholarly literature are mostly wishful thinking based on limited evidence. In The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (1996), Ronald Hutton notes that there are no references to non-Christian rituals in Ireland prior to a dubious account in the 17th century by the Catholic priest Seathrún Céitinn.

Samhain customs are mentioned in several medieval texts. In Serglige Con Culainn (‘Cúchulainn’s Sickbed’), it is said that the festival of the Ulaid at Samhain lasted a week, involving feasting and sports. The Togail Bruidne Dá Derga notes that bonfires were lit at Samhain and stones cast into the fires. Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, claims that the feis of Tara was held for a week every third Samhain, when the nobles and ollams of Ireland met to lay down and renew the laws, and to feast. He also claims that the druids lit a sacred bonfire at Tlachtga and made sacrifices to the gods, sometimes by burning them in the fire. He adds that all other fires were doused and then re-lit from this bonfire.

Traditionally, Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought down to the winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures. It was also the time to choose which animals would need to be slaughtered for the winter. As at Bealtaine, bonfires were lit on hilltops at Samhain and there were rituals involving them. However, by the modern era, they only seem to have been common in parts of the Scottish Highlands, on the Isle of Man, in north and mid Wales, and in parts of Ulster. Accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries suggest that the fires (as well as their smoke and ashes) were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers. In Moray, boys asked for bonfire fuel from each house in the village. When the fire was lit, “one after another of the youths laid himself down on the ground as near to the fire as possible so as not to be burned, and in such a position as to let the smoke roll over him. The others ran through the smoke and jumped over him”. When the bonfire burnt down, they scattered the ashes, vying with each other who should scatter them most. People also took flames from the bonfire back to their homes. In parts of Scotland, torches of burning fir or turf were carried around homes and fields to protect them.

One of the most common games was apple bobbing. Another involved hanging a small wooden rod from the ceiling at head height, with a lit candle on one end and an apple hanging from the other. The rod was spun round and everyone took turns to try to catch the apple with their teeth. Apples were peeled in one long strip, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape was said to form the first letter of the future spouse’s name. Two hazelnuts were roasted near a fire; one named for the person roasting them and the other for the person they desired. If the nuts jumped away from the heat, it was a bad sign, but if the nuts roasted quietly it foretold a good match. Items were hidden in food—usually a cake, barmbrack, cranachan, champ or sowans—and portions of it served out at random. A person’s future was foretold by the item they happened to find; for example a ring meant marriage and a coin meant wealth. A salty oatmeal bannock was baked; the person ate it in three bites and then went to bed in silence without anything to drink. This was said to result in a dream in which their future spouse offers them a drink to quench their thirst. Egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from the number of birds or the direction they flew.

Mumming and guising was a part of Samhain from at least the 16th century and was recorded in parts of Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales. This involved people going from house to house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting songs or verses in exchange for food. In parts of southern Ireland during the 19th century, the guisers included a hobby horse known as the Láir Bhán (white mare). A man covered in a white sheet and carrying a decorated horse skull (representing the Láir Bhán) would lead a group of youths, blowing on cow horns, from farm to farm.

Playing pranks at Samhain is recorded in the Scottish Highlands as far back as 1736 and was also common in Ireland, which led to Samhain being nicknamed “Mischief Night” in some parts. Wearing costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks, though there had been mumming at other festivals. At the time of mass transatlantic Irish and Scottish immigration, which popularized Halloween in North America, Halloween in Ireland and Scotland had a strong tradition of guising and pranks. Trick-or-treating may have come from the custom of going door-to-door collecting food for Samhain feasts, fuel for Samhain bonfires and/or offerings for the aos sí. Alternatively, it may have come from the All Saints/All Souls custom of collecting soul cakes.

The traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters out and about on Samhain in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces. They were also set on windowsills. These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scotland into the 20th century. They were also found in Somerset. In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o’-lanterns.

Traditional fare for Samhain includes barmbrack, a fruitcake that contains one or more tokens (like Christmas pudding) that may be found in portions given to guests. A ring (foretelling marriage) or a coin (denoting wealth) were common choices. Recipes vary as widely as any festive fruitcake recipes from Britain.

Barmbrack

Ingredients

225 gm plain flour
2 tsp of baking powder
375 gm dried fruit
250ml cold tea
50 ml whiskey
125 gm light brown sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp mixed spice

tokens

Instructions

Place the dried fruit in a bowl and pour over the whiskey and cold tea. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F.

Grease and line a 900 gm loaf tin.

Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and mixed spice in a mixing bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, and using a wooden spoon mix the egg with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid the fruit mix is sitting in and mix it through. You may not need all the liquid – you want a wet dough. Then stir through the fruit mix until everything is thoroughly combined. Add in the tokens and stir through.

Spoon the wet dough into the lined loaf tin and place in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for one hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on wire rack. Cover in cling wrap and tin foil and allow to sit for one to two days before cutting into it.

Oct 302018
 

Today is the birthday (1857) of Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette a French physician whose name is known widely because of Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by physical and verbal tics. He was born in the small town of Saint-Gervais-les-Trois-Clochers in the district of Châtellerault, near the city of Loudun. He could be retrospectively classified as a neurologist, but the field did not exist in his time.

In 1873 Tourette began medical studies at Poitiers. He later relocated to Paris where he became a student, amanuensis, and house physician of his mentor, Jean-Martin Charcot, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/jean-martin-charcot/  director of the Salpêtrière Hospital. Charcot also helped him to advance in his academic career. Tourette studied and lectured in psychotherapy, hysteria and medical and legal ramifications of mesmerism (modern-day hypnosis).

Tourette described the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome in nine patients in 1884, using the name “maladie des tics”. Charcot renamed the syndrome “Gilles de la Tourette’s illness” in his honor. In 1893, a former female patient shot Tourette in the head, claiming he had hypnotized her against her will. This is, in fact impossible, as both Tourette and many modern psychiatrists contend. After the shooting along with the death of Charcot and his young son, Tourette began to experience mood swings between depression and hypomania. Nevertheless, he organized public lectures in which he spoke about literacy, mesmerism and theater.

Tourette also published articles on hysteria in the German Army, and concerning unhygienic conditions in the floating hospitals on the river Thames. With Gabriel Legué he analyzed abbess Jeanne des Anges’ account of her hysteria that was allegedly based on her unrequited love for the Loudun priest Urbain Grandier, who was later burned for witchcraft. Grandier was at the center of the Loudun possessions which were made famous in modern times by the Aldous Huxley novel, The Devils of Loudun, and the Ken Russell movie, The Devils.

Around 1902, Tourette’s condition worsened and he was dismissed from his post. He died on 26th May 1904 in a psychiatric hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland.

There is anecdotal, but no hard medical, evidence that avoidance of certain foods eases tics associated with Tourette’s syndrome.  As such, I cannot legitimately give a recipe for a dish for Tourette’s patients. Instead I will turn to Loudun for inspiration, since this was Tourette’s birthplace and location for one of his last academic investigations. The Acadians (later Cajuns) who migrated to Canada came from the area around Loudun and took many culinary traditions with them. Poutine râpée is a much-loved favorite. It is a dumpling made of a mix of seasoned mashed potato and grated raw potato, stuffed with salt pork, and boiled. It can be eaten with butter as a savory dish or with sugar and/or syrup as a dessert.