Mar 082017
 

Today’s post is unusual it that I was asked to write it, as opposed to coming up with the idea myself.  My former student, James Knight, asked me to celebrate Jan Potocki on his birthday, so here is my effort James. I will confess that I am mostly flying in the dark. At minimum I expect a comment in the comment section below !!

Count Jan Potocki, nascent ethnologist, traveler, Polish nobleman, captain of army engineers, Egyptologist, linguist, adventurer and popular author, was born on this date in 1761. Potocki is not exactly a household name outside of Poland.  If he is known at all it is chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. A complex work that is somewhat comparable to Arabian Nights or Decameron. The book is unusual in that the original French version is lost and has had to be reconstructed by back translation from a Polish language translation made after his death.  Almost sounds like a Borges novel. In recent years the French edition has been supplemented by early drafts in French found in manuscript collections of his heirs. There are now two French versions because Potocki revised his ideas several times over the years that he was constructing the novel, hence the tone of the two versions is quite different.

Potocki was born into an aristocratic family, that owned vast estates across Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers, and spent some time on a galley as novice to the Knights of Malta. He journeyed across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he got involved in political intrigues, and secret societies, and contributed to the birth of ethnology with his travel diaries. He also investigated the precursors of the Slavic peoples from a linguistic and historical standpoint.

Potocki married twice and had five children. His first marriage ended in divorce, and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumors. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uładówka in Podolia, suffering from “melancholia” (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression), and during the last few years of his life he completed his novel. Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a collection of intertwining stories, set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zubeida) and others. The book’s outer frame tale is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Zaragoza in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon afterwards the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions. But a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript’s importance, and during the French officer’s captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French. The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain’s rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.

The bulk of the stories revolve around the gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself. Eventually the narrative focus moves again toward van Worden’s frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel’s sixty-six days.

The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral and the philosophic; and as a whole, the novel reflects Potocki’s far-ranging interests, especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural and Oriental cultures. The novel’s stories-within-stories sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout.

The national dish of Poland is bigos and I gave a decent commentary and recipe here when celebrating another Pole with a French connexion: Marie Curie — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/marie-curie/  Another great Polish soup/stew is flaki or flaczky which gives me the opportunity to indulge my tripe obsession.  Modern Poles who don’t care for tripe substitute chicken or rabbit, which I consider intolerably craven.  The main seasoning is marjoram, which is an underused herb in most parts these days.  You really need to use it fresh for maximum flavor. It’s hard to find fresh in stores, but easy to grow.

 Flaki

Ingredients

1 lb parboiled tripe, cut into 1½-inch by ¼-inch pieces
1 meaty beef shank
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup chopped leeks (white parts only)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of marjoram, leaves only
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups beef stock or use canned
½ teaspoon allspice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika

Instructions

In a heavy 8- to 10-quart soup pot place the tripe, beef shank, celery, leek, garlic, bay leaves, freshly ground black pepper to taste, beef stock, and water. Simmer partially covered for about 1 to 2 hours.  The time depends on how soft you want the tripe.

Remove the beef shank and chop the meat. Discard the bone and return the meat to the pot.

Add the marjoram, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Simmer for an additional ½ hour, covered.

Prepare a roux by melting the butter in a small frying pan and stirring in the flour and paprika. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux is light brown. Whisk the roux into the pot a small piece at a time and continue to simmer until the flaki thickens.

Serve in deep bowls with rye bread.

Mar 052017
 

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, and, as I did for Christmas, I am going to “unpack” Easter here over the weeks in this blog by following the season all the way from Carnival to Pentecost. In some ways there’s less need to do this for Easter than for Christmas because Easter does not have all the secular, materialistic mayhem associated with it that Christmas does, and most of the church traditions are ignored or generally unknown nowadays.  Easter Sunday remains the best attended church day of the whole year, but much of the rest of the Easter season is forgotten by the secular world.  This is a considerable turnaround from the early days of the church when Easter was the prime holy day and Christmas was of little significance. Thus, unpacking Easter is quite different from unpacking Christmas for me. For Christmas I was trying to soft pedal the chaos and tease out individual strands. For Easter it’s more a matter of bringing key elements into focus that have been soft pedaled too much for my liking in contemporary times. Once, again, therefore, this is a personal journey.

Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas: a time of preparation. But the contours of the two seasons are diametrically opposite. Advent involves a constant building of joyful feelings whereas Lent is more about a continual submerging of joy and material pleasures in favor of penance and introspection. True, there is joy at the end on Easter Sunday, but the first destination of Lent is Good Friday.

In some churches, notably Roman Catholic and Church of England, the Sundays in Lent generally carry Latin names  derived from the opening words of the Sunday’s introit. The first is called Invocabit from:

Invocábit me, et égo exáudiam éum:
erípiam éum, et glorificábo éum:
longitúdine diérum adimplébo éum.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days.
Qui hábitat in adjutório Altíssimi,
in protectióne Déi caéli commorábitur.
He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High shall abide under the protection of the God of Heaven.
Glória Pátri, et Fílio,
et Spirítui Sáncto.
Sicut erat in princípio,
et nunc, et semper,
et in saécula saeculórum. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Invocábit me, et égo exáudiam éum:
erípiam éum, et glorificábo éum:
longitúdine diérum adimplébo éum.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him: I will fill him with length of days.

 

Here it is as a chant:


For Advent I have an Advent wreath of candles which I progressively light over the course of Advent Sundays.  In recent years a tradition of the Lenten wreath has emerged which I am experimenting with for the first time this year.  They come in a number of forms.

In mine there are 7 candles in the form of a cross (see lead photo), much like the candle cross used in the traditional tenebrae service which I will talk about at length on Maundy Thursday. The seven candles consist of five violet ones (symbolizing penance), one pink one (for mid-Lent Sunday or Mothering Sunday), and one white one (the Christ candle). Lent begins with all the candles lit, and on successive Sundays, one by one, they are extinguished. The lone Christ candle is extinguished on Good Friday. The general feeling is that as we approach the crucifixion the light of the world is steadily going out.

These days I feel that the Lenten wreath is singularly apt. I feel that forces of darkness – greed, selfishness, pride, nationalism, war, famine, poverty etc. – are steadily taking over the world. This is a time for introspection and for reflecting on what we can do as individuals, and collectively, to combat these dark forces. Death and destruction, as symbolized by the crucifixion, are not the final ending points. Easter Sunday brings us resurrection and renewed hope.

The first Sunday in Easter was once celebrated with bonfires in festivities known as Buergbrennen (or the like) throughout northern Europe. The tradition is waning in Belgium, France and Germany, but since the 1930s Luxembourg has revived Buergbrennen festivities, and now about 75% of villages in the country celebrate the occasion. Originally the bonfires consisted simply of a heap of wood and straw but over time a central pillar of tree branches was introduced. Nowadays a crosspiece is attached near the top of the pillar, giving it the appearance of a cross.

Buergbrennen was once celebrated only by the men in the village, women only being admitted under exceptional circumstances. The most recently married men played a special role, the honor of lighting the fire falling on the last man to have wed. But the newlyweds also had the responsibility of collecting wood for the fire or paying others to assist in the work. At the end of the festivities, they were expected to entertain those taking part, either at home or in local inns. The tradition began to die out in the 19th century because of the high costs involved, but in the 20th century local authorities revived the tradition, taking over responsibility for the arrangements and the costs involved.

The national dish of Luxembourg is Judd mat Gaardebounen, or Smoked Collar of Pork with Broad Beans. It’s a hefty dish, but we need to remember that Sundays in Lent are not fasting days in the Catholic tradition. There are 46 days in Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday. 40 of them are fasting days, and 6 of them are Sundays when fasting is set aside. ALL Sundays in the year are feast days – even in Lent.

Judd mat Gaardebounen is associated with the village of Gostingen in the south-east of Luxembourg where the inhabitants are sometimes called Bounepatscherten in Luxembourgish, which as best as I can figure (the dialect is impossible), means something like “old broad beans soakers.” I’d be happy to be corrected by a reader.

Smoked pork collar, or pork collar in general, won’t be easy for U.S. residents to come by, but they are both fairly easy to find in Europe. The collar is the shoulder meat from neck to loin.  In Italy the leaner meat is used for capocollo and the fat for lardo. Shoulder is a simple substitute, but it must be smoked. If your butcher can’t provide smoked shoulder you’ll have to do it yourself (instructions follow the recipe).

Judd mat Gaardebounen

Ingredients

1.5 kg smoked pork collar
1 kg fresh broad beans, shelled
1 kg waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered
30 ml sunflower oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
6 parsley sprigs, chopped
1 leek, chopped
150 g carrot, chopped
150 g onion, whole studded with 4 cloves
4 celery stalks, chopped
125 ml dry white wine
50 g butter
50 g flour
2 bay leaves
15 g summer savory
salt and pepper
stock (optional)

Instructions

Parboil the potatoes for about 5 minutes and set them aside.

Put the smoked collar, carrots, leeks, onion, celery and bay leaves into a large pot, cover with water (or light stock), bring slowly to a simmer, cover and simmer for two hours.

Make a dark roux with the butter and flour. To do this heat the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the flour. Stirring constantly let the roux heat through until it darkens in color. This may take 15 to 20 minutes depending on how high the heat is.  The darker the roux, the more intense the flavor.  Add 250 ml of strained cooking stock from the meat, whisking rapidly to ensure there are no lumps. Bring to the boil and then simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the flour cooks through.

Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for about five minutes.

Add the wine and savory to the meat sauce, continue to simmer for ten minutes and check the seasonings.

Sauté the potatoes in hot oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until they are golden. Add 250ml of the meat cooking stock and the garlic. Increase the heat and reduce until the liquid has evaporated.

Add the beans to the meat sauce and heat through.

Remove the collar from the cooking water, leave it to stand for two minutes then slice thickly.

Serve the sliced collar with beans and sauce plus the potatoes with parsley a parsley garnish.

Smoked Pork Collar

This is the method for a 1.5 kilo piece.

Use an old large and deep saucepan with a tight lid in which you can fit a rack or steamer.

Line the saucepan with slightly crumpled kitchen foil to protect the base.

Add a tablespoon of rice, a tablespoon of jasmine tea, a large stalk of rosemary, a large sprig of thyme, 6 lightly crushed juniper berries, 12 lightly crushed black peppercorns and a good pinch of coarse salt.

Place the rack on top with the meat on the rack and put the lid on.

Heat the saucepan over the lowest setting. Turn the meat every ten minutes until it is evenly colored, about 40 minutes.

 

Mar 042017
 

Today is the birthday (1678) of Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, and cleric. He was born in Venice and is generally considered one of the greatest Baroque composers whose influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe. He composed a number of instrumental concertos, for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as sacred choral works and more than forty operas. Here I want to focus on his best-known work(s), the violin concertos known as The Four Seasons, because they were composed in Mantua where I live now. In particular I want to pay special attention to La Primavera (Spring) because Spring is just starting here. The Four Seasons are very early examples of what has become to be known as program music, that is, music with some kind of narrative underpinning it as opposed to “pure” music, that is, music for its own sake. General opinion is that Vivaldi was inspired by the countryside around Mantua as it journeyed through the seasons.

Vivaldi was born in Venice and was baptized immediately after his birth at his home by the midwife, which led to a belief that his life was somehow in danger. Though not known for certain, the child’s immediate baptism was most likely due either to his poor health or to an earthquake that shook the city that day. In the trauma of the earthquake, Vivaldi’s mother may have dedicated him to the priesthood. Vivaldi’s official church baptism took place two months later.

Vivaldi’s, father, Giovanni Battista, who was a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught his son to play the violin at an early age and then toured Venice playing the violin with his young son. Vivaldi’s health was problematic. His symptoms, strettezza di petto (“tightness of the chest”), have been interpreted as a form of asthma. In 1693, at the age of fifteen, he began studying to become a priest. He was ordained in 1703, aged 25, and was soon nicknamed il Prete Rosso, “The Red Priest” which probably referred to the color of his hair, a family trait. Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a dispensation from celebrating Mass because of his ill health. Vivaldi said Mass as a priest only a few times and appears to have withdrawn from priestly duties in general, though he remained a priest.

In September 1703, Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy), an orphange in Venice. Vivaldi was only 25 when he started working at the Ospedale della Pietà. Over the next thirty years he composed most of his major works while working there. There were four similar institutions in Venice; their purpose was to give shelter and education to children who were abandoned or orphaned, or whose families could not support them. They were financed by funds provided by the Republic. The boys learned a trade and had to leave when they reached 15. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented stayed and became members of the Ospedale’s renowned orchestra and choir. Vivaldi composed over 60 pieces for the singers and musicians of the orphanage.

In 1717 or 1718, Vivaldi was offered a prestigious position as Maestro di Cappella of the court of prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, governor of Mantua. He moved there for three years and produced several operas, among which was Tito Manlio (RV 738). During this period Vivaldi wrote the Four Seasons. Three of the concertos are of original conception, while the first, “Spring,” borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of his contemporaneous opera Il Giustino. They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties from both the hunters’ and the prey’s point of view, frozen landscapes, ice-skating children, and warming winter fires. Each concerto is associated with a sonnet, possibly by Vivaldi, describing the scenes depicted in the music.

Here’s is Spring’s sonnet:

Allegro
Giunt’ è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl’ Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de’ Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon’ coprendo l’ aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl’ Augelletti;
Tornan’ di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:Largo
E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme ‘l Caprar col fido can’ à lato.Allegro
Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all’ apparir brillante.
Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

 

Here is the concerto. The sonnet should guide you through the music. It is not clear whether Vivaldi wrote the sonnets that accompany the concertos nor whether they were written first or later.

A rustic Mantuan dish is suitable for today and I have chosen stracotto d’asino (donkey stew) which is well loved in Mantua. It can be served in two ways: as a first course in which case it is the sauce for pasta such as macaroni, or as a second course where it is the main dish and typically accompanied by polenta. As a first course with pasta you should use very little stracotta as a sauce. You can substitute beef for donkey meat, but, of course, it’s not the same. Donkey is readily available in markets in Mantua and surrounds. It is a tough meat that requires long, slow cooking. In Mantua the recipe calls for lardo di maiale which is prepared pork fat. You can use fatty bacon as a substitute. The wine for marinating is the Lambrusco that originates in the region of Mantua. It is the only Lambrusco produced in Lombardy as opposed to the Emilia Romagna region.

Stracotto D’Asino

Ingredients

1 kg donkey meat
100 g lardo di maiale, coarsely chopped
200 g onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
10 g carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
100 g of celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 bay leaves
10 whole peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon
1 sprig fresh rosemary
7.5 dL/ 3 cups Lambrusco mantovano (dry red wine)
2 dL/ ¾ cup  extra virgin olive oil
salt
beef stock

Instructions

Marinate the donkey meat for at least one day in the wine, then remove it and dry it.

Melt the lardo in a Dutch oven with the oil and butter. When completely melted, add the vegetables, bay leaf, rosemary and cloves of crushed garlic. Salt lightly and cook over high heat, stirring often.

Add the donkey meat and brown it on all sides. Then add the wine marinade along with the peppercorns and cinnamon. Add enough broth so that the meat is covered completely. Bring to a slow simmer, cover the pan, and cook slowly until the meat is in shreds. This may take 3 to 4 hours.

Remove the meat from the liquid. Strain the liquid and keep it warm. Shred the meat and add it back to the liquid.  Heat through, making sure the meat and sauce are thoroughly mixed. Serve with macaroni as a first course, or with polenta as a second course.

Serves 6

Mar 022017
 

Today is the birthday (1902) of Morris “Moe” Berg, Major League baseball player and coach who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Although he played 15 seasons in the major leagues, almost entirely for four American League teams, Berg was never more than an average player, usually used as a backup catcher, and was better known for being “the brainiest guy in baseball” than for anything he accomplished in the game. Casey Stengel once described Berg as “the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Moe Berg was the third and last child of Bernard Berg, a pharmacist, and Rose Tashker, both Jewish, who lived in the Harlem section of New York City, a few blocks from the Polo Grounds. In 1910 the Berg family moved to the Roseville section of Newark because Bernard wanted to live in a less Jewish neighborhood. Moe began playing baseball at the age of seven for the Roseville Methodist Episcopal Church baseball team under the less Jewish pseudonym Runt Wolfe. In 1918, at the age of 16, he graduated from Barringer High School. During his senior season, the Newark Star-Eagle selected a nine-man “dream team” for 1918 from the city’s best prep and public high school baseball players, and Berg was named the team’s third baseman. Barringer was the first in a series of institutions Berg joined in his life where his religion made him unusual. Most of the other students were East Side Italian Catholics or Protestants from Forest Hill.

After graduating from Barringer, Berg enrolled in New York University. He spent two semesters there and played baseball and basketball. In 1919 he transferred to Princeton University and never again mentioned that he had attended NYU for a year. He received a B.A., magna cum laude in modern languages. He had studied seven languages: Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit, studying with the philologist Harold H. Bender.

During his freshman year, Berg played first base on an undefeated team. Beginning in his sophomore year, he was the starting shortstop. He was not a great hitter and was a slow base runner, but he had a strong, accurate throwing arm and sound baseball instincts. In his senior season, he was captain of the team and had a .337 batting average, batting .611 against Princeton’s arch-rivals, Harvard and Yale. Berg and Crossan Cooper, Princeton’s second baseman, signaled plays in Latin when there was a man on second base.

On June 26, 1923, Yale defeated Princeton 5–1 at Yankee Stadium to win the Big Three title. Berg had an outstanding day, getting two hits in four at bats (2–4) with a single and a double, and making several great plays at shortstop. Both the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Robins (i.e., Dodgers) wanted “Jewish blood” on their teams, to appeal to the large Jewish community in New York, and expressed interest in Berg after the game. The Giants were especially interested, but they already had two future Hall of Famers at shortstop, Dave “Beauty” Bancroft and Travis Jackson. On June 27, 1923, Berg signed his first big league contract for $5,000 ($70,000 today) with the Robins and played in his first major league game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Baker Bowl the same day. Berg came in at the start of the seventh inning, replacing Ivy Olson at shortstop, when the Robins were winning 13–4. Berg handled five chances without an error and caught a line drive to start a game-ending double play. He got a hit in two at bats, singling up the middle against Clarence Mitchell, and scoring a run. But . . . for the season, Berg batted .187 and made 21 errors in 47 games.  Thus ended his National League career.

After the season ended, Berg took his first trip abroad, sailing from New York to Paris. He settled in the Latin Quarter in an apartment that overlooked the Sorbonne, where he enrolled in 32 different classes. In Paris he developed a habit he kept for the rest of his life: reading several newspapers daily. Until he finished reading a paper, he considered it “alive” and refused to let anyone else touch it. When he was finished with it, he would consider the paper “dead” and anybody could read it.

During spring training at the Robins’ facility in Clearwater, Florida, manager Wilbert Robinson could see that Berg’s hitting had not improved, and optioned him to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Berg did not take the demotion well and threatened to quit baseball, but by mid-April he reported to the Millers. Berg did very well once he became the Millers’ regular third baseman, hitting close to .330, but in July his average plummeted and he was back on the bench. On August 19, 1924 Berg was loaned to the Toledo Mud Hens, a poor team ravaged by injuries. Berg was immediately inserted into the lineup at shortstop when Rabbit Helgeth refused to pay a $10 ($140 today) fine for poor play and was suspended. Major league scout Mike González sent a telegram to the Dodgers evaluating Berg with the curt, but now famous, line, “Good field, no hit.” Berg finished the season with a .264 average.

By April 1925, he was starting to show promise as a hitter with the Reading Keystones of the International League. Because of his .311 batting average and 124 runs batted in, the Chicago White Sox exercised their option they had with Reading, paying $6,000 ($82,000 today) for him, and moved Berg up to the big leagues the following year.

The 1926 season began with Berg telling the White Sox that he would skip spring training and the first two months of the season to complete his first year of law school at Columbia University, and so did not join the White Sox until May 28. Bill Hunnefield was signed by the White Sox to take Berg’s place at shortstop, and was having a very good year, batting over .300. Berg played in only 41 games, batting .221.

Berg returned to Columbia after the season to continue working on his law degree. Despite White Sox owner Charles Comiskey offering him more money to come to spring training, Berg declined, and informed the White Sox that he would be reporting late for the 1927 season. Noel Dowling, a professor to whom Berg explained his situation, told Berg to take extra classes in the fall, and said that he would arrange with the dean a leave of absence from law school the following year, 1928.

Because he reported late, Berg spent the first three months of the season on the bench. In August, a series of injuries to catchers Ray Schalk, Harry McCurdy and Buck Crouse left the White Sox in need of somebody to play the position. Schalk, the White Sox player/manager, selected Berg, who did a good job filling in. Schalk arranged for former Philadelphia Phillies catcher Frank Bruggy to meet the team at their next game, against the New York Yankees. Bruggy was so fat that pitcher Ted Lyons refused to pitch to him. When Schalk asked him whom he wanted as his catcher, Lyons selected Berg.

In Berg’s debut as a starting catcher, he had to worry not only about catching Lyons’ knuckleball, but also about facing the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row lineup, which included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs. Lyons beat the Yankees 6–3, holding Ruth hitless. Berg made the defensive play of the game when he caught a poor throw from the outfield, spun and tagged out Joe Dugan at the plate. He caught eight more times during the final month and a half of the season.

At law school, Berg failed Evidence and did not graduate with the class of 1929, but he did pass the New York State bar exam. He repeated the Evidence course the following year, and on February 26, 1930 received his LL.B. On April 6, during an exhibition game against the Little Rock Travelers, his spikes caught in the soil as he tried to change directions and he tore a knee ligament.

He was back in the starting lineup on May 23, 1930, but his knee would not allow him to play every day. He played in only 20 games the whole season and finished with a .115 batting average. During the winter, he took a job with the respected Wall Street law firm Satterlee and Canfield (now Satterlee, Stephens, Burke & Burke). The Cleveland Indians picked him up on April 2, 1931 when Chicago put him on waivers, but he played in only 10 games with 13 at-bats and only 1 hit for the entire season. That year Dave Harris, Senators’ outfielder, when told that Berg spoke seven languages, replied:

“Yeah, I know, and he can’t hit in any of them.”

The Indians gave him his unconditional release in January 1932, but with catchers hard to come by, Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, invited him to spring training in Biloxi, Mississippi. He made the team, playing in 75 games while not committing an error. When starting catcher Roy Spencer went down with an injury, Berg stepped in, throwing out 35 base runners while batting .236.

Retired ballplayer Herb Hunter arranged for three players, Berg, Lefty O’Doul and Ted Lyons, to go to Japan to teach baseball seminars at Japanese universities during the winter of 1932. On October 22, 1932, the group of three players began their circuit of Meiji, Waseda, Rikkyo, Todai (Tokyo Imperial), Hosei, and Keio universities, the members of the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League. When the other Americans returned to the United States after their coaching assignments were over, Berg stayed behind to explore Japan. He went on to tour Manchuria, Shanghai, Peking, Indochina, Siam, India, Egypt and Berlin.

Despite his desire to go back to Japan, Berg reported to the Senators’ training camp on February 26, 1933 in Biloxi. He played in just 40 games during the season, and batted only .185. The Senators won the pennant, but lost to the Giants in the World Series. Cliff Bolton, the Senators’ starting catcher in 1933, demanded more money in 1934. When the Senators refused to pay him more, he sat out and Berg got the starting job. On April 22, Berg made an error, his first fielding mistake since 1932—an American League record of 117 consecutive errorless games. On July 25, the Senators gave Berg his unconditional release. He soon returned to the big leagues, however, after Cleveland Indians catcher Glenn Myatt broke his ankle on August 1. Indians manager Walter Johnson, who had managed Berg in 1932, offered Berg the reserve catching job. Berg played sporadically until Frankie Pytlak, Cleveland’s starting catcher, injured himself, and Berg became the starting catcher.

Herb Hunter arranged for a group of All-Stars, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Gomez, to tour Japan playing exhibitions against a Japanese all-star team. Despite the fact that Berg was a mediocre, third-string catcher, he was invited at the last minute to make the trip. Among the items Berg took with him to Japan were a 16-mm Bell & Howell movie camera and a letter from MovietoneNews, a New York City newsreel production company with which Berg had contracted to film the sights of his trip. When the team arrived in Japan, he gave a welcome speech in Japanese and also addressed the legislature.

After his return to the U.S. Berg was picked up by the Boston Red Sox. In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Berg averaged fewer than 30 games a season. On February 21, 1939, Berg made his first of three appearances on the radio quiz show, Information, Please. Berg put on a dazzling performance. Of his appearance, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis told him, “Berg, in just thirty minutes you did more for baseball than I’ve done the entire time I’ve been commissioner.” After his playing career ended, Berg was a Red Sox coach in 1940 and 1941.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the United States entered into World War II. To do his part for the war effort, Berg accepted a position with Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs on January 5, 1942. Nine days later, his father, Bernard, died. During the summer of 1942, Berg screened the footage he shot of Tokyo Bay for intelligence officers of the United States military. The film may have helped Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle plan his famous Doolittle Raid.

From August 1942 to February 1943, Berg was on assignment in the Caribbean and South America. His job was to monitor the health and physical fitness of the U.S. troops stationed there. Berg, along with several other OIAA agents, left in June 1943 because they thought South America posed little threat to the United States. On August 2, 1943, Berg accepted a position with the Office of Strategic Services Special Operations Branch (SO) for a salary of $3,800 ($52,600 today) a year. He was a paramilitary operations officer in the part of the OSS that is now called the CIA Special Activities Division. In September, he was assigned to the OSS Secret Intelligence branch (SI) and given a spot on the OSS SI Balkans desk. In this role, he parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia to evaluate the various resistance groups operating against the Nazis to determine which was the strongest. He talked to both Draža Mihailović and Tito and reviewed their forces, deciding that Tito had the stronger and better supported group. His evaluations were used to help determine the amount of support and aid to give each group. In late 1943, Berg was assigned to Project Larson, an OSS operation set up by OSS Chief of Special Projects John Shaheen. The stated purpose of the project was to kidnap Italian rocket and missile specialists out of Italy and bring them to the U.S. However, there was another project hidden within Larson, called Project AZUSA, with the goal of interviewing Italian physicists to see what they knew about Werner Heisenberg and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. It was similar in scope and mission to the Alsos project.

From May to mid-December 1944, Berg hopped around Europe interviewing physicists and trying to convince several to leave Europe and work in the U.S. At the beginning of December, news about Heisenberg giving a lecture in Zürich reached the OSS. Berg was assigned to attend the lecture and determine “if anything Heisenberg said convinced him the Germans were close to a bomb.” If Berg came to the conclusion that the Germans were close, he had orders to shoot Heisenberg; Berg determined that the Germans were not close. During his time in Switzerland, Berg became close friends with physicist Paul Scherrer. Berg returned to the United States on April 25, 1945, and resigned from the Strategic Services Unit, the successor to the OSS, in August. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom on October 10, but he rejected the award on December 2. His sister accepted it on his behalf after his death.

In 1946, former Chicago White Sox teammate Ted Lyons was the new manager of the White Sox, and offered Berg a coaching position. Berg declined. Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey, who was much closer to Berg when he played for Red Sox, matched Lyons’ offer, but Berg still turned them down. Berg did not apply for a teaching position, or join a law firm.

In 1951, Berg begged the CIA to send him to Israel. “A Jew must do this,” he wrote in his notebook. The CIA rejected Berg’s request. The same year Berg was hired by the CIA to use his old contacts from World War II to gather information about the Soviet atomic science but returned with nothing. He continued to serve his assignment for the CIA until 1954, when his contract expired and the CIA chose not to renew it.

For the next 20 years, Berg had no real job, living off friends and relatives. Berg received many requests to write his memoirs, but turned them down; he almost wrote them in 1960, but he quit after the co-writer assigned to him confused him with Moe Howard of the Three Stooges.

Moe Berg died on May 29, 1972, at age 70, from injuries sustained in a fall at home. A nurse at the Belleville, New Jersey, hospital where he died recalled his final words as “How did the Mets do today?” (They won.) His remains were cremated and spread over Mount Scopus in Israel.

In April 2016, it was announced that actor Paul Rudd will portray Berg in an upcoming biographical drama film called The Catcher Was a Spy, based on the book of the same name. The film will be directed by Ben Lewin and is likely to be released in 2017.

You should definitely have a kosher hot dog to celebrate today. Nowadays a number of major league baseball stadiums have kosher food stands and, of course, their standards include kosher ballpark franks. Kosher franks are certainly high quality in general because the laws of kashruth forbid many of the nastier fillers and ingredients. They have to be all meat, although what part of the animal it comes from is far from clear.

I’ll take mine on a kosher bun with certified kosher sauerkraut and mustard please. (At ballparks the “please” is optional.)

 

 

Mar 012017
 

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in many Western Christian churches. It occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the six Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter and can fall as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. Ashes were an external sign of repentance in the Jewish tradition which Christians maintained for Lent. This practice is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary of the late 8th century. Two centuries later, Ælfric of Eynsham, an Anglo-Saxon abbot, wrote of the rite of throwing ashes on people’s heads at the start of Lent. Most Protestant denominations discontinued the practice, but the Church of England maintained it for a number of years before abandoning it also.  Since the 1960s a great many Protestant denominations have taken up the tradition again in ecumenical spirit.

In the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance – a day of contemplating one’s transgressions.  Let’s distinguish between fasting and abstinence.  Fasting requires eating less than usual, while abstinence involves avoiding certain foods. You can fast without abstinence, and abstain without fasting. Historically the church “fasts” involved more abstinence that actual fasting.

According to the contemporary canon, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 (whose health enables them to do so) are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal a full meal. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent. Some Catholics continue fasting throughout Lent, as was the Church’s traditional requirement before the 1960s, concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

Ash Wednesday is exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday. The earliest date Ash Wednesday can occur is 4 February (which is only possible during a common year with Easter on 22 March), which happened in 1598, 1693, 1761 and 1818 and will next occur in 2285. The latest date Ash Wednesday can occur is 10 March (when Easter Day falls on 25 April) which occurred in 1546, 1641, 1736, 1886 and 1943 and will next occur in 2038. Ash Wednesday has never occurred on Leap Year Day (29 February), and it will not occur as such until 2096. The only other years of the third millennium that will have Ash Wednesday on 29 February are 2468, 2688, 2840 and 2992. (Ash Wednesday falls on 29 February only if Easter is on 15 April in a leap year starting on a Sunday.)

Practices concerning fasting and abstinence have varied widely over the centuries and from region to region.  The commonest rule of abstinence in Europe is to avoid meat, meaning that seafood in general is allowed. There are some rather dubious exceptions.  In parts of South America, especially in Venezuela, capybara meat is popular during Lent and Holy Week. In response to a question posed by French settlers in Quebec in the 17th century, beaver was classified as an exception and in 2010 the Archbishop of New Orleans said that “alligator is considered in the fish family.” The canon law basis for the classification of beaver and alligator as fish seems to rely on the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, which bases animal classification as much on habits as on anatomy. Whichever way you justify this it seems pretty craven (and legalistic) to me. Either eat meat or don’t. Finding a way to eat meat whilst pretending legally to be avoiding it is rank hypocrisy.

It’s a bit over the top to give a recipe for Ash Wednesday given that it’s supposed to be a day of both abstinence and fasting.  Abstinence without fasting on traditional fast days is well attested in the Middle Ages but this is not appropriate even now for Ash Wednesday when both abstinence and fasting are recommended. Being a Presbyterian pastor I am not bound by any rules of discipline when it comes to Ash Wednesday, but I observe the day with fasting in a rather rudimentary ecumenical spirit.  In years past I occasionally practiced a more rigorous fast throughout Lent based on Medieval church law. But these were optional disciplines, self imposed.  Most of my friends, including Catholic clergy, were rather taken aback by the stringency of my fasting, but it was experimental as much as spiritual. I wanted to know what it felt like both physically and emotionally.

The thing is that in my (limited) experience, fasting improves the quality of feasting. An Easter dinner of roast lamb with all the trimmings is splendid always, but it is sublime after nearly 7 weeks without meat. In this regard, therefore, I see fasting as the natural partner of feasting. This little gallery may give you some idea of what to prepare today if you want to observe the beginning of the Lenten fast. The main point is to make it a real fast. Don’t gorge yourself on meatless dishes and then feel good because you have been abstinent. That’s not the point.  Fasting is fasting, not abstinence only.

 

Feb 282017
 

 

Today is Shrove Tuesday, pretty universally known as Pancake Day in England. Within the Christian world, especially in Catholic countries, the day goes by various names and is associated with numerous customs. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is very well known, for example. I’m going to leave the rest of the world alone and zoom in on Shrove Tuesday in England where pancakes are king and mob football is queen.  This post (and yesterday’s) are part of a series I am going to do on what I call “unpacking Easter” analogous to my series on unpacking Christmas.  The details of Easter are here if you want to look ahead — http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/unpacking-easter/

My mum made pancakes on Pancake Day every year when I was growing up.  It always came up as a surprise to me because within the Presbyterian church tradition at the time we paid no attention to Ash Wednesday, Lent, and so forth.  Consequently I was always unaware that Shrove Tuesday was on the horizon, and since it’s a movable feast, linked to Easter, I had no date fixed in my head. I was just pleasantly surprised every year when the frying pan, eggs, lemons, and sugar came out and I stuffed my gut with pancakes.

NOT English pancakes

First of all, for the non-Brits amongst you, let’s be clear about pancakes.  English pancakes are nothing like the doughy raised things that people in the U.S. eat for breakfast with butter and syrup. Put that thought completely out of your head.  They are close kin to French crêpes, Italian crespelle, or Argentine/Spanish panqueques. They can be eaten any time of the year with any filling, sweet or savory, but on Pancake Day they should be served with sugar and lemon wedges as dessert after dinner.

The usual nonsense gets spouted yearly about how the custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday arose, but the truth is that no one knows. Rubbish such as this comes from Wikipedia:

Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. In addition, pancakes, in Christianity, symbolize “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.” The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products, or eggs.

Eggs and milk are not classically forbidden in Lent so there’s no reason to use them up the day before Ash Wednesday, and sugar was not common household fare in Europe until the 18th century. My suspicion is that Pancake Day took off in England in the 19th century as did so many “ancient” traditions.  Much the same can be said of the famous Pancake Day race in Olney and Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne. No matter. They’re fun.

Legend has it that the Olney (Buckinghamshire) Pancake Day race began in 1445 on Shrove Tuesday. Supposedly the “Shriving Bell” rang out to signal the start of the Shriving church service and on hearing the bell a local housewife, who had been busy cooking pancakes in anticipation of the beginning of Lent, ran to the church, frying pan still in hand, tossing the pancake to prevent it from burning, and dressed in her kitchen apron and headscarf.  A nice story which may or may not be true.

Nowadays the race is run at 11 am on Shrove Tuesday from the market place to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a distance of a little over 400 yards. The record time stands at around 55 seconds which is pretty nippy. Current rules require that the participants wear a headscarf and apron, and that the pancake be tossed once at the start and again at the finish. Men occasionally participate (usually celebrities) but they have to wear apron and headscarf. The race is limited to 25 competitors, although since 1950 there have also been children’s races. The traditional prize for the winner was a kiss from the verger.  This gallery shows the race in the immediate post-war years and more recently. You can see that the competitive element is much more in the foreground these days.

There may be a bit more continuity to the Shrovetide football game in Ashbourne (Derbyshire) although primary sources are scant.  It seems to have started some time in the 17th century although seasonal games of mob football are considerably older.  Shrove Tuesday used to be a half-day holiday in England giving townspeople the leisure time for ball games.

The Ashbourne game is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, starting each day at 2.00 pm and lasting until 10.00 pm. If a goal is scored before 5.30 pm a new ball is released and play restarts from the town centre, otherwise play ends for the day. The ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens if not hundreds of people. When the ball is goaled, the scorer is carried on the shoulders of his colleagues into the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel.

The two teams that play the game are known as the Up’Ards and the Down’Ards. The Up’Ards are traditionally those town members born north of Henmore Brook, which runs through the town, and Down’Ards are those born south of the river. Each team attempts to carry the ball back to their own goal from the turn-up, rather than the more traditional method of scoring at/in the opponents goal. There are two goal posts 3 miles apart, one at Sturston Mill (where the Up’Ards attempt to score), the other at Clifton Mill (where the Down’Ards score). Although the mills have long since been demolished, part of their millstones still stand on the bank of the river at each location and once served as the scoring posts. In 1996 the scoring posts were replaced by new smaller millstones mounted on to purpose-built stone structures, which are still in use to this day and require the players to actually be in the river in order to goal a ball.

The actual process of ‘goaling’ a ball requires a player to hit it against the millstone three successive times. This is not a purely random event, however, as the eventual scorer is elected en route to the goal and would typically be someone who lives in Ashbourne or at least whose family is well known to the community. The chances of a ‘tourist’ goaling a ball are very remote.

The game is played through the town with no limit on the number of players or the playing area. Thus shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets. The game is started from a special plinth in the town center where the ball is thrown to the players (“turned-up”), often by a visiting dignitary. Before the ball is turned-up, the assembled crowd sing Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen. The starting point has not changed in many years, although the town has changed around it. As a consequence, the starting podium is currently located in the town’s main car park, which is named Shaw Croft after an ancient field that was once there.

The game has been known as “Royal” since 1923, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) turned-up the ball in 1928. The Prince is recorded as getting a bloody nose during the game. The game received ‘Royal Assent’ for a second time in 2003, when the game was once again started by the Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles.

The Up’Ards’ traditional goal was Sturston Mill in Sturston village east of Asbourne and the Down’Ards’ goal was Clifton Mill in the village of Clifton west of Ashbourne. Clifton Mill was demolished in 1967. A stone obelisk with commemorative plaque marking the site was unveiled in 1968. This became the Down’Ards goal for the next 28 years. Sturston Mill was demolished in 1981. A timber post salvaged from the mill was erected on the site of the old mill to act as a goal for the Up’Ards. The purpose-built goals erected in 1996 on the banks of Henmore Brook are located 3 miles apart. The Up’Ards goal is upstream from Shawcroft adjacent to the site of the former Sturston Mill and the Down’Ards goal is downstream from Shawcroft adjacent to the site of the former Clifton Mill.

The game is played with a special ball, larger than a standard football, which is filled with Portuguese cork to help the ball float when it inevitably ends up in the river. It is now hand-painted by local craftsmen specially for the occasion, and the design is usually related to the dignitary who will be turning-up the ball. Once a ball is goaled it is repainted with the name and in the design of the scorer and is theirs to keep. If a ball is not goaled it is repainted in the design of the dignitary that turned it up and given back to them to keep. Many of the balls are put on display in the local pubs during the game for the public to view; traditionally these pubs are divided by team (The Wheel Inn being a popular Down’Ard base, and the Old Vaults for the Up’ards, for example).

There are very few rules. The main ones are:

Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon.

The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.

The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.

Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.

Playing after 10 pm is forbidden.

To score a goal the ball must be tapped 3 times in the area of the goal.

I gave my recipe for pancake batter in this video.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx9zQ-sRgAkQMEpmZkVZLUJsR1U/edit?usp=sharing

It’s the same egg batter that I use for Argentine tortillas and Yorkshire pudding. You can use milk in place of water and add butter to the batter if you want. I’ve been making pancakes for over 40 years and I’m content with my recipe, such as it is. For me there are two “secrets” – (1) Mix the flour and water first to avoid lumps. (2) Keep the batter thin so that it will spread easily in the pan and make thin pancakes. After that you’re on your own. I’ve given Mrs Beeton’s recipe at the end, in case you want something more detailed.

Your pancake pan should be small and heavy. Heat the pan over high heat for a minute or so, then turn off the heat and add a knob of butter to the pan.  While it is sizzling drop in a ladleful of batter and swirl the pan around so that the batter coats the bottom evenly. Place over medium-high heat until the bottom is easily released from the pan when you shake it. The bottom should be speckled brown.  Then you can do one of several things. Traditionally you toss the pancake and cook the other side so that it is also a little brown. In the past I was never very good at tossing the pancake without it breaking or falling back crumpled up, so I used to slip it under the broiler to cook the top. Third choice is to follow Mrs Beeton and not cook the top at all.

I cook pancakes to order so that every one is fresh. I slip each one out of the pan and serve it flat on a plate.  Our custom when I was a boy, which I still follow, is the sprinkle the flat pancake with sugar and add a squeeze of fresh lemon, roll it up and repeat.

Generally the first pancake is a failure for one reason or another.  I eat it quickly and move on.  Once the pan is hot enough so that the butter melts easily each time you add a knob to the pan the procedure is much smoother – in my experience.

TO MAKE PANCAKES.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Eggs, flour, milk; to every egg allow 1 oz. of flour, about 1 gill of milk, 1/8 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode.—Ascertain that the eggs are fresh; break each one separately in a cup; whisk them well, put them into a basin, with the flour, salt, and a few drops of milk, and beat the whole to a perfectly smooth batter; then add by degrees the remainder of the milk. The proportion of this latter ingredient must be regulated by the size of the eggs, &c. &c.; but the batter, when ready for frying, should be of the consistency of thick cream. Place a small frying-pan on the fire to get hot; let it be delicately clean, or the pancakes will stick, and, when quite hot, put into it a small piece of butter, allowing about 1/2 oz. to each pancake. When it is melted, pour in the batter, about 1/2 teacupful to a pan 5 inches in diameter, and fry it for about 4 minutes, or until it is nicely brown on one side. By only pouring in a small quantity of batter, and so making the pancakes thin, the necessity of turning them (an operation rather difficult to unskilful cooks) is obviated. When the pancake is done, sprinkle over it some pounded sugar, roll it up in the pan, and take it out with a large slice, and place it on a dish before the fire. Proceed in this manner until sufficient are cooked for a dish; then send them quickly to table, and continue to send in a further quantity, as pancakes are never good unless eaten almost immediately they come from the frying-pan. The batter may be flavoured with a little grated lemon-rind, or the pancakes may have preserve rolled in them instead of sugar. Send sifted sugar and a cut lemon to table with them. To render the pancakes very light, the yolks and whites of the eggs should be beaten separately, and the whites added the last thing to the batter before frying.

Time.—from 4 to 6 minutes for a pancake that does not require turning; from 6 to 8 minutes for a thicker one.

Average cost, for 3 persons, 6d.

Sufficient.—Allow 3 eggs, with the other ingredients in proportion, for 3 persons.

Seasonable at any time, but specially served on Shrove Tuesday.

 

 

Feb 272017
 

Today, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, used to go by a lot of names in England at one time, but they are all pretty well defunct.  Shrove Monday is technically correct because it is the Monday in Shrovetide.  But just as tomorrow is technically Shrove Tuesday, but the English all call it Pancake Day (because you eat pancakes on that day), today – to my mind, is best known as Collop Monday, although the tradition of eating collops today has fallen away in most places – except in my house.

Formally, Shrovetide is the week before Lent, but in many parts of the world where Carnival now stretches from Epiphany to Lent (New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Rio etc.), Shrovetide covers that whole season.  There’s nothing really wrong with merging Christmas and Easter. In the Medieval church the two festivals were seen as quintessentially linked.  Many traditional (supposedly Christmas) carols actually follow the arc of the two seasons, but now they get sung at Christmas and miss out the Easter bits.  Handel’s Messiah is well known for having what people think of as the Christmas part and the Easter part. Handel was following the ages old tradition of placing the two celebrations together. If you follow the arc all the way from Advent to Pentecost you cover half the year (from the end of November to May), so, in some ways you can conceive of the winter and spring as the sacred half of the year, and summer and autumn as the secular half. I’ll unpack some of this as the Easter season progresses.

I like splitting the year in two like this.  I also like the ups and downs of the Christmas to Easter arc.  It’s not all feasts and merriment. There are feasts AND fasts, and, for my money, the fasts are as important as the feasts. Feasting after a fast is much more celebratory than simply pigging out all year, with extra blow outs once in a while.

Shrovetide is, of course, feast time because Lent is coming.  The Monday and Tuesday before Lent are typically associated with rich foods. I don’t buy the idea that people used to use up all their fats, meats, etc. before Lent in celebratory meals so that they did not go to waste, but there is plenty of evidence that the days before Lent were especially joyous – and still are.   Pancakes on Tuesday still survive, but collops on Monday did not.

The word “shrove” is the past tense of the English verb “shrive,” (past participle, “shriven”) which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing Penance. Early English Christians were expected to be shriven immediately before Lent began. The terms “Shrove Monday” and “Shrove Tuesday” are no longer widely used in English-speaking countries outside of high liturgical traditions, such as in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches.

The name Collop Monday leaves us with a bit of puzzle because what collops were when the day got its name is not clear.  A collop is a slice of meat, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the derivation is obscure. By Elizabethan times, “collops” came to refer specifically to slices of bacon. Shrove Monday was traditionally the last day to cook and eat meat before Ash Wednesday A traditional breakfast dish was collops of bacon topped with a fried egg. This could well be the beginning of eggs and bacon as a breakfast dish.

But collops are not simply slices of bacon; any cutlet could be referred to as a collop, and there are also examples in early sources of minced meat (lamb, beef, or bacon), served in thin patties being called collops. At Christ’s Hospital, founded before the reign of Elizabeth I, the word collops was used on the menu to mean stewed minced beef. Scotch collops are a traditional Scottish dish. It can be created using either thin slices or minced meat of beef, lamb or venison. This is combined with onion, salt, pepper and suet, then stewed, baked or roasted with optional flavorings according to the meat used. It is traditionally served garnished with thin toast and mashed potato. It is referred to as a meal in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped. Lamb collops were included on the breakfast menu for first class passengers of the Titanic.

In east Cornwall, today is sometimes called Peasen Monday or Paisen Monday after the custom of eating pea soup on this day.  I’m not sure why pea soup was especially recommended for Shrovetide unless it was made with bacon or ham hocks which would be forbidden in Lent. In any case, for my Collop Monday dinner I usually combine the two traditions in my own special way – pea soup followed by a slice of steak with an egg on top (plus an onion and mushroom garnish in between).  Here’s my gallery from this year with notes:

Here’s my pea soup.  I usually make it by keeping the split peas somewhat integral, rather than making a purée of the soup with a blender.  This year I had to use prosciutto for the ham part.  It worked.

Caramelize some onion

Quickly sear a thin slice of steak in a very hot pan (without fat)

This year I mixed in some wild mushrooms with the caramelized onions

Fry an agg

Serve with the egg over the steak garnished with onions

Feb 232017
 

Today is the birthday (1868) of William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois, U.S. sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author, and editor. Now is an excellent time to champion Du Bois because of his brief return to the spotlight when Trump’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who is about as nakedly ignorant and ambitious as they come, tried to win points by quoting Du Bois in a tweet, but then misspelled his name. DeVos joins a long line of bigots who think that by quoting an eminent and respected African American they are cleared of all accusations of racism and bias.  Sorry – it doesn’t work that way.  What’s more DeVos most certainly does not subscribe to what Du Bois had to say, even though she quoted him:

Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.

DeVos, along with numerous colleagues on the far right, right, center, and slightly left of center all hold up education as the path to jobs and financial success, and hold schools accountable by such criteria.  To the best of my knowledge, no one in politics thinks education is of much value (as seen by constant cuts to education and threats to the whole involvement of the government in education at all), and when they do value it it’s because of its ability to turn out skilled workers, not for its intrinsic merits.  I am a rare bird these days because no matter what the subject matter, my underlying agenda is to teach students to think for themselves, and in the process to pursue truth, beauty, and happiness. I TEACH LIFE.

Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African-American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement, a group of African-American activists who wanted equal rights for Blacks. Du Bois and his supporters opposed the Atlanta compromise, an agreement crafted by Booker T. Washington which proposed that Southern Blacks would work and submit to White political rule, while Southern Whites guaranteed that Blacks would receive basic educational and economic opportunities. Instead, Du Bois insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation, which he believed would be brought about by the African-American intellectual elite. He referred to this group as the Talented Tenth and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop leadership skills.

Racism was the main target of Du Bois’s polemics, and he strongly protested against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination in education and employment. His cause included people of color everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in colonies. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan-African Congresses to fight for independence of African colonies from European powers. Du Bois made several trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After World War I, he surveyed the experiences of Black American soldiers in France and documented widespread bigotry in the United States military.

Du Bois was a prolific author. His collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, was a seminal work in African-American literature; and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that Blacks were responsible for the failures of the Reconstruction Era. He wrote one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology, and he published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. In his role as editor of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, he published many influential pieces. Du Bois believed that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, and he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated nuclear disarmament. The United States’ Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death.

Here’s a few salient quotes. I feel the need to annotate each one because each is so rich and insightful. But . . . I am also mindful that this is a cooking blog (even though it doesn’t always seem so) so I will resist:

There is always a certain glamour about the idea of a nation rising up to crush an evil simply because it is wrong. Unfortunately, this can seldom be realized in real life; for the very existence of the evil usually argues a moral weakness in the very place where extraordinary moral strength is called for.

I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty for Beauty to set the world right.

Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

The world is shrinking together; it is finding itself neighbor to itself in strange, almost magic degree.

The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

The cause of war is preparation for war.

I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

Amen and amen to all of that and more. Du Bois had quite a lot to say about African-American cooking habits as well as the role of African Americans in the food industry. His best known quote concerns soul food:

The deceitful pork chop must be dethroned in the South and yield a part of its sway to vegetables, fruits, and fish.

There isn’t a broad line between Black and White cooking styles in the South. Greasy greens, foods fried in lard, fatty meats such as pork belly are the mainstays of Black and White equally, and are equally unhealthy as a steady diet. Once in a while is all right. You can’t beat lard in some dishes. You don’t have to eat them every day.

Catering was dominated by African Americans in the North in the 19th century but they were supplanted by Greeks and Italians by the early 20th century. In antebellum Philadelphia there was practically an African-American monopoly on catering and restaurant business with many chefs and entrepreneurs claiming fame:

The institution of catering reaches its highest excellence in Philadelphia. This occupation was originated by a Phildelphia Negro, Robert Bogle, whose services were marked by such superlative excellence that one of his discriminating patrons, Nicholas Biddle, the leading Philadelphia financier of this time, was moved to poetic expression, and wrote his ‘Ode to Bogle’ in 1829. The Negro caterers have given to this art a quality and flavor which is unique and distinctive and which tradition is being continued along admirable lines by Holland’s, Augustine and Baptiste, and others.

As a tribute to Du Bois and his inclinations towards healthy eating I have created this dish which is simple, yet elegant – tonight’s dinner for me. You can call it Perch Du Bois or Perch Florentine. The term “Florentine” means served on bed of spinach. No need for a detailed recipe.  I found some perch in the market this evening and I had spinach on hand. There is no need for fat of any kind.  I don’t cook with salt either.

Wash your spinach well, drain it, but leave some water on the leaves. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat, add the spinach and let it cook down. Push the spinach to one side, then add a perch fillet to the skillet. If it is thick, cover it so that it cooks through evenly.  Turn once – carefully. Season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice and serve with boiled new potatoes.

Feb 222017
 

Today is the birthday (1925) of Edward St. John Gorey, writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. I was a fan for a while after a friend bought me Amphigorey as a birthday present in 1979. His combination of skillfully morbid rhyming stories and amusingly disturbing dark images is quite obviously unique.

Happy Birthday Edward

Gorey was born in Chicago. His parents, Helen Dunham (née Garvey) and Edward Lee Gorey, divorced in 1936 when he was 11, then remarried in 1952 when he was 27. One of his stepmothers was Corinna Mura (1909–1965), a cabaret singer who had a small role in the classic film Casablanca as the woman playing the guitar while singing “La Marseillaise” at Rick’s Café Américain. His father was briefly a journalist. Gorey’s maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, was a popular nineteenth-century greeting card writer and artist, from whom he claimed to have inherited his talents.

Gorey attended a variety of local grade schools and then the Francis W. Parker School. He spent 1944 to 1946 in the Army at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. He then attended Harvard University, beginning in 1946 and graduating in the class of 1950.

He frequently stated that his formal art training was “negligible” which is certainly true that he studied art for only one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943. From 1953 to 1960, he lived in New York City and worked for the Art Department of Doubleday Anchor, illustrating book covers and in some cases, adding illustrations to the text. He illustrated works as diverse as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. In later years he produced cover illustrations and interior artwork for many children’s books by John Bellairs, as well as books begun by Bellairs and continued by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death.

His first independent work, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953. He also published under pen names that were anagrams of his first and last names, such as Ogdred Weary, Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, and dozens more. His books also feature the names Eduard Blutig (“Edward Gory”), a German language pun on his own name, and O. Müde (German for O. Weary).

Gorey’s illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following. He made a notable impact of the world of theater with his designs for the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.

Here’s my customary gallery:

Without question Gorey was quirky and, in later life, isolationist. His house on Cape Cod was a sanctuary for his work, his books, and his cats (he had six, claiming that seven would be too many).

He rarely traveled and left the U.S. only twice, once as a youngster for a vacation in Cuba, and once as an adult to the Hebrides. He was open about his sexuality (or lack of it).  He never married, had no known relationships, and baldly stated that he had no idea whether he was gay or straight primarily because he had no interest in sexuality.

Gorey was very fond of eating but always ate out. On Cape Cod he frequented a local restaurant twice a day and as a tribute to him the restaurant mounted some of his food orders and presented the collage to him, which now hangs in the Gorey Museum in his old home.  In his honor I recommend cooking something Victorian, odd, and vaguely disturbing.  This recipe from Mrs Beeton fits that description for me. I am not sure whether her idea that the recipe is useful when baking is more convenient than boiling is laughable or disquieting. It’s certainly Victorian.

BAKED SOUP.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of any kind of meat, any trimmings or odd pieces; 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 oz. of rice, 1 pint of split peas, pepper and salt to taste, 4 quarts of water.

Mode.—Cut the meat and vegetables in slices, add to them the rice and peas, season with pepper and salt. Put the whole in a jar, fill up with the water, cover very closely, and bake for 4 hours.

Time.—4 hours. Average cost, 2-1/2d. per quart.

Seasonable at any time.

Sufficient for 10 or 12 persons.

Note.—This will be found a very cheap and wholesome soup, and will be convenient in those cases where baking is more easily performed than boiling.

Feb 212017
 

On this date in 1848 The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was first published (in German) in London. It is a much misunderstood document, as is much of Marx’s work in general. I don’t have the space here, nor time, to redress all the misunderstandings, but I’ll make a start. The Manifesto was itself written to correct misunderstandings of what communism is/was, but it was itself misinterpreted badly by European revolutionaries and in points beyond. Marx was not envisaging dictators such as Stalin and Mao, but that’s the model of Marxism that has stuck in the general consciousness in the West, largely as a result of the Cold War.  Marx was addressing the radical divide between the people with all the money (hence power) and the rest of the population that was the model in his day in Europe, and which continues unabated. In my opinion his analysis of the situation (then and now) is generally sound, but his historical analysis is not.  The most important misunderstanding is of the world Marx envisaged – not the oppressive regimes of the likes of 20th century Russia and China, but a world in which the common people (proletariat) were not controlled, mind and soul, by the desires of an oligarchy of very few, very rich people (bourgeoisie), but, instead, controlled their own destinies.

I should probably start with a critique of Marx (and Engels) to demonstrate that I am not some kind of doctrinaire Marxist myself. Marx wrote in an era when very general ideas of the evolution of things were just beginning to catch hold, undoubtedly because Europe was radically changing under the pressures of the Industrial Revolution. A world that had seen precious little in the way of technological change for almost a thousand years was gripped by rapid and constant change and this had an effect on the intellectual world because change was in the air. The Grimms, for example, developed hypotheses concerning the evolution of languages, Lewis Henry Morgan proposed a theory of cultural evolution, and, of course, Darwin was interested in biological evolution. Marx stepped in with his own theory of historical evolution. My “simple” task here will be to try to separate the wheat from the chaff in Marx’s thinking, and will, obviously, end up being simplistic.

Where Marx has proven to be most blatantly wrong is in his hypothesis that capitalism would collapse of its own weight. Over 150 years later it is still going strong, the ultra-rich still hold all the power, and there’s no sign of collapse even though the disparity between rich and the rest is, if anything, greater than it was in Marx’s time in developed countries. The two major countries where a simulacrum of Marx’s ideas led to violent revolution in the 20th century, Russia and China, were not capitalist cultures at the time of their revolutions, but experiencing the last vestiges of feudalism that were ripe to be overturned — and have since adopted capitalist ideals on a large scale (including the huge disparities between the rich and the rest).

What cannot be denied is that the vast majority of people living in contemporary capitalist cultures are, by and large, comfortable. Of course they are exploited and controlled by a tiny minority of very rich people, but their lives are comfortable enough that they are hesitant to seek change, and so they continue as is. We still have plenty of poor people living in horrendous conditions but the Western world does not look like the Victorian London or Manchester of Marx’s day. The bulk of the electorate in Western democracies have food on the table, drive cars, have stable (if tedious) jobs, and aspire to owning their own homes. They have the time and money to go on vacation to exotic places, and they wear decent clothes. Discontent these days centers on the evident slowing of what was once a steady improvement in these comforts, not in the system itself.  Hence the capitalist system will endure unscathed through the rest of my lifetime and beyond. I have no idea what will cause its ultimate demise, but it will end – one day.

1848 was the “Year of Revolutions” in Europe. No country emerged untouched, although not all participated in overt revolution. Marx certainly contributed to the general revolutionary fervor with the Manifesto. But the revolutions were fueled by a lot of forces, notably nationalism, apart from the desire for social change.  Marx’s rhetoric was inserted into the revolutions, but socialism of a different sort, led by social philosophers such as Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet, and Robert Owen, was also on the horizon, leading in a different, non violent, direction.  They were called “Utopian Socialists” by detractors (including Marxists) because their visions were viewed as naïve.  What is frequently missed is that Marx’s socialist aims were the same as theirs, only the vision of the methods of achieving it was different.

Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric Marx was a humanist. If you read his works prior to the Manifesto  you get a much clearer sense of his underlying humanistic social philosophy. He imagined a post-capitalist world in which farmers collectively owned the farms, workers collectively owned factories, and so forth, and they would inevitably benefit because they would keep all the profits and make all the decisions. We can argue about the validity of this hypothesis, but there is no question that Marx envisaged a brighter world for everyone when the workers were the masters. He did not imagine Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Perhaps he should have. Revolution from the bottom up begets tyrants.  Marx should have known this; the French Revolution produced Napoleon. The American Revolution was different because it was not from the bottom up, but from the top down. The first rebels in the North American colonies were the rich who wanted less taxation and less regulation on their businesses (times don’t change much !!).

Marx was spot on when he pointed out that capitalism commodifies labor so that workers see themselves in terms of their earning power rather than in terms of their inherent human (and individual) traits. Workers thus take less pride in their work and more in their pay check. Work becomes a means to an end (house, car, vacations, etc) rather than an end in itself. In consequence all other social activities, such as education, are judged in terms of their ability to increase earning power and not for their intrinsic merits. I’m absolutely sick and tired of reading article upon article that charts the universities with the graduates who earn the most, the college majors with the best earnings potential, and the careers with the highest salaries.  So what????  I became an anthropologist, a teacher, and a writer because I love doing that work. I can look back on a long career with pride and happiness because my jobs have made me happy, not because I have stacked away piles of money. My riposte to the ages old barbed question, “If you are so smart why aren’t you rich?” is simple. “I am not rich because I am smart; I have other goals in life.”

I am not a doctrinaire Marxist by any stretch of the imagination, but I am enough of a Marxist to believe that people should live in a society where they are free to choose their own destinies, and not shackled by the dictates of the system.

Some apt quotes from the Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie . . . has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains. They have a world to win.

 

I’ve never wanted to be a chef because I’ve never wanted to debase my cooking via the profit motive.  I cook because I love to cook – end of story.  I hope this blog makes that point loud and clear. Today of all days you should cook something that you most love to cook, and cook with passion – not with an eye to time, cost, or any other variable other than devotion to the task itself. That means that you should choose today what recipe best suits you.  You are the master. For lunch today I had braised rabbit with wild mushrooms in a sauce seasoned with red pepper, garlic, onions, allspice, and ginger, with boiled new potatoes and broad beans on the side.  I’m not going to give you a recipe because (a) I invented the dish as I went along, and (b) today is your day to cook what you choose, not what I have decided for you. My braised rabbit took me 2 days to prepare because I like my dishes to rest overnight when they have complex sauces. I loved the preparation – and it was delicious.

Here’s a small gallery of things I have cooked recently.  In each case I cooked what I wanted without any recipe, just following my heart’s pleasure: