Nov 252017
 

Today is the birthday (1562) of Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio, usually called simply Lope de Vega, Spanish playwright, poet, and novelist of the Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature. In the Spanish-speaking world he is generally ranked only second to Cervantes for classic literature. I would rank him first, but who am I? I find Cervantes rather tedious in comparison. So – one vote for Lope de Vega as king of Spanish literature. The sheer volume of his literary output is unequalled, making him one of the most prolific authors in the history of literature in any language, although this fact is not, in and of itself, a qualification for top billing. Cervantes himself called him Fénix de los Ingenios (The Phoenix of Wits) and Monstruo de la Naturaleza (a Monster of Nature), the latter because of his “monstrous” output. De Vega was the main force in renewing Spanish theater, and took it to great heights. His plays, like those of Shakespeare, are still produced on a regular basis worldwide. He was also one of the best lyric poets in the Spanish language, and an accomplished novelist. About 3,000 sonnets, 3 novels, 4 novellas, 9 epic poems, and about 500 plays are attributed to him. He has frequently been criticized for putting quantity ahead of quality, yet, at least 80 of his plays are considered masterpieces, and Cervantes himself, who was his contemporary, envied his works.

De Vega was born in Madrid to a family who had recently arrived from Valle de Carriedo in Cantabria. His father, Félix de Vega, was an embroiderer. Little is known of his mother, Francisca Fernández Flórez. De Vega later added the distinguished name of Carpio (from one of his in-laws) as his maternal name in place of Flórez. De Vega’s family history is rather obscure. His father moved to Madrid in 1561, ostensibly to take advantage of possibilities in a new capital city, but de Vega wrote that his father arrived in Madrid because of a love affair while a married man, but his (future) mother came to “rescue” him. Thus, de Vega became the fruit of this reconciliation, and owed his existence to the jealousies and rivalries in love he would analyze so much in his dramatic works.

De Vega was obviously a child prodigy in writing although some of his feats are probably exaggerations. Did he, for example, write his first play, El verdadero amante, when he was 12, as he claimed? Probably not, but he was certainly a more than competent writer at that age. At 14 he studied at the Colegio Imperial, a Jesuit school in Madrid, from which he absconded to take part in a military expedition in Portugal. Following that escapade, he had the good fortune of being taken into the protection of the Bishop of Ávila, who recognized his talent and got him enrolled in the University of Alcalá. De Vega had planned to follow in his patron’s footsteps and join the priesthood after getting his degree, but he fell in love instead and realized that celibacy was not for him. In the process he failed to get a degree and made what living he could as a secretary to aristocrats or by writing plays.

Elena

In 1583 de Vega enlisted in the Spanish Navy and saw action at the Battle of Ponta Delgada in the Azores, under the command of his future friend Álvaro de Bazán, 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz, to whose son he would later dedicate a play. Following his stint in the navy he returned to Madrid and began his career as a playwright in earnest. He also began a love affair with Elena Osorio (the “Filis” of his poems), who was separated from her husband, actor Cristóbal Calderón, and was the daughter of a leading theater director. After 5 years Elena spurned de Vega in favor of another suitor, and his vitriolic attacks on her and her family landed him in jail for libel and, ultimately, 8 years’ banishment from the court and 2 years’ banishment from Castile. He went into exile undaunted, taking with him the 16-year-old Isabel de Alderete y Urbina, known in his poems by the anagram “Belisa,” the daughter of Philip II’s court painter, Diego de Urbina. The two married under pressure from her family on 10 May 1588. Just a few weeks later, on the 29th of May, de Vega signed up for another tour of duty with the Spanish Navy: this was the summer of 1588, and the Armada was about to sail against England. It is likely that this enlistment was the condition required by Isabel’s family, eager to be rid of such a scurrilous son-in-law.

Isabel

Luck was with de Vega, however, and his ship, the San Juan, was one of the vessels to make it home to Spanish harbors in the aftermath of the failed expedition. Back in Spain by December 1588, he settled in the city of Valencia, and lived there with Isabel, continually perfecting his dramatic formula, and participating regularly in the tertulia (i.e. literary gathering) known as the Academia de los nocturnos, which included the finest dramatists of the day. His most important innovation at this point was to violate the classic unity of action of Spanish theater and weave two plots together in a single play: a technique normally known as “imbroglio” and fundamental to his plays.

In 1590, at the end of his two years’ exile from the realm, he moved to Toledo to serve Francisco de Ribera Barroso, who later became the 2nd Marquis of Malpica, and, some time later, Antonio Álvarez de Toledo, 5th Duke of Alba. In this later appointment he became gentleman of the bedchamber to the ducal court of the House of Alba, where he lived from 1592 to 1595. In 1595, following Isabel’s death in childbirth, he left the Duke’s service and – 8 years having passed – returned to Madrid. In 1598 he married Juana de Guardo, the daughter of a wealthy butcher. His affairs continued, however. A scandal with Antonia Trillo de Armenta earned him another lawsuit, and his love affair with Micaela de Luján, a well-known beauty on stage, continued until 1608. She bore him 4 children and inspired a series of sonnets.

Micaela

By 1610 de Vega’s personal situation took a turn for the worse. His favorite son, Carlos Félix (by Juana), died and, in 1612, Juana herself died in childbirth. His writing in the early 1610s also assumed heavier religious influences and, in 1614, he joined the priesthood. Holy orders did not impede his romantic inclinations, however. The most lasting of his relationships of that era was with Marta de Nevares, who met him in 1616 and would remain with him until her death in 1632.

Marta

Further tragedies followed in 1635 with the death of Lope, his son by Micaela and a worthy poet in his own right, in a shipwreck off the coast of Venezuela, and the abduction and subsequent abandonment of his youngest daughter Antonia. De Vega took to his bed and died of scarlet fever in Madrid on 27 August of that same year.

It is my common habit to add a few salient quotes for authors I celebrate here, but I ran into an amusing problem with Lope de Vega. When I used a search engine in English I got one set of “famous” quotes in English translation, and when I used a search engine in Spanish I got a totally different set. To compromise I’ll give a couple in English, then more in Spanish. If you are Spanish challenged I can’t help you. Sorry.

Harmony is pure love, for love is complete agreement.

With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.

Que más mata esperar el bien que tarda que padecer el mal que ya se tiene.

No sé yo que haya en el mundo palabras tan eficaces ni oradores tan elocuentes como las lágrimas.

No hay cosa más fácil que dar consejo ni más difícil que saberlo tomar.

Donde hay amor no hay señor, que todo lo iguala el amor.

Lope de Vega wrote that for breakfast he liked bacon and bacon fat, with letuario, a kind of marmalade of orange rinds preserved in honey and liqueur. Very English of him, at a time before the “full English” had been invented. For lunch, the main meal of the day, he preferred the classic olla podrida, made legendary in the Spanish Golden Age. For his evening meal his favorite was to pick asparagus from the garden, cook it, and serve it sprinkled with lemon juice and paprika, accompanied with poached eggs. That’s a fair choice for you. I’ll go with olla podrida.

Olla podrida literally translates as “rotten saucepan” but many linguists think “podrida” is a corruption of “poderida” (powerful), which would make more sense since the traditional dish is loaded with meats of every description. In any case, in modern Castilian Spanish “olla podrida” now figuratively means, “everything but the kitchen sink” – which about sums up the dish. Modern recipes call for various cuts of pork plus sausages, but I’ll give you the gargantuan version.  It’s also rare to include el relleno in modern versions, but I’ll give you that too. In Spanish “relleno” usually means “stuffing” but in this case it means “dumpling” – fried first, then added to the stew at the end. Choice of beans varies regionally these days. In the 17th century dried New World beans were replacing fava beans throughout Europe for stews and casseroles. Take your pick. Red beans from Ibeas in Burgos are ideal, but it’s your choice. Traditionally, the broth is served first, then the meat on one platter, and beans with vegetables and dumplings on another. If by chance you live in Spain you can get the pork marinated in adobo at most butchers’. Otherwise, you need to prepare the pork yourself, and I give directions here.  This recipe is for 10 if you live in Spain (or Argentina). Elsewhere in the world it will feed 15 to 20. Reducing quantities is not a good idea. I’d plan a big dinner party, or expect mountainous leftovers.

© Olla Podrida

Ingredients

800 gm dried beans
1 pig’s ear
1 pig’s trotter
500 gm pork ribs
3 blood sausages
3 chorizos
500 gm stewing beef, cubed
1 boiling fowl, cut in serving pieces
1 duck, cut in serving pieces
1 quail, cut in serving pieces
250 gm lamb shoulder, cubed
100 gm slab bacon, diced
100 gm chicken livers and gizzards
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 leeks, washed, trimmed and sliced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cabbage, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 head celery
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
2 tbs flour
olive oil
salt

For el relleno

1 cup fresh bread crumbs (fresh)
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 sprigs flat parsley, chopped
salt

For adobo

4 tbsp Spanish paprika (sweet or spicy)
3 tbsp dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp vinegar

Instructions:

First day:

Soak the beans in cold water for 24 hours.

Prepare the adobo mix. Put all the adobo ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Then rub the mix on the ribs all over and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Second day:

Drain the beans. Place them in a pot with plenty of water. Bring to a boil. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, drain, refill the pot with cold water, add the trotter and ear, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the beans are soft.

Sauté the bacon over medium-high heat in a dry pan until it starts to brown and the fat runs. Add half the onion and half the bell pepper and continue cooking until translucent. Add one-third of the garlic and 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir until the fat and flour are combined. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Place all the meats in a large pot. Add the other half of the onion and bell pepper, the rest of the garlic, the celery, leeks, carrots, cabbage, and bay leaf. Cover with water. Add as much olive oil as you wish (¼ cup or so). Bring to a boil slowly, skimming regularly. Then reduce to a simmer and cover. Check the pot periodically. Add liquid if needed and remove the meats as they cook. They poultry will take less than an hour. The pork, beef, and lamb may take 2 hours or more.

Meanwhile for el relleno, crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat. Then add the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and salt.  Mix thoroughly. Heat half an inch of olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When sizzling, drop the mixture into the hot oil one tablespoon at a time. Do not overcrowd the pan. Flatten the mix when it hits the oil if necessary and cook, turning to brown both sides. When cooked, remove with a slotted spatula and drain on wire racks. Set aside.

Once all the meats are cooked add them back to the broth with the vegetables and add the beans and the bacon mix. Heat them through.  At the same time add the rellenos and cook for about 10 minutes.

Serve the broth as a first course with some bread. Separate out the meat and serve it on one platter. Serve the beans, vegetables, and rellenos on another. Let diners make plates of what they wish.

Nov 012017
 

Today is the birthday (1871) of Stephen Crane who was a prolific novelist, poet, and short story writer during his short life. He wrote notable works in what is now called the American Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. I knew nothing about Crane until I moved to Orange County, New York near to Port Jervis where he grew up. He’s well known in the U.S. for The Red Badge of Courage, a stark portrayal of a battle during the American Civil War that was quite at odds with the writing of the time because of its unflinching description of the horrors of battle. I expect the book is (or was) required reading in high school literature classes, but American literature passed me by in its totality when I was in secondary school. Things may have changed. As soon as I lived near Port Jervis, and traveled there all the time for shopping and business, it was impossible to avoid Crane’s aura.

Crane was born on November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey, to Jonathan Townley Crane, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church, and Mary Helen Peck Crane, daughter of a clergyman. He was the 14th and last child born to the couple. Nine survived to adulthood. The young Stephen was raised primarily by his sister Agnes, who was 15 years his senior. The family moved to Port Jervis, New York, in 1876, where his father became the pastor of Drew Methodist Church, a position that he retained until his death.

As a child, Stephen was often sickly and afflicted by constant colds. Despite his fragile nature, Crane was an intelligent child who taught himself to read before the age of four. Crane was not regularly enrolled in school until January 1880, but he had no difficulty in completing two grades in six weeks. Recalling this feat, he wrote that it “sounds like the lie of a fond mother at a teaparty, but I do remember that I got ahead very fast and that father was very pleased with me.”

Crane’s father died on February 16, 1880, at the age of 60; Stephen was 8 years old. After her husband’s death, Crane’s mother moved to Roseville, near Newark, leaving Stephen in the care of his older brother Edmund who lived in Sussex County, New Jersey. He next lived with his brother William, a lawyer, in Port Jervis for several years. His older sister Helen took him to Asbury Park to be with their brother Townley and his wife, Fannie. Townley was a professional journalist who headed the Long Branch department of both the New-York Tribune and the Associated Press, and also served as editor of the Asbury Park Shore Press. Agnes, another Crane sister, joined the siblings in New Jersey. She took a position at Asbury Park’s intermediate school and moved in with Helen to care for the young Stephen.

Within a couple of years, the Crane family suffered more losses. First, Townley and his wife lost their two young children. His wife Fannie died of Bright’s disease in November 1883. Agnes Crane became ill and died on June 10, 1884, of meningitis at the age of 28. In late 1885 Crane enrolled at Pennington Seminary, a ministry-focused coeducational boarding school 7 miles (11 km) north of Trenton. His father had been principal there from 1849 to 1858. In 1886 Luther Crane, another of Stephen’s siblings, died after falling in front of an oncoming train while working as a flagman for the Erie Railroad. It was the fourth death in six years among Stephen’s immediate family.

After two years, Crane left Pennington for Claverack College, a quasi-military school. He later looked back on his time at Claverack as “the happiest period of my life although I was not aware of it.” While he held an impressive record on the drill field and baseball diamond, Crane generally did not excel in the classroom. Not having a middle name, as was customary among other students, he took to signing his name “Stephen T. Crane” in order “to win recognition as a regular fellow.” Crane was seen as friendly, but also moody and rebellious. He sometimes skipped class in order to play baseball in which he was a star catcher. He was also greatly interested in the school’s military training program. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the student battalion.

In mid-1888, Crane became his brother Townley’s assistant at a New Jersey shore news bureau, working there every summer until 1892. Crane’s first publication under his byline was an article on the explorer Henry M. Stanley’s famous quest to find the Scottish missionary David Livingstone in Africa. It appeared in the February 1890 Claverack College Vidette. Within a few months, Crane was persuaded by his family to forgo a military career and transfer to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in order to pursue a mining engineering degree. He registered at Lafayette on September 12, and promptly became involved in extracurricular activities. He took up baseball again and joined the largest fraternity, Delta Upsilon. He infrequently attended classes and ended the semester with grades for only four of the seven courses he had enrolled in. After one semester, he transferred to Syracuse University, where he enrolled as a non-degree candidate in the College of Liberal Arts. He roomed in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house and joined the baseball team. He attended just one class (English Literature) during the middle trimester, and remained in residence while taking no courses in the third trimester.

He focused on his writing while at Syracuse and began to experiment with tone and style while trying out different subjects. He published his fictional story, “Great Bugs of Onondaga,” simultaneously in the Syracuse Daily Standard and the New York Tribune. Having declared college “a waste of time” he decided to become a full-time writer and reporter. He attended a Delta Upsilon chapter meeting on June 12, 1891, but shortly thereafter left college for good. It’s getting quite normal for me to write that a famous author or writer quit school at a young age because he (or she) was fed up with its limitations. It’s less possible in the sciences and technical fields these days, but was the norm in these fields also at one time because education was dominated by Latin and Greek, with theology thrown in for good measure down to the 19th century.

Crane lived for only 9 years after college, but his life was packed with adventure. You can read about that on your own. I’ll, instead talk about The Red Badge of Courage and the role Port Jervis played in the writing of it. Not only did Crane spend significant portions of his boyhood in Port Jervis, he was a frequent visitor as an adult, staying with his brother, William. The house where William lived and practiced law on East Main Street is still used as law offices: now one of the grand old buildings in a part of the city that are too expensive to be used as private dwellings. In its heyday Port Jervis was a prosperous, thriving, bustling city located on a key turn in the Delaware and Hudson canal (hence the “port” part) which ran from Honesdale on the eastern tip of the coal fields of Pennsylvania to Kingston, New York, on the Hudson. The canal supplied coal to New York city (via the Hudson river), fueling the Industrial Revolution there. It was also the conduit for all manner of supplies such as bluestone, used as paving stones and building materials for the city, fine glassware and crystal, and a host of manufactured goods. The canal followed the Delaware river eastwards to Port Jervis, then struck north to Kingston. Until the canal was built Port Jervis did not exist as anything other than a minor village on the junction of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Afterwards it was a major center for manufacturing and commerce. In Crane’s time the city was in its absolute heyday

Drew Methodist church, where Crane’s father was pastor and where the Crane family lived, is adjacent to one of the city’s parks, now called Veteran’s Park, with various monuments to the 124th New York State Volunteers, generally known as the Orange Blossoms, who fought in major campaigns in the American Civil War, and who were recruited in major urban centers of Orange County, especially Port Jervis. Local tradition has it that Crane spent time, both as a boy and as an adult, listening to tales of war from veterans in that park. In fact, it used to be called Stephen Crane Memorial Park until 1983 when the name was changed because locals objected to it because they felt that The Red Badge of Courage was a disservice to the memory of civil war veterans, many of whose descendants still live in Port Jervis. No comment.

The central battle in The Red Badge of Courage is not named, but historians universally agree that it is a fictionalized account of the Battle of Chancellorsville where the Orange Blossoms served with distinction. You’ll have to read the book, if you haven’t already, to get the general feeling of it. Here’s some morsels:

He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try and read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.

The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade since those days of camp life upon the river bank. He seemed no more to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess. He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits. He was no more a loud young soldier. There was about him now a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities. And this inward confidence evidently enabled him to be indifferent to little words of other men aimed at him.

It was perhaps that they dreaded to be killed in insignificant ways after the times for proper military deaths had passed. Or, perhaps, they thought it would be too ironical to get killed at the portals of safety.

Even today readers marvel at the accuracy with which Crane was able to portray the inner feelings of soldiers in war time even though he had no experience of combat. Without question he spent long hours talking to veterans, probably in Port Jervis, and elsewhere.

Camp cooking during the American Civil War has been analyzed many times. The big problem at the start of the war was that the soldiers had no experience with cooking. Men didn’t cook at home in those days – end of story. In consequence the army had to devise a strategy to keep the men as well fed as possible. One solution was to divide the soldiers into mess units of 100 with a man appointed as main cook with another man helping on a rotating basis. For general reference to help the cooks Captain James Sanderson wrote Camp Fires and Camp Cooking; or, Culinary Hints for the Soldier. You can find the complete text as a .pdf file here:

https://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5Qaef3NK3YNUKcQUrOwz6KhRxlwJ1iCTm2kmWbIQ-EODOcjXLOUfGiG9RvPjde7ZN17vttRu8jQuY5sXRIpnJoplTAsD3nBT66PHH3tJj7is-nfubu1KMSXDgmhNgTpzMDql8Qp2NC03i95-TZf8398A3Qm6EJ5G5Faxn0aHI_HHLiEBqEaOFLtfdtbFPnbzkn8O8mg6T2U4_HrbYmEgriy_V86KoRQRU75irJz_tUydY7XJtTnQ8BxMRuZ5aNxJbUB3gU3tFE1QsTzROpmxSpZgE6eO0GNltEnqxtKzVt2soPaYpuZM 

The recipes are not bad and can easily be replicated at home. They are very detailed to help novice cooks, unlike other cookbooks of the era than were written for chefs and home cooks with some experience. I cooked in much the same over my fire pit in Orange County, not thinking at the time that I was re-enacting battlefield cooking. A few excerpts:

KITCHEN PHILOSOPHY.

Remember that beans, badly boiled, kill more than bullets; and fat is more fatal than powder. In cooking, more than in anything else in this world, always make haste slowly. One hour too much is vastly better than five minutes too little, with rare exceptions. A big fire scorches your soup, burns your face, and crisps your temper. Skim, simmer, and scour, are the true secrets of good cooking.

BOILED PORK AND BEEN (sic) SOUP.

Never serve beans until they have been soaked over night. At eight o’clock in the morning, put eight quarts into two kettles, and fill up with clean cold water. Boil constantly, over a brisk fire, for an hour or more, during which many of the beans will rise to the top. At the end of this time, take the kettles off the fire for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then pour off all the water, replacing it with fresh clean water. Add to each kettle a pound of parboiled pork, without rind, and boil continuously for an hour and a half longer.

At quarter past eight o’clock, fill three kettles loosely with pieces of pork weighing from three to five pounds, cover with water, and boil briskly for one hour; then pour off all the liquid, and fill up with clean hot water, and boil for one hour and a half longer; then take out all the pork, and lay it aside. Take out also one-half of the beans from the other kettles, placing them aside for breakfast next morning, and add to the remainder the liquor in which the pork was boiled. To each kettle add also two onions chopped or sliced, with plenty of black or red pepper, some salt, and a tablespoonful of vinegar. After fifteen minutes’ longer boiling, mash the beans with a wooden stick made for the purpose, and serve, with a slice of pork, in a separate dish.

If onions are plenty, mince fine eight or ten of them, fry them in a pan with a little flour and fat, with half a pint hot water, and the same quantity of the liquor in which the pork was boiled. After cooking five minutes, add pepper, salt, and half a glass of vinegar, and pour over the slices of pork.

 

 

Nov 052016
 

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Today is the birthday (1911) of Leonard Franklin Slye, better known by his stage name — Roy Rogers. He was a U.S. singer and cowboy actor who was one of the most popular Western stars of his era. I was certainly a fan as a boy.  He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” and appeared in over 100 films and numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show. In many of his films and television episodes, he appeared with his wife Dale Evans, his golden palomino Trigger, and his German Shepherd dog Bullet. His show ran on radio for nine years before moving to television from 1951 through 1957. His productions usually featured a sidekick, often Pat Brady, Andy Devine, or George “Gabby” Hayes.

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Leonard Slye typifies for me the U.S. cowboy singer/actor. That is, he was not born in the West, nor worked as a real cowboy. The cowboy of movies and television bears little resemblance to real cowboys of the Old West. Slye was born to Mattie (née Womack) and Andrew “Andy” Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio. The family lived in a tenement building on 2nd Street, where Riverfront Stadium would later be constructed (he would later joke that he was born at second base). Dissatisfied with his job and city life, Andy and his brother Will built a 12-by-50-foot (3.7 m × 15.2 m) houseboat from salvage lumber, and in July 1912 the Slye family traveled up the Ohio River towards Portsmouth, Ohio.[1] Desiring a more stable existence in Portsmouth, they purchased land on which to build a house, but the Great Flood of 1913 allowed them to move the houseboat to their property and continue living in it on dry land.

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In 1919 the Slye family purchased a farm in Duck Run, near Lucasville, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) north of Portsmouth, and built a six-room house. Andy Slye soon realized that the farm alone would provide insufficient income for his family, so he took a job at a Portsmouth shoe factory, living in Portsmouth during the week and returning home on weekends bearing gifts following paydays. A notable gift was a horse on which young Len Slye learned the basics of horsemanship. Living on the farm with no radio, the family made their own entertainment. On Saturday nights, the family often invited neighbors over for square dances, during which Len would sing, play mandolin, and call the square dances. He also learned to yodel during this time.

After completing the eighth grade, Len attended high school in McDermott, Ohio. After his second year in high school, his family returned to Cincinnati, where his father began work at another shoe factory. Realizing that his family needed his financial help, Len quit school and joined his father at the shoe factory. He tried to attend night school, but after repeatedly falling asleep in class, he quit and never returned.

By 1929, after Len’s older sister Mary and her husband moved to Lawndale, California, he and his father quit their factory jobs, packed up their 1923 Dodge, and drove the family to California to visit Mary. They stayed for four months before returning to Ohio. Soon after returning, young Len had the opportunity to travel again to California with Mary’s father-in-law, and the rest of the family followed in the spring of 1930. The Slye family rented a small house near Mary, and Len and his father found work driving gravel trucks for a highway-construction project. In the spring of 1931, after the construction company went bankrupt, Len traveled to Tulare, California where he found work picking peaches for Del Monte. During this time he lived in a labor camp similar to the ones depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath.

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After 19 year old Len Slye’s second arrival in Lawndale, his sister Mary suggested that he audition for the Midnight Frolic radio program, which broadcast over KMCS in Inglewood. A few nights later, wearing a Western shirt that Mary had made for him, Leonard overcame his shyness and appeared on the program playing guitar, singing, and yodeling. A few days later, he was asked to join a local country music group called The Rocky Mountaineers. Len accepted the group’s offer and became a member in August 1931.

By September 1931, Slye hired Canadian-born Bob Nolan who answered the group’s classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, “Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred.” Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he and Len stayed in touch. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer. In the spring of 1932, Len Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout that year, Len and Tim Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups, including the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. When Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys to take a break from music, Len joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

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In early 1933, Len Slye, with Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer formed a group called the Pioneers Trio, with Slye on guitar, Nolan on string bass, and Spencer on lead vocals. The three rehearsed for weeks refining their vocal harmonies. During this time, Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, while Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the trio. In early 1934, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group’s vocal arrangements. Later that year, the Pioneers Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers when a radio station announcer changed their name because he felt they were too young to be “pioneers”. The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.

By the summer of 1934, the popularity and fame of the Sons of the Pioneers extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the country through short syndicated radio segments that were later rebroadcast across the United States. After signing a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording on August 8, 1934. One of the first songs recorded by the group during that first August session was “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” written by Bob Nolan. Over the next two years the Sons of the Pioneers would record 32 songs for Decca, including the classic “Cool Water”.

From his first film appearance in 1935, he worked steadily in Western films, including a large supporting role as a singing cowboy while still billed as “Leonard Slye” in a Gene Autry movie. In 1938, when Autry was demanding more money for his work, Slye was immediately rechristened “Roy Rogers.” Actually, there was a competition for a new singing cowboy, and many western singers sought the job, including Willie Phelps of the Phelps brothers who appeared in early western movies. Slye ended up winning the contest and became Roy Rogers. Slye’s stage name was suggested by Republic Picture’s staff after Will Rogers and the shortening of Leroy, and he was assigned the lead in Under Western Stars. Rogers became a matinee idol and U.S. cowboy legend. A competitor for Gene Autry as the nation’s favorite singing cowboy was suddenly born. In addition to his own movies, Rogers played a supporting role in the John Wayne classic Dark Command (1940). Rogers became a major box office attraction. Unlike other stars, the vast majority of Rogers’ leading roles allowed him to play a character with his own name in the manner of Gene Autry.

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The Sons of the Pioneers continued their popularity, and they have never stopped performing from the time Rogers started the group, replacing members as they retired or died (all original members are deceased). Although Rogers was no longer an active member, they often appeared as Rogers’ backup group in films, radio, and television, and Rogers would occasionally appear with them in performances up until his death.

When Rogers died of congestive heart failure on July 6, 1998, he was living in Apple Valley, California. He was buried at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley, as was his wife, Dale Evans, three years later.

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The Roy Rogers is a very simple non-alcoholic drink which I won’t spend too much time on. You’ll need a bottle of Coca-Cola, some grenadine syrup, maraschino cherries, and a glass of ice. Add a dash of grenadine to the ice, pour in the Coke, and garnish with a cherry. Done.

Let’s get a little more serious about cowboy cooking. I’ll state point blank, as an historian, that I don’t think there is any such thing as authentic cowboy cooking. It’s as much of a romantic fiction as Roy Rogers is. Sure, cattle drives needed a chuck wagon and a cook. But, did these cooks have special recipes and recipe books that they followed once they were out on the trail? Spare me. What we should remember is that in the 19th century cattle drives had most of the limitations of sea-going vessels when it comes to the basics of the larder, but they did have live meat on the hoof. Chuck wagons would have carried the obvious staples such as dried legumes, rice, and flour which would form the basis for stews and breads. Perishables such as fresh vegetables and eggs would have been in short supply. If an animal died on the drive it would have been eaten – pure and simple. The slow and sick would also have been disposed of in short order.

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More to the point for me is the nature of the cooking equipment. When you look at old photos of cattle drive makeshift kitchens you see a lot of cast iron pots – skillets and ovens. Cast iron is eminently practical on a cattle drive because it is durable. For over 30 years I had two cast iron skillets which I used just about every day. One I had inherited from my wife’s grandmother, and one I bought new. After 30 years I couldn’t tell the difference. New cast iron pans have to be seasoned so that they do not rust. This is really only the start of a very long process. They take years to season properly. As it is, there is a great deal of false information doing the rounds about cast iron skillets. For a start, well-seasoned skillets are NOT non-stick. Preheated properly, and lightly coated with oil, they will resist sticking. But take it from me – they stick. They are not Teflon. Second, they do not heat evenly. They do, however, retain heat very well. Third, you do not have to worry about cooking acidic sauces in them. The seasoning remains just fine. In fact acidic sauces combine with a tiny bit of the iron to provide you with extra dietary iron.  Fourth, you can clean a cast iron skillet with soap and water just as you do any other cooking pot.

Seasoning is not complicated. The simplest way is to clean the skillet thoroughly with soapy water and a stiff brush. This removes any oil that it was coated with to prevent rust. Dry the skillet thoroughly and then wipe it with fat or oil so that it is completely covered. Place it upside down on the middle rack of an oven heated to 350°F with a pan under it to catch drips. Let it bake for at least an hour, then turn the oven off and let the skillet cook down in the oven. It is now minimally seasoned. Cooking with it for 10 years will finish the job. If you see an old skillet in a yard sale going cheap, snag it.

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I’d say that the simplest “cowboy” recipe is beef and beans, and would have been very common on the trail. No need for a detailed recipe. Soak a pot of dried beans overnight. In the morning drain them and add fresh water to cover. Also add stewing beef (preferably on the bone) and simmer for at least 2 hours. You can add whatever spices come to mind. I’m sure trail cooks had their favorites. Hot paprika is enough for me, but I like cumin as well. The main trick is to simmer very slowly for long hours so that the meat is falling from the bone. The starch from the beans will thicken the sauce as it reduces. This is as about as simple as it gets and I am sure is very close to what cowboys ate a lot of the time.

May 182015
 

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Today is the birthday (1048) of Omar Khayyám; born Ghiyāth ad-Dīn Abu’l-Fatḥ ʿUmar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī (Persian: ‏غیاثالدینابوالفتحعمرابراهیمخیامنیشابورﻯ‎, ), Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, and Islamic theology. He was born in Nishapur, in northeastern Iran also known as Persia, and at a young age he moved to Samarkand and obtained his education there. Afterwards he moved to Bukhara and became established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. He is the author of one of the most important treatises on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. He also made major contributions to calendar reform which were more accurate than the Gregorian reform made centuries later. His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few extant philosophical works, have not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings. Al-Zamakhshari referred to him as “the philosopher of the world”. He taught the philosophy of Avicenna for decades in Nishapur.

Outside Iran and Persian-speaking countries, Khayyám has had an impact on literature and societies through the translation of his works and popularization by other scholars. The greatest such impact was in English-speaking countries; the English scholar Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) was the first non-Persian to study him. The most influential of all was Edward FitzGerald (1809–83),[6] who made Khayyám the most famous poet of the East in the West through his celebrated translation and adaptations of Khayyám’s rather small number of quatrains (Persian: رباعیات‎ rubāʿiyāt) in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

He spent part of his childhood in the town of Balkh (in present-day northern Afghanistan), studying under the well-known scholar Sheikh Muhammad Mansuri. He later studied under Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri, who was considered one of the greatest teachers of the Khorasan region. Throughout his life, Omar Khayyám was tireless in his efforts; by day he would teach algebra and geometry, in the evening he would attend the Seljuq court as an adviser of Malik-Shah I, and at night he would study astronomy and complete important aspects of the Jalali calendar.

Omar Khayyám’s years in Isfahan were very productive ones, but after the death of the Seljuq Sultan Malik-Shah I (presumably by the Assassins sect), the Sultan’s widow turned against him as an adviser, and as a result, he soon set out on his Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. He was then allowed to work as a court astrologer, and was permitted to return to Nishapur, where he was renowned for his works, and continued to teach mathematics, astronomy and even medicine.

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I’ll spare you a long rambling discourse on the importance of his mathematical work and simply say that he was centuries ahead of the West which owed him a great debt when his works were finally discovered and translated. I get a little tired of reminding Westerners what a great debt in general the West owes the Medieval Islamic world, not just in preserving the great works of the classical Greek world (including Euclid, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle – which Westerners undervalued and generally lost), but in moving their ideas forward. From idiotic Western history textbooks you might, if you are lucky, get a nod to the great Islamic writers of the age, but otherwise you get the impression that the West moved forward all on its own. Particularly in the modern political climate people like Khayyám deserve a great deal more respect. I take it as a personal mission here to right this wrong. See, for example:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/averroes/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ulugh-beg/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ibn-khaldoun/

Let me simply say that it took the West 600 years to catch up with Khayyám in the fields of geometry and algebra, and even then many of their “advances” were eventually proven wrong !!

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The Jalali calendar was introduced by Omar Khayyám alongside other mathematicians and astronomers in Nishapur. Today it is one of the oldest calendars in the world as well as the most accurate solar calendar still in use. Since the calendar uses astronomical calculation for determining the vernal equinox, it has no intrinsic error, but this makes it an observation based calendar.

The Jalali calendar remained in use across Greater Iran from the 11th to the 20th centuries. It is the basis of the Iranian calendar, which is followed today in Iran and Afghanistan. While the Jalali calendar is more accurate than the Gregorian, it is based on actual solar transit, similar to Hindu calendars, and requires an ephemeris (table) for calculating dates. The lengths of the months can vary between 29 and 31 days depending on the moment when the sun crosses into a new zodiacal area (an attribute common to most Hindu calendars). This means that seasonal errors are lower than in the Gregorian calendar.

Omar Khayyám was a notable poet during the reign of the Seljuk ruler Malik-Shah I. Scholars believe he wrote about a thousand four-line verses (quatrains) or rubaiyat, many now lost. He was introduced to the English-speaking world through the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, which are poetic, rather than literal, translations by Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883). Other English translations of parts of the rubáiyát  exist, but FitzGerald’s are the most well known. Ironically, FitzGerald’s translations reintroduced Khayyám to Iranians who had long ignored.

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Here’s a small sample – well known in English:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

 

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou,

Beside me singing in the Wilderness,

 And oh, Wilderness is Paradise enow.

 

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,

 Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,

Lift not thy hands to It for help—for It

 Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

 

I sent my Soul through the Invisible,

 Some letter of that After-life to spell:

And by and by my Soul return’d to me,

 And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell:”

Modern scholars are generally dissatisfied with Fitzgerald’s translation, believing it to be more Western than Eastern, not truly reflecting Khayyám’s philosophy. But if it gets you started, I’m happy. However, it’s a good plan to seek out more literal translations with commentary.

Anything approximating a usable recipe from Khayyám’s era does not exist. Even recipes from as late as the 16th century need heavy interpretation. So instead here is a recipe for Ash Reshteh a modern bean and noodle soup that has its roots in medieval Persia – and, yes, Persia had noodles centuries before Marco Polo supposedly brought them back from China. I’m using a video because, as ever, I am pressed for time.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc1vDEK1UbI