Mar 012018
 

You get a Scandinavian two-fer today, having to do with the Swedish calendar in effect in the early 18th century and beer prohibition in Iceland.

The Swedish calendar (Svenska kalendern) or Swedish style (Svenska stilen) was a calendar in use in Sweden and its possessions from 1 March 1700 until 30 February 1712. It was one day ahead of the Julian calendar and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. In November 1699, the Government of Sweden decided that, rather than adopt the Gregorian calendar outright, it would gradually approach it over a 40-year period. The plan was to skip all leap days in the period 1700 to 1740. Every fourth year, the gap between the Swedish calendar and the Gregorian would reduce by one day, until they finally lined up in 1740. In the meantime, this calendar would not be in line with either of the major alternative calendars and the differences would change every four years.

In accordance with the plan, February 29 was omitted in 1700, but the Great Northern War stopped any further reductions from being made in the following years.In January 1711, King Charles XII declared that Sweden would abandon the calendar, which was not in use by any other nation, in favor of a return to the older Julian calendar. An extra day was added to February in the leap year of 1712, thus giving it a unique 30-day length. February 30th has never existed in any other modern calendar.

In 1753, one year later than England and its colonies, Sweden introduced the Gregorian calendar. The leap of 11 days was accomplished in one step, with February 17 being followed by March 1. Easter was to be calculated according to the Easter rules of the Julian calendar from 1700 until 1739, but from 1700 to 1711, Easter Sunday was dated in the anomalous Swedish calendar, according to its own rules. In 1740, Sweden finally adopted the “improved calendar” already adopted by the Protestant states of Germany in 1700 (which they used until 1775). Its improvement was to calculate the full moon and vernal equinox of Easter according to astronomical tables, specifically Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables at the meridian of Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg observatory (destroyed long before) on the former Danish island of Hven near the southern tip of Sweden. In addition to the usual medieval rule that Easter was the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the astronomical Easter Sunday was to be delayed by one week if this calculation would have placed it on the same day as the first day of Jewish Passover week, Nisan 15. It conflicts with the Julian Easter, which could not occur on the 14th day of the moon (Nisan 14), but was permitted on Nisan 15 to 21 although those dates were calculated via Christian, not Jewish, tables. The resulting astronomical Easter dates in the Julian calendar used in Sweden from 1740 to 1752 occurred on the same Sunday as the Julian Easter every three years but were earlier than the earliest canonical limit for Easter of March 22 in 1742, 1744 and 1750.

After the adoption of the Gregorian solar calendar in 1753, three astronomical Easter dates were one week later than the Gregorian Easter in 1802, 1805 and 1818. Before Sweden formally adopted the Gregorian Easter in 1844, two more should have been delayed in 1825 and 1829 but were not. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 when it became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire due to the Finnish War. Until 1866, Finland continued to observe the astronomical Easter, which was one week after the Gregorian Easter in 1818, 1825, 1829 and 1845. However, Russia then used the Julian calendar and Julian Easter so the comparison given above applies: that the astronomical Easter agreed with the Julian Easter about every third year but was sometimes earlier than March 22 in the Julian calendar.

Beer day in Reykjavik, Iceland-Beer festival

In Iceland, Beer Day (Icelandic: Bjórdagurinn or Bjórdagur) is celebrated every year on March 1, honoring the elimination of the 74-year prohibition of beer. Beer prohibition lasted from January 1, 1915 to March 1, 1989. In a 1908 referendum, Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic drinks, going into effect Jan. 1, 1915. In 1921, the ban was partially lifted after Spain refused to buy Iceland’s main export, fish, unless Iceland bought Spanish wines; then lifted further after a national referendum in 1935 came out in favor of legalizing spirits. Strong beer (with an alcohol content of 2.25% or more), however, was not included in the 1935 vote in order to please the temperance lobby—which argued that because beer is cheaper than spirits, it would lead to more depravity.

As international travel brought Icelanders back in touch with beer, bills to legalize it were regularly moved in parliament, but inevitably were shot down on technical grounds. Prohibition lost more support in 1985, when the Minister of Justice (himself a teetotaler) prohibited pubs from adding (legal) spirits to legal non-alcoholic beer (called “pilsner” by Icelanders) to make a potent imitation of strong beer. Soon after, a full turnout of the upper house of Iceland’s Parliament voted 13 to 8 to permit the sale of beer, ending prohibition.

On the first Beer Day, Ölstofan bar owner Kormákur Geirharðsson recalls in The Reykjavik Grapevine:

I remember a lot of drinking and a lot of pissing all night long and the next days, and it [was] not stopping. This was the day Icelanders took the step to try to become civilized. Ölstofan was not open then, but the idea of owning a bar started there.

Following the end of prohibition, Icelanders have celebrated every Beer Day by drinking beer in various bars, restaurants, and clubs. Those located in Reykjavík are especially wild on Beer Day. A Rúntur (pub crawl) is a popular way of getting to know the various bars and beers in this city, many being open until 4:00 a.m. the next day. The legalization of beer remains a cultural milestone in Iceland, and a major seismic shift in the nation’s alcoholic beverage preference. Beer has today become the most popular alcoholic beverage of choice in Iceland.

To celebrate Sweden’s and Iceland’s faltering steps forward in calendar development and beer consumption I present a new Scandinavian recipe for beef stew with beer and rye bread from this website (slightly edited): http://www.newscancook.com/episodes/hearty-beef-stew-with-beer-and-rye-bread/  The recipe is not unlike other recipes for beef in beer that can be found throughout northern Europe, but it is new for Scandinavia. It does use a different method for browning the meat and onions that is attractive. Use a dark Scandinavian beer if you can find it. I don’t drink alcohol, but as with all such recipes I recommend accompanying the dish with the same beer that you cook with. When cooking with alcohol it is a hard and fast rule of mine not to use anything in the recipe that I would not normally offer to drink.

Scandinavian Beef Stew with Beer and Rye Bread

Ingredients

3 lb/1.4 kg beef brisket, cut into 1 ½ inch (3-4cm) pieces
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 carrots, peeled chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 handful dried porcini, or other dried mushrooms
1 cup/2.5 dl dark beer
1 or 2 slices dried, dark rye bread, in pieces
1-2 tbsp butter
salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 500˚F (250˚C). Place a heavy cast iron pot with lid in the oven when you turn it on.

When the oven is hot, take the oven-proof dish out. Add the meat, onion and oil. Leave them to brown for 2 minutes, stirring once or twice, then add the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt to taste. Put the lid on.

Return the dish to the oven, reduce the heat to 200˚F (95˚C) and leave for 3-4 hours. Try not to open the dish or pot before serving.

Oct 172015
 

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The London Beer Flood occurred on this date in 1814 in the parish of St. Giles in London at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road. A vat containing over 135,000 imperial gallons (610,000 L) of beer ruptured, causing other vats in the same building to succumb in a domino effect. As a result, more than 323,000 imperial gallons (1,470,000 L) of beer burst out and gushed into the streets. The wave of beer destroyed two homes and crumbled the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub, trapping teenage employee Eleanor Cooper under the rubble. Within minutes neighboring George Street and New Street were swamped with beer, killing a mother and daughter who were taking tea, and surging through a room of people gathered for a wake. The brewery was among the poor houses and tenements of the St Giles Rookery, where whole families lived in basement rooms that quickly filled with beer. At least eight people were known to have drowned in the flood or died from injuries.

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The brewery was eventually taken to court over the accident, but the disaster was ruled to be an Act of God by the courts, leaving no one responsible. The company found it difficult to cope with the financial implications of the disaster, with a significant loss of sales made worse because they had already paid duty on the beer. They made a successful application to Parliament reclaiming the duty which allowed them to continue trading.

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The flood was the result of the general method of brewing porter. Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London in the 18th century from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The history and development of stout and porter are intertwined. The name “stout” as used for a dark beer is believed to have come about because strong porters were marketed under such names as “Extra Porter”, “Double Porter”, and “Stout Porter”. The term “Stout Porter” would later be shortened to just “Stout”. For example, Guinness Extra Stout was originally called Extra Superior Porter and was only given the name Extra Stout in 1840.

Porter was originally a more-aged development of the brown beers already being made in London. Before 1700, London brewers sent out their beer very young and any aging was either performed by the publican or a dealer. Porter was the first beer to be aged at the brewery and dispatched in a condition fit to be drunk immediately. It was the first beer that could be made on any large scale. Early London porters were strong beers by modern standards. Early trials with the hydrometer in the 1770s recorded porter as having an OG (original gravity) of 1.071 and 6.6% ABV. Increased taxation during the Napoleonic Wars pushed its gravity down to around 1.055, where it remained for the rest of the 19th century. The popularity of the style prompted brewers to produce porters in a wide variety of strengths. These started with Single Stout Porter at around 1.066, Double Stout Porter (such as Guinness) at 1.072, Triple Stout Porter at 1.078 and Imperial Stout Porter at 1.095 and more. During the 19th century the porter suffix was gradually dropped.

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The large London porter breweries pioneered many technological advances, such as the use of the thermometer (about 1760) and the hydrometer (1770). The use of the latter transformed the nature of porter. The first porters were brewed from 100% brown malt. Now brewers were able to accurately measure the yield of the malt they used, and noticed that brown malt, though cheaper than pale malt, only produced about two thirds as much fermentable material. When the malt tax was increased to help pay for the Napoleonic War, brewers had an incentive to use less malt. Their solution was to use a proportion of pale malt and add coloring to obtain the expected hue. When a law was passed in 1816 allowing only malt and hops to be used in the production of beer (a sort of British Reinheitsgebot), they were left in a quandary. Their problem was solved by Wheeler’s invention of the almost black patent malt in 1817. It was now possible to brew porter from 95% pale malt and 5% patent malt, though most London brewers continued to use some brown malt for flavor. Until about 1800, all London porter was matured in large vats, often holding several hundred barrels, for between six and eighteen months before being racked into smaller casks to be delivered to pubs.

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By the mid-20th century porter had fallen out of favor and was widely discontinued in favor of stout. But it started to make a comeback in the latter part of the century and has a certain vogue in England and the continent, as well as in the U.S. It is not as heavy and bitter as the more common stouts and is sometimes produced with fruit flavorings similar to some German and Belgian beers. Either plain or flavored, porter makes an excellent choice for braising beef. Here’s a fairly standard recipe for braising a brisket which I used all the time when I lived in beer country. Like porter, this dish is much better if “aged” in the refrigerator for a day or two.

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Porter Braised Brisket

Ingredients

1 tbsp coarse kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dry English mustard
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
6 lb flat-cut brisket, trimmed but with some fat still attached
2 tbsp rendered bacon fat
beef broth
12-oz bottle porter
2 tsp dark brown sugar
6 cups thinly sliced onions
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 lb medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise
2 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tbsp malt vinegar

Instructions

Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Mix salt, pepper, mustard, sage and thyme in small bowl. Rub herb mixture all over brisket. Heat the bacon fat in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and brown on both sides. Transfer the brisket to a platter. Add 2 cups of beef broth to the pot and bring to a vigorous boil, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Stir in the porter and brown sugar, and bring to boil. Return brisket to pot, fat side down. Layer the onions on top of the brisket

Cover the pot, place in the oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove the pot from oven and turn the brisket over so that the onions and garlic are now on the bottom in the liquid. Return the pot to the oven and braise uncovered 30 minutes. Add 1 cup of broth. Cover and bake for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Transfer the brisket to a platter. Add 1 more cup of broth to the pot, then add the mushrooms and carrots. Return the brisket to the pot. Cover and return to the oven and braise until the meat and carrots are tender, adding more broth if needed to cover vegetables (about 45 minutes). Cool, then refrigerate covered for 1 to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spoon off any fat from the surface of the brisket pan juices and discard. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and thinly slice across the grain. Place the brisket slices in a large roasting pan. Bring the pan juices with vegetables to a simmer in a pot and add the Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more vinegar if desired. Pour the pan juices and vegetables over the brisket in the roasting pan. Cover the roasting pan tightly with heavy-duty foil and cook in the oven until brisket slices and vegetables are heated through (about 1 hour)

Serve meat, vegetables and sauce together on a heated platter with crusty and a green salad.

Jul 212013
 

Belgium3

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Today is a national holiday in Belgium celebrating the inauguration of Leopold I, the first king of the Belgians, after the nation’s independence from the Netherlands in 1831. Belgium’s history is intertwined with those of its neighbors: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and Luxembourg. Due to its strategic location and the many armies fighting on its soil, Belgium since the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) has often been called the “battlefield of Europe” or the “cockpit of Europe.” It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French, and Germanic Dutch (Flemish)

After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the major victorious powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) agreed at the Congress of Vienna on reuniting the former Austrian Netherlands and the former Dutch Republic, creating the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was to serve as a buffer state against any future French invasions. This kingdom was under the rule of a Protestant king, William I.

The Congress of Vienna treated Europe as if it were a giant board game with territories and ethnic groups carved up and reorganized in hopes of creating a balance of power between the major players and with suitable buffer zones between them.  The hope was that the resultant layout would prevent the rise of another Napoleon, and that there would be a measure of peace thereby.  Instead what resulted was a century of revolution and warfare initiated in large part by frustrated ethnic groups who resented being pushed around and manipulated like pieces in a game.  The inclusion of the Belgians in the Kingdom of the Netherlands was one such problem.

The first 15 years of the Kingdom showed progress and prosperity, as industrialization proceeded rapidly in the south (that is, the Belgian sector) where the Industrial Revolution allowed entrepreneurs and labor to combine in a new textile industry, powered by local coal mines. There was little industry in the northern provinces, but most overseas colonies were restored, and highly profitable trade resumed after a 25 year hiatus. Economic liberalism combined with moderate authoritarianism under William 1 accelerated the adaptation of the Netherlands to the new conditions of the 19th century. The country prospered until a crisis arose in relations with the southern provinces.

Protestants controlled the new country although they formed only a quarter of the population. In theory, Catholics had full legal equality; in practice their voice was not heard. Few Catholics held high state or military offices. The king insisted that schools in the south end their traditional teaching of Catholic doctrine, even though everyone there was Catholic. Socially, the French-speaking (Belgian) Walloons strongly resented the king’s policy to make Dutch the language of government.

Political liberals in the south had their own grievances, especially regarding the king’s authoritarian style; he seemed uncaring about the issue of regionalism, flatly vetoing a proposal for a French-language teacher-training college in francophone Liège. Finally, all factions in the South complained of unfair representation in the national legislature. The south was industrializing faster and was more prosperous than the north, leading to resentment of northern arrogance and political domination.

Belgium1

The outbreak of revolution in France in 1830 was a signal for revolt in Belgium. The demand at first was autonomy for Belgium, as the southern provinces were now called. Eventually, revolutionaries began demanding total independence. The Belgian Revolution broke out in August 1830 when crowds, stirred by a performance of Auber’s La Muette de Portici at the Brussels opera house of La Monnaie, spilled out on to the streets singing patriotic songs. Violent street fighting soon broke out, as anarchy reigned in Brussels. The liberal bourgeoisie who had initially been at the forefront of the revolution, were appalled by the violence and willing to accept a compromise with the Dutch.

The king assumed the protest would blow itself out. He waited for a surrender, announcing an amnesty for all revolutionaries, except foreigners and the leaders. When this did not succeed he sent in the army. Dutch forces were able to penetrate the Schaerbeek Gate into Brussels, but the advance was stalled in the Parc de Bruxelles under a hale of sniper fire. Royal troops elsewhere met determined resistance from revolutionaries at makeshift barricades. It is estimated that there were no more than 1,700 revolutionaries (described by the French Ambassador as an “undisciplined rabble”) in Brussels at the time, faced with over 6,000 Dutch troops. However, faced with strong opposition, Dutch troops were ordered out of the capital on the night of September 26 after three days of street fighting. There were also battles around the country as revolutionaries clashed with Dutch forces. In Antwerp, eight Dutch warships bombarded the city following its capture by revolutionary forces.

Belgian independence was not allowed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna; nevertheless the revolutionaries were regarded sympathetically by the major powers of Europe, especially the British. In November 1830, the London Conference of 1830 or “Belgian Congress” (comprising delegates from five major powers) ordered an armistice on November 4. The British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston was fearful of Belgium either becoming a republic or being annexed to France, and so invited a monarch from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany to take the throne. On July 21, 1831, the first “King of the Belgians,” Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg was inaugurated. Even so it took a further eight years of war with the Netherlands before Belgium was fully independent and was designated by the major powers as a neutral nation.

From its founding as a nation Belgium has been divided along linguistic/ethnic lines: Dutch speaking Flanders in the north, and French speaking Wallonia in the south.  This division has caused endless social and political tensions down to the present day, and the two regions are culturally as distinct as if they were separate nations.  Yet somehow the nation retains a level of unity and identity within the broader European stage. Outsiders know Belgium chiefly for two products – beer and chocolates, produced and enjoyed across the ethnic divide of the country.  Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Côte d’Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas, and Godiva are famous, as well as independent producers such as Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary’s in Brussels. Belgium produces over 1100 varieties of beer. The Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren has repeatedly been rated the world’s best beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven.

Belgian-chocolate2  belgium4
I can think of no better dish to represent Belgium on this day than the beef and onion stew known as Carbonade  à la Flamande in French and Stoverij in Flemish. Beer is a key ingredient, and the dish is popular in both Flanders and Wallonia. It is crucial to understand that this is not just the usual European beef in beer recipe.  You are striving for a sauce that is markedly bitter and sweet. Therefore the type of beer used is important, and traditionally an Oud bruin, Brune Abbey beer or Flanders red are the beers of choice because of their bitter flavor. Either brown sugar, or (preferably) red currant jelly, provides the sweet note.

Carbonade  à la Flamande/ Stoverij

Ingredients

3 ½ lbs chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp butter
3 medium yellow onions peeled and sliced about ¼ inch thick (about 8 cups)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 12 oz bottle Belgian beer
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tbsp redcurrant jelly or 1 tbsp brown sugar

Instructions:

Season the beef with salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tbsps of butter in a heavy dutch oven and brown the meat thoroughly in batches over high heat. It is best if the beef is not stirred too often.

Transfer the browned beef to a separate bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the dutch oven; reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook until the onions are caramelized and golden-brown.

Add the flour and stir until the onions are evenly coated and the flour is lightly browned.

Add the broth, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the beer, thyme, bay leaves, and browned beef with any of the accumulated juices.

Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full simmer.

Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and let cook for 2-3 hours until the beef is fork tender. Keep an eye on the sauce as it reduces in the final hour.  Add a little water if it reduces too fast.

About half an hour before it finishes cooking, add the mustard and redcurrant jelly (or brown sugar).

Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve over noodles or with boiled potatoes, or French fries (which the Belgians claim to have invented).

Serves 6

Whatever beer you have used in the cooking makes for a great drink to accompany the stew.